New York City
John Ashton poured three fingers of whiskey into two glasses and sat the decanter down on the side table. Sunlight streamed through a sliver of lace curtains that broke the deep red velvet drapes symmetrically, the only source of natural light that found its way into his study, illuminating a jagged river across the cherry floor and the side of a mahogany bookshelf as it found the face of his longtime friend, Henry Westmoreland, who reposed in a heavily cushioned chair that matched the curtains almost exactly.
“Thank you,” Henry nodded as he took the glass, giving it a sip before nestling it between his hands on top of a crossed knee.
John nodded and then found a seat across from his former Oxford roommate. “How was your trip?” he asked, taking a drink and then setting his glass on an end table. “Nothing exciting I hope?”
“Heavens, no,” Henry laughed. “I can’t imagine anything exciting happening on a trip across the Atlantic. Fairly uneventful.”
While John could think of several potentially exciting occurrences, he chose not to list them since his friend would be heading back soon. No need to plant thoughts of mechanical failures or floundering vessels. “Your meetings went well?”
“Oh, yes,” Henry nodded, smoothing out his trousers over his knee. “The factory has certainly taken off these past two years. It seems I’ve finally found a way to get my textiles to the markets successfully.”
John nodded. “That’s wonderful news. You always knew how to make a quality product. Perhaps this will be just what you need to make Westmoreland Textiles a household name on both sides of the Atlantic.”
“Indeed,” Henry agreed. At thirty-five, his sandy blond hair should not have been thinning. Yet, when he ran his hand through, John could see much of his scalp. He hadn’t seen Henry in almost a year, but he certainly looked different. Thin—gaunt almost. His skin was pale and though he wore a suit, it was apparent he had several lesions near the cuff of his jacket on each arm. “How are things for you?”
It took John a moment to realize he’d been asked a question; he was so distracted by his guest’s appearance. “Oh, we are doing well,” he finally managed. “Pamela and I are very happy with business. Steel is the future of this country.”
Henry coughed rather violently, drawing out a handkerchief as he did so. After a moment, he took a deep breath, and returning the handkerchief to his pocket, he said, “Good. That’s good to hear. I really thought you were getting in at the right time, what with the building boom and the expansion of the transportation system.”
John’s forehead was still puckered, but he overlooked the spell for a moment. He cleared his throat and ran a hand through his own dark brown hair, absently weighing the thickness. “Yes, timing is everything, as you know. If you hadn’t made that loan to me a few years ago, I’m not sure….”
“Oh, no need to bring that up,” Henry interrupted. “That’s ancient history. I was happy to help a friend.” He was gazing at John poignantly, and the New Yorker froze in his friend’s stare, noticing the glassy look in his eyes. “You’ve always been a good friend, John.”
“Henry,” John began, leaning forward in his seat with his elbows pressed into his knees, “is something the matter? You don’t seem quite yourself.”
Henry took a sip of his whiskey before inhaling deeply, holding his breath for a second and then releasing it slowly. Finally, he said, “I’m dying.”
John couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He gaped at Henry in shock for a long moment before he stammered, “I’m so… sorry. What is it? What have the doctors said?”
Nervous laughter escaped Henry as he shrugged. “It’s all right. We are all dying. Like most things, I’m just more successful at it than others.” Clearly, John was not amused, so Henry cleared his throat again and continued. “I’ve visited quite a few doctors over the last year or so. No one is quite sure what it is, honestly. They haven’t found a growth or anything of the like. I have phases when I’m nearly myself, and then the symptoms come back. They are full of theories, but theories don’t keep air in the lungs.”
John leaned back in his seat, unsure what to say. He finished his drink, considered pouring another, and then decided to wait. “I am at a loss for words,” he admitted. “I’m so sorry. Do you think there’s any hope? Perhaps….”
“No, I don’t think so,” Henry interrupted again. He changed positions so that his ankle now rested on his knee and began to absently smooth his trouser cuff. “I have my own theory, though it’s nothing I can prove, and honestly nothing I even care to think about.”
“What is it?” John asked, leaning forward again.
Henry shook his head, a serene expression crossing his face. He was a handsome man; the women had always thought so. Clean shaven except for a small moustache. John remembered how he’d had his choice of young debutantes to lead around the ballroom at every occasion. Not that John wasn’t considered a catch himself. It was just difficult to imagine that this man before him was the same spritely, happy-go-lucky chap he’d spent his formative years with not that long ago. After a lengthy pause, Henry managed to quietly reply, “I’d rather not say.”
It was a struggle not to press for information, so John rose and poured himself another drink, offering to top Henry’s off as well, but he waved him away. John took a sip and returned to his seat. “What does Mildred think?”
His expression didn’t change, nor did his distracted behavior. “She doesn’t seem to mind,” he finally shrugged out.
John shook his head slowly from side to side. He’d never known what it was Henry saw in the woman. Mildred Truesdale had been a beautiful strawberry blonde vixen, from his recollection. She was quick witted, never shy, and often condescending. But there had been something about her that had captivated his roommate from their third year on, and when he announced his engagement to Miss Truesdale, John hadn’t bothered to voice his disapproval. He knew that the marriage was not problem free, not that any of them are, but he couldn’t imagine living with someone who didn’t support him, someone who seemed to question his every decision, even in business, the way that Mildred did. He knew he was a lucky man to have found Pamela, and he had always wished that his friend could know what it was like to have a true partner in life. Now, to hear that his friend was losing his life and Mildred “didn’t seem to mind” was about enough to send him through the roof.
“What can I do?” John asked, biting back the coarse words of consternation that were fighting to break free.
A small smile played at Henry’s upper lip for a moment before it faded back to melancholy. “I think my business should be just fine, at least for a few years. I’m not worried about that. It’s… Meggy.”
Thoughts of his own children, Grace who was twelve and Charlie who had just turned nine, brought a tear to John’s eye. “Yes, of course,” he replied. “How old is she now? Six?”
The smile broke free this time. “Yes, six—going on thirteen, I believe. She’s a little twig of a thing. Always running about. Feisty, full of life.” He didn’t bother to wipe the tears away that were trickling down his cheek. “After losing the other three before we ever even knew them, Meggy has been the breath of fresh air I needed. I can’t imagine….” He paused, his voice catching in his throat. “I can’t imagine my life without Meggy in it. And my heart breaks for her knowing that soon enough, she will have to carry on without her old Da. That’s what she calls me, Da. Must be those Irish nannies,” he chuckled, finally brushing the tears from his face.
John realized he was crying as well, but he also let out a laugh as he pictured his friend running around the garden with his little girl, her thin arms wrapped around him. “Little girls are God’s gift from heaven.” He remembered his Grace when she was that age, how he’d come home from the factory and set her on his knee to read a story each evening.
“So are little boys,” Henry replied, and there was a pointedness to the statement that brought John back to the present. “That’s what I came to talk to you about, John.”
Henry uncrossed his legs and scooted forward in his seat, setting the glass down on the table next to him. With the motion, John could see just how frail his friend had truly become. His movements were not natural; they were forced and calculated, as if each one took all of his concentration. “What is it?” John asked, unsure where this conversation was headed.
“Charles,” Henry said. “He’s a good boy. You’re a good man, a good provider, a good father. I know your son will be, too. I want to ask you to do me a favor. As a friend. I want Charlie to take care of my Meggy. I want him to marry her, to make sure she’s taken care of. I can’t imagine stepping out of this life not knowing what might happen to her. If I know Charles Ashton will be waiting for her, well, then, perhaps crossing over won’t be quite so bad.”
John didn’t hesitate, not even for a moment. “Of course,” he said, nodding with sincerity. “Absolutely. Whatever you need.”
Henry nodded, as if he had known his friend would come through for him. “I’ve put away 50,000 pounds in a safe deposit box at The Bank of New York, along with a very specific copy of my will. Here is another copy for you along with a key to that box,” he said as he pulled an envelope out of his jacket pocket. “If Charles marries Mary Margaret before she turns twenty-one, the company will be his. He’s to take the money and give half to my wife, the other half to my brother Bertram, who will be running the company in my stead. If he waits until after Meggy is twenty-one, he’ll still get the company, but the money will be hers. If he doesn’t marry her at all…”
“You don’t need to worry about that, Henry. I already gave you my word.”
“I understand that, but life isn’t always exactly what we expect, now is it?” he asked, managing a weak chuckle. “My Meggy is strong-willed, like her mother. If she marries someone else, or if she turns thirty without marrying Charlie, then the company will still belong to Bertram, but the money will be donated to the charity I’ve named in the will. I know it sounds rather complicated, but everything is for a reason.”
“I’ve no doubt,” John nodded, accepting the sealed envelope and slipping it into his own jacket pocket. “I can assure you that Charles will marry her before she turns twenty-one, as that is your hope, is it not?”
“It is,” Henry nodded. “I should like for my wife and brother to have the money, to be pacified by that, and to stay out of Charlie and Meggy’s lives so that they can go on about their business without having to worry about interlopers.”
John knew he must be missing something, but he simply nodded. He didn’t need to know the details of the situation with Henry and his wife and brother. “Charlie is a good boy, that’s for certain. I know that he will understand and will willingly accept Mary Margaret as his wife.”
“Good,” Henry nodded. “It’s likely best to start preparing him sooner rather than later.”
“Indeed,” John nodded. “But here’s to hoping you have several more years to spend with us, old friend, and that you are there to give Meggy away on her wedding day.”
Henry scoffed, leaning back in his chair as if he could no longer hold himself forward. “That would be lovely,” he finally said, his gaze not reaching that of his host. “She does have some money of her own. I’ve put it away for her. I will make sure she knows. I want her to be… taken care of.”
“Surely, Mildred will see that she is,” John offered.
“One would think,” Henry agreed. “I should hope a mother would look after her only surviving child.” His eyes were off in the corner of the room somewhere, and once again, John realized he wasn’t getting the full story. After a long pause, he added, “Meggy is a strong girl. Strong in every way. I know she’ll be all right, even after I’m gone.”
“I will do everything I can to look after her,” John assured him.
“I know you will,” Henry nodded. “You’ve always been a good friend, John.”
“You’re like a brother to me, Henry,” John replied, leaning forward and gingerly placing his hand on his friend’s knee as if he were afraid any pressure might cause him to shatter like glass or dissipate like an apparition.
Henry covered his friend’s strong hand with his frail one. “Do whatever you must, John. Please. Despite what my colleagues might think, my business is not my legacy, Meggy is. She’s all that matters.”
Meggy Westmoreland loved the toy pram her father had brought her back from New York City. She had snuggled two of her favorite dolls inside, wrapped up tightly in a blanket which had been a gift from her late grandmother. It was a lovely spring day, and she pushed the pram back and forth along the stone path that trailed through the back garden. While she loved all of the beautiful flowers that grew here, the lilacs and oleanders were her favorite. She had even named one of her dolls Lilac, despite her mother’s insistence that it was a “ridiculous name.” The urge to pick the flowers was overwhelming, but she had learned her lesson the hard way when she was only three, and the sharp slap to her hand hadn’t been forgotten. Her mother and uncle sat under a shade tree in the distance now, and the possibility of getting away with even pulling one petal free was simply not worth the risk.
As she walked back and forth, stopping occasionally to check on Lilac and her sister Dolly, who had the loveliest blue eyes, she wondered what her mother was talking about. She couldn’t make out many words, but her tone seemed quite serious. She held a fan in one hand and every once in awhile, she placed it in front of her face and leaned in next to Uncle Bertram, as if she were afraid someone might overhear or read her lips. Though she was certain whatever they were discussing was likely a “grown up problem” as her da put it, she was still curious by nature and wished she might at least hear enough of the conversation to know if they were speaking about her. From time to time, her uncle looked at her in a strange way, one that made her feel quite uncomfortable, and this made her wonder if maybe they were discussing sending her away to boarding school or making her work at her father’s factory. With her mother, one could never tell.
A rustling in the bushes caught her attention, and as she turned to see what the noise might be, a loud voice shouted, “Boo!” followed by the sound of breaking branches and laughter.
Meggy jumped, but upon seeing that it was only Ezra, the gardener’s son, she became more perturbed than frightened. “Ezra!” she scolded, looking over her shoulder to see if her mother had heard. “What are you doing? If my mother catches you in her bushes, she’ll box both of our ears!”
Still laughing, the slightly older, gawky boy said, “Aw, she ain’t heard nothin’, Meggy. She’s too busy yammering to your uncle. Why don’t you come play in the carriage house wi’ me?”
Meggy shook her head. “You know I can’t go in there without my mother’s permission, and if I interrupt to ask her, she’ll give me what for.”
“You’re a silly girl, Meggy!” Ezra shouted. “You should do whatever you like, and see if your mother even notices. She never pays you any mind.”
While she was certain he had a point (most of the time, her mother didn’t seem to notice what she was doing or where she was) her mother did have a knack for finding her just when she was up to no good. Since her nanny was allergic to flowers, Meggy was only allowed to play in the back garden when her mother was present, which wasn’t often. She was more interested in her pram just now than climbing around the dusty carriage house with Ezra, but then, having a playmate was also a rarity. She was torn. Scratching her head, she glanced over at her mother and then at Ezra. Perhaps she could at least ask, and then, if her mother said no, she could continue to play with her baby dolls and Ezra could go off on his own and let her be.
“All right then,” she muttered, and leaving the pram behind, she made her way across the yard, her fingers interlaced in front of her.
“I’m just concerned, that’s all,” her mother was saying, leaning in closely to Uncle Bertram. “It’s as if he knows what we’re about. And I don’t like it.”
“Then perhaps it is time to accelerate our strategy,” Bertram, who was at least ten years older than her father, with streaks of gray at his temples, replied. “If you’re afraid he will find out and change the will….”
“Mary Margaret?” her mother questioned, just noticing her presence. “What in the world are you doing? Why aren’t you playing?”
“Beg your pardon, Mother,” Meggy replied with a small curtsey, “Would it be all right if I went to play in the carriage house with Ezra?”
“The carriage house?” she repeated, her blue eyes widening in dismay. Her mother was strikingly pretty, but Meggy thought her expression always ruined her face. Why didn’t she ever smile? Why must she do her hair up so tightly that she always looked surprised? “You know how I feel about you climbing around in there in your frock! You’re liable to get dirty or catch a tear….”
“Now, Millie,” Bertram interrupted, “Perhaps Meggy should be off to the carriage house. That way we can speak about… matters… without being interrupted.”
He smiled at her, and Meggy felt as if little insects were crawling all over her arms. There was just something about the heaviness of his eyes, as if he could cut her open with a look. She turned away, back to her mother. “Please, Mother?”
She sighed and whispered a word Meggy knew she was never to repeat before she finally said, “All right then. Off with you. But do be careful. I don’t want that dress ruined.”
“Yes, Mother,” Meggy nodded, holding back her smile so that her mother couldn’t see how delighted she was to be given permission to do—anything. She scampered off to meet Ezra who was already headed towards the carriage house which sat at the back of the property. Despite her inability to initially make up her mind, she knew she’d made the right choice. She always had fun with Ezra.
The sun had disappeared beyond the horizon as Meggy finished brushing her hair and placed the brush back on her dresser. “Now, say your prayers and off to bed,” her nanny, Patsy, directed, giving her a quick peck on the top of her head. Though she’d only worked for the family for about a year, Meggy liked her best of all, and she especially liked it when she was allowed to bring her daughter, Kelly, to play. Most of the time, however, Meggy’s mother forbade Kelly from visiting, and she spent most of her time with her grandmother while Patsy carefully tended to someone else’s child.
As Patsy put out the lights, Meggy kneeled and said a proper prayer, asking God to look after all those she loved, and as Patsy neared the door, she rose, whispering, “Good night,” with a sweet smile.
“Good night, my love,” Patsy smiled in return, watching the little girl climb into her bed before she went out, leaving the door open just a crack as she blew a kiss into the darkened room.
“Is she off to bed then?” Mr. Westmoreland asked, meeting her in the hallway.
“Yes, sir,” Patsy replied, giving a little bow.
“And you’re off too then, I suppose?”
“Yes, sir,” she repeated.
“Have a restful evening, Patsy,” he said with a smile.
“You, too, sir,” she nodded.
Henry approached Meggy’s door cautiously so as not to scare her, even though he knew for certain she would be expecting him. He visited every evening when he was home. This night, he felt quite tired and worn down. The trip to New York had been tiresome, though he had begun to feel better physically the longer he was there. Now, back in Southampton for just over a day, he was beginning to feel quite ill again. He did not intend to let his daughter see that, however, and as he approached her bed, she pulled the covers down away from her face, which beamed at him in the moonlight.
“Are you still awake, my little angel?” he asked as he sat down next to her on the bed.
“Yes, Da,” she said, still smiling. “You know I cannot go to sleep until I’ve had a kiss from my da.”
He laughed and stroked her hair. “What do you do when your Da is away on business then? Stay up all night like an old barn owl?” He began to make hooting noises until she giggled and then he leaned in and tickled her until she couldn’t control her laughter and neither could he.
“Noooo, Da!” she squealed in an attempt to answer his question. “I’m not an owl!”
“Perhaps an alley cat then?” he asked, beginning to meow, while she continued to laugh, though he stopped tickling her quite so much.
“Nooo! I’m not an alley cat either,” she reminded him.
“Well, then, what are you?”
“I’m your little girl!” Meggy exclaimed, stretching her arms open wide.
He pulled her into his arms, wrapping her up tightly. “Yes, you are my little girl,” he agreed. “You are my little angel, Meggy. My dear, sweet child.”
As he released her and she snuggled back down against her pillow, she said, “I love you, Da.”
“I love you, too, very much,” Henry replied. He leaned down and kissed the top of her blonde silk covered head. “More than anything.”
“I wish that you could stay home and play with me forever and ever,” Meggy continued, stifling a yawn. “Wouldn’t that be lovely?”
“Yes, darling. That would be lovely. Just know that I will always be looking after you, my sweet child, no matter what. You will remember that, won’t you, angel?”
“Yes, Da,” Meggy replied, nodding off. Her eyes were heavy and her head had lolled to the side as if she were nearly asleep.
Henry leaned down and kissed her once more atop the head and then tucked the blankets in tightly around her. “Good night, my love.”
She was clearly sleeping now, her breath shallow and even. He took one more look at her and then quietly pulled himself off of the bed, noticing it took more effort than it should have, and headed towards the door. This time, he pulled it completely closed behind himself, leaning against it for a moment, his eyes closed and his heart heavy.
“Is everything all right, sir?”
He opened his eyes to find Patsy before him, a concerned expression on her face, her voice low.
“Oh, Patsy. I thought you’d gone on,” he said, managing a smile.
“Yes, sir. I had just gone back to the nursery to tidy up a bit. Are you feeling well, sir?”
He didn’t bother to answer her question. Rather, taking a quick look around to make sure they were alone, he leaned in closely and placed his hand on her arm. “Patsy, you love my Meggy, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir, of course.”
“As if she were your own?”
“As much as one can,” Patsy assured him.
“Good. Then, I need you to know something. If anything should happen to me, will you let her know… when she’s older. When she’s old enough. Will you let her know that there is a bank account in her name, National Provincial, the one on High Street. It’s not my usual establishment. No one should know—unless… unless you tell her. You will won’t you, Patsy?”
“Yes, of course, sir,” Patsy replied, her freckled forehead furrowed. “Sir? Should I help you into the parlor?”
“No, no, I’m quite all right,” he assured her. “I just want to make sure that Meggy is protected, should anything ever happen.”
“I understand,” Patsy replied.
“Good then,” Henry replied, patting her arm. “You’re a good woman, Patsy.” He smiled at her, and turned to go, leaving her looking after him with a puzzled expression on her face, wondering what had just taken place.
Henry made his way down the stairs to the parlor where he thought his wife might be having tea. His brother was likely out for the evening, as he preferred to frequent the local watering holes. Though Bertram was in line to take over the company should anything happen to Henry, he hoped that he would run it in name only. He knew nothing about running a textile manufacturing company, despite plenty of opportunities to gain an education in that field—or any business field he had wanted. Their parents had been rather wealthy and had done all they could to see that both of their sons were looked after, though neither of them had lived past fifty. His mother had lost a battle with tuberculosis just after Meggy was born and his father had gone on shortly thereafter. The doctors had declared he had suffered a heart attack, but Henry believed his father had died from a broken heart, missing the woman he had loved so dearly.
As he entered the parlor and saw Mildred sitting in her usual chair near the unlit fireplace, a lantern illuminating her embroidery, he wondered what that must be like, to love someone so much you couldn’t fathom going on without them. He had been in love with her at one time. She had been a clever, cunning young woman, with beautiful hair and sparkling eyes. He knew almost immediately she was after him for his money and the promise of a prominent life, but they had become involved more quickly than he had planned for, and he’d asked her to be his wife one evening when she’d come to him in tears, carrying the evidence of their indiscretions beneath her ample gown. A month later, after they’d made their vows, the first of their three tragedies occurred, and that evidence was buried in a tiny box in her father’s family plot. He had thought at the time their loss would bring them closer together, but that was the beginning of Mildred’s emotional rationing; she seemed determined never to care about anyone or anything again. Not even him. Not even Meggy.
“Are you coming in?” she called, not even looking up from her work.
He realized he had been lingering, and holding back a sigh, he replied, “Yes, dear. I was just thinking about how lovely you are, that’s all.”
She glanced up at him then, a look of skepticism on her face. Without another word, her eyes returned to her stitching and he settled back into his chair across from her, eyeing the newspaper on the side table but choosing to gaze at the portrait above the fireplace instead. He stared into his own painted face, wondering at how different he looked only two years ago when it was made. Meggy was smiling broadly, all of her teeth still present in her four-year-old grin. Now, there were two missing, and her blonde hair was much longer and less curly. Mildred looked exactly the same—her hair done up in the precise extreme chignon she wore every day.
“I’ll get you some tea,” she said standing and placing her embroidery on a table next to her chair.
“Isn’t Tessa still in the kitchen?” Henry asked as she approached the doorway that led to the back of the house and the attached kitchen.
“Yes, she is,” Mildred affirmed, pausing to turn to address him. “But you know how I like to bring your evening tea.” She managed a smile, and it looked a bit more like a snarl than an expression of happiness to him.
“Very well then,” Henry nodded, his stomach beginning to churn. He took a deep breath and leaned his head back against the chair, his fingers digging into the arm rests.
He was not a stupid man. In fact, he was quite intelligent. That’s why he wasn’t sure why he continued in this charade the way that he had been doing for over a year now. In fact, he could ask himself the same question about their entire marriage, but this farce in particular was not only alarming but deadly. Why would he continue to let her do this when he was on to her? Why not call her out? Leave her? Save himself?
Perhaps it was love. Love for the woman he had met so many years ago, the one he had promised himself to. Perhaps it was doubt. What if he were wrong, and she was not at fault? Wouldn’t he seem quite foolish then? Perhaps it was his inability to believe that someone he had once loved so much could do something so innately evil? As he awaited the promised cup of tea, he pondered these options. At last, he decided it was time to do something differently, and he promised himself the next morning he would take action. If not for his own sake, then for Meggy’s. She didn’t deserve to live with a woman who would poison her own husband.
“Here you go, darling,” Mildred said as she set the cup of tea and saucer on the table next to him. She choked on the last word much the same way he was certain he would choke on the first swallow.
“Thank you,” he replied eyeing the steaming cup as she forced a smile at him and crossed back to her chair. “I think I’ll let it cool a bit.”
“I thought you liked it hot,” Mildred replied as she picked up her embroidery. “I always bring it to you steaming.”
“Yes, I know. It’s just that I’m not feeling well tonight,” Henry stated, watching carefully for any sort of reaction.
She shook her head and pursed her lips. “I do wish those doctors would come up with something. Some sort of a diagnosis.”
“Yes, me, too,” Henry agreed.
“Perhaps then they could come up with a treatment that is effective,” she continued.
She glanced up at him and then at the tea. He continued to stare at her, and eventually she averted her eyes. “How was your visit with John? Is he doing well?”
“Quite well,” Henry replied, not surprised that she had changed the subject.
“And Pamela and the children?”
“I didn’t see them, but John said they are also doing well.”
“Delightful to hear,” Mildred said, though her tone showed no delight at all. She was quiet then for several seconds, almost a minute, before she reminded him, “Your tea is likely growing cold.”
He did not shift his gaze, and after another long pause, she glanced back at him. When his eyes did not falter, she placed her embroidery down again, never losing track of his eyes as she did so, as if daring him to call her out or give in and take a sip.
Carefully, and without looking away, Henry reached for the cup. He brought it up just below his bottom lip and held it there. “Mildred, I think we need to have a serious conversation tomorrow.”
“All right,” she said, her face cold as steel.
“I think some things need to change.”
“Very well then.”
“Clearly, neither of us are happy with our current condition,” he continued, the tea still poised beneath his mouth.
“It’s getting cold.”
Despite confirmation of his deepest fear, Henry realized he had little choice but to drink the tea. He could refuse, call her out right now, or he could take a sip, become violently ill for a few hours, and then slowly recover. This would be the last time though; of that he was certain. Tomorrow, everything would change. He would make arrangements. She could have the house, but he would take the one thing that really mattered—Meggy—and she likely wouldn’t even argue.