SPRINGHILL MANOR - LIBRARY
Joyce stammered in shock as she jumped out of her seat and rushed to her
daughter's side. "I...didn't hear you come in. How...long have
you been standing there?"
"Long enough," Sara replied as her eyes
darted from her mother to Naomi. "So, are you going to tell me what's
going on here? What do I need convincing of?"
"Sara, I'd...hoped I could spare you a
little bit of this news," Joyce began as she carefully chose her
words. She had to play her cards just right. "I mean, this is
probably more my problem than yours and...well..."
"Spit it out, Momma!" Sara ordered as
she glared at Joyce. "What's going on? Who's this girl?"
Naomi Jackson," she spoke up as she rose from her seat, baby still cradled
in her arms, and walked over to Sara.
"Naomi, dear, please let me handle
this," Joyce spoke with false sweetness. "This has all been
shocking enough for me, as it is. I'm sure that it's going to be just as
shocking for my daughter."
"Okay, are you going to tell me what's going
on?" Sara asked again as she folded her arms tightly across her
chest. "I can tell that something's up. What did you mean when
you said that you needed to convince me of something?"
"Sara, please, just come over here and have
a seat and I'll explain everything," Joyce replied as she took her
daughter's hand and led her over to the sofa. Once Sara was seated, Naomi
sat down next to her and Joyce returned to her own chair. "This has
all been a little difficult for me to deal with. I guess...that it's
usually that way for most wives."
"Momma, what are you trying to tell
me?" Sara sighed, quickly becoming annoyed with the verbal tap dance that
Joyce was performing. "What's been difficult? Who is
"My name is Naomi!" she reminded
as her jaw tightened.
"Naomi, darling, please be quite so that I
can explain everything to my daughter," Joyce said as she quickly threw up
her hand to silence her. Once Naomi was quiet, Joyce paused and took a
deep breath before beginning her story. "Sara, you see, while
Thornton and I were living in New York, he...well...was prone to having
dalliances with young girls."
"Mr. Preston?" Sara gasped, the news
coming as quite a shock to her. "But...he just never seemed like the
type to...well...you know."
men like my husband never do seem like the type. Anyway, I knew
about his affairs. In fact, I kept a very close track of them. I
know that I probably should have been upset but...well...I always knew that
those girls never really mattered that much to him. They were only minor
diversions. I was still his wife and he wasn't going anywhere. It's
because of those affairs---his track record, so to speak---that I
suspected...what I did about you when I first came to town. It would have
been so like Thornton to have had an illicit relationship with his
"But, Momma, I told you that
"I know, I know," Joyce nodded.
"I over reacted. I completely misinterpreted things and...well...I'm
sorry about that. But that's really not what I wanted to talk to you
"Okay," Sara sighed as she eyed her
mother with confusion. "Then...what are you talking
about? What does this...I mean Naomi...have to do with anything?"
"I was having an affair with Thornton!"
Naomi spoke up only to have Joyce shoot her a threatening glance.
"Y-you...and M-Mr. Preston?" Sara
gasped in shock. "But I....you're..."
"Negro? Is that what you're
trying to say?" Naomi asked bluntly.
"Y-yes," Sara nodded, a little embarrassed
because of the situation. "Mr. Preston never struck me as the kind of
man to...well...you know."
"I understand exactly what you mean,
dear," Joyce nodded and then shot Naomi another look as if to silently warn
her to keep quiet. "Anyway, I knew about Thornton's indiscretions,
but they never really mattered to me since they were all quite minor and
meaningless. They never really lasted long." She paused and
took a deep breath. "However, it seems that part of his past has
decided to catch up with him. It's so like Thornton to die and
avoid all of this unpleasantness."
"I still don't think I'm following
you," Sara muttered as her eyes moved from her mother to Naomi, only
pausing a moment to glance down at the baby in Naomi's arms.
"What she's trying to say is that Thornton
left a little something for me to remember him by," Naomi spoke up.
"My son. His son."
"Oh, dear lord!" Sara gasped.
"This little baby is...Thornton Preston's...son?"
"Yes, Sara," Joyce nodded as she hung
her head, clearly from embarrassment. "Naomi gave birth to my
husband's illegitimate son. I only found out about the baby a few days
ago. I'm sure you can understand what a shock it was for me."
"I'd tried to track down Thornton ever since
he left New York," Naomi began to explain. "But I...didn't have
the proper resources to find him. In fact, it's only because of a stroke
of luck that I discovered that he was living here in Albanyville. I came
to town to tell him about the baby, but...well...when I got here I found out
that he'd died."
"This is just so hard to believe," Sara
sighed as she shook her head. "How do we...know that she isn't making
all of this up? How do we know that this is...really Mr. Preston's
"Because he is!" Naomi shouted
angrily. "Don't you think that I know who the father of my own child
not what I mean," Sara muttered softly. "What I'm trying to say
is that how do we know that you're telling the truth? How do we even know
that you had a relationship with Mr. Preston."
"I know," Joyce spoke up. "I
made it a point of keeping tabs on my husband. I knew the names of every
young girl he'd been involved with. I sort of...made it my little
insurance policy. If I thought that any of them were getting too
involved---getting too close---I'd pay them a little visit. Usually
when they found out that the wife knew about them, it was enough to scare them
away. I knew all about Naomi---well, almost all---and never viewed
their relationship as a serious threat to my marriage, so she never really
concerned me. Until now, at least."
"I admit that this is all rather shocking,
but what does that have to do with me? What do I need to be convinced
"Sara, surely you understand how important
this all is?" Joyce eyed her daughter carefully. "This
baby is Thornton's son---his rightful heir. This child has a certifiable
claim to my husband's estate---an estate that you and Dane inherited."
"Oh, my," Sara muttered, the true
graveness of the situation finally sinking in.
"And I have every intention of making sure
that my son gets everything that should rightfully be his!" Naomi announced
firmly. "Everything that Thornton had should now belong to my
baby. Ma'am, I don't mean to cause you any ill will, but I have a child to
think of. I will do whatever it takes to make sure that my son receives
everything that is due him. I'll even take you to court if I have
"But I...I..." Sara stammered,
completely thrown off guard by the entire situation.
"Listen to me, Sara, I know that this is an
awkward situation," Joyce spoke softly and deliberately, "but that
baby has a legal claim on Thornton's estate and..." She paused and
turned her attention to Naomi. "Dear, would you please excuse us so
that I can speak to my daughter in private?"
"Oh...um...yes. Of course," Naomi
nodded as she clutched her baby to her chest and quickly hurried out of the
"Now, Sara, as I was saying," Joyce
began again once Naomi was out of earshot, "that baby has a legal claim on
everything that my husband left to you and Dane. It's entirely possible
that if she takes you to court, she can take all of this away from you. I
think that I have an idea that might just satisfy her enough and might also
allow you to keep everything."
"An...idea?" Sara furrowed her
brow as she listened carefully. "What kind of an idea?"
"I'm thinking about a settlement,"
Joyce explained calmly. "If we play our cards right, we can give her
enough money to provide for her child, yet still leave the bulk of the estate
intact. But to do this, we need to keep a very close eye on her."
"H-how do we do that?" Sara asked
curiously. "I mean, if that really is Thornton's child, he
certainly does deserve something."
"Oh, I agree," Joyce nodded.
"Surely you don't think that I'm so cold hearted that I believe that
Thornton's son shouldn't receive his own birthright."
"O-of course not."
"I think that we should ask Naomi and her
baby to move into the house," Joyce announced with firm conviction.
"That way we can watch her every move. That way we can determine exactly
how much would be enough to make her leave quietly so that she doesn't put a
nasty stain on Thornton's reputation. Certainly you cared enough about him
to want to do that."
"O-of course," Sara muttered as her
head began to spin with thoughts about Thornton Preston, his newly discovered
child, and her own inheritance. As she sat in silence and considered her
mother's suggestion, one thought kept returning to the forefront of her
mind---how in the world was Dane going to react to yet another unwelcome guest
in their home?