He was lost, but now he is found. Is it meant to be with her?
In 1869 New York, Arthur and Walter are brothers, but they have every reason to despise each other. One is wasteful and extravagant; the other is wealthy and resentful. For years, the two feuding brothers, have been vying for Laura’s affection and fighting for her hand in marriage.
When Arthur’s whole world is shattered, for the first time in his life, he is eager to transform himself and emerge from his vice-riddled road, away from his past sins. He knows he can’t lose her forever.
But Laura is trapped. Walter’s dastardly scheme forces her hand in marriage by threatening her father’s livelihood. She is desperate for any means of escape.
And when Arthur appears on the doorstep of the family home, Walter is about to be confronted by what he has built his life with Laura upon: lies and deception . . .
New York City, 1869.
Mr. Thomas Edward Brookes was, by nature, a punctual man. Indeed, one would expect him to be, given that the gentleman in question was greatly involved in the construction of the transcontinental rail road; that great feat of engineering which, in 1869, finally connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States.
He was the epitome of the American dream, a self-made man who had risen from humble beginnings as the son of Irish immigrants to become partner in his own firm of Brookes & Adamson who were engineers of the highest caliber. His fortune had come from nothing and now he had most everything which a man of his class might wish for. Not only was he blessed with a fortune to rival any of those in his home of New York City but also with those things which money cannot buy: a loving wife and two healthy children alongside friends and the respect of his peers.
Now, with the railroad joined, he and his wife Ella were looking forward to their retirement, a chance to settle down and enjoy the fortune which was theirs.
Thomas’ punctuality was a well-known fact amongst the society which he shared and it was his custom each Saturday afternoon to take a carriage ride in Central Park. The carriage ride was the place for wealthy New Yorkers to see and to be seen, attracting large crowds to view the spectacle of the rich and wealthy parading their wealth along the avenues of the park.
Our story begins on just such an afternoon when Thomas and Ella were taking their customary ride out, their large carriage and liveried horses cutting quite a spectacle as they raced along, by far the most ostentatious on display.
“Quite a crowd this afternoon, Ella,” Thomas said, leaning from the window to get a better view.
“It seems to get bigger every week and there are even more riders out too. Look, there are the Richardsons riding out and that funny English man, Sir Arthur somebody, he was at the Governor’s reception last week, do you remember?”
“I remember him drinking more port than was good for him and stumbling over the Governor’s wife.”
“They said that some of the immigrants were throwing stones at the carriages during the week.”
“Well, with the riots in Brooklyn, I’m not surprised, still I won’t be cowed by a few bad apples trying to spoil the fun. This is America, Ella, and it’s up to an individual to make his own way, not get shirty with those of us who have done so.”
“Come now driver, ride on and let’s overtake some of these folks.”
The carriage raced on around the park as the crowds cheered. It was true that many in the city possessed a dislike for those engaged in this spectacle, but many also benefited from the wealth of those who partook of it. Not least the employees of Brookes & Adamson Engineers, for Mr. Thomas Edward Brookes had always been a benevolent employer, and along with his business partner Mr. Frank Adamson, the two had always ensured that their wealth was used for the benefit and philanthropy of those under their employ.
“Look, Ella, there’s Frank out with Laura. Frank!” Thomas called from the carriage window. “Hold up their driver, hey Frank!”
Frank Adamson was shorter in stature than Thomas, but what he lacked in height he made up for in rotundness, a life of good living now displayed prominently for all to see. While Thomas had worked on the railway directing the labor, Frank had remained in the offices of the firm directing operations from behind a large desk. The two had been ideally suited as business partners, but they were far more than that. They had been friends since their youth and their lives were intertwined. So much so that they now lived opposite one another, sharing in retirement the life they had built in their work.
“Taking the air, Frank?” Thomas called, stepping down from the carriage as it scudded to a halt.
“A little constitutional before dinner, Thomas, and a chance to show the world my beautiful daughter.”
“And she is looking as beautiful as ever, how are you Laura?” Thomas said, embracing Mr. Adamson’s only child as Ella climbed down from the carriage and greeted them too.
Laura Adamson was indeed beautiful. This is not a subjective opinion but rather an objective fact for all to see; she was the belle of New York society, the recipient of numerous invitations and accolades. Frank Adamson was rightly proud of his daughter, but she was not as one might expect her to be given her status and beauty.
In Laura Adamson there was not a hint of arrogance or haughtiness, she did not wear her privilege and wealth upon her sleeve. Instead, she was shy and retiring, kind and caring. She was a bookish young lady who far preferred to sit and read or play the harpsichord than to attend the fashionable balls and soirees of the city. Her long dark hair covered a face which was naturally pretty, her blue eyes looking out from a complexion that was soft and gentle, hers was a beauty not born of cosmetics but rather from birth.
“Full of the joys of summer, isn’t it beautiful in the park today?” Laura said, embracing Mr. and Mrs. Brookes who, over the years, had acted as something of second parents to her. As they were both her Godparents, they treated her as the daughter they had never had.
“It is indeed, though all this dust from the carriages hangs so heavy in the air, come and sit with me Laura, let the men discuss business,” Ella said, leading Laura to a bench beneath some trees as more carriages raced by on their round of the park.
“I was just saying to Thomas that there’s been some trouble here these past few weeks what with the riots and all, why folk can’t just get along with one another I have no idea.”
“Daddy almost got caught up in them. I was so worried for his safety and for the office of the firm. Walter told me he was holed up there for hours waiting for things to settle down.”
“Walter’s got his head screwed on,” Ella said, “he’s his father’s boy and I can tell you he wouldn’t let anyone lay a finger on the business this family has worked so hard to build up. Arthur on the other hand would be straight in there for the fight.” She laughed. “He takes after his grandfather, my father, a free-spirited man if ever there was one. If there was a fight happening then my daddy would be in the middle, especially if it involved a fair lady or a gambling stake.”
“Walter is always so busy and determined to succeed, always rushing from one place to another, I hardly get five minutes with him these days.”
“He’s growing up, they both are, but they’re as alike as chalk and cheese. Why, I could wager this carriage on the fact that right now Walter is buried in reams of business papers whilst Arthur is down at the docks wasting money on dice or some other vice. He’ll appear when he’s hungry, Walter will forget to eat.”
At this, Laura laughed. She had grown up with both brothers and knew them inside out. Ella’s description of her two sons was exactly right. The two were separated by just a year, but if it weren’t for the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Brookes knew they were both products of the same marriage, their relationship would be undiscernible to the observer.
“It’s been lovely to see you, Laura, I don’t see enough of you like this,” Ella said.
For while Laura and Mrs. Brookes often saw one another, due to living in such close proximity to one another, they were generally surrounded by men. Men often wished to talk business or discuss the politics of the day. Each woman valued the other: Laura looking to Ella as the mother she had never had, her mother having died when Laura was very young, and Ella to Laura as the daughter she had secretly always longed for.
“You must come for dinner this week, I’m sure the boys would be so pleased to see you. The more you grow up, the less you seem to see of one another, that’s how it seems to me anyway, we need to get everyone together like we used to.”
“That would be lovely. Walter is always so busy with the business and Arthur, well, Arthur is Arthur.”
“Too right, is Wednesday evening all right for you?”
“Daddy, is Wednesday evening free for you?” Laura called over to her father who was still deep in conversation with Thomas.
“Oh, don’t ask him, these men change their plans more times than I change my bonnet! I’ll make sure they’re available. All of them,” Ella said as the two women laughed together.
“I’m sensing a conspiracy against us Frank,” Thomas said, coming over to his wife and Laura.
“Only organization, dear, of a domestic character, something you men wouldn’t know about. Laura and Frank will come to dine with us on Wednesday evening along with Walter and Arthur.”
“Good luck getting those two in the same place at once,” Thomas said, raising his eyebrows at his wife.
“A mother can always persuade her children to do as she says, don’t you worry, seven o’clock on Wednesday.”
“We’ll be there,” Frank said, “I’m sure the food will be as exquisite as ever, I have never eaten a bad meal at the Brookes.” He laughed. “Do you know something?” he continued. “When I turned just now to see you two ladies sitting on that bench I could have sworn that it was my Sarah sitting with you Ella, just like you two used to all those years ago when Frank and I would come over to the school house and find you sitting outside with the youngsters.”
“We used to sit on the little bench out front on hot days to teach them their nature lessons,” Ella said, “Laura is the spitting image of her mother and they say that about a young lady. There’s always a moment in time when someone recognizes her mother in her, this must be your moment now, Laura.”
“It’s quite a compliment to pay,” Thomas Brookes said, “Frank and I thought we’d hit a gold mine when we first met you both at the dance at Winder’s Farm.”
“It took them a whole hour to pluck up the courage to come speak with us and thank goodness that each one was attracted differently, I’d have hated to have been sparred over or to have seen your mother treated so” Ella said to Laura laughing. “And even then they wouldn’t dance with us alone, we had to do the four step jig together and then the full line before they’d even say another word to us.”
“We came by that school house every day for two weeks afterwards, it didn’t matter that it was five miles out of our way as we returned to the lodgings,” Frank said.
“And it took another month before you took us out again, Frank Adamson, thank the good Lord that we were patient with you.”
“Winder’s Halt wasn’t exactly awash with eligible bachelors now Ella,” Thomas said as he is wife stood up.
“Oh, I don’t know, there was Joseph Carter down at the stores.”
“The one with no teeth?”
“He had charm,” Ella said, smiling at Laura. “Come now, let’s let these folks get home. We shall see you on Wednesday evening at seven o’clock, come hungry, I’ll have Mr. Borodini make a cake.”
“Tell Walter and Arthur that I’m so looking forward to seeing them both,” Laura said as she took her father’s arm.
“I will, they’ll be sure to be looking forward to seeing you too. Good day to you both,” Ella said.
Mr. and Mrs. Brookes got back into their carriage and waved to their two friends as Thomas bid the driver to go on through the park. It was to be a warm evening and now that the excitement of the carriage parade had passed, they proceeded home at a more sedate pace.
“I was just saying to Laura that it’s high time we all got together properly. We see each other almost every day, but there’s never a chance for quality conversation, why we’re as good as family and I don’t want us to drift apart.”
“You’re a nostalgic one, Mrs. Brookes, I can tell you that now,” Thomas said, patting his wife’s hand. “You’ve got to let them grow up, it can’t be like it was when they were children.”
“I know that, but they were such good friends and now that Walter works all the hours the good Lord sends and Arthur is everywhere he shouldn’t be, it just seems that we’re losing the things that are important. Why, I haven’t seen either of them at church for weeks. Reverend Harvey even mentioned the matter to me last Sunday whilst you were talking to the Captain’s wife, I was most embarrassed.”
“You have to let children make their own way, Ella, if my daddy hadn’t done so we wouldn’t be here today.”
“Your daddy let you run like a loose cannon, Thomas Brookes.”
“And if it weren’t for that we would never have met, Ella Brookes, and you’d still be teaching the ABC to the good folk of New Hampshire. Host your dinner party, but don’t expect too much, you’ve got to let them make their own way. Home now, driver.”
And with that Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Brookes left the carriage drive and proceeded to their home on Thirty-Ninth Street off Fifth Avenue. The house itself was a fine, well-built townhouse, befitting a man whose life had been spent in the engineering and construction trade. If anything, it was far too large for a family of four, though of course the Brookes kept many numbers of servants. It was here that Ella Brookes held her soirees and fashionable gatherings of New York society and where Thomas Brookes had brokered some of his most important contracts including that for the major stake in the construction of the Pacific Railroad. A family had also been raised there and Walter and Arthur Brookes had never known another home, since the house had been constructed when they were but small children.
The street itself was lined with equally prestigious addresses including that of Frank and Laura Adamson just across the road from the Brookes and down to the left. Frank Adamson was, despite his ample form, a keen gardener and while the Brookes enjoyed the minimalism of precision architecture he had festooned the area around his home with flowers and greenery, it was a place he and Laura loved to sit as Mr. Adamson would tell her stories of her mother. Both families had been very happy here on Thirty-Ninth Street over the years, but, as Mr. Brookes had pointed out to his wife just a few moments ago, life does not stay the same for long and nostalgia can be a dangerous thing when lived too readily.
“Walter, Arthur, are you two boys home?” Ella Brookes called as she and her husband entered the hallway of the house. “Oh, Mary, have you seen the boys?” Ella said to one of the housemaids who had appeared to take their outdoor wear from them.
“No, ma’am, I have seen neither of the young masters all day, Mr. Walter is surely at the office and Mr. Arthur, well, it isn’t for me to speculate, ma’am.”
“No, indeed. Well, instruct cook to have a cold supper laid out for their return, Mr. Brookes and I will dine at eight o’clock whether they appear or not.”
Mrs. Brookes was used to the vagaries of her sons. The housemaid had been right in her prediction of where the two young men in question were, the precise details easily guessed by Ella who, as a mother, knew her boys better than they knew themselves.
“I need to see the plans for the Idaho express on my desk tomorrow morning at nine o’clock sharp,” Walter Brookes said to his understudy, a short little man who wore a pair of gold rimmed spectacles on the end of his nose and went by the name of John Jones.
“Mr. Brookes, those plans are still not finalized, the men on the site haven’t yet sent us the measurements.”
“Make it twelve noon then, John, and not a moment later.”
The understudy hurriedly left his employer’s office looking worried. Walter was only nineteen years of age, but one could be forgiven for thinking his age to be far greater given his maturity in speech and practice. But Walter knew the family firm inside out, he had been involved with it since his earliest memories and now, as senior partner, it was his intention to follow in his father’s footsteps and make the most of the business which it had been his good fortune to inherit.
“I’ll be walking home,” Walter said, emerging some half hour later from his office.
A clerk ran to fetch his outdoor garments and top hat and Walter stood casually observing the work which was taking place in the outer office. “It looks like there are some discrepancies with your figures Stanley,” he said as the clerk handed him his coat.
“I’ll be sure to double check them, Mr. Brookes.”
“Be sure that you do, my father always said that engineering is a precision art form and if the numbers are not precise then the structure you build from them will not be either. Our reputation rests upon these figures. Good evening to you all.”
And with that he left.
The offices of Brookes and Adamson were located in the Murray Hill district, a few blocks away from the Brookes house. Walter’s walk to and from the office was about the only time he saw much of the city during the day, his working life was constant and consistent. He was punctual like his father and a stickler for hard work, so unusually, he was leaving early tonight and the streets were busy with people.
“Good evening, Mr. Brookes,” several passersby said in greeting.
It had not taken long for Walter to establish his name in the business circles of the city. At first, he had traded on his father’s name and that of the firm, but now Mr. Walter Brookes was a name in itself and he enjoyed the status and prestige which was now his own.
As he rounded the corner onto Thirty-Ninth Street, a call came from the garden across the way. It was a voice that was familiar to him, sweet and gentle, the voice of family, the voice of Laura Adamson.
“Hey Walt, how many thousands of dollars have you put into the economy of the union today?”
Walter took off his hat and turned to look across the street, smiling at Laura who was now looking over the wall, her head resting on her arms, hair flowing down her face. It was true that Walter Brookes was an industrious worker, excelling in business, and now, as chief partner in the firm of Brookes and Adamson, he certainly made enough money to warrant Laura’s question.
“Hey there, Laura, you are looking mighty beautiful this evening, it would be vulgar of me to speak of money in the company of a lady, but if time is money then I have earned back my time and then some.” He crossed the street and approached the wall, the air was heavy with the scent of honeysuckle and roses, the fragrances wafting through the warm evening across the Adamson garden.
“Were you out for the carriage ride today?” he asked, leaning on the wall himself.
“Indeed, I was. Daddy and I took a turn around the park. We saw your parents in their carriage, your mother and I had the loveliest conversation.”
“No doubt all about myself and my brother.”
“You were mentioned, I said how sorry I was that I saw so little of you these days, Arthur too.”
Walter paused and looked at her, he was thinking back to all the time they had spent together as children, growing up just across the street from one another. There was a tree hanging over the wall and the two of them used to sit together in the bough, Laura reading to him as he dozed in the sun. That all seemed such a long time ago.
“Well, I have responsibilities now, Laura. Our fathers’ business is my responsibility, your future is at stake too should I fail, I have to succeed and build upon their legacy. You know the trust that’s been placed in me and I do not intend to let that trust be misplaced.”
“Well, your mother has suggested a solution to our predicament, one which I agree with entirely. I miss the talks we used to have and the books we used to read, you explaining this and that to me, much simpler days.”
“I miss them too and so, what is that solution?”
“On Wednesday evening. we are all to dine together, our daddies, your mother, Arthur, you, and I.”
At the mention of his brother, Walter found himself grimacing a little. He would much rather have spent the evening with Laura and, if necessary, the older members of his family but to have his younger brother too would create a tension he would prefer not to be part of.
Walter had never liked his brother, though in that dislike was, of course, an admiration. For Arthur was everything that Walter was not. He had humor and wit, the ability to speak to women and to charm them, he was outgoing and adventurous, the center of any gathering. Walter on the other hand was none of these things, but, of course, also secretly envied his brother for all that Walter was too: studious, hardworking and successful in business and profit.
Any observer on the Thirty-Ninth Street that afternoon would have now seen for themselves that contrast described here, for just as Walter and Laura were discussing the dinner party and those attending, Arthur himself came around the corner whistling and singing. He was indeed as opposite to Walter as could be imagined. To have them stand next to one another would show that their familial relationship could not be discerned. Walter with his shock of black hair and penetrating green eyes in contrast to Arthur who was blonde and blue eyed, shorter than his brother but physically far stronger—a fortunate fact considering the company he kept at times.
“The sparkling liquor fills the glass and briskly round the board it flies, they toast, of course, our favorite lass… And speaking of favored lassies, hey Laura.” Arthur’s singing abruptly ended and he crossed the street to where Walter and Laura stood talking across the wall. “My favorite lassie and my favorite brother.” He steadied himself slightly on the wall and burped.
Laura tried to hide her amusement, but Walter did not look impressed. “Where has it been today Arthur? The Turk and Monkey? The Three Barrels? Or perhaps you’ve tried your luck again at the Regency Club? Yes, I know about that, using our father’s good name to gain entry and then picking a fight with a man three times your size and an officer in the military to boot,” Walter said.
“He pushed me,” Arthur replied nonchalantly, “and I could not possibly allow my honor to be besmirched in such a way, I was defending our father’s name.”
Walter offered no response, but Laura could not help herself and burst out laughing at the sight of the two brothers standing in such stark contrast to each other across the wall from her. “I was just telling Walter that I saw your parents today in the park. Your mother has arranged a dinner for us all this coming Wednesday.”
“Well, how splendid! I shall have to buy a new outfit for the occasion,” Arthur said, twirling on the spot and wobbling slightly as Walter sighed heavily.
“I’m sure what you’re wearing will be just fine,” Laura said.
“And you must have a new bonnet,” Arthur continued, “with a pink ribbon and a pretty bow.”
“Arthur,” Walter said, “behave yourself, you are clearly drunk. Now, go home immediately.”
“Did you hear that Laura?” Arthur said, leaning in and grinning at Laura. “My elder brother lays down the law, just like when we were children, you remember the time I wasn’t allowed to play with you both because I’d fallen in the mud and he said I was too dirty?”
“I remember you pushing poor Walter in the mud too then declaring you both to be as dirty as each other, so it mattered not. I ran inside to prevent my new white dress from being soiled.”
Even Walter smiled a little at this memory. Turning, he offered his farewells to Laura with the assurance of his great expectation as to her company on Wednesday.
“Don’t be staying at that office a moment longer than you must.”
“He’ll find a way. My brother is chained to his desk, he may as well be welded to it as his fine Brookes and Adamson tracks are welded to the heart of America,” Arthur said, calling after his brother who resolutely ignored him.
As a child, Arthur had shown no interest in his father’s business except in the romance of the railroad itself. He was not bothered by the intricacies of railway design or the specifications of the Dewitt Clinton Locomotive. Instead, he would ask his father how many Native Americans he had seen and whether the railroad could take him to the places he had read about in his books of adventures. Arthur Brookes was a dreamer, but that dreaming rarely led to anything practical. As such, coupled with his lack of interest in academic study, he now found himself jobless and living at the expense of his parents, his small allowance squandered in bars and gambling dens.
“Arthur, why do you go down to those awful places? Is there not more you could do each day than gamble and drink?”
“What am I to do, Laura? Walter makes no provision for me in the family firm, I may as well not exist, my father would prefer that I think.”
“Don’t say such awful things Arthur, your daddy loves you just as my daddy loves you as his son. They worry for you though, we all do. In the park today, I said to your mother how much I miss you and Walter around like the old days, back when things were free and easier. Now, Walter is chained to a desk and you are chained to vice.”
Her words seemed to have a sobering effect and Arthur stood up from the wall where he had been leaning and looked at her. “I don’t know what to do Laura, I was no good at school, nothing like Walter, and I was never made to work. Daddy always paid my bills, he still does, I don’t have anything, Laura.”
She looked at him and smiled, behind the façade she could still see the young boy she had played with and the adolescent she had shared a secret kiss with in the garden when they were just sixteen. All that seemed so long ago now. She reached over the wall and took hold of his hand. “I just want to see the old Arthur back again, he’s in there somewhere, isn’t he?”
“Good luck finding him,” Arthur replied despondently, “I should be going Laura, they’ll be asking where I am. Say hello to your daddy for me and I’m sure you will look just as beautiful as ever on Wednesday evening.”
“I’ll see you then Arthur and please, for my sake, try to make it a pleasant evening for us all.”
He nodded and walked awkwardly across the street. She watched his progress from behind, a stumble upon the steps evidence that the liquor was still coursing through him. Laura turned back into the garden and breathed in the sweet aroma of the flowers, running her hands across the scented roses which were now picking up the golden evening sun.
“I’m told that dinner is close to ready,” Mr. Adamson called from the terrace at the side of the house where he had been enjoying a whisky and soda. “How were the two boys? I didn’t like to intrude upon you.”
“They send their best wishes to you, I just can’t help feeling a nostalgia for how things used to be. Poor Walter in the business working every hour the good Lord sends and Arthur wasting every hour he sends in such awful places.”
“You can’t help everyone, Laura. Walter needs to slow down. When Thomas and I ran that business, I was home with you by five each day, but he seems to possess a greed for money whilst young Arthur, well, I think he has never found his direction. They both need a friend like you, Laura, come now, let’s go inside, I understand we are having cutlets.”
The two made their way indoors, Laura still reflecting upon the brothers. Could things really go back to the way they had been? Or perhaps she wanted too much, for ever since such feelings had first stirred themselves within her Laura Adamson had known that she had love for each of the Brookes’ brother, a love which each of them had reciprocated.
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