Originally Published 08/10/2011
The will was to be read at noon on the Twelfth of January at the estate of the deceased, Ezra Strout, in Bar Harbor, Maine. Carriage was arranged from New York for Ms. Madeline Astor, a journey of three days in each direction. Ms. Astor, for reasons unknown, was named next of kin, and was therefore compelled to attend. This was most queer, as Ms. Astor did not know the deceased, and her only connection to Bar Harbor was the family properties. The mystery lent a troubling air to the beginning of the trip.
Being a society woman of unlimited means, the finest carriage in New York was arranged for Ms. Astor, a fully enclosed affair with leather upholstery and lantern sconces. The interior was custom insulated for winter travel, and to protect against bumps from the rucketing carriage roads. Only the finest appointments were provided for this trip and, as was the fashion she was accustomed to, for Ms. Astor.
The morning of the Ninth of January dawned murky gray, hinting of snow and bitterly cold: twelve below zero. The carriage was summoned to the Astor mansion on 5th Ave and 33rd St., Ms. Astor’s personal affects were loaded atop and they set off to the northward, up 5th Ave, past The Central Park and out of the city. By the time they had reached Connecticut, the skies opened up to snow, gentle at first, then increasing in fury. The snow intensified all day, and it was decided to stay the first night at an inn in Massachusetts.
Having lost time on the first day, the decision was made to travel all day and night on the Tenth and decamp at the Astor mansion on Mount Dessert Island. The Tenth dawned clear and only one below zero, and the roads were in fair condition after the blinding snow of the day before. The journey continued northward.
Unable to sleep in the carriage, Ms. Astor spend the night of the Tenth into the Eleventh in a frightful state. The full moon shone into the carriage, illuminating the snow in a million dancing crystals of light. There was a halo around the moon, and throughout the desolate Maine night the cry of wolves could be heard in the distance. When sleep did befall, it was disturbing, filled with dreams of marauders along the carriage roads and unpleasant beneficences in the will of Mr. Strout. There was no comfort on this journey, in spite of the luxurious carriage.
Finally they made the Astor estate on Mount Dessert Island. The company rested from the arduous conditions, supping on fine mutton and many bottles of wine from France and Spain. They slept in the most luxurious chambers and all were most rested for the business of the Twelfth.
The day was chill and crystalline brilliant as Ms. Astor and her party set off early for the Town Hall in Bar Harbor village, snug between Frenchman’s Bay and Cadillac Mountain. The probates administer greeted Ms. Astor and her party, and summoned them inside the old municipal building.
“I sup..pp…suppose you must be wondering what business you have here, Ms. Astor”, stammered the clerk, a Mr. Thomas Cabot of Bangor, a man of stout build not used to dealing with members of such exceptional class.
“Yes, the thought crossed my mind”, Ms. Astor replied coldly. “Who is this Mr. Strout, and what business does he have naming me his next of kin?”
“Well, Ms. Astor…” Mr. Cabot stammered “as it turns out, quite a lot. You see, Mr. Strout was…he was..your uncle.”
The old Town Hall fell into a deathly silence, the only sounds being the tick of the grandfather clock and the collective gasp of the assembled. Ms. Astor, shocked and outraged at this implausible claim, struggled to maintain control.
“It’s a lie!” she yelled. “How dare you make such a claim! What proof have you?!?”
“It’s all in…in the wi…will, Ms. Astor” Mr. Cabot, taken aback at the force of Ms. Astor’s admonitions, gamely replied. “We’re quite certain. Your grandfather, I’m sorry to inform you, had an affair with a Ms. Emma Carleton, a summer maid on your estate, in eighteen and twenty. Thus, your uncle Ezra was born.”
Ms. Astor, shaking with rage at these surely spurious allegations, held her tongue as best she could. But after the arduous journey through the brutal winter conditions to this god-forsaken Town Hall, hearing this news was almost too much to bear.
“I deMAND to see the will! Right this instant! I have a name to uphold, you know, and I will NOT have it sullied by you and the damnable lies of your commoner ghost of a client!”
Mr. Cabot, scared for his life, fiddled with his pocket watch, his vest, his handlebar mustache, anything to avoid the weight and impact of Ms. Astor’s words and icy glare.
“Cert…certainly, ma’am. Here it is, right hu..hu…here.”
He pulled the will from his breast pocket and laid it out on his desk. The sound of the grandfather clock became far more pronounced as all looked over the parchment, eager to see what secrets it held.
Ms. Astor pulled out her opera spectacles and set her eyes upon the will. Suddenly the truth set in, and she realized what was truly in store for her…