“There’s no doubt I played a part in all this,” Skeet said, as he accepted the cup of coffee Mama handed to him. “I just didn’t know it at the time.”
Payton Thatcher, known to all as Skeet, was Endurance’s only lawyer and a heck of a great guy, in my opinion. Not only was he smart, he was also a bona fide war hero with a Purple Heart to prove it. I suspect he’d trade that medal for the leg he was now missing but you’d never hear him say that.
“How so, Skeet?” Mama prompted him.
“First off,” he said, “let me assure you that Mrs. Mayfield–Charlotte Broome to everyone here–has given me permission to disclose everything I’m about to tell you. In her own words ‘there have been enough secrets’.”
“Yes,” Doc Handy said, looking around the room. “I think that’s something everyone here can agree on.”
“Let me begin with a little bit of background information so everything else will make sense.” Skeet took a sip of his coffee and settled back in his chair. “Many years ago, around twenty now, my Pop prepared wills for Eustace and Frances Broome. In each case, the entirety of the estate went to the surviving spouse. Both wills stated that in the event either spouse was already deceased, the estate–except for a $5,000 bequest set aside for St. Elizabeth’s Convent and Orphanage in San Antonio–was to go to Eustace’s sister in Kansas.”
“Then they did send her to St. Elizabeth’s,” Mama said, looking at Charlotte.
“Yes,” Skeet said. “If it’s any consolation, Mrs. Mayfield says they–the Sisters–treated her well. She stayed on there as a kitchen worker after…” His voiced trailed off as he glanced at Frank Granger.
“After our baby was born,” Frank said, never taking his eyes from Charlotte.
“Yes,” Skeet said, nodding. “In fact, she remained at St. Elizabeth’s until she married…”
“Clarry is married?” Frank asked, turning quickly to look at Skeet.
“Widowed,” Skeet said. “Her husband enlisted in the Navy right after Pearl Harbor. He was lost at sea last year. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Last December, right after I got back and just after Eustace died, Frances Broome came to the office to settle the estate. At that same time, she revised her will and removed her sister-in-law as beneficiary. Instead, she left everything to a Mrs. Wallace Mayfield of San Antonio. She referred to Mrs. Mayfield as a relative and provided me with an address. I believe Mrs. Broome knew she didn’t have long to live at that point.”
“That’s correct,” Doc said. “Frances knew her cancer had advanced even before Eustace died. She was aware that she was living on borrowed time.”
“After Frances Broome died in February,” Skeet continued “I sent a letter to Mrs. Mayfield in San Antonio, informing her of the situation and her inheritance. I waited for a reply but none came so I wrote another letter, which also went unanswered. Then, a little over three weeks ago, I got a phone call from Mrs. Mayfield. She informed me that she would be arriving in Endurance late on November 6. She asked me to unlock the house and leave the keys inside. Then she made an appointment to see me for the following day. That’s when I heard her story.”
“Why did she wait so long to get in touch with you?” Doc asked.
“That’s where the story gets complicated,” Skeet said, as Mama refilled his cup. “As soon as Wallace Mayfield joined the navy, he insisted Charlotte move in with his brother and sister-in-law. Due to his wife’s health issues, he wasn’t keen on the idea of her living alone. Charlotte agreed to the plan, although she wasn’t particularly fond of her in-laws, who, by the way, didn’t know her personal history. They thought Charlotte was an orphan with no family. After her husband was lost at sea, Charlotte Mayfield continued living with her in-laws.”
“What about her husband?” Frank asked. “Did he know about Clarry’s…past?”
“According to Mrs. Mayfield, he knew her entire story.” Skeet said. “Wallace Mayfield worked at a local market and delivered groceries to the convent. They met while she was working in the kitchen. It seems he was quite taken with her from the moment he saw her. At some point he asked her to marry him and she accepted. The two of them decided to keep Charlotte’s past a secret from family and acquaintances.”
“I take it something went wrong?” Doc asked as he refilled his pipe.
“My letter,” Skeet said. “Its arrival threw Charlotte Mayfield for a loop. She didn’t know what to do, so she put it in a dresser drawer and did nothing, for the time being. Her sister-in-law found the letter while cleaning the bedroom and confronted Charlotte. She demanded to know who Frances Broome was and why she had left her estate to Charlotte.”
“And Clarry told her,” Mama stated.
“Yes,” Skeet confirmed. “She told her everything. And that night, when the brother-in-law came home, his wife told him the whole story. The pious couple informed Charlotte that since she now had a house of her own, she had to leave theirs–immediately. The brother-in-law drove her to Endurance that next day and left her at the curb in front of this house.”
“So Nettie Ledbetter was right all along?” I asked, not even trying to keep the surprise out of my voice.
Skeet laughed. “Yeah Grady, I’m afraid Nettie was on the money this time. You know what they say; even a broken clock is right twice a day.”
At that point, the sound of a siren interrupted Skeet’s story and I rushed to the window to see the ambulance. I couldn’t believe how many people had gathered on the sidewalk and the street in front of the house. I also couldn’t believe what a grand time everyone seemed to be having. It looked like the opening night of the carnival, for Pete’s sake. Nettie Ledbetter was even serving iced tea–or something–from her front porch. Once Doc Handy walked out the front door, everyone quieted down. He cleared the way for the ambulance fellas to get up to the house, filling them in on the situation as they entered. Once inside the house, the two men made quick work of lifting Charlotte onto the stretcher. As they exited, Doc informed them he would be following them back to Lubbock in his car.
“Frank,” Doc said, “I sure would like some company on the drive. Would you mind coming along with me?”
Frank Granger nodded. “That sure would beat walking all that way, Doc. Because I can tell you one thing for certain, I’m never letting her out of my sight again–not matter what I have to do.”
Doc smiled and patted the other man on the back. “Let’s go then. Evelyn, I’ll call as soon as I know anything.” The two men followed the ambulance attendants carrying Charlotte Broome down the steps. Skeet, Mama, and I stood on the porch and watched them drive away. After a few minutes, the crowd sensed the main attraction was over and started to disperse. The three of us went back inside the Broome house and sat down in the living room. Mama looked exhausted and on the verge of tears.
“We can’t lose her again. We just can’t,” Mama said, her voice thick with emotion. “I know Doc Handy will do all he can to make her better but even if … when she comes through this, she’s got a hard road ahead of her. Of course we will do everything we can to help her but how is she going to get by?” She looked at Skeet. “Does she at least have a war pension, Skeet?”
Skeet nodded as he got up from the chair and retrieved his hat from the side table. “She does. It’s not much but it’s something. However, I suspect those mineral rights she just inherited will help ease any financial burden.”
“Mineral rights?” Mama asked, not quite understanding.
“Yes ma’am. Over in Gaines County.” Skeet continued talking as he made his way to the door. “It seems they drilled in ’38 and struck oil. Best I can tell, there are currently sixteen pumping wells.”
“Sixteen wells!” Mama said in disbelief. “But that means…”
Skeet turned around and he was smiling. “That means Charlotte Broome Mayfield is a wealthy woman,” he said. “A very wealthy woman.”
(to be continued)
Categories: Story in Progress