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Chapter Two: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Updated: Dec 19, 2021

At the turn of the century, Watson Sr, head of the P & W Railroad Co., travels to Philadelphia and falls in love with the youngest daughter of a very old and fine family who have fallen upon difficult times.



Jonathan Andrew Watson had always loved the sea. Perhaps he did not love it the same as his father and brothers, but he loved it all the same. He loved it with an artist’s eye, not with the eyes of a hunter, as they did. Mostly, the sea terrified him. He was afraid of monsters lurking beneath its inauspicious waves. Jonathan Andrew liked to write poems about the ocean, or capture its colors on tightly-stretched canvases where he could dissect in paint how the sunlight reflected its various blues. If he had been left to his own purposes, he would never have experienced the joys of fishing, spearing, and harpooning. But very little about his life had ever been his to decide.


His father, Watson Sr, controlled his entire life, as he did Jonathan Andrew’s seven older brothers. They were different from him in every way. They did not recoil from the yoke; if anything, they yearned to have it fit even more snugly. Sometimes, Jonathan Andrew felt like his brothers had different blood running through their veins. Each of his seven older brothers was a younger, more devil-may-care version of their titan of a father, and they pursued every manner of sea sport with reckless intensity. Meanwhile, Jonathan Andrew preferred to stay at home with his mother, reading and painting; far from the dangers of the open ocean.


Relentlessly, each of his brothers pursued their goal to be the very most like their father, Watson Sr. They held him in a state of elevated awe, and worshipped him by way of a whiplashed idolatry, which was a potent combination of their fear of the man, and their admiration for all he had done. This was exactly as Watson Sr wanted it. He had purposefully raised his seven good sons to be gods of the sea, and gods of the land.


Watson Sr was the founder of the Pennsylvania and Watson Railroad Co., and he was one of the richest men in the world. After earning his first million, he had discovered a love for the ocean. Over the years, he had acquired a dizzying number of boats. His recreational fleet would have done a retired admiral proud. He had skiffs, schooners, dinghies, keelboats, even a retired battleship (although not officially, and he was not actually permitted to captain it), row-pullers for exercise, a grand yacht for long excursions, and a seventeenth-century clipper ship just for afternoons spent at whimsy on the short seas.


Sixty hours a week, Watson Sr and his eldest seven sons helmed the intricate turnings of their constantly churning locomotive business. They were the lock-and-chain manipulators of the empire; and five days a week, they worked from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. These were railroad hours, or so Watson Sr often preached. For Jonathan Andrew’s father and brothers, the weekdays flew by in a flurry of meetings with engineers, lawyers, bankers, accountants, and the endless cascades of paperwork that followed. When Friday evening finally came, the elder brothers would drink their weight in whiskey and beer, and then often wake up in beds that were not their own. But, right or wrong, it was just as their father had always done things; and each of the seven of them lived their life by the holy gospel of his example.


With the first dawning rays of each Saturday morning, rain or shine, Watson Sr and his seven proper sons would shake off their late-night hangovers, rub their bleary eyes, and claw their way out from between sheets and blankets, coverlets and afghans, ignoring the protests of whoever might still be there. As one, even though they were miles apart, they would splash water on their grimy faces, and race home to take up tackle and oars, hooks and sinkers, topsiders and gin, beer and whiskey, and armloads of bulky, sun-worn, orange life preservers.


The only ones not bound by this ritual nautical lunacy were Jonathan Andrew, the eighth son, and his mother, Ophelia Eufalla. Jonathan Andrew had been reared the same as his seven older brothers. Watson Sr always did everything the same, having decided young that discipline and rigor were the essential components of success. Besides, Watson Sr liked a good routine. After the utter chaos of his young life, he had graduated to a youth filled with travel and danger. For a long time, each day had been different, and there had been no guarantees of seeing another tomorrow.


Routine felt safe, and happy, like what Watson Sr imagined life should be. He believed in the virtues of routine to the ends of the earth. One important part of his child-rearing routine was taking his sons out to sea. Unfortunately, Jonathan Andrew had fared poorly from the start. His first few outings were disastrous. He was timid of lines and ropes. His demeanor was sullen and withdrawn. And, in spite of his father’s determined efforts to teach him how to be a proper fisherman, Jonathan Andrew was hopeless. It did not take long for their father-and-son seafaring expeditions to come to an end.


Watson Sr had hoped that his youngest son would at least be a good sailor, since he was miserably disappointing in every other way. His seven older sons were efficiently running the company while Jonathan Andrew spent all his time away with his mother in Newport, or quietly writing poetry in his room. After it became clear that his youngest son was never going to be strong and brave like the others, Watson Sr simply pretended that he didn’t exist. More than anything in the world, Watson Sr wanted a son exactly like himself. Nothing would do except a prodigal. A perfect son would be strong enough to take his railroad empire into the future. Because, as much as he loved his seven good sons, he knew they were lacking.


There was not a cutthroat among them, and gentle, scrawny Jonathan Andrew was not going to make up the short fall. Watson Sr knew better than most that the railroad business was a cutthroat business. A man had to be willing to get his hands dirty, and rid himself of anyone who stood in his way. None of his eight sons fit the bill, and Watson Sr’s own knife days were coming to an end. The arthritis and eye troubles that plagued him were chronic and would never improve, no matter how much he spent, or how many doctors he visited. His hard-lived life on the rails, and in a burned-out hellhole before that, had taken their toll.


The days were just going to get dimmer and dimmer; things were going to be harder and harder to grasp; and that was an end on it, or so his doctors said. They told him to accept the deprivations of age as natural and unchangeable. However, Watson Sr was not really interested in learning how to accept things. It did not seem like a good habit to acquire. It seemed like the sort of thing he had had to do when he was young and scared and poor. In his mind, it was a ridiculous notion to be so astoundingly rich, and still have to accept such unpleasant truths.


Over time, worries about his health began to hang on him like a long, brown cloak. Watson Sr had always been a worrier. Try as he might, he had never been able to eliminate his worries with the same ruthless efficiency he had used to kill his enemies. As he grew older and his troubles aggregated, his violent temper worsened, and intensified his evil demeanor. However, no one outside his family noticed any difference because no one besides his family ever came near him. And that, in his mind, was simply as it was meant to be.


After all, underneath the thistles and barbs of his forbidding exterior lay the soul of a true killer. Watson Sr hid in plain sight, even though he was not a cold-blooded, black-hearted sort of killer; but rather a bloody-minded, fiery murderer. He had seen those other type men, the ones with empty, dark eyes and cold hands. Those men lived and worked in the shadows, and had hearts like husks of ice. They tended to merge into a nameless darkness when their killing days were done. But, Watson Sr was not one of those men. He felt deeply and exquisitely, but only towards those he loved, or hated. He committed murder from passion and need, not to fill the black, aching hole of a dead existence.


To her dying day, Ophelia Eufalla never had any idea about her husband’s past. Perhaps willingly, she chose not to know what caused the hardness behind his onyx eyes, his intractable silences. She knew he was a good father and husband, and was as protective as a bear over them. He made her feel safer than she had ever known was possible. In turn, Ophelia Eufalla did not mind Watson Sr’s demanding nature, or his need to keep complete control of their lives. It was a small price to pay for the type of security he brought to her life. However, he worried; and his worries rambled and pulsed like a steam locomotive.


Watson Sr’s thoughts spun worry like a spider weaves a web. Everything for him revolved around questions of money and fate, endlessly spinning like a child’s toy top, but never coming to rest. He only spared himself worries about the rightness or wrongness of his actions, for the world had never shown him any concrete value in worrying about the right and wrong of things. For him, survival and money were all that mattered; they were the twin currencies of life, not arbitrary rules about ethics, morals, and correct action towards one’s fellows. When he whirled himself into a real spiral of discontented thinking, only Ophelia Eufalla could calm him, and balm his worried mind with the soft touch of her small hands.


Unfortunately, Watson Sr could not deny that she had also failed him. There was not one among his many children who could fill his shoes. Usually, if someone wronged him they would end up gut-stabbed, and dangling from the end of his long knife. But, he could not hurt her. Watson Sr had always loved Ophelia Eufalla. To lose her would be to lose something essential from his soul. And, despite their faults, he mostly loved his seven big, strong sons. But, even he could not hide from the fact that hers was his fault, too. The very thing he had had to have from her was the very thing that threatened to undo his empire.


It was just too many years too late when he finally realized the truth. Her weak-veined, addled-minded, blue-blooded lineage was to blame. The same thin, purer-than-the-driven-snow, aristocratic blood which had once granted a rarified legitimacy to him and his growing empire had, in the end, snuffed out the molten, vengeful fire which had always burned so brightly in Watson Sr. In the veins of his seven proud, golden sons, that essential fire was diluted down to a distant flicker which only occasionally sparked in their sea-blue eyes.


With the disappointment of his eighth son, Jonathan Andrew, the smallest and weakest of them all, Watson Sr took heavily to other women, but eventually his time in the brothels sired a revelation. An accidental bastard would do him no good. At the bottom of a bootleg bottle of brown whiskey he found the truth. In order to have the son he wanted, he would have to forego his usual lusty pleasures. Watson Sr had always dealt with his problems by losing himself in booze and women. But, this problem was unique. It was thornier, and wholly of his own making. It would not go away on its own, nor could he just find and kill whoever was making such trouble for him.


Watson Sr had no care for things that were different or out of his control. He had never told himself no, and it rankled his ire to do so. Restraint was a completely foreign concept to him. It seemed to go against his very nature. Everything he had ever done had been done without any kind of restraint. If he wanted something, he took it. If someone offered a fight, he turned to murder. His empire had been forged from the willingness to follow this simple code, and to never regret an action that furthered his purposes.


As far as Watson Sr was concerned, there was no inherent value in exercising restraint, and self-denial was a concept for lesser men to live by. Success for him meant not being concerned with questions of such low regard. But, with his back against the wall, and the future of his empire at stake, he had to do something he had never considered doing before. Therefore, he turned his full and lustful attentions to his wife. It was hard for Watson Sr to square his fervent malcontent with his desires, but he convinced himself that he could will the right kind of son into being.


These unexpected changes were a bag of mixed fortune for Ophelia Eufalla. Without a word of explanation, Watson Sr impulsively added a daily routine of lovemaking. It was an unexpected incursion of physicality into her life, but Ophelia Eufalla accepted his attentions with gracious warmth, as she had been brought up to do. She knew he was not a creature who enjoyed change, and she suspected his reasons. It felt like a final chance to provide a better son than the weakly last one she had prematurely given birth to.


But, unlike her husband, Ophelia Eufalla loved her precious youngest child, maybe even more than any of the others. She was grateful that he was different from them because she could keep him all for herself. The others had followed Watson Sr like ducklings following a mother hen into the coal-fired, igneous center of the locomotive empire. They were lost to her as soon as they were old enough to sail a boat, or contribute to the business. She knew it was the nature of black soot combustion engines to devour bodies and minds, earth and heavens, in order to make riches: bones became rails, sinew was laid down for ties, and blood was squeezed for fuel. In the end, the railroads took it all.


Ophelia Eufalla knew there was no amount of strong, capable sons who could satisfy the demands of a railroad empire, but she wanted to give her husband at least one more. Maybe one who was even better, stronger, and smarter than the others, if such were possible. Ophelia Eufalla did not know, and would never suspect, that her husband was looking for the unique combination of elements that would yield a true killer. However, she did know that she was getting older, and that Jonathan Andrew’s birth had been harder than any of the others.


Somewhere deep inside, she knew that her body could only withstand one more pregnancy. So, she submitted to her husband’s desires with the same, singular goal in mind. Once set on a course, Watson Sr knew no detours, and he spent none of his lust anywhere else. He was determined to have a perfect son if he had to form him from a wellspring of spent orgasms. After all, Jonathan Andrew was growing older each day, and becoming less what he was supposed to be by each sunset. His mother understood without explanation that only her willingness to submit to Watson Sr’s fierce affections had the power to protect Jonathan Andrew from her husband’s unpredictable rages.


By keeping Watson Sr focused and sated, Ophelia Eufalla could keep his thoughts focused and occupied. She hated to see the furious disappointment that flared his nostrils and darkened his black eyes each time his gaze fell on his last son. In his own mind, Watson Sr had an undoubted vision of who the perfect son would be. He wanted a titan like himself. The best son would be smart, strong, and savvy, like his seven good sons, but he would also be a genteel knife man. The sort of man who could smile to another man’s face, wait until he turned, and soundlessly drive a knife between two unsuspecting shoulder blades.


Watson Sr could do the red work himself easily enough, but he could never sell a false smile. He could not smile at all. He never spoke and never smiled, which meant that no one ever trusted him enough to show him their back. Sometimes, in odd moments, Watson Sr would wonder how much greater his legacy could have been if he had been born a suave killer. But, he could be no other than what he was: a hulking grizzly bear of a man who thrilled to bring all the ferociousness and noise and ugliness of a good kill into gory reality.


By contrast, his wife’s aristocratic people had never raised an axe or a hammer, not for work, certainly not for violence, nor for any other reason. The Pennsylvania Hudsons were idle and proud and ignorant of the daily catastrophes that made their world possible. But, Watson Sr knew all about these things, he was the primary instrument of blunt force trauma that kept things in the proper order.


The Pennsylvania Hudsons and Watson Sr had little in common except that neither, for completely opposing reasons, gave a damn about anyone who was not rich or important. Watson Sr had been born into horror and strife, and therefore resented anyone of a lower class. He believed that if other people had not made their way in the world, then it was because of laziness or stupidity or just general unworthiness. But, mostly, secretly, he hated seeing the past he had fought so hard to get away from reflected in the sad eyes and grimy faces of those who were destitute.


Watson Sr held the peculiar, and totally self-formed, belief that being rich meant never having to gaze upon the ugliness of poverty again. In an ironic contrivance of polarity, Ophelia Eufalla also had no use for the poor. But, her distaste for penury was not driven by a unquenchable need to wipe out any memory of being poor herself. For Ophelia Eufalla and the rest of the Pennsylvania Hudsons, poverty was simply not a subject suitable for conversation, or even for contemplation. She and her ilk had no reason to fear sinking back into a shameful something that they had no experience with. To them, being poor was simply a distasteful state of being, and not something one would wish to be associated with; not for any reason.


***


Philadelphia, September 1888


Ophelia Eufalla Hudson, the great love of Watson Sr’s life, the sacred symbol of all he should not have had but did anyway, was the last daughter of the final generation of the Pennsylvania Hudsons. She belonged to the specific world of old wealth in the Americas which had sailed over on the Mayflower, and created themselves as kings in the New World. It was an esteemed and noble world that brooked no outside influences. It was only by an exceptional instance of rare happenstance that a gruff and unseasoned orphan like Watson Sr was ever able to penetrate the opaline gates of their illustrious world.


While the Pennsylvania Hudson family could match pedigrees with any of the richest families in New York, a series of bad investments and generations of spendthrift gamblers had left the once-plentiful coffers nearly empty. The family did all they could to hide that their extreme wealth had been bled dry by generations of misuse, but each year, the challenge grew greater. With the money all but gone, they could barely manage to keep the holes patched in the roof of their mansion: a giant, turreted affair with lush gardens that had once blanketed the landscape like a patchwork quilt of multicolored blooms.


Unfortunately, the flowers had slowly been displaced by an infestation of overgrown weeds. But all that was well-hidden on a private drive and behind massive, iron gates. Such was the state of affairs when Watson Sr arrived on the scene. For years and years, the Hudson family had had their hands full just trying to keep up appearances. But, even with all their efforts, the cracks were beginning to show.


People had begun to whisper that the family was broke, and the truth behind them carried these rumors further than they might have traveled otherwise. Worse, there were no voices to contradict these damaging whispers. Everyone knew that the great accomplishments of their forebears were long over. Only the streets and parks that still bore the family name were left to attest to their grand legacy. However, none of these produced any kind of income, and that was no secret either.


During the rainiest September anyone could remember, Watson Sr came to Philadelphia on business. He chose to stay at the finest establishment in the city, the Continental Hotel. On his first night there, he went down to the dining room, and ordered a rare steak with all the fixings, and a bottle of good whiskey. Sitting alone at the bar, he looked across the opulent dining room and spied Ophelia Eufalla Hudson as she dined with her family. For Watson Sr, it was love at first sight. He signaled to the maitre d’, and insisted on paying the bill for the Hudson’s entire table.


Watson Sr was never afraid of anything, but when faced with young Ophelia Eufalla’s ravishing beauty, and elevated pedigree, he felt unexpectedly nervous. He took a couple shots of whiskey, and went over to introduce himself. The Hudsons were aghast. People regularly bought their meals just for the favor of a nod and a smile. It was beyond impertinent for an uncouth stranger to actually approach them. Ophelia Eufalla’s father, Abraham Charles Hudson, handled the brief exchange. As was his habit, he was haughty and curt, but he stopped short of offending the obviously well-moneyed, but very unwelcome, stranger.


However, before he had arrived table-side to tip his hat, Abraham Charles Hudson knew who Watson Sr was. The maitre d’ had told him before Watson Sr was even allowed to pay the bill. In the maitre d’s mind, New York City railroad magnates might come and go, but the Hudsons were forever. They were the most important people in the city, even if they did sometimes forget to pay. After all, there was always someone willing to pick up the tab on a legacy, especially if it meant being acknowledged by the family, and having that acknowledgment be seen by everyone who mattered.


The next night was much the same for the Hudsons. They arrived at the Continental Hotel dining room after having fled their own dining room, which had sprung one troublesome leak after another with the heavy rainfall. There were so many copper pots and pans set up to catch the dripping water that there was hardly room for anyone to sit and try to eat as the water drip-dropped a hollow, metallic melody to accompany a soggy meal. Instead, the Hudsons donned their best so that they might eat in more comfortable, and less despairingly noisy, quarters. But, just as they did not have the money for a new roof, they also did not have the money for the steaks and lobsters and bottles of fine champagne that crowded the large cherry wood tabletop at the Continental Hotel.


Again, Watson Sr spied the family and signaled to the maitre d’. Once again his money was accepted, even though he was clearly not. Undeterred, Watson Sr approached the table with growing anxiety. This time, he received the honor of a handshake, although Abraham Charles’s quick words of thanks were uttered with a measure of tepid alkalinity. It was going to be a long journey, Watson Sr decided. Despite having spent the equivalent of many months wages for a common man, he had still not approached within ten feet of Ophelia Eufalla.


That night, as he prepared for bed, Watson Sr decided on a new plan for getting within arm’s reach of his prize. For the money he had spent, he could have fucked his way through every prostitute housed in the best brothel in Philadelphia. But, Watson Sr knew he could not concern himself with pennies if he really wanted to get what he wanted. So, early the next day, Watson Sr went to the bank, and withdrew enough cash to fill a nondescript, multi-colored, leather-handled carpet bag. Before being retooled into a piece of luggage, the bag had once been a fine Persian carpet shot through with a liberal amount of golden threads.


When evening came, he again found the maitre d’, and gave him ten crisp hundred dollar bills. The deal done, an hour later, Watson Sr dressed in his best suit and took a seat not at the bar, but at the immense cherry wood table that dominated the romantically-lit dining room. The night drew on, but his meal and customary bottle of whiskey were all that decorated the dreary, long, white expanse of the delicate linen tablecloth. That night, the Pennsylvania Hudsons never showed up to the Continental Hotel dining room, nor did they come the next night. Watson Sr was not discouraged, he only saw the delay as a new call to action.


Early the next morning, the raven who kept his large straw nest above the mezzanine of the Continental Hotel watched as a nondescript, middle-aged, sandy-haired man exited the hotel with an equally nondescript, leather-handled carpet bag in hand. The gold filament thread woven among the mottled oranges, reds, and yellows of the old Persian rug caught a glimmer of sunlight in a way that entranced the hotel’s resident black-winged sentinel. No one else paid the nondescript man any mind as he grabbed the brass rail on a cherry-red streetcar, but the raven followed, watching the glinting shimmers from the gold threads and the polished rails.


The electric streetcar traveled along its route, and eventually brought the man to within a block of the Hudson’s hidden compound. He looked back and forth, as well as up and down the street to be sure that he had not been followed. The man dismounted when the ringing of the shiny streetcar’s braking bell signaled that it was coming to a stop. The raven watched as the nondescript man approached the imposing iron gates, which appeared to be impassable, but yielded only a rusted metal lock whose aged chain broke free when the man grabbed the gate door and pulled it strongly towards him.


From his perch in an untrimmed yew tree, the raven watched the nondescript man knock on the massive oak door, then speak a few words to the grizzled, old butler who answered. In the next moment, the man handed the butler the gold-thread carpetbag, as well as a gilt-edged envelope he produced from the pocket of his dark grey overcoat. The carpetbag and envelope disappeared within the house, and the man turned to walk back towards the gate. The curious raven cocked his head from left to right, and back again, trying to find some glinting golden thing in the sunlight, but the shining objects that had lured him from his nest were gone.


Undiscouraged, the raven took to wing. From his aerial vantage, he watched as the nondescript man made his way through the open iron gate, and back out onto the tree-lined street. With no more treasures to behold, the raven quickly lost interest in the man’s journey, and set his mind to more urgent business - the scavenging of a long-awaited breakfast. The Hudson family would never condescend to eat leftover food, so after being home for two nights, the rummage bins were nearly overflowing with barely-eaten food. The raven dived in, delighted by the bounty, and ate his fill of chicken and beans, steak and potatoes, vegetables and rice.


The small golden glints that caught his eye had led the raven to a great reward, so with his empty belly satisfyingly full, he flew back to his nest that evening. As the sun began to dip in the west, setting the sky ablaze in fiery shades of red and pink and orange, the raven resumed his generously padded nest, content and happy. He buried his head beneath his sable wing to enjoy a well-earned nap, while beneath his lofty perch two large, horse-drawn carriages pulled to a stop before the palatial entrance of the Continental Hotel.


The hotel’s footmen opened the lacquered black carriage doors, and the Hudson family slowly emerged. The men were elegantly attired in handsome suits with thick gold pocket-watch chains adorning their waistcoats, although the watches themselves, family heirlooms all, were long gone and sold. In their place were only lumps of coal, filed down with sandpaper to resemble the shape of real watches.


The women of the Hudson family were dressed in old-style, dated gowns of satin, which were draped over thick petticoats and wide hoop skirts. Ophelia Eufalla was the last to emerge in a stunning gown of royal blue that set off her startling sapphire blue eyes and long, blonde curls to perfection. Led by the family patriarch, Abraham Charles, the sumptuously dressed procession entered the dining room where Watson Sr sat waiting for them.


The maitre d’ had seen to it that an extra chair had been set at the head of the large cherry wood table, just for Watson Sr. The eleven members of the Hudson party took their customary seats, with the exception of Abraham Charles, who sat to Watson Sr’s right. The two great men, one the head of an old, extremely respectable family, and the other the president of a rapidly-growing railroad empire, acknowledged each other with a nod before Watson Sr was suddenly up and out of his chair. As the other family members settled around the wide table beneath the hundred-candle, cut-crystal chandeliers, Watson Sr went round the table and made a deep bow to Ophelia Eufalla. Her ravishing beauty consumed his senses, and momentarily made him forget himself.


“Ow’s juh do, Mizz Huzzan? Pwezher t’ see youse!” he managed in a gruff, untempered whisper.


His “A’s” were always soft, like the pouring of wine. His “T’s” were nearly unrecognizable and would get jumbled up amidst the other letters. Any other letter sounds came and went with no rhyme or reason, and they were all rusty from disuse. The awkward sound of his voice was almost as surprising to him as it was to his amazed audience. It was the most he had said to anyone, especially anyone unfamiliar, in quite a long time. Ever since he had endured the injuries to his face, Watson Sr could not form succinct or proper syllables. The shape of his mouth, with its permanently drawn-down edges, would only admit the barest forms of spoken language.


These hindrances, in addition to the fact that he had never learned to read or write, made him as unsuitable an oaf as Ophelia Eufalla had ever dreamed might dare to speak to her. She was stunned by his sudden appearance and awkward word sounds. Ophelia Eufalla stood silent as he recovered his bow, and then pulled her high-backed, cherry wood chair for her to sit. As she lightly picked up her delicately rustling satin skirts to settle herself in the chair, Watson Sr heard her say, in a soft, melodic voice, barely above a whisper, but bristling with a cold edge of indignation,


“Excuse me, am I supposed to know you?”


Watson Sr nearly took an involuntary step backward before recovering his senses. It was the most impressive thing he had ever heard anyone say to him. And to hear such a statement spoken by the most ravishingly beautiful lady he had ever seen was an unexpected pleasure. It made his dark eyes blaze with excitement. As the waiters began to serve the table, Watson Sr resumed his seat at the head of the table. He felt nervous and on edge. He knew this new dinner arrangement was tenuous.


Abraham Charles also sensed the tension. He took a sip of water, and raised the glass as if to give a toast. It was a nearly unforgivable breach of etiquette because, as Abraham Charles well knew, toasting was only appropriate with champagne, wine, or liquor, and was never done after anyone at the table, especially the host, had already taken a drink from their glass. However, in the pompous vortex of Abraham Charles’s mind, he thought that Watson Sr would never know the difference. With his water glass raised, he cast his gaze around the table, and announced,


“You are well met, Sir.”


This was the signal that the meal could properly begin, and everyone could commence ordering their drinks and appetizers; all at Watson Sr’s expense, of course. Unknown to Abraham Charles, Watson Sr had indeed seen the backhanded slight, but had decided to let it go. It was not usual for him to allow another man to offend him, especially in front of others. In his mind’s eye, he imagined shattering the damned water glass and using the heaviest shard to open Abraham Charles’s throat. But, Watson Sr merely gave the barest nod of acknowledgement. Abraham Charles never had any idea that he had rattled a tiger’s cage.


Watson Sr was unused to keeping himself in such strict order, but his beautiful Ophelia Eufalla was watching him from beneath long, hooded lashes. The dinner was underway, but there was a definite tete-a-tete, where neither great man had the advantage. At any moment, Abraham Charles might change his mind about the evening, and get up to leave the dining room. If that happened, the family would go with him, and then Watson Sr’s task would be exponentially more difficult. He was acutely aware that all he had to offer the Hudsons, in exchange for their company, was money. His first and best offer had already been accepted, but it was no guarantee of anything more than what had already taken place.


The conversations around the table were strained, and lovely Ophelia Eufalla refused to meet Watson Sr’s eyes. Underneath the supposedly convivial atmosphere, the Hudsons were at odds with themselves. Whispers and darting glances stood in for the normal level of excited talk during the beginning of a promising evening. They all wondered: Who was this man? This Watson, was it? And why were they sitting at a table with a man who had the unkempt manners of a goat? Had their fortunes really fallen so far that they must endure the company of such as him? It seemed to the Pennsylvania Hudsons that there was simply no polite conversation that could happen around Watson Sr’s evasive silences.


That is until, as if on cue, the waiters appeared. They brought not only Watson Sr’s regular bottle of fine whiskey, but trays and trays of crystal glasses filled with sparkling champagne. From that moment on, the expensive champagne flowed from a seemingly unending reserve of bottles. As soon as a glass looked as though it might go dry, a waiter was there with a fresh bottle to refill its sparkling crystal depths. As Watson Sr had planned, the bubbling refreshment soon served its purpose, and eased the uncomfortable air of uncertainty that had hung so heavy about the table.


As the dinner continued, Watson Sr felt his guard relax, although he still spoke not a word, and simply sipped his whiskey contentedly. He knew that once the Hudsons were happily drunk, they would not wish to go back to their rat-trap mansion until the night had run its course. He noted that Ophelia Eufalla still pointedly ignored him, but everyone else in her family carried on as if he was not even there. This gave Watson Sr the chance to observe the people he planned to one day call family. They were all blonde and blue-eyed, haughty and entitled, flighty and insubstantial. Even their hoity-toity accents betrayed their blue-blooded, pretentious natures.


Watson Sr could not help himself, he disliked them all immensely. They were fatuous and detached, and lived their lives in a land of illusion. They could not have been more different from himself. Watson Sr had no illusions, about himself or anyone else. He had already made it his business to learn everything about them, and there was no doubt that their ship was rapidly sinking. They owed a tremendous amount of money on the mansion, both in mortgages and taxes, and there was no income of any consequence to make up the shortfall. According to the bank, the Hudsons were months away from being thrown out of their ancestral home.


Looking around the table, Watson Sr noticed something else that was unusual in such well-placed society figures: all their jewels were missing. Around the massive dining hall, the women in other families, even those who were not nearly so prestigious, dripped with jeweled earrings and necklaces, heavy gold brooches and bracelets. Yet, at his table, where he sat with the most eminent family in all of Pennsylvania, there were only a scarce few pocket watch chains scattered among the men, and the women were sadly adorned with simple mother-of-pearl brooches, silver drop earrings, or a smattering of a few, thin gold bracelets. As for his beautiful Ophelia Eufalla, she wore no jewelry at all.


Watson Sr saw his advantage, and would have smiled if he could. Once the waiters began serving platters of thick-cut steaks, steamed lobsters, roast duck, trenchers of mashed potatoes, and piles of vegetables, he knew that not only had the initial storm passed, but that there would surely be a way forward. The high and mighty, secretly bankrupt Hudsons had stayed through drinks to enjoy the meal, which meant that the evening could be counted as a success. Watson Sr did not attempt to approach Ophelia Eufalla again that night. He did not wish to push his luck. At the end of the meal, he contented himself to shake the hand of a much less unwilling Abraham Charles.


After the success of that first evening, Watson Sr’s next moves became clear. He immediately made arrangements to make the Continental Hotel his permanent home by renting an additional suite of rooms to accommodate his business affairs. Over the course of the following weeks, Watson Sr hosted exorbitantly expensive dinners for the Hudson family at least three times each week. Then, several more weeks passed before he paid the outstanding tax and mortgage liens against the mansion. He could have done so earlier, but he wanted to keep Abraham Charles unbalanced with anxiety for as long as possible.


After the taxes and mortgage backlogs were paid, Watson Sr began sending expensive presents to each member of the family. Each day seemed to bring a new surprise to the great oak doors of the mansion: new pocket watches and silk cravats for the men, dress patterns from Paris, bolts of fabric from New Orleans, and hair combs in jet and lapis for the women. As for Ophelia Eufalla, “Pity,” was the only word she had for Watson Sr or his gifts. But, his methods were peculiar, which even she had to admit. Each member of the family, except for herself, seemed to benefit from this delightfully unexpected bounty. It left Ophelia Eufalla in a state of wide-eyed bewilderment. She strongly suspected that all of these strangely fortunate events began and ended with her.


Yet, even though Ophelia Eufalla felt that she was in the center of the circle, everything good was orbiting around her, while she was held mysteriously apart. It played on her thoughts, like a phonograph caught skipping notes in the same song, over and over. And, with these musings, Watson Sr’s image came unbidden to her mind, again and again, each day more and more. For his part, Watson Sr noticed that with each meal he shared with her family, Ophelia Eufalla glanced in his direction more often, but it was not enough. He wanted to make her wonder. He wanted her to think about him. He wanted to make Ophelia Eufalla fall in love with him.


While none of the small gifts were addressed to her as the recipient, his two largest presents had already been given to her. Watson Sr had quickly determined that nothing was as important as Ophelia Eufalla’s safety and security, and a home on the brink of foreclosure with only a rusted chain to keep it secure, was completely unacceptable. He ordered four of his employees to protect the family around the clock. The Hudson family was happy to quietly accept the guards who stood at their front gate, as well as the new steel lock and chain they installed.


While Ophelia Eufalla wondered why she had received no gifts, she never realized that the house that her family had lived in for six generations, and the guards to protect it were his gifts to her. Of course, nothing so vulgar as Watson Sr’s unsolicited gifts was ever spoken of by the family, but they were appreciated. It was a miracle of circumstance that Watson Sr had come to them when they were in such an exquisitely vulnerable position. And, none of them was more vulnerable than the youngest and most beautiful of them all, Ophelia Eufalla. Within months of first seeing her across the dining room of the Continental Hotel, Watson Sr held her life in his hand like a baby bluebird rescued from the ground after falling from its lofty nest.


Similar to her family, Ophelia Eufalla had no idea how serious the reality of her situation really was. Abraham Charles knew, but it was not an appropriate topic of conversation to share with the young, female members of the family, or even with his brothers and sisters, who also lived in the mansion. So, Ophelia Eufalla kept her growing feelings hidden behind a perfectly proper and chilly veneer. Months had gone by, and she still had not yet spoken directly to him, nor even graced him with a single smile. Patiently, Watson Sr waited. He knew it was only a matter of time until she warmed to him, or until he made the decision to buy her future outright.


Watson Sr continued to host extravagant meals for the Pennsylvania Hudsons at the Continental Hotel at least three times a week. In addition, he was absorbing more and more of the family’s expenses. Watson Sr had a plan in mind. He wanted them firmly in his pocket, and they fell blindly and hopelessly into his trap. Before they even really knew what was happening, the Hudsons were completely dependent on him to feed and clothe and house them. But, Watson Sr was waiting for a specific triumph. He was waiting for Ophelia Eufalla to direct one of her rare and radiant smiles towards him. He had decided that that would be the moment to begin his official pursuit.


On the night when that magic moment finally occurred, Watson Sr felt a warmth grow inside him that he had never experienced before. No one else had seen Ophelia Eufalla smile at him. It had not happened while he silently pulled out her chair for her, as he did each night her family dined with him. Instead, she had chosen to turn back towards him when she was exiting the dining room. Since she always brought up the end of her family’s precise and hierarchical procession, no one else could have possibly seen. It made the moment even more special as it seemed she had granted him not only a smile, but also a secret that was meant to be just between them.


The very next day, Watson Sr approached Abraham Charles for his official permission to court Ophelia Eufalla. Abraham Charles was torn. He, among all the family, understood that Watson Sr financially controlled all of their lives, but it was difficult for him to give his blessing to a man who was the extreme opposite of who he had always imagined his darling youngest daughter would marry. Abraham Charles chose to prevaricate, as was his habit, but he knew he really had no choice. Since Ophelia Eufalla was only fifteen, and Watson Sr was almost ten years her senior, Abraham Charles insisted that there be no wedding until she turned seventeen.


Until then, only chaperoned dates would be allowed, since this was the proper form for a high-born lady who was being courted by an older suitor. Once again, Watson Sr would have smiled if he could. There was no question that if he wanted to ransom the Hudson family’s well-being for a quick engagement that Abraham Charles would have no choice but to accept. As it was, Watson Sr felt that Abraham Charles understood his determination to marry Ophelia Eufalla, and exactly what was at stake. The timeline was longer than what he would have wished it to be, but he had accomplished his main goal: Abraham Charles had granted his consent. In time, Ophelia Eufalla would be his.


Another week went by before Abraham Charles broke the news to Ophelia Eufalla. Each time he thought of telling her the truth, a lump would form in his throat and cause him to put it off another day. But, once he finally found his courage, and told Ophelia Eufalla that he had promised her hand in marriage to Watson Sr, she accepted it with relative ease. She raised no argument, and Abraham Charles kissed her forehead. He walked away thinking of nothing more than how well he had done raising her to be a wonderfully agreeable daughter.


What Ophelia Eufalla had not told her father, or anyone else, was that her heart was changing. Ophelia Eufalla had seen the way Watson Sr looked at her, and the unmasked longing in his dark eyes. Slowly, one dinner after another, it had begun to warm her from within like a hot cup of chocolate on a cold winter’s night. She began to watch him through hooded eyes, and became intrigued with his rogue-like and brutish character. In the beginning, Ophelia Eufalla had agreed with her sisters and the rest of her family in finding his habitual silences to be unsettling and rude. But, the more time she spent around him, the more she found his quiet ways to be appealing, while her family’s constant idle chatter became ever more discordant and annoying.


Abraham Charles Hudson knew none of this. All he knew is that everyone in Philadelphia society would be talking. It had already begun. Their frequent dinners with Watson Sr had raised more than a few eyebrows among the people in the city who mattered. And, when the wedding finally came, Abraham Charles knew that people would turn up just to observe and gossip about how the blue-blooded Hudsons had come down so far in the world. After all, it was not every day that a young, beautiful girl with such a rich pedigree would marry a scarred, spectacled, olive-skinned commoner.


But, there was no other option. Watson Sr was so monstrously rich that there could be no denying him. However, in a rare act of standing his ground, Abraham Charles insisted that the wedding be held at the family’s mansion. That spectacle, at least, would be on his turf and under his control. Watson Sr did not immediately agree. Given the shoddy and dilapidated state of the mansion, it was not a fit venue for the opulent wedding he had planned. Days went by as the two great men circled each other like vultures vying for a fallen corpse. Neither was willing to give way on this one small point.


The fact remained that Ophelia Eufalla’s hand in marriage had already been sold. Her future was bought and paid for. Still, Watson Sr did not want feuding among the ridiculous patch of gaggling geese who were soon to be his family. He had no intention of staying in Philadelphia for a moment longer than necessary anyway. With three weeks spent, and still not having had a single moment to himself with Ophelia Eufalla, Watson Sr made another decision. Without consulting Abraham Charles, Watson Sr engaged an army of workers, designers, engineers, roofers, and landscapers to undo a century of neglect, and return the mansion to its original magnificence.


With the arrival of the workmen, painting and hammering and weeding and wallpapering from dawn to dusk, no one could deny that the clock had begun to tick down towards the inevitable wedding. However, as gifts for the family continued to arrive, and Ophelia Eufalla continued to not receive any special favors, the members of the Hudson family realized that while their fortunes had improved, it was only because Ophelia Eufalla’s future had been sacrificed to uncertain jeopardy. They did love her, and could not help but feel pangs of worry, but their inherent selfishness overrode their concern and kept them silent. That is, until one morning when an escorted package arrived along with two dozen red roses.


It was the first gift to arrive solely for Ophelia Eufalla. Amidst the pounding of hammers and the incessant flow of workmen, Ophelia Eufalla quietly accepted the roses and package, and retired to her room without saying a word to any of her family. Wide-eyed and wondering, her father and sisters, aunts and uncles, watched her ascend the stairs with her gifts. That night, before Watson Sr arrived for their first chaperoned date, Ophelia Eufalla descended from her room in an elegantly-cut red satin gown. However, her ethereal beauty and the roses in her cheeks were not what made her whole family hold their breath as she approached the landing. Adorning her neck was a wreath of rubies and diamonds that flashed and shone like crystallized teardrops of blood and rain.


The jewels were fit for a queen, and suddenly her whole family’s pitying demeanor changed to pangs of jealousy for the life she might be leaving them to lead. Not long after she descended the stairs, Watson Sr arrived dressed as finely as a statesman. That evening, he could almost have passed for handsome, and everyone gasped to see what a striking couple they made. Ophelia Eufalla, fine and delicate and ethereal, standing next to a dark giant in a hand-tailored tuxedo that almost gave the lie to his scarred face. It was the first evening of many that the couple would spend together, but their appearance together was never less jarring to the family, or anyone else they encountered.


But, as the months wore on, the distance between them when they stood together became less and less, and Ophelia Eufalla’s eyes were full and shining when she looked up into Watson Sr’s scarred face. It was obvious to everyone that love was blooming between the unlikely pair. Watson Sr still never smiled, and never spoke, but his eyes glinted like newly-mined coal when he gazed at young, lovely Ophelia Eufalla, and his immense shadow seemed to swallow her in a protective embrace. During the long months of their engagement, they enjoyed long walks, horse-drawn carriage rides, excursions on his sailboat, and long romantic dinners, which were always dutifully supervised by her trusted maid or a member of the family.


On one of their early dates, Ophelia Eufalla told Watson Sr about her love of flowers, and the old Victorian language that made poetry of blooms and blossoms, numbers and colors and thorns. After that, each day at noon, a different bouquet of flowers would arrive. And, with each bouquet there would be a small slip of white paper attached, and these would always be signed “W” in Watson Sr’s clumsy, uneducated script. From her soliloquy, Watson Sr only really understood that she liked flowers. The beauty of a subtle language expressed in petals and shades of color was completely lost on him. So, when Ophelia Eufalla read the messages embedded in the bouquets, they were always mixed, sometimes even unflattering.


But Ophelia Eufalla understood that her beau was not a creature with a gift for language. She was pleased enough that he listened to her at all, especially since no one else ever had. Before meeting Watson Sr, she was little more than a pretty ornament; a graceful, but extra, accessory. Her whole existence was wrapped up in being prim and proper, quietly decorating family dinners, and the rare occasions when family photographs were taken. The language of flowers, and its baroque system of hidden meanings, were quite beyond Watson Sr, but he did understand how to spend money in a way that complimented Ophelia Eufalla’s beauty.


Sometimes, not every day, nor even every week, but at least once every month, one of his garish bouquets would be accompanied by priceless jewels of every description. It was not long before Ophelia Eufalla’s once despairingly empty, large maple jewelry box was overflowing with rings and necklaces, bracelets and earrings, each heavily laden with diamonds, and sparkling with every lustrous shade of precious gemstone, from fiery rubies to intensely blue sapphires to clear emeralds that looked like dragon eyes. As her treasure trove grew, and the mansion became more and more its old self, the months passed quickly and happily. Soon enough, the wedding was right around the corner.


After more than a year of backbreaking work, the mansion and its palatial grounds had finally been restored to their original grandeur. The tattered lace that had swayed in the towering picture windows had been replaced by new sheers and thick, velvet curtains; the sagging roof rose up to proudly support its many turrets; and the grounds bloomed in a riot of tulips, irises, pansies, begonias, daffodils, and roses in every imaginable color. On the day of the wedding, pink satin bunting clung to every available surface, and rose petals were strewn over every inch of ground.


A hush of anxious anticipation hung over the grand old house as the nuptial hour drew near. All of Philadelphia society had shown up to attend what was expected to be the social event of the year. They were not disappointed by the over-the-top pomp and flourish, or the fantastic favors of jewelry and fine bottles of wine that awaited them. The same could not be said about the specter of Watson Sr, who haunted the grounds like a dark netherworld spirit awaiting his bride. From a raven’s perspective, he stood in the midst of a vibrant pantheon of voluminous, layered skirts and multi-hued whorls of lace-edged parasols like a monochrome statue. Even though he was the host of the celebration, no one spoke to him, and he spoke to no one.


The society ladies and gents regarded him like an ape at the zoo, dangerous and unfit for their elevated company. Watson Sr’s steadfast bearing and crippled, frowning face were a malignant blight to their delicate sensibilities. He was too different from them, even if he was far richer than they could ever dream of being. To them, he was unworthy of their old world of wealth and prestige. Society dictated that wealth was a right only passed on in the blood, and theirs was blue, while his heart and hands were stained a brilliant shade of crimson red. They rudely disregarded him, and only eyed him with sidelong glances filled with great suspicion.


It was difficult for them to come to terms with the idea that he was marrying one of their own, as well as hosting an event that any of their fine families would have struggled to be able to afford. He disappeared like a ghost among his guests as they ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at the beauty of the mansion’s restoration; dined on poached lobster generously dripping with butter; thick-cut steaks cooked to perfection; roast quail with truffle sauce; crab claws and shrimp placed on silver trays and floating on a sea of ice; and salty, imported caviar.


Happily, Watson Sr watched as they indulged in champagne that flowed from not one, but three separate silver fountains, and drinks served from a generously stocked full bar. But, as one, their amazement quieted to hushed awe when a veiled Ophelia Eufalla emerged from the front door of the Hudson mansion in a delicately-embroidered white silk gown with a long train held by two maids, and made her way towards the altar.


The Hudson family were also well-turned out for the wedding, wearing new clothes bought for the occasion as well as the fine gifts they had received from their benefactor, but nothing could compare to the jewelry that Ophelia Eufalla wore. When Watson Sr lifted her veil, everyone could see that she who wore a flashing diamond necklace of a hundred or more brilliant stones. But, even the extravagant necklace paled in comparison to the ten-carat ring Watson Sr had chosen for her. When he slipped the immense stone, which was mounted on a simple gold band and held in place by four long prongs, onto Ophelia Eufalla’s finger, everyone gasped. It was the largest diamond anyone had ever seen, and its remarkable clarity refracted the bright sunlight into a dozen flashing rainbows.


From that moment forward, no one could doubt that the Hudson family’s fortunes had changed for the better. But, there were also lingering feelings of regret and concern.

For a short time, rueful whispers about the beautiful girl who had been sold in marriage to a frightful ogre replaced the troublesome whispers about how the Pennsylvania Hudsons had somehow dithered away their entire family fortune. But, these quiet speculations never had the opportunity to reach the ears of Watson Sr and Ophelia Eufalla, and soon enough they died away again.


After the wedding ceremony, the newly married couple left for an extended honeymoon in Europe before finally settling down to make their home in New York City. The Pennsylvania Hudson family, who had so long been bereft of any accents of wealth, once again began appearing at society gatherings wearing the newest fashions and enviable jewels. Soon enough, new carriages, rich-blooded horses, prodigious shopping trips, steam yachts, and expensive, long-term vacations overseas became the norm for a family who had, not so long before, barely been able to keep their carriage horses fed.


The family’s lifestyle had returned to, and even succeeded, that which had been lived by the most well-moneyed of their forebears. Their newfound wealth seemed exclusive of the wedding, and never again showed any signs of depletion. It was widely rumored that Abraham Charles had received five million dollars in exchange for Ophelia Eufalla’s hand in marriage. But, this was unsubstantiated gossip. All anyone ever really knew for sure is that the Hudson family’s housemaids whispered that the family jewels had stopped going missing from their velvet-lined boxes and drawers. In fact, as if by magic, pieces that had been missing for years, even decades, had mysteriously reappeared in drawers that had long been sadly empty.


Watson Sr smiled when these rumors reached his ears. He never confirmed or denied them, not even to Ophelia Eufalla, but deep down he knew what no one else did: that Abraham Charles was a fool. Five million dollars, in addition to the gifts, renovations, and the wedding, was merely his opening offer. He had been prepared to pay twice as much for what he wanted. And, once he got it, especially at such a bargain price, he had truly believed that he could never be unhappy with any children Ophelia Eufalla gave him, especially since he had never had a family of his own. His early life had been lived in the ashes of want and misery. Until his marriage, the ghosts of shady remembrances were the only family he had ever known.


But, as the years wore on, the disappointments slowly mounted. After a while, Watson Sr could not even hope that he might ever be happy with any of his children. Only one of the eight looked anything like him, and that was the biggest disappointment of all, Jonathan Andrew. He was dark-haired and dark-eyed with olive skin, just like his father, but he was also small and weakly. Made from dust, just like his mother’s family, the Pennsylvania Hudsons, Watson Sr often thought.


The eight heirs of his great creation, the Pennsylvania & Watson Railroad, somehow all fell down. His seven good sons seemed to have every capacity for success, but they took after their mother’s people in appearance and attitude. Their size and strength were all him, but their blonde hair, blue eyes, and delicate complexions were every bit from their Hudson lineage. The Pennsylvania Hudsons were delicate people, filled with breeding and blue-blooded sensibility, and not much else.


Over the years, Watson Sr’s initial dislike of Abraham Charles had turned to seething resentment. He despised his wife’s family for being helpless as lambs. Even after all he had given them, they still grasped and whined for money and favors. Watson Sr felt that they only cared about being rich, idiotically happy, and foolish to the wicked ways of the world. From the blue and grey days of his young life, Watson Sr knew that beaming smiles and sunny dispositions would render the death of his empire. The world of industry brooked no such weakness.


When Watson Sr saw his sons, and heard them laugh, he felt that there was no reason to have achieved anything in the first place. As the years passed, despair about the future sprouted like mushrooms from the soggy ferment of worry. He had long before decided that there was no reason to smile, even if one was able to. Yet, his seven sons continually found excuses for despicable displays of happiness. Not only were none of them killers, but not a single one of the seven had ever even cultivated a proper dourness. For Watson Sr, that was even worse than the fact that none of them looked like him. As much as he wanted to, Watson Sr could not overlook these flaws in his seven strong, golden sons.


He knew that they were all capable and responsible, strong and willing, but when they were all together, they never shut up.The fact that they were all great talkers irked him even more than their propensity to smile and exude sunny warmth.It was a problem that plagued his thoughts from dawn to dusk.As he grew older, the sinking feeling in his gut, the feeling he trusted above all others, whispered that he had failed.Without a real killer in the family, he knew that his industrial empire would surely die with him, unrealized and unsung, unless a perfect ninth child could redeem it all.

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