A year later, a broke Leonard arrived back in the United States of America. After borrowing money to rebuild and refurbish his lover, Gifford’s Italian villa, which was not on a grand scale, two American women arrived in a horse drawn carriage.
Gifford gasped and rushed to down a large glass of Scotch as the women unloaded a cartload of belongings.
“I never dreamt that they would visit.”
The aunts were wonderful older sisters who thanked their nephew for his outstanding generosity. Informed by family members of the amazing gesture of Gifford, his aunts assumed their nephew had heard of their misfortune. News had obviously reached him of how his unfortunate aunts had been financially ruined by a New York investor who had absconded with their money. The aunts, the oldest suffering from asthma, shipped their household goods before their home was repossessed by the bank. Their newly restored home and the Italian climate would restore the spirits of the broken hearted sisters.
The aunts each took a separate room, and Gifford took the third and remaining bedroom. Leonard was reduced to sleeping on the couch and crying all night. Gifford rose early and took Leonard out to the garden. There by the two nude little boys fountain, Gifford revealed that his investments were also wiped out as he had used his Aunt’s investor. This he said was what he had called ‘the will.’ He had been afraid that if he had used the word ‘investments’ that Leonard would not have loaned any money. Now, Leonard heard the final nail being banged into his coffin, as Gifford told him he would live in Italy with his aunts. He would farm the land and grow vegetables, maybe get chickens, and see out the rest of his life with his aunts. Leonard had no idea when the next ship sailed back to America. He was gone three days. Upon his return, Gifford was absent. The youngeraunt gave Leonard the ‘good news.’ Yesterday,Gifford had met a handsome young doctor from Rome . He had been visiting his sister in the village, when Gifford invited him to have a drink in the local tavern. The doctor had invited Gifford to spent some time at his home in Rome. The doctor came by with the car this morning and took Gifford with him. The aunt wass beaming, but her face turned into one of concern when Leonard burst into tears.
Two months later, a financially ruined and dejected Leonard stood facing his father. He had written to his widowed father who lived alone in his old ancestral home overlooking the valley of Rankville. His father was known to have undisclosed but considerable wealth by living a frugal and upright life. The letter from his hedonistic son, an only offspring that had caused him shame, had been seen by the elder man as a ‘sign from God.’ Leonard was like the prodigal son in the Parables of Jesus, a wanton, sinful son who returned penniless to his father. The senior man saw himself as a redeemer of the seed of his own body. He had the power, the money, and a plan, to return Leonard to a God-fearing and righteous living man.
“There’s that nice filly named Suzanna, that you used to outride you as a kid. She’s come under scrutiny for being a little too cozy with the librarian. Doesn’t dress like a southern belle, but that can change once she’s married to you.
Leonard went into a fit of coughing and turned a ghastly shade of pale. His father calmly indicated for him to sit and brought them both two very large brandies.
“I want you to sit and listen until I have spelled out what I think is a plan of survival for your sorry state of affairs. Let me make it clear, I won’t settle your debts or lend you a dime. With your poor looks and lack of fortune, no male friend will seek you as a companion. The bank wants to take your house, your barns and your horses. You’ll be the laughing stock of Rankville. To save your honor and our family name, I could pay for a commission in the army, but the training would probably kill you. I’d offer the same terms for the navy but you get sick on every craft that moves on water. So, I think the easiest way out if to marry, produce grandchildren for me, and then as a reward, I’ll overlook a few weeks away to be with your male friends.”
Leonard stared as each word came from his father’s mouth. His left eye had began twitching from the first time the word ‘marriage’ was introduced. Naked animals had the same appeal as the uncovered flesh of a woman. He tried without success to control a right knee that alternated between shaking and going numb. Life was just unfair!
On the same evening, Suzanna was invited to visit her beloved poppa in his modest living room. The room was cold due to the lack of firewood. Over the years, the family’s clothing business had received fierce competition from a neighboring town. Suzanna worked long hours and her future seemed tied to the store.