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There was a thrill in the process of showering, shaving and dressing on Monday morning. Henry was particularly deliberate about it. He laid out a grey herringbone suit, a starched white shirt, a plain, dark-green tie, and his best black dress shoes. Then, not ready to assume a look of sudden prosperity, he replaced the shirt with one that didn’t require cuff links.
On schedule, feeling rested and confident, at 7:30 a.m., he left his bedroom to go down for breakfast, still relieved when he arrived to find the dining room empty. Mrs. Appleton looked more surly than usual though she gave no reason for it and Henry didn’t ask, afraid she’d resign if given an opening. He was pleasant to her, ate quickly and complimented her on the food, made her grin with a remark about Estelle, and said with his eyes and a few subtle hints that he and she would eventually enjoy a peaceful household.
In the garage by 7:45, he did not hesitate over a choice of the three cars. Henry backed his Volkswagen Karmann Ghia out onto Deer Road and, driving to the office, decided he would sell the Caddy when he gained title to it and considered keeping the Chevy for visitors to use. Then he thought Estelle might want the Cadillac and didn’t see any harm in giving it to her despite what Ed and Dwight had said about giving away too much and becoming liable for a complicated gift tax return. The tax would be small, they said, so it was no problem to him. The idea that his sister could buy a Cadillac of her own never entered his head.
Henry’s usual route to the Works was to turn off Deer Road onto Deer Lane between the Webb and Sessions properties, cross Broad Street and bear left on North Street, passing the new Jendro house on the left and the meat and fish market on the right, fronting on Nashua Street. The broad thoroughfare directed traffic from Nashua, Lowell and southern and eastern Massachusetts past the most substantial business enterprises in Chilton. Henry drove directly south on Nashua to Middle Street, its four corners occupied by an Atlantic gas station, the Chilton Hotel, a combination garage and filling station, and a small liquor store that was constantly under new management what with the proximity of the New Hampshire border and state-owned, lower-priced liquor stores. He turned left there to cross Peters Street and pass Jendro’s store and tavern on the left and a block of car dealers on the right, then Railroad Street past the parking lot of the shabby Railroad Hotel, over the Boston and Maine tracks (a branch line from Ayer, Massachusetts that ended shortly after crossing the New Hampshire line a few miles north of Chilton), through the security gate of the Iron Works, left along the narrow building that housed the administrative and drafting offices and onto a small macadam plot designated as the executive parking lot.
A.R.’s office was at this end of the building that tapered to a blunt point like a saw blade. The office took up the entire end overlooking the railroad tracks and the back of the feed store on the right and the corrugated siding of the long main building of the Iron Works on the left. The rear door to the office, A.R.’s preferred entrance, was steps from where Henry parked his car. A.R. had used it to avoid being stopped by visitors or salesmen before he was ready to see them and to bypass the office employees and their unnecessarily cheerful “good mornings.” He liked to prepare himself to deal with the day with each visit or problem tightly scheduled in order of importance. His secretary had been trained not to enter until he pronounced himself ready.
This morning, after hanging up his coat and hooking his hat on a wobbly clothes-tree in an otherwise empty corner, Henry sat in the big comfortable chair that had been his father’s and was pleased with the office. The room had been rearranged over the weekend by Mary Mincelli and two men chosen to move furniture for her, according to the instructions he had left with her on Thursday evening. To free space for the transfer of Henry’s things from his former office, much of what had been A.R.’s had been removed, all but one important filing cabinet, the old oak desk and the chair. Pictures of the plant, of groups of employees, of Amos Robb in hunting or fishing garb had been taken off the walls and stored. The office walls sported a fresh coat of dark green paint and large maps of the three states where most of the company sales were made. The newer of the area rugs from Henry’s former office covered most of the wooden floor.
The changes were entirely his idea -- the first to occur to him in relation to taking over the Iron Works and not much of an assumption since he was the logical successor. Henry liked the warm, uncluttered look. He knew the people who had called on A.R. for years would need time to get used to it but suspected they’d soon accept the office as his. They would have no business with him if they didn’t.
The mail wouldn’t arrive until after 9:30. The newly-polished desk was clean. Henry thought it might be perceived as pompous to use the intercom so walked to and opened the office door, greeted Mary then asked her to come in. She occupied a narrow space behind one of two desks lining the front wall of his office, the other desk for a younger girl who assisted Mary with correspondence, filing and odd tasks, and answered the phone in Mary’s absence. Beside her on the same wall was a row of five, three-drawer filing cabinets. Beyond her area to the right was a private office occupied by the head book-keeper, Mr. Carlson. Opposite was Henry’s old office which had been converted to a conference room.
Mary had dressed well for her first full day with him. She was wearing new clothes: a mauve dress with a scooped neck-line, black leather pumps, a simple silver bracelet and earrings tucked under her long, brown hair. She was petite in build with large, dark-brown eyes and a delicate nose and mouth. Only nineteen -- well-trained as a secretary and always pleasant, even during A.R.’s last days when he had worked despite the pain that would have overwhelmed most people -- Mary had the kind of smile that made her completely alluring.
She was smiling bashfully now as she took the chair on the right side of the desk. She crossed her legs as he walked around the other way and sat down.
“It’s nice...isn’t it?" she said shyly.
Henry was equally ill-at-ease. He didn’t know what to do with his hands. After a short pause he said: “Do you feel as strange today as I do, Mary?”
She breathed a sigh of relief and said: “I did but I’m okay now. What do we do first?”
Reflectively, almost jokingly, he asked: “Does anyone want to see me?”
Mary smiled and said: “I suppose I could say no and either ruin or improve your day. Truth is, your appointment book is already half-filled.”
Henry grinned and sat forward. Then the urge to hug the sympathetic
girl was so strong he had to lean back again before asking her who
most wanted to see him.
“Mike,” she said quickly.
Henry frowned. The general superintendent had been A.R.’s fast friend and openly contemptuous of his son…one among many, but an important one if the company was going to operate as before.
“Sorry, Henry,” Mary said sympathetically, “but
Mike has been very pushy this morning. I thought it might be better
to get it over with.”
“I agree,” he said. “Please call and tell him I’m ready to see him.”
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