The Stallion
By:
Jess Mercer
(Copyright 2007 by the author)

  The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at...

For John M. May your patience always be rewarded.
 

"Harrumph." The soft throat clearing to gain attention never failed to annoy Nick, although he and Ellis had come to an agreement years before.

 

"What?" Nick said, turning to face the rigid form of the butler.

 

"There is a young man at the rear door who is most insistent on speaking with you. It is Billy."

 

Nick frowned. "Billy? I donít know any Billy. Send him away."

 

"I believe you used to play together occasionally when you were a child."

 

Nick's facile memory slipped back eleven years. He had discovered the boy about his age sitting in the old pickup truck parked near the greenhouse.

 

"Who are you?" Nick had asked.

 

"B Ö Billy."

 

"I'm Nick."

 

The boy nodded. "Don't tell nobody I'm here, 'cause my dad will lose his job if you do."

 

"Why?"

 

"'Cause my dad's the gardener. He says we ain't good 'nough to 'ssociate with people like lives here."

 

This admission gave the mischief loving Nick a shy companion. He became immediately aware of many suddenly opened possibilities. Under his leadership the mischief the two boys got into (Billy reluctantly) was all but endless. Nick's laughter was often heard.

 

Beneath his expressionless well-trained faÁade, Ellis had a warm heart. He was pleased that Nick had someone his age to play with on the lonely estate. When he called Nick to lunch, he had to shake his head when Nick asked if Billy could eat with him.

 

"I think not, Master Nicholas." As he led Nick away, he did not miss the pinched face, hungry eyes of the smaller boy.

 

As soon as the family had been served, Ellis returned to the kitchen and piled a plate high, then filled a tall glass with milk. Taking them to a growth of shrubs near the greenhouse, where he knew the boy had hidden himself, Ellis called, "Billy, here's some lunch for you. Come eat it while it's hot."

 

It took a few moments for Billy to creep hesitantly from the growth. He looked at Ellis furtively then fell upon the plate of food as a starving man might.

 

Ellis was careful to monitor the play and growing friendship between the two boys. He knew the vast social gulf between the two boys would doom any lasting friendship, but there was a waif-like quality about the shy Billy that endeared him to Ellis. He cautioned the household staff to say nothing and warned Nick any time his parents might be around. The cook fell in with Ellis' plans providing substantial morning and afternoon snacks and automatically filling a plate with lunch for Billy.

 

There were a few uncomfortable days and strong words from Ellis when Billy's father found out about the presence of his son in Nick's company, but Ellis prevailed as always.

 

Once school began, Billy's visits were limited to an occasional Saturday. In any event, Nick had a growing group of friends from similar social and economic circumstances and his need of Billy's companionship diminished. When a group of Nicholas' companions from school gathered for a Saturday romp, Ellis occasionally spied Billy sitting in a tree at the back of the garden gazing wistfully at the pleasures from which society excluded him.

 

And so it went for several years, Billy becoming a lessening figure to Nick with the passing of the early years. Beyond play and companionship, nothing further took place between the two boys, though Billy often dreamed of Nick returning the love he felt and living together. As Billy approached his teens he began to work along side his father in the garden and greenhouse.

 

The one place Billy seemed to find entrancing was the orchid section of the greenhouse. His endless questions of his father almost drove the poor man to distraction. After he saw how intently Billy watched as he pollinated a prize specimen, He gave Billy two small plants of ordinary lineage to tend for himself, amazed at the care and devotion Billy lavished on the now flourishing plants.

 

"When will they bloom, daddy?" Billy asked repeatedly, despite his father's admonition that it took several years for an orchid to mature enough.

 

When at last one of the plants sent forth a spike later to bear bloom, Billy was ecstatic. As soon as he came in from school each day he threw his books into the old pickup and dashed into the orchid greenhouse to see the progress. It was impossible for him to mask his disappointment when the first bloom appeared. It was simply an ordinary flower with no distinguishing characteristics.

 

"Why, dad?" Billy asked trying to hide his tears.

 

From long experience, his father knew how Billy felt and put his arm around the boy's shoulders. "It's a basic plant, son. Certainly you didnít expect me to let you learn on a prize specimen, did you? But basic as your plant is, it is the source of the exotic blooms you see in here every day. You have worked hard, so I will let you choose any bloom in here and use the pollen to fertilize the bloom on your plant. It will take much patience, but you may be rewarded by something spectacular or something hideous. You never know in advance."

 

"Can I do it now?"

 

"You must wait for the blooms to mature. I'll teach you how to recognize the proper time."

 

Guided by his father, Billy patiently waited, learned, and at last sowed the dust-like seed on starting medium in a large sterile glass jar. To fill his time, he began to carve bits of wood into animal shapes, improving rapidly as he studied the anatomy of the animal he was carving to make the carving life-like. Germination seemed to take forever, but finally he was rewarded by several sets of miniscule leaves poking through the medium. He continued to give them extraordinary care, but he knew it would be a few years before they reached the age to bloom. For a young man it was a valuable lesson in patience helped by his father's understanding and teaching, augmented by the reference works on orchids in the greenhouse office. He was too absorbed in his own world to mourn the relationship with Nick that never developed though he still felt the attraction strongly.

 

The Friday evening after his sixteenth birthday, Nicholas' parents gave a lavish 'coming of age' party. The crowning moment came after dinner when Mr. Winter's chauffeur drove a sleek black Mercedes sports roadster up the drive and stopped at the foot of the steps leading to the front door, then got out, holding the door open for Nick.

 

With a shout of joy, Nick slid into the car and roared off down the drive. The onlookers were puzzled to see the car stop at the closed gate, a shadowy hand pass something to Nick who casually dropped it to the passenger seat before speeding back to the house.

 

After the guests had departed, Nick drove his new car to the garage and entered the house through the side entrance. He tossed something to Ellis who waited to lock the door. "Here, do something with this."

 

Ellis looked down at the item he held. Carved in black walnut with exquisite detail was the figure of a rearing stallion. Accustomed to fine things, Ellis could scarcely believe the perfection of the work as he examined it under the strong work lights in the kitchen. The two slender rear legs supporting the carving had split along the vertical grain of the wood.

 

Ellis picked up the base. Carved in small letters were the date and the initials W W and in tiny almost indecipherable letters: 'with love'.

 

Tears trickled down Ellis' cheeks as he recognized the hours of loving painstaking labor which Billy had put into the gorgeous work only to have it tossed carelessly aside and broken in the process.

 

Knowing he was taking his future in his hands, Ellis arose slowly and, holding the pieces of the carving carefully, slowly climbed the back stairs to the second floor of the east wing and rapped at a door before opening it.

 

Nick stood in his briefs facing Ellis. "Whatever it is can wait until tomorrow. I'm going to bed."

 

Ellis relentlessly closed the door. "Not before you listen to what I have to say, Nicholas. You may have your father dismiss me, but you will hear me out first.

 

"In general you have been an easy child to raise. Many times I have almost burst with joy and pride at your accomplishments. I may be just a servant to you, Nicholas, but that hasn't kept me from loving you as if you were my own until tonight. This rite of passage to which you have looked forward for so long was to mark the kind of man you would become."

 

"I know all that shit. So what?"

 

Ellis looked down at Nick with a heavy sigh. "Oh, Nicholas, Nicholas. For the first time I look at you and despair."

 

Ellis held out his hand and let his tears flow. "Look at me, Nicholas. Tonight you broke two hearts. Billy is not your social equal, nor will he ever be, but the kindness you showed him as a child meant far more than anything else you could have done. You showed him love which you have apparently cast aside as casually as you cast aside this exquisite expression of Billy's continuing love for you. You have only to look at the infinite detail that took hours of dedication to reveal."

 

"Yeah. Like I wanna be loved by a queer." Nick sneered.

 

"I doubt seriously that Billy would ever make an overt overture to you unless he thought you were willing. In any event you would have only to refuse. He is not an aggressive personality.

 

"The other broken heart is mine. It is broken by seeing a young man, for whom I had so much love and expectation, throw away the symbol of boundless love simply because its value is sentimental instead of monetary. This gift you have scorned, even though it is the best the giver was able to afford, I will keep and hopefully find someone capable of restoring it. No matter how skillfully the repair is done this piece will remain flawed through your thoughtless act. Whether or not I will return it to you, I will determine over a period of time. Good night."

 

The next morning and the next, Nick remained sullen and avoided Ellis as much as possible. Ellis hid his pain behind his well-trained facade and continued to function in his always flawless way.

 

Taking an afternoon off, Ellis visited the city's museum asking to speak to the conservator of wooden items.

 

"What a tragedy such a magnificent piece has been broken like this!" The man exclaimed, examining the stallion.

 

"Could you possibly recommend someone to restore it?" Ellis asked.

 

"Yes. Me." It would be criminal to let anyone other than a professional touch this work. It will take me at least a month because it will be a private commission and I must work in my spare time. I warn you it will be very expensive."

 

"Cost is of no matter."

 

"Excellent! Fortunately there is virtually no splintering because the artist worked with the grain of the wood. It is a separation of fibers along the line of the grain. Is there any other work by this artist?"

 

"None that I'm aware of."

 

"If you know him, encourage him. I would be thrilled to mount an exhibit of his work in our new gallery."

 

"I doubt that will ever happen. This particular piece was conceived in love. Thank you for your help, sir, and please call when you have completed the repair."

 

A few weeks later, Ellis opened an office door almost fearfully.

 

"Mr. Ellis! Do come in and see how it turned out," The conservator's cheerful voice encouraged.

 

Try as he might, even under the strong halogen work light, Ellis could not clearly define the places restoration had taken place. He finally set the stallion down and shook his head. "I'd never believe this has been broken if I hadnít brought it in myself."

 

The conservator picked up the carving and a large magnifying glass. "If you will look here and here, you will see two thin lines where the finish is not so satiny as the overall finish. I would never be able to restore the original patina developed by hours of hand rubbing. I've not seen this before on so small a piece. Take care of this, Mr. Ellis, for even restored it is a treasure." 

 

Late that evening, tears again trickled down Ellis' cheeks as he carefully unpacked the carving and set it on the top shelf of the bookcase in his private quarters.

 

**********

 

"Well?" Ellis asked.

 

"Well what?"

 

"Shall I show Billy up or send him away?"

 

"Damn! All this bother when I'm trying to get ready to return to school. I'll come down and see him in the kitchen. Shouldnít take long," came Nick's ungracious reply.

 

He hardly recognized the plain featured boy whose long hair limply framed a thin tear streaked face. "What is it, Billy? I'm busy."

 

"I Ö I know'd you would be, Nick, but I ain't got nowhere else to turn. My daddy Ö well he died last night and this afternoon some men from the plant showed up and told me I got three days to get out of the house, 'cause it belongs to the plant and I ain't no employee."

 

Nick shrugged. "So what do you want me to do? This is all plant business. Take it up with the manager."

 

"I done tried, but they wouldnít even let me inside the door. Ain't there something you can do to help me, Nick? I mean we was friends onc't."

 

"There's nothing I can do. Sorry. I hope things work out for you." Nick said turning away.

 

Seeing the crushed boy turn away, shoulders heaving with silent sobs, Ellis kicked the door to the hall closed and put his arm around Billy.

 

After the sobs had subsided, Ellis said, "Go home and try to get some sleep, Billy. Things will look brighter tomorrow."

 

"Thanks, Mr. Ellis. I donít know why you was always so good to me, but I sure am in your debt."

 

Ellis sat with his arm around Billy's shoulders during the brief and sparsely attended funeral in the chapel of the funeral home. After the service, he drove Billy back to the house asking him to wait while he changed into jeans and a flannel shirt.

 

"Let's go start getting your things together, Billy."

 

"But where'm I gonna go?" Billy asked plaintively.

 

"Trust me, son," Ellis said, opening the door of an older but immaculate Jaguar sedan.

 

Some fifteen minutes later they drew to a stop on a wooded lane a mile or so from the Winter estate. Billy looked at the small cottage set in an immaculate cottage garden. "This is beautiful, Mr. Ellis, whose is it?"

 

"This is my retreat, Billy. It is as close to the cottage I grew up in in England as I could possibly have built. If the roof were thatch it would be a perfect reproduction. Come in and let's have a cuppa and talk about your future."

 

Once the tea was in hand they sat at the small kitchen table where Billy spread cream and jam over a scone. Ellis watched the boy taking pleasure is such a small thing.

 

"Billy, your beginnings are humble as my own, but it is in watching you that I have seen a young man of honor and integrity. I donít know what your father has left you, but I suspect it is very little.

 

"I shall not marry as no woman wants a husband who is working virtually every moment of the day, so I am as alone as you." Ellis reached across the table and took Billy's hand in his own. "I would like you to move in here and share my life, be a son to me if you will. I shall see to your well being and provide you with those things you need."

 

"But I gotta work," Billy replied, not understanding what Ellis had said.

 

"As long as I am head of the estate you will always have a job, Billy. I know your father taught you everything he knew about the orchid house. I will ask Tom to let you continue there so you can continue the tradition, if you like."

 

"Thanks a lot, Mr. Ellis. Now I gotta find somewhere to live."

 

Realizing that in his grief and confusion the boy had understood little, Ellis said, "Lie down on the sofa and take a nap while I fix us some lunch."

 

Two hours later Billy awoke and, after looking around to orient himself, joined Ellis in a late lunch.

 

"Have you considered what I said?" Ellis asked.

 

"What was that, sir?"

 

"About living with me as my son. You are only sixteen, Billy, so if you have no family the state will place you in a home or shelter until you are of age unless they approve me as your guardian."

 

"You'd do that for me, Mr. Ellis?"

 

"Yes, Billy. I'll be proud to have a young man like yourself as a surrogate son."

 

Billy jumped up and hugged a startled Ellis. "You're a good man, sir."

 

Ellis smiled. "There are some at the estate that don't think so. Let's go by your house so you can get the things you need and decide what to do with the rest.

 

"There is one more most important thing for you to remember, Billy. My cottage is completely private. It's a little bit of home in a foreign country. Besides me, only you know of it and I want it kept that way. Our post goes to my post box. When I work we will stay in my flat at the estate but we will spend our days off here."

 

Pathetically grateful for the man's kindness, Billy's transition into a new life was considerably eased though it still cut deeply when Billy, walking down the drive to the gate to catch the school bus, would observe Nick roar past him in the sports car without acknowledgement. 

 

Billy's hours outside school were spent continuing the intense study of the orchid collection in the smaller greenhouse where he tried to absorb the knowledge within the reference works. In the evenings while Ellis served dinner or directed parties at the mansion, Billy sat in front of a small fire painstakingly carving selected chunks of black walnut into animal shapes, occasionally using other types of wood to carve flowers of various natural hues.

 

The morning of his eighteenth birthday Billy walked into the kitchen of the cottage to be greeted by Ellis' broad smile. "Happy birthday, Billy. Today you become a man in the eyes of the law and I'm taking the day to celebrate with you."

 

Billy hugged the man. "Thank you, Martin. May I ask a big favor of you?"

 

"And what would that be?"

 

"You've been my father in every way since my dad died. I love you like a real father, Martin, so I want to change my name to yours."

 

Ellis sat unmoving in shock. Finally he stammered, "You Ö you care that much for me?"

 

"Yeah, I do. I know your British reserve and all that, but I mean it. I've given it a lot of thought and I'll go by my real name William Walters and add Ellis. It's like a new start for Walters Ellis."

 

"It may be your birthday, Billy, but you have just given me the one gift I've always wanted and never dreamed I'd possess. Yes, Will, and I shall call you that, I will be proud to be your adoptive father. Go get dressed and let's go to the court and file the petition."

 

So it was that Billy became Walters Ellis, known to Ellis as Will, and entered the community college. He acquired a small Camry as economical transportation, in his way as proud of it as Nick had been of the Mercedes.

 

With the coming of fall, three events in rapid succession brought major changes to Will's life. The work of six years lavished by Will on one orchid from the first he had propagated brought forth a specimen of unsurpassed perfection and beauty just in time to be entered in the prestigious city flower show.

 

One of the season's prime social events, the Winters attended only to have Mrs. Winters faint from shock as she saw an orchid from her greenhouse awarded the grand prize, automatically placing the plant in national competition.

 

Being told who was responsible for this triumph, on their return to the estate, Mr. Winters immediately sought out Billy, as he was still known to his employer, and pressed a cheque for ten thousand dollars into his hand, urging him to continue his education in horticulture.

 

On a day that Will had a full set of classes at the college, Ellis gathered the dozen completed carvings Will had done over the years, including the repaired stallion and arrangement of carved flowers and drove to the museum. When the carvings were displayed under the intense work lights the conservator was almost overcome with excitement.

 

"Will really hasn't completed that many, but I did promise you that I would show them to you," Ellis told the man.

 

"Yes, but with the smaller number people can study them longer and appreciate the exquisite detail, admire the perfection. We are in the process of changing the main gallery and these displayed in the small entry gallery will provide a major enticement at a time the number of visitors would normally fall off. Your timing couldnít be more propitious for us."  

 

Though Will was perfectly agreeable to the exhibit and thanked Ellis for arranging it, it also brought about the first exchange of harsh words between them when Ellis brought in the stallion, insisting it would be the highlight of the exhibit.

 

Home for an extended weekend, Nick accompanied his parents to the exhibit. It was the sight of the stallion that brought memories flooding back. This couldn't possibly be his, not in a museum. "That carving of the stallion is mine," Nick whispered to his father.

 

"And where would you come by a museum piece? Don't make a fool of yourself by even thinking of such a thing," his father chided.

 

While not ostensibly a sale, Nick's work was snapped up by savy collectors within the first half hour of the exhibit at prices well beyond the conservator's most optimistic appraisal and that made the worldly Ellis gasp. Only the stallion, which was not for sale, continued to elicit unbelievable bids dropped casually into the conservator's hand to be given to Will.

 

Even the conservative museum board agreed to bid for the stallion for its permanent collection, but their generous bid was summarily rejected by Will who soon left the exhibit to return to the cottage, his memory, at the sight of Nicholas entering with his parents, bringing back the hurt and betrayal of years past.

 

A sudden cold front sent temperatures plummeting. Evening classes at the college were barely underway before the institution was closed and students warned to beware of black ice forming on the highways.

 

When Will had not returned home by eleven o'clock, Ellis frantically called the police for an accident report. A few moments later and his Jaguar was speeding toward the hospital. He found Will lying on a gurney in the busy emergency room. Will opened his eyes as Ellis grasped his hand.

 

"I'm sorry, dad," Will managed to whisper before his eyes closed again.

 

"No!" Shouted Ellis in fear.

 

Almost immediately a doctor stood beside him. "Calm yourself, he's only sleeping from the pain killers I gave him. Are you family?"

 

"He's my son."

 

"Excellent. We were just waiting for someone to sign permission for his surgery. We'll begin immediately."

 

"What type of surgery?" Ellis whispered fearfully.

 

"His lower right leg is all but severed. There is no way we can save it."

 

Ellis groaned and slid to the floor in a faint. By the time an orderly revived him, Will and the doctor were gone.

 

Ignoring his work, Ellis remained by the side of his son, holding his hand and sharing his tears.

 

"Why me, dad?" Will asked once the drug induced stupor wore off and he was fully conscious.

 

Once again, Ellis found his training invaluable. Though he was once again heart broken over the cruelty of fate to his beloved Will, he masked his pain and offered only sunny words of encouragement to Will. "I donít know my son. Life often seems unfair, but there is nothing we can do but play out the hand we're dealt."

 

"It's not fair for me to have only one leg when I'm not even twenty. There's so much I want to do and now I can't."

 

"Never let me hear you say that again, Will. You can accomplish anything you make up your mind to. Your leg is an inconvenience, not a barrier unless you decide you want to be a cripple, in which case you will be."

 

"I donít want to be crippled!" Will howled and burst into tears.

 

"Then stop thinking and acting like one." Ellis leaned over and wiped away Will's tears. "You've always been a very determined young man even in your younger years when you were so shy. Now you stand on the threshold of life, a college degree in the offing in an area you love and excel in. I dare say there are few young men your age who have achieved so much at so young an age. This is one more hurdle for you to overcome."

 

"It makes me different, just like everything else in my life," Will said bitterly.

 

Interested in how Will was thinking, Ellis asked, "Such as?"

 

"I'm poor white trash, a servant, not someone any one would take note of. I wanted to be more, now this."

 

Inwardly Ellis was furious with Will. "Am I just a servant, then? Not worthy of notice? I received a note from Mr. Winters giving me a substantial rise in wages and begging me to return and take charge of the house again. He says it is total chaos even though I find that hard to believe, because Minnie is an excellent housekeeper. I suppose that some of the staff are trying to see how much they can get away with.

 

"Will, my son, I may appear to be only a shadow at work, but I assure you I use every management skill there is. I have to resolve staff differences, keep the household books, employ temporary staff when needed, oversee the total operation of the house and all repairs. No, son, I am not stupid nor no one, as you put it." Ellis pulled himself up straighter. "I am a professional butler, well trained and well paid for my services. Back home it is an old and honourable profession, unlike the way most people regard it in this so-called egalitarian society. I worked hard to achieve success in my eyes, now it is time for you to work equally as hard to become a success in your eyes and, I assure you, you will be a success in mine also."

 

Will sat up in the bed and held out his arms. "I'm sorry, dad. You're my constant when I go off on tangents. Thanks for bringing me back to reality."

 

"This trauma is enough to send anyone off on a tangent and self-pity is a natural result. Rise above that, Will. I'm here for you whenever you need me."

 

"As I always shall, father."

 

Apart from keeping Will from falling into depression, Ellis knew from years of experience that his main problem would be keeping Will insulated from Nick's devotee proclivities. He had discovered them in Nick's early teen years when he went to Nick's room with a message from his father, but Nick had rushed off earlier with friends without shutting down his computer. Ellis glanced at the montage of pictures on the screen and gasped. Each picture was of a teenage amputee. Ellis explored the site finding it a gay devotee site. He knew that if Nick saw Will he would be drawn like a fly to honey, despite the casual disdain Nick displayed any time Billy was mentioned.

 

A few weeks after the accident, Nick made a surprise visit home. After Ellis had overseen the maid serving coffee after dinner, Nick followed him into the butler's pantry.

 

"Ellis, who is the new man in the greenhouse?"

 

"I am not aware that there have been any new additions to the staff, Master Nicholas. It must have been someone brought in by Tom on a temporary basis. He will need help in hardening off the poinsettias in time for Christmas. Why would you be so interested in the staff, if I may ask."

 

Careful to maintain his closeted position, Nick shrugged. "No reason. I just thought I knew everyone around here, that's all."

 

"None the less, please refrain from interrupting the routine any more than possible."

 

Ellis took the weekend off to spend it at the cottage with Will. That night he told Will of his suspicions.

 

"Not surprising," Will said with a shrug. "It's always been about Nick, hasn't it? The golden boy who has and gets everything he wants." Will leaned toward Ellis. "I'm one thing he's not getting, no matter how badly he wants me. Not ever! When he's had his fill of me, he'll scorn me in the same way he scorned my offering of love years ago.

 

"I'm sorry that the carving is flawed, but that does not lessen all the love that went into the making of it, father. My love for you surpasses any other than my love for my blood father, thus I transfer that love to you with the stallion as the symbol. Other than my blood father, you are the only one that has loved me in a true sense of the word. I am your son, Martin Ellis, and proud to be so." Will said, tears streaming down his cheeks.

 

Try as he might, the only thing Nick could discover about the one-legged young man he had seen in the greenhouse was his name from the household accounts book - Walters Ellis. Walter was a name he was familiar with, but it seemed odd that someone would add an 's' to it. As far as Nick was concerned, the mystery deepened.

 

A few days later Will accidentally dropped an orchid he was transplanting into new osmunda fiber. "Damn it!"

 

Tom looked up from his work.  "Don't sweat it. There are several more of the same family in here."

 

"I know, but I hate being clumsy."

 

"I can understand why you don't want to use that hi-tech leg working in here with dirt and chemicals and all, but a wooden peg would be perfect instead of those crutches and you've got a proper stump."

 

Will's first thought was that with a peg leg it would not only be impossible to avoid Nick's attentions, but it would likely drive the guy crazy. Then Will smiled sardonically. It would serve Nick right, a beautiful bit of subtle revenge. "And where do I get one?"

 

"I know an old guy still makes one now and then. I'll give him a call and let you know."

 

"Thanks, Tom." Will held up a pot with a long stem covered in blooms and buds. "I think this is ready to go in the house. I'll take it in to Elllis."

 

Handing the orchid to Ellis, Will mentioned that Tom thought he should get a peg leg for working in the greenhouse and his own idea of using it as a subtle revenge. "It wonít make things more difficult for you, will it Dad?"

 

Ellis smiled. "No more than they already are, however I think young master Nicholas has attracted some unwanted attention with his antics."

 

"How's that?"

 

"He was at me again last evening after dinner demanding to know if some one-legged guy named Ellis working in the greenhouse was any kin to me. Mr. Winters came along just then and gave Nick a tongue lashing the likes of which I've not heard in ages. He was told explicitly to leave you and me alone and lets us get on with our work. Then as Nick was leaving the kitchen he was dumb enough to mention he'd have me fired for insubordination. Mr. Winters grabbed him by the ear and hauled him out." He grinned at Will. "If you want the peg, go for it. It's time you got some of your own back though I doubt Nick will be home as often as he has been."

 

Will quickly adapted to the peg, wondering how he had done without it. Even Tom commented on the increase in efficiency with which Will worked. Several times Will noted Nick following him around at some distance, a video camera with a telescopic lens was frequently aimed in his direction. Only once did Nick approach Will. On an overcast afternoon while Will worked with the orchids, Nick, trying to appear casual, sauntered into the orchid house.

 

"You responsible for the orchids the 'rents are going so crazy over?"

 

"They are my main responsibility. If my work pleases your parents then I'm delighted they share my love of the beautiful."

 

Nick's smile broadened. "The orchids aren't the only beautiful thing in here."

 

"What do you mean?" Will asked to see how far Nick would go.

 

"You, guy. Do you have any idea how sexy that peg leg is? Why donít you come up to the house and enjoy an afternoon relaxing with me. I'm sure you wonít be bored."

 

"Are you hitting on me?" Will said with an inflection that would have placed any listener on his guard.

 

Cocksure of his position, Nick said, "Why not? Just a fun way to brighten up a dreary afternoon. I really want to try on that peg to see how it feels, and I wonít neglect that beautiful stump when we get in bed."

 

"Am I supposed to be interested in your proposal? Well, you may be the boy of the manor, but those days are past and I'm not some common servant you can order to satisfy any whim you have, no matter how twisted. You've made enough videos of me, so go play them on your big screen TV and jack off. Now get out of here before I throw you out."

 

"Lay a hand on me and I'll have you fired. Loosen up and we canÖ"

 

"You heard me! Go make love to yourself. Self-gratification is probably the only thing in your life you love. I'm not interested now or ever."

 

"Nicholas! What the hell are you doing in here?" A gruff voice said loudly.

 

Nick turned to see his father holding an orchid whose blooms had faded. "Just talking to the gardener."

 

"Not the impression I got from what I heard. Go the house and leave this man to do his work. Ellis, Mrs. Winters hopes you have something in bloom to replace this. If so I'll take it to her."

 

"Yes, sir. This little oncidium is loaded with blooms as you can see."

 

"Not her favorite. Anything else?"

 

Will walked across the house. Noticing Nick watching him closely. "This phalaenopsis is just coming into bloom. It will last for several weeks if you remind Ellis to see to it with a misting every morning." The creamy bloom was centered with a ruby throat to make a striking combination.

 

Mr. Winters smiled. "That one will delight her. Thank you, Ellis. Your work brings us a lot of pleasure."

 

"Thank you, sir," Will responded handing the plant to him.

 

"God damn it!" Mr. Winters yelled as he turned and stumbled over Nick, dropping the orchid. "I thought I told you to go to the house. Get the hell out of here before you do something else stupid. Now!" He yelled when Nick failed to move. As he picked up the plant from the table, the clay pot split in half. Moving swiftly, Will managed to catch the plant before it was damaged.

 

"Sir, I will repot this immediately and it should be as good as new. It will only take a moment if you would care to wait, or I can give it to Ellis."

 

"I'll wait. I always enjoy watching a man who knows what he is doing at work." He stepped back as Will started to pass him and into Nick who still intently watched Will walk on the peg. "Damn it, Nicholas, get the hell out of here and don't let me catch you near this greenhouse or annoying this man again."

 

Seeing his father's expression, Nick scuttled quickly outside towards the house. In the days that followed Will often noticed Nick stalking him from a distance, but he was careful not to approach within speaking distance. "Look and drool you moron at what you'll never get to touch," Will whispered in his direction.

 

For several years the game continued, then Nick graduated from the university and returned home to work in the family business.

 

Flipping through the post he had picked from the post box on his way to the cottage, Will noticed two envelopes with the Winters Industries logo prominently displayed with the return address. One was addressed to him, the other to Ellis. No more than mildly curious, he dropped them on the small table by the door of the cottage to await Ellis' attention.

 

"Will," Elllis began over their tea, "I notice you didn't open your letter from the firm."

 

Will shrugged. "There's nothing there to do with me."

 

"My son, there's quite a bit to do with you. Ever since you came to me, you have trusted me to administer your concerns without question. The Winters have been generous to their employees, especially those employed around the estate. There was a life insurance policy on your father and then later the cheque Mr. Winters gave you when the orchid won the grand prize. I've also taken what you havenít spent on your education and invested in stocks, mostly Winters Industries stocks. I overhear much while serving dinner in the evening and especially when Mr. Winters entertains the board, Will, and take advantage of it. I suppose it could be considered illegal under the insider trading laws or some such, but while we both own considerable shares, they are still a small part of the total stock available.

 

"It appears that young Mr. Winters has come up with a scheme to diversify Winters Industries by getting into the computer related field. Naturally Mr. Winters is against upsetting a long established business by branching out into a field that has no relation to anything the firm manufacturers and one that is already over crowded. However he has told Nick that he can see what he can do but that he must win stockholder approval and raise funding separately from those of the established business, though some of the business assets will be held as emergency funding. I know I'm not explaining this well, Will, but I find some business transactions quite confusing." Ellis held up a sheet of paper. "This is a solicitation from Nick begging our vote to allow the expansion."

 

"Thank you for being so devoted to my interests, dad. Vote my shares the same way you plan to vote yours."

 

"I don't plan to vote at all until I see how Nick and his father play this out. If it becomes a tight race, then I shall vote against Nick's idea because from all the information I have it appears ill founded and doomed to failure."

 

For several days the news from Winters Industries dominated the pages of the papers and the evening television news. Each passing day the battle for backing of Nick's plans grew more intense. Ellis fielded several phone calls soliciting his vote, along with numerous mailings.

 

Over the weekend, Ellis and Will relaxed at the cottage, secure against the outside world. Late Saturday evening there was a knock at the door. Will opened it to look startled into the face of Nicholas.

 

"I want to speak to Ellis on business," Nick said brusquely, not recognizing Will.

 

"He does not wish to be disturbed. Wait and see him at the house when he returns on Monday," Will rejoined sharply.

 

"This wonít wait." With little regard, Nick pushed over the threshold past Will and glared at Ellis who started to arise from his chair.

 

"I resent this invasion of my home, Mr. Winters. How dare you enter in such a manner. Will, show Mr. Winters out."

 

"Wait a minute! I apologize, Ellis. This is vital to me and I had to follow this young man in order to find where you live. Please hear me out."

 

Knowing from experience that this was, for Nick, a most abject apology, Ellis nodded. "We shall hear what you have to say so long as you are courteous. You may sit there." He pointed to a chair by the fireside.

 

Will sat in a companion chair to the one occupied by Ellis as they listened to Nick describe his need for their votes for his scheme. When he was finished, Ellis shook his head slightly.

 

"I am quite sorry, Master Nicholas. While I admire your desire to expand on what your father has built, I think the direction you wish to venture into is already over crowded and doomed to failure. Something more closely related to the firm's present product lines and improvements to those would appear a more desirable course for expansion."

 

"Then you won't back me," Nick said bitterly.

 

"No. I cannot put the financial futures of both my son and myself at such risk."

 

"Your son?" Nick shouted. "Would that be a W. Walters Ellis?"

 

"Yes." He nodded toward Will. "This is Walters."

 

"But I was told the one-legged guy in the greenhouse was Walters."

 

"I have a fine prosthesis I wear when I'm not working around dirt and chemicals. As often as you've taken my picture when you have thought I was unaware, surely you must recognize me."

 

"I don't think Ö" Nick's voice trailed off as he looked around the room, eyes coming to rest on the stallion. "That's my carving! I wondered where it went after I gave it to you, Ellis." He shouted.

 

"It was offered to you many years ago as a token of love and friendship, Nick, but you spurned it even when it was all I had to give you. Now it belongs to dad, conveying the same but deeper love I have for him."

 

"You're Billy," Nick shouted in recognition.

 

"I once was a poor boy named Billy who sought the unobtainable in his ignorance. But when my plea for help was rejected in the same manner as the carving, I had the good fortune to find love and a father to replace the one I lost." He looked Nick in the eyes. "As you rejected me in the past, so I now reject your request for my vote. I know you now, Nick, so donít try for any retribution. I no longer work for your family." He saw Ellis smiling at him. "I have recently accepted a position as an associate professor of horticulture at the local college. Yes, Nick, I found my niche and continue to do what I love. I also will continue to love my father for so long as he retains the stallion who rears to show strength in love not humility."

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Posted: 09/16/07