Peter bit his lip once more; he was not keen to provide anyone with a side.
“I’ll always be loyal, Father, you should know that. Yes, I’ve made mistakes, but I am ready to earn your trust again…”
“I do know that, truly. But, son, you need to prove that my hopes are correct. After what happened with that young maid-”
“Nothing ‘happened’ with Beth!” Peter burst out. Dr. Costello ignored his remark, showing only a tiny sign of recognition by that firm tilt of his head.
“Even so, you let me down. I can’t let anything that you have done once, untrue or otherwise, ruin our family’s reputation. Your kind mother and I have worked hard to make this life all possible for you.”
Phillip sniffed; he’d had enough of so-called ‘grand reputation’. It did nothing but give anyone harm.
“Are you prepared to do anything?” Dr. Costello continued.
”Anything I need to, Father…” Peter said rather hesitantly.
“Good…” Dr. Costello responded quietly, but said nothing more, instead surveyed the men over the tips of his bent fingers once again. It was strange to see the man resting his elbows on nothing but the thin air that crackled with tension between the family members. It was far from the supernatural that the old man possessed, just a strength of belief in his own integrity, and the way that time had made his ego bloom.
Peter himself reddened under the gaze. It was humiliation’s touch that he feared in his naivety.
He took a deep breath, steadied himself and closed his eyes for a moment, and maybe a moment longer. After that, Peter raised himself slowly out the armchair and stood face to face with his contemplating father. They were the same height and their pointed noses stood barely half a metre apart. Both had a gleam of triumph within their deep jade eyes.
“So, okay, what do you want me to do?”
Dr. Costello smiled, albeit a smile tipped with greed and his own winning humour.
“That maid girl, Beth, has been working less and less lately, and expecting more and more credit and attention, such which we certainly cannot give, especially where pay is involved. Undeniably, I don’t know what her intentions are, but they are surely wicked. There are some unsavoury rumours going around the kitchen and the rest of the household staff about her actions when she goes to town, and she is said to be disregarding of the rules that we have set. She is more trouble than our family needs at this sad time of Phillip’s uncertainty.”
Dr. Costello rotated himself to face Phillip.
“I’m sorry, but you need to get your act together. It’s not only Peter who has made the old maids’ tongues wag.”
Peter had only just absorbed the meaning of his father’s plans. But now he was outraged.
“Father!” He exclaimed, “You cannot expect me to do that!”
“Be that as it may. Stay or go. It’s your choice, Peter. But are you part of this family?”
Peter shook with rage and fear.
“Don’t you dare give me an ultimatum. I’m sick of it all!”
“How dare you.” Dr. Costello reached out and slapped his son across the cheek, hard. In an instant, Phillip sprang to his feet, his functioning hand all ready to strike.
“Father…” Instead, though, he placed it onto his father's shoulder, “I may have caused too much of this rift, but at least I am willing to atone. Please don’t make it wider yourself.”
Dr. Costello cast his eyes over the currently pathetic figure of Phillip. A subtle sympathy spread through them.
“You’re right…for once. I wish I hadn’t upset your mother, you know, but I thought… Ryan, well…”
“I understand,” Phillip murmured, loosening his grip to give a masculine comfort between the two of them. Next, he turned to Peter: “Don’t worry, brother. You don’t need to do my tasks for me; yes, I’m relieving you, I’ll be able to work on my own from now.”
”No,” Peter cried, knowing of the sadness and weakness inside Phillip that would cause him to quickly give up, “You can’t. You don’t even know… Oh.” His words finally faltered.
“Alright, Father. Alright, Phillip. You’ve caught me. I’m ready. I’ll tell my maid to go.”
And with that, Peter saw it fitting to traipse out the study.
“I’m sorry,” Phillip muttered apologetically for his brother’s bad behaviour as the door slammed with a rattling bang.
“It’s quite alright, Phillip; I’m sorry too. Why I lost my sense and mind, I don’t know.”
Phillip’s answer was instantaneous:
”You fell under the sly words of-”
“-Ryan. I know. Let’s not talk about it.”
“That’s fine, whatever you wish. But you will talk to him, won’t you? He shouldn’t be allowed to continue to bully Peter.”
“We’ll see,” Dr. Costello remarked, “But I certainly don’t think it’s as bad as that, Phillip. Bullying? I shan’t even consider such things!”
“Very well,” Phillip scowled and exited the room, leaving it in a deep silence.
His father shook his head sadly, wondering what had happened to his jolly sons and the union between his family. He had been told that right was wrong, and wrong began to take the shape and form of right, wrong began to be all that had been right in the world. As Dr. Costello stared out the window, he adjusted the bridge on his spectacles, and ended up fetching his pocket-handkerchief to clean their fogged glass. When he replaced them, he could physically see clearly, and the world’s alignment also seemed to have shifted. He was ready to see life anew.