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Over the Threshold

Chapter Text

James Clancy wasn’t the richest man in the city of New York. Nor was he the best known, or the handsomest.

But in certain circles, he was definitely a favorite. He was easygoing, and you could call him a true friend. His smile alone was enough to make a man—or woman—like him well enough because it was infectious, it was real and genuine enough to make you believe he truly took joy in being with you at this moment.

He worked hard at what he did, but still took some time at his club every day; what man didn’t? What man didn’t need to?

And he was self made without acting like the nouveau riche; he had no sisters to humiliate him by looking around for a husband for themselves.

He was all alone in the world; sometimes people would mention a brother, but it was always understood that a tragedy had happened to his family, one with no touch of scandal, just tears, so it never became a topic for the gossip chains.

At thirty, he was unmarried, but there was no gossip there either; he occasionally showed an interest in one of the debutantes, or even the ladies considered spinsters, or even the younger widows, and it just never went anywhere.

“He’s searching for love,” the women would scoff, occasionally trying to set their daughters on him, but it never quite worked; he wasn’t the biggest catch and his politeness was somehow worse than more valuable catches rudeness. Because he would be polite and very considerate to you but at the same time, during all of that, you could just tell that nothing would come of it; that you could drop your handkerchief dozens of times and he would pick it up, every single time, and it would still mean nothing to him because he wasn’t working for it. It was just his nature to help people, to be nice to them.

So this was the reason that Tom Gordon was finding him hard to gauge, why he’d been asking around for two weeks now as to what kind of man James Clancy really was, because he simply seemed too good to be true. If he wasn’t married yet, did he have mistresses? No, and neither did he visit whore houses...of the male or female kind.

Did he have some sort of character flaw to cause mothers to keep their daughters from him? No, again. All women gladly said they’d marry their daughters off to him without a second thought but he wasn’t interested.

What, Tom Gordon wondered, would capture James Clancy’s interest?

And would it be his daughter, Melinda Gordon?

Because someone had to marry Melinda. She was getting far too out of hand; Tom had desperately been trying to find someone who could marry her for weeks now, and kept coming up short.

It wasn’t just that she was nearly twenty-one, and still unmarried.

It wasn’t just that she had, rather stubbornly, refused two marriage proposals already, before the men even dared to approach Tom himself.

It wasn’t just that she was part of the women’s liberation movement, that she was a ‘suffragette’ because honestly , other fathers and mothers had worked around their daughters being scandals in that regard.

It was because she claimed she could see, and talk to, the dead. It was because she kept on sneaking out of the house to speak to an abominable professor Richard Payne to get his advice. It was because whenever Tom’s path collided with Richard, he could see the hunger in the other man’s eyes when he looked at Melinda, and he could see her future with Richard should they happen to marry.

Poor as a mouse, looked at and examined like one of his projects. Tom had no trust that Richard could truly love Melinda, lust though he may after her beauty and...peculiar talents.

So these were the reasons leading to Tom just giving up on trying to figure James Clancy out and simply inviting him to talk one day, and why James Clancy was currently being shown into his study, looking tall and handsome; capable.

Tom remembered that James had gotten his start in the railroad business, just selling newspapers in the stations, and wondered how much of that he’d taken with him over the years.

“Hello,” Tom greeted, rising and shaking James’ hand; he was impressed by the other man’s grip. “Tom Gordon.”

“James Clancy,” James replied, polite to the end, seating himself carefully on the other side of the desk .

“I’d like to get to know you better, James,” Tom began. “I know of you, and I have to admit to not being able to yet get a feel for your character.”

James smiled, a touch of confusion on his face. “Alright,” he said. “I suspect that you’ve brought me here to decide if you want to do business with me.”

“Exactly,” Tom said, smiling a little.

“Then go ahead,” James replied. “Though I wouldn’t have thought that you’d need the services of a newspaper man.”

“Well, that remains to be seen,” Tom said agreeably and James nodded, smiling again.

“What do you want to know?” James wondered.

“Well, what everyone wants to know of any new acquaintance,” Tom began. “Do you have any family living? Do you want your own?” He saw James startle at such questions and quickly continued. “Do you enjoy a cigar on a fine evening? Do you support women’s suffrage?” At this, Tom laughed outright. “Do you enjoy what you do for a living?”

He steepled his hands, and then started up. “Let me offer you a drink,” he began. “Loosen your tongue.”

“I don’t drink this early in the day, but thank you,” James said, in the tone of someone who has said the same thing hundreds of times.

Tom settled back. “Well, any answers?”

James leaned back in his chair. “My own question first, if I may?”

Tom nodded.

“May I just ask if you ask everyone these questions upon getting to know them?” James wondered.

“No, and that’s your only question,” Tom said. “Now may I get some answers?”

James’ eyes had narrowed; he was just looking at Tom, trying to figure him out, trying to decide if this was worth it. “My mother is still living,” he began. “My father and brother passed on early and we...don’t see each other as much as we perhaps should, but I put her up in a house in the country and I’m fine with things the way that they are. She’s not very fond of the newspaper business; she wished I’d gone into medicine.”

“Fair enough,” Tom said.

“And she wants me to start my own family,” James continued, eyes growing thoughtful, looking past Tom at the blooming garden outside the window. “I don’t...I’m not ready for that yet.”

“You have yet to sow your wild oats?” Tom wondered.

James smiled a little stiffly. “I have yet to determine if the noble institution is, in fact, worth it. I have written about and witnessed marriages fall apart; I have seen men like myself marry only to propagate children and, the full duration of the marriage, keep company with a mistress.” He licked his lips. “I have yet to see the point of it unless both parties are committed and I have not found a woman to whom I feel I could...commit.”

“Even fairer,” Tom said. “But that would change. If you found the right one. If you found...the right reasons.”

James just nodded. “Let me see,” he said a moment later. “Do I enjoy a cigar? If offered one yes, but my frugal nature won’t let me take up the habit for myself; it gets too expensive.”

“Well said,” Tom chuckled and pulled out a drawer in his desk. “Cigar?”

James shook his head.

“Do I support women’s suffrage?” He said aloud. “I wouldn’t say that I don’t. A woman has little enough power in the world, might as well let her have more. In the newspaper business, sometimes I wonder if men aren’t just ruining the country so why not let women have a chance to ruin it too—or perhaps better it?”

“But the movement itself is disrespectful,” Tom said, forgetting himself. “The women are mostly young girls influenced by a few old spinsters who couldn’t catch a man and so decided to get power instead. And why would you want a-a daughter or a sister...or even a wife involved in that nonsense?”

“Or a mother?” James said a bit coolly. “My mother is, in fact, an avid supporter of the liberation movement.”

Tom settled back into his seat, disappointed with this development, but pushing past it. Surely this would only make it easier for Melinda to reconcile herself to the idea of marriage with James.

“And do I enjoy what I do for a living…” James trailed off. “Yes. I think so. It’s a fast paced world and I haven’t yet reached the time when it makes me tired.” A frown appeared on his brow. “Not physically, anyway. Sometimes the state of the world makes me tired though, to think about it. To rue it.”

“Yes,” Tom said, drawing out the word. Sensitive. Well, he didn’t like it, but perhaps Melinda would. “And a few other questions. What do you think about the whole talk of the...spirit world? Ouija boards, that kind of ridiculousness?”

James was very puzzled now. “It’s not something I believe or disbelieve,” he said carefully.

“And to someone who did believe…?” Tom trailed off rather delicately, further confounding his guest.

“It would depend on the someone and what they believed,” James finally finished.

“I want to tell you about a girl,” Tom said and saw an odd smile quirk at James’ mouth; he’d finally figured out what the purpose of the visit was, and finally understood the line of questioning. “A girl who is heavily involved in the women’s liberation movement, is going terribly fast towards the point of scandal and ruin, who says she doesn’t wish to marry and is twenty-one and has refused two proposals so one might even believe her.” He took in a breath. “She professes a faith in the spirit world; I don’t know where she learned such nonsense but it’s all she’ll talk about anymore and she has taken up a very worrying habit of going to see the professor in charge of supernatural studies at Rockland University, which is, I believe, two hours out of the city; she takes the train there chaperoned and sees the professor unchaperoned, because my maids are not dependable and can be bribed, apparently, to let her be while she bothers him with nonsense questions.”

He was getting closer to losing himself.

“What would you think of such a girl?” Tom finally barked, just the thought of his daughter giving him a very deep headache.

“I’d think that she was your daughter, sir,” James said carefully and Tom burst out laughing, because the answer was very, very clever and not wrong at all.

“Too damn true,” Tom said, settling back into his chair, pouring himself a glass of sherry because he needed to be level headed for this. “And what would you say if I asked you to marry her?”

“That without meeting her I couldn’t possibly agree to anything,” James said, a bit coolly, as if expecting the question; but Tom could see from James’ posture that he hadn’t expected the question at all, that his shoulders were back, as if expecting her to walk in at any moment. “What does she think of the idea?”

“She doesn’t know,” Tom muttered.

Jim surveyed the man in front of him; very much a harried father who only wanted what was ‘best’ for his progeny; he’d come across many a man like Tom Gordon but none had ever asked Jim to marry their daughter before.

He hesitated to pinpoint one reason why he disagreed to the match, not because they were numerous, but because he couldn’t find one. For some inexplicable reason, this girl, the description Tom had given of her...sounded fascinating to him, made him sit straighter, wonder what she was like. Was she furious and ranting most of the time? Or was she, as he speculated, merely lonely, looking for love in any place she could find it, because in her father’s home, she most definitely wasn’t.

The spirit world. There had been a time when the very mention of that would start a yearning deep in Jim’s heart, hoping that, yes, there was such a thing; that he could have one more chance to speak to his father, his brother. And even now, he so keenly understood that desire that it only made him want to meet her more.

And women’s suffrage; again, that spoke to a woman looking to find validation in a world that would give her none; rights because her father allowed her nothing but his name and maybe a bit of money.

Those in and of themselves had Jim picturing an intelligent girl, one with just enough spirit to go and see a professor with questions she had; enough to attract at least two men enough to have them propose to her, and say no, but not enough to truly break away from her father, dare to live alone.

In the upper echelon, Tom Gordon’s daughter would be considered by most to be the lucky one, but Jim knew that the path of a rich man’s daughter was, perhaps, the narrowest of all to tread.

She probably wore glasses to read, and said no to the former proposals because she knew she wouldn’t be properly loved, he considered, feeling a brotherly fondness for the girl, almost wanting to say yes to Tom Gordon right now, because he hated the thought of the deep unhappiness that living this life would bring most girls...women.

But still, sight unseen, he had no idea what the girl was truly like. He had no idea if this picture in his head was completely wrong; she could be the fire and brimstone that Tom was warning of and if she was, well, as much as Jim might understand her feelings, he couldn’t very well say that he could properly help her. She’d need more than husband then, and with Jim working so long and hard each week, simple freedom from her father wouldn’t be enough to free her spirit.

Tom was considering him. “You’re saying if you meet her, you’ll marry her?”

“I didn’t say that,” Jim said swiftly, but Tom was speaking over him.

“She’s not a bad looking thing,” he said. “Better than most suffragettes, which is the most infuriating part. I daresay she also wants a husband or she wouldn’t be going to that idiot professor each week.”

“You’re saying she has feelings for him?” Jim managed to get a word in between Tom’s.

“I’m saying that it’s over my dead body that I’ll allow her to elope with him,” Tom said, a manic gleam in his eyes.

Which didn’t quite answer Jim’s question.

“When can we meet?” Jim asked.

“Give me your word,” Tom said. “That you’ll marry her.”

And no, he was not a fool.

Jim stood up, ready to go. “As much as I hate to say it, this is farewell.”

“Wait,” Tom said. “She’ll be back soon and I told my butler to show her into the study when she arrived.”

And Jim still wasn’t a fool.

“Just be fair,” Tom said. “Her name is Melinda.”

He was prepared to go, but as he took his gloves and hat, he heard a scuffle; turning he faced the door with Tom standing up with him to greet whoever was coming in.

The door was flung open and Melinda walked in, and she was both everything and nothing like Jim had expected.