May 28, 1904
When I got home to Marianna, Cephas and Lula had a congratulatory supper at the house, just family members. At the table, Lula insisted on hearing about the ceremony, the speeches, and the celebration afterwards at the President’s house.
After dinner, when we gathered into the parlor, I unrolled my diploma. My niece and nephew gazed at it, not comprehending the Latin, but Cephas and Lula were proud. Lula said she would have it framed right away as a graduation present, so it could be hung in the office.
Cephas brought out wine and cigars; the clue that Lula was to leave with the children as it was their bedtime. She kissed me on the cheek, repeated again how proud she was of me, then left, sliding the pocket doors closed behind her.
Cephas offered me a glass of wine; I declined, but he poured one anyway and set it on the table next to my chair. Ever-alert Cephas smirked.
“Swearing it off, are you,” he said to me.
I felt a blush creep up my cheeks, but said nothing.
“Care to talk about it?” Cephas asked.
Cephas lit one of his Cuban cigars. He puffed it into life, then sat back in his easy chair, a glass of wine in one hand, his other arm bent, as he held the cigar, looking at me thoughtfully through the blue-gray smoke.
I didn’t say anything for a few moments, but I touched my forehead, which was still aching slightly from the tremendous hangover.
“I heard you met with some of the more prominent fellows of the Florida Bar while you were there,” Cephas said, wryly.
I closed my eyes for a moment. “We had dinner and a small celebration at the hotel. The older lawyers saw us; we invited them in, but they declined. Then me and the fellows went out to see the sights of the town.”
“Women.” Cephas smirked.
“Yes. We met some women.”
Cephas took a sip of his wine, and a puff of the cigar, then crossed his legs. “Look, Emmett. If we’re going to be partners, we need to be completely honest with each other. I’ve already heard about your adventures in Jacksonville as a newly minted member of the Florida Bar. But I want to give you the benefit of doubt first; I want to hear from you what happened.”
I shook my head; I looked away. “You already know.”
“Yes,” Cephas said.
“How did you find out?”
“A little bird named Judge Locke told me,” Ceph said. “He heard it from some of his colleagues that, actually, I was in Jacksonville and having the time of my life! So, imagine their surprise when they went to the hotel to find that it wasn’t me, but my beloved little brother, carousing about, apparently trying to carry on the Wilson family tradition, as it were.”
“Oh my God,” I muttered. I closed my eyes.
Ceph continued. “If you think our family is tight-knit, reporting things on each other, I daresay the Florida Bar is even more tightly knit. Emmett. I’m surprised this wasn’t obvious to you, but now you know: Members of our legal community watch each other very closely, and for good reason. We hold the strings of political power in this state. We want what the other has. If one of us is given higher favor or standing than the other, we just circle around and wait for the opportunity to take our colleague down.”
I looked at my brother, saying nothing.
“My colleagues on the Florida Bar want what I have,” Ceph said, after a few minutes. “They will take advantage of ANYTHING to take me — us — down.”
He then lowered his voice and looked at me seriously, and said, “You need to remember that. We men all have our little vices,” he said, as he glancing over at the closed parlor doors, where we could hear Lula and the children’s voices elsewhere in the house, “but we must be circumspect.” Ceph looked knowingly back at Emmett. “As long as you keep yourself under control, out of the newspaper, out of sight, it’s fine.”
The thought of Judge Locke watching me, saying things about me that were justifiable but embarrassing to his colleagues, their laughing at me, thinking of me dismissively…. Oh my God. I realized I would certainly be seeing him and the other lawyers again within days, and they would remember my drinking escapade….
Ceph watched me as I involuntarily cringed. He sat back in his seat, folded his hands across his paunch.
“What if you had gotten hurt? Or, caused an accident? According to the hotel staff, you were non compos mentis — you know they want you to pay for the cleanup.” Cephas smirked at me again. “You could be disbarred for something you did while intoxicated. That would been a shame: A career ended as soon as it had begun.”
“I promise, Ceph, I will not do this again. And I’m staying away from the drink. I’ve had enough. I’m swearing off alcohol permanently.”
“I don’t know how realistic that is,” Cephas said. “Everyone makes mistakes. But you’ve been given a lot of opportunities I’ve never had,” he added, looking at me coldly. “Don’t screw them up.”
I nodded. “I won’t.”
“All right. Let’s consider the issue closed,” Ceph said as he raised his wine glass and made a toast in my honor.
I raised my wine glass in the toast. But I didn’t drink.
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