Helen's mother looked up from her husband's face, still smiling. "What is it, Mrs. Hitchcock?"
"Mr. Fairfax has arrived."
"Oh dear," Helen said.
"Now, Helen," her mother scolded gently. "I'm sure if you start out irritated you will only get more so very quickly. Think soothing thoughts."
Helen laughed. "I will not ruffle his almighty equilibrium."
Her father snorted. "Why the one child of mine who has become a success should be the cause of such consternation, I don't understand. Fairfax is a fine young man."
"He's an insufferable prig."
"Nonsense: he's a respected capitalist," his father huffed proudly.
"Exactly." Helen began to gather up the sketches and notes she had spread across the library table.
"Mother, father," Fairfax said as he entered the room, a portfolio under his arm. "Helen."
It would not be entirely accurate to say that the siblings were cool too one another. They were simply too much alike to get on well. Both had their mother's open, intelligent face and no-nonsense movements. They differed only in their zeal for opposing goals.
Fairfax had taken command of the family fortune with a zeal that approached the missionary. He had taken his degree from Cambridge and immediately embarked upon an aggressive plan for expanding their funds with the empire.
Helen, denied a similar opportunity, focused on educating herself with the extensive library her father had gathered and her mother had expanded. Suspicious of the same hierarchies that barred her from formal learning, Helen's character had developed with a scorn for all the conventional attitudes that fueled her brother's work and connections.
Consequently, they did not much understand one another.
At times like this, the clash between the siblings caused a good deal of friction. When one concentrated on holding onto existing benefits and the other on exploring the unknown, breaking new barriers and plunging into new horizons, there were going to be sparks.
And so they began.
"I've just been looking at our latest figures on the Leeds investments…" Fairfax began, talking directly to his father and bypassing the two women in the room. "They're not as strong as I would like them to be but I assume we can make some alterations to the schema that will keep the margins within reason."
"And hello to you, too," Helen snapped at her brother.
Fairfax looked at her mildly. "I'm sure we will have time to chat after Father and I have finished dealing with these matters."
"Oh yes, the matters far too complex for female heads to deal with!"
"I never said that." Fairfax frowned. "But you have never showed much interest—"
"And you have never bothered to include Mother or I in your calculations that manipulate the family finances without regard to proprietary or ethics."
"That's not at all true," Fairfax countered. "You will recall that my training in ethics at Cambridge—"
Unfortunately, any mention of that august institution inevitably resulted in further animosity from his sister. One might think the young man would have learned by now to avoid that controversial topic, but the truth was that he seemed to bring it up with tedious regularity.
"Yes, we're all well aware of the stellar education you received in the ways of the Empire, the ruthlessness of the capitalist, the slippery 'ethics' of the speculator…" His sister grew pink with irritation.
"I am not a speculator!" Fairfax seemed startled by the suggestion.
"Your schemes are legion." Helen's fixed expression seemed to suggest that his crimes were public knowledge.
"The only 'scheme' I could be said to be engaged in of a dubious nature," Fairfax said, eyes, glaring with intense light, "would be funding your hideous machine."
"A marvel of engineering!" Helen said, her voice constricted.
"Now, children, please let's not argue." Their mother shook her head at them.
"I shan't say another word!" Helen said and prepared to depart.