Mossbunker’s Castle: Hammersmith (six)
Vic B. Mack was in Mossbunker’s castle keep.
Mossbunker had spoken to him, in their mutual professional capacities, once…and had not allowed the press inside his walls. They’d walked the yellowing sward, as Mack felt inclined to call it, passed by the holly hedges (these, for the gardener’s severe clipper-work, stobbier than prickly…but still forbidding), and skirted an honest to goodness canal. Or whatever a feudal lord might call this. Moat, he guessed. Mossbunker had said, shading eyes and flinging a commanding finger, looking like a statue of Clark or Frémont, “That hill. I’m dynamiting it. The only way, Mack. What with the telephone service, we’ll be rolling out reams of cabling.”
“You figure the fill’d level out a place for company houses.”
Mossbunker had not figured this, Mack gathered. He’d been silent.
“It is my opinion,” he said at last, “that the open hand breeds mere contempt. A man who has got something of his own through laboring for it, appreciates…exactly…the value of it. I don’t play this game of being a father to the men. If you ask me to pay for a thing, show me first how it pays me.”
You couldn’t make idle conversation with some people.
For a second, it had seemed almost worthwhile to Mack to answer Mossbunker with an editorial. But he’d remembered, before he got far doing the math in his head, that he had no opinion.
Mossbunker’s name had been on the factory deed for twenty years, and the great man had never been seen locally, ’til ’89. As a by-product of the terrible flood at Johnstown, he’d turned up, surveying, along with a coterie upholstered in English tweeds, this high hill he’d owned the whole time. It might not have suited for a new hunting and fishing lodge…nevertheless the site had caught Mossbunker’s fancy. The castle started going up, eight years ago now.
Mossbunker, the multi-millionaire, thus had a Hammersmith address. His presence had never been witnessed on Main Street. Mack expected he read only the Philly papers…but he’d been working on this inroad. As soon as Abel Bard let him know about the American Patriots, Mack had said to him, “Now, I don’t want to give a bad impression. A lot of people might think the proprietor of the daily paper is not gonna keep things under his vest. If it makes Mossbunker uncomfortable, having me there…”
“You saying you wanna join up? Just for yourself?”
“I’m a patriot, Abel.”
The banqueting hall, hung with tapestries that seemed to emit an odor of medieval sweat (authentic, Mack was willing to believe) had an oblong table, where this knighthood of Anglo-Saxon purity sat decidedly in order of precedence. He was at the foot. At least he supposed so. At his back, a vast oaken door swung on its hinges whenever the servants brought another dish to the board. It was a relief to have been given silverware—in fact, a decent slice of Sunday ham. You couldn’t tell how far a man who could afford to spend what he liked, might invest in the Age of Chivalry.
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)