Peas in a Pod: part two
“Don’t think ill on your brother, Richard. I only had a little accident. He don’t know nothing about it, or he’d come up to help.”
“An accident, Mama.”
But if she said so, it eased Richard’s mind, while also it broke his heart. His father had said, “You will not see me again.” The responsibility was his. He would have to find Lawrence. And he would fetch the doctor himself.
When they’d left Mrs. Purfoy’s house, Richard had asked a question.
His father’s anger had been profound. He hadn’t spoken since they’d stepped onto the walk; locked, as Richard knew, in one of his rages. Richard let himself fall behind, and from this distance followed, an eye on his father’s gait to judge his mood, as he crossed one street up from the house soon to be theirs, the next after that; then found himself stymied where this intersected with Broadway. Richard watched his father grapple onto the shirt back of a stranger who danced from foot to foot, blocking the way, spectating on some pastime of dice being played in the gutter—saw him bunch the cloth in his fists and force stillness on the man, while he shoved his way past.
Richard swerved, put his reddening face to the nearest wall, and found himself staring at a poster. Every arched niche under a cornice draped with yellow and green bunting was filled with one of these, identical, advertising: THE PENITENT SOLDIER (“…artful pathos, exalted drama…”―The Washington Times). Presented by the Breeling-Chesnut Troupe of Players.
Richard stopped, taken by a feeling of wonder. Mrs. Portia Breeling, (“Eliza”), smiled down by the half-dozen, coquettish likeness after coquettish likeness. She had an angelic pair of eyes, round red cheeks, a graceful hand at her throat, a wasp waist…
And yet a great robustitude of figure overall. But before he could discern the price of a ticket, he heard his father’s voice.
“Richard, I apologize. Tell me again.”
“I didn’t say anything, Daddy.”
He and his father had stabled their horses and come up river on the Sue-Belle. She, being a cargo-hauling flatboat, might stop and tarry at any wharf to take on another load, and she had likely pushed on. They might never see the Sue-Belle twice. In an odd frame of mind, but not unhappy, his father had told him (before the transaction with Mrs. Purfoy, when he’d still had his ten dollars in his pocket): “Some of the steam packets, Richard, will leave as late as midnight. But it’s no use giving your money over, until the boat is certain to go.”
“You asked,” he said now, “what will we do, when we come to live here? Didn’t you ask me that, Richard?”
“I will come down this way again. Most jobs in the tobacco trade are in this part of town, close to the river. I have little skill to do any of them…but it won’t matter. Take the first job for which any man will pay you a wage, and rise from there to a better place. That, Richard, is all any of us can do.”
Peas in a Pod
(2017, Stephanie Foster)