Peas in a Pod: part six
Peas in a Pod
Haws went on: “Being complete in her devotion to our great reforming cause, my cousin bought this property…” He came to a standstill here. His remarks seemed to dissatisfy him, but Haws jumped to his feet, rather than finish.
“Miss Haws asks to see you.” And disentangling himself by taking the point directly, he now pointed in the direction of the lobby. He meant, Richard thought, the office. When Haws had first emerged, he’d been speaking to a woman.
“Miss Haws intends the hotel to be a haven for the abstinent traveler. And a wholesome abode, also, for those who’ve taken the pledge, where they cannot be subject to temptation. We sleep a hundred and fifty. About half our guests are regular boarders. The rest itinerants.”
Mute, Richard followed Haws. His father was a boarder here, that was what Haws was telling him. He did not want to ask any more. As they approached the reception counter a woman, drawing in the grey skirts of her gown, stepped forward.
“I am Rebecca Haws.”
She gave Richard her hand. He thought it wasn’t right to shake a woman’s, and took an awkward hold on her fingertips; over them, with some idea of the courtly manner, he bobbed his head. One corner of her mouth escaped into a smile. A second or two elapsed before Rebecca tapped Richard, in the way of her cousin, this time on the elbow. He released her fingers.
“You share your father’s name? Will I call you Richard?”
“Gideon will fetch your father here to the office, where we will all have a talk in private. Gideon has spoken to Mr. Everard already, and your father knows, Richard, that you have come to see him.”
All this sounded to Richard as though wrong had been done. He was uncertain he had not himself done it. Rebecca Haws was pallid and austere…she was not young; she might even have been his father’s age…but the skin of her face sat taut over the bones, and in her eyes Richard saw something that was young. And this was not an effervescence, as the sentimentalists would have it, nor a rose-petal blush that mantled there…
It was a bitter sense of injustice, like Richard’s own.
“Please sit on the sofa.” Miss Haws, moving behind her desk, rang a bell.
The sofa had a scroll back; its velvet was a deep shade of crimson. Richard supposed a woman might like to have a sofa of this type in her office, but felt, after his day’s journey, that he was not clean enough to sit on velvet.
“Please,” Miss Haws repeated. Mr. Jackson from the lobby stepped through the open door. “Will you send to the kitchen for a pitcher of ice water? There will be four of us. Thank you, Jackson. Richard…” Rebecca Haws lifted the lid of a stationery box, and used a fingernail to separate a precise, single sheet of letter paper. Richard, suspended on his own name, watched her center it and smooth it flat.
“Will it be a comfort to your mother…?”
Peas in a Pod
(2017, Stephanie Foster)