Excerpt: A Figure from the Common Lot (The House of Everard second)
Richard had thought he would never marry. He had thought, many times since his visit to Louisville, of the high-handed rejection of Miss Haws. But weighing the question of Verbena, he found that his mind had resolved itself; that in his study of her, he had learned a hope of redemption.
Always on Sundays, after their liveryman, Thomas―he, holding second place in the hierarchy under Joab―had dressed himself in his tailcoat and tall hat, hitched the buggy, brought this to the foot of the hill and chocked the wheels, Richard would take his mother’s arm, to escort her down from the house, until the sloping descent grew steepest.
“Thomas,” he called out then, “come give a hand to your mistress.”
“Missus Everard, ma’am. There you are, all done up!”
The compliment in Thomas’s words lay in the delivery; yet his words were chosen with care. Peggy had grown fat. Her shawl disguised the straining lower, and the undone upper buttons of her church dress. She had worn this same brown surah for years.
Between the two of them they spared her swollen ankles and knees the rough passage, carrying her almost, each with an arm supporting her back and a hand her elbow, so that her feet need scarcely touch earth. They reached the level of the dirt lane running from the barn past the house, and down to the main road; here, Thomas climbed between seat and dashboard, leant across and clasped Peggy’s two wrists, while Richard, her son, assumed the more unseemly task of humping her up from behind.
He did not, this Sunday, mount to his seat beside her. He did not speak to his mother, though he watched the restless way she arranged her skirts and shawl, and knew she was aware of his rebellion, angry with him. She understood why he was willing to accompany her to church, dine with her at the McCrarys’ house after services. Not for any religious feeling, but because as a farmer, Richard did business in the community. He did not want his reputation, his income, to suffer for his atheism and standoffishness. The local gossip-mongers would have it that Richard Everard was going the way of his father. These outings at his mother’s side refuted rumor, proved―while he despised the good townsfolk for needing this proof―that Young Everard was not in thrall to drink.
Thomas by now had got onto his driver’s perch, and Richard, standing away from the buggy, left Peggy placed where she was helpless.
“Thomas,” he gave the order, “when you bring my mother home this afternoon, come up to the house and fetch me. Today, I am not going along.”
“Verbena, I hope you will appreciate…this is only a token, for the time being―”
His words, meaningless to himself, were nothing to her. Other than her tears, she had responded only by moving to the light of the window, and staring, bewitched, at the contents of the little box. Richard, hoping to bind her in promise to him, saw that for Verbena, who’d never owned a piece of jewelry, the idea of a gift, of someone’s giving her a thing of value, was in itself overwhelming.
The House of Everard
(2017, Stephanie Foster)