Celebrated (part eighteen)
Enderley caught him. “Mr. Carter hasn’t gone out?”
“No, he hasn’t, Mr. Enderley, and he doesn’t mean to. Says so.”
The head steward then told him to do just what he was doing.
“Go to your berth, if you like. Put on your vest. You ought to have had it on already.”
Hector saw the cheeks pinken. It was the return of purpose, this, driving off the sickly pallor. Enderley had found a thing to correct.
I’ll let the poor old bastard go off pleased with himself, Hector thought, and didn’t make the excuse, though on the inside he said it. Had to see my gents into theirs, didn’t I?
“What is that?”
“Sir, it was a gift. Mr. Carter said take it.”
The ship’s whistle sounded a long, long note. Women, some of the stewardesses, in fits of laughter, their legs going fast and awkward, their arms linking them in a group, passed, jostling the two men. Enderley seemed to Hector struck frozen…
He thawed, over a span of seconds.
He said: “Moore…”
Blankness for a moment. “And of course, whatever such possessions of yours…as you think you may wish to bring away.”
“I have a note here.” Petra scooted the page across to Tom. “I needed a good diagram of the Titanic’s decks, where the stewards’ quarters would be, where Enderley might reasonably tell them to gather… One of those research things that would be so easy now, but in…oh, ’72…? I couldn’t guess where I would get it. A whole day on the phone!”
She was listing, and amidst the noise of the boilers blowing off, Hector thought he heard the ship’s skeleton creak. A sound the dockyard cranes had made, that he’d heard from his mother’s house as a boy. He shut the door, turned to the glass and donned the coat.
He was bent over his laid-out things, when the door smacked the seat of his drawers.
Macniece coming in. “What’re you about, Moore? Swimming for it?”
Hector pulled up his trousers and buttoned on his braces.
“Going mufti?” Macniece watched, then helped fit the collar. His fingers were shaking, but he knotted Hector’s tie for him as well.
“Getting a place.”
“We aren’t to have places.”
“No, Tom, that’s what I figure. What else? They counted passengers when they stocked them boats. We’re to stand attention in our clobber and wave ourselves off to paradise. Come with me.”
“No.” Macniece knelt bracing himself, a hand under the lid of his trunk.
“I like this Macniece.”
“Oh, ha. Well, I’m sorry to say…”
Tom waved her to read on. She was skimming, giving him a taste, and dropped her nail a quarter-inch to open a later episode. She had made an adventure for Hector, an encounter with a cabinmate from the Carpathia, her antihero’s invitation to a club lunch. “He sees he’ll have to keep the details of his story from growing out of hand. Hector is stuck in New York, waiting for Dorrie’s money to turn up…”
“I’m getting married, you see. A picture might be something for the in-laws… If you insist on explanations.”
Prescott, an echo in his head warned, was telling him this for the second time.
Hector tried gliding under awnings, past wrought iron railings, like a man who could drink so much midday… Who did, by habit. The toasts had been all to luck, to amazing luck. He had reciprocated, mimicking—he put this to them—Liverpool for a joke. Of course, it was Hector Moore he mimicked, his mum, her charitable neighbors…the thought recalling to him the angry “bearing up with” before he’d been packed off to the orphans’ home.
But at the club they had quite liked Harold Carter, so long a resident of Southampton, he had even acquired the accent. Prescott took his elbow.
“Easy! It’s as well you’re the sober sort. But I’m serious, Harold. We’ll walk another block, a place I have in mind. They like dogs. In-laws, I mean, like em. But I think particular dogs. Probably we want a bucolic little scene, water…windmills…ships in harbor…”
Hector hazarded, “Pick what suits yourself, I’d say. Have you done business with…with this chap before?”
“This chap…” Prescott chuckled. “Put me on to the man who painted Judith. I haven’t been engaged to be married before, that much is true!”
The laugh this time was fulsome. He lowered his voice, confiding. “Carter, I’m hoping it turns out the wrong size for the chimneypiece. Just rather not feel my beloved peering over my shoulder, every time I’m snugged in reading by the fire. You know?”
He spoke in hints, as though his new friend Carter might, by some anecdote or advice, offer sound cause for breaking off the engagement. But maybe the tony people just enjoyed their gags…and if you took them seriously, like some passengers he’d known, would decide you’d insulted them.
“My only point was, you’d have a bit of leverage.”
“Well, stop in with me. Tip the wink, whatever catches your eye…”
This, Hector was reluctant to do. How many picture dealers in New York had known Carter?
(2019, Stephanie Foster)