Hammersmith: Want Nothing Will Write (chapter fourteen)
Aimee had taken her seat, facing the caboose end. Hogben, lost for choice between next to, or across from (or flight down the passage, and a leap to the platform), took a prod from the passenger behind’s umbrella. He scuttled and came to rest at her side, murmuring, “Pardon me, Mack.”
Blaring its whistle, the train shuddered into movement.
“Well, here we are.”
Aimee offered this, and her companion responded: “On our way.”
He stuck his nose in the Philadelphia paper he’d bought from a porter.
As so often front pages did these days, most of Hogben’s carried the text of a statement, by someone or other, to Congress, as to what again the Spanish government had failed to do to the American government’s satisfaction. The accumulating stack of diplomatic notes—each to be interpreted as a new offense—would topple under its own weight. From this the undeclared state of hostilities would rise transformed, as unavoidable war. Which no one wanted.
Of course she had paid for her ticket. She would pay for her lunch, if he let her, but the weighing of what she might honorably pass off on Monty (she was only being frank with herself to say so) was one of the excursion’s brass tacks. Before breakfast, Aimee had popped the lid of her footstool, to shake out ten of twenty silver dollars tucked there in a sock—the most of her rainy-day fund she could sacrifice for Jane’s sake.
Well and want nothing. Will write.
She had got Carey’s message off by telegram, without seeing room for improvement. Why encourage him to say, “I love you, dear”? He had not loved her at the start.
Yesterday, before Minnie’s cake was finished baking, Aimee had watched Hogben scoot from the table, pull his hat from the top of the cupboard…
While from the back of his head came a muffled, “Ma’am…”
“Oh, not yet, you don’t mean to leave us, Mr. Hogben, before dessert! And why leave at all…” Ruby leaned far back in her chair, to eye through the archway the parlor accommodations.
A side-glimpse of the head, bending for a packed satchel, went on: “I won’t try to say all that I might, Mrs. Bard…”
He’s worked out a speech, Aimee thought. Minnie interrupted.
“Mr. Hogben, I wanted you to crank the ice cream! I guess Mr. Shaw can do it, though.”
Shaw, with his wonderful resistance to insult, put in, “Sure can!” Adding, “I’ll have to run Ruby’s errand before the shops close.”
It was more harm than Minnie could suppose, Aimee knew, to be commandeering her ice like that. Minnie had an encroaching personality, a generous view of others’ resources…
And no travel plans of her own. As with the Maine mystery, which had grown (by that morning’s news) into a definite fault of Spain, Mr. Starkweather’s firing of Ruby had become an act of war. Minnie was entrenched, never mind in whose house.
Hogben inched backwards through the kitchen door, mumbling, “…a debt I can scarcely repay…”
She could give him that. He probably hadn’t much money.
But Abel was dealing out of town because he was dealing through Mossbunker. He could well keep an agent on the premises. He could build a two-family attached, and have three-and-a-half perfectly nice properties to overcharge newcomers for. This service-for-pay fiddle should make a failsafe for the masculine sense of honor. Abel could tell himself he gained as he lost, refuse the five hundred down his father’s widow meant to offer him with a very straight face.
She hoped Hogben man of the world enough to help her birth this scheme… That he knew businessman’s angles she couldn’t think of on her own.
“Minnie, he’s getting away. I’ll have to…”
“Oh, tally ho, Aimee. Leave the fort to me.”
Catching him, taking his sleeve cozily, she had said: “Mr. Hogben, you asked my advice. I would like to ask yours.”
Shaw appeared breathing behind them, just as they’d stepped off the grass and onto the road. “I have to see if they don’t have canary seed over at the emporium. Minnie says they had birdcages when the two of you were down in the morning shopping, ma’am. Ruby gave me two dollars. But I don’t know a cage won’t cost more…”
The remaining walk had become a caucus on the likely sum total of Ruby’s goods, whether Shaw’s face had got well enough known around Hammersmith that Mr. Brainerd could put the extra on Aimee’s tab, whether she might not need to come along with him, to initial the credit in Mr. Brainerd’s ledger, whether Hogben didn’t (rooting through each of his pockets) have a fifty-cent piece and a quarter he could spare, for Miss Magley’s sake.
“I can hardly get over it, Shaw. Those birds.”
“It’s a knack, what she’s got.”
Today’s train jaunt, cursed or not with Vic’s spying presence, was her only chance to prime her victim. She would invest Hogben in her affairs, make him pleased to have been clever and heroic, steer him to the right choices and praise his having thought of them—
By her niece’s lucky abandonment, she would draw him into the family.
She told herself this…and apologized inwardly to any celestial balancer planning comeuppance. God bless Jane.
She knew Hogben, if she insisted, gentleman enough to put his paper down and listen. Listen with half an ear, if he was anything like Ralph. She would pitch her talk airy and meandering with that ideal in view. She wanted Hogben feeling they’d spoken of Jane, so that at critical moments she could remind him they had.
“Oh, Monty, I was counting on you. After you’d said yes.”
Want Nothing Will Write
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)