Hammersmith: Having a Treat (chapter seventeen)
Having a Treat
A sofa with a blanket draped along the seat, trailing the scant carpet, a pillow at the armrest and one on the floor, was taking up the wall under the windows, leaving clearance for only this rug and a little chest. Jane’s sewing table, under a rope nailed to the ceiling, with shirtwaists hanging, filled the angled space where the corner porch thrust on its moorings. Moveable shelves, which were fruit crates, roosted in odd nooks, sporting the accumulation of Christmas books and toys, guilt-inducing. Aimee knew she had cupboards to spare…but where would they go?
The door came open about a foot and a half. While she wedged through, Jane was telling on, and the face called for was one sympathetic, not grimacing.
“…if I tried, it would be just making myself more sorry and pathetic to him. I thought about it a lot, ma’am. Well, if I can’t get up and work, what else can I do? Just lay and think. Is there any way of knowing what makes people stick to their obligations? Or why anything’s an obligation at all?”
Uninvited, but unable to avoid it, Aimee sat on the sofa, her knees giving way in abrupt collision, as her bag popped free. She looked up into Jane’s eyes, seeing there the rheumy aspect of a girl who has cried, for pain of heart and body, many days running.
In answer to this quandary of her niece, mostly other people’s judgment. The life Carey led didn’t allot much sway to the censorious eye of an elder. There were no elders here, only Mrs. Krabill.
“You know, Jane dear, I am going to confide in you. I think that will be for the best.”
“Now if she wasn’t puny like that, I’d take her on. Might. I don’t keep enough eye on Rita, having all this other to do. I tell you, Mr. Hogben—”
His hostess cut herself short, to shoot a battle-hungry eye at the open kitchen door, standing in for the passage that led to the lower porch, where someone had rattled the shutter for a second time. Mrs. Krabill stood, pulling her skirts along past the table’s unoccupied chair, and passed Hogben with a significant look.
“If Jane Littler could sweep a floor, I’d know how long it takes to get a floor swept. What’s wrong with you, Curach?” She shouted this, having confided the other. “You get on in! Don’t make me come wait on you!”
The rattle, Hogben shrugged to himself, was a sort of signal between these two, where visitors would ring the bell. Curach was getting in, dropping a walking stick, perhaps, into the umbrella stand, doffing a hat, if the muffled plunk on the coat-tree so indicated, and denying to Mrs. Krabill, who had gone to him anyway, that he had anything at all to be collecting for.
“Then who do you know wants a room? I’m a week behind…but Mr. Hogben says Mrs. Bard’s here to pay up.”
The salesman in Hogben liked this gift of the lodging-house keeper—that she’d got right past introductions and into the thick of the story. He hadn’t yet laid eyes on Curach, but the moment fast approached.
“Likely it’s Mr. Hogben I’ve come to see. Now these Littlers haven’t been under your roof a month, or I’d have known the trouble already, if it’s only one of our own, with the rent-money wanting. I’d have done right by the girl, if I’d known of her at all, her being the daughter, almost, of Vic Mack’s…”
Curach, present, and making round the table, stopped himself, ducked his head, to glance up with a twinkle, it seemed to Hogben, of humorous contrition. He felt himself a bit slow catching on…to a thing he hadn’t yet caught on to. Curach was of an age indeterminate, small and spry, bountiful in black hair. Hogben sensed, though, that Curach was no younger than himself. He rose from his chair and put out a hand.
“Monty Hogben,” Curach told him, shaking this with vigor. “Yes.”
Curach was all the name he would get, and by proxy, as Hogben had been proxied into Mrs. Bard’s family, none of whom, it seemed, were quite related.
He recalled Mack’s talk. “You’re a sort of ward heeler. For a man named Piggott.”
With a sly wink of acquiescence, Curach buried his face in the cup of tea Mrs. Krabill had just handed across.
Feet clattered down the stairs; the murmur of two speakers neared.
The girl, her bonnet tied on, a fur collar at her neck, and Aimee nudging her with a tap on the shoulder, entered. Hogben stood, and Aimee said, “Mr. Hogben, this is my niece, Jane Littler.”
Curach nodded from his chair at Mrs. Krabill. “Ah, there’s the girl on her feet. A plate of oysters and a chicken to herself, I’d say, to put the roses back in her cheeks. We won’t walk either, but summon up a hackney and do it grand. You’ve never been to the St. Bernard, Mrs. Bard?”
“Curach,” Hogben whispered.
“Vic’s crony,” Aimee said, and fixed Curach with a look. “We’re having a treat, are we?”
Having a Treat
The St. Bernard Hotel
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)