Hammersmith: Fleeing and Eluding (chapter twenty-eight)
Fleeing and Eluding
A monumental figure unveiled by dispelling shadow stood, robe and nightcap clad, on the closed porch Hogben remembered. She stood depressing the door-latch…with seemingly itchy fingers and poised-for-action footwork. He had entered Green Glade Lodge in innocence; he was exiting it in aid of a coup d’état.
Mossbunker’s wife spotted Jane’s candle and snuffed it. She did this with a tut-tut, and naked fingertips, a stage-worthy trick Hogben had seen among the professor’s ilk, and would not himself have dared. A strong moon fell through the panels of glass marking the porch’s outer walls. The greyness in which Hogben and the three women exchanged looks of surmise was thus not greatly, for their hostess’s act of bold efficiency, disilluminated.
“Before you go,” Mrs. Mossbunker said to Hogben, “pledge me that you will see your niece home in safety. And answer me this…”
She lifted a hand. That she had given him two points to address had not escaped Hogben; he adjusted his face both to pledge (gallantry demanded it…though he might just have touched on the fact he didn’t know Aimee Bard’s niece from Adam), and to query destination, as to the going. He subsided, at an “ahem” from his inquisitor.
“Your professor,” she said. “Do you call him a man of loyalty? Agreeing to a task, he will carry it out, to the utmost? Or does he…”
She faltered for the expression. Hogben hazarded: “Sell to the highest bidder? Abandon the whole thing if the going gets sticky?”
“Ah. I understand you. Mr. Curach.”
Curach, there apparently, proved this by nudging his head through the crack of the door. “No worries, ma’am. Le Fontainebleau has only a small role to play…and once done, it will be my pleasure to send him packing.”
Hogben woke from a short-lived trance. Not having time to put on his shoes, he had padded across the Mossbunker lawn gathering dew—to find himself in damp socks ushered aboard Mossbunker’s own buggy, by Mossbunker’s driver, Biyah Kendrick. Curach was with them, sharing Biyah’s seat. Hogben was wedged in the middle back; Jane, restless but mute, on his right, his rescuer from the flood, Chilly, at his left.
“How you been keeping yourself?” Chilly asked.
“Top notch, sir…and you?” Hogben answered, from reflex.
Biyah remarked: “Chilly’d rather you don’t ask him to do that job.”
“But, you see, it takes a local man. Hogben may serve for a number of things, but he won’t know any of the Patriot folk, if he lays eyes on them.”
The buggy swayed in a conversational lull, filled otherwise by the creak of springs and a steady beat of hooves.
“The other day, now,” Chilly spoke up. “I went out to the shed I keep locked in my back yard…and I see the padlock’s on the door… I see it all right, but that new push mower I bought ain’t in there, when I go to look. You know what I think they done? Lifted that shed right up off the ground.”
“Curious,” said Hogben. He felt somehow that the story was not for his ears; and Chilly carried on, ignoring him.
“That was a joke on me, I guess. Anyways, I wouldn’t go to the sheriff to say I got robbed. I have to think how many talks with him I can afford. Cause what’s justice for you, Curach, might just be troublemaking for me. Did that last time I got stole from, and got asked who I thought done it… I saw there wasn’t any truthful way I could say.”
“You don’t think Vic’s gone over to Mossbunker’s side?” Biyah asked.
“Vic.” Curach dropped, after this opening, into thoughtful silence. “No, I haven’t had the chance to work it out in my mind…just what he’s done, I mean. You see, lads, we have this Shaw to contend with as well. Zetland’s is a forceful personality…wind enough to turn a few wheels, I grant. But I like my certainties taken from measures in place… Thinking, now, to do a newspaperman’s duty, keeping up on local doings, Vic has put himself in with Mossbunker…in spirit, he is not a Patriot… You recall the time Captain Rubillard sent him to carry a message, and straightaway he walked inside the enemy camp…”
The allusion seemed to brighten the lives of the Kendrick brothers.
“They had caught em a box turtle, working on how to divide it three ways. One says, trade a prisoner for a little that Union bacon and biscuit… This’un? says the others. Have to pay them to take him back. They hogtie Vic, and push him down the riverbank…”
“But he gets himself stuck on a snag. Parkins on picket duty hears him holler…”
“Ol Vic ate that paper like orders said, once he figured out what color rags those boys had on, had a little something to tide him through…” Chilly wiped a tear. “Curach, you don’t trust Vic to do a lookout’s job?”
Curach shook his head. “But…Hogben…?”
But Hogben, from these exchanges taking warning, countered. “Wouldn’t Mrs. Bard do?”
Fleeing and Eluding
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)