Hammersmith: More Peaceful Pursuits (cont’d)

Pastel drawing of 1800s farmhouse

Hammersmith

Chapter Thirty-Seven 
More Peaceful Pursuits

 

 

 


 

 

Yesterday, if Hogben had got right—through the buffeting chaos—the drift of the hours…

Yesterday, he had wandered room to room, itching. Take yourself in hand, and tell her so long, he’d told himself. But Aimee, for talking things over with the Kendrick brothers, Curach, Minnie, and Zetland, had been a voice from another room, a swish of skirt, vanishing…

Hogben recalled, in the ’70s, being forced to six years up the California coast, working legit, ladies’ stockings, thinnest territory going…thirty, forty miles between bawdy houses…for putting it down on paper: “Mrs. Niesling, I cannot marry you.”

(“An irrefutable confession in the defendant’s own hand, that marriage was discussed, in terms such as to have led the poor plaintiff to suppose she had been made a promise, or why—in such cowardly fashion, gentlemen—should the defendant seek to shirk his responsibility? Can we put any other construction upon this denial?”)

Resigned to it, Hogben carried paper and pen (one of Shaw’s) to the kitchen table. He was not going to offer money for the room and board, with a mind to the legal one’s twists and turns. That would make something of a clincher.

 

Dear Madam

 

It is with regret that I take my leave, from your home of generous hospitality, to myself and to so many others. Having had no moment to speak to you personally on any subject, I set these sentiments in prose, as befits a passing stranger shown such kindnesses as are regarded a man’s, or woman’s, common duty to a fellow…

 

He added a pretty pair of lines to the postscript, praying she would forgive his distraction, had he departed her home owing any courtesy…

He crossed these out.

 

He was at the threshold, folding back the lapel of his coat to get at the letter.

Mrs. Frieslander and Jane Littler were mending together, the girl rapt, the old woman in mid-tale, the tale one of marital malfeasance. Hogben drew breath for an “ahem”. Then, at his back: “Oh, there you are, Monty! You popped in the kitchen a minute ago, and before I had the chance to…”

Mrs. Bard hooked his arm, drawing him to the back porch.

“Monty, you’re a man of the world. You’ve been out west. Say something to Carey, won’t you? Tell him it’s not all so glamorous, traveling. The scenery changes, but the loneliness stays the same.”

She quoted some gimcrack Sunday serial. Aimee Bard was a reader, evident from the stacked newspapers and dog-eared periodicals crowding the walls.

 

 

95

 

 


 

 

And leafing through one such, was the spry friend of Mrs. Krabill.

“Are you here, Mr. Curach? I’m having a private talk with Monty.”

“Pay me no mind.”

Chivvied away, Curach echoed, as though struck profoundly: “The scenery changes, but the loneliness stays the same.”

So it couldn’t have hurt to give the line a third go with Carey and call it quits. Hogben was a man of the world, yes, and his advice to the young pair would be, cut your losses.

An hour before sunset, the house had depopulated.

Jane had said, batting away her husband’s hand: “Oh, Carey, you want me to make you not have to do what you promised Minnie you would? Don’t even dream! Why should I care if you go sing with Ruby…why not go?”

Just there, Hogben could have stepped in, got the thing done.

 

 

His rustling raised an answering rustle not far ahead.

“Littler?”

“Who’s that? Mr. Hogben?”

“Come to get you, son.”

“Well, I’m sorry they asked. I wish they’d leave me alone.”

And though it was tempting, this invitation would have to be forgone.

The nephew was not in command of his fate, no more than Hogben. It seemed possible, darkness and strange scents of ditch weeds wrapping close, along with nocturnal clouds of midges, to suppose Hammersmith a sort of enchanted place.

Not in a good way.

Everyone Hogben had met here, maybe… Aimee, Vic, Mrs. Frieslander, Braithwaite, Derfinger…even Mossbunker…had once stopped in Hammersmith on their way elsewhere, to find themselves, like Hogben, mired beyond escape.

Maybe he ought to say, flee, young fellow!

But he got a grip on this fancy. He put a hand out, pulled Carey Littler upright, and together they headed for the glow at the top of the hill.

“Littler, the scenery, to a traveling man, changes, but you know what doesn’t change…?”

 

 

96

 

 


More Peaceful Pursuits

Virtual book cover for novella HammersmithA Prisoner Goes Missing (part one)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2019, Stephanie Foster)

 

 

 

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