The Mirrors (part seven)
She hoped Mr. Wright would happen by when she sat to lunch. Going through Esta’s trove with Carmine would not be helpful. At a bad time, it would tempt him away from his duties. Rothesay, it seemed to her, was the more at fault…
Well, dismiss it. You cannot start choosing sides.
But, for the smallness. Intent on his foolish photography, not caring that Carmine was afraid. Rightfully, the frisson, the brush against the skin, hard to ignore. A house that had its comings and goings all day, at such a particular moment to have been bothered with…
And not bothered after all, not a thing broken or missing.
Her aunt had come through the back way unsurprised to find a niece and neighbor at her kitchen table. “Ma’am, Mrs. Parkins says you knew some of that family called Dumain, the rich folks in town.”
“Esta, I never said that.”
“Oh, I know who’s to blame.” Esta arranged herself, sitting, smoothing her gingham. “Guess I saw enough of em.”
Charmante went to the cabinet for a cup and plate to serve her aunt, a flutter in her chest. She had told Esta she worked for a man named Rothesay. That his old house was one of the few standing…
She hadn’t said, you know which it is. You know who it belonged to. When Esta had said, “Rothesay, that’s not local”, Charmante had answered, “No, ma’am, he’s definitely from someplace else.”
They had laughed.
Esta put down her coffee cup, catching Mrs. Parkins’s eye. “Robacks had them a big place in the river, what they called Ile Saint-Hubert. Never farmed crops…had a hunting ground and big woods. Their city friends to come out, jump around on horses.”
“How old were you then?” Charmante asked.
“Oh, now, I was all the way married when Polly died…who was Polly Dumain. And I was widowed by the time Charleton got sent down to the home place.” She tapped her temple. “Had to rest up, from thinking too hard.”
Rothesay was departing, making for the gate, satchel in hand.
Mr. Wright, shouldering a travel trunk, followed. Charmante dropped the latch and stood clear. With an irritableness that loosed itself in a grimace, the flash of this, then a smile, Rothesay said: “Mrs. Demorest, I apologize. Please step through.”
His cab was just pulling to the curb. She thanked her employer, sidled around him, ducked under Wright’s raised arms, thinking with contagious annoyance, won’t you and your luggage be gone in a second, anyway…?
Rothesay was mumbling. At her, she found…
A letter of instruction would be in her envelope. Her envelope was given in advance. “The usual amount, however. I disagree with Carmine about your helping us any further…it hadn’t gone well, had it? So I won’t be asking again. Goodbye, Mrs. Demorest.”
Another second ticked, and she made herself answer, “Goodbye, Mr. Rothesay.”
Wright backed up the walk, making the mildest show of spinning on his heel.
Charmante fell in at his side. “Will you sit to lunch with me, out in the garden? My aunt knew Dr. Dumain when he was a young man. I have some things to show you.”
She raised her sack so he could see.
He took it from her…a liberty…and fingered the clippings. “Now you’re making me curious. I’d sit down to a cup of coffee bout now…since you got nobody’s lunch to fix.”
“Oh, but Mr. Carmine?”
Wright was a little troublesome in his habits. “Away, or gone?”
But he could see wisdom. “No, ma’am. He had all that tackle to buy, and said he didn’t like to stay the night by his lonesome. Be back, but I can’t say when.”
Esta had eased the photograph out of an album, “My Memories” pressed in script on cardboard. The first in her life Charmante had seen of this book.
The contents arrayed themselves, crackling onto the bedspread, and proved motley. Pressed flowers, swatches of silk and velvet, prayer cards, pretty bits of notepaper carrying Mrs. Kruikshank’s jotted gratitude, a school certificate for the boy that had died, a picture of him in babyhood swaddled in a wicker basket, a locket-sized duplicate of Esta’s wedding photo…
A place card with browned calligraphy, once gilt.
“What name does that say?” Esta asked her.
“Carolee, looks like.”
“Elizabeth’s daughter. Them two didn’t get on. If her mother would give her anything, she’d leave it lay. That was how she was, Miss Carolee.”
The souvenir was not of love, then, not of partiality to a Roback daughter, but of witness, that such niceties had been…commonplace to that life. Esta had flipped her book to a brown print, page-sized and tabbed at the corners.
“You’ll have to show me which one is you.”
“Now here,” Esta said, perverse, “is that Charleton.”
The photograph showed young Dumain on the veranda with the family, the servants rising in rank as the stairs rose. It was that type of its era, when the itinerant photographer came to set up his equipment, and all the household were placed in the shot.
But the Robacks on their private island could never be troubled by salesmen. The portrait must have been hired.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)