The Mirrors (part fourteen)
Not only was her quest not needfully secret, not shameful in any way, but ears, Charmante had come to think, might be of help…if any happened to pick up some of their talk. You didn’t know what people knew.
She gave Esta the whole story, and Esta sat thoughtful.
“If Carolee did happen to accept, I don’t know…a visit…”
“Oh, she never would. And I’d never go. But listen, niece. You know what you’re up to? You’re stirring the devil. I don’t mean it like some superstition…it’s what I always thought, that time or two I laid eyes on Old Dumain. That man was the devil.”
“Then I’ll stop. If you say so.”
“You want to know why.”
“Why you thought?”
“It was the way he came around, looking like he’d just snatch you up.”
“You said a time or two.”
This was near rebellion, this mild doubt, and Esta sat forward to look Charmante in the eye. “I never knew any Dumains much, that’s the truth. Old Devil had some bad hold on people. Two daughters, both married the same man…think about that. A grandson from the older, Miss Carolee from the younger. And a weakly son, died in the riot. Old Devil never passed til after all the rest was gone. Only one of em he didn’t get.”
A lone granddaughter outliving the whole of her clan…for what it spoke to, in itself a sad thing…
But, that Esta could have this fancy, Carolee having not been got, as though her flesh and blood could have willed it.
“And so, Elizabeth.” Charmante ticked names off her fingers. “And an older daughter…Polly, you said? Married to the same man…”
“I think they was even cousins some way before all that…them two families, Dumains and Robacks, tied up together. Polly’s son was Carolee’s brother, and her cousin both.” Esta made a face. “Now I remember that. Nobody called him dead, but nobody saw him since I don’t know when. And Charleton was his grandson.”
“Dumain’s, you mean. So Roback, the banker…the last one to own St. Hubert…”
“Was the father,” William said, “of the grandson by the first wife, and Miss Carolee by the second. Them two wives was sisters.”
And Dumains, by birth. None of this, while not unbelievable, seemed very wise.
“He was a tyrant, Old Dumain.”
Esta’s tilt of the head said she could allow this.
“He had a hold on them because they were all so connected. But was it money, too? Did he shore them up?”
“Reckon,” said Esta.
From across the road someone called this. He had been on a vine-shrouded corner of his porch, the house dark, its shadow cooling Esta’s. The tip of a cigarette informed them that he listened, but only at Charmante’s questions had this neighbor begun to chime in softly…yes, Roback, owned that island…yes, Dumain, a tyrant…
And a grunt more emphatic at this next, of money.
“How are you, Mr. Meeker?”
“How do,” Meeker said, crossing to offer his hand.
“How do. William Wright.”
Meeker sat on Esta’s lowest step. “The old cholera hospital. I can’t say what Dumain was…doctor in charge. Called him young Dumain back then. Place got to be more like a poorhouse, being the epidemics would come and go, but in’gents all the time get dumped off there, and the loonies. Now when they had the fire, Dumain had gave orders to lock the wards. Families crowded up outside the wall, and he got put under custody of the marshal so he didn’t get lynched. Pumps needed the river water, and the hoses laid out, and all them inmates, being wrong in the head, go wandering, get theirselves in the way. That’s what Dumain said, and get loose in the town, jump out at the women. So he got the judge on his side. Thing was, one or two testified they heard Dumain…”
He stopped, to wave a fresh cigarette at a cloud of gnats. “I have to get it right. I don’t know what he said, certain. But them types of people don’t need to live. Better if they didn’t.”
“And you know,” said Esta. “They let him go.”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)