All Bedlam Courses Past (part seventy)
All Bedlam Courses Past
An Object in Motion
Verbena—Élucide perked up a little, thinking of it—was the only one to need persuading. Old Richard didn’t let his wife go places alone. As a favor, she would say. Please, truly, come as you are. Bertrand is sweet as pie.
Despicable headache. She went to the speaking tube.
“Miss Luce. You’re not telling me not to send her up.”
“Not…what? Owen! Send me up some ice.”
“Ice? Shad’s girl. I hear Beau Bunkum gave up on the small fish of fair Cookesville.”
“Can you possibly mean Mr. Ryan-Neville? In which case, can you possibly mean me? Are you standing at the desk, gossiping like a harpy? Uncle George won’t like it.”
“Who’ll be the gossip, then, if he’s to know at all? You’ll get your ice, ma’am, whenever you let me free a hand to ring the waiter.”
Someone knocked. If her head wasn’t hurting, Élucide would have shaken it. Conversations with her brother-in-law tended, somehow, to get flirtatious—
And it was a bad business between Owen and Nildie.
“This is how it is, and if you like anything else, tell me, and I’ll go fix it on.” Libby Chambliss came through the door pulling a white shirtwaist from her sack. Here was a great shame, to miss a talk on pearl buttons and lace bibs, what sort of collar for autumn styles…
“Listen, Libby. Can you do me an errand? Because I’m a little down right now.”
“Oh, poor thing! Mama gets those.” Libby pinched the shoulder-puffs, turned back the sleeves…a midair sleight-of-hand taking seconds. “What?”
“I need to find out something Mr. Ziegler might know.”
“You want me to ask Dad? He’s just out front, waiting to ride me home.”
“I need to know where Old Richard and Verbena are living, so I can have Ebrach’s man drive me there. Tomorrow morning, it has to be.”
Libby’s face showed thought and a wish to discourage. Any Chambliss had an eye for custom; it was how, to the affront of certain Cookesvillians, the family prospered. “Here, I’ll run off and be back. You let me write something on a note and put it under your door so I don’t bother you…soon’s I talk to Dad.”
“That’s how he does, old cuss, sits him up on his porch where he can look over the road. Nobody catch Mr. Everard at home, if he catch em first.”
“What do they do… I mean, where do they get their money?”
“Think Lawrence. Old man don’t work, for sure.”
They were making along a corridor of late August, the road treed in, wild brush all up the center. And healthy with it…cockleburs, briars, goldenrod sprouting from horse pats, a green more vivid than the leaves of wild cherry. Which writhed with tent worm. The carriage tracks were mud-logged, grooved almost level with the creek. Shad’s horse tugged the wagon at a sucking, lurching, stop-start pace. Fingering branches, and their habit of dropping hosts of wormy creatures, and webs that clung with or without their resident spider, had Élucide hunkered under hat and scarf.
(2023, Stephanie Foster)