Hogben and Shaw: Hammersmith (one)
Hogben and Shaw
Hogben and Shaw climbed down into the root cellar, one after the other; Shaw, a respectable parasite, from wanting to be useful. Hogben, because he hadn’t seen it yet. He’d otherwise sized up every inch of Mrs. Bard’s place. He would like also to learn if Shaw was suggestible.
“Quite a few of ’em’s gone rotten,” was his first remark. There was about room enough for him to stand, facing the shelves, and for Shaw, as indicated by the restless nudging of a toe against the heel of his shoe, to block the only space available for turning around.
“I don’t think the Widow Bard ever mentioned,” he said, swinging a burlap sack behind him, one with a notable black patch of wet on the bottom, and a smell…Hogben knew of no descriptive term adequate for the smell of rotting potato. He jogged the sack up and down. Shaw seemed to stand inert. “If she was tossing ’em in a stewpot, or a frying pan, or what all.”
“But…well…I suppose we’ll lay them out on the grass, and if very many are bad…” Shaw fell away from this speculation. “Widow!” he said. “Is that the story you got from her yourself?”
It was the moment to be wise. “You get on up those stairs, Shaw.” Hogben heard, and felt, a drop of liquid from the sack hit his polished brogue. “Take that with you. Now, listen. We’ll walk out into the town after lunch and have a private talk along the way.”
And this was mystery. She’d given Shaw a different story. Or Shaw had surmised differently.
Hogben snatched another sack, and held it as near arm’s length as the wooden steps allowed. The two ladies, Ruby and Minnie, came out, Ruby winding and tucking her hair. He thought it could not be much after ten—it had been ten sharp when he’d checked his watch before giving Mrs.Bard his answer.
“Yes, ma’am, don’t mind. Get to it from the outside or the inside?”
He always checked his watch when asked to do a chore. It was a treat how that little trick could make ’em go ask someone else.
But ten in the morning—Hogben finished his thought—was late for a woman to be finishing up dressing.
“Ruby Magley,” he said. “Now why wouldn’t you call yourself Leybourne, and be Minnie’s sister?”
“Oh, what are you saying? Magley’s not a euphonious sort of name? It’s my own, mister.”
“You’re a comedienne?”
“Birds. I couldn’t do a thing about it. I had to set them free.” Her voice broke at this.
“Each one of ’em had its own cage. Picture that on a little rowboat.” Minnie said this sotto voce.
“Well, stuff ’em all in together. Why not?”
Monty Albert Hogben looked forward. He’d given Shaw a taste of this glowing prospect, his old pitch. “March, already, Shaw. Less than two years now. A new century! And what a breathtaking vista of magnificent modernity, upon the precipice of which we stand…”
Shaw, he thought, had cleared his throat and mumbled something.
“Nineteen-oh-one, that’s what it is, really.”
“I don’t get you.”
“I only read that…I don’t swear to it.”
“In the paper.”
“Maybe I’m wrong.”
It was a matter of schooling, though Shaw had a number of qualities that made him a doubtful assumer of the Professor’s role. Hogben also had begun toying with the idea of a woman. Folks trusted Lydia Pinkham, didn’t they?
“You don’t want to interrupt me when I’m talking, supposing a horsecar ain’t about to run me down, and my coattail ain’t on fire, and the only thing you got to say is you read some tid-bit of column-filler in the newspaper, and you can’t say you even got it right! I was telling you, Shaw…”
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)