The Professor’s Fate: Hammersmith (three)
The Professor’s Fate
He’d sat up in bed, and heard the rain still pelting, rat-a-tat-tatting off some plane of the inner house, where a leak had sprung. He’d known he wouldn’t sleep. The roar of the deluge appeared soporific enough for the Professor, curled on the bed’s other side with his back to Hogben. There was no observation Hogben knew of to make, that excused waking his friend…but, he would have liked to. It never seemed quite fair, suffering insomnia alone.
With what had proved good sense, Hogben pulled on his trousers and laced up his shoes. Everything felt wet to the touch, the air precipitating of its own saturation, the smell of the Susquehanna House that of its namesake. At the moment, he hadn’t understood why. He’d thought it just possible they kept a night clerk on the desk, and that he might beg a glass of milk.
He saw no lights, and the night sky outside the window at the turn of the stairs, looked green to Hogben’s eyes. He heard a lapping sound. The smell was like an exhalation, now strong and foul, now receding to a plainer rankness. Yes…he wished he’d brought a candle to get a better look—but it seemed to him very probable the lower rooms were under water.
Minnie Leybourne came down, and her white nightdress reflected a ghostly portion of the window’s light.
“I think the town’s under water. I wonder why everyone’s so quiet?”
“You think we oughta wake up Warple?”
She laughed. “If he’s not awake, I guess he’s drowned. Don’t he and the missus live at the back? Didn’t he say?”
“You’re Miss Leybourne, are you? I’m Hogben.” He offered these words because it was too dark for them to see each other’s faces, and because neither was properly dressed—the etiquette of the circumstance a little…different, as Mack had come to put it. And because the quiet she’d mentioned was indeed, when you came down to it, bothersome.
“Shoot!” she said. “I know you. You have any notion of the time?”
“Hope it’s about sunrise, but I kind of doubt it.”
Hogben hummed as he rambled. He was happy in the open air. The walk to Aimee Bard’s from Hammersmith was two or three miles, but he remembered there was a little bridge, arched over a creek along the way. He thought he’d climb down, sit in the shade, and watch the water flow. His hum became song.
“Loudly the bell in the old tower rings,
Bidding us list to the warning it brings.”
The morning sun, on that sorry day, had cast its rays over a scattering of damp and marooned guests, clinging to the slates, to the weather vane, or straddling the peak of a gable. Ruby Magley had got herself soaked to the bone, and sat, unconsoled by Minnie’s sighs and pats, shivering and making noises. Hrnrrh. Hrnrrh. Weeping, Hogben now supposed.
As the strongest man among them, it was Hogben had to wade down the attic stairs and pull Ruby up by the arms. To break the suctioning action of her skirts, he’d had to get right down in the water. And by this forced acquaintance, Hogben had felt obliged next to give up his coat, snug it round her shoulders. He shivered too, crawling back to the Professor’s side, and got a sour look for it. ‘Course, he hadn’t known then what made Ruby lag. He might just remind her, one turn deserves another.
Warple hadn’t drowned. The Warples had been discovered on the roof already.
Hogben’s lyrics are from “Asleep in the Deep”, 1897, Arthur J. Lamb
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)