Marching Orders: Hammersmith (six)

Hogben

 

Marching Orders

 

The banqueting hall, hung with tapestries that seemed to emit an odor of medieval sweat (authentic, Mack was willing to believe) had an oblong table, where this knighthood of American purity sat decidedly in order of precedence. He was at the foot. At least he supposed so. At his back, a vast oaken door swung on its hinges whenever the servants brought another dish to the board. It was a relief to have been given silverware—in fact, a decent slice of Sunday ham. You couldn’t tell how far a man who could afford to spend what he liked might invest in the Age of Chivalry.

At length, one final servant made the round of guests, with an open coffer of cigars, and was then dismissed by Mossbunker.

“Elton, will you lead us?” he asked. Elton Bott, undertaker, seated at Mossbunker’s left, clasped hands and bowed his head. It was the second prayer of the evening. Mossbunker himself had led grace.

“Dear Heavenly Father. Thou“—Bott addressed the Lord pointedly—“are mighty in wisdom.”

“Art,” Mack found himself murmuring.

Mossbunker cleared his throat.

“Goes with thou.”

“That may be so, Vic. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone interrupt a prayer for editing.”

Mack thought a contrite hunkering, than further speech, preferable at this juncture.

“Lord, we Hammersmithans face a dire threat, the peril of which we have not before this day known. Please bless and guide our path, and light the way of this…same path…that we do rightly in thy sight. Amen.”

“Amen,” Mack said, with the others.

“Yes.” Mossbunker spoke. “Thank you, Elton. You put the matter in a nutshell. Abel, I think you are well placed to offer illumination…indeed, if you’ve been on your toes, you will have carried to us specific intelligence from Mrs. Bard’s house.”

Abel Bard was at Mack’s right hand, well down the table from Mossbunker and his most trusted vassals. It struck Mack, to judge from his face of wary calculation, that Abel had not been on his toes.

“War…” he began.

“In good time, no doubt.” Mossbunker linked his fingers. “In the meantime, there’s that dago. And a couple of micks.”

Silence fell, and Abel seemed still to hold the floor. He scratched his nose. He checked the shine on his shoe. He said, “Well, I guess it’s true, so far as that Miss Magley goes. I can’t tell you about Shaw. Not every Shaw, you know…”

“Bard! You find out those things by asking. I don’t know what’s keeping you.”

“Uh. I haven’t been up to look in on…um…my stepmother. I had ’bout a hundred acres under water, this past week.”

“You’re going to find out Miss Leybourne’s real name. How are you going to find out?”

“By asking, Cranston. Only…I don’t see that’s an easy thing for a married man to be asking a stranger. It’s a little…”

“A little more of a…” Mack put in. Cranston, he was saying to himself…I guess that is Mossbunker’s given name.

“…professional concern, I would say. Something a newspaper man might ask, not offending the lady.”

“Hmm. Only she may take off with the dago. I had a report the two of them were seen down at that roadhouse, where the hands go…McKeefe’s. They’ll pass out their anarchist propaganda and disappear. Vic, I want your report tomorrow. No later.”

This was leaderly and galvanizing, the more so because Mack’s initiative seemed to have got him past the voting-in process. There was a snag, however, in the pace at which his patriotic career was moving.

“When you say report…when you say tomorrow…”

“We write nothing down. When I say report, I mean I expect you at my door. Don’t come at lunchtime.”

 


 

More of this piece on Hammersmith page:

Two Reunions (excerpt):

 

(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)

 

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