“Mr. Hogben, the parlor sofa…”
Less sticky about being accommodating than she’d feared, he’d done her the favor of saying, “I might head down with Shaw, when he goes after that salve, and see about a room at the hotel.” Of course, by that, she’d probably lost him. Why had she ever said it to herself, that Carey would be fine if she could just get a peaceful spell to arrange things?
He’d been at a job site. While propping himself between Ruby and Shaw on a tender toe, he’d gasped out a bit of his story. He’d been hired to help shingle a roof, over in Springfield. Jane, Carey said, had got sick. Somehow, he said. She’d been doing pintucking and plackets. It was concentrated work. You could get five dollars a week. She was better. And the baby wasn’t even there…she was with Jane’s sister. He wanted his aunt, and his audience, to know.
“Why wouldn’t we get that rocker off the front porch? I bet four of us can carry it.”
That had been Minnie’s thought. They were spared trying by a buggy from Mossbunker’s estate, crossing the bridge, coming up short where the crowd of them blocked passage. Easier off his rescuers’ shoulders, and with only Mossbunker’s driver to overhear, Carey told his aunt more.
“I don’t know. I put my hammer down and it slid off the edge. I had to go back down the ladder. The first time I did it, I didn’t even think anyone saw. The second time, I was bent over and a bunch of nails started raining down off the roof. I figured that was me, too. Even though I remembered putting everything in my apron pockets…but maybe they fell out. I figured.”
“Joshin’,” the driver commented.
“So the boss came by, and he said, you pick up every one of those, and don’t you let me find one you didn’t pick up.”
The driver laughed. “That sounds like the boss.”
“And then I took my lunch in a sack, ’cause I didn’t know there was a lunch wagon would come round the site, so I got ragged a bunch about that.”
Aimee saw Carey, cross-legged on the grass, pulling from his sack something sad and inadequate—breakfast’s cold flapjacks, it might be—that poor sickly Jane would have got herself out of bed to pack, to beg, of their landlady’s kitchen.
“And did you miss your train, going back?”
“No, I just left. In the middle like that. I wasn’t going to, exactly. I stood up, and I walked down to the sidewalk, and I started off. Everything got quiet, and the weather was kind of hot. It was a long time later…or maybe not a long time. I wasn’t noticing for sure. I was thinking. Anyways, I got out of town, I guess, and I was on the highway. There wasn’t anyone going out that way. It was just farms. Then when it got about sunset, a man came along. He was an animal doctor, called out for a cow, he said. He took me a couple miles up the road, then he asked me where I was headed to…and I thought I’d have to say a name, or I’d look…I don’t know.”
“Hammersmith, you told him,” the driver said. “Got fixed on the idea. What’d you do then, sleep in the ditch and go on walking next day?” Carey nodded, opened his mouth. The driver said, “Biyah Kendrick. That was me and Chilly, ma’am, saw that man drowned.”
“I know Chilly. He sells papers for Mr. Mack.”
Now the driver nodded, brought his horse to a halt, and looked at them over his shoulder. “Mossbunker gone up to Philadelphia. He told me keep an eye on Abel’s place. Now, this one’s your nephew, ma’am, did I hear that right?”
Biyah Kendrick was doing her a favor, letting her know this. Abel and Mossbunker were partners these days, so how could she tell whose eye was being kept on her? The house was his. Aimee was well aware she was alarming Ralph’s son.
Two things of equal importance, one at least of urgency. All three needed doing at once. Aimee felt poised at the moment of inertia—dropping to earth, Biyah’s hand releasing hers—not rising, as she’d envisioned herself capable, to crisis, but abstracted, remembering Jane. She tried to gauge this niece, Carey’s disappearance frightening to her, no doubt. But had she not seemed a practical, virtually an unsentimental, girl? Aimee put a foot in front of another foot, and began wording a telegram.
Then, if Mossbunker was gone, anyway…he didn’t keep a family at the castle, did he?…she ought to ask Biyah to stay for lunch. (Of course, there was no lunch.) He’d been awfully helpful. He was still helping, and the cluster of men and women surrounding Carey, exclaiming, inquiring, had got ahead, surging past Mr. Hogben. Mrs. Frieslander followed them indoors.
It was Carey she ought to make write down what he wanted his wife to know. But first…first aid, obviously…
She came upon Hogben, his feet on two different steps of the front porch, his lips bemused, her nephew’s boots, dangling by the laces, in his hand.
Copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster