Hammersmith (fourteen)

Hogben

 

Aimee had taken one seat, facing the caboose, and Hogben had taken a prod from the passenger behind’s umbrella. He scuttled between seats and came to rest across from her, murmuring, “Pardon me, Mack.”

“Well, here we are.” Aimee offered this, and her companion responded, “On our way.” He stuck his nose in a Philadelphia paper he’d bought from the porter.

She had paid for her ticket, of course. She would pay for her lunch, if he’d let her, but the weighing of what she might honorably pass off on Monty (she was only being frank with herself to say so) was one of the excursion’s brass tacks. Before breakfast, she’d popped the lid of her footstool, and shaken out ten of twenty silver dollars tucked there in a sock—the most of her rainy day fund Aimee could sacrifice for Jane’s sake.

 

Well and want nothing. Will write.

 

She’d got his message off by telegram, without seeing room for improvement. Why encourage Carey to say, “I love you, dear”? He had not loved her at the start.

Before Minnie’s cake had finished baking—yesterday—Hogben scooted from the table, pulled down his hat from the top of the cupboard, and said, “Ma’am.”

“Oh, not yet, you don’t mean to leave us, Mr. Hogben, before dessert! And why leave at all…” Ruby, saying this, had leaned far back in her chair, to eye through the archway the parlor accommodations.

“I won’t try to say all that I might, Mrs. Bard…”

He’d worked out a speech, Aimee thought. Minnie interrupted him.

“Mr. Hogben, I wanted you to crank the ice cream. I guess Mr. Shaw can do it, though.”

Shaw, with his wonderful resistance to insult, had put in, “Sure can!”, then added, “I’ll have to run Ruby’s errand before the shops close.”

It was more harm than Minnie could suppose, Aimee knew, to be commandeering her ice like that. Minnie had an encroaching personality, a generous view of others’ resources…and, it seemed, no travel plans of her own. As with the Maine mystery, which had grown (by that morning’s news) into a definite fault of Spain’s, Mr. Starkweather’s firing of Ruby had become an act of war. Minnie had trenched—never mind in whose house.

 


Since you’re here, readers, please check out the page called “Preview”. I’ve made a slide show to give some hints about my novel, A Figure from the Common Lot, coming to this blog in October.


 

Aimee had caught Hogben inching backwards through the kitchen door, mumbling, “…a debt I can scarcely repay…”

She’d given him that. He probably hadn’t much money. But Abel right now was dealing out-of-town because he was dealing through Mossbunker. He could as well have an agent on the premises…and still three perfectly nice properties to overcharge newcomers for. This service-for-payment fiddle would make a fail-safe for Abel’s sense of fair exchange. He could fall back on telling himself he gained as he lost…and not take the five hundred down his father’s widow meant to offer him with a very straight face. She was hoping Hogben man of the world enough to help her birth this scheme; that he knew businessman’s angles she wouldn’t think of on her own.

“Mr. Hogben, you asked me for my advice. I would like to ask you for yours.”

He gave her an arm. The courtesy and her words of thanks forestalled in him an impulse to waggery. Hogben’s face, however, retained a certain set to the mouth. Even Ralph (who once had squinted at her, over his newspaper: “Now, you explain this to me, Aimee. Man tells a woman he loves dancing. She says it’s never too late to learn. Suppose to be a joke…”), hadn’t tired of his standard riposte to a woman’s open-ended remark: “What can I do you for, young lady?”

But Hogben recovered, and said only, “Please do, ma’am.”

Shaw caught them, just as they’d stepped off the grass and onto the road. “I have to see if they don’t have canary seed over at the emporium. Minnie says they had bird-cages when the two of you were down shopping, ma’am. I mean saw they had ’em…Ruby gave me two dollars. But I don’t know a cage won’t cost more…”

The remaining walk, then, had been a caucus on the likely sum total of Ruby’s goods, whether Shaw’s face had got well enough known around Hammersmith he could have Mr. Brainerd put the extra on Aimee’s tab; whether she might not need to come along with him, to initial the credit in Mr. Brainerd’s ledger, whether Hogben didn’t (rooting through each of his pockets), have a fifty cent piece and a quarter he could spare, for Miss Magley’s sake.

“I can hardly get over it, Shaw. Those birds.”

“It’s a knack, what she’s got.”

Aimee knew Hogben gentleman enough he’d put his paper down and talk to her, if he felt she insisted on it. Her plan of campaign must begin with this establishing of friendly ground…he needed drawing into the family. It was fortuitous, her niece’s rescue. She told herself this, then apologized inwardly to any celestial balancer-of-the-scales now planning her comeuppance. God bless Jane.

Aimee had begun to think every chance of investing Hogben in her affairs, making him pleased to have been clever and heroic, steering him to the right choices and praising him for having thought of them, would be circumvented by Shaw, by the man’s efficient ways of fixing and doing. She had at least the benefit of experience…and that was something.


Although Aimee hadn’t meant to propose to Ralph.

She’d watched him shoot a look over his shoulder, the parlor maid having just summoned her mother to the foyer.

“Sent that package myself. No time to lose.” He’d commenced winching himself off the sofa, creaking to his knees; rooting, at the same time, in a pocket.

Aimee agreed. Time was short.

“Ralph, do you want to marry me?” she’d whispered.


As front pages so often did these days, most of Hogben’s carried the text of a statement, by someone, to Congress, as to what again the Spanish government had failed to do to the United States government’s satisfaction. The accumulating stack of diplomatic notes—each to be interpreted as a new offense—would topple under its own weight; from this the undeclared state of hostilities would rise transformed, as unavoidable war. Which no one wanted.

***

Copyright 2017, Stephanie Foster

 

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