Autocratic Mysteries: Hammersmith (nineteen)
A torch flared.
That one might, in an upstairs reception room, in a city hotel, tended to beggar belief, and Aimee at first started, thinking something had gone wrong with the gas. But a second torch, and then a third, made the room dance with light, before the flames settled. They were gas jets, ensconced in folded acanthus leaves, sprouting from bronze cones; these held in fists that jutted at intervals from the wall.
And each, having just been keyed down to a reasonable simmer, arced again, as a door swung open, and yet another of the St. Bernard’s dinner carts was wheeled in, by yet another waiter.
A peppery smell of beef gravy filled the room. The early dessert had been for tiding-over purposes.
A throat, pointed in import, cleared itself.
Vic rose to his feet, apologizing. “Cranston…Aimee…Mrs. Bard, I mean. Mrs. Bard, Cranston Mossbunker.”
She half rose herself, and Mossbunker, materializing near the fireplace, bowed, crossed, took her hand, bowed over this, again. Two more waiters carried plates and poured ice-water. Mossbunker lowered himself into the head chair…a sort of coffer with pineapple finials, and the carved face of a roaring lion, above Mossbunker’s.
That was to say, Mossbunker didn’t roar, and only in having thick, lofting hair, resembled a lion (his face otherwise that of an ox who suspects the worst), but he did begin to speak. It was some time before Aimee understood about what.
“Mr. Hogben,” he said. “Mrs. Bard. Vic. Curach.”
Aimee heard Jane’s skirts rustle as she shifted in her seat—yes, it was coming.
“The young woman.”
His gravity was condemning (sufficient to hold Jane somewhat at fault, for this being a young woman).
“The times”—Mossbunker’s voice rose—“demand of us that which any loyal-spirited citizen, but most particularly, those sons and daughters of Columbia, so molded by the hand of nature, that it is their bent of will, from the earliest twanging of patriotic heartstrings…it is their great satisfaction, to uphold those humble and faithful principles…tenets…no, I will say commandments—which the Puritan fathers carried to these shores, before…”
He stopped himself, animation (of its kind) drained from his face; then, aiming this visage of granite at Aimee, Mossbunker said, “Littler. A good English name. I believe so. Is it yours, Mrs. Bard?”
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)