Second Thoughts: Hammersmith (eight)
Hogben had broken a rule of his own, one that had always served…and Hogben had been a traveling man for twenty-odd years. He’d had scrapes. He had not often had a partner to rely on. But even these past couple, when with the Professor he’d gone the route from Philadelphia to San Francisco—north to Bismarck, south to El Paso—he’d known better. He and the Professor had talked about two things: what sort of crowd they expected to draw, and what sort of crowd they had drawn.
Hogben, to his audience, talked up the wonders of the telephone. He loathed the telephone. He blamed the object for imperiling his act. The first instinct he’d had, greeted at the Hammersmith opera house with free cable service (he’d sent one—“Never under water. Have no worries”—to an old creditor…why not?), with blankets, hot coffee, chicken and dumplings, a folding chair to sit on, Mack’s daughter the second person to offer him a temporary home (angry, for some reason, when he told her he’d accepted Mrs. Bard’s)…had been to strike while this iron was hot. Hearts don’t stay soft forever.
He’d met the manager, Mr. Braithwaite. Boosterly, Braithwaite had said, “Call me Hugh.”
“Looks like all you got going is a picture show. Ladies’ Water Color Society,” Hogben, reading the pasted-up notice, had started off.
“Well, it’s Holy Week coming up.”
“Ah.” Here was a snag about which Hogben could gauge nothing. He persevered. “I wonder, Hugh, if I could ask…a kind of personal favor.”
He’d tried getting a whiff of the place, then, going into town at Mack’s invitation, chatting guardedly about the shares. Willing, though, to drum up an audience, generate a little publicity. Once upon a time, you’d have been safe enough. You figured business hours being over for the day, nobody was rushing off to send a telegram, just to learn if your company was listed. There’d been, in those days, no ringing up for Information.
He had the morning Signal on Mrs. Bard’s dining room table, in front of him. He had the house to himself, excepting Mrs. Frieslander. She was in the front parlor with her mending basket, and Hogben had been dodging her company.
“Now, that’s not good news, those Spanish ships. That governor…what they have in that place…knows best.”
She spoke, having heard him rustle the paper, and Hogben glanced over the front page. Governor. Cuban gent, didn’t trust Spain’s diplomatic note. That was all the news today.
“No, ma’am. Don’t think so.”
No, you couldn’t sit and have a quiet thought. It seemed you couldn’t take a stroll up the road, either. Thursday had loomed, and Hogben hadn’t felt completely in command of the exigencies, and he’d broken his rule.
“Mrs. Bard, I can’t quite make up my mind what to do.”
More of this piece on Hammersmith page
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)