The St. Bernard Hotel: Hammersmith (eighteen)
The St. Bernard Hotel had a back way in, that allowed a cab to draw to the curb; the front, which they’d trotted smartly past, being a narrow vermillion door next to a bay window stacked under a second-floor counterpart. And through this paned glass poised above a railing, Aimee thought she’d glimpsed Vic, wreathed in smoke. Also, a striped cravat and the glint of a watch fob that made her think of Mossbunker, though the owner of these articles sat shadowed in a leather chair. Another man, with a hand on Vic’s shoulder, cocked his head in a noticing way, and threw a glance at them passing, his lips continuing to move in speech. Curach, opposite her, leaned on his stick, and returned through the hackney’s window an amiable smile, and two-fingered tap of the hat brim.
They came up carpeted steps, Jane shy and wanting to fall back, Hogben hovering, to escort them both, Curach whistling a tune, and greeting two or three whose cabs waited theirs.
A silent officer in velvet tailcoat collected hats and sticks; his nodding head then drew them crabwise to a demi-chamber, brightened, for curving round a staircase landing under a skylight some floors up, with a watery escutcheon of sunshine. The tables were round, skirted in lace, corners offset by those of linen over-cloths. Fairy lamps of hobnail glass sat unlit on each; behind each, against rose and white paper, hung oval-framed paintings of young couples, walking hand in hand.
Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer.
Jane stared. Perhaps she took it cruelly, or perhaps, as did Aimee, she suspected Curach…if not some other of Lord Piggott’s operatives…of having, in this most apparent lair of men’s backroom brokering, been tasked with decorating a ladies’ parlor, and of snagging a job lot from some bankrupt charm school.
Curach was seeing to Jane, holding her chair-back, stopping himself whistling indoors, yet in spirit continuing jaunty. Aimee thanked Hogben and took her own chair. At once, the friend of Vic came weaving past the foot of the staircase, hailing Curach.
Curach said, with an insider’s nod, “Mrs. Bard, aye. I present you, ma’am, Philander Piggott. Mr. Hogben, sir.” Piggott had Aimee’s extended hand between his; he dropped this gently, then offered one of his own to Hogben.
Hogben cleared his throat, and after a second answered, “Kind of you, sir.”
They all, by compulsion, looked at Jane.
“The lass.” Curach gave this news to Piggott chin down, eyebrows lifted.
Piggott said, “Ah, it won’t do.”
The St. Bernard Hotel
More of this piece on Hammersmith page
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)