Introduction: The beginning of my historical piece which is actually a back story for the Devil’s Mistress.
Miss Kathryn St. Clair lifted her red velvet skirt, descended the stairs, Oh it smells so good down there, and upon hearing the clock in the foyer chime eight p.m. walked faster, finally reaching the normally dingy and dark breakfast area to find it transformed into an elegant dining room.
The date was December 31 1899.
She steered toward an empty seat at the table where Mr. Henderson, another lodger at the house, stood holding her chair for which she smiled a ‘Thank You’; and sat gazing in awe at the food spread out on the stiff white table cloth; more food than she’d ever seen at one time. A joint roast of beef, mashed potatoes, a dish of carrots and other fresh vegetables, a platter of assorted cheeses and biscuits and sweet pickles. A tureen of soup sat at the head of the table. Mrs. Hodgson, the owner of the boarding house, picked up the ladle to dish out a bowl for Kathryn.
Kathryn looked around the table nodding to the two gentlemen who worked at the button factory and kept to themselves. She didn’t know them well and was aware that one was Mr. Smyth, and one Mr. Jones but she wasn’t sure which was which. Mr. Henderson also worked at the factory and was the more social of the three men. She said “Good Evening” to Muriel, the other female lodger who she knew worked as a seamstress.
One space at the table still sat vacant. Mrs. Hodgson smiled and announced, “Most of us are here. Just one more is expected, a new resident. Since this is such a monumental occasion, the start of a new century, I thought for this one night we would splurge and celebrate in style.”
Kathryn had been discussing Machiavelli in her senior boys’ class and one of his quotes came to mind. Benefits should be conferred gradually; and in that way they will taste better.
As she lifted the spoon to dole out the delicious smelling soup, cream of leak if Kathryn could believe her nose, a man dashed in, smelling of the cold and rubbing his hands to warm them . Smiling in apology, his eyes acknowledged the rest of the diners and he sat in the last empty chair.
“My apologies, work kept me late.”
Mrs. Hodgson nodded in his direction. “Welcome Mr. Thomas. Everyone this is our newest resident, Mr. Gideon Thomas, who has taken over Mr. Jackson’s room.” The diners bowed their head in memory of the former boarder who had died the previous week from pneumonia.
Miss St Clair peeked under her lids to inspect the newest resident. He appeared younger than the rest of the group, perhaps a few year older than her twenty five years. He did not miss her surveillance; his brown eyes twinkled back at her blue ones. She quickly averted her gaze to her clasped hands in her lap. During the meal she couldn’t help but notice how the gas lamps played with the shadows on his face. Depending on the angle sometimes his eyes appeared shadowed and hidden and at other times the light shone on his brown hair almost giving a halo effect.
Mr.. Smyth leaned forward “Where are you from Mr.. Thomas?”
“From away” was the reply.
Then Mr. Henderson inquired, “And what business are you in Sir, if I may ask?”
The new- comer looked the man in the eyes and in a soft tone with raised eyebrows answered “Import export is my business Sir.”
The other two gentlemen heard this and immediately lost interest. Kathryn who found amusement in studying people thought Mr. Thomas’s demeanor queer. But then she had just been introduced to the man so she gave him the benefit of the doubt.
After the meal, Muriel suggested a game of Whist to while away the hours until midnight. Mrs Hodgson was persuaded to join Mr. Thomas, and Miss St. Clair to make a foursome. Kathryn couldn’t remember the last time she was up so late. Normally after a day of teaching she was in bed by eight. Kathryn was paired with Muriel and Mr. Thomas and Mrs. Hodgson composed the other team. The young teacher sat next to Mrs. Hodgson, with Mr. Thomas diagonally across. It was not an easy task to study him from that angle. Kathryn had not played such games in a years. At home there simply was no time for frivolities. She knew she was not to comment on her cards and she could never remember which ones had been thrown out anyway. When she found the trump suit in her hand, she unconsciously raised her eyebrows just a wee bit. This amused Mr. Thomas greatly. Nonetheless she found the evening quite entertaining.
The room felt cozy with the warm lights and the lingering smells of dinner. Gideon Thomas had not played such simple games in a very long time either. The presence of Miss St Clair made the evening more than bearable. Mrs. Hodgson was quite an expert in the game. She played regularly with the other small landlords in the neighbourhood. Muriel was a beginner player and she and Kathryn chatted a bit more than was acceptable. She enjoyed talking to the other woman since Muriel also came from a small town, north of the city, and they had a great deal in common. Miss St Clair had come from Toronto to take a teaching position in this city, and hoped to make a new life for herself. She felt she was starting with a tabula rasa‘, a blank slate, and she was prepared to follow the new life any way the wind blew.
Speaking to Muriel reduced the distraction of Mr. Thomas whose presence she was unable to ignore; like a light just outside her peripheral vision he intruded into her consciousness. His deep voice felt like a heart beat. The Hodgson-Thomas team won the game but Muriel and Kathryn bore no ill feelings over the fact.
Mrs. Hodgson said little and played her cards skillfully. When she spoke she pursed her lips as if a sour pickle had stuck in her throat Muriel’s voice sounded very high pitched as if one of her sewing needles pricked her thus making it uncomfortable to speak with her for any length of time. The young Canadian mused that it was fortunate that the seamstress worked on her own and did not have to get up in front of a class to speak.
At midnight when the bells from the church situated at the back of the house struck twelve, everyone shook hands with each other.
Mr. Thomas shook Kathryn’s hand and caught her smile even though she lowered her head. Kathryn felt his warmth travel up her arm landing on her breast and causing her neck to turn pale coral.
Blogophilia 46.4 Topic: “Any Way The Wind Blows”
(Hard, 2pts): use a Machiavelli quote
(Easy, 1pt): incorporate ‘tabula rasa’