Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Miss Charlton’s Confession: Conclusion”

by Horace P. Sternwall

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D.*,

illustrated by konrad kraus and roy dismas

*Assistant Professor of Populist Literature, Olney Community College; editor of “Men Are for the Taking”: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 2; the Olney Community College Press.

part two of two

click here for part one

to begin the Gwendolyn stories, click here

“Wait just a moment, dearie,” said Miss Charlton.

The old lady had a handbag on her lap, a large cloth one with a faded floral pattern. She unsnapped its clasp and opened it up. Standing right there in front of Miss Charlton, Gwendolyn couldn’t help but look into the interior of the bag, which looked like what you saw if you peeked into the trash basket in the ladies’ room off the lobby, except that the ladies’ room trash basket wasn’t swimming with crumpled up greenbacks mixed in liberally with all the other rubbish.

Miss Charlton fished around in the rubbish and selected a five-dollar bill. 

“Here,” she said. “Take this. Put it in your little purse.”

This was a small dark shiny patent-leather purse that Auntie Margaret had given Gwendolyn on her tenth birthday, and in which Gwendolyn kept all the essentials she might need at any moment when she was out and about: a little folding money and some change, some transit tokens, Lifesavers, a Hershey’s bar, a handkerchief, a small leather refillable notebook with a mechanical pencil attached with a little chain, a comb, some hair clips and bobby pins, a steel ring with a set of several dozen keys which combined would open hundreds of different locks, and a Swiss army knife.

“This fiver is for you, because at least some children have learned the basics of common civility.”

“Thank you, Miss Charlton.”

Gwendolyn wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and so she took the crumpled and slightly greasy bill, opened up her purse, and shoved the bill into the secret compartment.

“What is your name again, dearie?” said the crone.

“Gwendolyn, Miss Charlton.”

“A pretty name. What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be rich, so that I can do whatever I want to do.”

“Very good answer. So you’re not like all these other empty-headed girls, wanting only to get married and breed a pack of mewling devil-spawn.”

“I don’t see the percentage in that,” said Gwendolyn.

“You don’t, do you?”

“My Auntie Margaret isn’t married. She says a husband is only a great millstone around a woman’s neck.”

“And what about your mother?”

“My mother is dead.”

“And your father?”

“Dead too.”

“I’m very sorry.”

“No need to be. My Auntie Margaret has brought me up and we’ve traveled to London and Paris and Rome and Berlin and we’ve had loads of fun.”

“Your Auntie Margaret sounds like quite a woman.”

“She is. She’s ever so much fun.”

“And she doesn’t need a man?”

“If she needs a man that’s what Pierre and Serge are for.”

“And who, may I ask, are Pierre and Serge?”

“They’re Auntie’s friends. They’re ever so nice and very clever.”

Miss Charlton paused.

Gwendolyn waited. She knew you had to be patient with old people.

How old was Miss Charlton, anyway? Fifty? Seventy? Who could tell under the pounds of make-up caked like mud on her wizened old face.


“How old are you, Guinevere?”

“Gwendolyn,” said Gwendolyn.

“Gwendolyn, sorry,” said Miss Charlton. “How old are you?”

“Twelve,” said Gwendolyn. 

“You don’t look twelve.”

“I just turned last month, but I’m slightly small for my age.”

“Better to be small than some great tall gangling giraffe of a girl. I’m going to make a confession to you, Gwendolyn.”

Gwendolyn waited. That five-spot was burning a hole in her purse, but she knew there could be a lot more where that came from if she played her cards right with this crazy old bat.

Miss Charlton crooked her bony finger at Gwendolyn.

“Come closer, dear. I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone else in my life.”

Gwendolyn glanced over at Lord Wolverington, who still seemed deep in conversation with that Mr. Brown, the one everybody called “Farmer” Brown, although he sure didn’t look like a farmer to Gwendolyn.

She stepped closer to Miss Charlton. The old lady smelled of stale gardenias and stubbed-out cigarettes, of unfinished cocktails left on a coffee table overnight.

“That’s better, Evangeline,” said Miss Charlton. Her eyes were blue, the whites of them watery and bloodshot. Gwendolyn resisted the impulse to recoil in horror, especially when Miss Charlton touched her cheek with her skinny old fingers, two of which had stones in them that didn’t look like they had come from Woolworth’s.

“My confession to you is that I killed a man once,” said Miss Charlton. “Shot him right through the temple point-blank with his own revolver. It was one of those crimes of passion you hear about, but it could have been the chair for me if not for the only other person in the room at the time, namely that old poofter Wolverington over there. He may be only a bum boy, and a wastrel at that, but he proved himself to be a real regular Joe on that occasion, and thanks to him and to my excellent lawyer Mr. Perkins the death of this – this man – was ruled a suicide.”

She stopped talking, and Gwendolyn waited. Finally the old bat spoke again.

“So what do you think of my confession, Guinevere?”

Without a moment’s hesitation Gwendolyn replied.

“I think it sounds like that man was a rat and that he got just what he deserved, Miss Charlton.”

Miss Charlton paused again.

Gwendolyn could hear Lord Wolverington and Farmer Brown, murmuring, God knew what they had to talk about.

Finally Miss Charlton spoke.

“Forget about the tea and the bicarb, and go in the Prince Hal Room and ask the barman to make me one of my morning specials, he’ll know what it is. Just tell him to put it on Miss Charlton’s bill. Oh, and ask him for a pack of Pall Malls while you’re at it.”

“Yes, Miss Charlton.”

“Oh, wait, don’t go yet,” said Miss Charlton.

She opened her handbag again, rummaged in it, took out another crumpled five-dollar bill.

“This is for you, Virginia. Because you’re a good girl.”

“Thank you, Miss Charlton.”

Gwendolyn took the bill, opened her purse again, and put the fiver into the secret compartment with the first five.

“I’ll be right back,” she said.

“Thank you, Gerty,” said Miss Charlton.

Gwendolyn started across the lobby toward the Prince Hal Room, ignoring the insolent gaze of the brutish-looking desk clerk.

Today was turning out to be not so dreary a day after all.


gwendolyn gets religion

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