Monday, April 14, 2014

miss charlton's confession

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by danny delacroix and eddie el greco

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

part one of two

for previous Gwendolyn story, click here

to begin the Gwendolyn stories, click here

it was a dull, dreary day.

so dreary gwendolyn almost wished she had gone to school. auntie margaret of course was always amenable to calling the school and explaining that gwendolyn was not "feeling at all well today." and if auntie margaret was still in bed (as was often the case) or otherwise unavailable then serge - always the earliest of risers and usually on hand, sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and a newspaper - could be counted on to do the deed.

but even so, gwendolyn could not call in sick every day, and she now wished she had not wasted a day.

from her seat in a comfortable chair beside a potted palm in the lobby of the venerable hotel st crispian, gwendolyn watched a steady rain fall outside on bedford street. it was not pouring. she recognized it as the kind of rain that if you went out in, you thought, "oh, this isn't so bad", but after ten minutes in it you were soaked.

at the moment, the lobby was otherwise deserted. but the regulars would show up soon enough.

there was an unfamiliar clerk, probably a temporary one just filling in, behind the front desk. gwendolyn did not like his looks. he looked like a detective or a police chief in a movie, like broderick crawford or somebody like that.

he looked even nastier and more suspicious than mister nolan, the house detective. whose forbidding presence was mercifully absent at this point.

with a sigh, she turned back to her book - agnes grey, by anne bronte.

wuthering heights and jane eyre were her two favorite books, and she had liked villette too, but she found this a little slow by comparison. though still preferable to the insufferable miss jane austen or the droning miss george eliot.

there had been one scene she had found amusing, where the heroine, in her capacity as governess, had been confronted by a particularly obnoxious little boy, with whom gwendolyn had felt a sneaking sympathy.

maybe there would be other episodes as amusing.

suddenly she was aware of someone moving into one of the other chairs, one to her right and further from the front door.

gwendolyn looked up. it was the first of the "three crows" as she thought of them - lord wolverington. his inseparable companion miss charlton would surely be right along , and the third member of the trio, mister "farmer" brown, probably a little after that.

lord wolverington eased his big flabby body into "his" chair - the biggest in the lobby - with a sigh. he nodded to gwendolyn. "a big fat book for a rainy day, eh, miss?" he asked, smiling his hideous smile. but he was just being polite, he was not really interested in conversing with gwendolyn.

or she with him.

so gwendolyn just nodded and smiled politely back.

when gwendolyn had first arrived at the hotel with auntie margaret and pierre and serge, the three grownups had had a good laugh at lord wolverington calling himself a lord. but then they had "done their homework" and discovered he really was a lord - the 25th baron wolverington, formerly of the 5th royal horse guards.

"he must be really broke or a really bad hat," gwendolyn had overheard auntie margaret saying.

"or both," said pierre and serge together.

for her part, gwendolyn was quite impressed that lord wolverington was really a lord, despite his complete lack of any other favorable qualities.

on their first encounters, gwendolyn had attempted to ingratiate herself with lord wolverington, in the manner she had with other elderly gentlemen residents of the hotel, like mr blythe and colonel tomlinson of the maryland tomlinsons.

but, in spite her youth and inexperience , gwendolyn had quickly divined - as auntie margaret had before her - that despite his fast friendship with miss charlton, lord wolverington was basically immune to the charms of human females of any age.

now, somewhat surprisingly, "farmer" brown made his appearance before miss charlton. he too, nodded to gwendolyn, with a smile not so loathsome as lord wolverington's, but even stupider.

he took a seat on the divan beside lord wolverington's chair and they put their heads together and began mumbling about something.

gwendolyn tuned them out and returned her attention to agnes grey. she usually paid attention to the conversation of adults, to learn things and also because she might turn them to personal account. but she had almost given up on the "three crows".

lord wolverington, as already noted, was cool to her charms though polite. farmer brown, though a fool, did not seem the type to lose a nickel or be done out of a dime without noticing it.

that left miss charlton. surely the old woman had something - some jewelry, some old coins, some who knows what - maybe some "stocks and bonds" though gwendolyn did not have a clear idea of what "stocks and bonds" were, let alone what to do with them - could they be taken to a pawn shop? - she did not think so, but perhaps she could oh so innocently ask the nice man at the pawn shop on morton street - anyway, gwendolyn would like to chum up with the old woman, at least get invited up to her room for a look around. if she could just get her away from lord wolverington, who seemed to always be at her elbow!

gwendolyn yawned. maybe she should go out for a walk in the rain after all. she would have to go back up to the suite, and then find an umbrella - it was always so hard to find anything, because auntie margaret could never remember where she put anything - except money - and then come back down again…

suddenly miss charlton appeared. one look told you she was in a foul mood, even more so than usual. she walked past the two men without speaking to them and sat down in the chair on gwendolyn's left.

"good morning, miss charlton," gwendolyn murmured sweetly.

"good morning," miss charlton growled, without looking at gwendolyn. instead she looked over at the thuggish desk clerk, who was leaning forward on the front desk and observing the lobby sitters with a trace of a smirk on his face.

"who are you staring at like a baboon at the bronx zoo?" she asked him. "what's your name? "

"my name is bradford, madam, " he smiled, "at your service. "

"it's miss - miss charlton. and i don't like your looks, bradford. did you just get released from prison? are you hired here permanently?"

bradford smiled as if he and miss charlton were old friends enjoying a good joke together. "i am a substitute, miss. the regular clerk is indisposed today. and i was in fact just released - not from prison, but from the united states army, where i was proud to serve with the 1st infantry division."

"you don't say. i don't care if you served with the benjamin harrison chowder and marching society of kokomo indiana." miss charlton turned away and sank back in her chair.

"if you don't mind my saying so," said gwendolyn, "you look a bit indisposed, miss charlton. would you like me to get you a nice cup of tea from the coffee shop? or i could go to the prince hal room and get you a bicarbonate of soda."

" why yes, a bicarbonate of soda would do very well. and the cup of tea as well." miss charlton almost smiled. "thank you, my dear. it's so nice to find a young person with some consideration these days. and good manners, too. nobody has any manners any more."

gwendolyn stood up. she took her bookmark - a hand-crafted leather bookmark given to her by colonel tomlinson of the maryland tomlinsons - and marked her place in agnes grey and put the book on the seat of her chair.

"i shall be back as soon as i can."

part 2

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