(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. Herman asked his parents to make burlap bears for his brother and sister for Christmas. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school, Tad was nicer and the tent show was coming to town. Herman liked it, but didn’t know why black people had to sit behind a rope.)
Burly Senior’s questions—were bears and people much different why black people were not treated honestly–bothered Herman all that summer as he worked in the cotton field alongside his father, Tad and Callie. He didn’t dare mention black people to papa for fear he would look like he smelled rotten eggs again. One day, as they hoed weeds around from the leafy green plants, Herman gathered his courage and asked Tad.
“What do you mean, why do black people have to sit in the back behind a rope?” Tad snapped. “You don’t want to sit next to some big fat old colored woman, would you? She might touch you.”
Herman’s eyes widened. “Does it rub off?
Tad spat and hoed faster. “Don’t be stupid.”
Callie, who was in the next row, glared at Tad. “Don’t call Herman stupid.”
“I’ll call him anything I want!” Tad yelled.
“You’re the stupid one!” Callie retorted.
Papa walked up with his hoe, and the argument stopped. A few minutes went by and then Callie looked round and whispered to Herman.
“What was all that about anyway?”
“Aww, I asked if the black rubs off on you if a colored person touched you.”
Callie stifled a giggle. “Of course not. That is stupid.” She paused and added quickly. “But it was wrong for Tad to call you stupid.”
They hoed side by side for about an hour before Herman had the courage to ask her the main question. “Callie, just why do black people have to sit in the back behind a rope?”
“We sat as far back as they did,” she replied without looking at her brother.
“But we came late and we didn’t have to sit behind a rope, like we were different.” When she didn’t say anything, Herman added in a whisper, “Are they different?”
Again Callie studiously kept her eyes to the ground. “Papa says they are.”
“Is—is papa right?”
First giving a quick glance to her father, Callie answered, “I don’t think so. But don’t say that to papa. He might get mad.”
Herman was confused. “Why? Doesn’t he want us to be honest? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we were honest?”
“Yes.” She hoed hard and fast. “But papa doesn’t think so. Maybe someday things will change.”
“But if papa thinks they’re different, maybe they are,” Herman thought aloud.
“Less talk! More work!” papa barked.
Herman didn’t ask any more questions, but he was terribly confused. He didn’t understand why Callie would believe different than papa or Tad. Maybe it was mama who believed differently, and Callie got it from her. That evening, after the hoeing was done, and Tad had gone swimming in the creek and Callie took Pearly Bear to play dolls with her friends, Herman went into the house and walked up to his mother who was chopping vegetables for a stew.
His mother sighed but answered sweetly, “Yes, dear?”
“Are black people different?”
She stopped and looked down at him, her slender hands going to the nape of her neck to massage it. “What makes you ask a thing like that?”
Herman looked down. “I was just wondering.”
“Yes. Don’t worry about it,” she answered and went back to her chopping.
“But—why?” He was about to say Callie thought differently but stopped because he didn’t want to get her in trouble.
Mama laughed. “You think more than any one child I’ve ever seen.”
Interrupting him firmly she said, “Go to the loft and play.”
Herman did as he was told, climbed the ladder and crawled into the bed to snuggle with Burly.
“Of course Callie is right,” Bear Senior announced. “People are people, no matter what color they are. Just like bears are bears, whether they’re made of burlap or some fancy material from Sears and Roebuck.”
“I even think bears and people are alike,” Burly offered.
“That’s right, son,” his Burly Senior agreed.
“But how could Callie know this and not papa, mama or Tad?” The more they talked, the more confused Herman became.
“Why do you know it?” Burly asked.
“I don’t know if I know it or not.” Herman hung his head.
“Of course you do,” Burly Senior told him.
Herman pulled them into his arms. “I guess I know because of all you.”
“No,” Burly said. “You knew before you even talked to us. You knew because it bothered you to see the black people roped off.”
“But you helped,” Herman offered.
“Of course,” Burly quipped with a smile. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Herman sighed. The whole situation was too much for him to understand. “I’m glad you talk to me.” He looked at Burly Senior. “Don’t you talk to Tad?”
“I would if he wanted me to,” the papa bear replied.
The summer continued, and Herman kept his thoughts about honesty to himself. Even though it was hard work, keeping the cotton rows clear of weeds and nice and soft for the plants to grow big and strong, he rather enjoyed it. This was the first year papa decided he was old enough to help, and Herman could feel himself grow taller every time Papa walked by, patted him on the back and said, “Good work.”
Eventually the hot, clear skies gave way to the clouds of fall, and school came back. This time Herman was not as scared. For one thing, the session had hardly begun when all the farm children were allowed to leave so they could pick cotton before bolls rotted on the branches. To pick them quickly was so important that papa actually paid a family to help pick the cotton.
The Johnsons were black, and Herman was happy papa had given them work for they looked very poor. Mr. Johnson was gray and stoop-shouldered. Mrs. Johnston was short and very stout, but also very talkative and friendly. They had three children, all boys and all older than Herman. They were distant and brooding. Herman liked to sit next to Mrs. Johnson when they stopped for lunch. She sang songs and told stories. Sometimes she would take his fingers and sing a little tune while wriggling each one.
“Don’t let her do that,” Tad scolded him as they went back to work in the rows of cotton.
“Do what?” Herman was puzzled.
“Touch you like that,” Tad replied in a hissing, whispery voice, glancing over his shoulder at the black family.
Herman laughed a little. “All she did was wiggle my fingers.”
“All she wants is to be able to touch a white person.
“Why should she want to do that?”
Tad looked at Herman with scorn. “Stupid. Don’t you know that’s what all blacks want to do?”
“Touch white people?” Herman couldn’t believe what Tad was saying.
“You just watch it.” Tad skulked away.
That night mother asked Herman to find his father quickly. She was sitting in one of the straight-backed wooden chairs with her head between her knees. That scared Herman, so he ran out to the barn, where he usually found his father. Instead he found the Johnsons bedding down in an empty stall.
“Well, hello, little fellow!” Mrs. Johnson said cheerfully.
“Have you seen my papa?” Herman’s voice was all tight from fear.
Mrs. Johnson frowned with concern. “What’s the matter, baby?”
Herman,” papa said from the barn door. “Come here.”
Herman ran to his father to tell him that mama wanted him, but before he could say anything, his father pulled him away.
“I thought I told you to stay out of the barn while we have them sleeping in there,” he lectured harshly. He emphasized the word “them” with a nastiness that made Herman uncomfortable.
“But mama, she’s not feeling good,” Herman whined. “She wanted me to find you.”
Papa straightened and stared at the house.
He walked quickly to the door. Inside mama was already back at the kitchen peeling potatoes.
“Opal, are you all right?” Papa asked so sweetly than Herman didn’t feel uncomfortable anymore.
“Oh, I was just a little dizzy, that’s all.” She laughed, but it soon turned into a cough.” She turned to smile at Herman. “Thank you for getting your father so fast, Herman.”
Papa put his long, wormy arms around her. “Are you sure?”
She leaned against him. “No, I was just being silly.”
“I think I ought to take you to the doctor,” he said softly.
Mama turned to her work at the sink. “What would we pay him with?”
“We’ll have money when the cotton is sold,” papa replied.
“We need that money for more important things.” Mama was always practical.
Previously in the novel: A mysterious man in black foils novice mercenary Leon from kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury. The man in black turns out to be David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the world of espionage is socialite Wallis Spencer.
By the summer of 1928 Wallis was planning another trip to Europe with Aunt Bessie. She loved traveling with her mother’s spinster sister. Bessie wasn’t pretty, witty or judgmental. She had her head in the clouds. What better companion could a young woman want? Before the departure, she told her aunt she had to return to Warrenton to maintain her Virginia residency so she could finally escape the horrors of marriage to aviator Winfield Spencer.
Her actual destination was the old homestead in Baltimore where Uncle Sol, according to rumor, was on his death bed. This was her last chance to exact revenge for the horrible deeds he had inflicted upon her when she was a little girl.
Wallis lingered out on the street until she saw the nurse leave Sol’s house. Looking around the empty neighborhood she picked the lock to the front door and slipped inside. She crept upstairs to her uncle’s bedroom. When she entered she saw him swallowed up by sheets and blankets.
“Uncle Sollie, so glad to see you’re alive.”
Sol’s eyes fluttered open. When they focused on his visitor and he recognized his niece, they widened in fear. He quickly moved a pillow to his crotch.
“Bessiewallis, no. Please, no.”
She sat on the edge of the bed. “Besides hearing you were dying, I also heard the nasty gossip that you had changed your will. Instead of leaving your millions to me, you decided to create a home for destitute ladies in memory of that wicked mother of yours.”
Sol’s lips quivered. “But you have so much money now. I didn’t think you would mind.” He stopped short when he saw Wallis pull a long hat pin from her stylish black lacquered straw hat with a white satin ribbon around the crown.
“That wicked woman did not approve of my father. She didn’t even attend his funeral. Of course, I hadn’t even been born then but Aunt Bessie told me.”
“Bessie was wrong. Mother was there.”
“Now, now, that’s no way to talk about Aunt Bessie. She may be as dumb as a cow, but she does pay attention when it comes to who attends a funeral and who doesn’t.” Wallis removed the pillow from between his legs and leaned in with the hat pin.
“Oh God, no, Bessiewallis.”
She leaned back. “Just kidding. You always look so funny when you think you’re getting the pin.” Wallis stuck it back in her hat and stood to walk to the night table. Holding up her hands, she began to remove her gloves, revealing a large opal ring. “You don’t mind if I take my gloves off, do you?” Not waiting for a reply she added, “Have you had your morning coffee?”
“Oh my. Let me pour it for you.” With her back to Sol, Wallis opened the top of her opal ring, emptied a white substance into the coffee cup and stirred. “Here, you must drink it all.” She lifted it to his lips.
With apprehension he emptied the cup and fell back on the bed.
“I told you of my adventures in China, didn’t I? I loved exploring all the shops in the Shanghai marketplace. It was so sinful. I found an old woman who sold all sorts of fascinating potions. I bought a powder ground from some herb with such a long name I can’t even begin to remember how to pronounce it. Do you know how long it takes for that poison, once ingested, to work its way through the body and kill you? A week! That gives me time to go to Europe. Before you die.”
Tears filled his eyes. “I’ll tell. You won’t get away with it.”
“I forgot to mention the first symptom is immediate paralysis of the vocal cords. You won’t be able to tell about anything.”
Sol opened his mouth to speak. No sound came out. The potion had already taken effect.
“Good-bye, Uncle Sollie,” Wallis said, walking to the door. “You be a good boy. And, by the way, burn in hell.”
A week later, Wallis and Bessie strolled along the Champs-Elysees when they stopped at a news stand to buy a paper. Actually, Wallis was the one who wanted something to read because Aunt Bessie was prattling on about the upcoming debutante season in Baltimore. Wallis had grown beyond her aunt’s interests. The world of espionage was much more fascinating.
She tapped her foot as the man in front of her took too long buying a magazine. Wallis imagined he was more concerned with flirting with the newsstand girl. He was a tall man in a vanilla ice cream colored suit. His black hair was slicked-back. When he finally paid, he turned, smiled and gave a smart bow. Wallis found it impossible to remain miffed because he had a pencil-thin moustache and an appallingly deep dimple in his chin.
After he moved on, one particular headline on the front page caught her attention.
“Baltimore Inventor Dies.”
Wallis pulled coins from her purse to pay for the newspaper and scanned the story to see if it speculated on cause of death. She smiled when she read the words “natural causes.” Then she handed it to Aunt Bessie who looked at the headline.
Without any emotion she commented, “I never much cared for Sol.”
“Oh, he was all right, as long as he was going to leave everything to me.”
“Does the story say anything about the will?” Bessie asked.
In a few moments they were seated at an open air café along the Seine. Before Wallis could continue reading Sol’s obituary she was distracted by the sight of the man in the vanilla ice cream colored suit sitting at a table across from them. He lifted his champagne glass as though in a toast. Doing her best to ignore him, Wallis slammed back her own glass of champagne before returning her attention to the story about Uncle Sol.
“Finally,” she announced. “Here it is. Mr. Warfield’s will left his entire fortune of five million dollars to build a home for destitute dowagers.”
“Destitute dowagers?” Bessie repeated. “I don’t think I know what that means.”
Wallis wadded the newspaper up and threw it in a nearby trash can. She motioned to the waiter to bring her another champagne. She was in the process of slamming it back when she heard a deep male voice.
“You mustn’t toss back champagne like it were a lager in a beer garden.”
“And who appointed you queen of etiquette?” Wallis looked up to see the man in the vanilla ice cream colored suit standing over her. She blew smoke in his direction.
“I’m in the champagne business. I sell wholesale to all the best restaurants in Europe.”
“In that case, sit down and point out the best champagne on the menu.”
“Only if you promise not to guzzle but sip.”
Wallis appraised him and smiled. “You’ve got a deal.” She refused to acknowledge Aunt Bessie’s profound sigh of resignation.
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. Herman asked his parents to make burlap bears for his brother and sister for Christmas. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school, Tad was nicer and the tent show was coming to town.)
Herman and Tad ran out the front door and scrambled into the back of the pickup. Callie rode in the cab next to her father. They were well on their way down the road when Tad leaned over to Herman. “Can you keep a secret?”
Herman became scared because whenever Tad said something like that he was in trouble and going to get Herman in trouble too. “I guess.”
Tad smiled as he pulled from under his shirt Burly.
“Shush,” Tad whispered. “I said keep it on the QT.”
Tad shrugged. “I thought it wouldn’t hurt anything, and, heck, you’ve been a pretty good kid, making good grades and, well, you pull your weight around the farm.”
“I love you, Tad.”
His brother stiffened. “Aww, don’t get sloppy on me.”
The rest of the ride went in silence, but it was the happiest silence Herman ever shared with Tad. When they arrived at the tent they had to take seats towards the back since it was almost filled. Herman had never seen so many people together in one place, which also made it very hot. The sides of the tent were rolled up so air could move through, and people with the show were giving out hand fans.
“Hi, Herman!” a boy called out.
Herman looked up and smiled. It was one of the nicer boys from school, Gerald Morgan.
“Who’s that?” papa asked.
“Oh, a boy from school.” Herman stopped smiling long enough to make sure Burly wasn’t showing from underneath his shirt and then gave Gerald one last wave.
They hadn’t been there long when a band marched out and sat right in front of the stage. Music began, and the curtain opened. Herman cautiously pulled Burly from under his shirt so he could watch too. Glancing over at his father, he saw a happy grin on his face. The actors came out and began talking. To be honest Herman didn’t really understand much of what they were talking about or who was who. One fellow was definitely a bad guy, who talked nasty to people and threatened all the pretty girls on stage. Another actor was the good guy. Everybody seemed to like him. Finally there was Toby. Harley Sadler didn’t look a thing like he did that afternoon. He had on a silly red wig and had freckles painted on his face, and he wore funny looking wooly chaps. When he came on stage everyone else sort of disappeared because the entire audience laughed at Toby.
Partway through the show papa leaned over to Herman, who jumped and quickly put Burly under his shirt. “Can you see all right, son?” he whispered.
“Kind of,” Herman replied.
Papa looked behind him to make sure there wasn’t anyone he would be blocking and then lifted Herman to his shoulders.
At first Herman had a few butterflies in his stomach because he was so high but he could see better. It felt good being so close to his father so the butterflies soon went away. After a while Herman asked his father if he was hurting his back.
“Not to mention, as long as you’re having a good time,” Papa replied.
The hero beat up the bad guy with the help of Toby. One of the pretty girls turned Toby down when he asked her to marry him, which didn’t seem right. But another pretty girl did marry the hero, which made the audience cheer. The curtain came down, the band played some happy-sounding music, and the audience applauded.
On the way out Herman smiled with the satisfaction of knowing exactly what a tent show was now and of feeling love flowing from his family. Then he saw something that broke the warm feeling. Off to the back left was a section roped off for black people. He hadn’t noticed it when they came in. Indeed, it was the first time Herman had ever noticed that black people were treated differently and it bothered him. As his father lifted him off his shoulders and onto the ground, Herman’s first reaction was to ask his father about it, but he decided not to say anything.
He had almost forgotten the separation of the black people when they got home. Herman was about to walk into the house when his father called him over to the shed where he was putting the pickup away for the night.
“How did Burly like the show?” Papa asked.
Papa smiled knowingly. “You better take him out from under your shirt now. He’s going to rub your skin raw.”
Herman pulled Burly out. “How did you know? Did Tad tell?”
“Why? Did Tad know?”
“Um, no.” Herman didn’t want to get his brother into trouble.
Papa patted Herman’s back. “Don’t worry about it. Get on to bed.”
Herman was leaving when he decided to ask about the black people. His father’s serene expression changed as Herman spoke.
“Oh, the coloreds.” The last word floated up through Papa’s nostrils as though it were the stench of rotten eggs. He turned away from Herman, his way of saying a conversation was over. “Don’t worry about them.”
Now Herman wished he hadn’t brought the subject up. It put a sour ending to a wonderful evening. When he climbed the ladder to the loft he found Callie and Tad already asleep. He took his clothes off, opened his window and climbed into bed.
“How did you like the show?” he asked Burly.
“What I saw I liked. Of course, I couldn’t see much from under your shirt.”
“I’m sorry,” Herman whispered.
“Oh no. I was glad I got to go, no matter what.”
Herman smiled as he nestled into his pillow. “Wasn’t it nice of Tad to bring you?”
“Of course. I keep telling you he loves you.”
Herman sighed. “Yes. But often it comes as a surprise.”
From across the room came two other bear voices.
“How did you like the show?” Pearly Bear asked.
“Was it fun?” Burly Senior added.
“Oh yes, mama, papa,” Burley replied. “Even though I did have to sit under a shirt.”
“Sit under a shirt?” Burly Senior said with a hint of indignation. “Herman, why did you do that to Burly?”
“I—I was afraid of what Papa would say,” Herman stammered.
“But your father knew all along,” Pearly said. “You would have been better off being honest, and then Burly would have had a better view.”
Herman frowned and thought about the black people again. “Are people being dishonest about black people?
“I don’t know,” Pearly replied. “I just know about bears.”
And then Burly Senior asked, “But are bears and people much different?”
Previously in the novel: Leon, a novice mercenary, is foiled in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury by a mysterious man in black. The man in black turns out to be David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Soon to join the world of espionage is Wallis Spencer, an up-and-coming Baltimore socialite.
In April of 1927 David found foolish emotion creeping up through his body and felt his heart and mind working together to undermine the British Empire. Freda Ward, his mistress since 1918, began to occupy more of his thoughts since he returned from the failed mission to Manhattan. On the liner across the Atlantic, David encountered several ladies willing to share his bed but a strange thing occurred. He preferred to spend his hours writing letters to Freda.
This was a problem he had never considered when MI6 first approached him when he was in school to train to serve in the elite espionage corps. His love-deprived childhood and tortured school days filled with bullying convinced him true, nourishing enduring love was a cruel myth. At first his relationship with Freda was no more than his usual vent of sexual frustration and a convenient cover for his espionage activities. But now he considered the possibility that true love actually existed.
On this particular day David drove his Ace roadster coupe to unoccupied country home near Windsor Castle with Freda in the passenger seat. He gunned the two-liter six-cylinder engine.
“Now do you like my new car?”
“Very sporty, like you,” she said.
“It’s exactly like the one Victor Bruce drove when he won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1926. I was simply dippy for it so I special ordered it.” He kept glancing over at her trying to read her inscrutable face. Usually she glowed at him with something likening a mother’s love. Today he saw a hint of disapproval and exasperation.
“I was on a round of princing recently out here in Surrey—I had to hand out rosettes to a bunch of cows or some such foolishness–when I came upon this property and became quite dippy about it.”
“I wish you wouldn’t use that word,” she interrupted.
“Never mind. You’ve said it twice in consecutive sentences.” After a shake of her head, she smiled warmly. “Continue.”
They rounded a brushy corner and the manor house with its fanciful towers and curving walls appeared.
“There it is, Fort Belvedere. It screams gothic revival architecture, doesn’t it? Anyway, I did a bit of digging and found out it was built in 1750 as a folly. You know what a folly is, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do, but playing professor gives you so much pleasure.” Freda emitted one of her motherly sighs. “Do explain it to me.”
David parked in front of the house and jumped out to open Freda’s door. “This one was built to look like a military fort, but the only guns ever used around here were for hunting weekends. A small hunting lodge, just for fun, pretty to look at but not much use for anything else. My God, sounds like me, doesn’t it?”
“Well,” she paused long enough to give him a nudge, “you’re not all that pretty.”
He guided her to the front door and unlocked it. “It was expanded in 1828 to meet the requirements as a full-scale hunting lodge and used on and off ever since. Now the kick of it is that it’s one of my father’s properties and I’m trying to figure out a way for someone on his staff to insert the idea into his sotted brain to give it to me. My God, I am a grown man and I should have my own house, don’t you think.”
“Yes, I think it would do you some good to be responsible for something for once in your life.” Freda looked around at the dark wood flooring and paneling. “But it will need a bit of redecorating, I think.” Her eyes flashed with an idea. “Why don’t you make it a home for deprived orphans of coal miners?” She walked out of French doors onto a terrace overlooking a large wooded area. “Think of all the fun they could have playing among the trees and planting gardens and such.”
“Oh, there you go, playing angel waif again.” He gazed at her with a mischievous grin. “Now how am I to host weekend parties with plenty of naughty friends when all those children are around?”
“Well, that’s what I meant.” She gathered her thoughts. “Don’t you think it’s time to stop being naughty, at least on such a grand scale?”
He took her hand and guided her to the shade of the trees. “The same idea had crossed my mind. How do you see this as a honeymoon cottage?”
Freda’s mouth opened but nothing came out for a moment. “Remember, I am married.”
“But not happily. Otherwise, why would you be mucking around with me?” Before she could form a reply, David continued. “Of course, you couldn’t officially be queen, when it comes to that, but there is such a thing as a morganatic marriage—that’s where we could be legally married and our children would be royal but not you. That wouldn’t be so bad would it? I mean, I think the tweedy types would go for it. They like you. After all, your father is a member of Parliament and vice-chamberlain of the royal household. And you’re so discreet.”
He held his breath. He did not know if he really meant it or not. If he married—actually married and conducted a normal family life—his life as an espionage agent would be over. Being an agent gave his life meaning. But a life with Freda could also give it meaning.
Gently folding her fingers in front of her mouth, Freda said, “Do you remember earlier when I ask you not to use a certain word but I declined to say which word it was?”
“Yes, but before you say anything else, please consider this. We have been lovers since 1918. Ten years. Good grief, I know some people who can’t stay married for ten years. Do you remember when we met? It was at a dance hosted by some woman. I can’t remember her name. She had her brother there. I think she was trying to shop him around.”
She sighed and shook her head. “It was Maud Kerr-Smiley, and she wasn’t shopping her brother around. He was quite debonair and wealthy. In the shipping business, I think. Simpson, that’s his name. Ernest Simpson. Oh, here we go again. You can’t keep your mind focused and you drag me along into your wonder land.”
“No, no. All this has a meaning. In the middle of the dance we had to dash off to a bomb shelter where we became close, very close. I knew then. You were exceptional.”
“And you look at me with your puppy dog eyes and say sappy things like that.” She exhaled in exasperation. “Please let me finish.”
“You said you were dippy for this your car and then said you were dippy for this property.”
“Dippy is such a childish word.”
“”It’s a joke. It’s fun to use words like dippy.”
“David, I would divorce my husband because he is many years older than I and is rather, well, stodgy. But I am not ready to turn in an old codger for a little boy. When I do—or if—I remarry, I want to marry a man my own age, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, someone who would not use words like dippy.” She paused to wrinkle her brow. “Have I hurt you terribly?”
He smiled and turned away. “Oh, if you ever knew.”
David rested his butt on a moist stone wall and cocked his head. “You know how I seem to make fun of my duties, you know, calling it princing?”
“Yes,” she replied softly.
“Well, it’s all a series of stunts, camouflage and propaganda. Think about it. Why do they really need to be trotting me around the globe shaking hands?”
“Because you are so good at it?”
David chuckled. “I’ve been told that before.”
“Never mind.” He went to Freda to kiss her lightly on the lips. “No, I am not hurt and I understand.” He looked around at the house, the terrace and the woods extending into the horizon. When Daddy gives me this place, will you play hostess? Redecorate it for me?”
“Of course I will,” she replied, sounding more like a mother than a lover.
“I’m looking forward to doing the gardening myself. I really do like getting my hands dirty, you know.” He waved towards the trees. “A hundred acres of trees. Think of the things I could plant there, and nobody would ever know.”
“You scare me sometimes, David. I never know when you’re making a joke and when you’re serious.”
He pulled a small stuffed teddy bear from his jacket pocket and tenderly placed it in her palm and closed her fingers around it.
“This is for you. Always keep it with you. From time to time, pull it out and look at it to remind yourself of the one brief moment when the Prince of Wales was completely sincere.”
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Edwin Stanton holds President and Mrs. Lincoln captive under guard in basement of the White House. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too. Guard Adam Christy reports on his condition each evening to his sister Cordie and fellow hospital volunteer Jessie Home. Tad Lincoln becomes ill.
Mrs. Lincoln would know what to do, Adam Christy told himself, but she is not the woman tending to Tad right now.
“I suppose so,” he muttered.
“I don’t know,” Neal said. “If it’s his appendix, it could bust right soon, and he’d be dead before morning if nobody does anything about it.”
“Neal.” Phebe slapped his arm.
They walked off fussing at each other as Adam nervously unlocked the door. Could Tad die? He was worried, as he entered with the three pots.
Gabby took his. “That Mr. Stanton, do you talk with him often?” He kept his eyes down.
“Please tell him—in a nice way, because I don’t want to get him mad, since he’s so hot-tempered in the first place—to be nice to Cordie.”
“She doesn’t feel well.”
“I think she has the family disease.”
Gabby turned to scurry behind the boxes and crates. Mrs. Lincoln came from behind her curtain combing her hair out, and for the first time since Adam had known her, wore a look of quiet resignation instead of pent-up anger. She smiled at him.
“Back already? My, you’re quick like a bunny rabbit.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Adam felt his face flush as he thought of Tad and his bilious condition. As had become the custom, he placed the chamber pots down outside the curtain and turned to go.
“Private Christy, is there anything wrong? You’ve the oddest expression on your face.”
“No, ma’am.” He turned back and felt his face turn redder. “There’s nothing wrong.”
“Nonsense.” She clutched the comb in both hands. “Your face is as red as a beet.”
“Well, I—I well…”
“Spit it out, boy,” Mrs. Lincoln ordered.
Lincoln, his collar undone, exposing masses of black hair on a bony chest, stepped from his private corner and put an arm around his wife’s waist and squeezed.
“It’s—it’s personal, and private.”
“You’re lying,” she declared.
“No, I’m not!”
“Now, Molly, no need to harass the boy so late at night. He needs his rest, and you need yours. I definitely need mine.”
“It’s Tad,” she whispered. “Something’s wrong with Tad.”
Adam’s eyes went to the floor.
“It is.” Her voice began to mount to its usual stridency. “I can tell. Oh, my God! Something’s wrong with my baby.”
“Come on, Private, we don’t believe in killing the messenger of sad tidings,” Lincoln said. “What is it?”
“The kitchen help said your son wasn’t feeling well,” he said. “They said he was bilious.”
“Well, that’s not so bad,” Lincoln replied.
“Not so bad!” Mrs. Lincoln struggled to free herself from his grip. “What imbecility is that? Haven’t you heard of appendicitis? Food poisoning? It could be any number of terrible, terrible things, and you say not so bad?”
Lincoln turned to Adam. “Why don’t you go upstairs and do a little reconnaissance work for us?”
“Yes, sir.” Adam left and went up the service stairs, his heart pounding so hard he could barely hear the straw mats crunching under his boots. On the second floor, he went straight to Tad’s room, where he found Alethia wiping the boy’s head with a wet cloth. To the side was a bucket filled with vomit.
“Poor child,” Alethia said as she looked up at Adam, “he must have eaten green fruit again.”
“No, I didn’t,” Tad protested.
“Is he going to be all right?”
“Oh, I think so.” Alethia smiled and stroked his cheek. “I gave him a dose of subnitrate of bismuth.”
“It tasted awful,” Tad said.
“But you haven’t thrown up since,” Alethia said.
Adam breathed deeply “That’s good.”
“I want Mama.” Tad looked from Alethia to Adam and back again. “My real mama.”
“Why, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Alethia replied.
“I think you’re a very nice lady who looks like Mama, but you’re not her. And that man isn’t Papa,” Tad whispered conspiratorially. “It’s part of a war plan. I got that part figured out.” His bottom lip crinkled. “But I don’t feel good, and I want Mama.”
Adam stared at Alethia, not knowing what to do, and hoping she had some answer, but the scared look on her face revealed she knew as little as he did. He jumped a little as he suddenly became aware of Duff’s presence in the room.
“What do you think?” he asked him, frowning.
“I think you should tell his parents that he’s received medicine and is feeling some better, but wants to see them. They deserve to know that much.” Duff looked at Tad and smiled. “I knew you were a smart boy. Thanks for keeping our secret.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. “But I still want Mama.”
“Of course, it’s not my decision,” Duff said to Adam, “but I think it’d behoove us to keep this child happy and willing to go along with our game. Isn’t that right, Tad?”
“I don’t know.” Adam shook his head. “I don’t know what Mr. Stanton would say.”
“What difference does it make what that old poop thinks?” Tad chimed. “My papa is in charge of this switch, ain’t he?”
“Of course, he is,” Duff said.
Adam and Alethia exchanged nervous glances.
“This young fellow here just likes to keep everybody involved in this caper happy,” Duff continued, smiling at the boy and reaching to muss his hair.
“Hmph, I don’t care if old Mr. Stanton is happy or not,” Tad said in a pout.
“I’ll see what Mr. Lincoln wants.” Adam’s stomach tightened as he lied to Tad. More and more, he feared the threads of Stanton’s tapestry were unraveling—the war continued, the boy knew and could talk, and the kitchen help was curious, too curious.
“Yes.” Alethia patted Tad’s cheek. “Soon you’ll get a hug from your mama. But you must promise not to tell anyone.”
“Not even Robert?” he asked.
“Especially not your brother,” Duff replied.
“Good.” Tad smiled impishly. “I like keeping secrets from my brother.”
In a few minutes, Adam was in the basement again, unlocking the door to the billiards room. Inside, Mrs. Lincoln rushed to him, grabbing his arm.
“How’s Taddie? Is he all right?”
“He’s fine. The lady thinks he has just a plain old bellyache. She gave him subnitrate of bismuth.”
“How much?” Mrs. Lincoln’s eyes widened. “Subnitrate is powerful medicine. If a child is overmedicated…”
“Now, Molly, I’m sure the lady upstairs knew the right amount to give him,” Lincoln interrupted as he walked up.
Adam noticed the look in Lincoln’s eyes did not match the moderation in his voice. Not even on the day he had brought the president to the basement did he see such anguish as he observed now. It made him nervous.
“Something else is wrong,” Mrs. Lincoln said. “I can tell. Your emotions are written on your face like Mr. Dickens writes stories on a page. What is it?”
“Tad is all right,” Adam repeated.
“What is it, son?” Lincoln asked ominously.
“It’s nothing, really.”
“Tell me!” she demanded, trying to control her hysteria, as Lincoln’s big hands clutched her shoulders tightly.
“He wants to see his mother.” Adam’s eyes wandered around the room and spotted Gabby peeking from his corner. He must have courage, or else he would dissolve into another Gabby Zook.
“So he knows that woman is a fake.” Mrs. Lincoln smiled with vindication.
“Of course he does,” Lincoln said, relaxing a bit. “He’s smart, just like his mama.”
“Then bring him down here. It won’t hurt. He already knows,” Mrs. Lincoln insisted.
“He’s kept the secret for two months now,” Lincoln added. “He can be trusted.”
“Oh, I know he can be trusted,” Adam agreed. “It’s just…”
“It’s just what?” Lincoln’s tone became ominous again.
“I don’t know if Mr. Stanton will approve.”
“Stanton! That evil man!” Mrs. Lincoln’s hands began to flail about.
“Now, Molly,” Lincoln said, forcing her hands down, “let me handle this.” He solemnly looked at Adam. “Go get Mr. Stanton’s approval right now.”
“He doesn’t like to be disturbed,” he explained.
“This woman’s already lost two babies.” Lincoln suddenly grabbed the front of Adam’s rumpled blue tunic, pulling him off his feet to eye level. “She gets fearful upset when another is ailing and she can’t pet him,” Lincoln stated softly, coldly. “So I suggest you get Mr. Stanton’s permission to bring that boy down here.”
Adam gasped in surprise as he nodded obediently. He quickly, painfully, became aware of Lincoln’s strength and anger. Scrambling for the door and fumbling for the keys, he followed the orders of the president of the United States.
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. Herman asked his parents to make burlap bears for his brother and sister for Christmas. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school, Tad was nicer and the tent show was coming to town.)
That night as Herman lay in bed he held Burly close. “Isn’t it exciting, Burly?” He didn’t hold his bear too close because it was hot in the loft. Three small windows were open by each of the beds. Herman slept in his undershorts, but there wasn’t enough breeze to keep him from sweating.
“Yes, it is exciting,” Burly said. “Nice things like that help keep your mind off how uncomfortable the heat is.”
“Tad said this man Harley is real funny. I don’t know what he does exactly, but I can’t wait for us to see it.”
“I’m glad you want Callie and Tad to have a good time too.”
Herman tickled Burly’s tummy. “No, I mean you. I can’t wait for you to see Harley.”
“No, Herman, I can’t go. They won’t want stuffed bears coming to their show.”
Frowning, Herman asked, “Why not?”
“I don’t know for sure. I just know if you asked your father he’d say no.”
Herman slumped down on his pillow. “I don’t know if I want to go if I can’t take you. It won’t be any fun without you.”
“Of course it will.” Burly paused to think. “Imagine how much fun you’ll have telling me all about it later.”
A smile crept across Herman’s face as his eyes fell heavily and a breeze finally blew across the bed.
Wednesday, the day of the tent show came to town, took on the same magical anticipation as Christmas. Each school day wound down slowly, and each chore at home took forever. Instead of twenty spelling words on the final test of the year, Herman could have sworn the teacher called out a thousand. And on the last day of school Herman was sure the teacher moved as though she were plowing through mud up to her waist. He didn’t even care about the grades on his report card, although they were very good.
“Hmph,” Tad said with disdain as he looked at Herman’s card, “grades don’t mean a thing.”
Herman would have been upset if he hadn’t seen Callie smile and wink at him.
Tuesday night was the longest night in Herman’s life, for there was nothing so exciting as the complete unknown. And that’s what the tent show was to him. What did Harley Sadler look like? Was he like a movie star? Big and good looking? Did he have a funny voice? What exactly did make Harley Sadler funny? Herman couldn’t wait to find out.
Tad, Callie and Herman got up early, ate quickly and ran out the door to go to town before the tent went up. As he flew out the door Herman heard his mother cough loudly and deeply. He paused to go back when Tad yelled at him to hurry up.
The hurly burly on the empty field next to the high school was enough to scare Herman, but Callie held his hand so everything was all right. Finally the tent was up and a short, fair man with sandy blond hair sauntered up to the large group of boys and girls eagerly awaiting the word. He had a funny, lopsided kind of grin and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
“I don’t suppose I could find anybody here willing to put up a few chairs for me for a ticket to the show tonight?”
‘You bet, Toby!” Tad yelled out with all the other children.
So this was Harley Sadler. He certainly didn’t sound funny. He had a pretty deep voice. And he didn’t really look all that funny. Mostly he looked like a rich businessman. On the other hand, his smile, and the look in his eyes, they were funny, Herman decided. More than that, they were exciting because they hinted at funnier things to come.
“Well, Herman, come on.” Tad tugged at his sleeve. “Let’s go!”
Herman was embarrassed he had been caught gawking at the famous actor, but Harley didn’t seem to mind. He just laughed and patted Herman on the head. There were so many children scrambling for chairs that Herman only got to set up three chairs before they were finished. At first he was afraid he hadn’t done enough work to earn the ticket, but he forgot that quickly as he was the first child Harley gave a ticket to.
“Now hang on to that,” Harley said, winking at Herman.
When all the tickets were distributed Harley said loudly, “Be sure to tell your folks that tonight is ladies night. All women get in free when brought by a man buying a ticket!”
“Oh boy!” Tad exclaimed as they hurried home. “Do you know what that means? It means papa will have to buy only one ticket! Mama’ll get in free!”
“This is going to be so much fun!” Callie giggled as she skipped beside Herman.
Life couldn’t be happier, Herman decided as he looked at his sister’s face and then his brother’s.
“And Burly will get in free too!” Herman chirped, forgetting what his little bear had warned him about the bear’s prediction he wouldn’t be allowed to go.
“Aww, Herman, you’re not going to drag along that toy bear, are you?” Tad moaned.
“If papa says it’s all right, why should you care?” Callie shot back, putting her arm around Herman.
When they came through the front door, they saw their father entering from his bedroom.
“Guess what!” Herman said loudly, “Mama can get in free!”
“Shush,” Papa hushed him with a finger to his lips as he motioned the children to the table to sit down. “Your mama’s not feeling good. She fainted this afternoon.”
“Oh no!” Callie gasped.
“Did you get the doctor?” Herman asked.
“Don’t be dumb,” Tad chided him. “We can’t afford the doctor.”
“That’s right, son,” his father said. “But—but I don’t think she’s too bad. I don’t think though we should go to the show tonight.”
All three children knew better than to protest, but Herman couldn’t help but let out a little groan.
“I know it’s a big letdown—“
“Woody!” mama called out weakly from the bedroom.
Papa stood and went into the bedroom. A few minutes later he came out. Herman tried to figure out what he was going to say from the look on papa’s face, but Herman couldn’t guess what the faraway look on his eyes meant.
“Hmm, your mama says she’s not that bad, that she wants us to go on to the show. She’ll be fine by herself.”
“I could let Burly stay with her,” Herman offered weakly.
Papa looked at him in a blur. “Who? Oh no, that’s all right.” He looked around the room as though he were helpless. “Hmm, Callie help me with supper. Tad, tend the animals in the barn.”
Tad left while Callie and papa turned to the kitchen. Herman quietly went to the loft and got Burly to take to his mother. He slowly opened the door so it wouldn’t creak and stepped in. He approached the bed where mama was sleeping restlessly. The dark spots under her eyes and the paleness of her skin became very real to him for the first time and it scared him.
“Mama?” he whispered.
Her eyes opened and she smiled. “Hi, baby.”
“Would you like Burly to keep you company tonight?”
She laughed and touched his cheek. “No, thank you, honey. It’s so sweet of you to offer.”
The door swung open and Herman heard his father’s voice.
“Herman, I thought I told you not to bother your mother.”
“That’s all right, Woody,” she said softly. “I wanted to see my baby.”
“Get out,” papa ordered. He paused to chuckle a bit. “Don’t you have chores to do?”
“Yes sir,” Herman replied meekly.
He hurriedly returned Burly to the loft and went outside. Supper went by very quietly, almost sadly, considering where they were going that evening. Papa took a tray of food into the bedroom and shut the door, staying with mama the entire meal. After he came out, Callie cast a quick glance at Herman and ventured a question.
“Could Herman take his bear to the show?
Papa turned to look at Callie and then at Herman. “Now why would you want to do that?”
“I don’t,” Herman protested.
“This afternoon he said he wanted to,” Callie replied.
Herman noticed Tad remained quiet during the exchange. He expected his brother to say something mean, but Tad almost never did what Herman expected.
Finally papa announced, “It’s time to go.” He actually was smiling. “Each of you may go in to see your mother, but don’t stay too long.”
“I want to go first!” Tad replied, heading for the bedroom.
“Don’t run and be quiet!” papa reminded him, causing Tad to slow down.
Callie went for a kiss. Then it was Herman’s turn. Mama gathered her baby into her arms and kissed him.
“Have a good time and obey your papa,” she whispered, her breath smelling of some foul medicine.
As Herman came out of his parents’ bedroom he noticed Tad had just come down the ladder from the loft.
“Come on, boys, or we’re going without you!” papa called from outside.
Previously in the novel: Leon, a novice mercenary, is foiled in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury by a mysterious man in black. The man in black turns out to be David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Soon to join the world of espionage is Wallis Spencer, an up-and-coming Baltimore socialite. David and Wallis are foiled in their attempt to protect a socialite’s jewels.
By Christmas 1926 Wallis was visiting her college chum Mary and her husband Jacque Raffray at their elegant apartment on Washington Square in New York City. Aunt Bessie was with her, like a proper chaperone, but she never got in the way of Wallis having a good time. When the two young women shopped and lunched, Bessie stayed in the apartment reading the latest fashion magazines. Wallis and Mary lingered in discreet cafes, sharing intimate details of mutual friends.
On Christmas Eve the Raffrays held a party for their dearest and closest acquaintances. Everyone admired the decorations, table settings and music, but the party didn’t really begin until the bootlegger arrived. Bessie retired to her room early, as was her custom on trips with Wallis. After all, she didn’t want to be in the way. Amidst the giggles and chatter, Mary caught Wallis by the crook of her arm and guided her to a couple on the far side of the tree. They looked more than a little bored.
“Wallis, I want you to meet a fascinating man,” Mary whispered. “He’s in the shipping business and holds dual American and English citizenship.”
Wallis had not quite focused on the introduction until she remembered the part about dual citizenship.
“Hello, I’d like you to meet my friend Mrs. Wallis spencer.” Mary nodded to the couple. “Wallis, this is Ernest and Dorothy Simpson.”
Wallis looked at him closely. He was more than passably handsome, and his wife looked like she was in a perpetual state of grump.
She scooted closer to her man.
Wallis smiled and extended her hand, pretending not to notice the wife smiled back and extended her hand. Wallis grabbed Ernest’s hand instead. A low grumble escaped Dorothy’s lips.
“I just love a man with dark hair and mustache,” Wallis mumbled.
Ernest’s eyes twinkled. “Aren’t your husband’s hair and moustache dark?”
“Well, “she paused so a naughty smile could flicker across her thin, heavily painted lips, “some moustaches are better than others.”
“Ernest,” Dorothy interrupted with in a brusque tenor that could not be ignored. She paused to smile. Her own shade of lipstick was a soft, lady-like coral. “As I was telling you, I am coming down with one of my dreadful headaches. Really, we must leave now. I want to feel my best at Christmas dinner tomorrow with Mommy.” After a second, she added, with a condescending air, “Dear.”
Wallis raised an eyebrow. “Oh. You aren’t attending the midnight candlelight service at your church?”
“Why, no.” Dorothy seemed to be caught off balance. “Are you?”
“No.” Wallis caught Ernest’s elbow to lead him away. “Ernest, darling, you must see the view from the terrace. It’s really quite remarkable. You can see all the way to Times Square.”
They stood outside and looked in vain for the lights of Broadway. The breeze caused Wallis to shudder.
“Hmm, I was sure you could see Times Square from here.” She leaned into him. “Oh dear, it is a bit chilly, isn’t it?” Looking up into his eyes, she asked, “Now how exactly do you come to hold dual citizenship? It sounds exquisite.”
Before he could respond, Dorothy stormed through the door, already wearing her fur and extending Ernest’s overcoat.
“I must insist we leave immediately.” She shoved the coat into his hands and pushed him away from Wallis’s side. “It was simply wonderful meeting you, Mrs. Simpson—Spencer. I hope you have a safe trip home.”
Early in the morning, the day after Christmas, the telephone rang. Mary answered, listened then extended the receiver to Wallis who took it and purred a hello. Bessie sat in a nearby easy chair, reading the New York Times women’s section, particularly the wedding announcements.
“Hello, Wallis. This is Ernest. I hope you had a truly merry Christmas day.”
“Thank you, Ernest. How kind of you to call.”
“Have you ever visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art?”
“Why, no. I don’t think I’ve ever been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
“Don’t you remember, dear,” Bessie said. “We were there last week.”
Wallis snatched the newspaper from Bessie’s hands and threw it on the floor while still talking on the phone. “I hate to admit it, but I’m much more of a country girl. Love tromping through the woods. I’m terrible, aren’t I?”
“Of course, not. I’m an outdoorsman myself.”
“Yes, you are terrible, Wallis.” Bessie bent over to pick up the papers. “Why on earth did you toss my paper on the floor?”
“Do I hear your aunt?” Ernest asked.
“Yes, the poor dear is having another one of her fits. It’s best that we ignore her.” Wallis wagged a skinny finger at Bessie. “I hope you are volunteering to take me to the museum.”
“Are you available this afternoon?” he asked.
“Of course, I am.”
“Think your aunt would like to join us?”
“She’s having one of her fits, remember? It’s best to leave her alone in her bedroom.”
“Well, I like that,” Bessie muttered good-naturedly.
“I really do want to be a cultured lady. What I don’t know about art I’m sure you could teach me. After all there’s more to life than…well, life.”
“Well spoken. I’ll pick you at noon for lunch and then we’ll take on the museum.”
After she hung up, Wallis giggled.
“You do know it’s just as easy to woo a single man as a married one.” Bessie settled back in her chair to resume her reading.”
“But I don’t want it to be easy. What’s the thrill in that?” Besides, Wallis thought, it was her duty to king and empire to seduce Mr. Simpson.
That afternoon Wallis took Ernest’s arm as they began to explore the galleries.
“It’s a shame Dorothy couldn’t join us.” She was surprised by how sincere she sounded.
“Yes, she has a terrible headache. Too much Christmas cheer, I think.”
He took time and particular relish to explain the impressionism found in a small Monet. After he finished Wallis pointed to the next painting. Her arm grazed across his chest.
“And what is that?” she asked with total innocence.
“That’s my chest,” he replied in amusement.
“You have your hand on my chest.”
“So I do.” She patted it. “How nice. Eventually she removed it and pointed again at the other painting. “I mean what is that painting over there?”
He smiled and placed his arm around her shoulders. “Well, let’s go find out.”
It had not been a full week into the new year when Wallis rang up Ernest with the excited announcement that Rose-Marie was coming to Broadway again.
“I am beside myself. I love the music though I’ve never seen it on stage. Please tell me you will be available the night of the 27th. That’s the opening night. It would be so much fun if we could see it together. Oh, of course, Dorothy if the poor thing is feeling well. Does she still have that dreadful headache?”
Wallis waited for a moment while Ernest chuckled.
“I do adore listening to you talk, Wallis dear.”
“It’s what I do best, darling.” She knew that was a lie. She could not share with Ernest what she really did best yet. It might scare him off. “So, how is poor sweet little Dorothy feeling?”
“Actually, she feels rather jaunty this morning.”
“Well, we do have three weeks before the opening.”
And on the premiere night of Rose-Marie Dorothy was not feeling well, neither unfortunately was Aunt Bessie. Mary and Jacque Raffray had tickets to another show. Wallis kept leaning into Ernest to ask questions about the play and he leaned back into her with the answer. She decided his breath smelled only slightly of tobacco and an interesting, expensive brand of gin.
As the winter weather softened, Ernest took Wallis on a personal tour of the docks where the Simpson family freighters were being loaded for their next voyage to England. She was dutifully awed by the length and breadth of the Simpson fortune.
Wallis tried to find a chic night club Ernest had not frequented, but, alas, he had been to them all. They had a good time anyway. In a dark corner they sat for the midnight performance of rhythm and blues. Wallis and Ernest scooted closer and closer to each other. They pretended the noisy music necessitated the intimacy. One night they found themselves kissing.
By the time spring officially arrived, they were taking leisurely day trips to soak up the Hudson River ambience. They took time, as they strolled through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, to kiss. Up the road a bit was the charming village of Wappingers Falls. The cascades were more like frothy rapids than actual falls, but that did not deter their stroll along the river bank.
“I know the most fascinating story of the Wappingers Indians and their role in the sale of Manhattan to the Dutch. Do you want to hear it?” Wallis asked.
“No.” Ernest took her into his arms and the fervent kiss took her breath away. When he finally pulled away from her lips, Ernest whispered, “I know you’re divorcing Win in Virginia. I want to divorce Dorothy. Then we can marry.”
Wallis was surprised. She was ahead of the agency’s schedule. Also, if she agreed to a future marriage, Ernest might pursue the possibility of premarital intercourse. She could not risk his being repulsed by her peculiar physical condition. If he were appalled after the wedding, it would make no difference because this wasn’t going to be a long-term relationship anyway.
“I don’t know. I think you’re wonderful but when I first met Win I thought he was wonderful too.”
“The difference between Win and me is that your unvarnished truth that you want a divorce would infuriate him. I, on the other hand, completely understand why you don’t to jump immediately into a romance with me.”
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. Herman asked his parents to make burlap bears for his brother and sister for Christmas. His sister was happy; his brother got mad, but he admitted he liked his bear.)
Life was happier for Herman now. He had Burly who had his parents, Pearly and Burly Senior. Tad seemed friendlier although he still was mean sometimes. However, the little burlap bear explained why Tad was upset so the hurt didn’t last long. Papa almost always was nice to him now, though Herman could tell this depressions thing continued to bother him. Callie was growing up to be as pretty as she was sweet. Mama was the same, except she seemed thinner and coughed a lot.
Even Herman was changing. At seven years old he began school. He wished he could have taken Burly with him, but his little bear assured him that it was all right.
“You better get used to it,” Burly warned him. “From now on, you’ll be going many places that I can’t. That doesn’t mean you don’t love me or I don’t love you. That will be just the way things will be.”
As always, Herman found that Burly was right. There were days at school, when the teacher asked him questions he didn’t know the answer to or when a bully named Marvin Berry picked on him that he wished he had Burly there to hug right away. Instead he just waited until he got home.
“I guess that’s part of growing up,” Herman said with a sigh one afternoon.
“That’s right,” Burly agreed.
Herman frowned. “It scares me.”
“What? Growing up?” Burly asked.
“Yes. There are so many things that I haven’t done that I’ll have to do. So many experiences. So many people.”
“Isn’t it exciting?” Burly said, trying to cheer Herman.
Herman moaned. “I guess.”
Just then Tad and Callie burst through the door and scrambled up the ladder to the loft.
“Guess what!” Tad squealed. “Toby’s coming to town!”
Herman wrinkled his brow. “Toby? Who’s Toby?”
“You dummy! Don’t you know who Harley Sadler is?” Tad said with a playful laugh in his voice.
Callie hit at him. “Don’t be nasty, Tad. Herman’s too young to remember the last time the show came through town.”
“A show?” Herman asked in awe.
“Yeah! A real funny show!” Tad exclaimed.
“Harley only brings his show this way every few years,” Callie explained, quite grown up. After all, she was ten years old now. “He mostly does his shows in West Texas.”
“I wish we lived in West Texas! Then we could see Toby every year,” Tad said with a sigh.
Herman was still confused. Scratching his head he asked, “But you call him Harley and Tad calls him Toby.”
“Dummy,” Tad muttered.
“Tad,” she reproved him. “Harley plays a character called Toby.”
“A funny cowboy who always outsmarts the bad guy,” Tad added.
“You were only three when he came to town last. Mama stayed home with you and papa took Tad and me.”
“I hope papa will take us this time,” Herman said, beginning to jump up and down.
“Oh sure,” Tad replied confidently. “Papa likes Toby too.”
That night around the dinner table Tad broke the news to his father who smiled broadly.
“So old Harley’s back in town,” he said. “Well, we’ll have to scrape up enough money to see him.” He reached over to squeeze his wife’s hand. “Do you remember when we were just courting, Opal? I took you to see Harley. Remember how between acts he came out and sang in a quartet and couldn’t remember the words?”
Herman tingled with happiness to hear his father laugh and giggle. He could swear papa’s eyes twinkled. His mother smiled, threw back her fragile head and laughed.
“Yes, and I remember how you almost got trampled trying to by a box of salt water taffy.”
Papa ducked his head. “Well, I was hoping to find the one with the diamond ring in it.” He touched the simple band on her left hand. “It would’ve been the only way I could get you one.”
She patted his cheek. “I like the ring I have just fine.”
“You mean they give away prizes?” Herman asked.
Tad elbowed him. “Of course they do. Don’t you know—“ He didn’t finish the sentence because his father cleared his throat ominously. “Yeah sure. You buy a box of candy and there’s tickets for all sorts of things.” Tad finished more politely than he had begun.
Papa returned to the business of eating. “Aw, I guess we can’t go this time, with three kids and all,” he muttered.
“I remember the last time some of the kids in town talking how they got free tickets for helping set up the chairs in the tent for Toby.”
“Harley,” Callie said.
“Don’t correct your brother,” mama lectured softly. She put her thin, pale hand to her mouth to cover a cough.
Papa looked at her and wrinkled his brow. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right, Opal?”
She shook off her cough, which emanated from her chest, and laughed. “Heavens, I’m as strong as a horse.”
“Papa? Did you hear? Free tickets. Callie and me and the kid there could set up chairs and get in free.”
“Huh? Oh. I guess. We’ll see. When will the show be in town?”
“Next Wednesday,” Tad replied. “The day after school lets out for the year, so we’ll be able to watch the tent go up in the morning, help with the chairs and get free tickets.”
Previously in the novel: Leon, a novice mercenary, is foiled in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury by a mysterious man in black. The man in black turns out to be David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Soon to join the world of espionage is Wallis Spencer, an up-and-coming Baltimore socialite. David and Wallis are foiled in their attempt to protect a socialite’s jewels.
Leon sat on the white sands of the Eleuthera beach watching little Sidney tentatively take his first steps towards him. His wife Jessamine jumped and clapped her hands. When Sidney reached him, Leon extended his arms to hug the boy on his success. The toddler waved his arms, turned slightly and kept moving.
“No! Walk more!”
Laughing, Leon rolled around to watch his son waddle past him. His smile faded as he saw a dark outline against the Bahamian sun. Pooka stood there, her arms folded and her head wagging.
“You’re a lucky man, Leon Johnson.”
“Yes, I know I am.”
“If you had stayed away another week you would have missed seeing your son take his first steps.”
“And if frogs had wings they wouldn’t bump their butts on the ground when they hopped.”
Pooka walked up, towering over him. “What exactly is it that you do, Leon Johnson?”
He rose his feet with the grace of a ballet dancer. “I thought you would know, being a high priestess of Obeah.”
Jessamine brushed by them on her way to intersect Sidney before his feet reached the water. “No, no. Wait for me!”
“You are fortunate Jessamine is such a good mother.” Pooka stared into Leon’s eyes. “But one day when you are not here she might not see evil coming his way.”
“Now why would you want to threaten me, Pooka? If you are a high priestess you must sense a strong aura of power around me.”
Raising her hands, Pooka demurred. “No, no. I am not threatening. I am offering my help. Obeah can keep your son safe.”
“I’m sure. If the price is right.” Leon smiled. “That is what you are saying, isn’t it, Pooka?”
She spat on the sand and stormed away as Jessamine walked up with Sidney in her arms.
“What did Pooka want?”
“Money.” Leon took the boy into his arms and walked back to the ocean spray. Wading into the water up to his waist, he held Sidney high over his head and jiggled him as he laughed. “We have nothing to fear, do we, my son?
This was the happiest time of his life, he decided. No matter how much money he might make through working for the organization, Leon was sure nothing could surpass the peace and satisfaction of this moment. His beautiful hacienda-style home was completely his. No one could ever take it away. He had the satisfaction of providing a secure comfortable old age for his mother. His wife was utterly devoted to him and walked with pride along the paths of their Bahamian paradise. And he was going to teach his son the way his father had taught him. All this was possible because of one trip to New York City and the Plaza Hotel.
It was so simple. The night before the American Labor Day Leon went to the Cotton Club where he caught an early evening show. In a display of sophistication, he leaned back in the chair in his fine linen suit, a cigarette between his fingers. The troupe of ebony dancers finished their act and dispersed around the room. One of them, a tall, buxom woman covered in white feathers, sat at his table, oozing seduction. “You look like a man who enjoys a good time,” she murmured, taking the cigarette and puffing on it.
“Always. If the price is right.”
“Ask for Abe in the custodial closet. His price is fifty dollars. Then go to the sixteenth floor. Suite 1601. First room on the right. Jewels in a large ornamental wooden box.”
She blew him a kiss as she sashayed away.
Leon took a cab downtown to the Plaza Hotel where he found and bribed custodian Abe for his work clothes, pass key, work cart and identification papers.
Shortly after sunset Labor Day Leon clocked in. The crowds which had gathered for the parade had dispersed. Most residents settled into their apartments for the night. Others donned their best apparel for dinner and partying. Leon with his cart of cleaning equipment took the service elevator up to the sixteen floor and room 1601.
By this time he had perfected a limp in his left leg, dragging his foot behind. His mouth twisted in a bizarre way which required Leon to wipe his lips every few minutes with a dirty handkerchief. Each hotel guest that passed him kept their eyes straight ahead.
“Yassa, you have a good evening, you hear?” Leon was quite proud of his American Negro accent, which he knew white Americans expected to hear.
All of them deliberately ignored him. Leon had become the invisible man. He lingered in the hallway, vigorously polishing the wooden floors. An older woman dressed as a nanny left the suite. When he flashed his toothy smile, she sighed deeply and quickened her step.
Leon used his service key to enter, paused to look around the large apartment. Complete darkness. Total silence. He assumed that his organization knew the occupants would be out for the evening. The children were fast asleep. Why else would have the nanny left? Going directly to the master bedroom, Leon dumped the jewelry box contents into a trash bag he had taken from the cart. He jogged down the stairs to the custodial locker room and changed into his street clothes. Emptying the jewels into a small, non-descript suitcase, Leon was out the basement door hailing a taxi in a matter of minutes. He directed the cabbie to a prominent hotel in Harlem. Once inside he checked in at the desk.
“Have there been any messages for John Doe in Room 312?” he asked the clerk.
Fifteen minutes later there was a knock at his door. When he opened it, Leon saw a black female hand thrust into the room. In it was a thick envelope. He took it and handed the suitcase off. She grabbed him by his neck, pulled him into her and kissed him.
“I’ve been wanting to do that since I saw you in the Cotton Club last night.” The dancer winked.
“I hope you liked it.”
“Oh, I did.” She kissed him again. “I liked that one too.”
Leon was on the midnight train to Miami. By mid-morning he climbed into a shuttle craft to Freeport. His usual boatman waved when he saw Leon and ran to take his suitcase. As the sun set he walked through the courtyard of his hacienda and exulted in the welcome from his wife, child and mother. He trotted upstairs to unpack as Jessamine and Dorothy finished preparing his supper. Only then did he open the envelope and count the money. Leon could not help but smile at the amount. He did not know who these people were, and he did not care. There was enough cash in the envelope to allow him to stay home to watch his son grow up without another assignment for at least a year.
Two weeks later, Leon carried little Sidney out the door for romp time on the seashore when he noticed his flower pot was askew again. Frowning, he cursed under his breath and looked inside. A small bag of tobacco blended in with the soil. He opened it and found a large blue sapphire wrapped by a note.
“Jessamine! Hurry along! We want to play!”
Leon smiled and stuck the tobacco bag deep in his pocket. That was why he was so joyous with his family on the shore. Now he could stay home for three years. He hugged Sidney close to him as he sloshed out of the surf.
“Sidney, my son, it is time I taught you about our warrior ancestors in Africa. We were defeated, but we always remained proud.”
(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. Herman asked his parents to make burlap bears for his brother and sister for Christmas. His sister was happy, but his brother got mad.)
After Tad and his father left, mother shook her head and sighed. “You other children go ahead to bed.”
Herman and Callie took their bears, climbed into the loft and got ready for bed.
“I really love my bear,” Callie whispered in the dark.
Herman had trouble holding back his tears. “Callie, honest, I didn’t suggest the bears to mama and papa just so they would say I’m wonderful. And I didn’t want a second bear for myself. Honest.”
“I know, Herman,” Callie said. “Good night.”
It sounded to Herman like Callie was about to cry. After a few minutes, when he was sure Callie wasn’t listening, he talked to Burly. “Why can’t Christmas be as nice as I wanted it to be?”
“The world isn’t perfect,” Herman replied. “Let’s just be happy for the things that do turn out right.”
“It was fun planning for the Christmas presents. And I liked getting a hug and kiss from Callie.”
“And I finally got my family,” Burly added.
“Yes, and I finally have my son,” a strange girl bear voice said.
“Who’s that?” Herman whispered.
“It’s me, Pearly Bear.” The voice came from across the room behind the curtain.
“Mama, is that you?” Burly asked excitedly.
“Yes, Callie just dropped a tear on my head and all of a sudden I was talking.”
“How did you know your name was Pearly?” Herman was curious.
“That’s what Callie called me just before she went off to sleep. Son, don’t you think someone should go downstairs for your father?”
Burly looked up at Herman. “Uh yes. I don’t want papa to spend Christmas Eve on the cold floor all alone.”
Herman sneaked to the edge of the loft so he could climb down the ladder to retrieve the other burlap bear when he heard papa and Tad come in the door. He pulled back so they wouldn’t see him.
“Why do you make me do things like this to you?” Papa pleaded with his older son who just hung his head sullenly. “Do you think I want to whip you?”
Tad didn’t look up. “Maybe,” he mumbled.
“Well, I don’t.” Papa paced some and breathed deeply. “Don’t you know I love you best of all?”
Tad looked up, his eyes wide in surprise. Herman felt a pang of something sad in his chest, and he was on the verge of crying.
Papa walked over to one of the straight back cane chairs and sat down. Herman could see he was bent over and on the verge of quivering all over, like he was very cold. Finally he looked up, and Herman saw papa had tears welling in his eyes.
“You’re my first born. You’re the first baby I ever held in my arms.“ He paused. “Look at yourself in the mirror. Don’t you see who you look like? You look like me.”
Again there was silence. Herman looked at Tad to see if he were about to speak, but he didn’t. He just shuffled his feet.
“I want the very best in the world for you. That means you have to be the very best you can be. And by God if I have to beat you ever day I’ll do it so you’ll be the best and have the best.”
They stared at each other a long time. Finally papa stood and walked straight to his room. Tad stood, staring at the bedroom door after papa shut it.
The silence was making Herman nervous. Tad turned, picked up papa bear and headed for the ladder. Herman scampered for his bed and pretended to be asleep. With his eyes squeezed shut, Herman waited for Tad to climb into the loft. He heard his brother’s steps as he moved across the rough floor. Suddenly Herman became aware that Tad was standing over him. Uh oh, Herman thought, maybe Tad heard him eavesdropping. Don’t let him get mad at me again tonight. Herman prayed desperately. But then he felt Tad’s hand gently touch his hair.
“Thank you for the bear, Herman.”
Herman didn’t move.
“I know you’re awake.”
Herman rolled over slowly and looked at his brother who cracked a small smile.
“He’s swell. I never had a bear before.”
Herman was afraid to say anything, but that was all right because Tad turned and went to his bed. In a few minutes he was between the covers, and Herman couldn’t believe what he heard. Tad was crying.
In a few minutes, when all was silent again, an odd mature bear voice whispered, “Pearly? Burly Junior?”
Herman jumped. Burly jiggled a bit himself.
“Papa, is that you?” Burly asked.
“I’m over here, dear,” Pearly whispered. “I’m so glad you’re with us. We’re a family at last.”
Burly put his burlap arms on Herman and squeezed. “Thank you Herman. Thank you for the most wonderful Christmas present of all.”
“Yes,” Pearly added, “thank you for my family.”
“I’m so happy to have my son,” Burly Senior said. “And he looks just like me!”
Herman looked sad. “Yes, I suppose even if you had other bear children, Burly would still be your favorite.”
“Of course,” Burly Senior replied. “Just as your first child will always be your favorite. But that doesn’t mean I won’t love the others. And you will love your other children.”
“Don’t be jealous, Herman,” Pearly said. “Your father loves you.”
“I already told him that,” Burly said.
“And you’re right. Always listen to Burly, Herman,” Pearly added.
Herman forgot the pang in his heart, smiled and hugged Burly tight.
“Merry Christmas, Burly.”