Strange And Strangers

July 3, 1896
Edith Bowen

“Have you seen Ms. Maple?” I asked Charles.

He ignored me for a moment waiting in the doorway, whilst he continued to peruse his music sheets. When he finally looked up, his expression could best be described as annoyance, although at what I cannot fathom.

“What was it you wanted?” He asked.

“Have you seen Ms. Maple?” I repeated my question.

“Of course, I have. I have seen Ms. Maple many times in many places.”

I fought a sigh of frustration and nearly lost.

“Have you seen her today?” I clarified.

“Ah so your question was not as direct as it could have been?”

Charles can be quite charming, when he desires to be, but he also has a knack for aggravation.

“Yes, it could have been, but the inference of the question in regards to a person of unquestioned familiarity is commonly understood.”

“As you know by now, I am not common, Miss Bowen.”

“Yes, sir. If you could answer the question, it is important I locate her.”

“I have not seen her today. Have you looked in her classroom?”

“Yes, sir. I checked there first.”

“And then immediately assumed she would be with me?”

“No, sir. In fact, I have asked everyone else in the hall. No one seems to know where she is.”

“No one?”

“No one.”

“It is likely, Ms. Maple knows where she is.”

“One would hope so.”

Charles had a chuckle at my expense I am sure. I cannot imagine what was so funny to him, unless he simply enjoyed tormenting me.

“Have you checked her apartment?” Charles asked.

“No, sir. I am not familiar with its location.”

“I find that odd.”

“It is not common for students to be aware of the residences of teachers.”

“You are a member of the faculty as well as a student. It stands to reason exception shall be made. Certainly, you are aware of my address.”

“Yes, sir. I am your assistant though, not Ms. Maple’s.”

“Excellent point. Why are you looking for Ms. Maple.”

“I crossed paths with Dean Steadward on my way here this morning. He asked me to pass along a message for her to meet with him this afternoon.”

“Perhaps she is with him all ready?”

“It is a possibility but how would she have known to go see him and why would she have gone without first arriving here?”

“All good questions.”

“I will continue my search.”

“I will come with you. Let us check her apartment.”

What would motivate Charles to join in my search eludes me. Nonetheless, I felt a little more at ease with his presence. Before I crossed paths with Dean Steadward, I had crossed paths with three unsavory looking men on horseback. They paid little attention to me other than to tip their hats and wish me good morning, and I suppose in that way they were at least gentlemanly. Still, there was something about them which stood the hairs on the back of my neck at attention. Maybe it was the cold eyes or the way their smiles seemed to have nothing to do with happiness, either way they left me feeling uncomfortable.

Charles and I walked a short distance from Primrose Hall to what was Ms. Maples apartment. Charles knocked on the door and we waited patiently for a minute before he knocked a second time and called out for her. I had no idea her name was Pollyanna! Fortunately, I do not think it likely I will slip and call her that anytime soon.

There was no answer and after a few moments, Charles tried the door and it swung open. The room beyond looked to be turned upside down. The furniture was all turned over, there were books strewn across the floor and a broken lamp in the middle. The rug was half torn and folded up like a tent.

We stepped inside and shared a look which said it was unlikely Ms. Maple lived this way. Mine also said, I am scared, but I am not certain Charles noticed. The kitchen and bedroom were in no better shape than the main room. There was nothing left in Ms. Maple’s cupboards and her clothing litter the floor, while her bed stood on its side against a wall.

“I think we should leave.” I said.

“I think you’re right.” A southern voice said from behind us.

Charles and I spun around to face the man. He was tall and his face seemed to be in a permanent shadow with a big hat on his head. He wore a light gray suit, white shirt, and black bowtie. His shoes did not match the rest of his polished look, they were dusty and scuffed.

“Who are you?” Charles asked.

“Who I am is not important. When did you last see Pollyanna Maple?” The man asked.

“Not recently enough.” Charles answered.

The man shook his head and turned around to leave.

“Is she in some kind of trouble?” I asked.

“It’s best if the two of you stay out of it.” He said and walked out.

Charles and I followed but by the time we got to the door the man was no longer visible.

“Where did he go?” I asked.

“Does it matter?” Charles replied.

“I suppose not. We better tell the sheriff about this.”

“Yes, have Mr. Carrington send for him.”

“Yes, sir.”

We walked down to the street together and as I turned to head toward Carrington manor the smell of manure caught my attention. I looked in the street and saw it, three piles of it to be exact. Instantly I thought of the men I had seen earlier.

“Charles.” I said.

He turned to me with a puzzled look on his face. I pointed to the manure in the street. It was still steaming.

“What about it, Edith?” He asked putting emphasis on my name.

“It’s fresh. I saw three men riding in this morning on my way to Primrose Hall.”

“I see. Hurry to Carrington Manor, perhaps they are still close.”

“What did they look like?” The stranger was back.

I looked at him and then at Charles.

“Why should I tell you?” I asked the man.

“Because time is short and by the looks of it they all ready have a half hour start on me.”

I described the three unsavory men in as much detail as I could recall. It’s hard to tell colors when there is a thick layer of dirt all over but I did my best including the blue jeans the leader was wearing. The man nodded when I finished but instead of thanking me, he whistled.

A moment later a black horse trotted up and the man mounted him in a smooth motion. They rode off down the street at a full gallop, leaving Charles and I to cough in the dust.

“Carrington Manor.” Charles said to me when the air cleared enough to speak.

“Right.” I replied.

I started to walk toward the manor and after a moment, with my lungs gathering fresh air again, I began to run.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Ashley, interesting!!!
Warm hugs,