Untitled Southern Gothic Novel: Chapter Two
When Evelyn Smith was called into town, she was less than pleased. It was never anything good that brought her there, only urgent matters requiring her to make decisions she was usually not prepared to make.
If her husband were in better shape, he would be the one to manage these types of things, but as it stood, she was the most capable. For Evelyn, going into town meant she had to look her best. Her status left her vulnerable to harsh criticism, and as such, she had to keep up appearances.
She picked out one of her finer dresses that she had purchased on a rare trip to New York, and her finest set of earrings. She quickly scrawled a note to leave for her guest that was set to arrive (another reason she wasn’t happy to go to town) and made her way downstairs. Her cook, Florence was cleaning up from breakfast.
“Florence,” she said. “I’d like you to come to town with me. As soon as the kitchen is presentable, can you please put on a dress and come to the car?” Florence was surprised, but delighted. It meant she could stop at the grocery and pick up a few necessities for dinner.
“Sure thing, ma’am.”
Evelyn walked to the front door, opened it, and folded the note and slipped it underneath the small space between the knocker and the wood. She could only hope that the note would be spotted. In her small clutch was a cigarette case, silver and plated with mother of pearl. She pulled out a cigarette, placed it into a filter, and lit it. She wished she could sit down, but she didn’t want to crease her dress. Instead, she fidgeted nervously and ashed her cigarette compulsively.
Oddly enough, it was her accountant she had received a message from. Finances were not something she thought frequently about. She never had to. She appreciated the discretion of her accountant not to go into detail in his message about whatever it was that concerned him, but it did not cause her to fret any less. When her cigarette had burned down to the filter, she went out back to the servant’s quarters to fetch the driver, Stuart. He did double-duty as their gardener, and was out back trimming down some bushes.
“Stuart!” she called. “I’m glad you’re out and about. Would you mind getting dressed? I have to go to town.”
“Sure thing, Mrs. Smith. I’ll be ready in no time.”
“Thank you.” Evelyn walked back to the front of the house, reached into her bag, and drew another cigarette. Typically, her first, and second, cigarette didn’t come until much later in the day, but she found herself needing to distract herself with an activity. If only her guest had arrived the day before, and she could occupy herself with some mindless chatter.
Soon enough, Florence opened the door and sidled up next to her.
“Are you okay, ma’am?” she asked.
“Oh, yes. Just a touch nervous, is all. Not sure why.”
“And how is Mr. Smith? I haven’t seen him in a couple of days.”
“Oh, he’s fine. You know how he gets. One of his creative bouts.”
Florence merely nodded in response. A roar of a car engine slowly became louder, and within moments, the car was idling in front of them.
“Shall we?” asked Evelyn. Florence walked over to the car and opened the rear door, and Evelyn got inside. She then opened the passenger door, stepped inside, and slammed the door. Then, the only sound at the Winthorpe Estate was the echo of the roaring engine as it sped away, and the buzz of the insects as they relished in the last bits of summer.
“I have to say, Mr. Somerville, when I received your message I started to really worry,” Evelyn Smith said, working away the last remnants of her nervous energy by quietly scratching her nails together.
“Well, I’m sorry I couldn’t have been more detailed,” Mr. Somerville responded. “I know how you and Mr. Smith keep to a certain level of privacy.” He was a man of no less than eighty, though he wore his age well. He mostly had trouble hearing, though at times it seemed like a selective hearing issue more than a physical malady. “It seems as though one of your accounts has… dwindled recently. It caught my attention, and as your accountant, I wanted to make sure that this is something that you, both of you, were aware of.”
“Yes, well, I appreciate it. Which account is it?”
“It is the chequing account. Obviously, there is much less concern than if it were a savings account or trust, however the rate at which the balance decreased so rapidly caused me to flag it. Are you and Mr. Smith continuing work on the house?”
“There’s always a new project popping up here and there. You know, it is a much older home.”
“Of course. Well, here is a copy of the most recent transactions and a balance statement. This is something you could have retrieved from the bank but I figured you might appreciate it coming from me.”
“Thank you. Again.” Evelyn took the envelope and shook Mr. Somerville’s hand.
“If you need any help opening an account that has a little more protection, I can help you.”
“Thank you. I don’t think that will be necessary.” Evelyn stood up. “Yet.” She then made her way out of the office, and once she was outside, began to breathe again.
Evelyn turned around in surprise. “Oh, Florence, you scared me.”
“I’m sorry. I have some groceries waiting in the car. Are you ready to head back to the house?”
“Not yet, I don’t think. Go on and head back, unpack, and then after an hour or so, send the car for me.” She paused. “Florence?”
“Would you mind coming back with the car?”
“Of course, ma’am. Is everything all right?”
“Yes, there are just a few things I need to tend to. Now, go quickly to make sure the groceries don’t spoil.” Florence nodded, and turned away. Evelyn waited until she watched Florence get into the car and began driving back toward the house. She then turned on her heel and headed back into Mr. Somerville’s office.
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