How One Sees – Chapter 20

Chapter 20

After four weeks of careful preparation, they went to the Mayor of Chicago’s soiree.  Things had went well, as they successfully played the part of the Matheson’s, a couple very much in love. After the celebration, they went at McClure’s home that he owned in Chicago.  Their plan had been to enjoy the party in its entirety while gaining information.  After which, they would discuss what information each of them had gathered.  Having done these things, they were now creating a plan that had to be executed within a few hours time.

They would have to steal the letter a few days sooner than they had originally planned.  While Matheson had discovered the whereabouts of the letter containing the assassination plot, Shae had found out from the mayor’s wife that she had overheard her husband talking to a strange man about “doing the deed” the next day.  Over the past couple of weeks, Shae had gained the confidence of the Mayor’s wife, at dinners, tea and balls, all throughout Chicago.  Mrs. Mayor believed that her husband was filing for divorce, and that she would find out by tomorrow morning that he was planning on doing away with her.  Shae saw it for what it was, a date and time for the Senator’s possible assassination.  With their help, hopefully the Mayor would get exposed for his deeds and a man’s life could be saved.

“This is a most undesirable circumstance,” growled McClure.

Matheson nodded his assent, while Shae stayed silent.  She was by far the least experienced of the spies there.  She’d let them work out the plan.  The men discussed for about 30 minutes and came up with a good, sensible one.  However, Shae felt that something was off.

“Doesn’t this seem too easy?” she asked.

The men looked at her, as if they had forgotten she was there. In truth, they had. At least, McClure had the sense to blush.  Not so, Matheson.

“What do you mean?” Rand inquired.

“Everything fell into place so easily,” she said.  “It doesn’t seem right.”

“Well, we’ve been infiltrating the political scene here for years, just in case this situation arose.  The seeming ease is just the result of meticulous planning. Are you seeing any holes?” McClure asked her.

“No, I’m not seeing any, but something doesn’t feel right.”

McClure patted her on the shoulder.

“There, there.  It’s just your first big mission.  It’s just the nerves getting to you.”

Shae wasn’t completely convinced, but being rather green in spywork, she let the subject drop.  McClure then laid out the plan.  Shae, dressed in menswear for ease of movement, along with Matheson would sneak into the study window, that McClure had went in and unlocked earlier that evening at the party.  Then while Matheson was on watch, Shae would unlock the drawer that held the incriminating letter.  McClure would be waiting a block down with horses for them to escape with.  They would each go separate ways down the streets of Chicago, looping around until Shae and Matheson reached McClure’s home.  McClure would be along later, because the letter needed to be sent to the authorities immediately.

“It is too dangerous for Shae to go inside the house,” Matheson argued. “She did her part by garnering information from the Mayor’s wife. Why does she need to do more?  Surely, you and I could do it ourselves.”

“True, we could, but neither of us can pick a lock as quickly as your wife.  She has picked every training lock, and otherwise, that I brought to her.  And once she got the hang of it, she could do it thrice as fast as anyone I’ve seen.”

Shae felt herself blushing from the compliments.  Matheson looked skeptical about her involvement still.

“Matheson,” McClure demanded, “you know that time is of the utmost. Every second counts.”

With that, Matheson reluctantly acquiesced.  And they went to ready themselves.

They got into the Mayor’s home with ease.  Matheson kept a look-out by the door, while Shae went to work picking the lock.  It was harder this time, because her gut kept telling her that they were in danger.  This was the first mission she felt that way.  Trying to concentrate, she picked the lock on the desk drawer.  It was a fairly easy one, but once she opened the drawer, she found it empty.  She felt under the drawer, but there was nothing there.  It seems that her husband had been given false information.

She looked at him, and shook her head.  Matheson began to feel uneasy himself.  Shae started going through the other drawers, but once again didn’t find the letter.  As her eyes were looking around the room for possible hiding places, they heard strident steps coming down the hall towards the study.  Matheson jerked his head towards the window, telling her by the gesture to get out.  As she was starting to, she noticed a box on a table with a particularly complicated lock.  She froze, and Matheson ran into her.

“We need to go,” he whispered sternly.

“It’s in that box,” she countered.  “I know it.”

“We don’t have time, Wren.”

“We have to complete the mission,” she insisted.

“There will be other chances,” he said nudging her towards the window.

The steps in the hallways were growing louder and closer.  Shae grabbed the box, and tucked it under her arm.

“I’ll unlock it at Dragon’s.”     

She made it through the window easily, but as Matheson was getting out the window a shot rang out from behind them.

“Hurry!” Matheson growled.

With that they forgot about stealth and ran as fast as they could towards the meeting point, where McClure was waiting.  Two more shots rang out from behind them.  One landed near her feet, and the other made a dull noise, as her husband growled out in pain.

“You’ve been shot,” she said running back to him.

“Get out of here, Wren,” he demanded.

Then he shot the man who was climbing out of the study window.  The man cried out and fell to the ground.  Turning back to Matheson, Shae saw how pale he was even in the moonlight.  She put her arm around his waist to help him to where McClure was waiting.

“Woman, get out of here.”

“Never.  I’ll help you.  Let’s go.”

Grunting, Matheson got to his feet, and they stumbled their way down the block.  Fifty yards away, McClure saw them, and ran to them.

“What happened?”

“Wolf was given false information.  The letter wasn’t where the informant said it was.  Wolf was shot by a co-conspirator who had been waiting for us.  I’m not sure why he wasn’t waiting in the study.  If that had been the case, I’m not sure what would have happened.”

McClure wrapped his arm around the other side of Matheson’s waist and helped Shae hold up her husband.  They were almost to the horses.

“You are a great beast of a man, Wolf.  Don’t pass out on me. I don’t want to carry you.”

“I won’t,” said Matheson, weakly.

“There is a change of plans.  Wren, you go your planned route.  I’ll have to ride with Wolf, to make sure he doesn’t pass out on the way back.  It’s riskier, but it has to be done.”

McClure grunted as he pushed Matheson onto his horse.   Then he helped Shae up.

“Stay safe,” he told her, as he smacked her horse on the rump.

The last sight she saw when she looked back was McClure alighting his horse, and Matheson barely sitting up, slumped over the saddle. She dug into her horses flanks with the box tucked under her arm.  It was because of her insistence on finding the evidence that Matheson was shot.  She had to make something of that mistake.  She had to get the box safely to McClure’s.

When she got to McClure’s stables, she asked the stable hand whether the men had returned.

“No, Ma’am.  You’re the first to arrive.”

Shae ran inside and informed the butler of the circumstances.  He paled, but nodded.

“I’ll summon the doctor.  Clyde, the stablehand, will help the men in.”

As he rushed off, Shae walked briskly to the study, where McClure kept special tools for cracking difficult locks.  This one was probably the most complicated that Shae had seen.  A hairpin wouldn’t do.  She’d been working on it for ten minutes when there was a commotion at the door.  McClure and Matheson must be back.

She stopped what she was doing and ran to the hallway.  McClure and Clyde were holding up Matheson, who was barely conscious, and very pale.  There was blood all over him which came from a bullet wound in his left shoulder near his heart. It took every bit of Shae’s fortitude to not cry out.  She looked at McClure.

“Yes, it’s bad,” he said, not sparing the truth. “He is lucky that it came out the other side.  He’s lost a lot of blood though, and it was very close to his heart.”

“What should I do?”

“Have you ever dressed a bullet wound?”

“No,” she admitted.

“Then leave it to me.  It’s a shame that he was shot for nothing. I wonder who tipped them off to us.”

“No!”, Shae exclaimed.  “It wasn’t for nothing, perhaps.  I grabbed a box that might contain the letter.  It’s a complicated lock, and the letter might be in there.”

McClure breathed out a sigh of relief.

“Well, there’s that.  Let’s hope the evidence is in there.”

“I’ll go work on the lock.”

She walked up to her husband.  She touched his face with her hand.  It was cold and clammy to the touch.

“Don’t die, Rand,” she whispered.

He looked at her with eyes that were dull, and barely coherent.

“Highly unlikely, Little Wren,” he ground out from clenched teeth.

Then they took him up the stairs to his room.  Shae made her way back to the study to work on the wooden box.  She supposed that she could just shoot the blasted thing, but she would give herself 10 more minutes to figure it out before doing so.  It was too good of a learning experience, plus McClure couldn’t go deliver the contents until the doctor arrived.

Five minutes into it, Shae heard a satisfying click and the lid cracked open slightly.  With a happy chirrup concerning her success, she started looking at the contents.  A huge smile spread all over her face, while she perused.  She read it over and over for twenty minutes.  It looked like the box not only contained the one incriminating letter, but several of them, with more names of men who were co-conspirators in the plot.  McClure would know for sure.  He happened to make his way into the room right then.

“You got it open!” he blurted, relieved. “And the contents?”

“First, how is Matheson?”

“The doctor thinks that he’ll pull through.  He lost a lot of blood, but not enough to snuff him out.  He did say if the bullet was a half an inch closer to his heart, he would have died almost immediately.  Rand is very lucky in that regards, but still has a lot of recovering to do.  He needs to rest in bed for a few days.  He’s never followed the doctor’s orders before now, so I doubt that will happen.  I fear he needs to though this time, with as much blood as he lost.”

“I feel it is my fault.  I should have left when Matheson wanted me to.”

“We are all at fault in someway.  I should have seen that we’d been found out.  My work in Chicago is ruined.  And worst of all, my best friend almost died, leaving you a widow. I should have listened to your gut instinct tonight.  Women have intuition in spades.  Well, what have you found out? Tell me, and then make your way to your husband.  Maybe you’ll be able to keep the beast in his rest bed.”

Shae told him her findings.  After rifling through the stack of letters, McClure smiled hugely.  He put down the letters, grabbed her shoulders and gave her a resounding kiss on the forehead.

“The smartest thing Matheson’s ever done was marry you. Not only did we find the plot and more names, but also more plots against political leaders throughout the state of Illinois.”

Shae expressed her relief.  McClure headed to the authorities he had been working with.  She made her way upstairs to the bedroom where her husband lay.  McClure was right, he was a beast of a man.  Broad-shouldered, thick-chested, and well-muscled, she took him in, along with the tell-tale bandage of his near miss with death.  He was sleeping.

She got a stuffed chair and placed it beside the bed.  It gave her time to contemplate her feelings for Matheson.  How deeply did she feel for him?  She really didn’t believe that she was in love with him.  She loved him, like a friend, at least.  She thought he was attractive, but was sensible enough to understand that attraction and love were very different things.  She definitely didn’t want him to die.  When he wasn’t putting up walls or running away, he made a personable companion.  She admired him more than any other man she had met.  However, she didn’t love him. She didn’t think she did anyway, but she didn’t really know what love looked or felt like.

Things were complicated.  She just wasn’t sure if they could erase the pain of Lucy’s death, as well as Claire’s.  Could she trust him after he abandoned her for six months while she was grieving for Lucy?  She forgave him, but she wasn’t sure that she could trust him. She felt betrayed still. Pondering these things she fell asleep.

How One Looks – Chapter 19

Chapter 19

Shae looked in disbelief as Neva Langley trounced into her sitting room on Thanksgiving Day.  She was followed by Aunt Martha and Beatrice.  The latter gave her an apologetic look.  Shae nodded at her understanding. The former carried the air of a queen as she found a place to sit, demanding to know where her nephew was.

“I’ll have Canton get him.”

Shae also asked Canton to inform everyone that there was a 5th place setting to be put at the table.  He bowed and did her bidding.

“What time is the meal?  I don’t want to be stuck here for an ungodly amount of time,” Aunt Martha complained.

“It will be ready shortly.”

Within a few minutes, Matheson joined them.  The asked him many questions about his trip to New York.  His cousin asked him if he heard many symphonies while there.  (No, he was working.)  His aunt asked him if he had gotten into any trouble while he was there.  (No, he was too busy working.)  Neva had the audacity to ask him why a newlywed husband would deign to leave his wife for six months. (Why would any properly-brought up lady deign to ask such a question?) His wife asked him nothing, and said nothing.

“Pardon me,” Canton interrupted. “The meal is now ready.”

They made their way to the dining room, and were starting to sit down to eat when a knock sounded on the front door.  The Matheson’s looked at each other.

“Surely, he doesn’t have the audacity to show up after yesterday’s debacle,” she whispered to Matheson under her breath.

“Trust me, he does,” he muttered.

Sure enough, John McClure, complete with one ugly specimen of a black eye strode through the door.  Beatrice gasped.  Neva clucked her tongue.  The rest looked on in annoyance. Shae and Matheson for obvious reasons.  Aunt Martha, just because she didn’t like him.  Did she really like anyone, besides Rand?

“Shall I set a place for 6?” Canton asked.

“Yes, please, Canton,” Shae replied.  “Thank you.”

Once it was all set up, they thanked God for their bounty, and began eating.  Neva flirted first with Rand, and then with McClure in order to get a reaction from Rand. Neither worked, so she turned to Beatrice to talk, but found that Beatrice was talking to Shae about music, of all things. She resorted to talking to Aunt Martha, who had little tolerance for Neva’s silly games. Finally bored to distraction, she asked McClure where he got his black eye.

“I bet he got it from a tiny slip of a woman,”  suggested Matheson.

“No!” Neva gasped. “Surely not.”

“Actually, yes,” McClure admitted.

“And,” Matheson added, “I bet that she also beat him on the back with her reticule.”

“Yes,” McClure affirmed, as he put a bite of mashed potatoes in his mouth.

“This is too much!” exclaimed Neva, loudly laughing in Aunt Martha’s ear.

“It certainly is,” commented Aunt Martha, dryly.

“And to finish off her routing of you, I bet that she even pulled your beard!”

“Surely not!” Beatrice interjected, catching on, glancing at Shae.

McClure wiped his mouth with his napkin, then he stroked his beard. He winked at Shae.

“That she did.  That she did.”

It was Shae’s time to interject now.

“Actually, I bet she finished it off with a resounding kick in the shin, wouldn’t you say?”

Shae started giggling when Matheson gave her a side glance. With this John McClure’s boisterous laugh resounded in the dining room.  Soon everyone joined in, except Aunt Martha. She didn’t get the joke.  Neva didn’t either, thinking it to be a wild hare, but she was pretending to.  Besides, it was hard not to laugh when McClure was in a full-out howl, tears running down his cheeks.  One had to be a very dour individual to not be effected by it. 

“Actually she did, but thankfully that kick wasn’t for me.  I quite despise kicks on the shin.  I’d much rather have a good story with my black eye.  With a shin bruise, you can’t show off your trophy.”

And with that all of them, but Aunt Martha, started laughing again.  When the peals of laughter died down, Aunt Martha piped up.

“Really, John.  Your laugh has always been terribly indecent.”

Neva nervously tittered, until Aunt Martha glared at her.  However, if you were trying to look for it, you would have seen her give John McClure a little wink.  He was looking, and he bet that when she was getting ready to lay down in bed that night, she’d have a few private chuckles about the whole thing.  And he was right.

Later on that evening, when Aunt Martha, Beatrice and Neva were engrossed in a game of cards, McClure joined the Mathesons in the study.  He wanted to apologize for his back-handed ways.  They got the results he wanted, but at the expense of his friends’ feelings.

He told them so and they accepted his apology.  They saw his intent in the end was to save their marriage.

“My biggest concern is that you won’t be able to convince anyone of your undying affection for each other,”  McClure said.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell Shae.”

“Who’s fault is that, you lout?” countered his friend, “I warned you that your meager scribbles and lack of attention would destroy your camaraderie.”

Shae looked down at her hands.  Rand saw once again, how foolish he had been.

“I don’t know how to fix it,” he admitted.

McClure rolled his eyes. He got up, and grabbed one of each of their hands.

“We will be at a ball.  Let’s start with that. Pretend you are there and dancing a polka.”

They began to dance.  He threw out few other dances, all of which were difficult to do without music. Finally, called out the waltz.

“Stop,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Can’t you get closer to each other?”

At first, they just stared at McClure, but then they obliged and stepped closer.

“Closer still. I want to believe that you want to be near each other.  Shae your face is about alive as that of a dead fish.”

She glared at McClure.  Then Rand pulled her as close as he did that one evening at the ball, nearly a year ago.

“Look at me,” he told her. “Otherwise you’ll get dizzy.”

“Now waltz,” barked McClure.

McClure was so bossy that she wanted to pull his beard again.

“What’s that fierce look for?”

“MCCLURE.”

Her eyes snapped.  He laughed, and it rumbled through her body.  His charisma was getting to her again.

“Stop. Stop. Better, but still not enough,” conceded McClure.

He strolled across the room looking at the pictures on the wall, as they caught their breaths. As he was perusing, he found a small closet built into the wall.

“What’s this here? A wee closet?”

“That’s exactly what it is, McClure,” Matheson replied.

McClure seemed perplexed by something he found in there.

“I say, Shae.  Did you know this was in here?”

He was pointing at the something high on the shelf. Shae went over to see what he was talking about.  Shae tried to see, but she was too short.

“Your wife is too short, to see what I’m seeing, Rand.  Come have a look yourself.”

Matheson sighed, but obliged.  His friend stepped out of the way so he could get a better look.  At about the time he was going to ask what he was supposed to be looking for, McClure pushed him into the closet with Shae and locked the door.

“McCluurrrrrrrre,” he growled.

Shae felt his rumbling through her whole body.  It was a very small closet, which made very close quarters. She was afraid of small spaces, and their situation made her uncomfortable, so she wiggled around, which made her husband uncomfortable.

“Hold still, Shae.”

“Then stop growling.”

“McClure, what are you up to?”

No answer.

“You know he is up to something,” Shae said.  “I can’t say “no good”, because somehow, no matter how hare-brained his ideas seem, his shenanigans end up doing some sort of good. What do you think his purpose is?”

“Can’t you guess, Wife?” he asked, his breath tickling her ear.

“I have some ideas as to why.  Maybe I can unlock the door?”

“It locks from the outside only.”

“Hmm.”

She looked up at him.

“How have you stayed friends with him for so long?”

“He has his good qualities. Plus, he is usually right, even if his methods are a bit unorthodox.”

“A bit?” she huffed. “He’s locked us together in a tiny supply closet in our own home. How did he get the key for this closet anyway?”

“He always has his ways.”

“We’re going to have to get back at him someday for this,” Shae suggested.

“I agree wholeheartedly.  Shake on it?”

Clumsily, they figured out a way to shake hands.  Shae was nestled between his two arms, which were propped on a shelf behind her.

“I can’t believe we were daft enough to fall for the one of the oldest tricks in the book.”

They laughed softly, until they heard the sound of Neva’s voice.

“Where could have they gone?” she asked. 

“I saw them whispering to each other, looking like they wanted some privacy.”

Rand sighed and hung his head. Shae stifled a giggle.

“Surely you don’t believe that they are a love match, Mr. McClure?”

“Don’t you?”

“A man gone away for 6 months, apart from the love of his life?  I don’t believe it.”

“You don’t need believe it, Neva.  It’s none of your business.”

His voice sounded right outside the door. They could hear the scratch of the key in the lock.

“What do we do?” Shae frantically asked Matheson.

He looked at her for a split second, then he mussed his hair. The door lock clicked.  He ran his big hands through her hair, taking out a few pins. She pushed at his chest.

“What did you do that for?” she whispered, rather loudly.

They heard McClure start to chuckle, but cover it up by clearing his throat.

“You just have to accept it,” McClure said to Neva as he went to sit in a chair.

Quick as can be, Rand’s arms went around Shae like vices, one on her waist and the other in her hair.  Then his mouth came down on hers, so warm.  At first she was stiff with shock, then she realized that she rather liked it. She felt safe in his arms.  Plus, he smelled good. She put his arms around his neck, and sighed, melting into him.  Matheson seemed to hold her tighter when he heard it.  It was at that moment that the closet door slowly swung open to reveal the Mr. and Mrs. Matheson in a passionate kiss.

They stopped abruptly at the sound of Neva’s gasp.  She was shocked at the sight of them, and in a deep way, because Rand looked quite satisfied with himself stepping out of the closet, leading Shae bwho followed him looking rather blissful.  True to McClure, when he looked at Neva he looked shocked, but when he looked at the Matheson’s, he smiled and winked. He turned back and forth a couple of times, changing his face appropriately, making Shae giggle.  Luckily, she just seemed to be embarrassed at being caught kissing her husband in a supply closet.

McClure had done it again.  With his preposterous schemes he managed to fix a bad situation.  Neva spent the next week at afternoon teas, telling the community what she had seen in happening in the Matheson’s closet.

As for the Matheson’s, as they were retiring for the night, they climbed the stairs together.

“I’m sorry if I startled you with that kiss in the closet.  As soon as I heard Neva and McClure talking, I knew what he was about. We didn’t have much time.”

“It was shocking at first, much like the kiss under the mistletoe.  But I thought the kiss was actually quite nice.”

And with that she went into her room.  She thought she might have heard Matheson growl “me too”.

How One Looks – Chapter 18

Chapter 18

In Davies, Shae was making preparations for a Thanksgiving feast. They were to have roast duck with all the trimmings.  Aunt Martha had agreed to come, since Matheson was to be back.  Shae had kindly asked that she not bring any of her friends.  It was to be a family dinner only, with just Matheson, Aunt Martha, Beatrice and herself.  Beatrice smiled knowingly at her, and agreed.

“Mr. McClure won’t be coming?” she had asked Shae.

“No, I need a break from Loudmouth McClure.”

Beatrice had blushed and giggled at that.

Now it was the day before Thanksgiving, and Matheson was due on the evening train.  Shae was a bundle of nerves.  She wasn’t sure how Matheson was going to respond to the news that she was performing piano in public, for money. She tried to get her mind off of the situation many times, but it keep taunting her.

She finally got some reprieve from her torturous thoughts when someone anonymously sent a book from the bookstore to their mansion.  At first she was confused, but then realize the book contained a message to decipher. Once she cracked the code, she saw that she was required to have a new partner to work with for the next mission.  The new partner’s code name was Wolf, and Wren was to meet Dragon, (McClure,)  at his office at precisely 2 o’clock to meet him for the first time.  This was urgent and she couldn’t miss the appointment.

It was nearly 2 o’clock, and Dragon and Wolf had been conversing for 30 minutes in his office, catching up on their cases, when Dragon mentioned to Wolf that there was a new detective at the agency that he’d been working with.

“I’ve been impressed with the new agent. Learns quickly.  Follows instructions, unlike you.”

Wolf glared at Dragon.

“Sometimes instructions are required to be broken.  The means justifies the end,” snarled Wolf.

“Spoken like a gentlemen,” said Dragon, devilishly.

Wolf merely grunted at him from his chair. He was a large and brooding man.

“The new agent has helped solve several cases in a very short amount of time, weeks actually. How long did that take you? A year. You are about to lose your position as the alpha dog, I think.”

“Your puns are always ludicrous.  Has anyone told you how daft they make you sound?” Wolf retorted.

“You actually are to be put on the new assignment with this new agent.”

“Hold it right there. I have to break in someone this green, with mere weeks of experience, on such an important case?”

Wolf was aghast, and mumbled about the wisdom of such an order.  His brow furrowed in anger and thought. Dragon only grinned ridiculously, and checked his watch for the umpteenth time.

“Why do you keep on checking the time?” Wolf demanded, a bad feeling developing in the pit of his stomach.

“Because you are about to meet this new agent.”

Wolf groaned, as a knock sounded on the door.  Dragon walked over to answer it.  His secretary whispered through the crack to Dragon, the news of the agent’s arrival.

“Ah, yes. There she is now.  I’ll bring her in,” he said shutting the door behind him.

“A WOMAN!” Wolf growled, as he stalked over to the fireplace, wondering if this should be his last case.  Perhaps he should even turn down this one and retire.  He’d been at this for 15 years now. Gazing into the fire, he waited for the new agent’s arrival.

Dragon met Wren at the lobby of the offices.  He walked her back to his offices.

“Hello,” he said, offering his arm, “I apologize for this intrusion of your time, but this meeting just cannot happen at any other time. You may talk of agency work.  This is a safe environment.”

“Quite alright.  Do tell me about my new partner. Wolf?”

“Yes, he’s a veteran agent.  He’s brilliant, and one of our best.”

“Are you sure that I should be partnered with Wolf?”

“Oh, very sure. He’s very much looking forward to meeting you.”

He said this as they reached the door to his office.

“Really?” she whispered.

Something didn’t seem right with this situation.  She stared at McClure, speculatively, as he opened the door.

“Wolf, meet Wren, our most promising new agent,” he said, gleefully swinging the door wide.

Wren walked a few steps into the room before she halted in her steps and gasped.  The man at the fireplace swung around, and looked angrily from Wren to his superior.  Dragon, the head of the agency in their area, swaggered in and shut the door.  He rocked back and forth on his heels, his thumbs in the pockets of his vest, way too pleased with himself.  He even started whistling a tune, quietly.

Wren dropped her reticule, but didn’t even notice.  Wolf’s hands were clenching and unclenching at his sides, his breathing loud and angry.  He was glaring at Dragon with a look that promised retribution.

“McCluurrrrrrrreeee!” he ground out.

It sounded more like the rumble of thunder than Dragon’s actual name.

Wren looked back and forth between the men, showing fear when she looked at Wolf and betrayal when she looked at Dragon.

“Whaaaaat the deviiiiiiilllll?” more thundering rumbled from Wolf’s chest.

Dragon finally began to see that his plan was not the brightest of ideas.  He kept watching Wolf’s fists pump, and tried not to imagine one of them busting him in the eye.  However, because he was busy keeping an eye on Wolf, and because he never expected it from Wren, he was completely unprepared for the little fist that came hurtling at him from her side.

“Aaaah!”, he yelped, as he stumbled backwards.

Wren turned around and picked up her reticule from the floor. She came back and beat Dragon on the back a few times with it.

“Ow.  Stop. Stop. I taught you how to punch like that.  It isn’t fair that you turned on the one who gave you that lesson.”

“Someone needs to teach YOU a lesson.”

And with that, she pulled his beard.  Pulled HIS beard! Then when she heard Wolf’s laugh start rumbling from his chest, she marched over to him.  He brought his arms up, fearful of his eye matching Dragon’s soon-to-be-black one. When he did that, she kicked him in the shin and marched out the door towards her carriage.  Wolf growled and limped after her, but stopped in front of Dragon, and stared down at him, his eyes stormier than Dragon had ever seen them.

“You and I have an appointment here tonight at 10 o’ clock. We need to talk. If you aren’t here, then I won’t do this mission, and I happen to know that you desperately need my expertise for it.”

Dragon merely gulped, and nodded, truly humbled.  With that, Wolf stalked out to Wren’s carriage, and hopped in as it was rolling away.  Wren jumped in her seat as he threw himself into his own across from her and slammed the door in one smooth motion.  His face had lost it’s passion, and now was an emotionless canvas.

“Hello, my little Wren,” he sneered, almost a whisper.

Wren was short-of-breath, partly from fear, partly from beating on two grown men, and lastly because of her rushed flight to the carriage.  She had almost made it without him catching her. She forced her breath to slow.

“MATHESON.”

She spat out his name with all the ire she felt.  Her face was emotionless as well, but her eyes and voice held all the conviction that she felt.  He knew he deserved her anger. He just didn’t want to admit it.

“Do you have a death wish or did I merely marry myself to a fool after all?” he asked.

Her eyes narrowed slightly.  They were pushing each other, toying with emotions in attempt to make the other crack first.  It was childish, Rand knew, but he let the thought fly away.

“I had quite forgotten I was married, since my husband has been away for these 6 months with only two brief notes and a shawl sent to me.”

“A shawl?” he asked,confusedly.

“Yes, this one…” she said, realizing as she touched it, that it had really been bought by McClure. “I’m going to make his other eye black.”

She threw the shawl out the window of the carriage. This action almost made Rand laugh.  Instead, he turned it into a grunt of approval.

“Step into line after me.”

“For as clever as you seem, I assure you that would make him out of eyes to blacken.”

Matheson said nothing else for awhile, as he pondered on this woman he married. He regretted leaving as he did.  He hated that she was all alone for the first two months that he was gone.  He was in debt to McClure for stepping in when he had been too selfish to.  He was going to have to give McClure a break for his recent antics because of it.  Maybe he’d leave McClure’s second eye for Shae to blacken after all. God knows he deserved one himself.  Letting her win the battle of wills, he dropped his facade.  He sighed leaning his head back.  After a few seconds, he looked her directly in the eyes.

“I have treated you reprehensibly.  I don’t deserve your forgiveness for abandoning you, but please know that I am sorry.”

“We shall see how sorry you are, Matheson,” she said, stoically.

She had an iron-will, much stronger than his. He could see that now.  As McClure had previously stated months ago, he didn’t deserve her.

They remained silent the rest of the way, both staring into nothing.  When they arrived home, Shae went to the library, and Rand had a note sent to McClure, cancelling the appointment with him that he had made for late that night. Then he followed Shae into the library, and shut the door behind him.

“About this next mission, I’m still concerned that you don’t know what you are getting into.”

“I’m fully aware of the dangers.”

“No, I don’t think that you are.  This is a national level mission in Chicago, dealing with politics and subterfuge. Has he not filled you in on this, yet?”

“No, but it doesn’t matter. I will still do it. This job has given me focus.  I had none after Lucy died.”

Matheson sat down on the chair across from her.

“That I can understand. I knew I had to go to work after realizing I was drinking myself into a stupor. I felt that it was better that I go work away from you, rather than stay and hurt you.  Now I realize that I hurt you, regardless.”

“Did you really stand-in for a lawyer there?  Or did you go on missions?” she asked.

“I did both, actually. For awhile, I engrossed myself in both jobs, allowing the intrigue to numb me from what I needed to feel.  What I needed to feel was the loss of the love of my daughter, and the loss of your friendship.”

Shae said nothing.  She showed nothing.

“I am resolved to do this, Matheson,” she finally said.

Again with “Matheson”.  McClure had warned him back in New York that things were becoming precipitous with their marriage. He had depended upon her being practical, but she was so practical that she now knew she could survive without him.  He was loathe to admit it she could not only survive, but flourish. No thanks to McClure meddling ways, he now felt he needed to complete the mission in order to protect her.

“Very well.  This should be interesting.”

“Indeed.”

“I think to do this, we not only need to get past this gap between us, we need to become friends again.  I have been infiltrating the Chicago political arena for 6 years, as a lawyer.  There has been some talk recently of someone plotting to assassinate one of the IL senators.  Evidence in the form of of a letter or note is needed.  To get that we have to attend a holiday ball held by the mayor of Chicago at his home.  We believe that he may be involved.

“Due to my negligence, we have a lot to prove about our marriage. We actually owe McClure a lot for his idea of getting you to perform piano at society events.  It gave you a reason for staying my wife.  Without it, all attempts to prove we are a love-match would have failed.  It will be hard to prove, even with McClure’s machinations.  In order to seem “in love,” we have to act “in love.”  And to act “in love”, we have to at least be comfortable with each other again. We really have to prove it to society. There can be no doubt, or one of us may end up dead.”

“What makes you think I can’t act “in love”?”

“Have you ever been in love, Shae?”

“No.”

“Well, I have.  Besides me, has any man every gotten close to you?  Kissed you?”

“No.”

“Then I have proven my point?”

Shae looked doubtful, so he flew from his chair, and in an instant was bending down over her.  His arms were on either side of her.  To her credit, she didn’t flinch, but she also didn’t look in love. She looked like an icicle.  He told her so, then moved away.

“Point proven?”

“Perhaps.  Of course, jumping at me, doesn’t exactly exhibit affection or love.”

“This is true. I guess we can practice tomorrow for Aunt Martha and Beatrice.”   

“Yes,” was all she said.

How One Sees – Chapter 17

Chapter 17

Over the next 6 weeks, John McClure snuck into the Matheson’s library every night at midnight to teach Shae the set of skills necessary to be a successful spy.  From exercises meant to strengthen her muscles, to secret coding, to picking locks, he worked her for 3 hours a night.

A couple of times Canton or Mrs. Klein noticed a light on in the library, and checked on it.  Mr. McClure would hide behind the curtains, while Shae pretended to be engrossed in a book.  The ruse worked both times.  Neither Canton or Mrs. Klein suspected what she was really doing in the library.

During the day, Shae would do extra exercises in her closet.  In the evening after dinner, she would practice picking the lock on her own door.  She poured over the codes, memorizing them quickly.  She practiced walking stealthily in the shadows of her room.  The room was carpeted, so she really couldn’t tell if she was doing it properly.  It gave her something to do, and being a perfectionist, she wanted to do it right.

On the last week, she moved the entire staff out to the farm in the countryside, so that she could to learn to shoot a gun.  She gave the excuse that she wanted to learn to protect herself, which was mostly true.  She left out the “because I’m going to be a spy” portion of it.  Mr. McClure and Beatrice came out to stay with them.

The first midnight meeting in the farmhouse study, McClure informed her that they would meet outside at the stand of trees 200 yards from the house. For the next four nights, she was going to learn to climb, both trees and ropes. She also would learn to balance on narrow boards that McClure had secretly placed in the woods. Having a fear of heights, Shae wasn’t looking forward to it.  When she told McClure that she was afraid, he told her that she would have to get past it.

Those last four nights of training were the hardest ones for her.  Overcoming her fear was not an easy task, and she didn’t quite get past it.  She got better at climbing though, and conquered at least some of her fear.  She also had a fear of close spaces.  She didn’t want to be locked into a trunk or spend time with McClure trapped in a closet, so she kept that information to herself.

When they returned to Davies, she met with McClure one last time, to lay out final plans.

“With every piano performance date you have, you will more than likely also have a mission.  Sometimes, it is just information passed on through gossip that you will obtain by talking to women at soirees, or whatever social function you are playing at.  Other times, you will be going to a book store in the area, and asking for a specific book title.  Inside two of pages pasted together will be a message with our instructions for our mission.  We will decipher the code, and follow it’s instructions. Then we either head back to Davies or head out on another performance date, where we will do the same thing. Do you think you are ready?”

“I will never feel fully prepared.”

“That’s a common feeling amongst our trade. Payments will be made on percentages.  We will get 50% commission to split.  Expenses will be paid by the agency.  They get the other 50% to cover that, plus agency costs.”

“I see.  I don’t care about the money.”

“I know,” he said. “Also, we each have a code name of our own choosing.  Most spies don’t know each other’s real name, unless under special circumstance, like ours.  Within the network, I am known as “Dragon”.  Care to know why I chose that name?”

“Not really,” she remarked, smartly.

He pretended to scowl, looking at her broodingly and crossing his arms over his chest.  As he did so, she thought of the perfect code name for herself.  She laughed at him.

“Is the code name “Wren” taken?”

His smile was devilish.

“No, it isn’t.  It’s yours.”

Her training ended with that.  Tomorrow night was her first performance.  It  was in Davies. McClure wanted her to get her feet wet in a familiar place before sending her out into unfamiliar territory.

The next morning, she headed to the local bookstore, where she had been a regular customer.  The clerk greeted her happily, as he knew her well.  She asked for the title that McClure told her to.  The clerk stiffened for the minutest moment, before graciously getting her the volume.  She paid for it, and then headed for home.

In the privacy of her own room, she retrieved the message from the pages and deciphered the code.  She was to recover a stolen brooch, so it could be returned to the rightful owner.  It was a good mission to start out with.  McClure would be on the lookout for trouble, but she was to do this mission on her own.

She mentally prepared in the morning for the spy activities that night.  In the afternoon, she practiced the 3 compositions that she would be performing.  Then she let Maggie work on her hair for the evening.  She wore a maize-colored taffeta gown with a modest neckline, and off-the-shoulder sleeves.  Her hair was pulled low, in a demure bun at the nape of her neck.  While her hair was being done, she was memorizing her plan of action.

After an agonizingly long day, it was finally time to head to the soiree held at the Garrett household.  It was believed that the oldest Garrett daughter, Mariah, had stolen a pink diamond brooch of Mrs. Hopkins, a lifelong friend of Mrs. Garrett.  According to Mrs. Hopkins, she didn’t want to lose her friendship with Mrs. Garrett because her daughter was a greedy ninny.  The brooch was her grandmother’s, priceless to her.  She just wanted it back with as little fuss as possible.

Shae’s plan was to perform, then slip away later on the in the evening to Mariah’s room and steal back the diamond brooch. Once the brooch was obtained, they would leave the soiree whenever a few other people left.  The next morning, she would pay for another book at the bookstore with a velvet bag of coins, which also contained the brooch.  Once she did that, the brooch would change hands until it was in Mrs. Hopkins’s hands.

McClure picked her up first in his carriage, followed by Beatrice.  Shae gave a stunning musical performance, and received a standing ovation.  Afterwards, she meandered about the room, talking to an admirer or two.  Finally, after a couple of hours of socializing, she slipped into the shadows to sneak upstairs.  She planned on using the servant’s staircase, as it was less used and closed-off.  The main stairwell was too open.  She wished she hadn’t worn her gold-colored gown now that she was here. Taffeta was a loud fabric.  A lesson learned, she supposed, if she didn’t get caught.  She had been so enveloped in her plan of action that the more feminine details escaped her.

Slipping out of the room where everyone was gathered hadn’t been too hard. She also had no trouble slipping up the servant’s stairs when no one was around.  Finding her way to the living quarters of the Garrett family was a bit harder.  The old house meandered a lot, having been built onto a few times.  Finally she found what she thought were the bedrooms.

She had found out through eavesdropping on conversation, that Mariah’s room was one facing the garden. Mariah had mentioned that she enjoyed her view from her window, especially on a moonlit night.  She had said this to a boy she was interested in. Shae thought it had been said in hope of some secret rendezvous.  The boy was either oblivious or quite clever, as he mentioned he thought it would be hard to sleep with the moon shining so brightly into his room.  Mariah had pouted, and then also complained that in the winter her room was the coldest because it being on the northwest corner of the house. The boy told her if she would shut her drapes, to shut out the moon, she could also shut out more of the wind.  Trying to not giggle at the youthful antics, she moved away and got some punch.

As for now, she was looking for the northwest corner bedroom.  She thought she had found the right one, but had gotten turned around because the house was so strangely put together.  However, looking through a keyhole, she discovered that the rooms drapes were open and the moonlight was pouring through.  She pulled a hair pin out of her hair, and picked the lock.  It was a little different than her own, but she because she had practiced so much, she had unlocked it in a matter of seconds.

She shut the door behind her, and took a look about the room.  There was a bureau where she knew the girl couldn’t be so daft as to put the stolen brooch.  Where would the girl hide it?  Mariah had seemed the romantic, self-centered sort.  She’d want to find some sort of fanciful nook or cranny to keep the brooch hidden in.  Under her mattress wouldn’t be fantastical enough for her. She probably would want to keep it near a mirror where she could pin it on and look at herself with it on, as well as take it off quickly and hide it if someone should want to enter her room.

There were two mirrors in Mariah’s room.  One was on the bureau.  Too easy, thought Shae.  She had to be more clever of a girl than that to successfully swipe such a precious brooch from its owner. The other mirror was above the washstand.  She searched the back of the washstand, and came up empty-handed.  The drawer didn’t have a false bottom or a fake back. She didn’t even bother with the wash basin or pitcher, because those were touched by servants too often.

She took a step back and looked at the mirror.  It was quite ornate, and on the top in the middle there was a wooden medallion intricately carved.  Upon closer inspection, it seemed that the medallion might actually swivel around in a circle. Shae tried to move it.  It wiggled back and forth, but only by a ¼ inch each way.  Looking even closer, she noted that the top was actually a nob which turned.  She turned the nob, giving the medallion freedom to swing back.  This revealed a small cavity in the wooden frame of the mirror.  Inside this cavity was the pink diamond brooch.

Shae smiled in triumph, and placed the brooch in a hidden pocket of her dress.  Now to get off of the Garrett property.  She locked the door back and successfully made her way back to the soiree.  Across the room, McClure met her eyes.  To tell him that she had obtained the item, she was to tap her fan on her hand thrice.

At that signal, McClure went to procure the carriage.  She went to gather Beatrice and say that she was tired and ready to go home.  When a young couple and an old bachelor left the soiree, they also left.  McClure dropped off Beatrice first, and then Shae.  According to agency protocol, they said nothing of their heist.  They merely talked about her performance and the food that the Garrett’s had provided.  As they did so, she retrieved the brooch from her pocket and put it in her satchel.  He dropped her off at the mansion.

The next day, she got the brooch into the bookstore clerk’s hands and finished her part of the mission.  It was said that Mrs. Hopkins was elated to have found her missing brooch.  As for Mariah, she was baffled as to how she lost it, and thought maybe her mother had been involved.  She was too scared to ask, and relieved that she was not in trouble.

Two weeks before his friend was supposed to arrive home, McClure sent a letter to Rand informing him of his idea to have Shae travel from place-to-place to perform concerts. He mentioned how the idea had boosted her spirits, and to not be concerned with appearances.  Beatrice was also accompanying them to keep things proper.

When Rand read it a week later, he showed no emotion, but his fingers were tapping restlessly on the arm of the chair. Things were going splendidly, McClure wrote. Shae was a delight to all of her listeners, he gushed. Rand thought that the next week couldn’t go by fast enough.

How One Looks – Chapter 16

Chapter 16

As promised, ten days later, John McClure paid a visit to Mrs. Randolph Matheson.  She smiled at him, delighted to see him.

“Hello, Mr. McClure.”

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Matheson.  I have a couple of things for you from your husband.”

“Oh,” was all she said, as she took them from him.

She led him into the sitting room, and when they had sat down, stared at the brown-paper package tied up with brown ribbon and the note accompanying it.  She fingered it.

“Please don’t wait until I leave to open it,” McClure pleaded. “I’m much too curious.”

Shae laughed at him, and opened the note.

“I am safe here in New York.  Work is satisfactory. I hope you are well. Matheson,” she read aloud, as McClure cleared his throat.

“Open the package!”

Shae laughed at him again.  He was like a child at Christmas.  Opening the package, she pulled out a beautiful ivory silk shawl with little brown wrens embroidered all over it.  There was something so contradictory between the note and the gift. Shae scrunched her eyebrows in thought.

“He’s quite the odd fellow.  He has a rather untapped emotional side that he keeps well-hidden under the veneer of respectability,” explained McClure, as if guessing her thoughts.

“Yes, I’ve seen it myself…” she murmured.

“And, I’ve brought something for you from New York too- from me.”

He pulled out a few pieces of sheet music from out of his inner jacket pocket.

“I apologize that they are a little bent. I was trying to make it a surprise and couldn’t think of another way to hide them.”

Shae took them, and perused them pieces.  Chopin.  Beethoven. Bach. She smiled at him widely.

“This is exactly what I’ve been wanting.  Thank you.”

“You’re most welcome.  Would you play for me?  I’m getting a radical idea in my head and I want to ponder it while you play.”

“Certainly,” she said, making her way to the piano.

She started playing the Chopin piece for him. McClure looked thoughtful as she started, but after awhile she lost herself in the music.  Chopin was one of her favorite composers. When she was done, a tear trailed down her cheek.  She quickly wiped it away before her guest saw.

He asked her to play another one, and she complied.  When she finished, he nodded at her.

“Yes, I think this idea will work.  I can’t share it with you, not yet. Might I come to tea tomorrow afternoon?”

“If you come too often, it will cause a scandal.”

“True.  I’ll bring a friend of the family, and actually your family by marriage. How about that?”

“But who?” she asked.

“I’ll let that be a surprise too.”

“So many surprises,” she stated. “But certainly come by tomorrow afternoon for tea with your guest.”

He bowed low and exited grandly, quite the showman.

The next day, he surprised her by bringing Beatrice Matheson.  She looked behind them for a sign of Neva Langley accompanying them.  It looked safe.

“Never fear,” he whispered, kissing her on the cheek, “it is only us two.”

“Good to see you again, Mr. McClure,” Shae greeted, “And you too, Beatrice.  How are you faring?”

“Quite well, Lena.  And you?”

“Lena!  What is this madness?” McClure nearly shouted.

“Aunt Martha insists on calling me Lena and that Beatrice do the same.”

McClure snorted.

“What a bunch of drivel,” he retorted.

Shae laughed lightly, while Beatrice looked down at the floor.  It looked like she was hiding a smile.

“Come, let’s have tea in the sitting room.”

After Shae served the tea, they began chatting. At first it was just McClure and Shae conversing about the weather.  Beatrice sat quietly looking down into her tea cup most of the time. The conversation moved to the up-and-coming social season.  Still Beatrice said little, but affirmatives or negatives to the questions that McClure or Shae asked her.

Out of curiosity, McClure started up the topic of geology, and the current scientific trend towards the theory of evolution.  Shae looked at him, a bit bewildered at his choice of topic, until she saw some life flicker in Beatrice’s eyes.  When Beatrice started inserting her opinions, McClure got a look of smug satisfaction on his face.

They continued on for about an hour, when McClure announced that it was time to go, and that they would be back again in a few days.

“Wouldn’t you rather come for dinner?” Shae asked.  “We have this huge dining table and hardly anyone sits at it. I’d love to put it to use.  Mrs. Harrison would also love the opportunity to cook for more than just me.  I have her make the simplest of meals since it is only me. She’d love to show off some of the new recipes that she has learned from the French cookbook that I found in the library.”

“What say you, Miss Matheson?  On Thursday evening?”

Beatrice agreed so readily, it made Shae wonder at her own circumstances.  She probably felt much like Shae did a year ago, and like now, if she were being honest.

The evening meals or afternoon teas happened every few days for two weeks. Once a week, Beatrice would come with Neva too.  Shae endured those teatimes with waning patience. That was the extent of the visits she received from people, but thanks to McClure, she didn’t feel quite as lonely or restless as she did before.

Near the end of the first week of August, Shae received a short note from Matheson.  He was fine. He hoped she was fine. He’d be back in November, right before Thanksgiving.  Signed, Matheson. So respectable, that Matheson.

It was now a Friday night. During the meal, the trio had talked on travel and where they wished to go someday.  Beatrice had a great desire to see the world.  Over the past two weeks, Shae began to see her in a new light.  She saw that Beatrice was a muted soul, controlled by a dour, old woman and a vapid, nasty friend.  She was actually quite intelligent, and had a soft gentleness about her that surprised Shae.

After dinner, McClure asked Shae to play a piece for him of her choosing.  She played some Mozart for him, and Beatrice. When Shae finished, she rose and sat beside her guests.  After some small talk, McClure announced that he wanted to propose an idea he had. Shae thought it was about time, since she’d been waiting for two weeks for him to tell her his idea.

“Shae since you are so talented on the piano, I was wondering what you thought about traveling to perform.  I’d be happy to take care of all travel arrangements, and since most people pay their entertainment for their parties, it won’t cost me much.  I’d travel with you for safety purposes.”

“That would be a most satisfactory experience as a pianist.  However, it would be unseemly for us to travel together,” Shae said, shocked.

“Yes, it would.  That’s where Beatrice comes in.  She can be your traveling companion.  She’s always wanted to travel, and you two get along well enough.  What do you think of that, Beatrice?”

Beatrice’s mouth was hanging open and her face was red.

“Are you alright, Bea?” Shae asked.

“Yes, I’m merely shocked, is all,” she finally replied. “I- I don’t know how Mother would feel about it.”

“Hang your Mother.  You’re 23 years old. Do what you want,” McClure exclaimed.

“I’m- I’m 27, Mr. McClure.”

“Even more the reason! Do you want to die in your Mother’s home filled with regret?”

Beatrice broke into tears. She covered her face with her hands.

“Really, Mr. McClure.  Surely that was unnecessary.”

“It’s just Old Trix,” was his reply, “She knows I’m only jesting.”

Beatrice cried even harder, and Shae wondered if she had feelings for her friend, John McClure.

“If you’re Mother approved, would you like to go?” Shae asked her, looking her in the eye.  “What if we sent a note to your house, asking for an answer?”

Beatrice looked at her and nodded.  Shae coerced her to stand.

“Come, let’s go find Mrs. Klein.  She can get you cleaned up.  She knows ways to make the swelling in your eyes go down. In the meanwhile, I’ll have Canton send a message to your home.”

Shae gently led her out of the room and into the capable hands of Mrs. Klein.  When she got back to the sitting room, she reprimanded Mr. McClure in such a way that his ears actually turned pink with embarrassment.  After sitting a minute in ashamed silence, he cleared his throat.

“There is another part of this that I can’t share with Beatrice.”

Shae’s heart began to thunder.  She was worried about what he might say.  Surely he didn’t harbor feelings for her. He treated her and Beatrice the same, so she didn’t think that was it.

“Yes?” she croaked out.

“You said a couple of weeks ago that you wish you had a mission of sorts, correct?”

At her affirmative, he continued.

“Do you trust me, Shae?”

“Of course.”

“I feel that you have a unique combination of talents.  With your high level of intelligence, your aptitude to excel in nearly everything imaginable, as well as your ability to gain people’s trust, you have the makings of a fantastic spy,” he was whispering.

“A woman spy?” Shae rasped out, attempting to stay quiet despite all that McClure was throwing at her.

“Yes, I know a few.  You see, I am a spy myself, employed by a discreet, moral company of investigators.”

  Shae slumped back in her chair, thoroughly shocked.  Mr. McClure continued.

“You would be excellent at it, really. I hope this doesn’t offend you, but when you want, you can really blend into the background.  And your career as a performing pianist is the perfect cover for you.  Brilliant talent for the public, and a shadow in the night.”

“What would I be investigating?”

“Nothing salacious or notorious.  We uncover plots against government,  bank fiascos, and find criminals in order to bring them to justice.”

Shae began fanning her face.  It was a lot of information to absorb.  Commissions to perform for audiences, travel with a family member-former enemy, and an offer to be a spy to boot.  She was flummoxed. She opened her mouth to talk a couple of times, but didn’t have words.

“You certainly get some sort of thrill shocking people, I think.  What would Matheson think?”

“He can’t know– not about the spy part, anyway.”

“And the traveling performances?”

“He’s not here to protest, is he?,” he scoffed.  “He’s hundreds of miles away in New York City, trotting around pandering to rich socialites.”

Shae nearly snorted at his description of Matheson.  Mr. McClure was right.  He obviously had no interest in her or in what she did, as long as she looked proper. To her amazement, she found herself agreeing to it.  It sounded intriguing, and she was tired of a dull life.  He smiled in triumph when she agreed.

He was about to say more, when Beatrice walked in, looking much fresher, and actually quite lovely.  As soon as she sat down, Mr. Canton walked in with the message for Beatrice from her mother.  She seemed wondrous about the answer.

“What does it say, Miss Matheson?” McClure inquired.

“Finally,” she answered, showing the single word on the paper, written in all caps with three underlines.

“Apparently brevity in letter writing is a disease running rampant in the Matheson family,” Shae retorted.

They all laughed and then made plans.

How One Looks – Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Matheson didn’t return that afternoon or that evening.  When Shae woke the next morning, Mr. Canton handed her a letter from him, detailing that he had been called away to New York City for his work, and would be gone for months.  He apologized for the suddenness of the trip, and for not saying good-bye in person.  He would take care of the Matheson properties business from New York.  He signed it merely, “- Matheson”. No “love” or “truly” or even a “sincerely”.  He wanted “Matheson”, so that is what she would call him from now on.

The feelings of confusion concerning their marriage were gone.  She was shocked at his leaving, and annoyed at him for his behavior after Lucy died.  She had a special amount of ire concerning his attitude the days following. Every bit of fluttering and dizziness that she had gotten around him, or while thinking about him, had vanished.  She chalked it up to infatuation that she had gotten over. She was resolute.  Their marriage, in her mind, was a business contract. She’d be faithful to him.  When he returned, she’d be by his side at all social events.  She wouldn’t try to take up an easy camaraderie with him again, though.  She wouldn’t be his friend again.  She had what her parents had feared, a loveless marriage.  However, it was lack of love from both sides.

She’d had two months since he left to think about.  She thought perhaps she might be a little too calloused about the situation, but then again, she’d been left alone right after the death of sweet Lucy. What else was there to do, but resign oneself to the reality their existence.

Shrugging her thoughts off, she turned to the titles in the library.  She’d read about 4 dozen of them, in these past two months of loneliness.  McClure hadn’t even visited, so she supposed he was off elsewhere on business.  He was an engineer for a firm based in Chicago.  Her parents would be in Europe for another month.  A second honeymoon, they called it.  Mother deserved it, and Father needed it.  The wives of Matheson’s acquaintances were either in the countryside avoiding the sweltering heat or on the shores of Lake Michigan doing the same.  Aunt Martha refused to see her and wouldn’t let her come visit without Matheson around. She blamed Shae for Lucy’s death, even though Dr. Alkire had assured her several times that Lucy’s heart had been expected to give out all of her life.

Unfortunately, Neva Langley and Beatrice Matheson would come calling once a week.  It was emotionally-taxing, but at least there was a challenge in diverting from revealing too much information about Matheson’s whereabouts and doings. They had been there yesterday, so there wasn’t much to look forward to today.

Mrs. Klein and Shae had already sewn a couple of new gowns for the upcoming fall societal season.  She had exhausted all of the piano pieces that Matheson owned.  She supposed she could go buy some more at the store or order some from a catalog.

Most of all, above even the loneliness, Shae was bored.  Her life was dull, and much like last November at her parents’ home, she wanted to run up to the attic and scream.  Instead, she made her way to the sitting room where the piano was.  She started playing an angry piece of her own making.  This continued for 5 minutes, until she finished it with a discordant run of notes.

“I don’t think song that would be popular at any women’s fundraising functions,” a male voice said behind her.

Shae swung around on her piano stool.  McClure!  She stood up and greeted him. He kissed her hand, and she motioned him to sit somewhere.

“I’ll ring for tea.”

“Don’t bother, I can’t stay long.”

Shae couldn’t help, but drop her countenance.

“What is the matter, Mrs. Matheson?”

“It’s nothing, really. I’m just lonely, and– and bored.”

“Where is Rand?  Is he not here?”

“No, he’s been gone these two months, ever since that afternoon he found  us in what he thought was a compromising position.”

“Is that why he left?”

“No, I think he was able to come to understand that you were merely comforting me.”

“I see. I see. And what have you done in the time being?”

“Honestly, I’ve about gone mad with boredom.  I’ve got so much energy that I don’t know what to do with.  It’s all I can do to not pace a hole in the rugs. I can’t still myself to read.  I need something important to do, and people to talk to.”

“Like some sort of social activity?”

“I suppose.  Something to fill the time.  I have no one to take care of.  Most of the women of my acquaintance are gone.  Not that it would matter too much anyway.  We have little in common, but I guess it would pass the time.”

“Where did Rand go to?”

“He’s in New York City on business.”

“It just so happens that I’m heading there myself on a train in an hour. I’ll have to see if I can locate him. Do you have anything that you’d like me to give him from you?”

“No. I have nothing to say to Matheson.”

She said his name with enough vehemence that McClure raised his eyebrows, but felt it wise to not question her about it.  He stood to leave.

“I must go.  I’m glad that I stopped by.  Has he written you by any chance?”

“No, not besides the first letter he wrote upon leaving to tell me where he was going.”

McClure’s hands tightened on the brim of his hat, and his mouth formed into a straight line.  He was angry.

“Do you mean that he didn’t even have the decency to tell you good-bye in person?”

“No.”

“And he left you alone a few days after Lucy’s burial?”

“Yes.”

McClure muttered under his breath, and worked to control his temper.

“I see.  I SEE,” he hissed.

Shae said nothing.

“Well, I see I have quite an earful for Matheson when I see him in New York.”

Shae merely nodded, slightly.

“I’m sorry, but I must go.  I can’t miss the express to New York.  I will be back in about 10 days.  Expect a visit from me, and hopefully at least a letter from your husband.”

He bent over her hand again.

“Take care, Mrs. Matheson.”

“You also, Mr. McClure.”

When arriving in New York City, McClure didn’t have to ask around too much concerning the whereabouts of his friend. Most of the socialites knew him as the handsome new attorney replacing theirs for several months, while he was on an extended vacation for health purposes.

Come to find out, Matheson was renting out an apartment while staying in the city.  John McClure stomped his way up the stairs to his friend’s apartment.  His temper had cooled while on the train ride, and while doing his own business in the city.  However, as he was making his way to Rand’s apartment, his ire was rising again. He pounded his fist on the door.

Rand himself answered.

“McClure.  What are you doing here?”

“I should ask you the same question.”

“You already know the answer, having sought it out, if you know where I live.”

“Might I come in?” McClure questioned, gesturing that he was in the hallway.

Rand stepped back and gestured him through the door.

“Have a seat?”

“No, thank you.”

They stared at each other for a few moments.  Rand looked like the picture of stalwart morality that he normally did.  It looked like he had backed off the drink again too, thankfully.  McClure still thought he was still a dunderhead.

“I guess the proper question would be, what are you doing here, instead of back home comforting your wife?”

“Didn’t you do it enough a couple of months ago for me?”

“I barely touched her.  She needed to comfort, and you were too inebriated to notice. That was two months ago, you ninny.  She is completely alone, and I daresay not doing well.”

“How do you mean?” Rand said, crisply.

“She’s all alone.”

“She’s used to that.”

“Yes,” McClure retorted, “but she is still grieving the loss of a child that she loved deeply.”

“So, am I.”

McClure didn’t say anything at first, but let it sink in.  Perhaps he wasn’t being compassionate enough towards his friend, even if he was making a terrible mistake staying here.

“So, grieve with your wife.”

“You know as well as I that our marriage is unconventional.”

“She is more than just a doll you parade about on your arm, Rand. She’s a human with feelings.”

“She’s the practical sort.  She understands. We’ll get back on track once I return in November.”

“I’m not so certain of that.  I think her days of calling you a friend are gone.  You took her companionship for granted. You don’t deserve her.”

“I know that,” Rand conceded.

“Do you know what she calls you now?”

Rand didn’t answer, only shook his head.

“Matheson. She calls you Matheson with ire and vinegar in her tone. She’s incredibly angry with you.”

“All the more reason to stay away.”

“You are a fool,” McClure spit out.

“Stop insulting me, McClure.  I have my limits.”

“Aye, and so does your wife.  At least write her letters or quick notes, so she has some sort of contact with you.  If you don’t, all that you’ve worked for in the Davies community will be lost when you file for divorce.”

“She wouldn’t.”

“Wouldn’t she?  She’s fiercely independent and bright.  She’d find her way in the world on her own, without you.  She’ll figure that out soon, if left on her own to ponder for too much longer.”

Rand couldn’t contradict his friend. He was right, and he knew it.

“I’m going to visit her when I return in a few days.  Would you like me to give her anything?”

Pondering on all his friend had said, Matheson made his way over to the desk, and scribbled a quick note for his wife. McClure peeked over his friend’s shoulder to see what he wrote, and rolled his eyes at it.  That would never appease her, only anger her more.  McClure would have to take some things into his own hands, if he didn’t want his friend’s work in Davies to go to ruin.  Rand handed him the note, squinting his eyes, as if he knew that McClure had peeked at it.

“There.  Are you satisfied?”

“The question is rather if she will be, eh?”

When Rand didn’t reply, McClure merely took the note and walked out the door.

How One Looks – Chapter 14

Chapter 14

It was two weeks later and her husband hadn’t spoken more than a few words to her since Lucy’s death.  She suspected that he had been drinking too much whiskey, but she didn’t feel it her place to say anything. She let him shut himself in his room, while she sought solace on the piano.  After a couple of songs, someone clapped quietly from behind her.

She spun around on the stool.  It was McClure, smiling gently at her.  She stood to greet him, but he held out his hand.

“That was lovely, please continue.”

She sat at the piano and played whatever song came to her, when she suddenly found herself playing Lucy’s favorite piece. That’s when Shae finally allowed herself to weep.  She had pushed down all of her emotion until then.

McClure made his way to her and petted her head like she was a lost puppy.  If Shae hadn’t been so distraught she would have thought it funny.  However, she was broken-hearted, and appreciated his clumsy effort to comfort her. That’s when her husband walked in. He was definitely intoxicated.

“What’s this?  I came down here to silence the racket, and find my best friend wooing my wife,” he accused sneeringly.

McClure eyes were spitting fire.  He stopped petting her hair and stood up in righteous anger.

“You DUNDERHEAD! I was comforting her in her grief over losing Lucy,  which is something that no one has thought to do for her.  Her parents are traveling overseas, or they might have.  A more rationale choice would be for her husband to do it, you dunce.”

Matheson pointed to the door.

“Out,” was all he said.  McClure leaned over to Shae and said his goodbyes, as well as something much like “stand your ground”.   

“OUT,” he repeated to McClure.

As McClure passed Matheson, he clucked like a chicken. And before he could get punched in the face, half-ran out the door, rather like a chicken himself.  He’d been punched by Randolph Matheson before as a youth, and didn’t want to repeat the experience. His friend had hands like anvils.

After McClure had left, Matheson turned to his wife.

“Well,” he demanded. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

“What do I have to say for myself?” she repeated, incredulously.

“That’s what I said,” he said, taking a few heavy steps towards her.

Shae snorted, and then turned around pluck out a few chords on the piano.

“Stop that racket!”

She continued to play, this time going into “Moonlight Sonata” like she did all those months ago at the house on the farm.  That time he seemed mesmerized by her playing.  That same evening he said she was like a wren. She didn’t know why that day stuck with her.  It was one of McClure’s own ridiculous notions, but her husband calling her a wren had touched her heart somehow. It had been a gentle shower on her parched heart.

“Why are you playing that?” he asked, tilting up his chin, “I remember the last time you played that piece.  It was the first night you met McClure.”

He practically spit out his friend’s name, as he sauntered over to stand behind her.  With that, she slammed her hands on the keys, and turned to face him.  He stood 10 feet away, his arms crossed over his chest.  His eyes were fierce and stormy.

“McClure is a family friend, nothing more.”

“Then why did I see him caressing you… behind my back?”

Shae was actually angry, utterly fuming.  She didn’t think that had ever happened to her before.   Never before had there been anything beyond irritation for nasty people like Neva Langley.  But this fire in her belly?  Her husband’s words to her were a desecration of the regard she had always given to him and of the promise she made when she married him.

She stood up and walked so close to him that she had to tip up her head to look him in the eye.  “Stand your ground,” echoed in her head, thanks to McClure.  And McClure was right. It was time to.

“Firstly, Mr. Matheson there has been little behind your backside these past few days, except the floor, your chair and your bed.”

She poked his chest, as she said it. His eyes widened at her audacity.

“My backside?”

“And secondly, if you hadn’t been looking through the bottom of a tumbler of Scotch these past three days, your vision would have been clear enough to notice that his caressing was closer to that of a toddler petting a lost puppy.”   

“Lost puppy?”

She looked up at him, expecting a storm in his blue-grey eyes still, but found deep sadness instead.  Drinking definitely let down his guard, and revealed that wild nature that she had found so fascinating on occasion.  She didn’t much like it now, with his jealous rantings, but the sadness in his was exactly like that of a lost puppy.  Interesting choice of words on her part, it seemed.

“I’m so sorry about Lucy, Rand,” she said placing her hand on his chest, tears in her eyes.

She missed Lucy.  She hurt for herself, and she hurt for her husband. His heart thundered beneath her hand. He looked down at her, and took ahold of her arms.  Then he held her in his arms and cried.  She wept too, for the loss of Lucy, for her husband, and she even allowed it for herself. After they had finished crying together, he tilted up her face and kissed her gently on the forehead.  Then he strode out of the room, and out the door.