Episode 14: Waste Not the Hour | Scryer's Gulch
From the front window of the Hotel LeFay, Anthony Bonham watched Miss Duniway and John Runnels exchange pleasantries. He knew the look on the man's face; Miss Duniway had fallen afoul of the Sheriff's crime-fighting instincts. What could he suspect the schoolteacher of, besides being beautiful, and that was no suspicion. Outwardly, Tony eyed her dispassionately. But within him, he formulated plans. A young woman, all alone in a town like this--she was bound to be lonely. He could use that.
A tiny chime sounded nine times; he withdrew a gold watch from his silk waistcoat. He opened it, and read the inscription as he always did:
And waste not the hour
Your Loving Mother
"I try, Mother, I try," he murmured. He noticed the watch had nearly run down; he tapped the button at the top, and the hermetauxite workings within rewound themselves.
At nine, his father would be going over accounts with Mr Wrangle; he should do the same. Before Tony made it to the stairs, his stepmother rustled through the front door, and courtesy stayed his step. "Well, now, Mother," he said, "to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Good morning, Anthony. I should like to speak to you on a business matter," said the former Miss Grant, taking his arm. "Will you give me my morning coffee?"
"Certainly, ma'am," he said, turning them toward the public parlor off the lobby.
She squeezed his arm. "No, no, I want to speak with you in private."
Tony gave her a measured glance. "Very well. Charles!" he called to the front desk man. "Please bring a coffee tray to my office." Charles rolled his eyes and rang the bell.
Charity leaned on her stepson's arm as they walked up the stairs. "Your office?" she murmured. "I would have hoped for more privacy than that."
He gave no answer, but detached her arm and opened the door to his office. "Well?" he said once they were settled on the plush leather couches. "It's only been six months since the honeymoon--I should think you'd still be busy spending my father's money. What do you want?"
"Don't be like that, Tony," she cooed. "You know--" The door opened, and Charity scowled at Charles as he placed the coffee tray on the table. He returned the scowl, smirked at his boss and closed the door too hard on departure. "You should fire that man!" she said. "His impudence is intolerable."
"His impudence is excusable, the way you behave," retorted Tony. "Why are you here?"
Charity sulked into a corner of the couch. "I miss you."
"You're going to have to keep on missing me."
Charity slipped onto the couch next to him, pressing into his side. "Jed pays no attention to me. I'm lonely."
"That was your business with me--that you're lonely?"
"Don't you want to take advantage of me?" she said. She ran a finger under his collar.
"Who'd be taking advantage of whom?" he said, pushing her away. "If I had known when I took you under my protection in New York that you'd somehow work your way not only into my father's bed but my mother's place--"
"You weren't going to marry me! What was I supposed to do?" she shrilled. "And I didn't kill your sainted mother!"
"You kill the memory of her every day! You don't want me, you just want me dancing attendance on you. You won't rest until every man in town is on your string, and I'm telling you this man has cut loose." He stood and walked to the door. "You chose my father over me, and that's the end of us."
"It doesn't have to be!"
"So you keep saying. I disagree." He jerked the door open. "Leave. We are done."
Charity rose from the couch and walked to the door. "We are not done, Tony Bonham. You still want me, and if you don't, you will again, I swear it!" she hissed.
"Don't stake your reputation on it," he said.
She turned white, then red; she snapped her rich brown skirts out of the way and marched down the stairs, nose first.
Bitch, thought Tony. She might be the worst mistake I ever made. The watch chimed fifteen minutes after; he listened to its command, sat down at his desk, opened his account books and let diligence flower.
Charity left the LeFay seething. Across the street she saw Mamzelle standing on her balcony with her coffee; Mamzelle gave her a lazy smile and a raised middle finger. Demon bitch, you'll regret that! she said to herself. She turned her back, pretending she hadn't seen it.
What to do now? She'd been hoping to spend at least part of the morning with Tony, though not in his office. She considered visiting the dressmaker, but she knew that fumblefinger had nothing she wanted, and so she walked uptown toward the mansion. She would just have to coax Jed into letting her go to San Francisco for decent clothes. He would be dead-set against it, but she'd brought him round her finger before.
No, she admitted, she'd never wheedle a trip out of him. He was back at the mines, and they were his obsession--the mines and that insipid daughter of his.
It was all her mother's fault. All she ever harped on was landing a man with money. Well, Charity'd done it, hadn't she? Fascinated him, in fact, her Tony. He lavished her with presents before she'd even let him kiss her, and after... She remembered her beautiful apartments in the Fifth Avenue Hotel, always filled with white camellias no matter the season, just like Sarah Bernhardt, her model in all things. Sure, her acting career hadn't worked out to rival the Divine Sarah, but there was still time. One day she'd make Jed leave this hellhole and go somewhere her beauty and talent would be recognized--San Francisco, or New York. Maybe even London! Just not Chicago.
No, Tony had treated her well, but then her mother had started in. No security, he'll cast you aside, what happens when your looks fade, all that bosh. She would have used Tony's patronage to move even further up the social ladder, maybe even find a man who'd finance her acting ambitions, but oh no, Mother had to have her married to a rich man, not just sleeping with him, and Tony had no intention of marrying her. When he'd started showing signs of boredom, she'd transferred her affections to his father in an attempt to make him jealous, but to her surprise Jed proposed, and Mother screeched at her until she accepted.
And now she was wasting herself here.
Maybe she'd leave him. No, he'd set the demon after her, she knew he would.
By the time she reached the mansion she'd worked herself into a fine mood. She said nothing to Mrs Walters when the door opened and almost knocked the housekeeper over as she stalked toward the stairs. "What's the matter with you?" cried Mrs Walters.
"Shut up," said Charity. She made her way to her husband's office and paused outside the door; she thought of the saddest thing she could--her own face, as old and crabbed as her mother's--and tears sprang to her eyes. Ready, she flung open the door. "Oh, Jedediah!" she sobbed. "I have been so humiliated!"
"Why, darling, what's happened?" said Jed. He dismissed Mr Wrangle with a curt nod and took Charity onto his lap, wiping her tears with his handkerchief.
"That--that--thing of yours! She insulted me, right in the middle of the street!"
"Now, Cherry, you know you shouldn't take any public notice of the Palace and its residents. There's propriety to think on."
"Propriety!" she cried. "Do you know what she did? She--she--" Charity dropped her voice and whispered, "she raised a finger at me! In front of everyone!"
"Did she, now?" said Jed, amused. "Well, don't you worry. She's just wanting some of my attention, and she'll get it, don't you worry."
"I want your attention, Jed," she murmured into his ear.
"Well, now, darlin, I'd dearly love to give you some attention and maybe tonight you'll get some. At present, though, I have my account books, and then I have to attend to business elsewhere." He dumped her off his lap onto her feet. "Send Wrangle in on your way out, there's a girl."
She strode out the door and held it open for Wrangle. "Your presence is required," she said, then headed to her boudoir.
Was there any booze there? She remembered a decanter of bourbon by the bedside. Time to find that bourbon, get plowed, and plot the downfalls of the Bonham men.