A happening documented in early September in the year 1883, At a soiree at the Bakersfield Residence, involving the curious Mr. Alexander Endicott, the enterprising Mrs. Gertrude Patterson, and the perturbed Mr. Bartholomew Endicott.
Alex wouldn't have ever suggested he was one to be uncomfortable around people, but the party was grating on him. It was even informal, by Hill standards, and yet significantly more formal then he was used to or comfortable with. Old habits and rules of etiquette were slower returning then he would have preferred for his own peace of mind. And topics of conversation more often then not turned to gossip which he could care less about or business of which he knew little. It was a relief when he managed to escape to the veranda, rolling a cigarette to smoke, and nursing a glass of scotch. It was extremely expensive scotch, so much so that he actually felt a little guilty drinking it at all.
Bart did not have the most pleasant expression on his face when he led Mrs Gertrude Patterson out onto the veranda. He'd been prodded to make the re-introductions between his companion and his brother, and he wasn't particularly thrilled with the idea. Partly because he knew his brother, but also because he knew Gertrude. In his mind, letting the two become acquainted was a recipe for disaster. Or at the very least, embarrassment. However, because Gertrude kept insisting, he had finally caved in and managed to track him down. Bart cleared his throat as he approached, announcing their presence.
Alex turned, at the sound, brows lifting slightly as he saw who it was. If it had been only his brother, he would have assumed he was going to be chastised for hiding on the veranda. "Lovely evening." He suggested, noncommittally, and lifted his glass by way of greeting.
Bart didn't have a glass of liquor so he merely nodded and indicated the woman on his arm who was regarding Alex with speculative interest. "Alexander, I'm not sure if you remember Mrs Gertrude Patterson. I believe she was Mrs. Braithwaite when you...went abroad."
"Ah, a very slight recollection," He lied, and nodded to the lady upon his brothers arm, "Mrs. Patterson."
"Fetch me a drink, Bartholomew." Bart frowned and then reluctantly moved to depart. Gertrude lightly touched his sleeve to make him pause. "But take your time, dear, I wish to catch up with your errant brother." Summarily dismissed, Bart stalked off, his frown deepening. Gertrude turned back to Alex and smirked at him. "A slight recollection? Well, I am most disappointed that I failed to make an impression upon you those years ago, Mr. Endicott. It's not the sort of thing most ladies like to hear."
Mrs. Patterson's clear dismissal of his brother managed to make Alex simultaneously annoyed and curious. He might have dwelt more on it if he wasn't being smirked at. "I fear it was somewhat difficult to make an impression on me, at the time." He said, politely "I should imagine most ladies of passing acquaintance might forgive a lapse of memory after an absence of some years."
"A lapse of memory perhaps. A lapse in manners, not so much. But perhaps you are one of those straight-shooting gentlemen who prefer to speak the truth rather than deliver empty flattery. I can't fault you for that." She moved to stand more abreast of him, as if taking in the view of the dimly lit garden. "And there's no time like the present, is there?"
"I was not aware that manners required dishonesty, if you wish flattery, madame, you may wish to dwell upon other topics then my poor memory." He turned slightly, to exhale smoke away from the lady, "I'm better prepared to hold forth more creatively on other topics."
Gertrude chuckled softly, a rich throaty sound. "I think you will find that I am not like most women, Mr. Endicott. My disappointment was merely in my being somewhat forgettable, rather than at your frankness in admitting such."
"Yet you did imply that my admission might have been a lapse in manners." He pointed out, although her laugh was, admittedly, disarming. "It should console you somewhat to know that many things are forgettable to a boy not yet 19."
"I did. Because I like to see how people react when I challenge them." She tilted her head to regard him. "I seem to recall that that not yet nineteen year old boy had a fondness for stealing the apricots growing in my back garden."
"Oh dear, that was your garden?" He had the good grace to look a little embarrassed to have forgotten her and been reminded specifically, "I've since gained something of a respect for personal property."
"What a shame." She smiled warmly at him, and moved to seat herself on a nearby bench.
"On the contrary, I find its a remarkably helpful thing to have in life if on wishes to avoid unfortunately consequences." He regarded her curiously, as if reassessing her motives, and then covered the glance with a sip of his drink and another draw on the cigarette that was rapidly growing shorter. Tonight he was particularly thankful for the papers Jess had found, he'd never been one for cigars or pipes.
"Once must always weight the risk versus the rewards, to be sure." She replied, reaching out to idly touch a bougainvillea vine which was growing up the side of the house.
"I suppose one must, though there is some issue of legality and ethics I prefer to think enters into decisions at some point." He shifted, to lean back against the railing, not entirely comfortable with the idea of joining Mrs. Patterson on the bench.
"You are much like your brother in that regard." Gertrude murmured, her tone of voice neither admiring nor disapproving. "Which is surprising to me."
"Its surprising that I might consider legality and ethics? I expect my reputation has suffered greatly in my absence." He didn't sound particularly pleased with the idea, and punctuated it with more scotch.
"Oh, it's just the way that Bart talks about you. I'd have expected to meet a pirate when I came out on the veranda." She chuckled again, and adjusted her shawl.
His brows furrowed at the comment, "Rather more mundane and upstanding then that, I assure you." He did make an effort to hide his own reaction to the suggestion that Bart was discussing him with Mrs. Patterson, but it wasn't a particularly successful one.
"Does it bother you that your brother confides in me, Mr Endicott?" She asked pleasantly enough, though her gaze was far more shrewd. "After all, I am now one of the dreaded Patterson's, a family which has been at odds with yours for generations."
He grunted, annoyed by the personal nature of the question, "I concern myself only with the nature of what is said about me, not to whom it is said."
"Really? I tend to ignore completely what other people say about me. Much easier, then." She waved her hand dismissively and then shrugged. "So, who is the real Alexander Endicott then, if I may ask? Is he vastly different from the impetuous youth? "
Both brows lifted again, "I should say he is. So I've been told, and all of us change over time." He glanced down at his half empty glass, "As to who the real Alexander Endicott is, only time will tell. I dare not encapsulate myself in a neat sentence to answer casual questions."
"I would hazard a guess that returning to society has been difficult for you. You've been out to see the world, experienced more than anyone who has never been out of this bubble could possibly comprehend. I expect that makes you feel disenchanted and even disconnected from your former life. One which you rejected, and now in turn rejects you because you are not what you were. She smiled wryly and stood again, moving to stand on the edge of the veranda. "For many, the corners of the entire world only extend to the city limits of New Haven. Or even to the lip of this veranda. Such narrow vision must be stifling to an outsider, or one newly returned with new eyes."
The accuracy of her perceptions caught Alex off guard. Hearing her pronounce a litany of things he wouldn't have even considered voice set him suddenly off balance, and he failed entirely to find a flippant response. "You guess with impressive precision," he managed, unwilling to say 'accuracy' outright.
Gertrude leaned against the post adjacent to Alex's position, and smiled, this time far more openly and less with a smirk. "Well, I've had six husbands. You lob enough arrows, one of them is bound to hit the target eventually."
Alex recovered himself somewhat, enough to manage a smile, "I don't believe in that sort of luck, madame." He was unused to being pinpointed so accurately by anyone, and he still felt curiously exposed.
"Perhaps now, I have imprinted upon your memory, then." She quipped, adopting a lighter tone so as to enable them to move on from the moment.
"My short term memory is excellent, you will have to ask me again in some years." He managed to match her tone, but only after a healthy swallow of his remaining scotch.
"Perhaps I shall." She replied, then she tilted her head to the side and glanced at him with curiosity. "What is that you have in your other hand? It is not a cigar, nor a pipe. And yet I smell tobacco."
"Hmm," He held up the cigarette he'd been neglecting, "Cigarette. Tobacco rolled in paper. Its a habit from the Spanish colonies. I'm not one for cigars."
"Ah. I had not seen it before. Perhaps you will start a trend with the menfolk. They are always craving some new pursuit to with which to impress their womenfolk." Her tone was a touch cynical. "I am not one for cigars myself. Though, I do like scotch on occasion."
"I admit I can't see how what one smokes has much effect on the impressions of women." He looked at the cigarette critically as if attempting to imagine it. "The papers are impossible to find, I should like to start a trend simply to have them readily available."
"Then I shall speak about them in certain quarters, and you shall soon have your trend and ready supply." She offered, her eyes sparkling with a hint of mischief. Clearly she enjoyed the art of manipulation.
"The idea that your word to a few individuals is all it should take is a bit disconcerting," Alex answered, clearly trying not to allow himself to be caught up in the amusement of the idea.
"I do not have the opportunities to travel that you do, Mr. Endicott. I amuse myself by being the biggest fish in a rather small pond." She didn't sound frustrated by the fact, merely resigned.
"Perhaps you might convince your sixth husband you require a vacation abroad." He suggested, mildly, in response. A variety of metaphors about fishing came to mind, but he left them unvoiced.
"You do know that I am married to Jarvis Patterson, do you not?" Gertrude replied with an amused snort.
"Indeed, by process of elimination, I did come to that conclusion. Do your powers of persuasion fall on deaf ears then?"
"Not deaf exactly, but...stubborn." She admitted. "Now is not the time for frivolous expenses. We must concentrate on consolidating our economic assets. The current climate does not afford such luxuries..." Gertrude's impersonation of her husband was rather uncanny.
"He's correct, I expect." He grinned a bit, "Though I don't think I should have put it quite so....professionally."
"He's a dear man. But even I don't try to compete with his love of money." She spoke conspiratorially, her eyes flashing with mirth at her own expense.
"Money is an oft coveted luxury. Doubtless your husband wishes to make sure he can provide you with a comfortable life." That he was in essence defending a Patterson did not escape his notice.
"Oh, I know. His heart is in the right place. Family security is everything to him. He's always been cautious, methodical. These are admirable traits in the right man." There was the faintest hint of uncertainty in her tone though, as if she were trying to convince herself of that.
"And in the wrong man?" Alex asked, feeling a certain need to press for some reciprocation to her earlier dissection of his own concerns.
"Stagnation. Intractability. Sometimes risks must be taken in order to-" She broke off and leveled him with a look . "Touche."
"Turn about is fair play." He finished his scotch, in a sort of salute.
"I don't always play fair." Gertrude warned him, a smirk reappearing.
"I don't frequently lose." Alex returned, feeling more himself.
"Perhaps you ought to." She countered, chuckling softly.
"Concerned about my ego, are you?"
She straightened and gestured towards his glass. "You need another, I'll fetch it for you." Neatly deflecting the question. She headed towards the door. "Don't go anywhere."
She didn't leave him time for a response, so he was left standing on the veranda with an empty glass and a nearly finished cigarette. He turned to lean on the railing and peer out over the garden, and regroup. He was clearly wearing his thoughts on his sleeve more then he would like.
Gertrude returned with another scotch for Alex, and an aperitif for herself. She held out the glass to him, her demeanor deceptively casual. "There is something to be said for being out of one's element. For relinquishing control."
Alex lifted a brow as he accepted the glass from her, "Is there? You strike me as the sort who prefers to control everything around her to the greatest extent possible."
"That is true to some extent. But I'd hate to have myself defined with just a sentence or two." She sipped at her drink and regarded him over her glass.
"Thats fair, you gave me an entire paragraph," He answered, a bit cynically, and killed his own urge to knock back most of the scotch in one go.
"I can be generous. But really, it was just a stab in the dark." As if she didn't frequently go for the jugular in her conquests.
"Didn't I already tell you I don't believe in that kind of luck?" He of course, suspected that she did.
"It's not luck. It's playing the odds. A game of probabilities. It's not superstition." She shrugged and took an appreciative sip of her liquor.
"I take it then, you simply creatively expand upon the fact that I have been absent, and a sailor, and spend my time at social gatherings smoking on the veranda." His mouth quirked up into a grin, because this was more the sort of game he could comprehend.
"Exactly. Once you know the parameters, it's not so difficult. But I am giving away trade secrets." She grinned back at him.
"You'd run a good confidence game," He suggested, sipping his own drink, "I've seen worse."
"What makes you think I'm not already running one?" She replied, her smile becoming rather teasing.
"The nature of any confidence game is to swindle an individual or group out of something, with no payment in return. In general, people do eventually notice."
"When you put it like that..." She leaned against 'her' post again. "No. I believe everyone should get *something*."
"Then if your running anything, its merely as a particularly perceptive saleswoman."
Gertrude laughed, amused by his description. "That may well be quite an astute description. " Then her expression turned more pensive. "Some people are content to live in a bubble. I am not one of them. I wish to experience all that life has to offer. It means that I must needs get creative."
"I should be an impressive hypocrite if I were to counsel against that sort of goal." He admitted, eying the liquid in his glass.
"We are all hypocrites, Mr. Endicott. But some of us are more honest about it than others." Gertrude held up her glass in a mock salute. "I confess that I badgered Bart into introducing me to you. It was like trying to make him eat lemons. But I am glad that I did."
"I did wonder why he seemed so put out," He lifted his glass in reply, "I should hate for you to have been disappointed after such effort."
"You need not worry on that score." She graced him with a rather warm smile. Then her gaze flickered to the doorway, where Bartholomew was standing. "Ah, Bart, my dear, we were just discussing you." Bart strode towards them, his expression as stiff as ever. "So I gather. Your husband is preparing to depart." Gertrude glanced over to Alex and she smirked. "Then I must take my leave. It's a pity that I no longer have any apricot trees, Mr. Endicott."
"Not as much as it might be, I generally no longer climb walls into my neighbors yards." He lifted his glass to her again, "Good evening madame."
"But what if the gate is open?" She tossed back at him over her shoulder. Bart looked as though he wasn't sure what had transpired but that he likely would have disapproved regardless, and made to escort Gertrude back inside. "Good evening." And then she was gone.
Alex watched Mrs Patterson depart with a lifted brow and slight grin, unsure what exactly to make of her. He was entirely certain of at least one thing, that she was certainly the most interesting thing about the party. In the future she might even give him something to do to pretend he was being politely social.
After Bart had delivered Gertrude back into the arms of her husband, he returned to the veranda. Even though he tried to hide it, it was obvious that something was on his mind which needed expressing.
Alex, not wishing particularly to return to the gathering, was finishing his second scotch and thinking it probably wasn't worth rolling a second cigarette to smoke. In the course of his conversation with Mrs. Patterson, he'd decided that her idle comment about her impressions from Bart was likely an exaggeration or fabrication to some extent, and he was less inclined to be short with him then he might have been. Still, "Well?"
"What did you two talk about?" Bart inquired, failing to sound casual as he did so.
"Small talk, generally." Alex sipped his drink and shrugged, succeeding in sounding casual where his brother had failed, "Pointed small talk. She's a very sharp woman."
"She is." Bart acknowledged. Then he edged closer. "And very determined when she fixates upon something she desires."
"I got that impression." He agreed, then grinned a bit, "In the future conversation as stimulating might make these gatherings more bearable."
Bart's posture tensed considerably, but he did not speak immediately, instead he forced himself to look out at the darkened horizon. "I'm simply urging you to be cautious. I know full well how stimulating conversation can be with Mrs Patterson."
That caused Alex to turn and regard his brother with a certain amount of curiosity, "You've found her dangerous then, that you urge caution?"
Bart glared at his brother, not liking the direction of the questions. "Dangerous is a relative term. I was simply trying to offer advice. You can heed it or not, it is up to you."
"I'm merely requesting clarity," He answered, a touch annoyed, "I fail to see the inherent danger in conversation with a lady at a party."
"If you fail to see the inherent danger in conversation with a married lady at a party, then perhaps there is no point in my trying to caution you at all." Bart replied tersely.
"Do you constrain yourself to only speaking with gentleman, widows, and young unwed maidens then?"
"Now you are just being flippant for the sake of it." He retorted, casting his brother another baleful glance, then he turned to face him more squarely. "I know it may not seem like it, but my warning was out of concern for you, and your reputation. Of course there should be no general harm in conversing with most married women. Mrs Patterson, on the other hand, is an exception, and you would be wise not to encourage her interest."
"Or what, she'll spread vicious rumors about me if she begins to feel jilted? Have you heard the ones they're telling already?" There was a small touch of something cynical behind the comment, but it was covered with a shrug, "I just think you're over reacting mightily."
"No. She is not like that." Bart protested, and then caught himself. "That was not what I was meaning at all. Just that her interest never stays on one person for long." He was coming dangerously close to making an admission, and so he also affected a shrug. "But, it is none of my business, and, as usual, you will do as you will."
"Lord you make it sound as if I've begun some sort of affair with the woman." Alex eyed his brother, wondering what exactly Bart thought of him. "And you are correct, it is, indeed none of your business."
Was it any wonder that Bart found it difficult to talk to his brother? He had not meant to lecture him, and yet the words had been taken that way. But then again, Alexander never seemed much inclined to listen to what Bart had to say, often finding some way to turn it into a mocking commentary instead. Feeling rebuffed, he turned to go back inside. "I arranged for a carriage to come in ten minutes. If that does not suit, then I am sure you'll find your own way back home."