“Frank Granger,” Doc Handy said, pulling off his spectacles and pinching the bridge of his nose. “Is it possible Eustace Broome shipped his daughter off somewhere to have Frank Granger’s baby and then claimed she died?” He put his glasses back on and shook his head sadly. “I’d like to think no human being could be that heartless but I knew Eustace for over 50 years–I never liked him, mind you, but I knew him–and if anyone were capable of that sort of cruelty, it would have been him.” Doc paused for a bit and stared at Charlotte Broome, a frown transforming his usually pleasant face. “I saw him do some cold-blooded things over the years,” he said, “but this? This is a particular kind of evil. If there’s any justice in the afterlife, Eustace Broome is rotting in hell right now.” Doc sighed and got up from the sofa. He walked to the front window and pulled back the curtain, just a bit. “I see we’ve got the makings of a crowd forming on the sidewalk. Didn’t take long for the busybodies to spread the word, did it?”
“Sisters,” Mama said, looking toward Doc. “She said ‘when you see the Sisters, have them bring him back to me’…”
“I suspect they sent her to a convent somewhere to have the baby,” Doc said. “The Sisters there would have attended her. Of course, the baby was then put up for adoption. It was a fairly common practice back then–still is, when a girl gets in trouble and her parents have a little bit of money to make a donation.”
“Mrs. Broome remained Catholic, even after her marriage,” Mama said, nodding to the crucifix above the sofa. “I remember Clarry saying that one of her mother’s sisters was a nun who lived in a convent in San Antonio. Sister Genevieve, I think. She was fond of her.”
“Then I suspect that’s where she ended up,” Doc said, nodding. “There’s a St. Elizabeth’s Convent and Orphanage in San Antonio. It’s got a pretty good reputation. Maybe she wasn’t treated poorly, especially if her aunt was involved. What else do you remember about that time, Evelyn?”
“She was crazy about Frank,” Mama said as she gently stroked her friend’s forehead. “You remember what he was like back then, Doc–back before the War and all that happened to him. Frank was so handsome and nice–to everyone. When he cast his attentions in Clarry’s direction, she didn’t stand a chance. She loved him. They were planning on running away when he got drafted. She was devastated when he left for France.” Doc nodded his agreement as Mama continued, pain creeping into her voice. “And then one day, Clarry was gone, without a word. When she didn’t show up at school that day, I came here and knocked on the door. Her mother answered and said Clarry had gone to stay with Mr. Broome’s sister in Kansas. She said his sister had suffered a stroke and needed someone to help her. She said Clarry would be attending school there for the time being.” Mama had started to cry. “She gave me an address where I could write–and I did, several times–but I never got a letter in return. And then…” Mama couldn’t finish. It broke my heart to see her so sad.
“And then,” Doc said, picking up the story, “Eustace announced at church one Sunday morning that they’d received word Charlotte had died of influenza.” He shook his head. “No one questioned it–practically everyone lost family in the epidemic and we all knew Kansas and Oklahoma were particularly hard hit. I suppose we’ll never know whether that plague gave the son of a bitch the idea to say his daughter had died or if that were his plan all along. I suspect the latter; I think his daughter was dead to him the moment he found out she was with child. He was not a forgiving man.”
Mama and Doc Handy were lost in the past and had completely forgotten my existence for the moment, which was a good thing because I was finding out all sorts of things I’d never have learned otherwise. For instance, I discovered that old Frank Granger was nice fella, once upon a time. Because up until now, I only knew Frank Granger to be a crazy old drunk who lived in a ramshackle house near the depot. He was a recluse, which was fine by us kids because he scared the devil out of us and the less we saw of him, the better. All the older folks said that Frank was never the same after the war because of shell shock, which according to them, explained his odd behavior. Still, old Frank as pleasant and handsome? Well, even I didn’t have an imagination that good. I’d also learned that Endurance was no stranger to scandal and broken hearts.
“What’s wrong with her, Doc?” Mama asked.
“She had a heck of a coughing fit yesterday evening, Doc,” I said.
Doc Handy looked at me and back at his patient. “I suppose it could be consumption, although I hope not, because that would mean the three of us have been exposed. Honestly, the swelling in her wrists and ankles makes me think it might be her heart.” He got up and walked toward the kitchen. “I’ll have Clarry ring up Lubbock General Hospital and get them to send an ambulance. It’ll be some time before they get here.”
Doc disappeared into the kitchen to place the call and Mama and I stayed by the sofa with Charlotte Broome. The ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner and Charlotte’s labored breathing were the only sounds in the room until a loud banging on the front door made us jump.
“Grady, go to the door and ask that person to go away,” Mama ordered. “If they’re persistent, tell them she has TB and this house is quarantined until further notice.” I was glad to see Mama returning to her normal self. She was good at taking charge, which is exactly what she was doing. Steeled by her resolve, I hurried to the door, prepared to get rid of whichever old biddy had summoned the nerve to disturb Charlotte Broome’s privacy. However, all my courage disappeared once I opened the door and saw Frank Granger looming before me, looking like he was spoiling for a fight. He glanced at me before shifting his gaze to the sofa. I watched as the anger drained out of him, replaced by disbelief and then, perhaps, recognition. His body, suddenly limp, slumped against the door frame.
“Oh God, Evie,” he cried, his voice cracking, “it’s her, isn’t it? It’s Clarry.”
Mama met his gaze and nodded. “It’s her, Frank. She’s come back to us.”
(to be continued)
Categories: Story in Progress