Conjurer

Conjurer by Cordelia Frances Biddle

Book: Conjurer by Cordelia Frances Biddle Read Free Book Online
Authors: Cordelia Frances Biddle
there. Resides in the area, too. On Tamarind Street. Some other fellows I know also keep houses there, private places for entertaining certain personal guests. Then there’s Globe Mill, which has forty-seven looms in operation. One hundred sixty men and women in their labor force, and more than twice that number of children. Naturally, it pays the mill owners to employ locally so that time spent away from the looms is minimalized—”
    â€œPeople who work in mills don’t require gas lighting—”
    â€œPerhaps not. But that isn’t the point, is it?”
    Simms remains silent, and Rosegger’s calculated voice moves steadily forward:
    â€œLet us agree—as you formerly noted—that many, nay, most of the denizens of the Northern Liberties dwell in a pestilential wasteland with domiciles too near the tanneries, ironmongers, and so forth. But let us also agree that the city is fast becoming the workshop to the world. Gas lighting should surely be available to all its citizenry. Not only the Derringers and other moneyed men of our fair town—”
    â€œWhich in turn produces the appearance of prosperity and health, do you mean, sir?”
    Rosegger laughs lightly. “Which appearance, in turn, induces manufacturing companies to increase, and their labor forces to grow—”
    â€œAnd the rents on leased property to double or even triple.”
    â€œOr more,” Rosegger agrees, then adds an amiable “It’s a shame that your master has vanished from the scene, Mr. Simms. Both he and I own sizable parcels of land in the Northern Liberties. But then, you must be well aware of his numerous investments.”
    Simms responds, but his voice is too soft for Rosegger’s wife to hear—as are the exchanges that follow. She is beginning to quit her post when a newly energized and incisive question issues from her husband.
    â€œWhat do you know of John Durand, Mr. Simms?”
    â€œWhy do you ask?”
    â€œNo reason.”
    â€œCome, man, be frank. Does this subject have some bearing on the other?”
    â€œDurand wishes to meet with me. His letter indicates a good degree of urgency.”
    Then the voices hush again, and Rosegger’s wife is suddenly aware that one of her children is summoning her, and that the importunate voice is coming dangerously near to where she is hiding.
    Covered head to toe in a hooded wool mantle of a weave and texture neither obviously costly nor overtly plain, Emily Durand slithers into the Demport House Hotel on lower Chestnut Street. It’s a grand place, spankingly new, full of gilt and velvet and damask. She lowers her shrouded head in quick recognition of just how perilous this rash decision is; she almost decides to flee but then realizes that she’s unwittingly attracted the attention of a number of patrons—all male, of course. Hotels only rarely cater to lady guests. She can feel rather than actually see the men regarding her, and she stands, frozen and powerless. It’s a sensation Emily has never before experienced.
    The smells and sounds of transitory male bonhomie fill her nostrils and ears: pipe tobacco, smoked herrings, onion tarts, shouted opinions, and a coarse and braying laugh that she’s certain is aimed at her. The man assumes I’m the hired companion of a hotel patron , she tells herself; and the thought makes her heart beat violently and blood race into her brain.
    She hurries across the crowded reception room and almost leaps upon the double stairs, where she must purposely slow her stride in order to avoid running upward. Within the thin kid of her glove, the hand grasping the banister is drenched and icy. Emily gasps for air; her vision blurs; she pushes on. By the time she reaches the hotel’s third floor, her body is almost not her own. She hurries to the end of the corridor and raises her hand to knock upon a door.
    The turnkey twists the jangling metal in the thick

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