Property (Vintage Contemporaries)

Property (Vintage Contemporaries) by Valerie Martin

Book: Property (Vintage Contemporaries) by Valerie Martin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Valerie Martin
hired to any establishment, and that she not be required to leave the city, as, Mother had written, “she has a terror of country life.”
    “I have no wish to keep her,” I told my aunt when we were seated in her drawing room. “Would you want her for yourself?”
    “No,” she said. “My Ines is an excellent cook. And the unhappy truth is that Peek is not an accomplished chef.”
    “Delphine says she can spoil milk just by looking at it,” I said.
    My aunt smiled. “Your poor mother used to borrow Ines for her dinner parties two or three times a month, whenever your uncle and I were dining out.”
    “That was generous of you,” I said.
    “It was an exchange,” she explained. “Peek spent the evening in my big kitchen making her medicines for all of us. No one can stand to be in the house when she’s at that.”
    “Mother swore by her remedies,” I agreed.
    “I continually derive benefit from her chest infusion.”
    “She does nothing but cry,” I said. “She thinks I’m going to take her home with me and make her cook for the field hands.”
    “That might occasion an insurrection,” my aunt chuckled.
    “Do you know how old she is?”
    “She wasn’t a girl when she came to your mother, and that was twenty years ago. She is fifty or fifty-five, I would guess.”
    “She wouldn’t bring one hundred dollars at sale.”
    “No,” my aunt agreed. “She has little value.”
    We sipped our coffee. I felt at ease, lighthearted, as I seldom do, but as I once did. The furnishings, the paintings, the carpet in my aunt’s drawing room all reminded me of happier times. Even the leafy pattern on the saucer in my lap seemed designed especially to please me. “She should be with someone like Mother,” I concluded. “A widowed lady, living alone.”
    “And one not particular about food,” my aunt added. “I can’t think of anyone in the family.”
    “We’ll have to find someone to give her to, I suppose,” I said.
    “That seems much the best course.”
    “Is there someone in the neighborhood?”
    After a few moments’ thought, my aunt replied, “I don’t know of anyone. But you might ask Peek. She may have some idea about what to do herself.”

    AND TO MY surprise, my aunt was right. When I called Peek into the parlor, I was prepared for a scene of tears and lamentation, but as soon as I had related the stipulations of Mother’s will, she dried her eyes and showed a keen interest in her fate. “Miss Favrot will take me to nurse her mother,” she said. “Her house three blocks from here.”
    “How can you be sure?”
    “My cousin work in her house. He already spoke for me and his mistress say she take me, but she won’t pay no high price.”
    “Are you acquainted with this lady?”
    “I brought her a remedy for her son one time. He suffer from the croup. He got better when the doctors couldn’t do nothin’ for him.”
    “Very well, Peek,” I said. “I shall write to this lady today, and you will deliver the letter.” She nodded her head a few times and went out, folding her handkerchief and smoothing her skirt, without so much as a word of thanks.

    IN THE EVENING it was so cool I had a fire in the parlor. I sat at Mother’s desk with the intention of examining Father’s diary. For the first time I felt myself in possession of the house, an agreeable sensation, unlike any I have ever known. I took out the leather book and opened it to the page on which Father had written the date and his name, printed in large square letters, G. PERCY GRAY. A shiver of pleasure ran along my spine, as if Father were there in the room, though he has been gone these fifteen years.
    I turned to the first entry and read an account of the weather, work done in the fields, bills paid; and a brief mention of a visit from a neighbor. This entry covered half the page. The next was similar in style and content. I looked ahead and saw that the entries were all much the same length and addressed the same

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