Laura is lying in bed, wearing pajamas; she stared into the screen of her laptop. It was awkward to type in this position, and she often inadvertently hit the wrong key. When she did it this time a banner showed up and flashed on the screen. ‘Professor Pimbleton’s Yard Sale.’ Below the banner it invited her to click to enter.
Laura lifted her hand, touching her lip with the fingernail of her index finger. She scanned the screen for a way to back out of wherever her typo had led her. But she saw none. She hesitated, then accepted the invitation.
A moment later she was standing in a driveway with tables running the length of both sides. She was still in her pjs. The neighborhood was not familiar. She glanced at the table directly in front of her. There was a hand written card folded like a pup tent, next to what was a whale-skin pouch with a drawstring. The card said, Queequeg’s runes. She looked around. Across the driveway were tables stacked with old books.
On the table next to the whale-skin pouch was a teak and mahogany chessboard. There was one chess piece, a hand carved knight. The card stated ‘A Persian Night.’
An engraved envelope lay there. The folded card read, Dignitary Invitation. On the card the words, Seventieth Birthday Celebration, Hosted by the New England Society honoring Mark Twain, City of New York at Delmonico’s November 26, 1905. Formal attire.
A stack of yellowed paper sat there. It was the last thing on the table. The paper was tied together with faded gold ribbon. Laura bent closer to read the title. Maria Brontë’s Children below that a hand drawn tattered lace Florentine Flourish. Beneath the drawing, Maria’s bold signature.
Laura’s heart was pounding. She turned trying to see a path back to her computer. She studied the table in front of her. She glanced across at the books on the table on the far side of the drive. It was then that she saw a man who was wearing brown corduroy trousers, an unkempt white shirt, and a checkered vest with worn corduroy suit jacket, all of which had been out of style for decades.
“You have to decide,” said Professor Pimbleton, while using his shirt tail to clean off his glasses.
“Decide,” Laura said, barely audibly.
“An adventure. A destination. Intrigue, or danger, or thrilling or life changing. You have to decide. Stay where you are or fly away.” He did not budge from his seat. “The hour is getting late.”
Laura thought of salty sea spray in her face, and the bones that predicted death. She thought of creaking timbers of an old whaler at sea and the freedom offered in the midst of the vast ocean. The strain of her muscles as she climbed through the rigging intrigued her. She looked at the yellowing papers and thought of all the secrets it must hold and the telling of the journeys her daughters took in their efforts to create. She was flooded with the Victorian landscape, with its archaic ideals and social class struggles. Then a wry smile came to her face, wondering the meaning of the knight errant or white steed and the suggestion of a Persian night. Visions of date palms, and lazy times for romance and passions flooded her imagination. Her mind was filled with exotic sights and sounds and shadows.
She reached over and picked up the card engraved, ‘Dignitary Invitation.’ A moment later, she was standing next to a younger, more handsome version of Professor Pimbleton. He wore black tail and ties, and patent leather shoes. He tugged at the starched cummerbund and slid his index finger around the collar to adjust it.
Her metallic brocade evening gown showed her bare back. Every strand of her auburn hair was in place and piled high on her head. Her right hand went to the necklace around her neck. She let her gloved fingers drift down the deep red garnets sparkling in contrast to her pale skin. She lifted the hem of her gown to view beaded satin slippers.
As the maître d' led them to their table, Laura admired the Spode Gloucester English bone china. The sparkling crystal goblets caught her eye. The weighty silver utensils were placed just so. General conversation and subtle laughter abound in the dining area as the guests began to arrive and were shown to their seats. They were the first to arrive at their table.
As he pulled her chair out for her, Professor Pimbleton asked, ‘How do you like your adventure so far?”
“This is such a grand room. There is elegance everywhere I turn.” She glanced at the name place holders. “Look, Rudyard Kipling! We are seated with Rudyard Kipling.” She suddenly stood up, “Who else is at our table?” She circled the table looking at the names. “George B. McClellan Jr. is seated here. Where do I know that name from?”
“Where indeed?” answered Pem. “Theodore Roosevelt just walked in with his friend Endicott ‘Cotty’ Peabody founder of Groton School.”
Laura looked around, “Who else is here?” She waited for Pem to point out other famous people.
A troop of waiters marched through the kitchen doors, pushing carts with trays of food and carrying trays of ambrosia. A flood of luxurious smells followed, including Lobster Newburg and fresh ground coffees from the fields in Ethiopia.
Laura and Pem's table filled. They introduced themselves and friendly banter began. Rudyard Kipling was taken by Laura’s beauty and said she inspired a poem that he would write immediately after the evening's festivities.
The Governor and Kipling talked about the social issues that India endured and what could be done to bring about change. Pem listened, amused at how little ground had been gained. Laura reached over and took his hand. She was fully engaged in the conversation, the surroundings, the food and drink and wanted to make sure she did not float away.
“Cotty” Peabody turned to Laura and began telling her about a play he recently saw called The Burglar and the Lady. “The screenwriter must have broken all the rules, as he pitted Sherlock Holmes against A. J. Raffles, two fictional characters by two different authors. Doyle and Hornung must be furious, if they have even heard of the play.”
A waiter placed two hefty Lobster Newburg on Laura’s plate as another filled her glass with wine that matched the color of the garnets around her neck. Another waiter followed with coffee that dwarfed the other fragrances in the air.
The sound of laughter would spring up here and there from different tables as the gathering ate, drank and made merry. Soon the army of waiters came and cleared the dinner plates and began serving the desserts worthy of the Delmonico’s name. Even though it was November, Laura enjoyed her multi flavored ice cream with coffee puffs, called Bombe panachee. Pem enjoyed the Baked Alaska.
A maître d' approached their table and leaned down and whispered to George B. McClellan Jr. “Excuse me,” he said while standing. “I need to go and make an introduction.”
Many chairs were turned toward the main table at the north end of the room. “Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, tonight we are gathered here to honor one of our national treasures. He has made us laugh and made us think about who we are. Please give a hardy round of applause to the number one American man of letters, Samuel Clemens better known to us as Mark Twain."
The crowd stood and applauded as he approached the podium.
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