Urn and Willow
A Novel by Scott Thomas, 2012
Mr. Woodbridge’s Visit
All across Amesborough families huddled in dim parlors, owl-eyed by fires as autumn winds rushed and rasped and made windows tremble in their frames. The hour was late, and while most of the inhabitants should have been tucked under covers dreaming, this was not the case. Fathers, mothers, children, and hirelings waited, fidgeting, saying little or talking inexhaustibly for the sake of distraction. Such was the situation in the humble Browne house, in the eastern part of town where the trees were all but bare and the chill hand of the season held sway.
Abner Browne, lean, white-capped and weathered, was the oldest person in the house. He occupied the comfiest chair and sat with a blanket over his legs, his feet near the logs. His two grandchildren, a boy of ten and a girl of twelve, were close on low stools.
“Whereupon I said to Barrows, ‘It can’t be much farther beyond that hill –” the old man was telling a story that all the other Brownes in the room were familiar with, a tale which under other circumstances would have been welcomed like a comfortably worn piece of clothing. But tonight his words were little more than a drone in preoccupied minds.
Abner’s son, Tristam, who had proven successful as a joiner and owned the building the family occupied, was at the window with one of the curtains pulled slightly from the panes so that he could peer out. His body was pressed to the wall, off to the side, as if he expected a rhinoceros to come bursting through at any moment.
His wife Ann, who sat close to the blaze across from her father-in-law, watched Tristam intently, her face tight. Neglected knitting sat in her lap, the wrinkles in her bunched apron like black spoons. She observed her husband as he squinted and craned and as he let the curtain drop back in place before returning quietly to his own chair. He lighted, seeming to give ear to his father’s tale, but was up and back at the window after a moment.
Abner Browne broke off from his telling and scowled. “You’ll have a path worn in the floor afore the night is through, Tristam.”
“Would you have me sit and do nothing?” Tristam countered, not so respectful of his father as was usually the case.
“What more is there to do, son? If he comes, he comes.”
Olive, the girl, face awash in firelight, looked up, her voice a tremble. “Do you think he shall come here, Grandfather?”
The old man gave her a small, almost sad smile. “I can no more say if it should or should not rain, though my bones tell me that at times.”
“Do your bones tell anything of Mr. Woodbridge?”
Abner chuckled. “Nothing, alas.”