Continued from Part 1 ...
I slowly turned around to face the gentleman behind me. He was still there, and he smiled. This was both terrifying and calming at the same time, terrifying because the act made him seem less like Ebenezer Scrooge's “undigested bit of beef” and calming because he at least seemed friendly. “You startled me,” I said and gave him what I hoped was a smile. “Are you … an actor?”
“An actor? No, indeed! My father would never approve of me being an actor.” He had removed his hat, a bowler, and was looking down at it, almost as if embarrassed.
“I'm sorry. I just thought, by your unusual clothes, that you might be an actor.” There was a historical home nearby that was a sort of small local museum. It sometimes held events with actors in period clothing.
“Unusual clothes? But my dress is not as unusual as yours. I could ask you if you were an actress … with your boyish dress.”
“Boyish? Am I boyish?” I was wearing khaki pants and a knit top in dusty rose.
“You're wearing trousers. It hardly seems decent. I can see your legs.”
“Well, it shouldn't be surprising that I have legs, is it?” I was still looking over myself.
“I suppose you're a progressive type. Come to think of it, I have a cousin who wears trousers when she goes riding. She says it's much easier than riding side saddle.”
“I imagine she's right,” I said. Well, if he wasn't an actor, my mysterious gentleman was certainly good at acting like he had stepped out from a past time. Uncle Stephen could be a prankster. “I know. My Uncle Stephen hired you … didn't he?”
“I'm a gentleman. I'm not hired by anybody to do anything,” he said.
“Oh, you're good. You're really good.”
“I try to be, although I don't know how you, a stranger, can be a judge of my moral uprightness.”
“Perhaps we should go downstairs.” I don't know why I suggested it, except that it seemed awkward to be on this floor all alone with this Dickensian Ghost of Christmases Past. Downstairs had its own problems though, and I was about to bring my grandfather face to face with one of his own fantasies, or was he my own fantasy? This was headache-inducing. Could he even go downstairs? Would he just float down?
Suddenly, I reached out for his forearm and gave it a pinch.
“I'm sorry,” I said. “I was just trying to see if you were solid.”
“I'm quite reliable.”
“No, I mean … I was trying to see if you were tangible, but it's really yourself you are supposed to pinch to see if you're dreaming.”
“Well, let's go downstairs. I always keep a flask of smelling salts about my person. You shall be better presently.” I turned, this time to head to the stairs. Weren't smelling salts to help prevent Victorian women from fainting? Maybe he didn't know what else to offer for my particular ailment.
We went downstairs, and I was almost surprised that my nameless gentleman's footsteps made noise behind me and creaked the steps. Grandpa stood up as we came down, his blue eyes bright and wide. “How delightful! Sir Percy!” said Grandpa.
“Wait,” I said to Grandpa. “You've met him? You know him?” I leaned in closer and half-whispered. “You can see him?”
“Of course, dear.”
I turned to Sir Percy. “You've been here before?”
“I pop in now and then.”
“How … exactly do you pop in?”
“That ...” A downward glance. “Is difficult to explain.”
“I have some customers,” said Grandpa. “Perhaps you should take Sir Percy out for a walk.”
“Oh no,” I said. “We are not ready for 'out.' We are only ready for 'in,' and the in-er the better.” Like maybe in a mental hospital. Was it possible for two people to have the exact same hallucination simultaneously? And supposing that Sir Percy wasn't a product of either my or Grandpa's imagination, “in” was full of antique things and an antique man; whereas “out” encompassed cars and motorcycles and people using cell phones and iPods and, well, just a different culture than any Dickens had ever known.
“I'm sorry,” said Percy, feeling around in his coat pocket. “I did promise to administer the smelling salts. You'll feel better.” Then, turning to Grandpa, “It's good for hysterics.” I allowed Sir Percy to hold his flask of smelling salts to my nose, since it never seemed to do Victorian ladies in novels any harm. Catching a bit of the ammonia scent, I decided this was an experience I'd rather avoid in the future.
“Better?” asked Sir Percy.
“Yes.” I decided I shouldn't act ambiguous or I might get another whiff of smelling salts.
“Shall we go out?”
I nodded, though I don't know why. Stepping out the front door, I almost expected Sir Percy to evaporate in this atmosphere that didn't seem to suit him. He didn't. The street was lined with old Victorian homes, but the street itself was busy with modern cars. Sir Percy paused on the sidewalk and stared. “What are these bullet-like contraptions on wheels? They're very fast. That can't be safe.”
“Well, even horses aren't perfectly safe when they're spooked by a snake.” At least, this is what old westerns and Little House on the Prairie had taught me. “But they're fairly safe when the driver knows what he is doing. It's the same with cars.”
“That's exactly what their inventor, Henry Ford, called them.”
“What do they run on? Steam?”
“Gasoline … refined petroleum. Well, you see, there's an engine, and there's uh, these pistons, and, uh, a carburetor ...” I was listing random parts, but I didn't trust myself to accurately describe what they actually did. “I'm … I'm not very mechanical.”
“Astonishing,” he said, and, by that, I understood that he meant the horseless carriages, not the fact that I didn't have much of a mechanical inclination. After a pause he said, “Where shall we go? What do you like to do when you go out, other than ride about in those unsafe contraptions?”
To be continued ...
© 2016 Susan Joy Clark