Pronghorn, Chapter 24: Later on Tuesday

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

As Asa Pemewan walked into the Smitherson Chandlery, a wave of smells crashed upon him, scents flooding up his nose and soaking into his skin. Bouquets of flowers familiar–roses, orchids, bluebonnets–and less so interwove with spices–cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, clove, allspice–and other smells–leather, whiskey, pipe tobacco, fine paper, linen–and Asa quickly realized that his sinuses were beginning to plan mutiny and desertion. This was not a good idea, he thought, but I have to find a job, and I might get used to it. So he pressed ahead, walking towards the back of the store.

As he did, he began to hear a familiar hoary voice. It was speaking of needed reports as Asa slowly advanced, almost creeping, and saw Bartholomew Smitherson standing at the sales counter, speaking with a middle-aged woman who favored his own appearance: lean and gray, slightly built and taller, and with keen eyes. She saw him and said “Welcome to Smitherson Chandlery! How can I help you?” When she did, Bartholomew turned, and the wrinkles on his face deepened in a frown. Asa felt himself flush in embarrassment and, more quietly than he had intended, replied “I saw the help wanted ad in the Proclaimer and thought I might put in for the position.”

Bartholomew made a dismissive noise. “If you’d rather have this job than the one with me, Mr. Pemewan, you’re welcome to it.”

The woman turned to Bartholomew. “He applied with you, Papa?”

“Yes, and I had been favorably inclined toward him. But if he’d rather be working elsewhere…”

“With respect, sir,” Asa put in, finding his voice again, “you gave me no indication of being favored, and I think I can hardly be blamed for trying to better my lot instead of waiting for a decision.”

The woman chuckled a bit. “Seems like a go-getter, Papa. Not as many of those around here as there used to be, you know.”

Bartholomew made another dismissive noise. “It would be better had he a civil tongue in his head.”

“And what’d he say that was out of line, Papa? It was honest, and I recall why your last assistant was asked to leave. Don’t you?”

“Yes, well…” Bartholomew trailed off and stood quietly for a moment. “I’m still not sure I can have someone on hand who skulks about as Mr. Pemewan here did. You saw him turn red as he came up, did you not? You heard him speak quietly, as if abashed? And if he was abashed, it is because he knew he was sneaking about like some, some common, base…hooligan. It’s hardly the kind of behavior I can countenance, and hardly the kind of thing that the family would benefit from supporting.”

The daughter continued to press on her father. “What if, Papa, he was simply embarrassed about being out of work in the first place? You value work, as has the central Smitherson line since time immemorial. If Mr. Pemewan here is familiar with Pronghorn at all–”

“He is, if his resume is at all to be trusted. As well as a few telephone calls I’ve made over the past day.”

“–then he’ll know that well. How could he not be a bit abashed that he isn’t at the moment gainfully employed? But you could help him with that, I think. And haven’t we Smithersons benefited from others giving us a chance? Haven’t you, personally, Papa?”

Bartholomew lapsed into silence for a moment, folding his arms and frowning more deeply. “Alright, then, my dear. I’ll call the newspaper and tell them to cancel my advertisement. Mr. Pemewan, the position is yours–unless you would rather work here.”

Asa looked between father and daughter. “I haven’t applied for the Chandlery job yet, Mr. Smitherson.”

The daughter gave another chuckle, while Bartholomew offered an arch look. “Very well, then. I shall expect you promptly at eight on Monday morning. And unless you plan on making a purchase, I shall need you to leave. I have more to discuss with my daughter and no need for an audience.”

Asa, suddenly smiling, stammered out a “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir!” as he gave a little awkward bob of his head and made his exit. He nearly skipped back to his car, despite the heat, and he smiled the whole way back to it. I can hardly believe it worked out for me, he thought. And it almost didn’t. Had the daughter–what was her name?–not interceded, I’d still be looking. I suppose I owe her a thank-you.

A sudden thought took ASA as he reached his car. I think I also owe Mr. Smitherson one. Damn! I was supposed to do that yesterday. I guess I know what comes next. He smiled again as he got into his car. But that’s not a problem at all.

I wonder what Anna will think about it, he thought as he started the car and put it into gear. And what does it say about me that I am wondering about her opinion? I’m infatuated, I guess, which is damned foolish; I’ve only met her twice, and we’re just having lunch. It’s not like we’re married or anything.

The loud honking of an approaching car’s horn broke his reverie. Asa clamped his hands onto the wheel and returned his full attention to the road. As he drove, though, a smile crept onto his face. Soon enough, though, it fell once again. I never really have good luck for any length of time. Something is coming, something will screw things up, and the better things look for me now, the worse it’ll be. It always is.

It always is for me.

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