second sight

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two twin boys in 1906 learn the grass might be greener on the other side.

A picture speaks a thousand words, but one word can conjure a thousand images. I hope the writing reflects a time period both familiar and alien to 21st century senses.

Submitted: August 11, 2015

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 11, 2015



~~Second Sight~~


Kowtowing from his father’s private study and rubbing the back of his hand, the thirteen-year-old boy seethed in fury. ‘Twas a sad affair when a waif suffered for partaking in the national pastime. As if that old church never had a broken window! And right on a good lot aching to be a ball park.  Anyone would think the Teardelles lived in the Dark Ages instead of the modern year AD 1906.

“Yessir, injustice!” he reasoned, stubbornness overruling the social registrar. “Why should anyone shy away from Killer Gargan—he’s awfully good natured! He’s going for the football team and—”

A Manservant cleared his throat. “Ahem!”

“—built like a buffalo! What a role model! But no—Pops wants me to hang with my milksop of a brother—”

Counting the innumerable seconds lost to eternity waiting on the Teadelle brat, the Manservant snapped, “Jo-Nathan!”

That got the boy’s attention. Jo-Nathan! Curse the doctor’s shaky hands that filled out the birth records! We dare not alter it post facto, Ma insisted, as if the Teardelles were outcast deviants from the social registrar. Surely we receive a discount for clinical error, added Pops.

“Master Hobart is expecting you…”

Curse his twin brother! That spineless, book-eating—

“…in the library.”

Curse the stinkers of the whole world!

With quieter steps than he dared admit, Jo-Nathan approached the forbidden chamber, watching for his brother who haunted the shelves like a miniature Cyrano, a willowy captive of his inner Roxanne. How Killer elevated his street-brawled nose whenever Hobart graced by! If only Hobart knew how Jo-Nathan ached to take him by the neck, strip off the corset of Lady Godey, and reveal the John L. Sullivan smothered beneath!

Hobart Teardelle, lounged on his Chippendale, a massive tome before him, squinted at this fraternal spectacle. Ah, Hobart mused, considering his brother…the familiar loosely brushed hair, the smudged shoes, the unpressed knickers...if good patient Job had lived today, verily, he would take a look at Jo-Nathan Teardelle and lament, damn it.

 “Hullo Bartie,” Jo-Nathan said, not unkindly, as if preparing for a Latin recital. He risked a glance at his brother’s reading material: The Elocution of Gouverneur Morris. He blinked in surprise. Who knew Hobart harbored such bloodlust in fine literature? Imagine ol’ Hobart pulling down the switch at Sing-Sing! Putting the governor out of mind and affecting a casual air, he queried innocently, “Say, any plans for this afternoon?”

 His twin maintained a neutral expression. “Pater suggested I take you on a constitutional.”

 Jo-Nathan smiled. “You bet. It’s a bee-u-tee-full spring day. There’s a stream in the North Woods—the gang has a peacherino of a time finding frogs and swimming and fishing—”

 Hobart stifled a yawn.

 With mounting enthusiasm, Jo-Nathan rambled, “And we catch ‘em this big”—spreading his hands to demonstrate a sea-serpent length before clasping them on his brother’s shoulders—“What say we show ‘em all how we Teardelles can—”

 Hobart dusted the dirt-stained gesture off. “Pater noster has consulted me regarding your recent Reign of Terror.”

 Jo-Nathan’s rosy cheeks flamed in annoyance. “Terror nothing! My gang is on the up, rescuing dogs from the catcher and all that sort of thing.” For good measure, he added, “I’m not ashamed of the Ten Commandments—I rest on the Sabbath and everything.”

 Hobart continued patiently: “While I prefer the permanent solution of Robespierre, Pater et Mater elected a remedy befitting the Civic Betterment League. Now, Jo-Nathan…”

“…my friends call me ‘Dashin’ Jack’…” prompted the Condemned Party, feeling the clutches of fine society from which not even the Heavenly Hand could redeem him. “…on account of Ol’ Doc inking up my birth certif—”

 Hobart enunciated. “Jo-Nathan, to make a man of you, we will call on the Mendelssohn Finishing School today. They are hosting the Annual Amateur Poetry Reading. As flag-bearer for the Patriotic Youth Society, it behooves me to attend. You shall sing hymns for the redemption of wayward souls. Hmm, Jo-Nathan?”

  Jo-Nathan tried to regain control of his lower jaw.

 Hobart continued serenely. “Now throw out the Buster Browns and take a comb. I’d rather not see my face railroaded to the asylum.”

 Jo-Nathan blinked at this sudden empathy. “You wouldn’t?”

 “Naturally.” He hesitantly referenced the vulgar Alexandre Dumas his twin would understand. “All for one and all that.”

 “…Really? Up in arms?” Already Dashin’ Jack plotted a jail break from the institution of femininity, his enlightened brother-in-crime by his side.

 “Certainly. Carry this.” He handed his book over and wished his brother came equipped with a leash. Or a ball and chain. “There’s three more there, just as big. The fair middling ladies—”

 “A flock of old petticoats!”

 “…and…Mademoiselle De la Falaise…” Hobart murmured dreamily, “…is expecting moi.”

 His twin’s unfamiliar tone snapped Jo-Nathan from his self pity. One look at Hobart’s face warned of future cologne counters, haute coiffure, and waltzing lessons. His mouth struggled to form the unfamiliar sounds. “Er…Falsie, who?”

 That the illustrious name failed to make an impression on Black Sheep Teardelle was not surprising. Hobart sniffed at his unsophisticated doppelganger. “Read the paper—and I don’t mean Happy Hooligan—but pore over the society pages, and you’d fit in the right crowd.”

 Jo-Nathan hesitated. “The left crowd might be more fun. You know, socialists and dynamite and red squads and all that.”

 “The right crowd, ignoramus, is the smart set. And Mademoiselle De la Falaise,” he savored the name rolling off his tongue, “is a Lillian Russell among a menagerie of snake-charming hoochers. Her parasol beholds the unblemished cheeks and velvet liquid eyes unmatched since Lady Eve.” At Jo-Nathan’s stupefied expression, he gave up. “Your ‘Killer’ would say she’s a screamer.”

 Dashin’ Jack clutched Gouverneur Morris for dear life.

 Hobart shook his head, blaming cruel Fate for leaving his twin unfit to survive the rigors of Emily Post. “Pater et Mater expect us to attend. They won’t let me walk by myself…”

 “To a poetry circle?” exclaimed Jo-Nathan with savage joy. “Why, you unweaned, unsuckled infant! Goo-gooed over a future librarian!”

 “You’ll also pass a collections plate for a stain glass window somebody smashed the other day.”

Jo-Nathan’s glee evaporated. “You ratted me out to Pop?! You? You chump!”

“Profanity is an ugly sin, Jo-Nathan.”

“Tammany stoolie! Yellow-bellied canary!” Jo-Nathan raised Morris, ready to employ the martyred governor’s hard lesson.

Hobart observed indifferently. “I wouldn’t risk Pater noster’s displeasure should circumstances befall that edition, Jo-Nathan. The subscription was a laborer’s weekly wage. I can see this afternoon will do you a world of good.”

 Jo-Nathan hesitated, considering his father’s cultivated tastes. Then, considerably more gently, proposed: “Looky here. I’m unworthy of the spoils of the Poetry Combine. Let’s take in a flicker instead. You know, the nickelodeon. The Foiled Folly of Fetid Fanny is on and Killer says it’s a humdinger. Crackerjacks! Caramel apples! What say, Bartie?”

 Master Teardelle rose. “My. Name. Is. Hobart.”

Hobart’s ears perked up as his counterpart neared the entranceway. He angled Mater’s mirror to catch his twin strangle himself with a Roxburgh starched collar on a mismatched Gavelstone shirt. The gloves, full cuffs, and sleeve garters of a Sunday prison suit didn’t help.

“Well, Jo-Nathan,” remarked Hobart, dusting his perfumed handkerchief over his vest. “A far cry from the radical Bohemians down by the mosquito hole, eh?”

“Looky here,” his twin managed between gasps. “I’m suppose to be kind to you, so—”

 “Toss the ticker tape, it’s vicee-versee,” corrected Hobart. “To instruct you the techniques of privileged association. If you don’t flunk out.”

 Dashin’ Jack bit his lip. “Play square. I’m not weeping with joy, but you’re the one who stuck me on for the afternoon. So let’s make the best of it.”

 “Did you know,” Hobart queried, “your Headmaster’s report lamented the same thing?”

 Dashin’ Jack curled a fist.

“Poor sport, don’t add another inksplot to your criminal record. If you lay a hand, remember: Pater’s justice is swift and deadly.”

The impasse encouraged both duelers to banish the past two minutes from the record. Hobart sighed with unrewarded pity. “Jo-Nathan, does your name annoy you? If it does, I’ve a petition to change it. Mater may object but, given your future, you may as well start the aliases early. Name of a name, ‘Dashin’ Jack’ sounds like a Coney Island whirl. Pater would shoot the chutes if he heard it…”

Jo-Nathan remembered not to slam the door on the way out.

Hobart sighed. No doubt that, years hence, H. Teardelle, doctorate of letters, awing the masses with a circuit tour with the Secret of Life, would spot, among the back row tramps and misfits, a disheveled creature of inhumanity identified as his long-lost twin. This future human wreckage who once shared the same noble visage would display hollowed cheeks, sunken eyes, and wispy hair, all foully caressed by the soiled hands of polluted tenement madams! Jo-Nathan, living in the cesspool of fiends and maniacs, wasting from terminal onanism after shattering the window to the temple of God, would clutch his shared surname—a testament to the laurelled genius of mankind. Here he would stand, begging for a simple nod from this Great Man—one assurance of salvation before the debts and diseases took their toll! How, with heaving sobs, Jo-Nathan would collapse in gratitude!

Hobart’s swagger stick snagged the loose gravel and the boy stumbled heads over heels into the dust.

“Please do it again!” his twin encouraged. Knowing the Manservant was loathed to dirty his immaculate fineries, he bent down offered a hand.

“Un-paw me!” roared Hobart. With forced dignity, he swung the cane.

Jo-Nathan’s eyes fell upon his brother’s weapon. “That’s Pops’s best staff!”

“Stifle it, Jo-Nathan.”

“Sure is a beaut.” Then, with a cavalier brazenness for a family heirloom, asked, “Say, may I handle it on the way back?”

Master Teardelle recalled his brother’s appropriation of Pater’s golf clubs as Captain Blood’s arsenal. He coughed.

“Bar...Hobart, did you hear? Can I—”

Hobart, reclaiming his superior status, soundly rapped the ill-mannered brat soundly. “Beg pardon, Dip ‘n’ Dunk.”

 “…awfully glad the cane will come in handy for crippled…” his twin began dangerously, rubbing the sore spot.

Hobart ignored him. Safely out of eyeshot of household spies, he pulled out a cigarette, mouthed it, and queried innocently, “Say, have you a light?”

Jo-Nathan, struck dumb, stared.

Hobart cocked his derby and repeated his request more slowly for the dull-witted.

Dashin’ Jack swallowed. “You’re humbugging me, kee-reckt? A cebub? From Pop’s tonic chest?”

“Now who’s the infant?” Hobart expertly flipped open the cane’s ivory handle to ignite a small flame, just as Pater did for Big City guests brandishing Important Contracts. With generosity, he asked, “Care for a puff, Inksplot?”

“N-No!” Dashin’ Jack dropped his hymn books. “Killer says every one is a nail in Ma’s coffin!”

 “How square you are,” observed Hobart with surprise. So unrefined, so inexperienced, it was hard to believe they were twins. “Not quite the reprobate in Pater’s diaries, eh?”

“I’ve turned a new leaf,” Jo-Nathan reminded him.

“Not enough pages in the library to do that,” his twin corrected.

Dashin’ Jack shrugged. If he was considered that hopeless, then let the era of reform pass unmourned. With devilry hatching, he added, “And should Pops find you out…”

“I?” Hobart scoffed, indicating the gulf between amateur blackmailer and a blue-ribbon champion frame-up. “I’m not the one who has a pack of Pater’s see-gars in his bureau.”

“What…? I don’t have…” Jo-Nathan’s eyes bulged in a beautiful display of worldly education. “You skunk!”

“I’ve ensured your usefulness in the household,” Hobart clarified, exhaling. “As to a future standing, keep in mind should Pater inquire where John Barleycorn has vanished…”

Jo-Nathan’s response was lost in the approach of a four-horse carriage.

“Oh, if it isn’t the Teardelles!” a disturbing female voice rang.

Hobart immediately snuffed his vice stick and doffed his derby. “Mademoiselle De la Falaise?”

The sophisticated visage of a woman-of-the-world peered out. She unfurled a fan with the practiced hand of one who, in sixteen years of living, had long experience in fending off terminal ennui. Ignoring the mature tsk from her avoirdupois-infected matron, young De la Falaise extended a perfumed glove. “Is this the elusive Teardelle who resides in the dark, tawdry Police Gazette?”

Dashin’ Jack politely removed his fedora. The overpowering aroma of a five-and-ten Le Parfum Atomizer spurred him to slowly put it back on.

The mademoiselle regarded the duo like Barnum would new talent. Comparing the dirtied sandbox refugee to the clean counterpart, she made a logical deduction and cooed to Hobart. “Dash, is it?”

 Hobart sniffed. “Hmph. I am—”

“Mon dieu, Joseph-Nathanial, I had to say your silly nickname”

Jo-Nathan bristled. “It is not ‘Joseph-Nathanial!’”

She gave the boy a cursory onceover. “What else?” She returned her attention to the other. “One couldn’t mistake your appearance. I’m thrilled you’ve graced us. Little Fauntleroy here,” she regarded the thunderstruck twin, “is simply a bore. Would you ride with me?”

 Hobart eagerly complied.

“Taken…for a ride?” Dashin’ Jack gasped, recalling the dangers which imperiled Gallagher in the Big City.

“Hobart, such cheek! You should be spanked!” the young lady chastised. “The better man won.” She smiled at her new riding companion. “You aren’t the type to make a girl walk home, …are you?”

The blue-nosed, black-tongued, white-rouged chaperone spoke up, tsking as if her teeth had taken a career as a set of wind-chimes. “Don’t be sore, mon petit Ho-bear. Be seated next to moi, won’t you mind, no?”

“Yes’m…no’m…” A bewildered Jo-Nathan, lost in syntax, stared blankly.

The aged guardian observed his tongue-tied expression. “Are you ill, boy?”

 The delicate vision of womanhood coughed. “Hobart does look pale. Let him go up with the driver. The sun would do his shut-upped brain good.” She returned to her new fascination. “Jo-Nathan, you must regale me with your exploits! Did you really steal a watermelon from the headmaster’s estate?”

 “It’s a lie!” Dashin’ Jack snarled vehemently, offended at this affront to his honorable boyhood. “I paid good coin—”

“—And do tell me you’re a libertine!”

“Merde,” sighed the chaperone, thankful these brats’ American learning excluded the refineries of Parlez-vous.

“I like liberty, too!” Jo-Nathan protested, his pulse racing in time with a Sousa march.

“Hold up!” warned Mme. De la Falaise. She returned to the degenerate and squeezed his hand—the same fingers that dipped in underworld depravity! “Do tell! And don’t hold back any blood.”

The matron gestured. “Do you intend to tarry this…varmint… among us moderne wordsmiths? What will they say?”

Mademoiselle imagined the reception of this exhibit among the deplorable sunken-chests, wire-armed, spindly-legged, flabby-chinned, stanza-spouting milquetoasts who, for the tiniest bit of anatomy, laughingly qualified as males. “I know perfectly well.”

The distressed dowager moaned for her smelling salts.

“Joseph, you will read my poem, Confessions at a Courtesan’s Trial, won’t you?”

“Did that court ‘lectricute the governor?” asked Jo-Nathan thoughtfully, trying to see the appeal this specimen had for his brother.

She remained deaf to the outside world. “…and whiffing of Demon Tobacco, no less!”

“I do not—”

“Quiet, lout.” Mme. De la Falaise corrected in Belasco style. “I can handle a …brute…”—her eye twinkled briefly—“…but a wind-up snip? All pretense! All bluff! All a bore!”

Dashin’ Jack gawked, impressed in spite of himself. “Are you on the stage?”

“Fresh! Impudent whelp!” Her cheeks flashed in fury. “You’ve shown your true colors so here are mine! Requiescat in pace, Hobart, be gone and forgotten!”

 Hobart Teardelle glanced at his Sunday-best brother in the dust and considered the boy being left behind—his face, his duds, and radiating a familiar air of hopelessness he saw in the mirror every morning. He turned back to the fragile wisp next to him. “You’re awfully good to me,” he said mechanically. “Awfully good.”

“Aren’t I.” She confirmed, linking arms.

“You aren’t,” said the neglected Teardelle with quiet desperation.

Mme. De la Falaise declared loudly, “Discard the pest, Joseph, he’s served his purpose.”

Dashin’ Jack stamped his foot. “I’m not some lolapazoola mugwump delegate stuffed down a ballot box! I’ve a right—”

“And I’ve got a left!” De la Falaise retorted, demonstrating a disregard for Queensbury regulations.

Jo-Nathan tried to attract his brother’s eye, lest he leave Hobart on the road to ruin. For this the Teardelles had surrendered an afternoon of manly roughhousing? For familial honor, if nothing else, he made a motion to prevent the unfolding penny press tragedy. “Say, then let me aboard, will you?”

Mme. De la Falaise rapped the carriage side. “Don’t spare the horses, driver.”

“But I want to go—”

“Oh, go yourself,” Hobart commanded, coming to life. “Go play your infant-school pow-wow! Go to your rinky-dink squares! Go to— !”

Jo-Nathan gaped in stupefied astonishment at his twin’s transformation and his own words. He stammered, “Say…You…really…say I should forgo the festivities?”

 “I need no he-man from the doily set.” Mme. De la Falaise basked in the conquering power of the New Woman. She reached and commandeered the hymn books. “Rather weak grip, too. Now Joseph, here, knows how the other slums live…! Did you patron a sing-song den?”

“Right up Musketeer Alley,” Hobart sighed, settled back, and flicked open Pater’s cane.

 “Jo-seph always has a deuce of a time,” Dashin’ Jack mimicked hollowly. “Shot the works? Fill the collections plate? Ta-ta.” He waved the carriage off. His shoulders slumped.

“Hullo Jack!”

 He spun, dukes up, then relaxed. “Hallo, Killer! What goes on?”

 Killer Gargan eyed the fancy pants uneasily. “What are you made up for, Johnny?”

Dashin’ Jack unfastened his collar. “An outing with my better half.”

Killer laughed like a firecracker. “Shades of Sanford and Merton! You mean the Old Professor?”

He frowned. “He goes by Hobart.”

“Night and day, don’t I know it? But yours is mud so get the dickens down to the lot. I dares ya to hit another homer…”

Teardelle set off...

 “…right through Saint Anthony this time!”

 …skidded to a halt. He glanced over his shoulder and studied his partner-in-crime’s expectant grin. “Say, Killer…what say we take in the library instead?”

Killer had to mouth the unfamiliar word. “What in he-Heaven fer?”

Jo-Nathan Teardelle inhaled the fresh air. “Exactly.”

The End.

© Copyright 2018 pwl. All rights reserved.

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