April 28, 1932

It was a Biltmore hat, union-made in Guelph, Ontario, a tweed fedora. It was a fine hat. It was his regular hat, his everyday hat. He had other hats; he had the same one in both black and indigo fur felt; he had a bowler from Bates in London, and a Borsalino straw hat he donned in the always-fleeting summer heat; he had many of them, for other occasions, for particular suits, but most days he wore the tweed Biltmore. It, perched atop the horned rims of his glasses, was his calling card as he walked his quick walk around the dirt paths. He had a car, a Packard he said, but he rarely drove it. It was said he preferred walking, and his car was stored in Port-Aux-Basques anyhow, and driven only when distance required it. (There was no need for an automobile on this island, anyhow, as there was nothing but small paths around the houses, designed for horses and cows rather than automobiles, and there were no real roads to speak of. There was one particular family, however, who did not realize this and made great fun of running their Ford into tree stumps and getting it stuck out in the Muddy Hole.) His hat, then his glasses announced him. It was a very smart hat and it suited him perfectly. He greeted his neighbours warmly and genuinely, shaking the men’s hands firmly and bowing slightly towards the women, always producing a candy or a penny for a child, but he did not linger long in conversation and he rarely strung more than a few words together at one time. The weather, the fish, the comings and goings, the news of the day. He made honest eye contact, his eyes a soft grey-green, and people left his brief presences content with the interaction whether they knew it or not. He was a handsome man, in a nondescript way that neared but was not quite softness; he had full lips and a broad nose, a short, gentle forehead. He was not tall by any means, and slight, but he seemed bigger than he was, as though he carried an usual amount of energy for someone of his stature. He had prominent cheekbones beneath his glasses and hat that made his face look as though it could make to a smile quicker than most men.
They knew his name and a general idea of his business, but he knew none of them well. They felt he preferred it that way and they were right. His mother was of a well-known family in St. John’s, apparently, though nobody was quite sure which one. Some said it was the Powers (But which Powers?, they asked, the ones from Logy Bay, or the ones from the West End? Wasn’t there Powerses in the Gut too?), others the Cahills, others the Angels. When they gossiped across the labyrinth of clotheslines that criss-crossed the grass between the houses which had seemingly been planted on Sunday whims with no rhyme or reason, just plopped there casually as if tobacco spit, they all nodded knowingly at the mention of these names, though they’d none of them ever been so close as a day’s travel from the city.
He worked for Murdoch and Co., who owned, of course, the entire place at that time. The whole little barren island. They were the grocers and the fishermen and the purveyors of everything else on the island. The owned all the boats, save the few rickety trawlers and sad, drooping skiffs and out-of-date punts still clung to by aging seamen that were pickled along the edges of the murky-watered docks. They handled liquor by the barrel-full, livestock, building material, security, money, people. They paid competitive wages to the half the island’s men who were under their employ, and were fair to the fisherman who made up the other half, those who trucked their catches, offering more credit than many merchants on many other out-of-the way isles and in inlets around the coast of the big island. The Murdoch family themselves were fabulously wealthy, and those who worked closely with them appeared quite well-to-do themselves. The man in the tweed hat was different than the other men who worked for Murdoch though; he was the youngest, and the only one with no family. It was agreed he had a brother and likely more family in Boston, where he traveled often. He often went to St. John’s, as well; in fact he had just returned by train, then by boat from Port-Aux-Basques the previous week. Mrs. Payne met him off the boat with fresh rolls, as she often did. He had the look of somebody who was wealthy but didn’t care for it. His suits were fine, but not too fine. While he was never seen without a suit on, he seemed to have a personal preference for workman’s fabrics rather than silks and chains. It was known he carried a sizable billfold, however.
Nobody knew exactly what he did for Murdoch and Co., but he had been with them a number of years now, though he was ‘away on business’ as much if not more as he was actually at ‘home’. His title was simply “Clerk”. He seemed especially close to Murdoch’s manager, Captain Hubert Payne, a gigantic potbellied, white-bearded seaman whose temper was legendary on the island. Their frequent conversations were rarely overheard; when anything was actually heard it was little of importance. There were rumours the man in the tweed hat was engaged in some way to Payne’s oldest daughter, but she was barely eighteen and now working in the grocery. He was, they figured at least thirty, and it was said he had fought with the puttees in the war which would mean he must have at least that many years, though nobody would have been surprised were he traipsing the battlefields of Belgium at fifteen—he seemed that sort of man, with those sorts of stories, were he ever to speak–and it was quite easy to remove his hat and glasses from him, put on a helmet and see a soldier. His upright but languid manner suggested as much. Besides, they scoffed, they deemed it unlikely he would mix business and pleasure so, as Payne had the reputation for being particularly mean when drinking rum, which he, along with the rest of the island’s men, enjoyed more than anything, including catching fish or the company of their families. The man with the tweed hat was usually nowhere to be found during Payne’s drunken rages, and was rarely seen drinking himself. When he was, it would be a single cold bottle of beer, which he would drink quickly, in long gulps, between drags off the Lucky Strikes he smoked compulsively. All the same, they figured it would be a fool’s errand to have an additional means beyond his employ to find himself in Captain Hubert’s fiery path, and the man seemed too smart to them to run any fool’s errand, let alone one involving his direct superior. When the Captain’s daughter’s name was mentioned, eyes were rolled and ‘shush’s were made. The man in the tweed hat was a mystery, if deemed a benevolent one by all appearances. He was an outsider, after all. He was respectful. Little what thought of him until he and his hat appeared around corners or beneath clotheslines with that quick, stealthy gait. Little was again, once he and his hat had gone. Today, however, was different. Bridie Fiander watched his hat appear from around the Hiscock home, beneath the fog, and rather than simply bow and offer hope it all burned off, he stopped in front of Bridie Fiander’s and asked if her husband George was in. The man in the tweed hat said he must talk to George and it was urgent. Bridie let the man in the tweed hat in and called for George.
She watched out the window as George and the man in the tweed hat walked out beneath the clotheslines, which were full, despite the fog, which they usually were, despite the fog. George mostly listened. The man stood sharply erect, and did most of the talking, her husband nodding and grunting affirmatives. He seemed to assert a quiet dominance over George, and she could tell by the bobbing of his hat that he was speaking quickly and more freely than usual. He looked people straight in the face as he addressed them. The two men looked into the fog towards where the docks were, no more than 50 yards but invisible. Though George was a much larger man, the man in the tweed hat seemed to take up every bit as much space in the yard, beneath the clothesline. George had been spending far more time at home than was to his own liking. That man in the tweed hat, she thought, there is something unspoken in his past, something he does not talk about—I can almost see him carrying it. He shook George’s hand firmly then, after giving George an additional soft tap on the shoulder, the man in the tweed hat went on his way.


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