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Auraria a novel, p.6
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       Auraria: A Novel, p.6

           Tim Westover
 

  Chapter Six

  The town house that was meant to be Holtzclaw’s next acquisition was a flat-fronted white rectangle with four glazed-over windows, two per story, which did not interrupt the monotony of the edifice. It was distinguished from its neighbors only because it was freshly painted. Holtzclaw could not think why Shadburn considered it an essential purchase.

  Holtzclaw knocked on the door twice and stood with his hat already in his hands. A hatless man belongs inside, and the person answering the door is meant to resolve the impropriety by inviting the visitor inside. The door was answered by a rail-thin woman, whose hair was pulled back in a working style. She held a broom, but her boney arms continued so naturally into the handle that it seemed she had straw for hands.

  “Help you?” she asked.

  “Good day, ma’am,” said Holtzclaw. “Could you tell me if Mr. Ignatius Walton is within?”

  “I think so,” said the woman. “Hold up. Beluhah? Do you know if Mr. Walton is home?”

  “I think so,” called back a fainter voice from above. “Hold up.” A pause. “Cannie says so, but she didn’t check with Dan ’cause he’s sleeping.”

  The first woman returned to the door. “Cannie says so,” she said to Holtzclaw.

  “Might he be summoned to receive a visitor?”

  “Nah, I don’t think he’d come down. He’s a very busy man, you know.”

  “I have some very important business to discuss with him.”

  “Well, if it’s important, you might come in and find him yourself. He might talk with you. But don’t tell him I let you in. If it’s not important, he might get mad. I used to try to guess what was important and what wasn’t. I let in some people that looked important, but Mr. Walton said they were nothing. Wonder he hasn’t fired me. And stars forbid if I tried to clean up around here. Mr. Walton would say, ‘Arma, Arma, what do you think you’re doing? Don’t you know that’s an original copy of the birth certificate for King Paul of Poland, gnawed by the very rats that later gnawed his bones?’ and I’d say, ‘No, sir, I did not.’”

  Arma stepped back from the door and admitted Holtzclaw with a sweep of her hand. The plain exterior of the house gave way to an utter chaos of possessions inside. Holtzclaw recognized an abacus, a framed print of a Turkish ruler, and several whittled representations of various produce: a sweet potato, a peach, and a fruit that looked like an eggplant, but fatter. The chief ingredients of the chaos, though, were books and papers. Holtzclaw did not want to remove any of the volumes from the mass—some were load-bearing—but he read a few titles from spines that happened to be visible: The Medicinal History of Virginia Waters and Historical Alabama Resorts.

  An object crunched beneath his foot. Under his heel were the smashed remains of some acorns. “I hope those were not important,” he said to Arma.

  Arma shook her head. “They were either the last known seeds of the Tree of Life or something the vermin dragged in. And even if I knew which, I still couldn’t tell you if they were important or not.”

  “Mr. Walton would be where?”

  “Upstairs, of course. You can see he’s not here.”

  Holtzclaw climbed to the next level, which was no less cluttered than the previous. A full skeleton of a cow was the primary attraction. The cow skeleton was several feet too long, given the ordinary proportions of the animal. Had this unfortunate long cow dwelt upon the earth, then had its anatomy collected as a medical curiosity? Or had the skeleton been assembled postmortem into a showpiece intended to deceive? Holtzclaw was inclined to believe the latter.

  There was no sign of Walton, or any human, on this floor. He must then be in the garret, below the roof. Holtzclaw ascended the stairs and was doubly surprised—first by the enormous round face of a woman too close to his own, then—once he had cleared this inquisitive gaze—by the architecture of the room. It was not a slope-roofed garret, but a squared-off, full-height story identical to those below.

  “You the one Arma let in?” said the face. “I’m Beluhah.”

  “She said that Mr. Walton was upstairs.”

  “Yes, we all think so.”

  “But aren’t I already as high as I can go? I counted two stories from the outside.”

  “Well, you know how some houses are,” said Beluhah. “They look small from the outside, but they’re bigger inside. How were you counting? By the windows? That’s not a very good way to count. What if someone forgot to put in a window or put in an extra one? I had some neighbors once that made up a passel of fake windows because they wanted us to think they lived in a ten-story house, as though it would make them better than us.”

  “The laws of nature wouldn’t permit a ten-story house in the space I observed.”

  “I can be certain in telling you that this house doesn’t have ten stories. That would be too neat and clean for Mr. Walton. Too round! No, he’d want to have one hundred seventeen and a quarter, if he could.”

  “Could Mr. Walton be up that high?” he said.

  “How should I know?” said Beluhah. “I’ve never been above fifty-five.”

  The architects of this dwelling hadn’t the sense to build one set of spiraling stairs that traveled both upward and downward. Instead, they adopted the simpler alternating method, which forced the ascender to cross the entire room every time he wished to gain a story.

  Holtzclaw picked his way through the debris of the third floor, which featured an inordinate number of rocks. Limestone, shale, quartz, obsidian, and granite were represented by stones the size of a house cat. Crossed pine branches covered another display. As Holtzclaw walked past, a hissing noise emerged from beneath the branches, and Holtzclaw gave the display a wide berth.

  A woman named Cannie welcomed Holtzclaw to the next story, which was uncharacteristically empty. The room also felt smaller than the previous ones. It was a trick of the eye, given the emptiness of the floor. Still, Holtzclaw thought that his frames of reference—the windows, the staircases—were nearer each other than they’d been on the first floor.

  “Be careful where you step, sir!” said Cannie, and she pointed to the floor. “Oh, not there! Anywhere but there!” She knelt beside Holtzclaw’s shoe and rapped on its toe twice with the knuckle of her index finger. Holtzclaw lifted it and contorted himself into a one-legged pose that enabled him to stoop lower without further moving his feet. The apparently empty surface of the floor was covered with piles of dust. Each of the ten or twelve piles that Holtzclaw could distinguish was different. Here was a blue tint or pinkish hue, large granules or fine-sifted crumbs like flour.

  “I think you have stepped right into the arsenic powder and blown it to the four corners of the world,” said Cannie. “I don’t know how I’ll ever sort it out from the sulfur.”

  “Such a collection would be better placed in vials or bottles,” said Holtzclaw.

  “It’s not a collection of bottles.”

  “No, I would imagine that collection is somewhere upstairs.”

  “Maybe. I’ve never seen it.”

  On his tiptoes, Holtzclaw managed to cross the room without further scorn from Cannie. He climbed the stairs, which should not have led anywhere, and found himself in another full-sized story. Across the room was another staircase. It was impossible and astonishing, this proliferation of space under a single roof, yet somehow disappointing—it was only more stories in a house. A very modest wonder.

  If Holtzclaw had come to Walton’s house first, he would not have reacted thusly. He would have searched his person for traces of insanity, pinched himself to trying awakening from a dream, looked for trick staircases or prestidigitators conspiring against him. Part of his mind—the part that had been whimpering even since riding into town yesterday—still wanted to search for these links back to a rational world. But the haunted piano, the ghost wife, and the springhouse blizzard had prepared him for a revelation.

  Perhaps Auraria did have its spirits and its own particular nature. If he resisted it, wailed for reason
where there was none—that would only be a waste. Disbelief would slow him down. Holtzclaw could shut his eyes, but this infinite house would still be here, and Mr. Walton would still be inside, and Holtzclaw would still need to find him.

  On this higher story, the aforementioned Dan was still asleep. This seemed as impossible as the house itself, for the species of clutter unique to this story was by far the loudest. Musical instruments filled the room to the rafters. Dan was sleeping on top of a closed piano. When he turned, he jostled the neck of a banjo, which fell on top of a violin with a painful crash of wood and tuneless ringing. Two rotating musical disks, like one would find in a dingy nickelodeon, competed for supremacy with tinny melodies. Several standing clocks counted off unsynchronized minutes. When one would strike the quarter hour, as happened five times during Holtzclaw’s two-minute sojourn across the room, the other musical instruments in the room joined in sympathetic vibration.

  As Holtzclaw’s head pushed into the higher story, two children looked up from their stations. They sat in an avalanche of paper—maps, deeds, land lottery tickets, stakes, claims, and surveys.

  “Would either of you be, by chance, Mr. Walton?” said Holtzclaw.

  “I’m Flossie, and he’s Ephraim,” said one.

  “And you wouldn’t know, then, the whereabouts of Mr. Walton, owner of this property?”

  “We trade a lot of properties,” said Flossie. “That’s how we pass the time. See all these papers? They’re land lottery tickets and maps and deeds. So Ephraim’s got his stack, and I’ve got my stack. And I say, ‘Hoy, Ephraim, I will trade to you the Moss farm if you’ll give me the Pigeon Roost mine.’ And he will say, ‘Hoy, Flossie, if you think I’ll give you that on face, you are batty. You’ll need to add in those bottomlands by the Amazon Branch, and two springs besides, the Lifsey and Taylor Springs.’ And I’ll say, ‘I’ll give you the Amazon Branch and the Lifsey Springs. Taylor I want. How about the Wright place?’ And he’ll say, ‘That’s nothing but twenty acres of cut-over woodland.’ And I’ll say, ‘Then we’ll have a whole new deal. For the Pigeon Roost mine, I’ll give you the deed for the Terrible Cascade, all the way from the Sky Pilot’s down to the Beaver Ruin.’ And he’ll say, ‘You can’t give me that ’cause I already own it. I got it from you two weeks ago!’ And I’ll say, ‘Show me!’ And we both go digging in our papers. Turns out that I did own the Terrible Cascade, just like I said, because he sold it to me for the Pigeon Roost mine two days ago!”

  “You mean to tell me you own all that?” said Holtzclaw. “Or Mr. Walton owns all that?”

  “Well, he has maps and papers and tickets,” said Flossie. “But he doesn’t live on it.”

  “If you have the right papers, then you own the land. It doesn’t matter who lives on it.”

  This made Flossie turn pensive. Still, Ephraim did not avail himself of the chance to get in a word.

  “Can I see your game pieces?” said Holtzclaw. If they were real, he could buy the whole valley right here in this room.

  Flossie handed over a few sheets of paper. They looked very old, and Holtzclaw didn’t recognize the signatures. Important survey notes were missing. Perhaps they were original deeds that had since been surpassed by more accurate records. It would not make sense for Auraria’s deeds to be here. They were too precious. Their owners would keep them, or they would be filed in the county seat.

  He gave them back to Flossie, who clutched them close to her heart. Still, there was a great deal of paper, and some of it could be useful. Maybe somewhere here was a valid deed or two or even old maps that would offer leverage in property disputes. Perhaps Walton could just sell him the room, as a whole, and he could peruse the contents at his leisure, after getting back from Dahlonega.

  On the next story, Holtzclaw was met with a collection of chairs, which he found far less interesting than the land deeds from below. All the chairs were scratched and dusty. Most had seats woven from corn husks. One of the chairs, a rocker beside the window, was filled with a large woman who called herself Gertie.

  “Mr. Walton?” said Gertie. “He’s downstairs. In the cellar.”

  Holtzclaw teetered on the edge of an apoplectic fit. “You must be mistaken. The others told me upstairs!”

  “No, I am quite certain.”

  “I shouldn’t go just a little higher and ask Hiram or Immajean or Jessie?”

  “Well, we haven’t seen Hiram in ages, going on thirty years. I think he’s been lost. And he wasn’t the most respectable fellow to being with. Too much carousing, heading nowhere and spending a fortune to do it. The rest would just tell you the same as me. Mr. Walton is downstairs. He said he was going to the cellar, and that was hours ago, and we haven’t seen him come back up since.”

  “Hadn’t I better check just a few stories, just to see if he’s right above?” said Holtzclaw.

  “What’s a few stories? Two, eight, thirty-six?” said Gertie.

  “How many could there be?”

  “I don’t know. I’ve never been higher than forty-four. That one is pretty tiny. I couldn’t fit myself up the staircase past that. You know the rooms get smaller, right?”

  Holtzclaw had noted that on Cannie’s story, and Gertie’s felt smaller yet; the windows were half a pace nearer each other.

  “So you say that I should go back down?”

  “I would insist on it.” Gertie rose from her chair and stepped in front of the ascending stairs.

  There was nothing for it. He descended the staircases and crossed the rooms again, past Flossie haggling with the still-silent Ephraim, past sleeping Dan and his cacophony, past Cannie hunched over a pile of powder and holding her breath, past Beluhah rearranging her rocks, and past the skeleton of the long cow.

  When he reached the ground floor, Arma was surprised to see him so soon.

  “I climbed as high as Gertie,” said Holtzclaw. “But she told me that Mr. Walton had gone downstairs.”

  “Gertie is a rotten liar!” said Arma.

  “Still, hadn’t I better check the cellar?” protested Holtzclaw.

  “You’d be the worse for it. It’s dark down there, and for every floor we’ve got up here, they’ve got two down there.” But Arma did not bar his way.

  Holtzclaw descended the stairs into the first level of the cellar and, in the twilight, blundered into a small soot-covered man. His thready hair hung past his ears, and his collar was uneven.

  “Hullo there, can I help you?” said the grubby man.

  “I am hoping against hope that you can tell me, please, where I can find Mr. Walton and that you are not a Zebulon or a Bertram,” said Holtzclaw.

  “Walton, that’s me. I’d just popped down to select a bottle for afternoon refreshment. Would you care to join in?” Walton held out a magnificent claret, of a vintage that belonged to a nobler century.

  “Nothing would give me more pleasure,” said Holtzclaw, not believing his luck.

  Walton sat down on one of the stairs and, using a field knife from his boot, hacked off the corked end of the bottle. The glass neck flew into a dark corner. Walton pulled a large mouthful of the rare and ancient claret directly from the bottle, then passed it to Holtzclaw. “Careful where you put your lip! Sharp edges.”

  A desecration! Such a wine should be enjoyed with all the proper ceremony and respect: the glass, the temperature, time to breathe, the proper chamber, the proper attitude. To drink claret still cool from the cellar, sitting on a dirty stoop, in subterranean half-darkness, was a horror. Holtzclaw felt an emotion that others would call anger begin to rise toward his face.

  Still, he took the bottle and drew his own mouthful of the claret. It was symphony of mature flavors. Yet how much more harmonious if given a stage, rather than a street corner!

  Holtzclaw’s fugue was broken by Walton’s snapping fingers. He wanted another drink. Holtzclaw handed the bottle back.

  “So you’ve spent an hour finding me,” said Walton. “What is it that I can do for you?”

&nb
sp; Holtzclaw explained his mission—the acquisition of scrap metal from certain mines in the area.

  “Why, I have a great deal of scrap metal myself,” said Walton. “Not for sale, of course, but you might appreciate it as much as I do, if you are dealer. It’s upstairs somewhere. Would you like me to show you?”

  “No! No, thank you. I have a tight schedule today, and I’m afraid I’m already behind. I am inquiring if you are interested in selling your dwelling here. It would make a suitable and spacious temporary headquarters for my operation.”

  “This place is cramped. Above one hundred floors, the space is only fit for thimbles and thread. I think it is a fundamental flaw of the vertical model. A problem of gravity.”

  “I should think that fifty floors would suffice for my needs.”

  “And what possessions do you have to offer me in return for my house?”

  “Well, there is a certain standard formula for these transactions. We consider the dimensions of the property, apply certain transformations and regularizations, and the result is a dollar value that I can offer.”

  “That is all one possession, merely differing in quantity,” said Walton. “Dollars! I have dollars already. I have a room with dollars from every year that they have been printed. What else do you have?”

  “I have some of unusual gold coins,” said Holtzclaw.

  “That is more interesting. People here love gold coins. They want to keep them in their own pockets and not trade them with me.”

  “Then I will pay you in gold coins.”

  “Again, you are speaking about quantities, not diversities. Show me the coins that you have.”

  Holtzclaw opened his satchel and withdrew the bag of coins. He held it out to Walton, who reached in and pulled out one coin at a time. After inspection, he placed the coins in groupings on a higher step.

  “These are all Harrison Brothers’ coins!” said Walton. “You know the story, yes?”

  Holtzclaw thought it wisest not to answer, but to take another sip of the magnificent claret.

  “Thirty years ago, in better times,” said Walton, “the Harrison Brothers minted their own coins, right here in Auraria, from the local gold. They only did it for a few years before the federals came in and confiscated the Harrisons’ stamps. Such a travesty! The brothers would have resisted if they had found a way to profit, but I think they saw the raid as a relief. They could quit without shame.”

  “How could they not have profited on gold, of all things?” said Holtzclaw.

  “The miners and panners wouldn’t tolerate any metal lost in minting, and they wouldn’t pay any exchange fees. Could you blame them? They’d sweated for every flake. And the folks here in Auraria still cling to those coins in their tight fists. They won’t give them up. I don’t have one here, among my things. How did you get so many?”

  Holtzclaw told the truth, seeing no value in a lie. “They came from my employer, who has authorized me to spend them as needed.”

  “Here’s a one dollar, two dollar, three dollar, and a five, ten, and twenty—all stamped with the same month! That’s clever. And if you’ll notice, here’s four one dollars, siblings of sequential years. What lovely pictures too! Did you know that the Harrisons stamped a groundhog on their two-dollar piece? The younger Harrison loved groundhog. Who doesn’t? Good and greasy, wipe it off your chin. Lovely. Do you have a groundhog coin in there?”

  Holtzclaw inverted the bag of gold coins onto the floor, and both men rummaged through them. After a few minutes, Holtzclaw held up two coins that featured a crude groundhog stamped on the obverse.

  “I only need one,” said Walton. “And this is the finer of the two. So these coins then, for the house and lot?” said Walton.

  Holtzclaw added up the face value of the coins Walton had selected. It was a fine deal, very fine. If Holtzclaw considered the square footage of the structure, the deal was legendary—how could one put a price on infinity?

  “If you are sure, I will draft a deed,” said Holtzclaw.

  “It will be an opportunity to get more space for my possessions. A warehouse all on a single floor. Acres and acres under one roof. I could have an indoor railroad that would carry me about to different departments. Wouldn’t that be nice?” Walton’s face radiated pleasure.

  Holtzclaw executed a bill of sale; Walton signed with an elaborate flourish.

  “Mr. Walton, one more matter. Like you, I am a collector. I have a personal collection of documents. Your Ephraim and Flossie guard some that I should like to have. Maps, land lottery tickets, old surveys, et cetera. As your future plans include relocation, would you see fit to sell me any of those papers, one collector to another?”

  Walton mused. “What would Ephraim and Flossie play then? They do so love their trading game.”

  “With their bickering over territory, they might like chess. Or they could have a spelling game out of blocks. Flossie has many words to share with Ephraim.”

  Walton shook his head. “I cannot do it. I cannot sell any of my possessions.”

  “You did sell the house.”

  “That is not a possession. It is just a place to keep them. A possession must be movable, because if you leave it behind it is no longer in your possession.”

  This rich man had no more sense than Moss raving about taking the luck from the land. Holtzclaw tucked the land deed into his traveling bag, alongside the others. Such papers did not need aphorisms to make them valuable.

  •

  After leaving the Walton tower, Holtzclaw headed for the town’s druggist. He needed a remedy that would reinforce him through the last two properties that he had to visit before sundown. While Holtzclaw’s feet were accustomed to walking—his occupation compelled him to travel many miles, and not all of them on horseback or stagecoach—his knees were not accustomed to the mountains. A mile on a fifteen-degree slope, whether ascending or descending, required as much strength as a dozen miles in the level Wire-grass or pine barrens. Walton’s steep staircases had only exacerbated his condition, and now he suffered from an acute ache that would slow him down if it weren’t addressed with medicine.

  Entering the druggist’s shop, Holtzclaw was further surprised to see that the store contained not an array of frog’s eyes and bat tails and pine bark and other folk remedies, but a fine selection of ars medica in colored bottles and vials, and in front of them was a man in a broad mustache.

  “Something for the barking dogs, eh, stranger? Well, you’re no stranger here. My name’s Emmett, and you are?”

  “James G. Holtzclaw.”

  “Welcome, Jimmy!”

  “This is your store?” said Holtzclaw.

  “Yes, my very own,” said Emmett.

  “Do you own the building?”

  “Ah, no, I do not. I would rather put my money into the aid of my fellow man. No, the building belongs to the doctor.”

  “The doctor? Is that an honorific or an occupation?”

  “Doc Rathbun, and he’s a real doctor. Looks at your bones and everything. Sends me patients. We work well together. The barber will look at your aches and pains too, but the doctor and I don’t get on so well with him. And Mother Fresh-Roasted has a passel of cures, but you really have to believe in them.”

  “What kind of preposterous name is Mother Fresh-Roasted?”

  “If you think her name’s preposterous, you probably oughtn’t go to see her, then. She’s got banjos that play themselves. Victuals that you’d never believe—hens laying ice cream. A singing tree that she books out for parties. ”

  “She sounds like just the shaman for Auraria, then. Still, I am glad to see that your connection with an actual man of science is reflected in your selection of wares,” said Holtzclaw. “Given your rural location, I had expected to see some more rustic offerings in your store. Witch hazel or what have you.”

  “Some of those are pure and true. A sprig of ginseng will do you good! Smash up some ginger and put it up the backside of a mule, and he’ll run lik
e lightning. Nothing fake about that. Can’t fool a mule!”

  Now Emmett leaned in close to the counter, lowering his voice as if to avoid being overheard, although there were no others in the store.

  “Jimmy, there’s some pumpkins of good in those cures. But folks around here aren’t going to buy them from me, and why would they? A fellow says, ‘Emmett, I don’t need to buy any ginseng from you. I can go out in the woods and get as much as I like.’ Well, it’s not as easy as that, but I don’t argue with him. I say, ‘Fellow, you’re right! You don’t need that common stuff. You need Dr. Pep’s Double Cure! Two blended medicines for all your complaints. Insomnia, sleepiness, fevers, chills, headache and heartache, ruddy complexion, or paleness in the cheek.’ And that same fellow, he’ll buy that right away. Comes in a pretty bottle that he can put a daisy in for the missus. Nice label on it that proves what I’m saying. I get them printed down in Gainesville. And what are those two medicines that a fellow paid me fifty cents for? Well, Jimmy, I’ll tell you. It’s ginseng and clear liquor. Ginseng to cure ’em and liquor so they like it.”

  “So, you’re fooling your customer?”

  “What’s fooling? He gets better—he’s happy. I get paid—I’m happy. The missus gets a flower vase—she’s happy.”

  “But he could have just found some ginseng in the woods.”

  “Ginseng doesn’t cure like Dr. Pep! Ginseng doesn’t have a label.”

  “And would Dr. Pep help my pained knees?”

  “Dr. Pep would do most anything for you if I told you it did,” said Emmett. “But I think the hog may be out of the sack on that one. For you, friend Jimmy, I would prescribe the scientific cure. I have an excellent and popular substance for which I am the sole local supplier. Effervescent Brain Salts! Good for pained parts, but where it shines is in the mind. Cures mental enervation and excitement, excessive study, mania, and over-brainwork. Says so on the label.” Emmett tapped it in front of Holtzclaw’s nose.

  “I suppose I’ll try it.”

  “You won’t be disappointed, and if you are, I’ll tell you why you’re wrong. Shall I wrap it up for you, or will you be taking the remedy now?”

  “Wrap it up, please. I’ll take it on up the road.”

  As Emmett wrapped his purchase, Holtzclaw studied a gorgeous lithograph hanging on the wall, which showed a smiling man in an Egyptian headdress. He held a red tin that depicted the same smiling face. Behind him, three Pyramids rose like mountains from a desert landscape. Golden letters proclaimed the name of the product.

  “What’s Pharaoh’s Flour?” said Holtzclaw.

  “Why, Pharaoh’s Flour is the best I have, and it has the best speech too. Let me give it, and see if you don’t leave with a tin or a wagon full.” Emmett cleared his throat and began to speak before Holtzclaw could protest. “Pharaoh’s Flour! The laughing face of Amenhotep III promises the highest quality flour, used for millennia by pharaohs and queens and your very own mother. Its natural sweetness is discerned by even the choosiest tongue. Rolls are fuller and crusts are crisper. Of the last ten winners at the Great World Exhibition of Culinary Arts, all ten chose Pharaoh’s Flour. But it’s not only for the kitchen! Pharaoh’s Flour is used in locks to help an old key turn and in door hinges to eliminate creaks. Scatter half a box in front of a heavy chest, and it will slide along the floor, just as the ancients moved the Pyramids’ great stones. Pharaoh’s Flour is most useful in the marriage bed—but you already know that, you clever girl! Mix Pharaoh’s Flour and water into a pure paste that can plug insect holes or even repair a leaky roof or sinking boat. To ward against nighttime thieves, scatter fresh Pharaoh’s Flour around your rooms and in the morning look for footsteps leading to the guilty. Poured onto dirty snow, Pharaoh’s Flour will restore the look of a virgin winter’s night. Pharaoh’s Flour, brushed on to lilies, saves their springtime freshness until summer’s end. Pharaoh’s Flour has a fresh, sharp scent to drive away all evil spirits and malicious ghosts from the corners of your home. Other brands have no command over shadows of the dead. Use Pharaoh’s Flour for divination and fortune-telling—consult the forms designed by scattered grains. Like sand sculpted by the wind, Pharaoh’s Flour holds ancient secrets. Pharaoh’s Flour promises the full fidelity of your husband and the eternal good behavior of your children—not only because the delicacies that you create with it can never be forgotten, but also because Pharaoh’s Flour bakes into every cake and pie the ancient spells and curses with which the pharaohs guarded their undisturbed homes and descendants into Eternity. And the ancient spells and curses, once guarded by the wise and wealthy, are now available in your kitchen. Pharaoh’s Flour! On every grain dances an ancient maiden. Pharaoh’s Flour! At every reputable store.”

  Emmett made a little bow, and Holtzclaw conceded that it was an excellent speech. “How much does such a wondrous product cost?”

  “What a crass question! I should take offense. How much is purity worth to you, Jim? What price do you put on freshness, taste, and ancient secrets? A thousand men died to preserve these things, Jim, and ten thousand to bring them to the light and put them into tins in my humble shop! If I said a dollar a pound, you would still gladly pay it. But for you, it is fifty cents, and I couldn’t sell it for a penny less, not even to my own mother.”

  It was a foolish price for flour, but not all flour comes with ancient maidens or elaborate speeches. After so much effort on Emmett’s part, Holtzclaw would have felt abashed not to buy. “Well, I’ll take a pound then, along with my Effervescent Brain Salts, even though I don’t need it weighing me down.”

  “Why, you won’t even feel it. A pound of Pharaoh’s Flour is light as a feather.”

  “Spoken like a consummate salesman.”

 
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