400 pixel cover--Fool

Fortune’s Fool

 

Chap­ter 1

 

Mem­phis, 1933

 

For the longest time, Nell Marc­hand believed the hap­pi­est day of her life was the one on which she’d mar­ried dash­ing blue­blood Daniel Ellis Over­ton Marc­hand IV. On the sun-washed Wednes­day when she buried him next to I, II, and III under a mag­no­lia in grand old Elm­wood Ceme­tery with every­body who was any­body hud­dled in the March wind for the final send-off, she knew that she had been wrong all along.
 
Nell squeezed a fist­ful of rich West Ten­nessee dirt into the tight­est clump she could man­age and dropped it onto her husband’s cof­fin. When it struck, the pol­ished mahogany lid pealed for all the world like the Lib­erty Bell.
 
This, she said to her­self, this is it.
 
A swell of thank­ful­ness toward Ellis for drop­ping dead so com­pletely unex­pect­edly and in appar­ently such resound­ingly good health made her want to tear off her hat and veil and fling them into the air like a child cel­e­brat­ing the last day of school. Now, she really could do absolutely what­ever she wanted when­ever she wanted and wher­ever she wanted.
 
Paris, for exam­ple. She’d go back to that flat off Boule­vard de La Tour-Maubourg where they had been so happy on their hon­ey­moon. She would eat all the but­tery crois­sants she could stuff in her mouth and wash them down with all the cham­pagne she could swal­low. The French had more sense that to put up with any­thing like Prohibition.
 
When the last mourner sprin­kled the final hand­ful over Ellis, the preacher closed his Bible with a gen­tle thump. Behind her black lace veil, Nell smiled.
 
Back at the house, all of Mem­phis soci­ety, Boss Crump, Mayor Over­ton, and even Sen­a­tor Cordell Hull himself—come all the way from Washington—pressed her fin­gers in sympathy.
 
Heart attack took his daddy, too, didn’t it?,” they mur­mured. “Still, he was awful young. What a shame.”
 
We sure are going to miss him.”
 
Bless your heart.”
 
And then they passed into the dou­ble par­lor, skirt­ing Gen­eral Oates’s wooden leg in its burled walnut-and-glass case to get to the long tables on which her cook Hat­tie had piled moun­tains of food.
 
As was seemly for a fresh widow, from time to time Nell touched her hand­ker­chief to her nose. A lady never wept in pub­lic. Even Bess Marc­hand was behav­ing tol­er­a­bly, play­ing the griev­ing mother with quiet dig­nity rather than car­ry­ing on the way she could when she had a mind to.
 
All in all, it was a very good day.
 
*
 
Once they had all gone, Nell was about to free her feet from the tor­ture of her styl­ishly somber shoes so she could stand bare­foot on the cool floor at the sink and dry the dishes as Hat­tie washed them and talk over the wake and what every­one had brought and said and worn. A sud­den shiver shook Nell so hard that she had to grab the edge of the table to steady herself.
 
Some­body walk­ing on your grave, honey?” Hat­tie said.
 
Must have.”
 
Nell hugged her­self and wig­gled her heel again. Just then, Anton Green, the Marchands’ lanky fam­ily attor­ney and Ellis’s god­fa­ther, poked his bald­ing head into the kitchen. “I need you a minute, Nell,” he said. He came to take her by the elbow and guided her into the sit­ting room that looked out on the back gardens.
 
I prob­a­bly shouldn’t tell you this today, but I think you need to know before you get your­self into trouble.”
 
Anton, what on earth?”
 
Nell perched on the edge of old Judge Marchand’s awful horse­hair sofa.
 
Hands clasped behind his back, mut­ter­ing, Anton took a cou­ple of turns in front of the fire­place like a pre­oc­cu­pied stork.  A def­i­nite unpleas­ant­ness stirred in Nell’s mid­dle. He stopped in front of her, and, Lord Almighty, if he didn’t look as though he might bust loose and cry.
 
Oh, my dear, I’m so sorry. There’s noth­ing left.”
 
Noth­ing left. I don’t under­stand. Noth­ing left of what?”
 
Of your money. It’s all gone.”
 
It took a small eter­nity for that to sink in. Nell smoothed her hand­ker­chief against her thigh, folded it in half, folded it again. “When you say ‘noth­ing,’ do you mean every bit of it?”
 
Every last bit.”
 
I’m pen­ni­less?”
 
I’m afraid so.”
 
Chok­ing back wild laugh­ter that bub­bled at the back of her throat, she looked up at Anton, who, now that he had deliv­ered the death blow, seemed more composed.
 
But how can that be? Ellis said he was too smart for the Crash to touch us.”
 
Well, now, Nell, you know Ellis some­times found the truth dis­agree­able. I reckon he thought that if he didn’t let on he was broke, he wouldn’t be.”
 
Nell twisted the handkerchief.
 
What am I going to do?”
 
Anton sat beside her. “I’m sure we can find some­thing for you.”
 
You mean go to some hor­ri­ble lit­tle office all day?”
 
There are worse things, Nell.”
 
Yes. Yes, I’m sure there must be, though for the life of me, I can’t quite think what they might be just now.” Nell unfurled the hand­ker­chief and began to smooth it again. “What about Mother Marchand’s money?”
 
Gone, too.”
 
Nell wiped her nose, feel­ing sin­cere but not par­tic­u­larly brave. “But this Depres­sion they talk about. I thought that’s why all those men show up at the kitchen door every day. I thought that’s why there are such throngs when Miss Bess and I work at the soup kitchen down­town. I thought that’s why we just elected Mr. Roo­sevelt. Because there aren’t any jobs.”
 
She slumped against the back of the sofa and draped her fore­arm across her eyes. “I don’t know how to do anything.”
 
What about your folks in Mississippi?”
 
Gone. The flu took most of them, just like Mama and Daddy. I haven’t got anybody.”
 
You can learn to type or keep books.”
 
But I was going to Paris.”
 
Even in her own ears, her voice was small. She thought sev­eral very unla­dy­like things that would have made her mother speak sharply to her had she said them out loud and had her mother still been alive. For first time in she couldn’t remem­ber how long, Nell Marc­hand cried real tears.