The ex-fisherman, now aspiring miner, returned to the rooming house late that evening, after most of the gentlemen had finished their brandy and left for their own firesides, wives, and families. His face was flushed, despite the cold, and his manner distracted. The widow rose to greet him, murmuring concern.
One gentleman, the one who had wished him luck in the mines, remained. “Ah, you look as if you could use a drink, sir. I’d be happy to stay a bit and join you.”
“Thank you, yes, indeed,” the new arrival said. The widow tried to catch his eye, but failed. Ursula, as usual, made herself inconspicuous, and listened.
“Is all well, sir?” the gentleman asked, clearly pleased to have a reason to delay his return home, as he settled back into the overstuffed chair by the fire. In fact, Ursula knew from her habitual eavesdropping that he had five daughters at home, all of whom desired the latest dresses, shoes, hats, and other frippery. Or so he said many, many times to the other gentlemen, who smiled into their brandy snifters at his smug complaining.
“I certainly hope so. Things I heard, what is happening… I am now uncertain as to my future, to be honest,” the ex-fisherman said.
“Nonsense, I’m sure,” the widow said hurriedly. “There is always talk, up there, of all kinds of things. Let us not dwell on it here. Sip your brandy and relax, sir. That’s what my parlor is for.” The expression on her face was so serious, the ex-fisherman quieted immediately, and took a gulp, rather than a sip, from his glass.
A silence ensued that made the father of five daughters determine that their company would, finally, be more desirable than staying by the widow’s fire. He made his excuses and departed.
Ursula, helping him with his coat, hat, and walking stick, noted how he lingered a few minutes longer, head turned toward the drawing room, and wondered if he heard the same phrases she did from the subdued conversation therein: