Henry happened to look up as Joletta raised her teacup to her lips and stopped. A glassy look came into her eyes, as though she were looking at something inside herself rather than outside.
He reached across the breakfast table and gently took the cup, replacing it on its saucer. Sometimes she came out of these little trances rather sharply, and the tea was hot.
This odd behavior was common in her family. Joletta’s mother had had the sight, and so had her late brother, Randolph, of whom little was said. What was there to say, after all?
Henry continued to watch, waiting for her to come back to him and to see what peculiar direction his life was about to take this Saturday morning.
It took some time; the last trance that had lasted so long was when Joletta urged Henry to sell his stock — immediately — in several companies that were about to go bankrupt in the coming panic. That had been three years ago in 1871. Before that, there had been the almost daily foreshadowings of Randolph, leading to the final, heartbreaking one.
“Oh!” And her hands flew about; the teacup would have gone sailing. She looked at Henry, then down at the teacup. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. “What news have you?”
She paused before answering. Her face filled with something like sadness. “I’d like to go for a walk in the park today.”
“Of course, dear. Any time you like.”
“After lunch will be fine.”
Henry waited for an explanation, and twice it appeared that Joletta was about to offer one. But her mouth closed again wordlessly, as though she couldn’t give voice to what she had seen.
Henry was still unenlightened as to what his wife’s vision had been as they walked through the city’s great park. He knew, though, that they would meet it here. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t be particularly dangerous. She hadn’t told him to bring his pistol, as she had less than a year ago as he was leaving for the office. On his way home, a man with a knife ran toward him. Forewarned was, indeed, forearmed. Henry was able to shoot to wound rather than kill, and the lunatic was safely in the asylum.
Jolette gestured to a bench. “Let’s sit here, Henry.”
Henry acquiesced and sat next to her. He looked around, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. Children were running and shouting and playing. Couples were strolling arm in arm. A woman sitting on a nearby bench fed popcorn to pigeons.
He wanted dearly to ask Jolette directly what they were waiting for, but it was not in his nature to push her for explanations. Weak, other men would have called him, but his reticence paid dividends in his marriage so far as he was concerned.
He turned a smile toward his wife and saw her gaze locked across the way. He followed it.
A boy sat alone on a bench. He was not well-dressed but his clothes appeared clean at this distance. He wore a ragged hat, and a bright red balloon — attached by string to his left wrist — floated above his head.
Henry looked at Jolette once more to confirm this was the subject of her interest. Her breathing had become a bit more rapid and shallow. He looked hard at the boy again, trying to discern the heart of the matter.
The child looked up hopefully at passers-by and then looked away again, as if he were searching for a particular face. He shifted his position on the bench and brushed his hat to the ground, revealing his face.
“Merciful God!” Henry whispered. And Jolette nodded.
“Randolph hated the family gift of foreknowledge,” Jolette said quietly. “He tried so hard to lose himself in vice.”
“This would appear to be the result of one of his attempts,” Henry agreed.
“One of his last before his death, it would seem.”
A moment passed and Henry cleared his throat. “Surely we are going to introduce ourselves. And then to take him home with us. That is why we’re here.”
Jolette turned to her husband. He had spoken with no more emphasis than if he had commented on the nice weather. He understood the situation and accepted it fully. Since they were in public, she merely took his hand and gave it a loving squeeze, which he reciprocated with a smile.
They rose and walked toward the boy with the red balloon. He looked up as they neared, and his eyes met Joletta’s and held them.
“Hello, young man,” Henry said cheerfully.
“Hello, sir.” He looked back at Joletta. “I know you … somehow.”
Henry failed to fully stifle a laugh.
“My name is Joletta. His is Henry. What is your name?”
“Ah,” Joletta said. “Then you were named for your great-grandfather.”
Joletta sat down by Royce. “How did you come to be sitting here today, Royce?”
The boy looked down. “My mother died last week. She had a disease. Just before, she told me something strange. She said she hadn’t known my father long, but that he had been a special man and that I was like him. And that after she was gone, I should let my mind wander and let the image of a beautiful woman appear and she would come for me.
“Today, Ryu — she’s the Japanese girl who works where my mother did — brought me here and gave me this balloon and told me to wait. My mother must have asked her to do this. So I’ve been thinking … about you.”
It took no effort to guess where the women in Royce’s story had earned their daily bread. Randolph must have confided in his favorite prostitute about his family’s peculiar ability and how it was slowly driving him mad. The woman must have seen signs of the talent in her son — Randolph’s son — and used it to find Randolph’s family. To give Royce a home when she could no longer.
“Your father was my little brother,” Joletta said. Her voice shook slightly and her eyes brimmed with tears. “You look just like him.”
“So you’re my aunt?” He looked up at Henry and quickly added, “And my uncle?”
Henry smiled down at him. “Yes, we are. And you’re coming to live with us.”
Royce looked at Joletta for confirmation, and she nodded her head.
“What was your mother’s name, Royce?”
“Antonia,” she repeated. “Thank you, Antonia. I hope you’ll be very happy living with us, Royce, but you must never forget your mother. And I will tell you about your father.”
Royce nodded solemnly.
Joletta took his hand and the three of them walked toward home.