Saturday Mornings

By: Peggy Webb

(The Mississippi McGills, Book Three)







Prologue

“Margaret Leigh, this poodle wet the rug again.”

Margaret Leigh put her purse on the hall table, hung her blazer in the hall closet, and carefully tucked a stray wisp of hair back into her French twist. She smoothed down her skirt—the good navy-blue one she'd bought on sale last year—and turned to face her Aunt Bertha who was descending the stairs.

Aunt Bertha wasn't merely coming down the stairs. She was floating along on a wave of White Shoulders perfume and yellowing lace and pink chiffon, Aunt Bertha's signature color. Sometimes Margaret Leigh got so tired of pink she wanted to scream. She never did, of course. Ladies didn't scream. They politely endured. And if there was one thing Margaret Leigh was, it was a lady.

She sighed. Sometimes she wished she had the courage to cuss. “I’ll clean it up. Aunt Bertha. I'm sure Christine didn't mean to make a mess.”

“She most assuredly did. That poodle peed on the rug deliberately. She's been misbehaving ever since I came for my little visit.”

Margaret Leigh rolled her eyes. Aunt Bertha's little visit. She'd come to Tupelo the previous April to find an apartment and to get away from the cold, damp weather in Chicago, where she'd been staying with Margaret Leigh's sister Tess. Now it was October, and Aunt Bertha was still in Margaret Leigh's house.

Of course, Margaret Leigh wouldn't dare complain. She'd been taught family loyalty, and family loyalty meant taking care of homeless maiden aunts, especially one who had practically raised her. Sometimes, though, she wished she had a little less loyalty and a little more backbone. Like Tess. Tess always said what she thought.

“Poodles are a nervous breed, Aunt Bertha. Christine will settle down in time.”

Aunt Bertha was at the foot of the stairs now, panting and wheezing.

“Are you all right, Aunt Bertha?”

“Just let me catch my breath a minute.” Bertha put a dimpled, bejeweled hand over her breast and sighed dramatically. “If I die tomorrow, all this will be yours, Margaret Leigh.” She held out her hand so her fake diamonds would flash in the late-afternoon sun.

Margaret Leigh smothered a laugh. Aunt Bertha had been threatening to die for twenty years. Everybody in the family coddled her, pretending that both her diamonds and her aches and pains were real.

“Do you want to see a doctor, Aunt Bertha?”

“No, dear. I just need relief from that poodle of yours, and so I’ve made a few little arrangements.”

“What arrangements?”

“I’ve engaged a dog trainer for Christine. And not just any old trainer, a genuine dog whisperer.”

Margaret Leigh drew a big breath in anticipation of dealing with Aunt Bertha's latest effort at meddling. “That was… kind of you, Aunt Bertha, but I can't afford a dog trainer.”

“Nonsense. A smart girl like you, making her way up the ladder of success at the library. You can't afford not to have a professional dog whisperer. A woman bent on making something of herself can't have a dog that doesn't know how to behave in polite society.”

“Number one, at thirty-two I'm hardly a girl. And number two, I'm not sure cataloguing books is making my way up the ladder of success. And even if it is, I can't see how making something of myself has anything to do with Christine's manners.”

“She wets rugs, Margaret Leigh. And that's all there is to it. Now, I've already taken care of everything. You’re supposed to take Christine tomorrow.”

Margaret Leigh knew she'd been out-maneuvered, but she felt obliged to make at least a token protest. After all, she had her pride, even if it was always sitting on the backseat behind her manners.

“But tomorrow's Saturday. The trainer probably doesn't work on Saturday.”

“I did some investigating. He hardly works at all unless he absolutely has to—not the kind of man I'd want any of my family consorting with under ordinary circumstances. But they say he's good. The best dog whisperer in the country.”

“I had planned to rake leaves tomorrow.”

Aunt Bertha's face crumpled and both her chins trembled. “Of course, if you'd rather not, by all means, don’t go. I know when all my hard work is not appreciated.”