And yet, here they were meeting in the morning, and had been for some years. Still, the other members had adjusted, as had Porter. He had to, since it had apparently been his idea.
The fact the board had adjusted at all was a miracle. The last time theyd been asked to change anything it had been the worn leather on the Lit and His chairs, and that had been sixty-three years ago. Members still remembered fathers and mothers, grandparents, ranged on either side of the upholstered Mason-Dixon Line. Remembered vitriolic comments made behind closed doors, behind backs, but before children. Who didnt forget, sixty-three years later, that devious alteration from old black leather to new black leather.
Pulling out his chair at the head of the table Porter noticed it was looking worn. He sat quickly so that no one, least of all himself, could see it.
Small stacks of paper were neatly arranged in front of his and every other place, marching down the wooden table. Elizabeth MacWhirters doing. He examined Elizabeth. Plain, tall and slim. At least, she had been that when the world was young. Now she just looked freeze-dried. Like those ancient cadavers pulled from glaciers. Still obviously human, but withered and gray. Her dress was blue and practical and a very good cut and material, he suspected. After all, she was one of those MacWhirters. A venerable and moneyed family. One not given to displays of wealth, or brains. Her brother had sold the shipping empire about a decade too late. But there was still money there. She was a little dull, he thought, but responsible. Not a leader, not a visionary. Not the sort to hold a community in peril together. Like him. And his father before him. And his grandfather.
For the tiny English community within the walls of old Quebec City had been in peril for many generations. It was a kind of perpetual peril that sometimes got better and sometimes got worse, but never disappeared completely. Just like the English.
Porter Wilson had never fought a war, being just that much too young, and then too old. Not, anyway, an official war. But he and the other members of his board knew themselves to be in a battle nevertheless. And one, he secretly suspected, they were losing.
At the door Elizabeth MacWhirter greeted the other board members as they arrived and looked over at Porter Wilson already seated at the head of the table, reading over his notes.
Hed accomplished many things in his life, Elizabeth knew. The choir hed organized, the amateur theater, the wing for the nursing home. All built by force of will and personality. And all less than they might have been had he sought and accepted advice.
The very force of his personality both created and crippled. How much more could he have accomplished had he been kinder? But then, dynamism and kindness often didnt go together, though when they did they were unstoppable.
Porter was stoppable. Indeed, he stopped himself. And now the only board that could stand him was the Lit and His. Elizabeth had known Porter for seventy years, since shed seen him eating lunch alone, every day, at school and gone to keep him company. Porter decided she was sucking up to one of the great Wilson clan, and treated her with disdain.
Still, she kept him company. Not because she liked him but because she knew even then something it would take Porter Wilson decades to realize. The English of Quebec City were no longer the juggernauts, no longer the steamships, no longer the gracious passenger liners of the society and economy.
They were a life raft. Adrift. And you dont make war on others in the raft.
Elizabeth MacWhirter had figured that out. And when Porter rocked the boat, she righted it.
She looked at Porter Wilson and saw a small, energetic, toupéed man. His hair, where not imported, was dyed a shade of black the chairs would envy. His eyes were brown and darted about nervously.
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