Imprisoned: part nine
To lower himself once more and remain seated, while from behind his desk, he watched Honoré. And Honoré, from his place of shelter, could see the top of a head, a pair of hands, and a newspaper. The words he saw printed there, as he peered across the nail-head trim of a leather wing, were English. He leaned closer. The reader of this newspaper sniffed, as though he smelled something unpleasant, swiveled in his seat to view Honoré; stood, and handed him the paper, saying, “By all means, sir.”
Then, gathering hat and umbrella from the table and receptacle, respectively, that provided places for them next to the exit, he left the reading room.
“Put that away! How did you get in here? No, no, not like that!” The attendant, charging, snatched the Daily Mail from Honoré’s hands, began to refold it himself; looked up, and said, “Monsieur Bercomber, I couldn’t help it…I thought, for a moment, that he was a servant of Monsieur Stevens.”
“Turn out your pockets!”
The order came from Bercomber himself, who snorted at the emptiness of these, as though, if Honoré were not a thief, his time had been wasted coming into this room; then, his voice altering, he asked with some wonder, “Do you read English?”
“No. Yes. I read English, monsieur, but I don’t know it.”
The proprietor strode from the reading room without a word. Honoré, as he was being thrown out, and as this was the way to the street, followed. But Bercomber, holding up a hand, stopped him at the door, crouched and prodded about among a stack of books under the sales desk, emerging with a dark-bound volume, embossed: The Quaker City, or The Monks of Monk Hall.
“Lippard’s books have been somewhat popular…he is like Poe; but, by mistake, this is not in French. I will let you take it. Don’t come back.”
And at length, from his English researches Honoré had gained an insight (as well as a mental picture of the strange and crime-ridden place America must be). Madame Gremot―but really, he thought, Monsieur W. A. Gremot, for she’d said it herself: “He begs me to write”―had gone further in her letter than mere polite condolences; she had told his father in a careful way, in a subtle way, that he could not ask them for money, as he had his brother: “Your nephew Walter is his father’s only heir”. She had told his father that, but for courtesy’s sake, her husband might fairly have dealt with him through a lawyer; and that this was the place in which, on the scale of their friendship, the Belgian Gremots belonged.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)