Jerome: part six
The woman, Jerome supposed, was Mrs. Everard. She had been watching them come closer; on her porch she stood, hugging a corner post that supported a crooked tin roof. She was emaciated, yet Jerome saw the end of the plank board borne down by her weight. The porch was no more than this, so many planks laid over hewn sandstone blocks, and as the woman shifted, the board’s other end clapped against the lower siding, while the wind shook in counterpoint the panes of an open casement. For minutes she waved them along with her free arm, stretching her neck to see better, her slack lips breaking into a smile, her small body bouncing, bouncing, as she pushed herself upright against the post.
This log house sheathed in clapboard, that Ziegler had twice named the stead, was without foundation. The four corners of the cabin proper, like the two beams of its porch, were shouldered up by stone footings. Under the lowest of the rain-spattered boards, one prodigious log, rough and exposed, ran the cabin’s length. The steady tenor of Jerome’s queasiness was lifted by a pulse of disappointment. He had never visited a log cabin.
But the stead was rehabilitated, with its siding and new windows…made to look like a small house. One after another, a row of faces appeared in the gap under the big log. Cats unfurled onto their four legs, or sprang up like fleas, rose dusty from the rows of the vegetable patch…
One inched on its belly from an overturned metal tub beside the pump. A stand of parched grasses became animate. Jerome spied more than twenty altogether, marmalade, and grey, black, white, calico, poised for one moment in their flight to judge for themselves the shape of this intrusion.
“Hoah!” Ziegler shouted.
The wagon’s metal parts creaked, and at this double threat of noise and mystery, a great sensation swept the feline community, a great exodus depopulated the stead’s grounds. But a single yellow tabby, a fat tom, sat on his haunches, rubbing an ear in invitation, on the wooden pump housing. The lull ended. Thunder began to volley. The horses stomped their hooves and sniffed the vibrating air. Pete, as though blaming his teammate for hobbling his escape, rolled his eyes, threw his strong neck to one side, and bared his teeth.
Ziegler’s hand was on Jerome’s right shoulder. He reached across and took him by the elbow. Applying mild pressure, he eased Jerome into a semi-stance; retaining this posture, Jerome shuffled along the footboard, and Ziegler, helping him alight from the wagon, kept up a flow of talk. “Here we are at the stead, Mr. Jerome. You don’t have to ride no more. Mr. Ebrach has gone to see about Mrs. Everard. I got some water here in a canteen…”
“Where will I put my trunks, madam?” Jerome heard Ebrach ask. “I must have them out of the rain immediately.”
“In Richard and Lawrence’s room.” Her voice was high-pitched, her vowels elongated. “Or in the back bedroom. Them’s th’only places.”
“Ziegler!” Ebrach called, and Ziegler said to Jerome, “I got to go to Mr. Ebrach.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)