The House of Gremot: part five
They had not taken a hotel at Compiègne, but directly took a boat, one for which Michelet had arranged when he’d first passed through. While the boatman squinted down the course of the Oise, Michelet tugged at a sack, drawing this with curses from a coil of rope. Gilbert quavered on the top of a low wall. It appeared from this he must jump—that was what Michelet had done―and the boatman, watchfully studying Michelet, thrust his hand behind his back. Without turning, he waited for Gilbert to clasp it.
Michelet clucked. “Have you left this in the open for three days, to be ruined by the rain?”
He was undressing himself as he spoke, discarding his original coat, leaving it on the deck in a heap. He pulled another out of the sack…a soldier’s coat; clearly so, to judge from its decorated collar and buttoned skirt.
The boatman gave a jerk of the arm, and Gilbert found a coil of rope did not make for a soft landing.
“Ruined?” A long ruminative pause. “I have not let anyone touch your worthless sack. I have not touched it myself. That, monsieur, is what you asked of me.”
“Gilbert,” Honoré said, “I don’t know what day it is.”
“It is the twenty-fifth day of April.”
“There you see…I don’t misunderstand. I know you, of course. But I’ve lost my…”
No. Honoré’s thought had been that ordinary living, that mundanities such as walking along a street, noticing the rain, how far from home you were when it began to fall…or the stink of cabbage that wafted from a cellar window, the impact of one’s shoe striking pavement, punctuating conversation…these small sights and smells fixed one’s memories, and without them, lodged in an unchanging room, things remembered drifted and merged with things dreamt. “Say what you have to say. It may be you will tell me again if I forget.”
Gilbert coughed behind his hand, and hooked his heel on the chair rung, clasped one knee, and for a time, stared at the rug. “You told me, on the day you left, that you were finished with your father…and I said to you, no, I don’t think that can be. You told me, if I remember…that Monsieur Gremot had saved his money to help you make a start, but when you’d wanted money for the Progressiste, he refused…”
Honoré stirred. “Yes! I told him, this is my work, and he told me I played a game of working. But, could I have gone back to live under my father’s roof? You know I could not. Could I leave Bruxelles and make my own way? You see he would not allow it. Look how he was when I borrowed money…”
Cut short, Honoré shut his mouth. After a moment, Gilbert said: “You thought he had got his gossip from Madame Dogneaux.”
“Well, but, Gilbert, Dogneaux, when I saw him last, had some especial grudge against my father. More than their old trouble.”
The House of Gremot
(2017, Stephanie Foster)