The House of Gremot: part seven
Clotilde was trying to extricate herself, and with such gentleness that she’d scooted to the sofa’s farthest corner inch by inch; this drawn-out effort, these fingertips pressing his face and shoulders, woke Honoré to a feeling of irritation.
“You may go out if you like,” he told her. He dangled a hand and sought to push himself upright.
“No, Honoré, someone is at the door.”
Their visitor knocked again. In her voice, Honoré had heard Mme Sartain’s practicality; on this occasion, when he’d meant to be sharp with Clotilde, she ignored him.
He heard murmurings, a card offered—“Monsieur Jerome?” Clotilde was sheltered behind the door, holding to its outer edge and peering round. Honoré rolled to face the sofa back. His feet slid to the floor. He could not see the man who entered; he had worked himself to a kneeling position on the rug. He was not sure how he’d managed it. He heard his wife’s nervous laugh, some rustlings of a silk-lined topcoat, the pocketing of a pair of gloves. Then Honoré was surprised…to find himself boosted by the elbows, spun and dropped sitting on the sofa.
The stranger stood over him. He made a small joke on manners, of the sort people sometimes did make, addressing this to Clotilde. “Thank you, ma’am, I will take a chair.”
Honoré shook the visitor’s hand; he was about to put things on their proper footing, tell his wife to fetch his checkbook, dispense with this debt and with the man’s humor, when his interviewer from the charity ward dug inside a breast pocket, and handed Honoré another of his cards.
“Now, you speak English, sir, I know that. And my French ain’t up to much. That won’t worry you…it’ll be between the two of us, what I have to say.”
The card read: “Corneil Littlejohn, Private Enquiry Agent”. While Honoré studied this, Littlejohn watched him with a lively eye. He tilted his chin, looking over his shoulder at Clotilde. His lips spread into an impish smile, as though he felt moved by her round eyes and lack of English, to a second witticism.
“Go, madame,” Honoré intervened. “Take this tray to Madame Connaught, and ask her if there is any coffee.” He gave her a curt nod, and saw the plea in her eyes, the wish that he would explain it all. He took up the pencil, used the back of his earlier note to write this request; and, conscious of something in the nature of duty, remiss, either on his own part or Littlejohn’s, pushed himself against the table, rising part-way to his feet, a process that lasted until Clotilde had left the room.
The House of Gremot
(2017, Stephanie Foster)