Élucide: part six
He faced her then, holding her eyes as though to charm her against making false claims. But she trusted Ebrach…to be alone with him in a dim hallway did not scare her in the least.
“Ah, Miss Élucide, you are thoughtful. I had not myself considered it.”
He raised a forefinger, the gesture that says: “Wait a moment.” He stepped into the room. She could hear distinctly his side of the exchange. “Well, Jerome, you must try the treatment. If you find it gives no relief, or if you feel chilled, you will have the sense to lay the ice bag aside.”
Of course. She had it in her hand…
Now Ebrach stepped into the hall, revealing in his wake, Jerome.
“Pour vous, monsieur.”
That―exercising her French―was yielding to a rather disrespectable whim. Her cousin might find her pert. But Jerome said, “Mademoiselle, vous êtes très gentille. Je vous remercie.”
He accepted it with his right hand, and with his left, caught hers before she’d withdrawn it, bowed over and kissed it lightly, releasing her fingers as he retreated.
He closed his door.
Ebrach began to speak at once. “I will walk with you, Miss Élucide. You are a young lady blessed with an intuitive soul.”
She was so pleased at this, that he would think it of her, that she said nothing in demurral. She was spiritually sensitive. She had lain awake for hours in the dark, able to do no more than watch the air seem to shimmer, and the room’s deep shadows resolve into the mouth of a tunnel. Listening, she could hear the faintest whisper of a voice. At dinner, she had concluded something not unlike this, that she might be afflicted as Ebrach’s Mr. Hawkins had been afflicted…
She passed her room and her feet slowed. A reminder, once made conscious, no longer wanted…she’d planned to toss the ice bag on her pillow. But he stopped also, and looked at the closed door.
She said: “That’s mine.”
He walked ahead, speaking only of his companion. “Jerome does indeed suffer pain. His back troubles him very much, though he will not say so. These complications occur in the consumptive, as the disease advances. You discerned this, for of course, you are more than usually aware of such things. Jerome does not take sufficient exercise. A weakness uncorrected must breed greater weakness.”
It was disagreeable that people found fault with the sick…
She had blurted and was stymied. Was there a but? Jerome made an easy houseguest. He asked for nothing in preference to his illness. He kept to himself, seemed happier, for that matter, alone in his bedchamber.
She thought of Robert, of Geneva in particular, who disliked accommodating visitors’ maids and valets. Some would not make their own beds, or hang up their clothes, behaving like guests themselves. But Jerome, her father had remarked on it, traveled without a servant…
(2017, Stephanie Foster)