Excerpt: A Figure from the Common Lot (Jerome two)
Honoré thought of Gérard, whose present plot of earth would never profit him. “The market must always be better tomorrow than it is today. If Monsieur Serrigny puts me off for a year, not so bad… And if he puts me off for five years, so much the more to my advantage! Also―”
He thought better of his next remark, and at this breaking off Sartain showed himself incurious, if not relieved. Honoré had been about to add that he would like, naturally, as much money as could be got from the sale of Mme Rose’s house… But he noticed the muscles of his uncle’s neck tight-strung. It had been with some relish (of a bitter taste)―and with his eye distinctly on Honoré―that Sartain used the word, “idiocy”.
Paris, in the spring following the humiliation of France, had bled and burned in revolt. But Honoré had missed this. He had been ill, horribly ill; was still not much recovered, and Serrigny, like most of those who had known him (excepting the Sartains, who had cared for him, and therefore missed nothing; and the unfortunate Gérard, who really was dead) had anticipated the worst. But “worst”, Honoré considered, was a figure of speech. Sartain, loyal to Serrigny, did not impute such a motive to a man he admired—of encouraging this delay, which he called unavoidable, and which might have permitted Sartain’s own niece to inherit Mme Rose’s money.
At the outset of their walk, teeth gritted, he had told Honoré, “Monsieur Serrigny asks me to advise him. And I have given it as my opinion that he may meet with you now at any date he cares to appoint.” A letter from Serrigny waiting in Mme Sartain’s possession, by chance having arrived in the morning’s post, confirmed the news of Honoré’s legacy, promising that soon they would have their talk, and reassuring him the money was real, not a figment.
But Serrigny had chosen not to arrange this meeting until the next year’s spring…on a particular anniversary in the month of March. Serrigny might devise signs and wonders, wishing her legatee to be impressed by the gravity of the occasion, but Honoré had been insensible of the hour and the day they had told him Mme Rose was dead. Even weeks afterwards that word had come to him like the whisper of a phantom.
Clotilde and Mme Sartain accompanied Honoré to the lawyer’s rooms on the Quai Saint-Michel, where Serrigny, observing that Honoré’s wife clung to his sleeve, said to her aunt: “Madame, take this girl away.”
“Yes, go.” Honoré caught Clotilde’s hand and loosed it. “Monsieur Serrigny has a thing he wishes to tell me in private.”
Pressured towards the door by the arm of Mme Sartain thrown round her waist, Clotilde still crafted a defense: “But I will understand nothing Monsieur Serrigny says, I’m certain; so then it’s no difference if I stay or go, only…I can be very quiet there in the corner, monsieur.”
Over her aunt’s shoulder she cast appealing eyes at Serrigny; but he, reading through papers on his desk, raised his head, and shooed the women with a gesture. “Please, madame.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)