Excerpt: A Figure from the Common Lot (The House of Gremot)
The House of Gremot
But yet…he did feel convinced Claudette had died, and could give no sound reason for thinking so. She had never been ill as Honoré had been. And he himself lived. He trusted this revelation of Ebrach’s…and could not, even so, call his surety faith.
“What do you want to know then?” he asked. “I think she had nothing to tell me. Only…”
He saw in the mirror a reflection of his clothing and hair; which, like his household and his schemes, had become disarrayed.
“Only I was reminded of the angel…the angel of the Noel.”
“My husband wonders if you can have written to him some years back.”
Honoré’s place at the luncheon table was to the right of W. A. Gremot. Mrs. Gremot sat at the foot of the table, opposite her husband. A daughter, introduced as Élucide, sat across from Honoré, at her father’s left; another daughter, Ranilde, being two with Honoré this side of the table, had made a wide berth between them, moving her chair close to her mother’s. At Mrs. Gremot’s right, they’d put Ebrach; between Ebrach and Élucide, sat a son, Walter.
“I did write, madame.”
“But, now you are in America, you choose to go by a different name.”
He mistrusted these prompts.
For two years, although far more often than otherwise, the officials he’d encountered had seemed to know the truth, none had bothered themselves proving Honoré’s credentials false. On the hospital’s charity ward, they had not believed in Thos. B. Jerome, but they had expected their patient to die, and so left him alone. And the almshouse, under its unending burden of penniless and consumptive immigrants, had grown accustomed to the point of apathy.
He reached for the glass of cider-punch. Having no fat left on his bones, Honoré could no longer tolerate alcohol. A sip made him dizzy. Mrs. Gremot insisted they did not serve it in this house, but uneasily, he tasted an undernote of bitterness. Yet the soup had been cleared away, the pie just served was too hot―he could only fork at its crust and watch the steam curl…and no other device was at hand for gaining time.
Mrs. Gremot’s topics were pegged, it seemed, to the courses. While Honoré spooned halfheartedly at the heavy cream soup, fearing to eat much of it, she had asked him, “Mr. Jerome, are you wanting for anything in your room?”
“Madame, your kindness to me is excellent.”
Through the corner of an eye, he saw the girl Ranilde make her own eyes round; her lips she pressed together, and…it might be uncongenial for a guest to say of his host’s daughter, smirked…but she produced a face much like a smirk, as she looked across the table at her brother. Honoré, his gaze fixed on his plate, supposed some silent message to have passed between them.
The cook appeared in the doorway, and Mrs. Gremot nodded. Two maidservants entered, circling the table, one clearing soup plates, the other laying a dish of poached pears at its head; opposite, a sliced tongue. These were served at room temperature to ease stomachs through the transition of courses from cold to hot.
The House of Gremot
(2017, Stephanie Foster)