Excerpt: A Figure from the Common Lot (Passage second)
Honoré felt puzzled, as though remembering a dream. What had he been thinking? Michelet was Broughton’s hired man. He guessed, by the sound of footsteps approaching, that Michelet was not alone. But Honoré held Anne’s head on his lap, and could not stand without attending to her.
“I apologize…perhaps it’s nothing after all. Here is Monsieur Gremot, assisting this woman. She has fainted, I think.”
“Then,” the policeman said, “we will do what is sensible. I will assist Madame Lugard. I have done so before. You and your friend, now you have found him, will go about your business.”
Honoré eased a palm under Anne’s shoulders. At this touch, she sat up readily enough. He crouched on aching feet and reached behind, bracing himself on a crossbar, but Anne shooed away the hand he offered. And springing to her own feet unaided, she dipped him a curtsy. With a closed smile, she swept the carpet bag high above her waist, let go the grip and snagged it again midair.
“Hmm! This is not so heavy.”
He had seen that unfriendly laughter light her eyes before. He had suspected her of looking at his papers, and wondered how she’d managed it. He watched the policeman walk her up the street, not certain she smiled as, pinched by an elbow, she leaned back and tossed her head. Testing escape, a voice of earned wisdom suggested… Anne could not be the woman she reminded him of, the one he had stared at from the hotel room in Paris, before his father pulled the curtains tight. Growing small, she looked over her shoulder into Honoré’s eyes. She might even have wrinkled her nose. It was as though she asked him, “Do you understand?”
Michelet picked up his bag. “Have you found a hotel, monsieur?”
He tapped Honoré on the shoulder. “Or have you given this woman all your money?”
This, from his stupefaction, was rousing. Had he? A pat-down of pockets found Broughton’s purse where he’d kept it from the start. Honoré unbuttoned, topcoat to waistcoat, dug this out, and was in the act of emptying its contents from one hand to the other, when Michelet said, not disguising his contempt:
“You have escaped being swindled the first time. Now you will stand counting your money on the street corner.”
Honoré put his money away.
Michelet, nodding then, as though he’d given an order, turned his back and bored ahead past the bank’s entry, driving aside a well-dressed cluster chatting near the steps. Honoré watched Broughton’s trusted servant jerk at the sight of a Prussian uniform, tap the brim of his hat, hump the bag sideways, and begin to walk in the street. He appeared to make up his mind he’d meant to do this; he straightened, and crossed, after a sharp turn round the running board of a carriage. But Honoré found in Michelet’s churlishness a perverse gratification.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)