Excerpt: A Figure from the Common Lot (Jerome third)
This stating of the case could hardly be perfected upon. Good manners required that Jerome rise and offer his hand, but he’d seated himself in the middle of the bench…he would need something to brace against.
“I am Jerome, sir,” he said, without attempting it. “In what way may I help you?”
“George Ziegler.” The man came closer, bent over Jerome and patted him on the shoulder. “Mr. Ebrach sent me out looking for you. If you’ve a mind to come back to the hotel, I’ll see you get along all right.”
“You have business with Mr. Ebrach, sir?”
“Been talking to him bout hiring me to drive him out to the stead.”
This made partial sense to Jerome. “But Mr. Ebrach has told you, sir, that I also will ride with him to visit…this place.”
“Yessir. I know every which way out to the summit. Oftentimes, I done jobs for Gremot.”
Jerome felt that he had not disputed this. He reached for the back of the bench, and Ziegler grasped his outstretched arm, saying, “You let me help you up, sir. Mr. Ebrach’s told me a thing or two.”
This news came unpleasing to Jerome, to find himself handicapped in this way by Ebrach, who seemed to him an unreliable teller of things. He could not catch Ziegler’s eye, show to him the face of a man competent to manage his own affairs, for Ziegler, as though conscious of making himself too familiar, had fallen a pace behind, just touching Jerome’s elbow as they crossed the street.
When in safety they had reached the corner lamppost, Ziegler said, “Mr. Jerome, I keep a good, gentle team. It ain’t rained hereabouts near four days. Road along the river ain’t too bad in dry weather, but I don’t say it’ll be easy going.”
Ziegler’s revelation disturbed Jerome’s mental map of places and distances as gleaned from Ebrach’s talk; but then, Ebrach’s talk had wrought upon Ziegler’s mind this impression of an invalid―it could be nothing other than that Ziegler meant with his “easy going”.
“Does not Monsieur Gremot live outside the town? In the suburb of Cookesville, I mean?”
Ziegler angled his head, and for a moment resumed his study of the sidewalk; then he shrugged, and gave Jerome a forgiving smile. “No, sir. Mr. Gremot lives a good ways out. Mr. Ebrach told me he don’t mind if we take it slow, though. He cain’t do none of his work til the dark sets in.”
These two ideas both disturbed and repelled. Jerome was silent as they mounted the first of the Columbia’s front steps. He did not like to be asked, even by accident, to imagine Ebrach’s performances, or his own brusque relative’s participation in this calling of the dead. But more unsettling was Ebrach’s apparent object of residing with the Gremots until nightfall. They might wish to close their door against the stranger. They had not invited him.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)