All Bedlam Courses Past (part twenty-one)
All Bedlam Courses Past
Avarice Creeping On
He had gone to the house of his embassy. The cab stopped; Gilbert climbed down, tendered a five-cent coin, and pointed to a phrase in his book: J’ai apprécié votre gentilesse. The driver took the book, leafed it, and pointed sharply to a section headed: Combien donner de pourboire?
In the visitor’s room, to a suite of junior secretaries’, Gilbert thought of this freedom to build; for his friend, a sour subject. Or an envied one—the rich of America seemed to erect overnight, on the demolished dust of former exquisite constructions, manors they named townhouses, and called suitable in size for their needs…at present. Even edifices like this he sat in, their walls, doors, and windows framed in forests, their glass radiating the hours’ traverse from all directions, a scent to them never smelled in Paris—
This last seemed true, and worth printing. Gilbert extracted a memorandum book and noted it. Honoré’s envelopes came stuffed with newspaper clippings, of Robber Barons, of feuds where white-faced Greek Revivals were blighted from spite by burgeonings of timberwork and towers, parti-colored facades (too American).
We have these in Cookesville, and no one in Cookesville is rich, as in San Francisco, or in New York City, but in America, property is possible, you see, dreamed of and coveted by even the lowest of the middle classes, and when obtained, they will express themselves by showing off how they cannot be prevented (on any consideration of taste or respect for others) from doing as they please…
His letters went for pages; the pages were folded individually to keep the relevant clipping, and its margin notes with arrows pointing the French to the English, attached to its commentary.
And Honoré, if any of his several points were ignored, was capable of not writing again.
My dear brother [as they addressed each other]
A few days past, when I was in the room of M. Amédée, and the editor of the Journal arrived for an appointment, on this very subject of architecture your name came up…
Flattery mollified; Gilbert had lost, for his ill friend’s sake, his aversion to telling lies.
Edouard Montrose, the junior secretary for whom he’d waited long, appeared via the hall, with his hat on. He had gone out to lunch.
Through a back way, to avoid his petitioner.
He did not apologize. “I have a special connection to M. Amédée. My mother was widowed in the late Emperor’s war. No, my father was not her husband, at that epoch of her career! How nice to be spared sympathy for a stranger, eh? No, my own father died in a cave, when I was eight.”
“A cave!” Gilbert exclaimed.
Montrose grinned, at possessing this story of interest, which he did not tell. “But, she has a little business, a little shop, because of the subscription for widows, because M. Amédée printed her name in the charity box, on the front page. She disliked the notoriety, if you will, but she warmed up to the cash.”
Before a table with Paris revues arrayed like a magician’s cards, Montrose bustled Gilbert to a chair.
“You need the help of a translator. I have a gift for you in mind, by way of thanking your editor.”
Montrose had sat to write with one hand, the other upraising a finger, so that Gilbert must perch, scanning cover art, finding the tastes of Montrose vaguely scandalous…
And finding himself, within minutes, leaving, his coat sleeve in a friendly grip. “Wait at your hotel. Young Lecomte…he is a discovery, Amédée will never be disappointed… What was I saying? Ah. Wait for him, he will arrive.”
Gilbert did wait, in regret, even taking meals in his room. A day later, and following his card (given by a porter who laughed), the Discovery, with a glance up and down the passage, slipped in. Lecomte had seen the assassin Guiteau. He had seen him many times; oh, yes, assuredly he had heard Guiteau speak…and more than that.
“He enters the room. He greets people who are not speaking to him. Perhaps they will lift a hand.” Lecomte, in drawing this picture, acted it, pushing his neck out as Guiteau; pivoting to face his other self, Guiteau’s bored public.
“He bobs his head. He finds himself popular among these men, his colleagues! There are never enough chairs. If someone rises, Guiteau slides in. And he is making himself busy with his papers, his watch. He checks the time, he wants to see if the clock is in agreement, he checks the shine of his shoe. He hums, he whistles, and when he has done all this, and no one has quite wished to interrupt, to complain, he turns, to his right or to his left. Did you see who got in just now? Oh, I know him from New York. Yes, for postmaster, why not?”
Lecomte gave a shrug, a lowering of eyelids, a slight jerk of the head. Motions—Guiteau’s motions, Gilbert must suppose—of disdain. “He knows them all. None can quite deserve the office he seeks, but patronage being what it is, yes, why not? He talks about the degradation of the party…”
“He is a stalwart.” Gilbert repeated the salient point of Guiteau, while having not yet educated himself on the word’s portent. But his ignorance argued something in favor of Amédée’s aim. If Guiteau had called himself a Jacobin, something so foreign to the American ear as that, the weight must tilt in the other direction.
All Bedlam Courses Past (part twenty-two)
(2023, Stephanie Foster)