All Bedlam Courses Past (part twenty-three)
All Bedlam Courses Past
Avarice Creeping On
Recently they had had other correspondence. From her in-between line readings, Madame got a wary sense that a slackening of the reins would permit Honoré’s cousin to take command. She had no picture of Élucide Gremot, knew of no age for her. She could not solicit gossip from Clotilde, when Miss Gremot must serve as conduit. She found herself practicing subordinate diplomacy, giving without getting.
But it was an odd thing. Her husband’s family had connections in America.
At Bertrand’s interment, she had said to his mother (quite alive at eighty-seven), “Is it true? I suppose Clotilde will have had no idea.”
“Who is Clotilde?”
“Your Jeanne’s middle daughter, my dear, a granddaughter of yours you have probably not seen, who followed to America…” Mme Sartain gave a certain wave of the hand. “A young man she had married.”
“Ah, yes. I’ve heard the story.”
Madame had directed her late husband’s clerk to write a third Bertrand, to learn if a meeting were possible, and desired.
And somewhere in the course of these communications, Miss Gremot had intervened, with decision. Bertrand Sartain of New Orleans began sending his letters to Cookesville, Indiana.
It was a bright morning, and a hot one.
Madame was not dressed for a Washington August. She had certain costumes—for day, for evening, for receiving at home, for going out to the theatre, for an afternoon’s ride in a cab. As these could not be varied, Bertrand’s great aunt must exemplify the stoic bearing with both discomfort, and that improving of the intellect by engaging it with things one does not care about, called edification.
The concierge at Gilbert’s hotel had secured them the cab. A pretty drive with the river in view, keeping near the center of town—
“It’s not bad along the Potomac, in parts.”
“Monsieur L’Enfant’s park, you mean.”
“Do I? Yes, the mall. Under the trees it’s cooler. But I warn you…”
Miss Brent, who had waited for them at the station, took back the word warn. No, in fact, the malaria was not much this year. “No one up here seems to be getting it.”
Her father owned the Hotel Delaware. She toured Paris each October with her mother. Her mother was at Saratoga; Miss Brent had chosen Washington.
She lowered her voice. “In a terrible way, thank God. I’m shunning the Prospects.”
Madame smiled her smile of quashing confidences.
(2023, Stephanie Foster)