All Bedlam Courses Past (part twenty-five)

Pastel drawing of bird flying away from bonfire






All Bedlam Courses Past


Chapter Two
Avarice Creeping On
(part twenty-five)





But there was a Mme Montrose—a widow, certainly it was said—who traded to the hatmakers in feathers. Recalling where she kept her shop would be nothing, once the son was got into the room, and could be asked directly.

This was how conversation began.

Madame, Gilbert hers by happenstance, had thought of daughters in her circle with no chance of a propertied husband. The most innocent of these, from whom she’d first sat Gilbert across, for the unimpeded view…

Next to, at the second dinner, for the intimate discourse, had, declining the third, told her, “Madame, with respect, how can I live with a man who won’t speak to me?”

“How? Have you considered the virtues?”

But the girl said again, “Madame, with respect…”

“No, I understand.”

Still, Mme Sartain’s thoughts carried her to the ambassador, M. Outrey, who had an American wife. The topic would be raised very naturally. Miss Brent must be asked to join them.

A porter hailed their cab, trotting to converge with its arrival, down a long (quite long) passage of steps to the street. Miss Brent with her lack of ceremony alighted; Bertrand jumped after, not boisterous, but in mind of playing the gentleman. He lifted a hand that could not reach, and would not have supported his aunt.

The porter chuckled. “Don’t put me out of work, mister.”

Over a circular balustrade slouched two figures. One waved a hat (uncouth, but not so vulgar as to shout). Madame sighed to see Gilbert touch the arm of his companion, move towards what was not an entry…find another, and vanish.

The second young man simply stood, in a staring posture, with shaded eyes.

Miss Brent lifted the brim of her bonnet. “Ah.”

One must in America reserve all opinion until properly introduced. Madame Sartain allowed no reason the person above might not prove to be Montrose, the secretary. The porter ushered them to a reception room. Gilbert appeared, breathless, off a staircase. Another man, costumed for the weather, nosed him at the post, including the Sartain party in his opening remarks, while the registry book was proffered…

Bertrand, in the midst of fascinating strangers, opulent furnishings, and grown-up peoples’ fuss, behaved as he’d been taught, clasping his hands and backing himself into a corner.

“And here we are!” nodded the summer-suited one.

“But,” said Gilbert, “let me speak for a moment.”

Gilbert was sorry that he must accompany…yes…here was Lecomte… Madame, Louis-Auguste Lecomte. Oh! M. Montrose, of course. Mme Sartain. I will have to go with him to the jail, where they have the prisoner…








“The prisoner,” Montrose repeated. “No one has been able to get inside. That would be a coup, to ask even a single question of Guiteau. Guiteau, by all accounts, is only eager to express his ideas. Given a start, he will go on in full sail. But the lucky man? They are all trying, as every newspaper reports of every other.”

“Well, Gilbert, you know Miss Brent,” Mme Sartain said, and was gratified her words fell on a silence. “And so…do I understand…you are not eating lunch with us?”

“Because we have our train tomorrow. This is for M. Amédée, I apologize.”

“It will be my own pleasure…” Montrose began.

Miss Brent said: “How do you do, sir?” She gave him her hand. “Julia Brent.”

Montrose was a diplomat. He bowed over the hand unblushing, and rejoined, “I believe I have the honor, Miss Brent, of being well acquainted with your father. He is proprietor of the Delaware?”

Mme Sartain stepped from this exchange to steer Bertrand forward. With an eye she arrested Miss Brent’s talk of New York.

“Monsieur Montrose, my great-nephew, Bertrand Gremot.”

Montrose, having bent to shake, in the American fashion, the boy’s hand, rose with the pursed lips of one who asks himself, is the name familiar?

“The Gremots are not French.”

She felt she would have her question in any case…rue Popincourt, his mother’s shop, yes?…if her efforts were only to the profit of Miss Brent and the admiring Montrose, making no match for poor Gilbert. Gilbert had sidled off with Lecomte.

A sound floated from an upper chamber, of sweet melody…a cello, a viol, merging into harmony. Madame interrupted herself. “Bertrand!”

“Mendelssohn, I think,” he answered.

Montrose beamed. “I’ve neglected my musicians. They’re making good use of the time!”
















Pastel drawing of bird flying away from bonfireAll Bedlam Courses Past (part twenty-six)















(2023, Stephanie Foster)




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