All Bedlam Courses Past (part twenty-seven)
All Bedlam Courses Past
Avarice Creeping On
Assisted by the lapel, Gilbert stumbled from his seat, sounding syllables. He shook his head, confident enough. The cabby smacked a palm.
The costly Lecomte was discovered in conversation with a woman…her head the whole of her seen, curls of a brassy cast spilling into the wind. The crystal of a hatpin winked refusal. She seemed to agree with Lecomte. Two other of the men offered argument.
A head toss brought her eye to Gilbert; she stared with a rude familiarity. Then beckoned, so that he could stand no longer irresolute. The woman spoke French to Lecomte—the cadence recognized, not the words. She spoke English to the Americans.
Gilbert saw steps let into the wall, three above water. The woman was at the tiller of a boat. A man, too, leaned against the pilot house, under a sheltering eave. The pair were attired in finery a bright sun could not improve, her figure limned in purple velvet, his augmented little by a tailcoat and silk scarf.
They were show people…this was Gilbert’s quick surmise. Lecomte had booked him a tour.
“One for all and all for one.”
A side-whiskered reporter gave to these words strong enunciation…helpful to Gilbert, but aimed at the pilot.
“Your business,” the pilot shrugged. He issued into the glare, adjusting his opera hat lower, the scarf higher. “I’d be thinking that sardine there”—he jerked his head at the astonished Gilbert—“get himself in more natural trouble than any of you, trying.”
Another reporter asked: “Can she make him pay?”
She, hearing this, called the speaker a vile name, well understood by Gilbert. Lecomte chuckled fondly.
“You all come on or don’t,” the pilot said.
One gestured contempt, spat “I ain’t in it”, and scuttled back to the tavern. The other six began, each with his particular crouch and arm-flap, to board from the lowest step. Two conspirators on deck backslapped in another two, and all put heads together.
The pilot shouted, “Lecomte!”
Lecomte gave Gilbert’s shoulder a pat, in a nudging way. A black man jumped from the prow of the boat and waded into the shallows, unwinding a coil of thick rope. Lecomte’s narrowing eye followed this labor, while he tugged at pockets, weighing for his cigarette case.
“So you are not going,” Gilbert said, after a silence.
Lecomte lit a match.
“May I ask,” Gilbert said, a thing he’d never needed to ask of anyone, “that you will please introduce me to my host?”
All Bedlam Courses Past (part twenty-eight)
(2023, Stephanie Foster)