Jerome: part four
He hadn’t wanted to hear the rest; her grudge, was all it was, against Jacques’s mother. She had got his money anyway, quite a lot of it. But Anne at this rebuke locked her blue eyes on Jerome’s and he’d seen no tear in them. She’d opened her mouth in order to close it, a showy bit of stagecraft that communicated what her words confirmed.
“I don’t say it. I only say…you had better find work then, Honoré, so that you can hire an American lawyer to help you think of how to get what’s yours.”
They ate cold suppers, or more often, Jerome ate his bread and milk alone. Anne told him, “I can do without. I’m never hungry.” He supposed she could do without, by some means; her complexion, and her spirits, seemed bright enough. She fed Jerome with a spoon, teasing him along until the bowl was empty. “I love…one bite, my poor lamb…one more, my love…ah, who do I love? One…more…be good for me, Thomas Jerome…I love you!”
She was afraid of lighting the stove, and in this Jerome was helpless; he could not crouch on the floor, striking brimstone matches and breathing on the coals to start the flame going, drawing the smoky backdraft into his lungs. Anne appealed to their landlord. Clinging with one hand exposed, to the blanket she had drawn round herself, Anne tapped at the door separating the Jeromes’ apartment from that of the Waldgraves.
“Please, monsieur, you do not mind…?” Waldgrave, susceptible to Anne, carried in the coal scuttle. When he’d grunted and pushed himself to his feet, leant over and swung the door shut, she clapped her hands, and bounced on her toes. “Oh, so much better! He…” Her voice was soft, seemingly discreet. Anne murmured and pointed with an airy motion of her fingertips, to Jerome. Jerome sat ashen at the table, in the room which served them as both kitchen and parlor, ghost-like in his silent and scarcely noticed presence. He watched her step close to Waldgrave, tilting up her chin and smiling. They were friends, and Mr. Waldgrave would, of course, understand.
“…my husband is ill, and he cannot do heavy work. He cannot do any sort of work.”
His autumn of happy idleness had been a taste of everyday life, as Honoré supposed life to be, for the class to which the Sartains belonged; a climax, golden and brief, to a tragic year. With a niece and nephew-by-marriage lodged under her roof, and Honoré’s state of well-being now reliable for a few hours at a stretch, Mme. Sartain had begun to think of outings. Two or three times each week they were off, the three of them—to a restaurant lunch, a ride in an open cab to look at the wreck of the Tuileries, an afternoon play, or a concert (Mme. Sartain enjoyed a lyric Italian air; to a French composer she listened with an unconscious hand over her heart, but she had always—“Oh, from my girlhood; the war doesn’t enter into it”—had strong feelings against German music, if it were not Mozart).
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)