The House of Gremot: part two
“I did write, madame.”
“But, now you are in America, you choose to go by a different name.”
He mistrusted these prompts.
For two years, although far more often than otherwise, the officials he’d encountered had seemed to know the truth, none had bothered themselves proving Honoré’s credentials false. On the hospital’s charity ward, they had not believed in Thos. B. Jerome, but they had expected their patient to die, and so had left him alone. And the almshouse, under its unending burden of penniless and consumptive immigrants, had grown accustomed to the point of apathy.
He reached for the glass of cider-punch. Having no fat left on his bones, Honoré could no longer tolerate alcohol. A sip made him dizzy. Mrs. Gremot insisted they did not serve it in this house, but uneasily, he tasted an undernote of bitterness. Yet the soup had been cleared away, the pie just served was too hot―he could only fork at its crust and watch the steam curl…and no other device was at hand for gaining time.
Mrs. Gremot’s topics were pegged, it seemed, to the courses. While Honoré had spooned half-heartedly at the heavy cream soup, fearing to eat much of it, she’d asked him, “Mr. Jerome, are you wanting for anything in your room?”
“Madame, your kindness to me is excellent.”
Through the corner of an eye, he saw the girl Ranilde make her own eyes round; she pressed her lips together, and…it might be uncongenial for a guest to say of his host’s daughter, smirked…but she produced a face much like a smirk, as she looked across the table at her brother. Honoré, his gaze fixed on his plate, supposed some silent message to have passed between them. The cook appeared in the doorway, and Mrs. Gremot nodded. Two maidservants then entered, circling the table, one clearing soup plates, the other laying a dish of poached pears at its head; opposite, a sliced tongue. These were served at room temperature to ease stomachs through the transition of courses from cold to hot.
“Mr. Jerome,” his hostess said again. She spoke just at that moment when, her show of weighing and considering conspicuous, one of the servants had lifted Honoré’s plate, which remained nearly full. “If there is anything you prefer having, that I may ask Cook to bring you from the kitchen…” She left her remark open-ended, and Honoré, conscious now that his accent, or his English, amused the young Gremots, repeated what he’d told Ebrach.
“Madame, I am able to eat anything.”
Robert next carried in a platter and slightly tipped it, bending his knees beside Gremot’s chair, until the platter’s cargo of red and white ramekins crowded to its edge. He lifted and dropped the first onto Gremot’s plate. He rubbed his fingers together, and repeated the process down the table; reaching Honoré’s place, he said, “Sir, take care. These are hot from the oven.”
The House of Gremot
(2017, Stephanie Foster)