Battlefront: part three
“He will be pleased, then,” said the other, “to be seen by the Emperor.”
“It is always my hope,” the officer said, glancing at Honoré, then looking across the table and meeting the eye of the correspondent, “that ambitious men will, by the grace of God, live to see their ambitions realized.”
The correspondent allowed this opening to linger. His hand rested on the table, holding an après-déjeuner cigar. He took this up, puffed three or four times, frowned, noticed Honoré. He half turned. He studied Honoré more closely, turned away, and slapped his unoccupied hand on the table.
“These people are infernally slow.”
The officer said nothing.
“As we speak of the Emperor,” the correspondent continued, “we may mention that he appears perched, as it were, on the brink of witnessing the culmination of his own ambitions.”
The officer, his meal finished, his cup drained, had no business with which to occupy his hands while he prepared his riposte. Honoré felt, however, that some emotion had been stirred.
At length, the officer said, “I disagree.”
His companion seemed startled.
“Well…you may do so.”
“I disagree. Emphatically, I disagree.” The officer stood. “You have a way of saying things, monsieur. You have not been so subtle with me, that I do not understand you.”
“To my own knowledge,” the Englishman answered, “I have not been as subtle as all that. You have somehow mistaken my meaning.”
“Your meaning.” The officer folded his arms. “I will say it plain. You call the Emperor a coward.”
The correspondent put a hand out, without bothering to turn his head. He waved twice, missed once, made contact the second time, seizing Honoré by the sleeve. Honoré stepped closer to the table.
“I appeal to you,” the man said. “Have I suggested anything of the kind? Did you hear me speak the word?”
Honoré felt himself in a delicate position. The man who clutched his sleeve, claiming him as an ally, he had at first disliked. Out of envy, he admitted. Being proprietor of his own paper, Honoré could not pay himself an allowance, until he’d first earned it…but the selling of papers came after the scouting of news, and the writing of articles, and these things were more readily done on an allowance.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)