Battlefront: part five
A Figure from the Common Lot
“Lieutenant Champierre will escort you from our camp,” Aubermont told Honoré. “What is your name?”
“That sorts with Dupuy’s account.”
Negligently, Aubermont sat leafing through the sketchbook, showing (his purpose, Honoré thought) that several of its pages had been torn away. Not knowing whether dismay would read to Aubermont as proof of guilt; or if, on the contrary, effacement would show to him a spy trained to anticipate such a moment, Honoré merely thanked the colonel, and saw Aubermont’s reflect his own cordial smile.
“Monsieur Gremot, I will circulate a description of you. Should you be found speaking to any French soldier or officer, you will be placed under arrest. I ought,” Aubermont added, “to put you in a cell today…but then, I would need to find one, and arrange for someone to take custody of you. To tell the truth, monsieur, you are not important enough to make delays over. We are at that point where we must choose our battles!” He laughed. Honoré laughed, not happily. He feared himself important enough, at any rate, for Champierre’s attentions, and that needless suffering would result from the license given to the lieutenant.
“I can’t do otherwise,” Aubermont finished. “The press may reasonably write of these events after they have taken place. You journalists must stop this practice of putting yourselves in the middle of them.”
He handed across the sketchbook, and nodded permission. With one hand, Champierre gave his colonel a heartfelt salute; the other dropped onto Honoré’s shoulder, pressing down with increasing force, as Honoré fastened his bag, until, positioned with his head over his knees, he perceived that Champierre was now twisting his collar band. He muttered, “Please, monsieur…”
And on the strength of this word, the lieutenant seized the initiative, hauling Honoré to his feet, hustling him from Aubermont’s tent. He dealt as roughly as he was able, first shouting orders to an infantryman to come along and bring the offending bag. Swinging this over his shoulder, the soldier followed Champierre’s example, and gripped Honoré’s other arm above the elbow. They pitched him forward, jerking him off his feet; they grabbed the open ends of his trouser legs, lifting his ankles above the ground. He was in this fashion frog-marched to the camp’s boundary, where Champierre stopped, allowing the leg to fall. His helper did likewise. Champierre said, “Put that bag down and go.”
Once they were…not alone, but isolated, the other soldiers busy with breaking camp, Champierre thrust away the arm, into the flesh of which, and with trembling anger, he had been pressing his fingers. He flapped his hand, irritable, as though Honoré were filthy, and had himself imposed this contact. Then, with design to intimidate, Champierre held Honoré’s eyes for a long moment. The lieutenant’s face was sunburnt, his own eyes pale blue.
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)