Imprisoned: part one (continued)
And it was to a nagging sense of disbelief that, without coming fully awake, Honoré regained consciousness enough to ask himself, how could it be Fulner?
“Even battle must end at nightfall. And further, sorting them now would be impractical. But of course, there are camps for the officers, and there are camps for enlisted men and conscripts. Not that we don’t expect to be accused of every barbarity. In time, when we have obtained an armistice…”
“You have no doubt of that?”
“I say, in time. Then, of course, the flag of Geneva will come down, and everything will be restored as it once was…where else will reparations come from? No, we will like to see the French industrious―but, those who ask for a privilege and understand that they have been given it, have a better appreciation than those who make demands, reasoning to themselves that we are in a contest, and that there is some prize to be won.”
“But you figure the fighting may be close by tomorrow…”
“Well…more soldiers of the Emperor’s army have surrendered to us than we had expected. We have made the best accommodation possible. If by this you ask, are we in range of the French batteries, and will they have the sense not to shell their own men…?” Fulner’s informant let his question die, and answered it himself, with a laugh. Honoré, alert now, and surely able…in a moment…to force his eyes open, to push himself to his feet and to signal with his hand―would be recognized by Fulner, who was his friend, and would speak for him.
The sergeant, his uniform clean, his hands gloved, his French limited, instructed by gesture. To hurry the prisoners at their work, he bounced his rifle butt against his palm, and to himself, muttered, “Das sind eure Toten.”
Divorced from its indecent particulars, the work was simple in concept, its elemental tasks easily conveyed. The prisoners discerned that one man must take the shoulders, one the ankles. They must unearth these half-sunk dead, and heave them onto wagons for disposal, or from this field of carnage a malignancy would rise. Able-bodied men had been mustered into gangs, each of a few dozen, and here the remnants of the French army were tasked with tending their fallen. His vigilant companion, the moblot who had made himself Honoré’s guardian, had volunteered them both; he had grinned away the question of his little friend’s fitness for labor.
“No, my Honoré will be very sorry not to have done his part…and he is safest of all with me.” Demonstrating that Honoré could stand on his feet, the moblot had unrolled him from his blanket, taken him under the armpits, and hauled him upright. Honoré thought he had walked some distance to reach this place, and remembered almost nothing of it.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)