Battlefront: part five
They passed a sign-post, unreadable. Honoré saw a row of cottage lights. He saw canal water, reflecting from its surface starlight and village lamps. The dog, Sophie-Jaune, piped and panted—finally, having struggled against the impulse, she barked. A lantern swung towards them.
“I would have come to get you.” A child’s voice.
“Are you not coming to get me?” Paquette asked.
“But you’re here!”
“I live here,” Paquette told Honoré. “Did your mother, Thérèse, tell you to be very careful?”
The child giggled, swinging a chaotic arc of yellow light; her father bent, gentle in commandeering the lantern by its handle, and patted her between the shoulders. She ran away from them, the lantern as Paquette raised it showing the pathway leading to his cottage. The door stood open. Among flowers dimly seen beneath a second lantern that hung outside, waited another child, picking leaves and throwing them to the ground. A cat came out, turned, and went back inside. Mme Paquette appeared.
“You ought to have been here.” She spoke in a low voice. She looked at Honoré, turned her face to Paquette, and said, emotionally:
“We have a guest.”
“Well, so we do.”
She threw her hands in the air. Paquette stood aside, and motioned for Honoré to precede him. The little girl shrieked, and with her brother by the hand, darted past. In the Paquette’s parlor the air felt a degree or two colder. A stone fireplace framed by the chimney-piece, and the east wall were one; beneath so vast a hearth, the weakness of the banked fire, that neither illuminated the room nor heated it, made a sad contrast.
Four others sat at the table. One stood, and Honoré saw the reason for Mme Paquette’s worry. The local curé was paying a call.
“I am Guillaume La Roche.”
He took a step to the right. The man seated beside him put hands on the table’s edge and rolled his shoulders. His chair seemed to stall and grate against the floor. La Roche took a step to the left, as Honoré reached across. They achieved, he and the sociable curé, an awkward embrace of forearms.
“I am Honoré Gremot. Monsieur Paquette has kindly asked me to visit his house.”
He was not, in truth, certain he might not be under arrest.
“Monsieur le curé, you have made my wife nervous, stopping here.”
This was jest, but Paquette’s wife, wringing hands at her waist, oscillated in a semi-circle, touching plates and glasses. She cast numerous anxious glances at Honoré.
The curé peered at his soup plate. Mme Paquette must have, only a moment before her husband returned, laid on the table those things she could provide. La Roche said, “I have been visiting this house and that. I confess to an embarrassment…you will forgive me. I find I have eaten quite enough this evening. As your wife,” he met Mme Paquette’s eyes encouragingly, “will not wish to see good food wasted, she must offer these things to your guest.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)