Battlefront: part six
To stop here was to throw away every chance but one; yet all roads must now lead to imprisonment or death. He might be dragged from this shelter…and they would ask him, “Why do you hide?” He might flee and be halted by a bullet. And why did he flee? Only to escape this place. The lone hope Honoré could see, was to avoid being seen at all.
He looked for the next place of concealment. Taller houses lined the main street of the town proper, and at the rear of one, a chimney jutted. He might rest awhile, three-quarters of a circle hidden from sight, pressed tight between chimney and wall.
He hesitated, gathering himself.
She had spoken his name in a whisper. She had stolen up beside him.
“Monsieur Gremot, please help.”
“Clotilde, where have you come from?”
He looked into eyes that seemed uncomprehending. Of her own danger, of the choice she was forcing him to make. But he was wrong to suppose her unafraid…she quivered on the verge of panic. She took his sleeve as though to lead him away, then fell against him, saying, “Oh…oh!”, as gunfire exploded. She wore the clothes he’d seen her in the night before, plain grisaille under a plain apron, cap askew, lank hair falling loose. He freed his arm, put his hand on her shoulder, took her by the wrist, turning her so that his own back was to the guns. He steered her, in this fashion―as though they danced―into the niche.
Honoré stood, for the good it would do, between Clotilde and the enemy. He said to her, “How could I help?”
A carbine meters away shattered glass. They heard another bang, another window splinter. They heard shouting and pounding. Clotilde ducked under his arm, caught it again and tugged, backing from him, her feet slipping. “We are next!”
But he’d meant for her to understand he had nothing to offer. She had attached herself in this way, and he could only follow. After an awkward few steps, Clotilde let go and dashed ahead. Honoré thought again of curling up in darkness, tempted as he passed the shed for the second time. She heard him fall behind, perhaps; she knew, somehow, that he’d lagged. She found his eyes…and incautious called answer to a question he had not asked.
She pointed at a fissured wall, a single window on this side, that looked down over the town’s finer houses. The cottage stood just above the gate, where the road began to curve into pastureland and the cobbling of the street ended. A woman stood, hidden to ghostly effect by a panel of curtain…an oval of face, a wisp of blue fabric, a dark form cloaked in lace.
“I was so surprised,” Clotilde was telling him, “to see you come down the hill, but then I thought…” She led him by the sleeve again, and murmured as she did, telling him what she had thought: “You remembered us.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)