Excerpt: A Figure from the Common Lot (Battlefront second)
Dupuy looked straight ahead, lacking words to extenuate Gremot, or unable to choose from among so many. Aubermont was not Dupuy’s own commanding officer, and though Dupuy had never failed in his duty as a soldier, he saw here a maneuverable gap, one that neatly fit his personal axiom—act, don’t explain. Dupuy pursed his lips. “Colonel Aubermont, I apologize. I make no excuse for my poor judgment. If you will give me leave, I will at once…”
One present, however, felt the bite of injustice more acutely than did Dupuy. He had watched Gremot; he had listened to him, and with an obsessive, enraged disbelief. Thus, without the intention of doing so, Lieutenant Champierre had picked up a useful gambit. He was surrounded by officers who outranked him. He was socially inferior to Boussac. He addressed himself to Owens.
“This Gremot would like to know what the message says! In his courtesy, he worries that our Emperor might be embarrassed by his enemies. Embarrassed!” Impassioned, Champierre stepped from Dupuy’s side and accosted Owens. Other junior officers, those able to read the forbidden English papers, and with whom Champierre passed idle moments, had told him about the offenses of the foreign press. Champierre’s heart told him, in turn, that his friends could not have exaggerated. It was their way, the English, to put themselves in the high seat; they had always done so. Was it any surprise then, to find that they made intrigues with Belgians? How could it be that to dwell on French defeats did not effectively give aid and comfort…and to whom did it give aid and comfort, but to the Prussians? If the English were friends to the Prussians, than who was their enemy? This pretense of neutrality―
“These English!” Champierre flung a pointing finger at Honoré. “Play a game, as this war is no concern of theirs! Anyone who wishes to see a thing can see it easily enough. They make us out to be…”
Boussac had cut him short, fixing Aubermont, where before he had been not quite able to see him, with a penetrating glare. Champierre loosed his fingers from Owens’s sleeve. He had seen Gremot offer Owens a commiserating, closed-lipped smile; yet, Champierre noted bitterly, he did not dare address himself to Boussac, but stood nodding in the wake of this outburst…a little twist to his mouth, and a shaded glance for the lieutenant.
Owens rubbed his arm. He was seeing manifestations of danger that, to an intimate of Boussac, were familiar signs, and he knew himself to be at fault. He had spoken to the journalist when he ought not to have done. Boussac, although capable of fluent English, did not concede civility to a servant. Owens was required to speak French at all times. The typical Englishman’s French accent was well known to Owens, and he did not believe Champierre’s assertion. Neither had the name sounded English…supposing Gremot to be a name. It was a point to seize hold of, and through which to seek redemption.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)