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For twenty years now, our nation has fought itself and fought others. The fields of France have been watered and furrowed by blood. No one escapes the pervasiveness of unending war. Henri was our contribution.
Eventually, we began receiving letters. They were brief at first; he hastily explained his lack of time and the details of his new life. Perhaps it was a mother's intuition, but I sensed something amiss within those precious lines. But there was nothing to do. We wrote back, professing our love for our little soldier. Despite my growing fear, life moved on; the harvest came and leaves grew dry and crisp.
We kept hearing snippets of war news. France was again being pushed back towards her natural borders. It seemed that Napoleon could not continue his success. I overheard two aged men talking after Mass. Their mustaches fluttered in the breeze as they described the current situation. News from Germany told of gathering armies. The forces of each side were closing together, and a vicious, tremendous battle of nations was about to unfold.
Rushing home, I broke the news to Claudette; she smiled, her nationalism evident across the wide grin. She had little doubt that France and the Emperor would finally conquer in the days to come, but I only thought of Henri. Writing a quick letter to our distant son, I prayed for his safety.
Mélodie, our stoic middle daughter, crept around the kitchen. She ran a cloth along the counters and the knotted table, the soapy water swirling. She paused by me. Grinning, ever silent, she dipped her finger in the suds, drawing stalks of wheat and circling birds.
"See, mother! The harvest," she whispered, giggling.
I didn't answer. I didn't even smile. I couldn't tear myself from the unseen horror, the grasping arms of war that tried to embrace us here, even in the lonely kitchen. The suds forgotten, Mélodie left.
I set down the quill and stood. The room was silent. I went to boil some water for tea; the mint always soothed me. As I dug in the little jar for the leaves, I had to pause.
Henri had gathered these.
I shook myself and dropped some leaves into the water. “No sense in that,” I muttered. But I couldn’t stop the tears as I set all but one of the usual places for dinner.
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