The second section of the new novel is up. One of the things I decided early on I wanted to do was show a married couple that was essentially a happy couple. I'd often felt the frustration that you see couples get together in novels, and you see them break up, but you seldom have a happily married couple who are characters. One of the things I realized as I started writing Henri and Philomene is that it's a lot harder to write a couple when the conflict isn't between them. However, as I thought about it more, there is a lot of small conflict in even the happiest of marriages. Not necessarily fighting, per se, but the little frictions which we deal with everyday without exactly thinking about them as conflict. As the larger conflict looms, I wanted to deal with those small conflicts in my character's lives as well.
Henri watched his father-in-law leave the dining room. He knew it had taken the older man an effort to remove himself rather than continuing the argument. The responsible thing would be to wish Andre a good morning and head back to the little office he had next to the store’s back room.
When Henri had retired from the army and moved the family to his wife’s hometown, it had been clear that Louis’s hope and expectation had been that Henri would join him in running the store. He had made a sort of half-hearted effort, but waiting on customers had been salt in the wounds of his recently ended military career. The only part of the business in which he had excelled was bringing order to Louis Mertens’ somewhat chaotic approach to accounting and purchasing. Henri had been of the new style of officer, trained at the Ecole Polytechnique rather than Saint-Cyr, and turning a practical problem into a mathematical one came naturally to him. And while he had, like most officers, shunned logistics for the combat arms, ten years of signing the supply books had taught him a great deal about the importance of system in maintaining the right inventories of supply.
Louis Mertens liked to say that his business existed because of his relationships with his customers, and this was doubtless true, but although he had little understanding of the systems that Henri put in place, he could not deny that he now kept less money invested in inventory and yet almost never had to tell a customer that he was sold out of some desired item. The impact to his profits was something Louis could readily understand, and Henri now did similar work for his father-in-law and a number of other businessmen and landowners in town for a fee. This was an arrangement far more conducive to family peace than had been the brief experiment of Henri working directly for Louis in the store.
Various projects awaited back in the little office, but the few minutes’ argument about the military situation in the Balkans had been a welcome return to subjects that, ten years later, Henri still thought of as his real vocation.
“What would you think of going over to Carbonnaux’s to read the papers and see what people have to say?” he asked Andre.
The postmaster’s duties sat lightly on his shoulders, and he was usually eager enough for a visit to the cafe. Today was no exception.
“Will you be out long?” asked Philomene.
Henri could hear the disapproval in her voice. She would not ask him to stay or reproach him afterwards, but she always seemed to sense a rivalry between their family life and anything to do with the army.
He went to his, placed his hands on her shoulders, and placed three light kisses on her forehead. He could feel her shoulders soften and see the lines going out of her forehead.
“I hope your call on Madame Perreau goes well. I’ll be back before lunch. Will you tell me about it then?”
She nodded silently. He turned to go. Andre was already standing in the hall by the door, taking his hat from the rack.
“Henri.” Philomene’s voice had just a tinge of urgency. Henri stopped and turned back. She had risen and was hurrying to him. She clasped his arms. “I love you,” she said in a low tone meant for him alone. “I’m sorry about this morning. I’m sorry I--” She faltered, searching for words.
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