This installment brings the novel to just over 66,000 words and concludes Chapter 6. I'll be posting the first installment of Chapter 7 on Monday night, if all goes according to plan.
Henri was emptying out the chest in which his military uniforms and equipage were stored, making neat stacks on the bed: One dress coat. Two field coats. One overcoat. One pair of dress pants. Two pairs of field pants. Five shirts.
The stacks covered most of Henri’s side of the bed. On the other side sat Philomene, in her nightgown, feet drawn up under her so that no part of her touched his uniforms.
At the very bottom of the chest were his two bags -- officer’s luggage, not packs meant to be worn on the back like a common soldier. He took them out, opened them, and pushed them out into shape. They exhaled the smell of old leather. It had been careless, a reservist’s blunder, to let them sit untouched the whole last year. He should have taken them out and and oiled and polished them. Now they were stiff. He examined them carefully to see if cracks were forming around the creases, but if there was damage to them it was not evident yet. He set them down and began to sort things into them.
Philomene was watching his every move, and the feeling of that gaze resting on him, holding him, saying all of the things which she would not say out loud, made it impossible to meet her gaze. Instead he worked with complete precision, folding each item with deliberation, squaring each stack before he put it in the bag.
“Couldn’t you finish that in the morning and come to bed?”
Henri shrugged. He carefully folded his two field coats and put them in a bag, hanging his dress coat in the closet to wear to mass the next morning.
“There won’t be time. I have to catch the 10:35 to Paris, and by the time we go to mass at eight-- It’s better to get it done now.”
The look she gave him at this was so aggrieved that he dropped the belt he had been rolling up and went around the bed to stand next to her, putting a hand on each shoulder.
“I love you.” He placed two kisses on her forehead, one over each eyebrow. “I just have to finish this packing. There’s just no other time.”
She reached up to grab his wrists, her grip surprisingly strong. “Come to bed.”
“Ma chere. I’m sorry.” If only she too could submerge the desperation of the moment in routine as well. Packing his bags, doing everything with neatness, brought a calm. It was a thing clearly under control and achievable, which allowed him to forget both that he would have to leave his family in the morning for he knew not how long and his own helplessness and uncertainty. Would they immediately attack, or wait to see what action Germany took? Would his reserve regiment be shipped north again from Paris towards the likely front lines facing Alsace or the Ardennes, or would they be left in the reserve defending the city?
But she was already dressed for bed, her hair brushed out, sitting on the bed with her knees pulled up before her. Perhaps if she would just lie down.
“I won’t be much longer. Do you want to lie down? It’s so late already.” He glanced at the clock to confirm his words. Almost two.
“I don’t want to lie down.” There was a tremor in her voice, but Henri made himself go back to packing. “I don’t want to go to sleep,” she continued, when he did not reply. “I want to be with you.”
Model of Apostolic Courage
6 hours ago