In which there is a letter, a dinner... and news.
Paris. August 27th, 1914. Paris was proud of its army, could wish it only the very best, and so it was unthinkable than an infantry captain should be forced to live within the canvas walls of a tent. And yet, this abundance of good will did not make rooms any more available in the already crowded city. On first arriving for mobilization Henri had been forced to check into a hotel, which despite the modesty of its rooms and laxness of its service did not stint when it came to rates, at least according to the standard to which he had become used since settling into village life. After several days of calling on friends and buying cigars for the sort of old supply sergeants who had a near miraculous ability to procure any accommodation or supply for those they deigned to exert their knowledge for, he had been assigned a room in a hotel on the Avenue de la Bourdonnais which had been taken over for army use.
Guards now stood at attention in the lobby where before bellhops had stood with brass-railed carts. A non-commissioned officer with logistics service badges on his collar sat behind the hotel desk, managing the comings and goings in place of the desk clerk. The rug which covered the lobby floor, which over many years had settled into a shabby reddish brown like dried wine stains was, under the sudden crush of heavily booted traffic, becoming a churned-up ruin like the turf of some blood soaked battlefield.
Some long accustomed patterns persisted amidst the change. As Henri entered the lobby, his boots dusty and his shirt and tunic grimed with sweat after an afternoon of drilling the company in the fields beyond the city, the noise of the street was replaced with the murmur of conversation and the clink of glasses. The knots of people talking and sipping coffee or liquors were all in uniform, their topics the deployment of divisions and the counting of casualties, but the quiet sounds of a hotel lobby were not greatly different than they would have been at any other time.
“Captain Fournier,” said the corporal behind the desk as Henri passed. “There is a letter for you.”
The man searched for a moment among the pigeon holes and then produced a thick, letter-sized envelope with Henri’s name and unit written on it in what he recognized even while still a few paces away as Philomene’s hand.
The cruelest month, a few days early
8 hours ago