There's one more Walter section to go, which I'll have up within less than a week, and that will mark the end of Part 2. I'm going to take a break during July and catch up on good things like sleep. But when I get back, we'll head East and pick up with Natalie.
Near Etrepilly, France. September 9th, 1914. Walter took his canteen and poured it over Alfred’s face, the water coursing away the blood and grime.
“Is that better?” Walter asked, crouching over his friend.
Alfred’s eyes were set, staring past Walter. His jaw trembled, as if he were chattering from the cold despite the hot September afternoon. He made no move to wipe his face, the water running down in rivulets and dripping off his chin. Walter dabbed at him with a handkerchief, a lingering trapping of civilization, his initials sewn into it by his mother in red thread.
“I thought that I’d lost my eyes,” Alfred said. “The shell burst, I heard the whistling of the shrapnel, and then I felt something hit my face and I couldn’t see anything. It was…” His eyes met Walter’s and he started to cry as he had not even on the day that his brother had been killed. Great wracking sobs, which left his face twisted in horror as they poured forth. “I reached up to touch my ruined face, and I felt hair. It was his scalp. God. His scalp was blown off and hit my face.”
His voice gave out and he relapsed into helpless sobs.
Walter put his hands on his friend’s shoulders, pulling him close, their foreheads touching. He knew, as he felt Alfred’s body shaking, that the man was done, at least for now. Perhaps later he would be ready to fight, but for today he had given already everything that a man could give. If he did not get out of the line, Alfred would sob here until he was killed, or until he lost consciousness and received the blessing of oblivion. Yet Walter knew that if he simply told Alfred to go to the rear, he would refuse. He must find some errand on which to send the man that would allow him to leave the battlefield with his pride intact.