condition: on going
author: Krimhild K
beta reader: Mia
Yes, on the plaints of Arras have the color of your eyes’ shades. All varieties of emerald that were mixed in your pupils, according to your mood and time of day… Light and dark green, almost blue by the night and almost honey-colored at the sunlight. The land reminded me your hands, accustomed to hard work. The stream water is your voice. And the breeze is you, your presence surrounding me, accompanying me… is you, swirling petals of plum blossom around me, even though it’s middle summer… It’s you, who promised me you’d always be with me… There are traces of you around this place and while I remain here, we’ll be together… or that’s what I want to believe. Because in reality you aren’t here anymore, and these meadows, streams, land and the breezes are so vulgar as those I could find anywhere in France, anywhere in the world. It’s ridiculous to look for signs, traces of you because you no longer exist. Sometimes I think that if I haven’t committed suicide is to not disappoint Alain. Because I gave him my word, for a matter of honor… and it’s so pathetic that this is the only reason that keeps me alive… Sometimes I feel like I do everything in an automatic. Just like I breath or my heart beats without thinking about it… so I get up every day, and my eyes look without seeing, and my ears hear without hearing, and I eat because Alain has threatened to beat me up if I not finish all the food he prepares for me. And isn’t it because I do care if he do it, but I know he wouldn’t forgive himself and I don’t want to upset him. On the other hand, he cooks better than me. It’s a good guy and has quite tact. So I preferred to live with him than Rosalie. I adore her, but she surely would have hounded me untill making me sick from nerves. She’s too emotional and would cry more than me. And I should comfort her. What a nice picture would be that, huh? And in the middle, the poor and resigned Bernard, drowning in a sea of tears with a baby on the way…no… Rosalie has made her life, she must deal with her family. Alain, however, is more sensible than he seems, or has matured a lot since I met him. He knows when to talk to me, when to leave me by myself, when to be stern and when to give me a hug. He must understand the intensity of my torment. I’ve noticed I don’t care if he sees me mourn. I also discovered that I have only two modes: one in which I cry until my head seems to break by pain, and one in which I feel absolutely nothing. Today I feel nothing. I’m sitting under the apple tree, I’m looking at the branch from which we hung upside down betting who resisted the most before falling over… Yesterday I was making memories on this site too. More than twenty years ago when I still believed to be a boy… We practiced fencing for hours under the tree, then we stuff ourselves with apples and then I, totally exhausted, fell sleep. We slept lying on the grass in any way and sometimes we were there until after midnight. When I woke up before you, I saw you sleeping. Your mother had passed away recently, and usually you had a veil of sadness in your face. However, when you were asleep, that sadness disappeared. You said it was because you dreamed about her, and sometimes, also dreamed about me too. And just to annoy me… you said I was more friendly and helpful in your dreams… Ah…! It seems to think about it caused me so much damage that I had an hysterical crisis, Alain found me crying like I was insane, and he had to carry me to my bedroom. But today I am here, and the same memories cause nothing to me. It must be that today I am suffering even more than yesterday, therefore I can’t even express it… I think I’m living by a mistake of destiny.
“Plum blossom petals, at this time of year? It is unusual…”
Oscar looked where she heard Alain’s voice, startled by the sudden interruption of her thoughts. He was sitting two feet away, hugging his legs and with the chin resting on his knees, watching her intently.
“How long are you here?”
“About half an hour. As you didn’t answer me when I talked to you, I prefer not to bother you. I hope you don’t mind that I have… – he said, pointing to Oscar. She realized that she was a wool shawl over her shoulders, that she didn’t bring with her when she left home. She was so absorbed that she didn’t notice what time Alain had placed on her.”
“No, of course it doesn’t bother me… thank you.”
“We should enter the house. The eather starts to be pretty cool.”
Alain stood up and offered his hand, helping her to stand up too. They walked wearily across the stone path that took them to the house.
“There’s something I want to talk to you – said Alain – It may not be my business, but still I think I must put you on notice.”
“I am concerned about the status of this inheritance. I’ve spent considerable time exploring the fields and villages, where I’ve found that people live in squalid conditions. As I expected, the taxes are exorbitant. And according to some rumors, the administration is taking more than right… don’t you think you should do something about it? I understand that you are depressed, but you must begin to take care of…”
“Yes, I’ve thought about it too. I’ll talk to the manager, if his explanations are not satisfactory I’ll take him over of his charge.”
“Great, but what powers gave you your father? Can you remove him?”
“No. But anyway we will put him on his place.”
“I like to hear you talking like that, Oscar! We have much work to do here – Alain said enthusiastically. But the smile froze on his lips when he saw Oscar was impassive and away – There’s more… It passed almost three weeks from the Bastille and the news has reached rural areas. I hear there have been some riots around…”
“I didn’t know it, but it would be a surprise to me if it hadn’t happened. For that matter, we don’t integrate more taxes into the Crown’s coffers, because we will not collect it anymore. And we will return what has been collected untill now.”
“Well, definitely you don’t have permission to do that…”
“Do you think it’s wrong to do it?”
“Is it a rhetorical question? I think it’s great! We’ll get into a terrible mess” – Alain said, as if instead of a mess he was talking about a carnival.
Upon reaching the entrance of the house they found three people were waiting. Monsieur Sugane were with his son, Gilbert, and a young girl with reddish chestnut hair and pale blue eyes. Alain supposed she was the boy’s sister by their obvious resemblance. Oscar came forward to greet them.
“Monsieur Sugane, Gilbert, Léonore… what a pleasant surprise, what brings you here? Dear, you’re so beautiful, you’re all a little woman… Alain, do you know Léonore? She’s monsieur Sugane’s eldest daughter.”
“Nice to meet you, mademoiselle” – Alain greeted with a polite nod. The girl was pretty, but like his brother, had a few freckles covered her cheeks and her little blunter nose. But what really caught Alain’s attention was the air of sadness in her eyes, nervousness and discomfort denoting the way looked away and wrung her hands.
“The same to you, monsieur” – Léonore said, forcing a brief smile.
“Tell me, Monsieur Sugane, how I can I help you…”
“Actually, mademoiselle, I think the issue is exactly the opposite…”
“I Don’t understand… “- Oscar said, as she opened the door and invited them to pass.
“Oh, don’t worry, it’s a brief matter, Gilbert and I go to the village… monsieur Alaste told me you’re seeking for someone to help you with housework, and well, Léonore has offered to do it… isn’t, my little one?”
“Yes, father “- the girl said, looking shyly at Oscar.
“She has offered by herself”? You could think that they bring in her tow, it seems she’s going to run at any time… I wish she don’t, she’s pretty cute… otherwise, Oscar could pick some old and fat grumpy lady who didn’t allow me to Snoopy at the kitchen and threw me out with a broom… She would be able to do it just to spite me!
Oscar smiled with pleasure.
“It’s a very good new, Léonore! We will be happy to receive you.”
“You won’t regret it, mademoiselle Oscar” – intervened Gilbert – “my sister is a great housewife. She’s also a marvelous cook… and having worked a week with Alain I realized you have problems with the kitchen… “– he added mockingly, because when he had helped to repair the house, the lunch had run on Alain’s behalf. The aforementioned gave him a killer look that didn’t go unnoticed for Léonore, who chuckled.
“How about the proposal, mademoiselle Oscar?”
“Excellent, Monsieur Sugane! Léonore, welcome home…”
“Thank you, mademoiselle Oscar.”
“Well, Gilbert and I must retire, I leave my little girl, we will go for her by afternoon.”
Oscar also noticed Léonore’s nervousness and shyness. The last time Oscar went to Arras was about six years ago, and she remembered Léonore as a restless, talkative, cheerful and lively teenager. Now, Oscar calculated she must be twenty-two years old, and she retracted appearance contrasted with the idea that Oscar had about the girl. Even Gilbert, who had always been shy, seemed to be more sociable than Léonore.
She watched silently as the rooms Oscar taught him the house. To be a peasant house was quite large, as well as being solid. The extensions that André’s father made about thirty years ago are still kept in good condition. Oscar looked Léonore strongly as she spoke, as if to say something, even Oscar thought he did not put too much attention to his words.
“Léonore, is there something you wanna say to me?”
She did not answer her, but gave a significant and inhibited gaze at Alain. Oscar realized at once that it was about “women’s things” and she gestured to the boy, arching an eyebrow and indicating him to go out. He remained static, not understanding. Oscar, despite being raised as a boy, was forgotten that men don’t usually have too much tact or indirect capture. Sometimes also the direct… and Alain was no exception.
She looks very funny when she makes this gesture…
“Tell me, Oscar…”
“Why don’t you go… and take a walk around?”
“To take a walk? But it’s too late, it’s almost time for lunch.”
“You can eat some apples in the garden” – she said, repeating the gesture.
“But I don’t want… “- Yes, she looks very funny when she makes this gesture, she puts a so serious face, but it’s pretty funny the she arched one eyebrow and then furrows her brow a bit and…
“Alain, can you leave us alone for a moment? I need to talk with Léonore…”
“Talking about what?”
“Alain, just go for a while, okay!?”
“Okay, okay! But what a bad temper you are..”.
Unexpectedly, the girl began to mourn.
“Girl! What happens to you? “- Oscar asked, startled, as she hugged her affectionately.
“I’m desperate mademoiselle, I don’t know what to do, I don’t have no one to turn…”!
“Calm down, dear, you can trust me… “- said Oscar, and for the third time she told Alain output.
She looks very pretty and funny when she does that, eheheh… In the past I teased her on purpose because it’s a delight to see her angry…
“Alain, can you leave us alone, please?”
“Okay, I go out, witch! It will be your fault if I die of hunger…” – Alain said before slamming the door.
“Well “- Oscar told Léonore – “now you can tell me how can I help you.”
She wiped her tears with the back of the hand.
“I don’t know where to start…”
“Don’t be ashamed, whatever it is, I don’t scold you “- Oscar said, smiling to inspire her confidence. Suddenly, she turned around and… – “I’ve heard you, don’t stand behind the door!”
The short distance between Oscar’s new home and the residence of monsieur Deville, the administrator, was very quiet. Oscar was lost in her memories with her sight lost in the landscape, and Alain, even he still felt offended at being excluded from her conversation with Léonore, had no interest in starting a chat. He reluctantly pulled the reins guiding the carriage.
As soon as Gilbert and his father went to look for Léonore (who would start work since next day) Oscar wanted to face her father’s administrator. Alain, even though he was very upset with her, was glad to see how she was unaware taking the initiative to take charge of her affairs. To him it was a good sign, and at least now he wasn’t so worried about finding her dead when he got home.
Monsieur Deville proved to be an arrant knave. Alain immediately disliked his mousy appearance, his small eyes, reddish by a love of drink, and his prominent belly. He seemed to be irritating trailing. After the scare of death he suffered after meeting the general de Jarjayes’ daughter without preamble, asking about account books and the state of the farm, he tried by all means to make her desist from her efforts. Finally, he told the woman that her father hadn’t given her any authority to request such information, which was a really bad idea. In two seconds, Alain was holding him by the collar and his feet was pathetically ranged off the ground. A quick glance was enough to Oscar to prove that he had appropriated large sums of money by keeping some of the tributes that he perceived it, and making extra charges to the farmers. He had even sold some of the crops in his own name, and harassed the peasants to extract the maximum benefit. Alain had seldom seen Oscar so angry, and there were countless times when it seemed that smoke would emanate any time from her ears because of disgust… but this time was even worse.
“I give you three days to leave the farm!” Oscar yelled out “you must go away with nothing but the clothes you’re wearing, and be graceful I don’t put you in jail!
When Alain took a last gaze at Deville, he realized that Oscar had just made his first enemy in Arras. He hoped at least to make this enemy entail made friends within the peasantry. He turned to look at Oscar. Her anger had vanished, and as usual, she was not there anymore. She was looking out the window with empty eyes, again. Her reverie was not entirely unpleasant to Alain, since it allowed him to contemplate her and lose himself admiring the gold of her hair gleams in the light of evening, her hands with thin fingers intertwined absently in her lap, in the lines of her slender neck. He noted with concern that her cheeks were a little sunken and her collarbone a bit more pronounced. Despite his efforts, Oscar was still losing weight. I hope this girl has such a good hand for cooking as Gilbert says… I don’t know what else to do to make her eat something… it’s very dangerous to neglect her health at this time.
“Well, Oscar, will you tell me why Gilbert’s sister was so grief-stricken, or are definitely women’s things?”
“There are women’s things” Oscar replied, without taking her eyes off the road” but as you have to find out sooner or later, I’d better tell you now. The story is simple, she is pregnant by a thug who abandoned her, she’s afraid to disappoint her father and has no resources to take care of the baby. She’s still very resentful of her son’s father and projects her anger against the creature. She doesn’t want to have them, but don’t want to abort him either.
“What will she do?” This storyis sad for me…
“Her idea is to work for us at least until the child is born and the find a family to take care of him.”
“I guess you accepted her proposal. Will you help her?”
“By the time I said to her we would do what she deems appropriate. But I don’t think this is her final decision, it’s all very recent and her emotional state surely will be highly variable in the coming months… We have time to try to convince her to keep the baby… isn’t it… the end of the world… and in a way, I consider her lucky…”
“Do you mean…?” Alain said, thoughtlessly, but then he realized his comment would be inappropriate and kept his mouth closed.
“What…?” Oscar continued, fixing a piercing but sad gaze on him, while an empty smile adorning her face.
“You’ll beat me for saying so.”
“I will not.”
“I mean you and André… that you shouldn’t be sorry if you have a son of André, even if you had to raise him by yourself, isn’t it?”
“No. It would be a disgrace in my health condition, probably neither the child nor I survive” – she replied in a curtly and dry way, and turned to concentrate on observing the landscape.
“I think that’s all for today, Léonore, you’ve worked hard to be your first day… you can spend the night here or go home, as you are most comfortable” Oscar said leaving the pen which she was writing a document on her desk.
“Tonight I’ll come home, mademoiselle Oscar. Mom needs help sewing some dresses that must due next week, she counts on me to do it. But after that I’ll stay here.”
“Then Alain can take you home.”
“Oh, you don’t need to bother! It’s just a mile away. I can walk.”
“It will be dark before you arrive, and you must be especially careful in your state…”
“What do you think if you lend me the buggy? So I will return it by tomorrow morning.”
“Sure, no problem. See you tomorrow, Léonore.”
“See you tomorrow, mademoiselle Oscar.”
After Léonore had gone, Oscar became lost in the draft of her document. About fifteen minutes later Alain interrupted her, asking what she was doing.
“Several things. The first is the removal of Deville. I’ll assume the administration as a replacement. Secondly, I’ll take under my responsibility to return tax and the end of its collection.”
“That will be a little more complex…”
“For how are the times, Alain, I just advance the inevitable. And who knows what will happen later. Probably even my family lands will be confiscated.”
“True. Do you have much more to do?”
“Mmm… about half hour of work.”
“Do you want something to eat?”
“No, thank you.”
“Okay, I’ll make something then” – he said, mischievously.
“ Alain! “- Oscar protested lamely when she saw him go out laughing – “This is not “Hansel and Gretel”!” (1)
“After this feast I’ll check if you’ve gained weight enough to put you in the pan, Hansel” she heard him shouting from the kitchen. Oscar smiled, amused. It was the first time she really smiled since… her fleeting smile vanished instantly and she went back to her papers, until after a while a sweet smell made her look up. Alain carried a tray with two cups of steaming hot chocolate and placed it on the desk in front of Oscar.
“I won’t force you to eat a pound of marzipan, you could die of diabetes, and then you would be useless for the witch. Maybe you would like to drink some hot chocolate…”
Hot Chocolate…… Nana prepared hot chocolate for me since I can remember. André took it into my room, or served it in the lounge. He first filled my cup and then his own. Then he sat in front of me. His eyes and his hair shone in the light of the morning sun, under the moon, or the fireplace… Most of the time we drank in silence. I looked at him, but while André was thinking about me, I thought about Fersen. A ritual repeated countless times over the years… And the worst is that there was a time when he thought about me, and I looked at him, thinking of him… to jump over, to embrace him and kiss him, to prove from his lips the sweetness of the chocolate he was drinking, to tell him a thousand times “I love you”, until he get tired of hearing me, but I never dared… the only barrier between us was my cowardice. I can’t think about André without hate myself!
Oscar stood up and suddenly lassoed the tray with two cups on the floor. She looked Alain with real hatred.
“Oscar! What…? “– he exclaimed, too surprised to be offended by his former commander’s absurd reaction.
“You idiot!” – She shouted breathlessly – “Don’t you ever do this again!”
“But Oscar, to do what? To serve a simple cup of chocolate? I thought you liked chocolate, André said…”
“I don’t care what André said to you! I will never drink hot chocolate! “- She cried and sobbed, burying her face in her arms resting on the desk.
“I understand… “ Alain said, sadly “I’m sorry, it wasn’t my intention to bring you painful memories…”
Then they both heard the sound of horses at a trot, approaching. About fifteen horses… both looked out the window and after a few seconds they saw lights from torches. They Lockheed each other with fear, They thought the same thing: the riots in the neighboring farms.
“Stay indoors “ Alain said, taking his sword.
“No. We will go together.”
“You stay here!”
“I said we’ll face them together!”
“There are fifteen at least, we can’t defeat them if they has come here to do it what we’re thinking. I’ll distract them, and you’ll have time to go to the barn and escape on horseback.”
“Are you crazy? That is virtually a suicide.”
Alain didn’t answer, he resolutely came out of home and stood in the door with his drawn sword. Their suspicions weren’t wrong, all the men covered their faces. They dismounted and approached about ten feet away.
“Get out of our way” said one who appeared to be their leader “We aren’t interest in you, we have come here fot the women”.
“Over my dead body” said Alain.
Oscar was venid him, shaking with fear. Usually she reacted with boldness and courage in a situation like this, but this time she felt weak and helpless and she didn’t know why.
“Don’t be stupid, we have nothing against you, but against that noble woman.”
“Yes? Well, then guess what, my name is Alain de Soissons, and I am also a nobleman. You can start for me…”
“You don’t have a brain, eh?” Said one of the men “ we’ll let you go, but if you claim to be a noble foul, we’ll kill you too… We don’t want more well fed leeches at our expense in these lands”.
“Well fed? – Alain burst out laughing almost in a sinister way – you don’t know what you are talking about. I have a noble rank of the last category, and I assure you I’ve been hungrier than all of you together. You don’t know what is starved in the city, troops of vermins. Nothing grows between the cobblestones from the streets of Paris, so don’t tell me about misery…”
The answer to Alain’s speech was an incomprehensible shouting of insults. Alain turned to Oscar.
“I’ll go against them and the you flee.”
“No, Alain…” Oscar whispered. She had seen earlier that determined look in his eyes, which indicated he was decisive to get to the end. She had seen it from a window, when the boy and other soldiers in his regiment had refused to follow the orders of General Bouille.
“We receive orders only from our commander,” she heard him say in a haughty way, with that wry smile that she had hated so much befote. For a few seconds, she looked proudly at them, forgetting the three guns pointed at her and that she was cornered against the window, hands in high… but then her pride was disrupted in horror when one of Bouille’s men hit Alain in the stomach with the butt of a rifle, four of them kicked him while he remained on the floor, writhing in pain.
“Now, Oscar” said Alain, shouting, he attacked against the hoodies.
“Alain!” Oscar, was motionless with horror, and saw him to knock two men down, taken by surprise. He hit one with the gun and kick the other in the chest, but the others were quick attackers.
“Bloody hell, Oscar, run away!” Oscar remained rooted to the floor. They had already stretched him out and beat him mercilessly.
“André and Nanny have died because of you, do you see? You are a calamity. You have ruined the lives of all those around you, including my own.”
Her father’s cruel words emerged from her memories. And she ran. But not at the barn, but straight to the men who was beating Alain. No one else would die for her. She couldn’t afford it. And if she couldn’t save Alain, she would rather die now than live with the loss of another life in the consciousness.
“Leave him alone, stop beating him!” She yelled.
“You damn crazy woman!” she heard Alain scream. She dodges the hordes and fell on Alain. He made a swift movement and held her neck with his right hand, then pushed Oscar’s shoulder with his left hand, and managed to turn her on herself to fall on her back, as he protected her using his own body as a shield and prevented the woman’s head struck the ground. Oscar saw how a boat was approaching very fast, but Alain’s arm blown off its course, and receive the blow. She heard him utter a snort of pain. They continued Licking him, but he managed to protect Oscar.
A female voice interrupted the beating. The attackers stopped surprised.
“…Léonore?”Said the leader.
“I know who you are… aren’t you even a little ashamed about fifteen attacking a defenseless woman?” Said the girl, trembling with anger – mademoiselle Oscar is not like the rest of the nobles.
“What the hell are you talking about, girl?” Asked one of the men.
“ Mademoiselle Oscar is generous and has kind feelings. Don’t you remember that years ago she saved my brother Gilbert from death, by taking him to the hospital?”
“And who matters about that? We continued living in miserable conditions.”
“Morons! Mademoiselle Oscar will not charge more taxes and return those who have already paid. She told me just this afternoon…”
“That’s true” Oscar said, sitting down and showing the paper she had been writing and she had still kept in her hand “you can read here, from my own handwriting…”
“Are you mocking us?” Snapped the leader, with anger, but also insecure “we can’t read.”
“I… I’m sorry” for absurd it was, she felt the need to apologize because her own family had allowed to this person to live live that way, not only material poverty, but depriving them of knowledge at all.
“We don’t relieve you a single word, woman” said another man.
“ Did you know André Grandier?” Asked Alain. The men looked at him with surprise. Some of them nodded “Do you know why he is not here? It is because André died in the unrest before the storming of the Bastille. He fought for the people. As Oscar and me. Oscar commanded the storming of the Bastille! Our regiment fired their guns at the fort, morons! She lost who she loved most in this life for you, for the people and you have come here to kill her! You, despicable ones!”
“You can ask my father… or speak with monsieur Deville, he will confirm you his dismissal” said Léonore “Now go away. I will not reveal your names, I’m sure mademoiselle Oscar would prefer not to know it…”
Oscar nodded. The men retired crestfallen, and the two women helped Alain to stand up and enter the house.
“Léonore, heat up some soup, please, it’s in the pan. I will clean Alain’s wounds.”
“Don’t worry, Oscar, it’s nothing serious, just some bruises. I have been beat worse in the Paris’ pubs, these farmers have a little girl’s fist “– he tried to joke.
Oscar looked for a basin of water, she was cleaning the blood and mud on the Alain’s face with a damp cloth.
“You shouldn’t do that…”
“Yes… I owed you.
“What do you mean? They could have killed you, don’t you see?”
“I owed you” Alain repeated, avoiding Oscar’s gaze.
The mixture of powder, smoke and earth suspended in the air made his eyes sting. He was breathing hard and could barely see the man who rode ahead. With the sword in one hand, he tried to apart the soldiers whom stook in their way, and by exerting all his forces, he pressed the knees against the saddle to avoid falling. But wasn’t the fierce fighting which gave the French Guards in their frantic retreat under a hail of bullets what had Alain near to collapse, with each of his senses in alert. It was André, who he clutched surrounding him with one arm. André held weakly every second, and the amount of blood he was losing was a very bad omen. Alain perceived as vital fluid seeping between his fingers, and in his desperation, he forced his horse to the limit. And torced himself too, since the energy he used in repel enemy attacks and in support André was almost superhuman. Some meters further he could see Oscar, fighting fiercely on her reared up horse. Her hair glittered in reddish shade under the evening Light, gaving her the appearance of a real demon. So Alain knew that nothing in this world would stop her to get André out from this hell…
“I will not get alive, brother… “ Alain heard his friend tos ay in a whisper.
“Don’t talk nonsense! We are about to cross the barricades. A doctor will see you soon…”
“Alain… I’m dying, I know it…”
“Nobody is going to die! Can you hear me? No one will die…” Alain said, trying his voice didn’t express that he was furious and terrified.
Don’t lie to yourself, my friend, I know it’s my end. And I don’t understand why fate is so cruel! How many times I had wanted to die, because I thought Oscar will never love me? In my desperation I even tried to kill her, believing that only in the hereafter, leading her with me against her wil, I’ll find happiness… and now, when we have a life together ahead…
“I need you to promise me something…”
“Don’t give me that now, don’t talk like that!”
“Alain, promise me you’ll take care of her… she’s expert in getting in danger…”
“No way! you will take care her when you get better…” The barricades behind which was the inhabitants of Paris, armed with spears and sticks, were only a few feet away. André listened Oscar and others of his comrades enlist the help of a doctor. But their voices were heard distant and distorted. His arms and legs tingled. He tried to hold on to Alain’s shoulder when he and Oscar got him off the horse, but his numbness arm didn’t respond. His eyes barely distinguish light and shadow, increasingly to gray… He was taking to somewhere… Alain and Oscar had spent an arm under André’s shoulders and almost dragged him because he could barely stand up.
What? Now I lie on the ground… there is a blanket under my head… Oscar… Alain… are you there? Someone is pressing my wound, but it’s useless It is useless to try to stop the hemorrhage!
“Calm down, my love… Can you hear me, André?”
Yes, I hear you. And rather than you try to calm the tone of your voice, I know you’re crying. I just felt a tear fall on my cheek. I know it’s a tear because it was warm… Come close to me, let me touch your face for the last time…
“Your eyes… your nose… your lips… – I don’t need to see them, I know you by heart. I know all your gazes, all your smiles… each line on your face, every one of your expressions…”
“ But… what are you saying!” Oscar screamed in horror, realizing… “don’t you see me? You can’t see me! Since when, André!?
Since when? What matters now! I could not let you go alone. Do you let you, if you were in my place? Please don’t be angry now, Oscar…
“Since when, damn you! Why didn’t you tell me, why did you come? Damn you, André, why did you?”
Yes, me, like you, would be furious at your place. And terrified. And… and I also like when you’re angry…
“Commander! “ Alain took her arm, fearing that she could shake André, because she was completely out of herself.
“ Let me go, Alain, don’t you realized? André is blind!”
Holy Heaven, Oscar, of course I realize it! Moreover, I already knew it… I threatened him to tell you, but he insisted and insisted untill convince me he will not be separated from your side ever. Even we fight for this, and I put him in evidence in front of the regiment. He said I was a treacherous rat because I had promised to keep his secret, but to tell it our companions was the only way to prevent he came with us… Everybodyl knew it, but you. We were watching him… Each one of us had an eye on him! Still, when that soldier shot you, I couldn’t react fast enough. I guess when you lost a sense it’s offset by the sharpness of another… I don’t know if he heard the click before the shot, or just sensed it… but he crossed the path of the bullet to protect you, and I couldn’t help it. I killed that man. But I killed him too late…
“Oscar! Get a grip on you!” Alain said, shaking Oscar’s shoulder. She looked at him with eyes wide open with horror.
I have thirst… a terrible thirst… I’m drowning…
“What did you say, my love? Water? Then I’ll bring you some!” Oscar, spent her fury, reacted quickly, rose, let Alain holding her husband’s head, and asked for his water bottle to one of her soldiers.
So this is how death feels… the body will stop responding slowly… I don’t feel despair… I’m just falingl asleep… the memories of our beloved one, accumulated over time, are only snatch to us by death… but until the last momento, I’ll take with me… your blue eyes, your graceful figure, golden curls blowing in the wind… blowing in the…
“Alain… promise me…”
“Don’t do this to me, André…” Alain interrupted, his voice cracking with emotion.
“Please… listen to me…”
“I don’t want to promise you that! You’re supposed to do it… it has to be you…”
“Alain, promise me you’ll take care of Oscar. She never thinks about her safety… tomorrow… tomorrow… fighting will go on… watch her closely.”
“I… I will do it…”
“Swear to me you will protect her. She seems to be from ice but her heart is tender and sensitive… Don’t leave her alone, She needs that support now more than ever… Do you swear it to me?”
“Yes, brother, I swear…”
Oscar had returned with a water bottle and could hear the brief dialogue between Alain and her husband (how she liked to refer André like that! Her husband… even now, in these terrible circumstances, it sounded wonderfully), and had to muster all her strength to not embrace André sobbing in despair. At the same time Bernard approached, accompanied by two doctors who were among the insurgents. Just to take a look to André was enough for them to realize that there was nothing to do. One of the doctors approached where Bernard, Alain and Oscar were waiting for their diagnosis.
“How is André, doctor?” – Said Bernard, who was the only one of the three of them who could speak out. The man shook his head sadly.
“It’s a miracle he’s still alive…”
Oscar trembled like a bird and covered her mouth with both hands, stifling a scream. Alain whispered in her ear.
“You must say goodbye…” she looked at him with haggard, as if she could not believe that her subordinate was spoken seriously “at least you have the opportunity to do it…”
Oscar bit her lower lip. André was very pale and breathing hard. The other doctor, who was still with André, let him in Orcar’s arms to walked a few stops away.
I cann’t let him to see me like that… he must die in peace… But how to control myself if I am missing him? This can’t be real… It’s a nightmare, and any time I¡ll wake up and find myself in his arms… Yes! He will be safe and sound, I’ll feel his heart beating, his rhythmic breathing… He will be peacefully asleep, and when he wakes up, we go far away from here. We’ll go very far, where we can live happily and it will be no further duties, responsibilities or sacrifices… just he and I…!
“André… here I am, my dear. Drink, that is, drink in small sips…”
The water cooled a bit André’s parched throat, and regained him some lucidity. Enough to understand that he only had a few minutes of life.
Do you remember when Bernard hurt me? Remember what I said? I said I was glad to be my eyes and not yours… now I’m glad it’s my life and not yours…
Oscar brushed the hair, exposing the eye marked by a vertical scar. She gently stroked his face with her fingertips.
“Are you better now?”
“Yes” André lied.
“Everything will be fine, my love” Oscar lied and smiled, forgetting that he could no longer see her “the fighting has ended for now…”
“Yes, I can’t hear any gunshots… and the birds return to their nests…”
Oscar looked up at the sky and saw a flock of birds crossing overhead. She had not listened to their songs and the beating of their wings, but André had heard them.
“Tomorrow everything will be over, André. We will go wherever we want…”
“Arras… let’s go to Arras. It is our land…”
“Yes, yes! I love Arras as much as you do… will you marry me in the village’s chapel?”
“It’s what I’ve always wanted, Oscar. Of course I will. We’ll get married as soon as we arrive to Arras.”
It’s just dreams, Oscar, just dreams that wewill neve fulfil… but let pretend to be reality. At least I imagine how would be the rest of our lives together, until death do us apart in many years, but just for a short time, when our heads are covered with gray, and our garden full of grandchildren… I lack the courage to say you goodbye!
God can’t be so cruel… can’t take you away from me, now when it all begins, now when everything is resolved between you and me, now when I have no fear to love you… When I am determined to make you happy… You need to be strong!
“André… I’m sorry I yelled at you a moment ago…”
“ will forgive you if you kiss me.”
She leaned up to her husband’s forehead and touched softly with her lips. He was cold. She couldn’t contain the tears began to flow uncontrollably shaking… she slid her mouth and gently kissed André lid, cut by a scar. Your eye, lost because of me!… Her soft, tremulous caress descended on André’s cheek, ans she posed her lips on her, barely brushed his. Your life lost because of me… And then she was broken. Still attached to her husband’s mouth, she burst into almost hysterical tears.
“Don’t cry, Oscar!”
I wouldn’t cry if I could! But I can’t, I can’t let you go, I will not renounced to you! We have a whole life behinf us… How could I resing myself to miss you? I just could say sweet words to you, tell you how much I love you… We’ve kissed so few times! And this is the last…
Oscar pressed her lips once more against André’s, but this time she did it vehemently, almost abruptly forced him to open his mouth. He had the strength to correspond with the same anxiety and despair, and all they couldn’t say to each other in words, was told with that kiss. It was very different from the previous they had shared. When Oscar, clumsily and without even being able to look into his eyes, at last had said to him that she loved him, after his father was nearly killed her. There was anxiety, but it was by the arrival of a moment long desired by both. Or last night, full of passion, where also there were tears, but for happiness… This was a bitter parting and out of season, a manifestation of love and pain that the soul departed. André kept his eyes closed as she pulled her lips away.
“Don’t sleep! It’s not the time yet… please open your eyes… I’m by your side… André… resists a little more, stay with me… for God’s sake, you have to keep living…”
“You are what I love the most in this world” he said in a barely audible whisper, and opened his eyes. For him there was no difference, but she had asked him “I will not die…”
“Don’t leave me, André! I love you, I’ve loved you for so long! Don’t abandon me…”
Lord, I pray you, give us a little more time, just a little more… You can’t tear us apart that soon, when I have barely begun to show how much I love him. I’ve done him so much damage that I must repair! I never behaved with him as I my heart wanted to. I’m not cold, I’m not insensitive! I have so much to give, I have my all to give him…
“I will not. I will always be with you.”
God, I don’t want to die, how can I leave her now? Don’t you see how much is she suffering? Please… not now… you can’t separate us! Bloody hell! Then why you haven’t take both of us with you?… No, don’t pat attention, Lord, how awful I am thinking! No, don’t bring her with me, I will not be so selfish. She has to live. She has to be happy…
“André… André?… no… NO!… André, are you leaving me behind?”
I hear her screaming! Don’t you hear her, God? Don’t you do not care she’s suffering this way? Please, give us some time… What are you saying, Oscar, I´ll never leave you! I’m still here, I will always be where you are… Oscar…can you hear me?
“Shoot! Kill me, shoot at me, please!”
I see her, she’s running! Where are you go, Oscar? No, don’t cross the barricades, on the other side are still the royal troops, Stop her, somebody stop her! Catch her, Alain, don’t you let her cross… Oh… I’m seeing her, that can only mean that…
“Commander! Stop, stop!” Alain ran after her and caught her arm. She dropped to the ground and looked up.
Sorry, sorry, sorry, Oscar… He should never have come! We should not afford it… I was a fool for having listened at him. Damn… This can’t be happening… I should have prevented it. What is the sense that he has given his life for you if you stay in this condition? It must be me.I would happily have offered my life for you both, and I’d feel lucky to have friends that are worth enough as to die for them is an honor. I have nothing now. You could have been happy together, even though he was blind, you had everything ahead!
“Kill me… I beg you, or I’ll… I’ll go crazy…”
It’s unfair! Damn you, God, I hate you! Look what you’ve done! IT’S UNFAIR! I curse you a thousand times and more! You cantt tear me apart from her, I have to take care of her, I have to comfort her, I can’t leave if she suffers. Oscar, don’t cry, don’t cry, my love, somehow I will always be with you!
“I knew it…”
“Know what?” Asked Oscar, while leaving a tray on the bed with a bowl of soup. Alain looked contrite at her.
“That André was blind… I knew it! Forgive me for not told you about it…”
For a moment, Alain thought Oscar would beat him. A murderer fire shone in her eyes. She gritted her teeth and hands clenched, as if about to jump on him and massacre him. She raised an arm as if she was going to strike him in the face, but after a moment, those same eyes that threw angry blue sparks lost all expression. She turned, left the room, and didn’t even bother to slam the door.
(1) The classic version of “Hansel and Gretel” included in a tales’ collection by Grimm brothers it’s from XIX century, but considering that it is a German folktale, it is possible that at that time was known in Europe.