Title: The Evening and the Morning
Word Count 975
We come to Muzillac
The Evening and the Morning
Archie was facing into the sun. The sky dazzled his vision.
But he could see. He could see how the dark brows were drawn down over Horatio's nose. He could see how Horatio's pale hands were tight on the unfamiliar reins. Horatio gave his orders. Horatio called him Mr Kennedy.
Well, what else could he say? And there was no place in war for the words Archie wanted to reply.
There was no place here to say 'Horatio let me come too, let me hold you safe, let me go in your stead-- for God-sakes Horatio, you cannot even sit a horse.'
The smell of the dung cart was all up his nose, clogging his throat with the smell of France.
So Archie squinted into the sun. “Aye-aye, Mr Hornblower.”
He turned and spoke over his shoulder. “You heard him Matthews.”
In the end it took all of them heaving and straining, to place the barrels. Archie was as sore and wet as any foremost jack, by the sundown. This was better. It was better to have sore muscles, better to feel his own searing breath. Better that, than to think.
There was nothing after that but to wait. They pulled the cart around out of sight. Behind it the wind was less, but the air was chill.
They crowded into the underbrush. He pulled his knees close, rested his head on them. So cold, everything ached. The stars came, not as clear as at sea. Somewhere far away there was a fire. He could smell it on the wind. They had no fire. They were hiding. This was France. Archie was was shivering. After some time, Matthews crowded close beside him, to share what heat there was.
“Better so, Sir?' He asked.
“Yes thank you, Matthews.”
And it was better. He leaned against Matthews, arms around each other. His shivers hitched and stopped. He dozed just a little. The night crawled toward the morning.
She had gone, as a little girl, with her mother to bring babies. It was all right as long as she stayed out of the way. Mama was very good. She had brought the babies out safe. They had both been proud of that. Birth was like watching someone push a turnip out of the top of a stocking. The women all looked the same, from where she stood. They cursed and cried, and it took a very long time. Sometimes they drank wine, and sometimes Mariette fell asleep by the fire. Sometimes she woke to watch. The babies came, in a rush of bloody fluid. Her mama cleaned them, roughly, to wake them up and make them cry too. After mama cleaned them, they were people. Then Mariette was permitted to come forward and see. Sometimes she was permitted to reach out one finger and touch them, all wrinkled and angry and red. Then she and her mama would go home and sleep in their own bed.
These were her earliest memories. Mama was gone now. But Mariette found that those long ago days came to her with the cold smell of morning, as she got ready for the day.
Sometimes, lately, it felt as if a big hand had come, and thrown everyone up in the air. They had come down in strange contortions. The world looked the same, but that was a trick. They were all somewhere new. They staggered a little,like stunned animals, and kept going. What else could you do?
She had always thought that she would bring the babies, as her mama had. But here she was--teaching the little ones school. There had been a real school-master, when she was small. She had sat and learned to read and figure. He had been a kindly man, but he had had to run away when the trouble first came. He was not safe, not to speak to, or smile at. And there had been no more school. He had spoken too well, his name was wrong. And he wore spectacles. He was probably dead. So many were dead.
He had left almost everything behind. His little school room had been torn up, dirtied, but she soon put it to rights. She slept in it. She did not like to sleep at home, with Mama gone. The school room had a door that locked.
On this morning, she woke with the light. She did not sleep well now. She forced herself to lie down in the dark. It was a relief to get up when the new day came. She put on her least-best dress. She opened the door to the school-room. There had been a bell once, but someone had come and taken it. It made no matter. The boys and girls knew where to go. She swept the room. Better to get that done before they came. The courtyard was brilliant with dust and sand. The little ones tracked it in.
There was a bird singing in the tree. She stopped to listen. He made a sound like a rusty gate, over and over and over. He puffed himself up and shifted form foot to foot. He thought himself very grand. Well, who was she to argue? She felt her mouth turn up in a smile.
The little ones were coming now. The bird was singing, singing.
Mariette held the door open. Scuffling boots now, and the smell of little boys. Then the bird fell silent, and in the shining white of the courtyard, she heard horses and marching feet. Her heart leapt. She did not wait. She lifted the little ones in. She slammed the door and locked it.