Title: Death with Turtle Soup
Rating PG for dark thoughts
Word Count 585
Death and Turtle Soup
Percy was hungry. Eat when you can. That was good advice for any soldier. And the turtle soup was really not bad. The company was the problem. He kept his head down, spooned it in. Had he been somewhere quiet, he would have enjoyed it.
Hornblower was not unpleasant. He had a good voice that tasted of grass and earth. It made Percy think of meadows and quiet ponds. Strange, you would think that a Naval fellow would taste of the sea. But if it had been the sea it would have been the sort that killed poor soldiers. Hornblower was angry. It was dangerous anger. It rolled off of him in waves that battered Percy's face. Get too close and you would loose your eyebrows.
On the other side sat the French Colonel. His voice was a wormish obscenity. There was a brittle crust to it, and something under that, too, a heaving something, half hidden under his ruborous color. Percy looked at him as little as possible.
Percy ate his soup. 'As little ships set out to sea-- You can tell a gentleman by the way he handles his soup spoon.' That was his old nurse. Her voice came back to him when he needed it. It had saved his life in India. He had never told her that. There had been no way to put it. Now it was too late. . And the soup was gone now, too soon. He had to look up.
The poor pale girl was moving among them. She was locked down tight. He could sense nothing from her.
She gathered the plates. She was across the room when the Major called her. “Mariette, venir ici!”
He snapped his fingers at her, as a man does to a dog. She moved to stand beside him, obedient, trembling, outraged.
“You see, this girl. Her mother was a servant in my house, and she the same, and they make her a teacher---”
The major tugged her elbow, forcing her to turn and face the table. Percy could see the man's free hand, under her skirt, fingers on her calf. There were streaks of mud on the pale skin.
Hornblower could see it too. Death could come just this way, sudden, slick with the oily taste of turtle soup. Percy moved quickly. He brought his hand down on Hornblower's knee, closed it in a hard and numbing pinch.
Now the fury turned toward Percy. God, preserve me from the innocence of sailors. They really were hopeless. They sat in their ships and fired cannon. They knew nothing of war. They did not see how, when a town fell, women were split like walnuts to get at the meat inside. You could not save them, or damn few anyway. Percy had not tried to save anyone since India. Dammit, he was tired. He gentled his hand into a pat, patted Hornblower's knee, the sort of pat one gives a good horse. Hornblower moved sharply to dislodge the caress. He had drawn his lips back from his teeth in a snarl. But he was still looking down, at his empty plate. A modicum of self-preservation then, indeed.
“I am not an animal, Sir.” There, the flare of her words, and the color around her, dun and cloudy. The girl broke loose and fled.
It was going to be a very long day.