They continued their conversation as the train click-clacked along the rails. David got the food basket from the rack, tipped it toward Loic and lifted the cloth. "There's much more in here than I can eat myself."
They ate and chatted, then David turned the conversation back to war injuries. "I've been troubled with thoughts since I spoke with Jean-Claude." He pointed across the compartment to the empty seat. "The Commandant who was there. His wounds... Disturbing. I have difficulty wrapping my mind around them."
Loic nodded. "I treated him when he was brought in. He had been captured, and he told us the Germans tortured him to get information on troop strengths and placements. Jean-Claude resisted, and they cut away his scrotum and testicles. He then gave them false information, but he thinks they saw through his report, so they cut the rest away and left him on the ground to bleed to death."
"God! How horrid." David closed his eyes and grimaced. "Is this common?"
"He's only the second I've seen. There are many reports of dead soldiers with missing genitals, but I rarely see any of the dead. It's an ageless thing, though. Ancient battle trophies were severed penises. The Saracens put a huge fear into the Crusaders with their knives."
David shuddered. "I don't know if it's only me, but the last part I would want to lose is my penis. Worse than loss of eyesight or loss of limbs. Not even the loss of life itself is more frightening to me."
"I believe that's the common feeling among men. It's certainly mine."
They continued their conversation all the way to Paris, touching on a wide range of topics and philosophies, but spending the most time discussing wine chemistry and winemaking. They were both surprised when the conductor announced their imminent arrival. After they had disembarked, they stood on the platform and continued talking another few minutes, then they bade farewell. Loic headed toward the Metro to Gare Montparnasse and David followed the sketch map on the back of his room voucher for Hôtel Gare du Nord.
The cafés and bistros were busy as he walked the two blocks along rue de Chabrol before turning into boulevard de Magenta. So many uniforms. Must be a popular place to spend leave. Also breaks from the trenches. They're only forty miles from here. If it weren't for the uniforms, it would be difficult to tell there's a war.
After walking two blocks along Magenta, past restaurant and café tables spilling out onto the sidewalks, he turned right into boulevard de Denain and saw the façade of Gare du Nord through the tunnel of trees lining the street. He glanced at his map again. Hotel's on the corner at the end of the block, directly across from the station. Convenient.
At the reception desk, he presented his voucher. The clerk checked the register, had David sign it, then handed him an envelope with his key. "Il y a un câble pour vous... There's a cable for you."
"Merci, je l'attendais... Thank you, I was expecting this." David glanced at the tag on his key, then turned and walked across the lobby to the lift. In his room, he opened the envelope and pulled the folded page from it:
MAN IN GREEN LIVERY STATION ENTRANCE BERRY ON SIGN
He read it through a second time and nodded. Front of St Pancras when I arrive tomorrow. He looked at his watch. Nineteen fifty. Should find some dinner. He opened the window and shutters to look out onto the street below. Appears there are endless choices.
As he used the water closet, David thought. Should go across and exchange a piece into French. Almost the same value, Swiss a few points higher. He dried his hands and took a Ten Franc gold piece from his belt. Restaurants will likely take it at par. Probably a better rate than from a money changer in the rail station.
He locked his room, rode the lift to the lobby, left his key at the desk and stepped out into Place Napoleon III. The sidewalks were even busier now. Seems the hour people come out to socialise and dine. He strolled in the pleasant evening air, pausing at each attractive restaurant to read their posted menus, trying to decide what to have for dinner. Difficult. They all look good. Guess I'm hungry.
He finally settled on a busy place in rue de Lafayette that had a small empty table on the sidewalk. After he had been seated, he handed the maître d' his Swiss coin and asked if it would be honoured as ten French Francs.
The man dropped it on the table to hear its ring, then he nodded."Oui, monsieur. Aucun de problème... Yes, sir. No problem."
When the waiter came, he ordered le menu à 9F50, choosing les fritots de ris de veau à la crème as an entrée, les suprêmes de caneton as his plat and fruits frais et crème glacée as dessert.
"Et votre vin? Blanc ou rouge?... And your wine? White or red?"
"Le rouge, s'il vous plaît... Red, please."
He sat back and watched the people in the restaurant and those passing by on the sidewalk. Three minutes later, the waiter brought his carafe of wine and a basket of sliced baguette. After he had poured some into David's glass, the elderly man nodded and said, "Bon appétit."
David mused as studied his departing waiter and the other staff. No young men. They've obligatory military service here. Few women staff either. There'll probably be more as the war continues. He laughed to himself. Mamère said French women aren't treated as people. The war will surely bring changes to that attitude.
He swirled his glass and nosed the wine. Simple. Very simple compared to what I've had. Guess I've been spoiled. He took a sip. Yup, I've been spoiled. Light and fruity, but near monotone in comparison to Bethia's Blauburgunder. Maybe some bread will help. He lifted the cloth and took a piece of baguette from the basket and had just taken a bite when the waiter returned with a plate.
"Les ris de veau, Monsieur."
"Merci." He caught the waiter's eye. "Le vin, d'où vient-il?... The wine, where is it from?"
"Un mélange Maconnais, je croix... A blend from the Maconnais, I believe."
"Un peu simple, mais fruitée... A bit simple, but fruity." He lifted his glass to the waiter. "Merci."
David picked up his knife and fork, then he paused to admire the artistic arrangement of the sweetbreads on his plate. Salivating, he sliced a piece off one, dredged it through the cream sauce and popped it into his mouth. Umph! Superb! Absolutely delicious. He took a sip of wine. A bit better, but the wine adds nothing to the food.
He thought of what Maria had said about matching wine and food. Each part should add to the other, should bring out the finest in each. He smiled and nodded. Like Maria and I do.
He looked at the empty seat across the table and sighed. My God, I miss her.
YOU ARE READING
Back In ActionHistorical Fiction
In the early months of the First World War, a young Canadian soldier uses quick thinking and ingenuity to evade capture after being wounded fighting in Flanders. While escaping through Germany to the Swiss border, he becomes intimately entwined with...