This is part of my “Guardian Angel” universe … for more explanation, see my Combat! story website at http://tec4.co.cc. It is set, as you might imagine from the title, during WW I. Part I of however many it takes me to write the story. Exception: The April 1 blogswap between myself and another participant, who will be writing stories from a prompt by Tony Noland and publishing them in each others’ blogs. Trust me, it will all make sense on the day. 🙂 <> is for dialog that would be in French if I didn’t want to confuse the non-French speakers.
“Deux semaines, quatre jours …” Marcel sighed and shifted back and forth, easing his boots out of the mud at the bottom of the trench and splashing the man next to him in the process.
Lieutenant Pierre LeMay looked away from the periscope rifle he was using and sighed. “Marcel, what in t’ell are you doing?”
“Sorry, Pie – Lieutenant. I just hate being stuck in t’is mess.”
Pierre chuckled. “Marcel, how is it any different from tromping around home?”
“Home was never t’is cold! And at least we could go inside and get warm and dry!”
“You should have taken Thierry up on his offer to join him in the Quartermaster’s office.” He went back to reviewing what he could see of the enemy’s position.
Marcel looked at his oldest friend, hurt. “I didn’t want to. We agreed to fight together, you and me.”
Pierre grinned. “Well, you can’t have it both ways, mon ami. Either you’re here and cold and wet, or in an office somewhere warm and dry.”
His friend muttered something under his breath in French that Pierre couldn’t quite make out, but which he could guess the general tenor of, and his grin widened. He put the periscope down again when a soldier splashed down the trench and came to a halt, saluting.
“Lieutenant LeMay, sir?”
“Yes, Private?” He returned the salute.
“Here are orders from Captain James, sir.”
“Thank you, Private.”
The young man stood at attention, pale and shivering.
“At ease, Private.” Pierre stopped in the act of opening the orders and looked at the runner. “Have you eaten today?”
“No, sir.” The young man wrapped his arms around himself in a futile attempt to keep warm.
“I think we can spare something,” he continued, scanning the orders. “Sergeant Dubois?”
“See to this man. Get him something to eat and let him warm up”, he continued, “inasmuch as that’s possible.”
“Yes, SIR!” Marcel herded the young man toward Stores. The two of them saluted an inattentive Lieutenant LeMay.
Bon Dieu, Pierre thought, do the people who write up these orders have any idea of what conditions are like here in the field? The terrain in front of him was torn by shells and as marshy as a Louisiana bayou from the continuous rain that had fallen for the last week. I’m going to lose half my men if we are supposed to go over the top into this mess. Why did I ever let them promote me?
The German positions in front of him were well dug in. The reconnaissance patrols he’d sent out assured him of that. They were entrenched behind earthen walls topped with barbed wire and wood and reinforced by machine guns on either flank.
It’s a good thing the Germans ignored us for so long. The initial placement of American troops had been south of the Allied positions, away from the German offensives. We’re under strength, too. They have promised me replacements every week for the last two months and we’ve received three men, where I need ten – or more. And those men were as green as the first leaves on a bald cypress tree. He folded the orders and replaced them in the envelope.
The first replacement, Koblentz, forgot everything he learned about his gas mask and had died in a surprise attack. Pierre had tried to reach the young man after getting his own mask on, but Koblentz had panicked and run, apparently thinking he could get away from the yellow-green cloud. The lieutenant watched, sick at heart, as the replacement floundered, tearing at his throat in agony until he finally died, contorted, in the mud.
Marcel cornered him afterwards, away from the others, and told him there was nothing he could have done and that he shouldn’t blame himself so for things that were out of his control. Rarely, Pierre lost his temper and told Marcel in Cajun patois that it was his fault, that from the moment he landed at St. Naizaire and received a commission, his job was to protect and guide his men. < T’ere’s not enough training, Marcel. I can’t train men and use t’em to fight at t’e same time. I’m ready to resign my commission and go back to fighting as an ordinary soldier. >
His friend let Pierre rant until he was done and then told him that he couldn’t quit. < They’ll put some green as grass lieutenant who has hardly picked up a gun up here and t’en all the men you’ve saved will get killed bien sûr. If your conscience is gettin’ t’e better of you, I t’ink t’at would bother you more t’an anything else. >
Pierre glared at Marcel and told him in the strongest language he knew that it was no time for him, Marcel, to make sense and if he couldn’t be any more help than this… He stopped and the two of them shared a rueful smile and a chuckle.
“T’at was some good swearin’. Denis couldn’t have done better.”
The lieutenant snorted and shook his head. He was still disappointed – when he had time to think about it – that his elder brother hadn’t been able to get past the physical.
“So do you feel better?”
Pierre sobered. “No. But it’ll have to do for now.”
(To be continued …)