L'Enfer

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iii

The thirteenth day in the month of August, year nineteen hundred and fourteen, early morning

Armand has written a letter to me, and I do not know what to do. Of course, he still thinks I am at home, but obviously, I am not, and I cannot read it. I cannot question him about the content, nor do I know how to send a convincing letter to him that will lead him to believe that I am at home, sending a letter from Clermont. He is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so I can only suppose that ‘convincing enough’ will do. How much easier it would be if he knew I was here the whole time! He would denounce me almost instantly, however. I know this to be a fact, and, no doubt, I would be arrested. I can only imagine how awful the prisons are, and I shudder at the thought.

All I can do is try to get closer to him. Gradually, of course. I need to make up a sort of alias for myself, a name, and a history should it be required. For my last name, I suppose Javert works just fine, as Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables has been a favourite novel of mine ever since I snuck into Armand’s study to read the books that he had sitting on his shelf. Will that be too obvious? No, I suppose not, as Armand does not know what sort of books that I read, since I always put them back precisely where I found them. For first names, I fear that I am not very creative, and the only name I know is my mother’s maiden name, Mercier. A last name, of course, which may sound strange, but Armand will never connect it, as he does not know a thing about my mother. Mercier Javert. A good name, I think. A false history is not as important, since I am a mute, therefore, cannot speak. No sane man would make me write out my life’s story upon a piece of paper!

Then again, Armand is not exactly sane. One season, the crops grew quite well, so he earned more money than usual, and went out and spent nearly all the extra on baguettes and jewellery. Baguettes, as though I were unable to make them myself! What is a woman supposed to do with a dozen baguettes and a new necklace? Wear the necklace, of course, but the baguettes? I gave them to the homeless children, as I could not possibly see ourselves eating so much bread in just a few days. Foolish of him, but I still love him dearly!

Sébastien has awoken. We are sharing a bed, as all the soldiers sleep two to a bed. He is a little close to me, but does not seem to mind at all. I wonder if he’s He keeps looking at Armand, who is fast asleep at the other side of the tent. He’s twitching and whimpering my name, so I can only hope that he is not having a nightmare. Of course, that only leaves one other possibility that could be going through his mind, but that is preferable, as embarrassing as it will be for him in the morning.

I thought I was hearing things. But no, Sébastien, he just said “He’s a cute one, isn’t he?” A cute one? My Armand? Well, yes, of course. I did not know how to reply to this exclamation, so I neither nodded nor shook my head. After all, a nod would be agreeing with him, a shake of the head would be disagreeing; in my situation, both were dangerous. I only wonder if he is the type of men usually ostracised in town, forced into unhappy marriages to live out their unhappy lives, or perhaps, he is simply a depraved man who wishes to put his hands upon whomever crosses his path. If that were the case, he would have tried to make a move on me, but I refuse to believe that someone else can be in love with my husband.

I nearly fainted-! An officer just came in the tent, and told everyone it was time to wash. If they did not do so, there would be severe penalties. I hesitated, watching the men file out of the tent, until I was alone with a sleepy, confused-looking Sébastien, and the stern-faced officer. Horrified, I glanced towards the man in the bed next to me, hoping he would somehow understand, and get me out of the situation. Seeing that he did not understand, I deepened my voice, and stammered, “I – have bad skin, monsieur. Covered in scars and rashes. I do not want them to see…” I could tell that Sébastien was even more perplexed at this point, before he finally stood up for me.

“I can supervise him in the river down the way. I’m his friend, and he does not mind me,” Sébastien said at last, and the officer paused for a moment, before uttering a warning as he left the tent. I can still see the almost angry glare in Sébastien’s eyes as he fixed his gaze on me. He said, “You aren’t mute! You aren’t even a man!” He poked me in the chest, and though it was weak, the pain that was already there was enough to make me double over with a groan.

I had to explain to him my situation, words stumbling out of my mouth as clumsy as my husband. I did not, however, mention to Sébastien that it was Armand I was protecting, in case the man with more skills with a gun than me decided to get jealous. There was no need of unnecessary loss of life, and though he seemed like a nice man, I did not want to take any chance whatsoever. “Please, do not tell a single soul,” I begged him, and he assured me that my secret would be safe. It is such a relief, to know that I have at least one person who will help me through this as much as he possibly can.

Yet, Sébastien told me something that was quite strange. “I know what it is like to want to protect someone that you love.” With those words, he put a hand on my shoulder. If he knows, does that mean he is protecting someone here, too? Is it Armand? Oh, he cannot be in love with him, not so soon! I do not want to lose my husband, not to a man… Foolish worrying, I know; perhaps I am a jealous wife, and being jealous is not holy in the slightest. Shall I be sent to Hell for doing so? Oh, I have committed so many sins already, what shall another do?

I am being unfair to Sébastien, I think. He has been so kind to me already, and did not denounce me for being a woman, like I thought he would. After all, he has nothing to lose, unlike Armand, ironically. He has just asked me if I would like to go down to the river to wash. I do not entirely like the idea of exposing my body before a man that is not my husband, but I suppose if I must…

The water was not so bad. It was a rather nice river, with a gentle current that wrapped around my legs and made me feel almost weightless. Sébastien was quite a gentleman, leaning against a tree with his back to me the entire time; being self-conscious as I am, I found myself constantly checking to see if he was true to his word. To my surprise, he was. Even when I was finished, and he had no choice but to look at me, he only commented on the marks on my chest from the bandages. I now know that he is here to help me, and has no base desires for me. That is somewhat reassuring, as I know that it is not depravity which drives him.

The soldiers have returned back to the tent, and a few of them are looking over at me and Sébastien with knowing gazes. Do they really think…? Oh, but I suppose there could only be few other explanations for two “men” alone together in a tent. Alain just gave Sébastien a playful nudge, and I could see a little smile upon Sébastien’s face, though it was heavily lined with pain. Sébastien is not very good at keeping a calm face, but I daren’t exploit this weakness by asking him what the matter is. God shield me from my curiosity!

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