The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

10 August 2017

Seven of Twelve: Farmer Liberté's potatoes

Prompt: The Club; word count 750

“This day, it is hot enough to melt your wife’s heart, Guillaume,” complained Auguste, wiping his forehead with a bandana from his pocket. His blond hair was darkened with sweat, his fair face flushed red by exertion and heat.

“Bah! My wife, she always runs warm, she. More than you could handle, Auguste!” protested his friend. “More than is good for her,” he muttered under his breath.

“Your wife is a fine looking woman, Guillaume. Many men in the village envy you. I include myself there.”

“You would all do better to tend to your own wives,” growled Guillaume, his dark whiskers practically bristling. “No good comes of poaching from another man, you will learn that, I promise you.”

“Maybe yes, maybe no. Where’s the harm in a smile or two, I ask you. A man can live for a long time on the smiles of a pretty woman.” Auguste thought himself a man of the world, and his air was of one satisfied with himself. Next to his swarthier, stockier friend, he cut a fine figure: slender, fair, and graceful. He often lamented that fate had seen fit to bestow him upon a rural peasant family, when clearly he was meant for a more refined life.

Guillaume’s face gave away nothing of his thoughts, but then it seldom did, thought Auguste. There was a man who was exactly where he belonged. He would be as out of place in a salon offering pretty compliments to delicate ladies as he was perfectly in his element with dirt under his fingernails and the scent of manure clinging to his rough clothing. Still, he could be counted on to provide steady work, and be too engrossed in crop rotations to notice what went on under his nose.

“I’ve yet to find anything in life that comes without a cost upon it, Auguste. The Seigneur will exact his rents, and fate will collect on your debts, no matter how clever you think you’ve been at hiding from them. Now get to work; the sun is blazing and we have much to do. I’ll take this row; you work on that row, there. I’ll wager you a tankard I get to the far side before you figure out which end of the hoe to use.”

“You talk big, Guillaume,” scoffed  Auguste. “And still you end up paying for the beer at the end of the day!” However, Auguste could be counted on to take up a challenge, and just as Guillaume knew would happen, the man set to his task energetically, eager to prove his friend wrong.

The rest of the afternoon passed in sweltering silence as the men bent their backs to the work before them. The sun was near setting when Auguste, many meters ahead, cried, “Guillaume!  My God, Guillaume!” There was such fear and anguish in his voice to halt a man’s blood in his veins.

Guillaume’s boots sent clods of dirt flying as, with futility, he tried to move faster than the uneven, clinging soil would allow. He stopped abruptly at his friend’s side, looking to where Auguste was pointing.

“Lord have mercy,” Auguste whispered, appalled. He crossed himself, meaning it for the first time in many years.

On the ground between rows of green plants was the limp figure of a woman. She was wearing a simple dress of rough blue cloth favoured by most women of the village. Her long dark hair was unbound, obscuring her face and withholding her identity. She resembled a marionnette dropped to the ground, forgotten, with her legs crumpled under her, one wooden clog on the ground beside her.

“Her head… mon Dieu… her head has been crushed. How has this happened?” Auguste was nearly breathless. He approached a little nearer the woman. “Mother of God, Guillaume, I think it is Celine!”

“It is strange to me that you would think so, Auguste, when she is dressed like any other woman of your acquaintance. How is it that you recognize this body?”

There was something in the other man’s voice that lit Auguste’s nerves on fire. He spun round, horrified to find a brutal looking club in Guillaume’s hands.

“You thief! You stole my Celine from me, and this is the cost you both must pay.”

A juicy thump was the last Auguste knew of this life. By nightfall, both he and the pretty woman who had kissed him were deep under the last row of potatoes in the field of Guillaume Liberté.