Thinking Of Home

Rue de Cambrai

A main road feeding the train station and also seeing a lot of military traffic. Shops and wooden houses line the streets, all of them show the scars of past bombardments.

After the victories at Vimy Ridge pushed the German artillery back there has been some effort at reconstruction, the shops are busy, commerce must go on after all. Stalls containing fresh vegetables and French wine hope to attract the eye of a passing soldier - the concentration of men here means that the war has brought some benefits to Arras after all.

It is currently night time.

Though the hour is getting late, a few of the stores are still open, and the vendors are selling the last of their vegetables. Josephine is one of the customers, picking out a few onions from a basket, looking them over with a squint to make sure they are nice. A few coins are given to the vendor owner and she offers the man a good night, a kind smile offered.
Etienne looks up from the wine stall, and, noting the late hour, quickly selects a couple more bottles to fill out the case he is buying. He haggles briefly with the merchant, it is clearly a practiced routine for both of them, and then pays with a smile. Hefting the dozen bottles of wine he turns to look around the street.

Josephine did not intend to buy wine, but she's spotted the man buying several bottles of it and she considers something quickly before she also makes her way over to buy a bottle. She gives Etienne a shy little smile and a nod in greeting, curiously watching him for a moment before she asks for a bottle of the alcohol.
Etienne says "Good evening… Josephine? Right?"

Josephine looks quickly back at Etienne, surprised. She looks him over more closely, and suddenly recognition dawns on her. "Monsieur Delauney?" she asks, smiling broadly. "It is good to see you again!" It is likely that last time they met, she was just a brat; now she's a young woman.

Etienne smiles, "Yes, it's very good. I barely recognized you! You have been well, I hope?"

Josephine gets her bottle of wine and puts it in the basket she's carrying for her shopping, pleased to see the man. "Very well. I am a nurse," she says proudly. "Papa still runs the cafe. You must go see him, he will be thrilled to meet you again. How have you been?"

Etienne glances at the bottle she has selected, "Excellent choice." How has he been, a complicated question given what it took to get back here, but one word sums it up better than any other, "Tired, but it is good to be home, even under these circumstances. I will definitely stop by the cafe. I've been working on getting my place open, and that's taken up most of my time."

Josephine only knows Etienne vaguely and by reputation. Archaelogy is an exciting and mysterious profession to her, so she is very intrigued though. "Your place?" she asks curiously, blushing a little as she doesn't know what he is up to now that he is back. Gossip has not caught up with her, yet. She glances at the bottle of wine and nods. "I will share it with the other nurses. But do not tell the head nurse Catrine! She will just frown on us," she says and smiles a bit impishly.

Etienne looks aghast, "I would never betray your confidence, madamoiselle!" He winks. "I'm opening a bar, it will server a litle food too. Nothing too elaborate."

Josephine beams a smile at him. "Wonderful! Too many have closed their bars…" She frowns, the reality of war hitting her, remembering the hardships of it. "It will be a busy place," she tells him, keeping her good cheer never the less, always optimistic. She gestures down the street. "Will you walk with me back to the church? And tell me about your travels!"

Etienne nods, and adjusts his box of wine. "Yes, I suspect more than a few people will appreciate a place to come and drink." He heads down the street slowly, "As for my travels, well, I've spent much of the last few years in southwestern Asia. A place called Azerbijan. The Russians rule it, in as much as they rule anything right now." His voice become bitter at this last sentence.

Josephine listens with fascination, gazing up at the much taller man as she walks alongside him. "The Russians are having problems home now…" she says uncertainly, not too aware of the political struggles in that nation. "I assume, if you are starting a business here now, you are here to stay?"

Gare d'Arras

Arras train station is a hive of activity at all hours of the day. The smell of sweaty horses and of oil and coal fills the air, as here is the main logistical headquarters of the Allied armies fighting in the infamous Ypres Salient.

Trains constantly shuttle to and fro, bringing ammunition, guns, and new recruits ready to be fed into the gears of battle. Horses work on heaving the guns from the station to storage or to the front, trucks and horse drawn carriages do likewise for the soldiers in their khaki. There are few civilians here, the military have monopolised the entire place.

Soldiers headed to the infamous Western Front itself must march. While there is a train line, it is monopolised by the needs of the heavy guns and shells, those with two legs and a rifle must use a more old fashioned means of transport.

It is currently night time.

Etienne glances about the train station, still not used to the sandbags and soldiers. "Yes, for a while at least. Since my father's death my family needs me here."

"Arras needs people like you," Josephine comments, ever faithful to her town. And indeed, people are not put down by the shelling and the destruction of buildings. They rebuild, refusing to give up. Even if the town harbors more soldiers than regular inhabitants at the moment. The young woman is so used to seeing the sandbagged strongpoints and the activities of war, she just keeps on walking. "I am sorry for your loss," she adds softly. "How is the rest of your family?"
Etienne shrugs, "As well as can be expected under the circumstances. Relieved that I am back safely too - maybe even moreso than I am." He manages a smile again, "It's good to see that you haven't lost your faith in our home."

Grand Place

What remains of this once lively marketplace is a sight to see. Most of the cobblestones from the street are torn up from artillery shells or soldiers using them as patchwork for something else. Craters are some obvious dangers as exploded shells have done their dirty work leaving yawning holes for the unwary traveller. The beautiful Flemish architecture remains intact on some buildings and mostly destroyed in others. Falling bricks and timber pose another threat to the unwary. Sandbags are piled up eight feet high ( 2.4 m) around the entrances of the buildings that remain mostly safe as added protection against artillery fire.

The center of the Place is a busy hub. Soldiers move about freely when there is no shelling. Trucks with construction supplies drive in and out, sometimes laden with the wounded instead. Lumber cut from the nearby forests and extra sandbags also lay about amidst the craters. One must be extremely careful when walking about during the night.

It is currently night time.

Josephine walks around a crater in the street, her attention rarely straying from the man she walks with, as if she knows just where to put her feet to get back to the church safely. "Someone once told me that being a nurse is half medical skills, half positive thinking and friendliness to the wounded. It is easier to heal if you are met with a smile," she says, smiling a little. "And I refuse to believe anything but us winning the war, and Arras rebuilding and becoming once more the blooming city it was."
Etienne, however, is watching the ground closely, and is unsure if he should be envious or sad that the girl beside him has learned how to navigate this cratered street so easily. "I think you have the right of it, Jo. I also know it can be difficult to keep one's chin up. I think Arras needs people like you more than like me!"

"Why so, Monsieur Delauney?" Josephing asks carefully. She subtly points to a crater up ahead, easily missed if you do not carefully watch your steps. "Are you not as hopeful as I am?" She looks up at his face, searchingly.

Etienne feels oddly self-concious. How to explain what he means? "I am hopeful, definitely. It's just that some days, when I think about the awful things we do to one another, I… lose hold of that hope." He pauses for a moment, considering. Then: "But, when someone who has lost their hope meets someone who still has it, like you", he gives her a serious look, "then they can find it again."

Etienne slows as they near the church, unsure if she wants him to follow her inside.

Josephine's gaze wavers somewhat. "I know, I understand," she says quietly, looking straight ahead to avoid showing her face. "I sometimes despair too, I admit it. When you treat the injuries of the soldiers… It is not always easy to keep smiling. But if I do not, if I give up, I would feel like I betray those who fight for France." The Church looms up ahead, light coming out from the windows. "Would you like to come inside?" she asks, noticing his hesitation. "You could tell the wounded about the bar. It would cheer them up."

Etienne says "Yes, I would. Though I don't know if I need to be advertising to a captive audience. You're sure that would be alright?"

"I am sure. It will do them good to meet more civilians. Reminds them what they are fighting for," Josephine says confidently. She moves onwards, pulling the large church door open, beckoning insistantly for Etienne to follow her.

L'Eglise de Saint Boniface

Even in a place like this the war has left its marks, the once great windows of the church depicting the lord saviour have been blown to pieces. Some of the rafters from the roof are broken, and here and there holes from shells and rounds score the walls of the church. Where there once were benches for people to sit during sermons are now temporary tables upon where wounded soldiers and civilians can be seen. The moans and cries of the wounded never cease to stop, as they just keep coming in with every day that passes, a numberless throng. Nuns from the local abbey along with nurses runs along with blood stained rags trying their best to aid the doctors and field medics that works in here.

At first glance it might be hard to think that faith in god can still linger in a place so torn apart by the war as this, but the sheer compassion by those who work here makes up for the tarnished facade of the church.

It is currently night time.
Etienne enters carrying a box of wine and talking to Josephine. "Where can I set this?"

Singh sleeping at the moment. Dozing, really, one a bed in a relatively quiet corner of the church. He's not conscious, but he moves and mutters softly in response to the sounds around him. His head is heavily bandaged on one side, and there is lighter wrapping on his right arm.

Josephine gestures at a corner near the door, where there is a small table. "Put it there for now," she suggests. Then, impishly; "But best keep an eye on it, some of the soldiers are very thirsty." She is carrying a basket with some vegetables in it, plus her own bottle of wine which she now quickly covers over with the towel also in the basket. She goes to put the basket away and hang her coat up, preparing for work.

Etienne sets the box on the table. He considers for a moment and then takes his jacket off and sets it, folded in half, on the top of the box. "There, hopefully that will protect it," he says with a wry grin. He looks around the makeshift med station. All things considered, it's not too bad. Far better than most of the field stations he saw on his way home.

The sound of voices lifts Singh back into actual consciousness. He blinks, reaching up a hand to finger the bandages on the back of his head. And promptly winces. That smarts. He turns himself in Josephine and Etienne's direction, to see what those French voices are up to.
The church is filled with wounded, some in worse conditions than others. At this hour of the day, many are asleep, but a few are awake and getting help from nurses. It is these that Josephine now focuses on, gesturing for Etienne to follow her so she can make some introductions. Seeing that Singh is awake, her smile widens as she recognizes him. "Monsieur! It is nice to see you again," she says in her broken English. "But perhaps it be nicer not meeting here all the time," she adds with an attempt at a joke. "I want you to meet Monsieur Etienne Delauney. He is open a bar here, return home." A pause. "Returning."

Etienne nods, "Very nice to meet you, Monsieur Singh." He grins and adds, "Maybe inbetween visits here you can stop by Le Grenouille Blue?"

Singh smiles back at Josephine, rather tiredly. "Nurse Beaumont. It is nice to see you again, as well. I apologize for troubling your doorstep again. I assure you, I tried to avoid it." His smile crooks into a wry grin. He then directs his attention to Etienne, sitting up and brushing his hair behind his shoulder with a hand. He's been divested of his turban, probably so the surgeons could poke around in his head. On the side that isn't bandaged his long, thick dark hair falls freely. It's probably longer than that of many of the nurses. He extends his hand for Etienne to shake. "Aman Sher Singh. The…Le Grenouille Blue?" His pronunciation is slow and awkward, but he makes an effort not to mangle it too badly. "I shall try to pay it a visit, if I can. What sort of place is it?"

Etienne says "We serve food and drink." Etienne grins, "Though maybe your faith does not allow alcohol? Still, the food is warm and good. The name means Blue Frog, I was feeling… whimsical, having just arrived home."

Josephine finds herself staring at Singh's hair, fascinated. She has never seen such long hair on a man before and the turban has usually hidden it. Realizing she is staring, she blushes a bit and looks at Etienne briefly to hide her embarrassment. "Shall I change your bandages?" she asks then of Singh.

Singh looks at Etienne with mild surprise. And approval, at his guess about Singh's faith-induced sobriety. He nods slightly. "Warm food sounds far finer at the moment, anyhow. How if your coffee?" He nods to Josephine. He's certainly not going to object to her changing his bandages. Her staring at his hair is noticed. He doesn't comment on it, but he does arch his chin, with more than a little pride.

Etienne grins, "Oh, the coffee is good, though I think Madamoiselle Josephine's father's is better." To Josephine, and in French he says, "Since I'm here there anything I can do to help?"

Josephine gets to work, efficiently beginning to peel off the old bandages to change for new ones. She is so, so curious about Singh and his faith, biting her tongue to stop herself from burbling the questions out. "Could you bring in some supplies? There are boxes with bandages in the back, could you get a few in here?" she asks kindly of Etienne, speaking French. But she is quick to give Singh a reassuring smile and speak in her broken English again, not wanting to leave him out of the conversation. "A bar is good for town. And good place for soldiers to go."

Antonia comes into the church, still trying to braid her hair back from when it came loose during her few hours of sleep. Her face is still a bit puffy and she rubs her hands over it quickly, swiping the back of her hand by her eyes as she heads over to wash her hands and start duty.

Etienne makes his way to the back and, after a few moments, locates the bandages. He wonders how Singh feels about fighting for another country a continent away from his home, with undoubtedly having had little to say about it. As he returns he notices Antonia. "Bonjour, Madamoiselle Young." he says before heading over to Singh's bed.

Singh nods in agreement with Josephine's last comment on the bar. Or nods as much as he can. He's can't bob his head to any great extent, as its recently been operated on and is currently being tended by the nurse. "It will give them a place to get a little pleasure, at least. And it is far enough from the front that they should be able to regain their sobriety before returning." He looks back to Etienne, regarding the man curiously. "Have you met any men from Punjab before?" he asks. Still quite impressed he knew Singh wasn't a drinking man.

Josephine can't stop herself from answering for Etienne, in a manner. "Monsieur Delauney is a… a… he digs out old secrets," she says, unable to find the right words in English. But she looks proud to know someone like Etienne. Seeing Antonia, she perks up visibly and nods a polite greeting at the doctor. "Where is Punjab?" she wonders curiously, applying a new bandage on Singh's head with tender care.

Antonia starts slightly as Etienne addresses her. Her mind's always on too many things at once when she's starting duty. "Oh…" She blinks, it taking a moment to recognize him. "Hello, Etienne," she says back to him, unable to help a little surprise at seeing him there. She scratches her head gently and turns to sign in, glancing around the room to get a quick idea of who's where and doing what.

Etienne shakes his head as he sets the bandages down, "No, not in person. I am an archaeologist, mainly studying south Asia and the Near East, so I am familiar with the area you are from from my studies." He smiles, "It seemed a good guess to make." Etienne smiles at Josephine's interjection, "En Anglais, l'archeologue est 'archaelogist'." Still in French, he adds, "And Punjab is near India."

"India," Singh explains to Josephine, half-apologetically. She would not know, of course. "In the northern part of what I suppose my nation is now. It means Land of Five Rivers, in Punjabi." His tone is wistful as he talks of home. At Etienne's answer, he nods in understanding. "That must be fascinating work. What sort of things have you studied, about my area?" He offers Antonia a slight inclination of his chin in recognition, when he sees her. "Doctor Young. Good evening."

Josephine nods understandingly at Etienne, and finishes the bandaging on Singh's head, moving on to his arm. One of the older French nurses of the church, a woman called Catrine, is walking around to check on the soldiers; she gives Josephine a stern look as if to make sure the young nurse isn't doing anything wrong. Content when seeing she is not, Catrine moves on. Josephine smiles at the older nurse, then continues with her work. "I hear it is a wonderful country. Very big. Very… what is the word… diverse?"

Etienne expression turns a bit wistful too, "It is very fascinating, though difficult to practice when there is a war on. All of my field work has been in Near East and southwest Asia, so I have studied little of southern Asia since earning my degree." He chuckles, "It's a wonder I remembered as much I have just now."

"Corporal…Nurse…Etienne again," Antonia says, trying not to let that just-woke-up fluster into her voice as she yanks on her uncomfortable collar. She doesn't interrupt whatever conversation's going on, flipping through papers in her hand to find Singh's work. She glances at the wound as Josephine wraps it, just looking over the healing. A look over his arm too, as she stays in the background and just makes a few notes.

"Diverse. Yes," Singh replies to Josephine, a touch dryly. "At one time, it was many, smaller nations. But now, we are India. What parts of the East have you visited?" Etienne's studies clearly interest him a great deal. "If you have an interest in Punjabi history, you should someday go to Amritsar. It is a great city, and the Golden Temple is a sight to behold." He glances occasionally at Antonia as he speaks, as she makes her notes.

Josephine is fascinated and one can practically see dreams of travelling forming in her mind as her gaze gets distracted. But, she is quick to focus on her work again, shaking such dreams off for now. The bandage is changed, expertly applied by small and nimble fingers. "There," she says and gives Singh's hand a pat. "You will be out of here soon." She turns a careful smile at Doctor Young, a bit intimidated by her presence and she gives the woman an admiring look too; it is the only female doctor she knows of.

"Mainly Persia and Azerbijan, and a bit of southern Russia. I would love to visit Punjab, I will have to see if the university will fund a dig there." Etienne glances over at Antonia, noticing her mood to be less than good. "Would you excuse me for a moment?"

Antonia had actually been distracted by her note taking by Singh's talk, and once when he glances at her he'll see her looking at him rather than the paper. She looks back down quickly though, finishing what she was doing. She scrawls her signature across the bottom and sticks the pencil haphazardly into her thick hair at the top, having nowhere better to put it. She looks at Josephine, her slight smile at the woman almost self-conscious. "The bandaging looks very good, Nurse," she says, approvingly.

Josephine gathers up courage and approaches Antonia, nodding briefly at Etienne. "Thank you, Doctor," she says, soaking the praise up. "I hear good things about you. You are Doctor Young, yes? I am Josephine Beaumont, I am from Arras. My father owns Cafe de Paix."

Singh grins at Etienne. "If God's grace places me back there soon, Mister Delauney, you shall have to look me up. My home, Jalandhar, is not so grand a city, but I would be happy to show you the place. I would enjoy the opportunity to talk more about your work. Have you ever visited Mesopotamia?" He catches Antonia's eye when he looks in her direction, but leaves her to speak with the French for the moment.

"I have passed through a few times, but never stayed for long. Another fascinating place to be sure." Etienne steps back and turns toward Antonia, "Josephine and I ran into each other - I know her father, though I barely recognized her. She invited me to come by the church and talk to some of the patients, I hope it's not a problem."

"Oh," Antonia says after Josephine speaks, both brows raising slightly with recognition of the Cafe's name. "Yes, I have been there, lovely place. Good to meet you…always nice to see good hands working." She glances meaningfully at the bandaging Josephine's done. She looks at Etienne then, shrugging one shoulder. "Talk away. Sounds as though you've more stories than a good book."

Singh's attention sharpens when Etienne says he's been to the region, even if just in passing. "What sort of place is it? I have a brother there now. On the front. He is in…" He pauses, having to dredge this up in his mind. "…he was in Kut, but his last letter was a fair time ago, and he said he would be moving to Tikrit with his cavalry unit."

"Thank you," Josephine once more tells Antonia, smiling warmly. She catches a gesture from Catrine, and she excuses herself and moves on to take care of some other wounded, changing more bandages, something which is an endless job.

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