The White Feather
Word had clearly spread.
It had started already.
He had walked down the Strand today, raising his hat and smiling, nodding to acquaintances as he always did. But no hats were tipped in reply, no smiles alighted upon him and no kind words were expressed.
Instead the people grew as cold as the crisp morning air that surrounded them, their breath hanging on the air before them were once genial comments would be shared. Many brushed past him in a hurried manner, their eyes down, whilst some - the braver ones perhaps - remained standing; tight mouthed and staring bitterly. With those, he could spy only coldness in their eyes where once there was nothing but warmth and friendship; their pupils opening like black petals as they viewed him seemingly anew.
He tried not to let it get to him.
It would all blow over soon, he told himself.
'It'll all be over by Christmas'
That was what the papers were saying.
He hoped it was true, for all their sakes.
He prepared a fire for the evening, his back to the door as he began to unbutton his waistcoat and remove his collar. From this position, he heard the soft and innocuous plop of a hand delivered letter falling to the floor. Turning, he gazed upon the crisp, neat, white square that lay before him with the curiosity of a bird, indeed he even tilted his head to one side as he considered this unexpected missive.
He reached out to pick up the glass tumbler and partake of a stiff drink, for he felt he may be in need of one now. Bending down, he retrieved the envelope from the cold and unforgiving tiled floor and began to turn it over and over in his hands. There was no name or address upon the envelope, neither his or the senders, he noticed as he approached his bureau to collect the small paper knife that was a gift from his father on his twenty-first some two years earlier. He noted the soft silent runners of the drawer with satisfaction equaled by the cold hard grip of the knife. Finding the envelope's weak spot, in one swift cutting motion, he slit the previously pristine envelope open as if gutting a fish. With thumb and fingers he pushed at the gaping entrance he had made and peered within for the mystery contents.
Sure enough, it was as he perhaps ought to have expected all along.
His stomach sank as he dug inside the envelope to retrieve the solitary white feather.
The mark of a coward.
He held it aloft and twiddled it between thumb and forefinger; the satisfying hard brittleness of the shaft bouncing at the ridges of his fingerprint as motes and strands fell from the vane as a result of the carousel motion he performed.
With his other hand, he let the envelope drop unnoticed to the floor.
It did not deserve contemplation, nor did its sender or indeed senders. Yet he winced at the thought of this innocent plumage being employed for such an ignorant and wicked practice of alienation.
He walked back towards the fireplace, stepping onto the almost forgotten envelope. His shoe with its day's worth of dust and dirt imprinted upon the paper, forming an outline.
A footstep upon a white envelope.
And never a foot stepped into war.