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Title: A Soldier Of The Empire
Author: Page, Thomas Nelson, 1853-1922
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Soldier Of The Empire" ***

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"A SOLDIER OF THE EMPIRE."

By Thomas Nelson Page

1891

It was his greatest pride in life that he had been a soldier--a soldier
of the empire. (He was known simply as "The Soldier," and it is probable
that there was not a man or woman, and certain that there was not a
child in the Quarter who did not know him: the tall, erect old Sergeant
with his white, carefully waxed moustache, and his face seamed with two
sabre cuts. One of these cuts, all knew, had been received the summer
day when he had stood, a mere boy, in the hollow square at Waterloo,
striving to stay the fierce flood of the "men on the white horses"; the
other, tradition said, was of even more ancient date.)

Yes, they all knew him, and knew how when he was not over thirteen, just
the age of little Raoul the humpback, who was not as tall as Pauline, he
had received the cross which he always wore over his heart sewed in the
breast of his coat, from the hand of the emperor himself, for standing
on the hill at Wagram when his regiment broke, and beating the
long-roll, whilst he held the tattered colors resting in his arm, until
the men rallied and swept back the left wing of the enemy. This the
children knew, as their fathers and mothers and grandfathers and
grandmothers before them had known it, and rarely an evening passed that
some of the gamins were not to be found in the old man's kitchen,
which was also his parlor, or else on his little porch, listening with
ever-new delight to the story of his battles and of the emperor. They
all knew as well as he the thrilling part where the emperor dashed by
(the old Sergeant always rose reverently at the name, and the little
audience also stood,--one or two nervous younger ones sometimes bobbing
up a little ahead of time, but sitting down again in confusion under
the contemptuous scowls and pluckings of the rest),--where the emperor
dashed by, and reined up to ask an officer what regiment that was
that had broken, and who was that drummer that had been promoted
to ensign;--they all knew how, on the grand review afterwards, the
Sergeant, beating his drum with one hand (while the other, which had
been broken by a bullet, was in a sling), had marched with his company
before the emperor, and had been recognized by him. They knew how he had
been called up by a staff-officer (whom the children imagined to be
a fine gentleman with a rich uniform, and a great shako like Marie's
uncle, the drum-major), and how the emperor had taken from his own
breast and with his own hand had given him the cross, which he had never
from that day removed from his heart, and had said, "I would make you a
colonel if I could spare you."

This was the story they liked best, though there were many others which
they frequently begged to be told--of march and siege and battle, of
victories over or escapes from red-coated Britishers and fierce German
lancers, and of how the mere presence of the emperor was worth fifty
thousand men, and how the soldiers knew that where he was no enemy could
withstand them. It all seemed to them very long ago, and the soldier of
the empire was the only man in the Quarter who was felt to be greater
than the rich nobles and fine officers who flashed along the great
streets, or glittered through the boulevards and parks outside. More
than once when Paris was stirred up, and the Quarter seemed on the eve
of an outbreak, a mounted orderly had galloped up to his door with
a letter, requesting his presence somewhere (it was whispered at the
prefect's), and when he returned, if he refused to speak of his visit
the Quarter was satisfied; it trusted him and knew that when he advised
quiet it was for its good. He loved France first, the Quarter next. Had
he not been offered--? What had he not been offered! The Quarter knew,
or fancied it knew, which did quite as well. At least, it knew how he
always took sides with the Quarter against oppression. It knew how he
had gone up into the burning tenement and brought the children down out
of the garret just before the roof fell. It knew how he had jumped into
the river that winter when it was full of ice, to save Raoul's little
lame dog which had fallen into the water; it knew how he had reported
the gendarmes for arresting poor little Aimée just for begging a man in
the Place de L'Opéra for a franc for her old grandmother, who was blind,
and how he had her released instead of being sent to ------. But what
was the need of multiplying instances! He was "the Sergeant," a soldier
of the empire, and there was not a dog in the Quarter which did not feel
and look proud when it could trot on the inside of the sidewalk by him.

Thus the old Sergeant came to be regarded as the conservator of order in
the Quarter, and was worth more in the way of keeping it quiet than all
the gendarmes that ever came inside its precincts. And thus the children
all knew him.

One story that the Sergeant sometimes told, the girls liked to hear,
though the boys did not, because it had nothing about war in it, and
Minette and Clarisse used to cry so when it was told, that the Sergeant
would stop and put his arms around them and pet them until they only
sobbed on his shoulder.

It was of how he had, when a lonely old man, met down in Lorraine his
little Camille, whose eyes were as blue as the sky, and her hand as
white as the flower from which she took her name, and her cheeks as pink
as the roses in the gardens of the Tuileries. He had loved her, and she,
though forty years his junior, had married him and had come here to live
with him; but the close walls of the city had not suited her, and she
had pined and languished before his eyes like a plucked lily, and, after
she bore him Pierre, had died in his arms, and left him lonelier than
before. And the old soldier always lowered his voice and paused a moment
(Raoul said he was saying a mass), and then he would add consolingly:
"But she left a soldier, and when I am gone, should France ever need
one, Pierre will be here." The boys did not fancy this story for the
reasons given, and besides, although they loved the Sergeant, they did
not like Pierre. Pierre was not popular in the Quarter,--except with the
young girls and a few special friends. The women said he was idle and
vain like his mother, who had been, they said, a silly lazy thing with
little to boast of but blue eyes and a white skin, of which she was too
proud to endanger it by work, and that she had married the Sergeant for
his pension, and would have ruined him if she had lived, and that Pierre
was just like her.

The children knew nothing of the resemblance. They disliked Pierre
because he was cross and disagreeable to them, and however their older
sisters might admire his curling brown hair, his dark eyes, and delicate
features, which he had likewise inherited from his mother, they did not
like him; for he always scolded when he came home and found them there;
and he had several times ordered the whole lot out of the house; and
once he had slapped little Raoul, for which Jean Maison had beaten him.
Of late, too, when it drew near the hour for him to come home, the old
Sergeant had two or three times left out a part of his story, and had
told them to run away and come back in the morning, as Pierre liked to
be quiet when he came from his work--which Raoul said was gambling.

Thus it was that Pierre was not popular in the Quarter.

He was nineteen years old when war was declared.

They said Prussia was trying to rob France,--to steal Alsace and
Lorraine. All Paris was in an uproar. The Quarter, always ripe for any
excitement, shared in and enjoyed the general commotion. It struck off
from work. It was like the commune; at least, so people said. Pierre was
the loudest declaimer in the district. He got work in the armory.

Recruiting officers went in and out of the saloons and cafés, drinking
with the men, talking to the women, and stirring up as much fervor as
possible. It needed little to stir it. The Quarter was seething. Troops
were being mustered in, and the streets and parks were filled with the
tramp of regiments; and the roll of the drums, the call of the bugles,
and the cheers of the crowds as they marched by floated into the
Quarter. Brass bands were so common that although in the winter a couple
of strolling musicians had been sufficient to lose temporarily every
child in the Quarter, it now required a full band and a grenadier
regiment, to boot, to draw a tolerable representation.

Of all the residents of the Quarter, none took a deeper interest than
the soldier of the empire. He became at once an object of more than
usual attention. He had married in Lorraine, and could, of course, tell
just how long it would take to whip the Prussians. He thought a single
battle would decide it. It would if the emperor were there. His little
court was always full of inquirers, and the stories of the emperor were
told to audiences now of grandfathers and grandmothers.

Once or twice the gendarmes had sauntered down, thinking, from seeing
the crowd, that a fight was going on. They had stayed to hear of the
emperor. A hint was dropped by the soldier of the empire that perhaps
France would conquer Prussia, and then go on across to Moscow to settle
an old score, and that night it was circulated through the Quarter that
the invasion of Russia would follow the capture of Berlin. The emperor
became more popular than he had been since the _coup d'état_. Half the
Quarter offered its services.

The troops were being drilled night and day, and morning after morning
the soldier of the empire locked his door, buttoned his coat tightly
around him, and with a stately military air marched over to the park to
see the drill, where he remained until it was time for Pierre to have
his supper.

The old Sergeant's acquaintance extended far beyond the Quarter. Indeed,
his name had been mentioned in the papers more than once, and his
presence was noted at the drill by those high in authority; so that he
was often to be seen surrounded by a group listening to his accounts of
the emperor, or showing what the _manuel_ had been in his time. His air,
always soldierly, was now imposing, and many a visitor of distinction
inquiring who he might be, and learning that he was a soldier of the
empire, sought an introduction to him. Sometimes they told him that they
could hardly believe him so old, could hardly believe him much older
than some of those in the ranks, and although at first he used to
declare he was like a rusty flint-lock, too old and useless for service,
their flattery soothed his vanity, and after a while, instead of shaking
his head and replying as he did at first that France had no use for old
men, he would smile doubtfully and say that when they let Pierre go,
maybe he would go too, "just to show the children how they fought then."

The summer came. The war began in earnest. The troops were sent to the
front, the crowds shouting, "On to Berlin." Others were mustered in
and sent after them as fast as they were equipped. News of battle
after battle came; at first, of victory (so the papers said), full and
satisfying, then meagre and uncertain, and at last so scanty that only
the wise ones knew there had been a defeat. The Quarter was in a fever
of patriotism.

Jean Maison and nearly all the young men had enlisted and gone, leaving
their sweethearts by turns waving their kerchiefs and wiping their
eyes with them. Pierre, however, still remained behind. He said he was
working for the Government. Raoul said he was not working at all; that
he was skulking.

Suddenly the levy came. Pierre was conscripted.

That night the Sergeant enlisted in the same company. Before the week
was out, their regiment was equipped and dispatched to the front, for
the news came that the army was making no advance, and it was said that
France needed more men. Some shook their heads and said that was not
what she needed, that what she needed was better officers. A suggestion
of this by some of the recruits in the old Sergeant's presence drew from
him the rebuke that in his day "such a speech would have called out a
corporal and a file of grenadiers."

The day they were mustered in, the captain of the company sent for him
and bade him have the first sergeant's chevrons sewed on his sleeve. The
order had come from the colonel, some even said from the marshal. In
the Quarter it was said that it came from the emperor. The Sergeant
suggested that Pierre was the man for the place; but the captain simply
repeated the order. The Quarter approved the selection, and several
fights occurred among the children who had gotten up a company as to
who should be the sergeant. It was deemed more honorable than to be the
captain.

The day the regiment left Paris, the Sergeant was ordered to report
several reliable men for special duty; he detailed Pierre among the
number. Pierre was sick, so sick that when the company started he would
have been left behind but for his father. The old soldier was too proud
of his son to allow him to miss the opportunity of fighting for France.
Pierre was the handsomest man in the regiment.

The new levies on arrival in the field went into camp, in and near some
villages and were drilled,--quite needlessly, Pierre and some of the
others declared. They were not accustomed to restraint, and they could
not see why they should be worked to death when they were lying in camp
doing nothing. But the soldier of the empire was a strict drill-master,
and the company was shortly the best-drilled one in the regiment.

Yet the army lay still: they were not marching on to Berlin. The sole
principle of the campaign seemed to be the massing together of as many
troops as possible. What they were to do no one appeared very clearly to
know. What they were doing all knew: they were doing nothing. The men,
at first burning for battle, became cold or lukewarm with waiting;
dissatisfaction crept in, and then murmurs: "Why did they not fight?"
The soldier of the empire himself was sorely puzzled. The art of war had
clearly changed since his day. The emperor would have picked the best
third of these troops and have been at the gates of the Prussian capital
in less time than they had spent camped with the enemy right before
them. Still, it was not for a soldier to question, and he reported for
a week's extra guard duty a man who ventured to complain in his presence
that the marshal knew as little as the men. Extra guard duty did no
good. The army was losing heart.

Thus it was for several weeks. But at last, one evening, it was apparent
that some change was at hand: the army stirred and shook itself as a
great animal moves and stretches, not knowing if it will awake or drop
off to sleep again.

During the night it became wide awake. It was high time. The Prussians
were almost on them. They had them in a trap. They held the higher
grounds and hemmed the French in. All night long the tents were being
struck, and the army was in commotion. No one knew just why it was. Some
said they were about to be attacked; some said they were surrounded.
Uncertainty gave place to excitement. At length they marched.

When day began to break, the army had been tumbled into line of battle,
and the regiment in which the old Sergeant and Pierre were was drawn
up on the edge of a gentleman's park outside of the villages. The line
extended beyond them farther than they could see, and large bodies of
troops were massed behind them, and were marching and countermarching
in clouds of dust. The rumor went along the ranks that they were in
the advanced line, and that the Germans were just the other side of
the little plateau, which they could dimly see in the gray light of the
dawn. The men, having been marching in the dark, were tired, and most
of them lay down, when they were halted, to rest. Some went to sleep;
others, like Pierre, set to work and with their bayonets dug little
trenches and threw up a slight earthwork before them, behind which they
could lie; for the skirmishers had been thrown out, looking vague and
ghostly as they trotted forward in the dim twilight, and they supposed
that the battle would be fought right there. By the time, however, that
the trenches were dug, the line was advanced, and the regiment was moved
forward some distance, and was halted just under a knoll along which ran
a road. The Sergeant was the youngest man in the company; the sound of
battle had brought back all his fire. To him numbers were nothing. He
thought it now but a matter of a few hours, and France would be at the
gates of Berlin. He saw once more the field of glory and heard again
the shout of victory; Lorraine would be saved; he beheld the tricolor
floating over the capital of the enemies of France. Perhaps, it would be
planted there by Pierre. And he saw in his imagination Pierre climbing
at a stride from a private to a captain, a colonel, a--! who could
tell?--had not the _baton_ been won in a campaign? As to dreaming that a
battle could bring any other result than victory!--It was impossible!

"Where are you going?" shouted derisively the men of a regiment at rest,
to the Sergeant's command as they marched past.

"To Berlin," replied the Sergeant.

The reply evoked cheers, and that regiment that day stood its ground
until a fourth of its men fell. The old soldier's enthusiasm infected
the new recruits, who were pale and nervous under the strain of waiting.
His eye rested on Pierre, who was standing down near the other end of
the company, and the father's face beamed as he thought he saw there
resolution and impatience for the fight. Ha! France should ring with his
name; the Quarter should go wild with delight.

Just then the skirmishers ahead began to fire, and in a few moments it
was answered by a sullen note from the villages beyond the plain, and
the battle had begun. The dropping fire of the skirmish line increased
and merged into a rattle, and suddenly the thunder broke from a hill
to their right, and ran along the crest until the earth trembled under
their feet. Bullets began to whistle over their heads and clip the
leaves of the trees beyond them, and the long, pulsating scream of
shells flying over them and exploding in the park behind them made the
faces of the men look gray in the morning twilight. Waiting was worse
than fighting. It told on the young men.

In a little while a staff-officer galloped up to the colonel, who was
sitting on his horse in the road, quietly smoking a cigar, and a moment
later the whole line was in motion. They were wheeled to the right, and
marched under shelter of the knoll in the direction of the firing. As
they passed the turn of the road, they caught a glimpse of the hill
ahead where the artillery, enveloped in smoke, was thundering from an
ever-thickening cloud. A battery of eight guns galloped past them, and
turning the curve disappeared in a cloud of dust. To the new recruits it
seemed as if the whole battle was being fought right there. They could
see nothing but their own line, and only a part of that; smoke and dust
hid everything else; but the hill was plainly an important point, for
they were being pushed forward, and the firing on the rise ahead of them
was terrific. They were still partly protected by the ridge, but shells
were screaming over them, and the earth was rocking under their feet.
More batteries came thundering by,--the men clinging to the pieces and
the drivers lashing their horses furiously,--and disappearing into
the smoke on the hill, unlimbered and swelled the deafening roar; they
passed men lying on the ground dead or wounded, or were passed by others
helping wounded comrades to the rear. Several men in the company fell,
some crying out or groaning with pain, and two or three killed outright.

The men were dodging and twisting, with heads bent forward a little as
if in a pelting rain. Only the old Sergeant and some of the younger ones
were perfectly erect.

"Why don't you dodge the balls?" asked a recruit of the Sergeant.

"A soldier of the empire never dodges," was the proud reply.

Some change occurred on the hills; they could not see what. Just then
the order came down the line to advance at a double-quick and support
the batteries. They moved forward at a run and passed beyond the shelter
of the ridge. Instantly they were in the line of fire from the Prussian
batteries, whose white puffs of smoke were visible across the plain, and
bullets and shell tore wide spaces in their ranks. They could not see
the infantrymen, who were in pits, but the bullets hissed and whistled
by them. The men on both sides of Pierre were killed and fell forward on
their faces with a thud, one of them still clutching his musket. Pierre
would have stopped, but there was no time, the men in the rear pressed
him on. As they appeared in the smoke of the nearest battery, the
artillerymen broke into cheers at the welcome sight, and all down the
line it was taken up. All around were dead and dying men increasing in
numbers momentarily. No one had time to notice them. Some of them had
blankets thrown over them. The infantry, who were a little to the side
of the batteries, were ordered to lie down; most of them had already
done so; even then they were barely protected; shot and shell ploughed
the ground around them as if it had been a fallow field; men spoke to
their comrades, and before receiving a reply were shot dead at their
sides. The wounded were more ghastly than the dead; their faces growing
suddenly deadly white from the shock as they were struck.

The gunners lay in piles around their guns, and still the survivors
worked furiously in the dense heat and smoke, the sweat pouring down
their blackened faces. The fire was terrific.

Suddenly an officer galloped up, and spoke to the lieutenant of the
nearest battery.

"Where is the colonel?"

"Killed."

"Where is your captain?"

"Dead, there under the gun."

"Are you in command?"

"I suppose so."

"Well, hold this hill."

"How long?"

"Forever." And he galloped off.

His voice was heard clear and ringing in a sudden lull, and the old
Sergeant, clutching his musket, shouted:

"We will, forever."

There was a momentary lull.

Suddenly the cry was:

"Here they are."

In an instant a dark line of men appeared coming up the slope. The guns
were trained down on them, but shot over their heads; they were double
shotted and trained lower, and belched forth canister. They fell in
swathes, yet still they came on at a run, hurrahing, until they were
almost up among the guns, and the gunners were leaving their pieces. The
old Sergeant's voice speaking to his men was as steady as if on parade,
and kept them down, and when the command was given to fire kneeling,
they rose as one man, and poured a volley into the Germans' faces which
sent them reeling back down the hill, leaving a broken line of dead and
struggling men on the deadly crest. Just then a brigade officer came
along. They heard him say, "That repulse may stop them." Then he
gave some order in an undertone to the lieutenant in command of the
batteries, and passed on. A moment later the fire from the Prussian
batteries was heavier than before; the guns were being knocked to
pieces. A piece of shell struck the Sergeant on the cheek, tearing away
the flesh badly. He tore the sleeve from his shirt and tied it around
his head with perfect unconcern. The fire of the Germans was still
growing heavier; the smoke was too dense to see a great deal, but they
were concentrating or were coming closer. The lieutenant came back for
a moment and spoke to the captain of the company, who, looking along the
line, called the Sergeant, and ordered him to go back down the hill to
where the road turned behind it, and tell General ------ to send them
a support instantly, as the batteries were knocked to pieces, and they
could not hold the hill much longer. The announcement was astonishing
to the old soldier; it had never occurred to him that as long as a man
remained they could not hold the hill, and he was half-way down the
slope before he took it in. He had brought his gun with him, and he
clutched it convulsively as if he could withstand alone the whole
Prussian army. "He might have taken a younger man to do his trotting,"
he muttered to himself as he stalked along, not knowing that his wound
had occasioned his selection. "Pierre--" but, no, Pierre must stay where
he would have the opportunity to distinguish himself.

It was no holiday promenade that the old soldier was taking; for his
path lay right across the track swept by the German batteries, and the
whole distance was strewn with dead, killed as they had advanced in the
morning. But the old Sergeant got safely across. He found the General
with one or two members of his staff sitting on horseback in the road
near the park gate, receiving and answering dispatches. He delivered his
message.

"Go back and tell him he _must_ hold it," was the reply. "Upon it
depends the fate of the day; perhaps of France. Or wait, you are
wounded; I will send some one else; you go to the rear." And he gave
the order to one of his staff, who saluted and dashed off on his horse.
"Hold it for France," he called after him.

The words were heard perfectly clear even above the din of battle which
was steadily increasing all along the line, and they stirred the old
soldier like a trumpet. No rear for him! He turned and pushed back up
the hill at a run. The road had somewhat changed since he left, but
he marked it not; shot and shell were ploughing across his path more
thickly, but he did not heed them; in his ears rang the words--"For
France." They came like an echo from the past; it was the same cry he
had heard at Waterloo, when the soldiers of France that summer day
had died for France and the emperor, with a cheer on their lips. "For
France": the words were consecrated; the emperor himself had used them.
He had heard him, and would have died then; should he not die now for
her! Was it not glorious to die for France, and have men say that he had
fought for her when a babe, and had died for her when an old man!

With these thoughts was mingled the thought of Pierre--Pierre also would
die for France! They would save her or die together; and he pressed his
hand with a proud caress over the cross on his breast. It was the emblem
of glory.

He was almost back with his men now; he knew it by the roar, but the
smoke hid everything. Just then it shifted a little. As it did so, he
saw a man steal out of the dim line and start towards him at a run. He
had on the uniform of his regiment. His cap was pulled over his eyes,
and he saw him deliberately fling away his gun. He was skulking. All
the blood boiled up in the old soldier's veins. Desert!--not fight for
France! Why did not Pierre shoot him! Just then the coward passed close
to him, and the old man seized him with a grip of iron. The deserter,
surprised, turned his face; it was pallid with terror and shame; but no
more so than his captor's. It was Pierre.

"Pierre!" he gasped. "Good God! where are you going?"

"I am sick," faltered the other.

"Come back," said the father sternly.

"I cannot," was the terrified answer.

"It is for France, Pierre," pleaded the old soldier.

"Oh! I cannot," moaned the young man, pulling away. There was a
pause--the old man still holding on hesitatingly, then,--"Dastard!" he
hissed, flinging his son from him with indescribable scorn.

Pierre, free once more, was slinking off with averted face, when anew
idea seized his father, and his face grew grim as stone. Cocking his
musket, he flung it up, took careful and deliberate aim at his son's
retreating figure, and brought his finger slowly down upon the trigger.
But, before he could fire, a shell exploded directly in the line of his
aim, and when the smoke blew off, Pierre had disappeared. The Sergeant
lowered his piece, gazed curiously down the hill, and then hurried to
the spot where the shell had burst. A mangled form marked the place. The
coward had in the very act of flight met the death he dreaded. Pierre
lay dead on his face, shot in the back. The back of his head was
shattered by a fragment of shell. The countenance of the living man
was more pallid than that of the dead. No word escaped him, except that
refrain, "For France, for France," which he repeated mechanically.

Although this had occupied but a few minutes, momentous changes had
taken place on the ridge above. The sound of the battle had somewhat
altered, and with the roar of artillery were mingled now the continuous
rattle of the musketry and the shouts and cheers of the contending
troops. The fierce onslaught of the Prussians had broken the line
somewhere beyond the batteries, and the French were being borne back.
Almost immediately the slope was filled with retreating men hurrying
back in the demoralization of panic. All order was lost. It was a rout.
The soldiers of his own regiment began to rush by the spot where the
old Sergeant stood above his son's body. Recognizing him, some of his
comrades seized his arm and attempted to hurry him along; but with a
fierce exclamation the old soldier shook them off, and raising his voice
so that he was heard even above the tumult of the rout, he shouted, "Are
ye all cowards? Rally for France--For France----"

They tried to bear him along; the officers, they said, were dead; the
Prussians had captured the guns, and had broken the whole line. But it
was no use; still he shouted that rallying cry, For France, for France,
"Vive la France; Vive l'Empereur"; and steadied by the war-cry, and
accustomed to obey an officer, the men around him fell instinctively
into something like order, and for an instant the rout was arrested. The
fight was renewed over Pierre's dead body. As they had, however, truly
said, the Prussians were too strong for them. They had carried the line
and were now pouring down the hill by thousands in the ardor of hot
pursuit, the line on either side of the hill was swept away, and whilst
the gallant little band about the old soldier still stood and fought
desperately, they were soon surrounded. There was no thought of quarter;
none was asked, none was given. Cries, curses, cheers, shots, blows,
were mingled together, and clear above all rang the old soldier's
war-cry, For France, for France, "Vive la France, Vive l'Empereur." It
was the refrain from an older and bloodier field. He thought he was at
Waterloo.

Mad with excitement, the men took up the cry, and fought like tigers;
but the issue could not be doubtful.

Man after man fell, shot or clubbed down, with the cry "For France"
on his lips, and his comrades, standing astride his body, fought with
bayonets and clubbed muskets till they too fell in turn. Almost the last
one was the old Sergeant. Wounded to death, and bleeding from numberless
gashes, he still fought, shouting his battle-cry, "For France," till
his musket was hurled spinning from his shattered hand, and staggering
senseless back, a dozen bayonets were driven into his breast, crushing
out forever the brave spirit of the soldier of the empire.

It was best, for France was lost.

A few hours later the Quarter was in mourning over the terrible defeat.

* * * * *

That night a group of Prussian officers going over the field with
lanterns looking after their wounded, stopped near a spot remarkable
even on that bloody slope for the heaps of dead of both armies literally
piled upon each other.

"It was just here," said one, "that they got reinforcements and made
that splendid rally."

A second, looking at the body of an old French sergeant lying amidst
heaps of slain, with his face to the sky, said simply as he saw his
scars:

"There died a brave soldier."

Another, older than the first, bending closer to count the bayonet
wounds, caught the gleam of something in the light of the lantern,
and stooping to examine a broken cross of the Legion on the dead man's
breast, said reverently:

"He was a _soldier of the empire_."





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