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´╗┐Title: The Broken Soldier and the Maid of France
Author: Van Dyke, Henry, 1852-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "The Broken Soldier and the Maid of France" ***

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FRANCE***


THE BROKEN SOLDIER AND THE MAID OF FRANCE


     *     *     *     *     *


Books By Henry Van Dyke

   The Broken Soldier and the Maid of France
   The Americanism of Washington
   The Christ Child in Art
   The Lost Boy
   The Mansion
   The Story of the Other Wise Man

Harper & Brothers, New York
Established 1817


     *     *     *     *     *


THE BROKEN SOLDIER AND THE MAID OF FRANCE

by

HENRY VAN DYKE

With Illustrations by Frank E. Schoonover

New York and London
Harper & Brothers Publishers

MCMXIX



[Illustration]

"God commands you," she cried. "It is for France."



CONTENTS

   The Meeting at the Spring
   The Green Confessional
   The Absolving Dream
   The Victorious Penance



The Meeting at the Spring


Along the old Roman road that crosses the rolling hills from the upper
waters of the Marne to the Meuse, a soldier of France was passing in
the night.

In the broader pools of summer moonlight he showed as a hale and husky
fellow of about thirty years, with dark hair and eyes and a handsome,
downcast face. His uniform was faded and dusty; not a trace of the
horizon-blue was left; only a gray shadow. He had no knapsack on his
back, no gun on his shoulder. Wearily and doggedly he plodded his way,
without eyes for the veiled beauty of the sleeping country. The quick,
firm military step was gone. He trudged like a tramp, choosing always
the darker side of the road.

He was a figure of flight, a broken soldier.

Presently the road led him into a thick forest of oaks and beeches, and
so to the crest of a hill overlooking a long open valley with wooded
heights beyond. Below him was the pointed spire of some temple or
shrine, lying at the edge of the wood, with no houses near it. Farther
down he could see a cluster of white houses with the tower of a church
in the center. Other villages were dimly visible up and down the valley
on either slope. The cattle were lowing from the barnyards. The cocks
crowed for the dawn.  Already the moon had sunk behind the western
trees. But the valley was still bathed in its misty, vanishing light.
Over the eastern ridge the gray glimmer of the little day was rising,
faintly tinged with rose. It was time for the broken soldier to seek
his covert and rest till night returned.

So he stepped aside from the road and found a little dell thick with
underwoods, and in it a clear spring gurgling among the ferns and
mosses. Around the opening grew wild gooseberries and golden broom and
a few tall spires of purple foxglove. He drew off his dusty boots and
socks and bathed his feet in a small pool, drying them with fern
leaves. Then he took a slice of bread and a piece of cheese from his
pocket and made his breakfast. Going to the edge of the thicket, he
parted the branches and peered out over the vale.

Its eaves sloped gently to the level floor where the river loitered in
loops and curves. The sun was just topping the eastern hills; the heads
of the trees were dark against a primrose sky.

In the fields the hay had been cut and gathered. The aftermath was
already greening the moist places. Cattle and sheep sauntered out to
pasture. A thin silvery mist floated here and there, spreading in broad
sheets over the wet ground and shredding into filmy scarves and ribbons
as the breeze caught it among the pollard willows and poplars on the
border of the stream. Far away the water glittered where the river made
a sudden bend or a long smooth reach. It was like the flashing of
distant shields. Overhead a few white clouds climbed up from the north.
The rolling ridges, one after another, infolded the valley as far as
eye could see; pale green set in dark green, with here and there an arm
of forest running down on a sharp promontory to meet and turn the
meandering stream.

"It must be the valley of the Meuse," said the soldier. "My faith, but
France is beautiful and tranquil here!"

The northerly wind was rising. The clouds climbed more swiftly. The
poplars shimmered, the willows glistened, the veils of mist vanished.
From very far away there came a rumbling thunder, heavy, insistent,
continuous, punctuated with louder crashes.

"It is the guns," muttered the soldier, shivering. "It is the guns
around Verdun! Those damned Boches!"

He turned back into the thicket and dropped among the ferns beside the
spring. Stretching himself with a gesture of abandon, he pillowed his
face on his crossed arms to sleep.

A rustling in the bushes roused him. He sprang to his feet quickly. It
was a priest, clad in a dusty cassock, his long black beard streaked
with gray. He came slowly treading up beside the trickling rivulet,
carrying a bag on a stick over his shoulder.

"Good morning, my son," he said. "You have chosen a pleasant spot to
rest."

The soldier, startled, but not forgetting his manners learned from
boyhood, stood up and lifted his hand to take off his cap. It was
already lying on the ground. "Good morning, Father," he answered. "I
did not choose the place, but stumbled on it by chance. It is pleasant
enough, for I am very tired and have need of sleep."

"No doubt," said the priest. "I can see that you look weary, and I beg
you to pardon me if I have interrupted your repose. But why do you say
you came here 'by chance'? If you are a good Christian you know that
nothing is by chance. All is ordered and designed by Providence."

"So they told me in church long ago," said the soldier, coldly; "but
now it does not seem so true--at least not with me."

The first feeling of friendliness and respect into which he had been
surprised was passing. He had fallen back into the mood of his
journey--mistrust, secrecy, resentment.

The priest caught the tone. His gray eyes under their bushy brows
looked kindly but searchingly at the soldier and smiled a little. He
set down his bag and leaned on his stick. "Well," he said, "I can tell
you one thing, my son. At all events it was not chance that brought me
here. I came with a purpose."

The soldier started a little, stung by suspicion. "What then," he
cried, roughly, "were you looking for me? What do you know of me? What
is this talk of chance and purpose?"

"Come, come," said the priest, his smile spreading from his eyes to his
lips, "do not be angry. I assure you that I know nothing of you
whatever, not even your name nor why you are here. When I said that I
came with a purpose I meant only that a certain thought, a wish, led me
to this spot. Let us sit together awhile beside, the spring and make
better acquaintance."

"I do not desire it," said the soldier, with a frown.

"But you will not refuse it?" queried the priest, gently. "It is not
good to refuse the request of one old enough to be your father. Look, I
have here some excellent tobacco and cigarette-papers. Let us sit down
and smoke together. I will tell you who I am and the purpose that
brought me here."

The soldier yielded grudgingly, not knowing what else to do. They sat
down on a mossy bank beside the spring, and while the blue smoke of
their cigarettes went drifting under the little trees the priest began:

"My name is Antoine Courcy. I am the cure of Darney, a village among
the Reaping Hook Hills, a few leagues south from here. For twenty-five
years I have reaped the harvest of heaven in that blessed little field.
I am sorry to leave it. But now this war, this great battle for freedom
and the life of France, calls me. It is a divine vocation. France has
need of all her sons to-day, even the old ones. I cannot keep the love
of God in my heart unless I follow the love of country in my life. My
younger brother, who used to be the priest of the next parish to mine,
was in the army. He has fallen. I am going to replace him. I am on my
way to join the troops--as a chaplain, if they will; if not, then as a
private. I must get into the army of France or be left out of the host
of heaven."

The soldier had turned his face away and was plucking the lobes from a
frond of fern. "A brave resolve, Father," he said, with an ironic note.
"But you have not yet told me what brings you off your road, to this
place."

"I will tell you," replied the priest, eagerly; "it is the love of
Jeanne d'Arc, the Maid who saved France long ago. You know about her?"

"A little," nodded the soldier. "I have learned in the school. She was
a famous saint."

"Not yet a saint," said the priest, earnestly; "the Pope has not yet
pronounced her a saint. But it will be done soon. Already he has
declared her among the Blessed Ones. To me she is the most blessed of
all. She never thought of herself or of a saint's crown. She gave her
life entire for France. And this is the place that she came from! Think
of that--right here!"

"I did not know that," said the soldier.

"But yes," the priest went on, kindling. "I tell you it was here that
the Maid of France received her visions and set out to work. You see
that village below us--look out through the branches--that is Dom-remy,
where she was born. That spire just at the edge of the wood--you saw
that? It is the basilica they have built to her memory. It is full of
pictures of her. It stands where the old beech-tree, 'Fair May,' used
to grow. There she heard the voices and saw the saints who sent her on
her mission. And this is the Gooseberry Spring, the Well of the Good
Fairies. Here she came with the other children, at the festival of the
well-dressing, to spread their garlands around it, and sing, and eat
their supper on the green. Heavenly voices spoke to her, but the others
did not hear them. Often did she drink of this water. It became a
fountain of life springing up in her heart. I have come to drink at the
same source. It will strengthen me as a sacrament. Come, son, let us
take it together as we go to our duty in battle."

Father Courcy stood up and opened his old black bag. He took out a
small metal cup. He filled it carefully at the spring. He made the sign
of the cross over it.

"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," he murmured,
"blessed and holy is this water." Then he held the cup toward the
soldier. "Come, let us share it and make our vows together."

The bright drops trembled and fell from the bottom of the cup. The
soldier sat still, his head in his hands.

"No," he answered, heavily, "I cannot take it. I am not worthy. Can a
man take a sacrament without confessing his sins?"

Father Courcy looked at him with pitying eyes. "I see," he said,
slowly; "I see, my son. You have a burden on your heart. Well, I will
stay with you and try to lift it. But first I shall make my own vow."

He raised the cup toward the sky. A tiny brown wren sang canticles of
rapture in the thicket. A great light came into the priest's face--a
sun-ray from the east, far beyond the tree-tops.

"Blessed Jeanne d'Arc, I drink from thy fountain in thy name. I vow my
life to thy cause. Aid me, aid this my son, to fight valiantly for
freedom and for France. In the name of God, amen."

The soldier looked up at him. Wonder, admiration, and shame were
struggling in the look. Father Courcy wiped the empty cup carefully and
put it back in his bag. Then he sat down beside the soldier, laying a
fatherly hand on his shoulder.

"Now, my son, you shall tell me what is on your heart."



The Green Confessional


For a long time the soldier remained silent. His head was bowed. His
shoulders drooped. His hands trembled between his knees. He was
wrestling with himself.

"No," he cried, at last, "I cannot, I dare not tell you. Unless,
perhaps"--his voice faltered--"you could receive it under the seal of
confession? But no. How could you do that? Here in the green woods? In
the open air, beside a spring? Here is no confessional."

"Why not?" asked Father Courcy. "It is a good place, a holy place.
Heaven is over our heads and very near. I will receive your confession
here."

The soldier knelt among the flowers. The priest pronounced the sacred
words. The soldier began his confession:

"I, Pierre Duval, a great sinner, confess my fault, my most grievous
fault, and pray for pardon." He stopped for a moment and then
continued, "But first I must tell you, Father, just who I am and where
I come from and what brings me here."

"Go on, Pierre Duval, go on. That is what I am waiting to hear. Be
simple and very frank."

"Well, then, I am from the parish of Laucourt, in the pleasant country
of the Barrois not far from Bar-sur-Aube. My faith, but that is a
pretty land, full of orchards and berry-gardens! Our old farm there is
one of the prettiest and one of the best, though it is small. It was
hard to leave it when the call to the colors came, two years ago. But I
was glad to go. My heart was high and strong for France. I was in the
Nth Infantry. We were in the center division under General Foch at the
battle of the Marne. _Fichtre_! but that was fierce fighting! And what
a general! He did not know how to spell 'defeat.' He wrote it'
victory.' Four times we went across that cursed Marsh of Saint-Gond.
The dried mud was trampled full of dead bodies. The trickling streams
of water ran red. Four times we were thrown back by the Boches. You
would have thought that was enough. But the general did not think so.
We went over again on the fifth day, and that time we stayed. The
Germans could not stand against us. They broke and ran. The roads where
we chased them were full of empty wine-bottles. In one village we
caught three officers and a dozen men dead drunk. _Bigre!_ what a fine
joke!"

Pierre, leaning back upon his heels, was losing himself in his recital.
His face lighted up, his hands were waving. Father Courcy bent forward
with shining eyes.

"Continue," he cried. "This is a beautiful confession--no sin yet.
Continue, Pierre."

"Well, then, after that we were fighting here and there, on the Aisne,
on the Ailette, everywhere. Always the same story--Germans rolling down
on us in flood, green-gray waves. But the foam on them was fire and
steel. The shells of the barrage swept us like hailstones. We waited,
waited in our trenches, till the green-gray mob was near enough. Then
the word came. _Sapristi!_ We let loose with mitrailleuse, rifle,
field-gun, everything that would throw death. It did not seem like
fighting with men. It was like trying to stop a monstrous thing, a
huge, terrible mass that was rushing on to overwhelm us. The waves
tumbled and broke before they reached us. Sometimes they fell flat.
Sometimes they turned and rushed the other way. It was wild, wild, like
a change of the wind and tide in a storm, everything torn and confused.
Then perhaps the word came to go over the top and at them. That was
furious. That was fighting with men, for sure--bayonet, revolver,
rifle-butt, knife, anything that would kill. Often I sickened at the
blood and the horror of it. But something inside of me shouted: 'Fight
on! It is for France. It is for "_L'Alouette_," thy farm; for thy wife,
thy little ones. Wilt thou let them be ruined by those beasts of
Boches? What are they doing here on French soil? Brigands, butchers,
Apaches! Drive them out; and if they will not go, kill them so they can
do no more shameful deeds. Fight on!' So I killed all I could."

The priest nodded his head grimly. "You were right, Pierre; your voice
spoke true. It was a dreadful duty that you were doing. The Gospel
tells us, if we are smitten on one cheek we must turn the other. But it
does not tell us to turn the cheek of a little child, of the woman we
love, of the country we belong to. No! that would be disgraceful,
wicked, un-Christian. It would be to betray the innocent! Continue, my
son."

"Well, then," Pierre went on, his voice deepening and his face growing
more tense, "then we were sent to Verdun. That was the hottest place of
all. It was at the top of the big German drive. The whole sea rushed
and fell on us--big guns, little guns, poison-gas, hand-grenades,
liquid fire, bayonets, knives, and trench-clubs. Fort after fort went
down. The whole pack of hell was loose and raging. I thought of that
crazy, chinless Crown Prince sitting in his safe little cottage hidden
in the woods somewhere--they say he had flowers and vines planted
around it--drinking stolen champagne and sicking on his dogs of death.
He was in no danger. I cursed him in my heart, that blood-lord! The
shells rained on Verdun. The houses were riddled; the cathedral was
pierced in a dozen places; a hundred fires broke out. The old citadel
held good. The outer forts to the north and east were taken. Only the
last ring was left. We common soldiers did not know much about what was
happening. The big battle was beyond our horizon. But that General
Petain, he knew it all. Ah, that is a wise man, I can tell you! He sent
us to this place or that place where the defense was most needed. We
went gladly, without fear or holding back. We were resolute that those
mad dogs should not get through. '_They shall not pass!_' And they did
not pass!"

"Glorious!" cried the priest, drinking the story in. "And you, Pierre?
Where were you, what were you doing?"

"I was at Douaumont, that fort on the highest hill of all. The Germans
took it. It cost them ten thousand men. The ground around it was like a
wood-yard piled with logs. The big shell-holes were full of corpses.
There were a few of us that got away. Then our company was sent to hold
the third redoubt on the slope in front of Fort de Vaux. Perhaps you
have heard of that redoubt. That was a bitter job. But we held it many
days and nights. The Bodies pounded us from Douaumont and from the
village of Vaux. They sent wave after wave up the slope to drive us
out. But we stuck to it. That ravine of La Cail-lette was a boiling
caldron of men. It bubbled over with smoke and 'fire. Once, when their
second wave had broken just in front of us, we went out to hurry the
fragments down the hill. Then the guns from Douaumont and the village
of Vaux hammered us. Our men fell like nine-pins. Our lieutenant called
to us to turn back. Just then a shell tore away his right leg at the
knee. It hung by the skin and tendons. He was a brave lad. I could not
leave him to die there. So I hoisted him on my back. Three shots struck
me. They felt just like hard blows from a heavy fist. One of them made
my left arm powerless. I sank my teeth in the sleeve of my lieutenant's
coat as it hung over my shoulder. I must not let him fall off my back.
Somehow--God knows how--I gritted through to our redoubt. They took my
lieutenant from my shoulders. And then the light went out."

The priest leaned forward, his hands stretched out around the soldier.
"But you are a hero," he cried. "Let me embrace you!"

The soldier drew back, shaking his head sadly. "No," he said, his voice
breaking--"no, my father, you must not embrace me now. I may have been
a brave man once. But now I am a coward. Let me tell you everything. My
wounds were bad, but not desperate. The _brancardiers_ carried me down
to Verdun, at night, I suppose, but I was unconscious; and so to the
hospital at Vaudelaincourt. There were days and nights of blankness
mixed with pain. Then I came to my senses and had rest. It was
wonderful. I thought that I had died and gone to heaven. Would God it
had been so! Then I should have been with my lieutenant. They told me
he had passed away in the redoubt. But that hospital was beautiful, so
clean and quiet and friendly. Those white nurses were angels. They
handled me like a baby. I would have liked to stay there. I had no
desire to get better. But I did. One day several officers visited the
hospital. They came to my cot, where I was sitting up. The highest of
them brought out a Cross of War and pinned it on the breast of my
nightshirt. 'There,' he said, 'you are decorated, Pierre Duval! You are
one of the heroes of France. You are soon going to be perfectly well
and to fight again bravely for your country.' I thanked him, but I knew
better. My body might get perfectly well, but something in my soul was
broken. It was worn out. The thin spring had snapped. I could never
fight again. Any loud noise made me shake all over. I knew that I could
never face a battle--impossible! I should certainly lose my nerve and
run away. It is a damned feeling, that broken something inside of one.
I can't describe it."

Pierre stopped for a moment and moistened his dry lips with the tip of
his tongue.

"I know," said Father Courcy. "I understand perfectly what you want to
say. It was like being lost and thinking that nothing could save you; a
feeling that is piercing and dull at the same time, like a heavy weight
pressing on you with sharp stabs in it.    It was what they call
shellshock, a terrible thing. Sometimes it drives men crazy for a
while. But the doctors know what to do for that malady. It passes. You
got over it."

"No," answered Pierre, "the doctors may not have known that I had it.
At all events, they did not know what to do for it. It did not pass. It
grew worse. But I hid it, talking very little, never telling anybody
how I felt. They said I was depressed and needed cheering up. All the
while there was that black snake coiled around my heart, squeezing
tighter and tighter. But my body grew stronger every day. The wounds
were all healed. I was walking around. In July the doctor-in-chief sent
for me to his office. He said: 'You are cured, Pierre Duval, but you
are not yet fit to fight. You are low in your mind. You need cheering
up. You are to have a month's furlough and repose. You shall go home to
your farm. How is it that you call it?' I suppose I had been babbling
about it in my sleep and one of the nurses had told him.  He was always
that way, that little Doctor Roselly, taking an interest in the men,
talking with them and acting friendly. I said the farm was called
'_L'Alouette_'--rather a foolish name. 'Not at all,' he answered; 'it
is a fine name, with the song of a bird in it. Well, you are going back
to "_L'Alouette_" to hear the lark sing for a month, to kiss your wife
and your children, to pick gooseberries and currants. Eh, my boy, what
do you think of that? Then, when the month is over, you will be a new
man. You will be ready to fight again at Verdun. Remember, they have
not passed and they shall not pass! Good luck to you, Pierre Duval.' So
I went back to the farm as fast as I could go."

He was silent for a few moments, letting his thoughts wander through
the pleasant paths of that little garden of repose. His eyes were
dreaming, his lips almost smiled.

"It was sweet at '_L'Alouette_,' very sweet, Father. The farm was in
pretty good order and the kitchen-garden was all right, though the
flowers had been a little neglected. You see, my wife, Josephine, she
is a very clever woman. She had kept up the things that were the most
necessary. She had hired one of the old neighbors and a couple of boys
to help her with the plowing and planting. The harvest she sold as it
stood. Our yoke of cream-colored oxen and the roan horse were in good
condition. Little Pierrot, who is five, and little Josette, who is
three, were as brown as berries. They hugged me almost to death. But it
was Josephine herself who was the best of all. She is only twenty-six,
Father, and so beautiful still, with her long chestnut hair and her
eyes like brown stones shining under the waters of a brook. I tell you
it was good to get her in my arms again and feel her lips on mine. And
to wake in the early morning, while the birds were singing, and see her
face beside me on the white pillow, sleeping like a child, that was a
little bit of Paradise. But I do wrong to tell you of all this,
Father."

"Proceed, my big boy," nodded the priest. "You are saying nothing
wrong. I was a man before I was a priest. It is all natural, what you
are saying, and all according to God's law--no sin in it. Proceed. Did
your happiness do you good?"

Pierre shook his head doubtfully. The look of dejection came back to
his face. He frowned as if something puzzled and hurt him. "Yes and no!
That is the strange thing. It made me thankful--that goes without
saying. But it did not make me any stronger in my heart. Perhaps it was
too sweet. I thought too much of it. I could not bear to think of
anything else. The idea of the war was hateful, horrible, disgusting.
The noise and the dirt of it, the mud in the autumn and the bitter cold
in the winter, the rats and the lice in the dugouts! And then the fury
of the charge, and the everlasting killing, killing, or being killed!
The danger had seemed little or nothing to me when I was there. But at
a distance it was frightful, unendurable.  I knew that I could never
stand up to it again. Besides, already I had done my share--enough for
two or three men. Why must I go back into that hell? It was not fair.
Life was too dear to be risking it all the time. I could not endure it.
France? France? Of course I love France. But my farm, and my life with
Josephine and the children mean more to me. The thing that made me a
good soldier is broken inside me. It is beyond mending."

His voice sank lower and lower. Father Courcy looked at him gravely.

"But your farm is a part of France. You belong to France. He that
saveth his life shall lose it!"

"Yes, yes, I know. But my farm is such a small part of France. I am
only one man. What difference does one man make, except to himself?
Moreover, I had done my part, that was certain. Twenty times, really,
my life had been lost. Why must I throw it away again? Listen, Father.
There is a village in the Vosges, near the Swiss border, where a
relative of mine lives. If I could get to him he would take me in and
give me some other clothes and help me over the frontier into
Switzerland. There I could change my name and find work until the war
is over. That was my plan. So I set out on my journey, following the
less-traveled roads, tramping by night and sleeping by day. Thus I came
to this spring at the same time as you by chance, by pure chance. Do
you see?"

Father Courcy looked very stern and seemed about to speak in anger.
Then he shook his head and said, quietly: "No, I do not see that at
all. It remains to be seen whether it was by chance. But tell me more
about your sin. Did you let your wife, Josephine, know what you were
going to do? Did you tell her good-by, parting for Switzerland?"

"Why, no! I did not dare. She would never have forgiven me. So I
slipped down to the post-office at Bar-sur-Aube and stole a telegraph
blank. It was ten days before my furlough was out. I wrote a message to
myself calling me back to the colors at once. I showed it to her. Then
I said good-by. I wept. She did not cry one tear. Her eyes were stars.
She embraced me a dozen times. She lifted up each of the children to
hug me. Then she cried: 'Go now, my brave man. Fight well. Drive the
damned Boches out. It is for us and for France. God protect you. _Au
revoir!_' I went down the road silent. I felt like a dog. But I could
not help it."

"And you were a dog," said the priest, sternly. "That is what you were,
and what you remain unless you can learn to help it. You lied to your
wife. You forged; you tricked her who trusted you. You have done the
thing which you yourself say she would never forgive. If she loves you
and prays for you now, you have stolen that love and that prayer. You
are a thief. A true daughter of France could never love a coward
to-day."

"I know, I know," sobbed Pierre, burying his face in the weeds. "Yet I
did it partly for her, and I could not do otherwise."

"Very little for her and a hundred times for yourself," said the
priest, indignantly. "Be honest. If there was a little bit of love for
her, it was the kind of love she did not want. She would spit upon it.
If you are going to Switzerland now you are leaving her forever. You
can never go back to Josephine again. You are a deserter. She would
cast you out, coward!"

The broken soldier lay very still, almost as if he were dead. Then he
rose slowly to his feet, with a pale, set face. He put his hand behind
his back and drew out a revolver. "It is true," he said, slowly, "I am
a coward. But not altogether such a coward as you think, Father. It is
not merely death that I fear. I could face that, I think. Here, take
this pistol and shoot me now! No one will know. You can say that you
shot a deserter, or that I attacked you. Shoot me now, Father, and let
me out of this trouble."

Father Courcy looked at him with amazement. Then he took the pistol,
uncocked it cautiously, and dropped it behind him. He turned to Pierre
and regarded him curiously. "Go on with your confession, Pierre. Tell
me about this strange kind of cowardice which can face death."

The soldier dropped on his knees again, and went on, in a low, shaken
voice: "It is this, Father. By my broken soul, this is the very root of
it. _I am afraid of fear_."

The priest thought for an instant. "But that is not reasonable, Pierre.
It is nonsense. Fear cannot hurt you. If you fight it you can conquer
it. At least you can disregard it, march through it, as if it were not
there."

"Not this fear," argued the soldier, with a peasant's obstinacy. "This
is something very big and dreadful. It has no shape, but a dead-white
face and red, blazing eyes full of hate and scorn. I have seen it in
the dark. It is stronger than I am. Since something is broken inside of
me, I know I can never conquer it. No, it would wrap its shapeless arms
around me and stab me to the heart with its fiery eyes. I should turn
and run in the middle of the battle. I should trample on my wounded
comrades. I should be shot in the back and die in disgrace. O my God!
my God! who can save me from this? It is horrible. I cannot bear it."

The priest laid his hand gently on Pierre's quivering shoulder.
"Courage, my son!"

"I have none."

"Then say to yourself that fear is nothing."

"It would be a lie. This fear is real."

"Then cease to tremble at it; kill it."

"Impossible. I am afraid of fear."

"Then carry it as your burden, your cross. Take it back to Verdun with
you."

"I dare not. It would poison the others. It would bring me dishonor."

"Pray to God for help."

"He will not answer me. I am a wicked man. Father, I have made my
confession. Will you give me a penance and absolve me?"

"Promise to go back to the army and fight as well as you can."

"Alas! that is what I cannot do. My mind is shaken to pieces. Whither
shall I turn? I can decide nothing. I am broken. I repent of my great
sin. Father, for the love of God, speak the word of absolution."

Pierre lay on his face, motionless, his arms stretched out. The priest
rose and went to the spring. He scooped up a few drops in the hollow of
his hand. He sprinkled it like holy water upon the soldier's head. A
couple of tears fell with it.

"God have pity on you, my son, and bring you back to yourself. The word
of absolution is not for me to speak while you think of forsaking
France. Put that thought away from you, do penance for it, and you will
be absolved from your great sin."

Pierre turned over and lay looking up at the priest's face and at the
blue sky with white clouds drifting across it. He sighed. "Ah, if that
could only be! But I have not the strength. It is impossible."

"All things are possible to him that believeth. Strength will come.
Perhaps Jeanne d'Arc herself will help you."

"She would never speak to a man like me. She is a great saint, very
high in heaven."

"She was a farmer's lass, a peasant like yourself. She would speak to
you, gladly and kindly, if you saw her, and in your own language, too.
Trust her."

"But I do not know enough about her."

"Listen, Pierre. I have thought for you. I will appoint the first part
of your penance. You shall take the risk of being recognized and
caught. You shall go down to that village there and visit the places
that belong to her--her basilica, her house, her church. Then you shall
come back here and wait until you know--until you surely know what you
must do. Will you promise this?"

Pierre had risen and looked up at the priest with tear-stained face.
But his eyes were quieter. "Yes, Father, I can promise you this much
faithfully."

"Now I must go my way. Farewell, my son. Peace in war be with you." He
held out his hand.

Pierre took it reverently. "And with you, Father," he murmured.



The Absolving Dream


Antoine Courcy was one of those who are fitted and trained by nature
for the cure of souls. If you had spoken to him of psychiatry he would
not have understood you. The long word would have been Greek to him.
But the thing itself he knew well. The preliminary penance which he
laid upon Pierre Duval was remedial. It belonged to the true healing
art, which works first in the spirit.

When the broken soldier went down the hill, in the blaze of the
mid-morning sunlight, towards Domremey, there was much misgiving and
confusion in his thoughts. He did not comprehend why he was going,
except that he had promised. He was not sure that some one might not
know him, or perhaps out of mere curiosity stop him and question him.
It was a reluctant journey.

Yet it was in effect an unconscious pilgrimage to the one health-resort
that his soul needed. For Domremy and the region round about are
saturated with the most beautiful story of France. The life of Jeanne
d'Arc, simple and mysterious, humble and glorious, most human and most
heavenly, flows under that place like a hidden stream, rising at every
turn in springs and fountains. The poor little village lives in and for
her memory. Her presence haunts the ridges and the woods, treads the
green pastures, follows the white road beside the river, and breathes
in the never-resting valley-wind that marries the flowers in June and
spreads their seed in August.

At the small basilica built to her memory on the place where her old
beech-tree, "Fair May," used to stand there was an ancient caretaker
who explained to Pierre the pictures from the life of the Maid with
which the walls are decorated. They are stiff and conventional, but the
old man found them wonderful and told with zest the story of _La
Pucelle_--how she saw her first vision; how she recognized the Dauphin
in his palace at Chinon; how she broke the siege of Orleans; how she
saw Charles crowned in the cathedral at Rheims; how she was burned at
the stake in Rouen. But they could not kill her soul. She saved France.

In the village church there was a priest from the border of Alsace,
also a pilgrim like Pierre, but one who knew the shrine better. He
showed the difference between the new and the old parts of the
building. Certain things the Maid herself had seen and touched.
"Here is the old holy-water basin, an antique, broken column hollowed
out on top. Here her fingers must have rested often. Before this
ancient statue of Saint Michel she must have often knelt to say her
prayers. The cure of the parish was a friend of hers and loved to talk
with her. She was a good girl, devout and obedient, not learned, but a
holy and great soul. She saved France."

In the house where she was born, and passed her childhood, a crippled
old woman was custodian. It was a humble dwelling of plastered stone,
standing between two tall fir-trees, with ivy growing over the walls,
lilies and hollyhocks blooming in the garden. Pierre found it not half
so good a house as "_L'Alouette_." But to the custodian it was more
precious than a palace. In this upper room with its low mullioned
window the Maid began her life. Here, in the larger room below, is the
kneeling statue which the Princess Marie d'Orleans made of her. Here,
to the right, under the sloping roof, with its worm-eaten beams, she
slept and prayed and worked.

"See, here is the bread-board between two timbers where she cut the
bread for the _croute-au-pot_. From this small window she looked at
night and saw the sanctuary light burning in the church. Here, also, as
well as in the garden and in the woods, her heavenly voices spoke to
her and told her what she must do for the king and her country. She was
not afraid or ashamed, though she lived in so small a house. Here in
this very room she braided her hair and put on her red dress, and set
forth on foot for her visit to Robert de Baudricourt at Vaucouleurs. He
was a rough man and at first he received her roughly. But at last she
convinced him. He gave her a horse and arms and sent her to the king.
She saved France."

[Illustration]

At the rustic inn Pierre at thick slices of dark bread and drank a
stoup of thin red wine at noon. He sat at a bare table in the corner of
the room. Behind him, at a table covered with a white cloth, two
captains on furlough had already made their breakfast. They also were
pilgrims, drawn by the love of Jeanne d'Arc to Domremy. They talked of
nothing else but of her. Yet their points of view were absolutely
different.

One of them, the younger, was short and swarthy, a Savoyard, the son of
an Italian doctor at St. Jean de Maurienne. He was a skeptic; he
believed in Jeanne, but not in the legends about her.

"I tell you," said he, eagerly, "she was one of the greatest among
women. But all that about her 'voices' was illusion. The priests
suggested it. She had hallucinations. Remember her age when they
began--just thirteen. She was clever and strong; doubtless she was
pretty; certainly she was very courageous. She was only a girl. But she
had a big, brave idea which--the liberation of her country. Pure? Yes.
I am sure she was virtuous. Otherwise the troops would not have
followed and obeyed her as they did. Soldiers are very quick about
those things. They recognize and respect an honest woman. Several men
were in love with her, I think. But she was '_une nature froide_.' The
only thing that moved her was her big, brave idea--to save France. The
Maid was a mother, but not of a mortal child. Her offspring was the
patriotism of France."

The other captain was a man of middle age, from Lyons, the son of an
architect. He was tall and pale and his large brown eyes had the
tranquillity of a devout faith in them. He argued with quiet tenacity
for his convictions.

"You are right to believe in her," said he, "but I think you are
mistaken to deny her voices. They were as real as anything in her life.
You credit her when she says that she was born here, that she went to
Chinon and saw the king, that she delivered Orleans. Why not credit her
when she says she heard God and the saints speaking to her? The proof
of it was in what she did. Have you read the story of her trial? How
clear and steady her answers were! The judges could not shake her. Yet
at any moment she could have saved her life by denying the voices. It
was because she knew, because she was sure, that she could not deny.
Her vision was a part of her real life. She was the mother of French
patriotism--yes. But she was also the daughter of true faith. That was
her power."

"Well," said the younger man, "she sacrificed herself and she saved
France. That was the great thing."

"Yes," said the elder man, stretching his hand across the table to
clasp the hand of his companion, "there is nothing greater than that.
If we do that, God will forgive us all."

They put on their caps to go. Pierre rose and stood at attention. They
returned his salute with a friendly smile and passed out.

After a few moments he finished his bread and wine, paid his score, and
followed them. He watched them going down the village street toward the
railway station. Then he turned and walked slowly back to the spring in
the dell.

The afternoon was hot, in spite of the steady breeze which came out of
the north. The air felt as if it had passed through a furnace. The low,
continuous thunder of the guns rolled up from Verdun, with now and then
a sharper clap from St. Mihiel.

Pierre was very tired. His head was heavy, his heart troubled. He lay
down among the ferns, looking idly at the foxglove spires above him and
turning over in his mind the things he had heard and seen at Domremy.
Presently he fell into a profound sleep.

How long it was he could not tell, but suddenly he became aware of some
one near him. He sprang up. A girl was standing beside the spring.

She wore a bright-red dress and her feet were bare. Her black hair hung
down her back. Her eyes were the color of a topaz. Her form was tall
and straight. She carried a distaff under her arm and looked as if she
had just come from following the sheep.

"Good day, shepherdess," said Pierre. Then a strange thought struck him
and he fell on his knees. "Pardon, lady," he stammered. "Forgive my
rudeness. You are of the high society of heaven, a saint. You are
called Jeanne d'Arc?"

She nodded and smiled. "That is my name," said she. "Sometimes they
call me _La Pucelle_, or the Maid of France. But you were right, I am a
shepherdess, too. I have kept my father's sheep in the fields down
there, and spun from the distaff while I watched them. I knew how to
sew and spin as well as any girl in the Barrois or Lorraine. Will you
not stand up and talk with me?"

Pierre rose, still abashed and confused. He did not quite understand
how to take this strange experience--too simple for a heavenly
apparition, too real for a common dream.

"Well, then," said he, "if you are a shepherdess why are you here?
There are no sheep here."

"But yes. You are one of mine. I have come here to seek you."

"Do you know me, then? How can I be one of yours?"

"Because you are a soldier of France and you are in trouble."

Pierre's head drooped. "A broken soldier," he muttered, "not fit to
speak to you. I am running away because I am afraid of fear."

She threw back her head and laughed. "You speak very bad French. There
is no such thing as being afraid of fear. For if you are afraid of it,
you hate it. If you hate it, you will have nothing to do with it. And
if you have nothing to do with it, it cannot touch you; it is nothing."

"But for you, a saint, it is easy to say that. You had no fear when you
fought. You knew you would not be killed."

"I was no more sure of that than the other soldiers. Besides, when they
bound me to the stake at Rouen and kindled the fire around me I knew
very well that I should be killed. But there was no fear in it. Only
peace."

"Ah, you were strong, a warrior born. You were not wounded and broken."

"Four times I was wounded," she answered, gravely. "At Orleans a bolt
went through my right shoulder. At Paris a lance tore my thigh. I never
saw the blood of Frenchmen flow without feeling my heart stand still. I
was not a warrior born. I knew not how to ride or fight. But I did it.
What we must needs do that we can do. Soldier, do not look on the
ground. Look up."

Then a strange thing took place before his eyes. A wondrous radiance, a
mist of light, enveloped and hid the shepherdess. When it melted she
was clad in shining armor, sitting on a white horse, and lifting a bare
sword in her left hand.

"God commands you," she cried. "It is for France. Be of good cheer. Do
not retreat. The fort will soon be yours!"

How should Pierre know that this was the cry with which the Maid had
rallied her broken men at Orleans when the fort of _Les Toutelles_
fell? What he did know was that something seemed to spring up within
him to answer that call. He felt that he would rather die than desert
such a leader.

The figure on the horse turned away as if to go.

"Do not leave me," he cried, stretching out his hands to her. "Stay
with me. I will obey you joyfully."

She turned again and looked at him very earnestly. Her eyes shone deep
into his heart. "Here I cannot stay," answered a low, sweet, womanly
voice. "It is late, and my other children need me."

"But forgiveness? Can you give that to me--a coward?"

"You are no coward. Your only fault was to doubt a brave man."

"And my wife? May I go back and tell her?"

"No, surely. Would you make her hear slander of the man she loves? Be
what she believes you and she will be satisfied."

"And the absolution, the word of peace? Will you speak that to me?"

Her eyes shone more clearly; the voice sounded sweeter and steadier
than ever. "After the penance comes the absolution. You will find peace
only at the lance's point. Son of France, go, go, go! I will help you.
Go hardily to Verdun."

Pierre sprang forward after the receding figure, tried to clasp the
knee, the foot of the Maid. As he fell to the ground something sharp
pierced his hand. It must be her spur, thought he.

Then he was aware that his eyes were shut. He opened them and looked at
his hand carefully. There was only a scratch on it, and a tiny drop of
blood. He had torn it on the thorns of the wild-gooseberry bushes.

His head lay close to the clear pool of the spring. He buried his face
in it, and drank deep. Then he sprang up, shaking the drops from his
mustache, found his cap and pistol, and hurried up the glen toward the
old Roman road.

"No more of that damned foolishness about Switzerland," he said, aloud.
"I belong to France. I am going with the other boys to save her. I was
born for that." He took off his cap and stood still for a moment. He
spoke as if he were taking an oath. "By Jeanne d'Arc!"



The Victorious Penance


It never occurred to Pierre Duval, as he trudged those long kilometers
toward the front, that he was doing a penance.

The joy of a mind made up is a potent cordial.

The greetings of comrades on the road put gladness into his heart and
strength into his legs.

It was a hot and dusty journey, and a sober one. But it was not a sad
on. He was doing that which France asked of him, that which God told
him to do. Josephine would be proud of him. He would never be ashamed
to meet her eyes. As he went, alone or in company with others, he
whistled and sand a bit. He thought of "_L'Alouette_" a good deal. But
not too much. He thought also of the forts of Douaumont and Vaux.

"_Dame!_" he cried to himself. "If I could help to win them back again!
That would be fine! How sick that would make those cursed Bodies and
their knock-kneed Crown Prince!"

At the little village of the headquarters behind Verdun he found many
old friends and companions. They greeted him with cheerful irony.

"Behold the prodigal! You took your time about coming back, didn't you?
Was the hospital to your taste, the nurses pretty? How is the wife? Any
more children? How goes it, old man?"

"No more children yet," he answered, grinning; "but all goes well. I
have come back from a far country, but I find the pigs are still
grunting. What have you done to our old cook?"

"Nothing at all," was the joyous reply. "He tried to swim in his own
soup and he was drowned."

When Pierre reported to the officer of the day, that busy functionary
consulted the record.

"You are a day ahead of your time, Pierre Duval," he said, frowning
slightly.

"Yes, sir," answered the soldier. "It costs less to be a day ahead than
a day too late."

"That is well," said the officer, smiling in his red beard. "You will
report to-morrow to your regiment at the citadel. You have a new
colonel, but the regiment is busy in the old way."

As Pierre saluted and turned to go out his eye caught the look of a
general officer who stood near, watching. He was a square, alert,
vigorous man, his face bronzed by the suns of many African campaigns,
his eyes full of intelligence, humor, and courage. It was Guillaumat,
the new commander of the Army of Verdun.

"You are prompt, my son," said he, pleasantly, "but you must remember
not to be in a hurry.   You have been in hospital. Are you well again?
Nothing broken?"

"Something was broken, my General," responded the soldier, gravely,
"but it is mended."

"Good!" said the general. "Now for the front, to beat the Germans at
their own game. '_We shall get them_.' It may be long, but we shall get
them!"

That was the autumn of the offensive of 1916, by which the French
retook, in ten days, what it had cost the Germans many months to gain.

Pierre was there in that glorious charge in the end of October which
carried the heights of Douaumont and took six thousand prisoners. He
was there at the recapture of the Fort de Vaux which the Germans
evacuated in the first week of November. In the last rush up the slope,
where he had fought long ago, a stray shell, an inscrutable messenger
of fate, coming from far away, no one knows whence, caught him and
ripped him horribly across the body.

It was a desperate mass of wounds. But the men of his squad loved their
corporal. He still breathed. They saw to it that he was carried back to
the little transit hospital just behind the Fort de Souville.

It was a rude hut of logs, covered with sand-bags, on the slope of the
hill. The ruined woods around it were still falling to the crash of
far-thrown shells. In the close, dim shelter of the inner room Pierre
came to himself.

He looked up into the face of Father Courcy. A light of recognition and
gratitude flickered in his eyes. It was like finding an old friend in
the dark.

"Welcome!--But the fort?" he gasped.

"It is ours," said the priest.

Something like a smile passed over the face of Pierre. He could not
speak for a long time. The blood in his throat choked him. At last he
whispered:

"Tell Josephine--love."

Father Courcy bowed his head and took Pierre's hand. "Surely," he said.
"But now, my dear son Pierre, I must prepare you--"

The struggling voice from the cot broke in, whispering slowly, with
long intervals: "Not necessary. . . . I know it already. . . . The
penance. . . . France. . . . Jeanne d'Arc. . . . It is done."

A few drops of blood gushed from the corner of his mouth. The look of
peace that often comes to those who die of gunshot wounds settled on
his face. His eyes grew still as the priest laid the sacred wafer on
his lips. The broken soldier was made whole.





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