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Title: The Downfall
Author: Zola, Émile, 1840-1902
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 "The Downfall" ***

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                           THE DOWNFALL

                           (LA DEBACLE)
                          (The Smash-up)

                                BY

                             EMILE ZOLA



                           Translated By
                            E. P. Robins



                           THE DOWNFALL



                            PART FIRST



                                I.

In the middle of the broad, fertile plain that stretches away in the
direction of the Rhine, a mile and a quarter from Mulhausen, the camp
was pitched. In the fitful light of the overcast August day, beneath
the lowering sky that was filled with heavy drifting clouds, the long
lines of squat white shelter-tents seemed to cower closer to the
ground, and the muskets, stacked at regular intervals along the
regimental fronts, made little spots of brightness, while over all the
sentries with loaded pieces kept watch and ward, motionless as
statues, straining their eyes to pierce the purplish mists that lay on
the horizon and showed where the mighty river ran.

It was about five o'clock when they had come in from Belfort; it was
now eight, and the men had only just received their rations. There
could be no distribution of wood, however, the wagons having gone
astray, and it had therefore been impossible for them to make fires
and warm their soup. They had consequently been obliged to content
themselves as best they might, washing down their dry hard-tack with
copious draughts of brandy, a proceeding that was not calculated
greatly to help their tired legs after their long march. Near the
canteen, however, behind the stacks of muskets, there were two
soldiers pertinaciously endeavoring to elicit a blaze from a small
pile of green wood, the trunks of some small trees that they had
chopped down with their sword-bayonets, and that were obstinately
determined not to burn. The cloud of thick, black smoke, rising slowly
in the evening air, added to the general cheerlessness of the scene.

There were but twelve thousand men there, all of the 7th corps that
the general, Felix Douay, had with him at the time. The 1st division
had been ordered to Froeschwiller the day before; the 3d was still at
Lyons, and it had been decided to leave Belfort and hurry to the front
with the 2d division, the reserve artillery, and an incomplete
division of cavalry. Fires had been seen at Lorrach. The _sous-prefet_
at Schelestadt had sent a telegram announcing that the Prussians were
preparing to pass the Rhine at Markolsheim. The general did not like
his unsupported position on the extreme right, where he was cut off
from communication with the other corps, and his movement in the
direction of the frontier had been accelerated by the intelligence he
had received the day before of the disastrous surprise at Wissembourg.
Even if he should not be called on to face the enemy on his own front,
he felt that he was likely at any moment to be ordered to march to the
relief of the 1st corps. There must be fighting going on, away down
the river near Froeschwiller, on that dark and threatening Saturday,
that ominous 6th of August; there was premonition of it in the sultry
air, and the stray puffs of wind passed shudderingly over the camp as
if fraught with tidings of impending evil. And for two days the
division had believed that it was marching forth to battle; the men
had expected to find the Prussians in their front, at the termination
of their forced march from Belfort to Mulhausen.

The day was drawing to an end, and from a remote corner of the camp
the rattling drums and the shrill bugles sounded retreat, the sound
dying away faintly in the distance on the still air of evening. Jean
Macquart, who had been securing the tent and driving the pegs home,
rose to his feet. When it began to be rumored that there was to be war
he had left Rognes, the scene of the bloody drama in which he had lost
his wife, Francoise and the acres that she brought him; he had
re-enlisted at the age of thirty-nine, and been assigned to the 106th
of the line, of which they were at that time filling up the _cadres_,
with his old rank of corporal, and there were moments when he could
not help wondering how it ever came about that he, who after Solferino
had been so glad to quit the service and cease endangering his own and
other people's lives, was again wearing the _capote_ of the infantry
man. But what is a man to do, when he has neither trade nor calling,
neither wife, house, nor home, and his heart is heavy with mingled
rage and sorrow? As well go and have a shot at the enemy, if they come
where they are not wanted. And he remembered his old battle cry: Ah!
_bon sang_! if he had no longer heart for honest toil, he would go and
defend her, his country, the old land of France!

When Jean was on his legs he cast a look about the camp, where the
summons of the drums and bugles, taken up by one command after
another, produced a momentary bustle, the conclusion of the business
of the day. Some men were running to take their places in the ranks,
while others, already half asleep, arose and stretched their stiff
limbs with an air of exasperated weariness. He stood waiting patiently
for roll-call, with that cheerful imperturbability and determination
to make the best of everything that made him the good soldier that he
was. His comrades were accustomed to say of him that if he had only
had education he would have made his mark. He could just barely read
and write, and his aspirations did not rise even so high as to a
sergeantcy. Once a peasant, always a peasant.

But he found something to interest him in the fire of green wood that
was still smoldering and sending up dense volumes of smoke, and he
stepped up to speak to the two men who were busying themselves over
it, Loubet and Lapoulle, both members of his squad.

"Quit that! You are stifling the whole camp."

Loubet, a lean, active fellow and something of a wag, replied:

"It will burn, corporal; I assure you it will--why don't you blow,
you!"

And by way of encouragement he bestowed a kick on Lapoulle, a colossus
of a man, who was on his knees puffing away with might and main, his
cheeks distended till they were like wine-skins, his face red and
swollen, and his eyes starting from their orbits and streaming with
tears. Two other men of the squad, Chouteau and Pache, the former
stretched at length upon his back like a man who appreciates the
delight of idleness, and the latter engrossed in the occupation of
putting a patch on his trousers, laughed long and loud at the
ridiculous expression on the face of their comrade, the brutish
Lapoulle.

Jean did not interfere to check their merriment. Perhaps the time was
at hand when they would not have much occasion for laughter, and he,
with all his seriousness and his humdrum, literal way of taking
things, did not consider that it was part of his duty to be
melancholy, preferring rather to close his eyes or look the other way
when his men were enjoying themselves. But his attention was attracted
to a second group not far away, another soldier of his squad, Maurice
Levasseur, who had been conversing earnestly for near an hour with a
civilian, a red-haired gentleman who was apparently about thirty-six
years old, with an intelligent, honest face, illuminated by a pair of
big protruding blue eyes, evidently the eyes of a near-sighted man.
They had been joined by an artilleryman, a quartermaster-sergeant from
the reserves, a knowing, self-satisfied-looking person with brown
mustache and imperial, and the three stood talking like old friends,
unmindful of what was going on about them.

In the kindness of his heart, in order to save them a reprimand, if
not something worse, Jean stepped up to them and said:

"You had better be going, sir. It is past retreat, and if the
lieutenant should see you--" Maurice did not permit him to conclude
his sentence:

"Stay where you are, Weiss," he said, and turning to the corporal,
curtly added: "This gentleman is my brother-in-law. He has a pass from
the colonel, who is acquainted with him."

What business had he to interfere with other people's affairs, that
peasant whose hands were still reeking of the manure-heap? _He_ was a
lawyer, had been admitted to the bar the preceding autumn, had
enlisted as a volunteer and been received into the 106th without the
formality of passing through the recruiting station, thanks to the
favor of the colonel; it was true that he had condescended to carry a
musket, but from the very start he had been conscious of a feeling of
aversion and rebellion toward that ignorant clown under whose command
he was.

"Very well," Jean tranquilly replied; "don't blame me if your friend
finds his way to the guardhouse."

Thereon he turned and went away, assured that Maurice had not been
lying, for the colonel, M. de Vineuil, with his commanding, high-bred
manner and thick white mustache bisecting his long yellow face, passed
by just then and saluted Weiss and the soldier with a smile. The
colonel pursued his way at a good round pace toward a farmhouse that
was visible off to the right among the plum trees, a few hundred feet
away, where the staff had taken up their quarters for the night. No
one could say whether the general commanding the 7th corps was there
or not; he was in deep affliction on account of the death of his
brother, slain in the action at Wissembourg. The brigadier, however,
Bourgain-Desfeuilles, in whose command the 106th was, was certain to
be there, brawling as loud as ever, and trundling his fat body about
on his short, pudgy legs, with his red nose and rubicund face,
vouchers for the good dinners he had eaten, and not likely ever to
become top-heavy by reason of excessive weight in his upper story.
There was a stir and movement about the farmhouse that seemed to be
momentarily increasing; couriers and orderlies were arriving and
departing every minute; they were awaiting there, with feverish
anxiety of impatience, the belated dispatches which should advise them
of the result of the battle that everyone, all that long August day,
had felt to be imminent. Where had it been fought? what had been the
issue? As night closed in and darkness shrouded the scene, a
foreboding sense of calamity seemed to settle down upon the orchard,
upon the scattered stacks of grain about the stables, and spread, and
envelop them in waves of inky blackness. It was said, also, that a
Prussian spy had been caught roaming about the camp, and that he had
been taken to the house to be examined by the general. Perhaps Colonel
de Vineuil had received a telegram of some kind, that he was in such
great haste.

Meantime Maurice had resumed his conversation with his brother-in-law
Weiss and his cousin Honore Fouchard, the quartermaster-sergeant.
Retreat, commencing in the remote distance, then gradually swelling in
volume as it drew near with its blare and rattle, reached them, passed
them, and died away in the solemn stillness of the twilight; they
seemed to be quite unconscious of it. The young man was grandson
to a hero of the Grand Army, and had first seen the light at
Chene-Populeux, where his father, not caring to tread the path of
glory, had held an ill-paid position as collector of taxes. His
mother, a peasant, had died in giving him birth, him and his twin
sister Henriette, who at an early age had become a second mother to
him, and that he was now what he was, a private in the ranks, was
owing entirely to his own imprudence, the headlong dissipation of a
weak and enthusiastic nature, his money squandered and his substance
wasted on women, cards, the thousand follies of the all-devouring
minotaur, Paris, when he had concluded his law studies there and his
relatives had impoverished themselves to make a gentleman of him. His
conduct had brought his father to the grave; his sister, when he had
stripped her of her little all, had been so fortunate as to find a
husband in that excellent young fellow Weiss, who had long held the
position of accountant in the great sugar refinery at Chene-Populeux,
and was now foreman for M. Delaherche, one of the chief cloth
manufacturers of Sedan. And Maurice, always cheered and encouraged
when he saw a prospect of amendment in himself, and equally
disheartened when his good resolves failed him and he relapsed,
generous and enthusiastic but without steadiness of purpose, a
weathercock that shifted with every varying breath of impulse, now
believed that experience had done its work and taught him the error
of his ways. He was a small, light-complexioned man, with a high,
well-developed forehead, small nose, and retreating chin, and a pair
of attractive gray eyes in a face that indicated intelligence; there
were times when his mind seemed to lack balance.

Weiss, on the eve of the commencement of hostilities, had found that
there were family matters that made it necessary for him to visit
Mulhausen, and had made a hurried trip to that city. That he had been
able to employ the good offices of Colonel de Vineuil to afford him an
opportunity of shaking hands with his brother-in-law was owing to the
circumstance that that officer was own uncle to young Mme. Delaherche,
a pretty young widow whom the cloth manufacturer had married the year
previous, and whom Maurice and Henriette, thanks to their being
neighbors, had known as a girl. In addition to the colonel, moreover,
Maurice had discovered that the captain of his company, Beaudoin, was
an acquaintance of Gilberte, Delaherche's young wife; report even had
it that she and the captain had been on terms of intimacy in the days
when she was Mme. Maginot, living at Meziere, wife of M. Maginot, the
timber inspector.

"Give Henriette a good kiss for me, Weiss," said the young man, who
loved his sister passionately. "Tell her that she shall have no reason
to complain of me, that I wish her to be proud of her brother."

Tears rose to his eyes at the remembrance of his misdeeds. The
brother-in-law, who was also deeply affected, ended the painful scene
by turning to Honore Fouchard, the artilleryman.

"The first time I am anywhere in the neighborhood," he said, "I will
run up to Remilly and tell Uncle Fouchard that I saw you and that you
are well."

Uncle Fouchard, a peasant, who owned a bit of land and plied the trade
of itinerant butcher, serving his customers from a cart, was a brother
of Henriette's and Maurice's mother. He lived at Remilly, in a house
perched upon a high hill, about four miles from Sedan.

"Good!" Honore calmly answered; "the father don't worry his head a
great deal on my account, but go there all the same if you feel
inclined."

At that moment there was a movement over in the direction of the
farmhouse, and they beheld the straggler, the man who had been
arrested as a spy, come forth, free, accompanied only by a single
officer. He had likely had papers to show, or had trumped up a story
of some kind, for they were simply expelling him from the camp. In the
darkening twilight, and at the distance they were, they could not make
him out distinctly, only a big, square-shouldered fellow with a rough
shock of reddish hair. And yet Maurice gave vent to an exclamation of
surprise.

"Honore! look there. If one wouldn't swear he was the Prussian--you
know, Goliah!"

The name made the artilleryman start as if he had been shot; he
strained his blazing eyes to follow the receding shape. Goliah
Steinberg, the journeyman butcher, the man who had set him and his
father by the ears, who had stolen from him his Silvine; the whole
base, dirty, miserable story, from which he had not yet ceased to
suffer! He would have run after, would have caught him by the throat
and strangled him, but the man had already crossed the line of stacked
muskets, was moving off and vanishing in the darkness.

"Oh!" he murmured, "Goliah! no, it can't be he. He is down yonder,
fighting on the other side. If I ever come across him--"

He shook his fist with an air of menace at the dusky horizon, at the
wide empurpled stretch of eastern sky that stood for Prussia in his
eyes. No one spoke; they heard the strains of retreat again, but very
distant now, away at the extreme end of the camp, blended and lost
among the hum of other indistinguishable sounds.

"_Fichtre_!" exclaimed Honore, "I shall have the pleasure of sleeping
on the soft side of a plank in the guard-house unless I make haste
back to roll-call. Good-night--adieu, everybody!"

And grasping Weiss by both his hands and giving them a hearty squeeze,
he strode swiftly away toward the slight elevation where the guns of
the reserves were parked, without again mentioning his father's name
or sending any word to Silvine, whose name lay at the end of his
tongue.

The minutes slipped away, and over toward the left, where the 2d
brigade lay, a bugle sounded. Another, near at hand, replied, and then
a third, in the remote distance, took up the strain. Presently there
was a universal blaring, far and near, throughout the camp, whereon
Gaude, the bugler of the company, took up his instrument. He was a
tall, lank, beardless, melancholy youth, chary of his words, saving
his breath for his calls, which he gave conscientiously, with the
vigor of a young hurricane.

Forthwith Sergeant Sapin, a ceremonious little man with large vague
eyes, stepped forward and began to call the roll. He rattled off the
names in a thin, piping voice, while the men, who had come up and
ranged themselves in front of him, responded in accents of varying
pitch, from the deep rumble of the violoncello to the shrill note of
the piccolo. But there came a hitch in the proceedings.

"Lapoulle!" shouted the sergeant, calling the name a second time with
increased emphasis.

There was no response, and Jean rushed off to the place where Private
Lapoulle, egged on by his comrades, was industriously trying to fan
the refractory fuel into a blaze; flat on his stomach before the pile
of blackening, spluttering wood, his face resembling an underdone
beefsteak, the warrior was now propelling dense clouds of smoke
horizontally along the surface of the plain.

"Thunder and ouns! Quit that, will you!" yelled Jean, "and come and
answer to your name."

Lapoulle rose to his feet with a dazed look on his face, then appeared
to grasp the situation and yelled: "Present!" in such stentorian tones
that Loubet, pretending to be upset by the concussion, sank to the
ground in a sitting posture. Pache had finished mending his trousers
and answered in a voice that was barely audible, that sounded more
like the mumbling of a prayer. Chouteau, not even troubling himself to
rise, grunted his answer unconcernedly and turned over on his side.

Lieutenant Rochas, the officer of the guard, was meantime standing a
few steps away, motionlessly awaiting the conclusion of the ceremony.
When Sergeant Sapin had finished calling the roll and came up to
report that all were present, the officer, with a glance at Weiss, who
was still conversing with Maurice, growled from under his mustache:

"Yes, and one over. What is that civilian doing here?"

"He has the colonel's pass, Lieutenant," explained Jean, who had heard
the question.

Rochas made no reply; he shrugged his shoulders disapprovingly and
resumed his round among the company streets while waiting for taps to
sound. Jean, stiff and sore after his day's march, went and sat down a
little way from Maurice, whose murmured words fell indistinctly upon
his unlistening ear, for he, too, had vague, half formed reflections
of his own that were stirring sluggishly in the recesses of his muddy,
torpid mind.

Maurice was a believer in war in the abstract; he considered it one of
the necessary evils, essential to the very existence of nations. This
was nothing more than the logical sequence of his course in embracing
those theories of evolution which in those days exercised such a
potent influence on our young men of intelligence and education. Is
not life itself an unending battle? Does not all nature owe its being
to a series of relentless conflicts, the survival of the fittest, the
maintenance and renewal of force by unceasing activity; is not death a
necessary condition to young and vigorous life? And he remembered the
sensation of gladness that had filled his heart when first the thought
occurred to him that he might expiate his errors by enlisting and
defending his country on the frontier. It might be that France of the
plebiscite, while giving itself over to the Emperor, had not desired
war; he himself, only a week previously, had declared it to be a
culpable and idiotic measure. There were long discussions concerning
the right of a German prince to occupy the throne of Spain; as the
question gradually became more and more intricate and muddled it
seemed as if everyone must be wrong, no one right; so that it was
impossible to tell from which side the provocation came, and the only
part of the entire business that was clear to the eyes of all was the
inevitable, the fatal law which at a given moment hurls nation against
nation. Then Paris was convulsed from center to circumference; he
remembered that burning summer's night, the tossing, struggling human
tide that filled the boulevards, the bands of men brandishing torches
before the Hotel de Ville, and yelling: "On to Berlin! on to Berlin!"
and he seemed to hear the strains of the Marseillaise, sung by a
beautiful, stately woman with the face of a queen, wrapped in the
folds of a flag, from her elevation on the box of a coach. Was it all
a lie, was it true that the heart of Paris had not beaten then? And
then, as was always the case with him, that condition of nervous
excitation had been succeeded by long hours of doubt and disgust;
there were all the small annoyances of the soldier's life; his arrival
at the barracks, his examination by the adjutant, the fitting of his
uniform by the gruff sergeant, the malodorous bedroom with its fetid
air and filthy floor, the horseplay and coarse language of his new
comrades, the merciless drill that stiffened his limbs and benumbed
his brain. In a week's time, however, he had conquered his first
squeamishness, and from that time forth was comparatively contented
with his lot; and when the regiment was at last ordered forward to
Belfort the fever of enthusiasm had again taken possession of him.

For the first few days after they took the field Maurice was convinced
that their success was absolutely certain. The Emperor's plan appeared
to him perfectly clear: he would advance four hundred thousand men to
the left bank of the Rhine, pass the river before the Prussians had
completed their preparations, separate northern and southern Germany
by a vigorous inroad, and by means of a brilliant victory or two
compel Austria and Italy to join hands immediately with France. Had
there not been a short-lived rumor that that 7th corps of which his
regiment formed a part was to be embarked at Brest and landed in
Denmark, where it would create a diversion that would serve to
neutralize one of the Prussian armies? They would be taken by
surprise; the arrogant nation would be overrun in every direction and
crushed utterly within a few brief weeks. It would be a military
picnic, a holiday excursion from Strasbourg to Berlin. While they were
lying inactive at Belfort, however, his former doubts and fears
returned to him. To the 7th corps had been assigned the duty of
guarding the entrance to the Black Forest; it had reached its position
in a state of confusion that exceeded imagination, deficient in men,
material, everything. The 3d division was in Italy; the 2d cavalry
brigade had been halted at Lyons to check a threatened rising among
the people there, and three batteries had straggled off in some
direction--where, no one could say. Then their destitution in the way
of stores and supplies was something wonderful; the depots at Belfort,
which were to have furnished everything, were empty; not a sign of a
tent, no mess-kettles, no flannel belts, no hospital supplies, no
farriers' forges, not even a horse-shackle. The quartermaster's and
medical departments were without trained assistants. At the very last
moment it was discovered that thirty thousand rifles were practically
useless owing to the absence of some small pin or other
interchangeable mechanism about the breech-blocks, and the officer who
posted off in hot haste to Paris succeeded with the greatest
difficulty in securing five thousand of the missing implements. Their
inactivity, again, was another matter that kept him on pins and
needles; why did they idle away their time for two weeks? why did they
not advance? He saw clearly that each day of delay was a mistake that
could never be repaired, a chance of victory gone. And if the plan of
campaign that he had dreamed of was clear and precise, its manner of
execution was most lame and impotent, a fact of which he was to learn
a great deal more later on and of which he had then only a faint and
glimmering perception: the seven army corps dispersed along the
extended frontier line _en echelon_, from Metz to Bitche and from
Bitche to Belfort; the many regiments and squadrons that had been
recruited up to only half-strength or less, so that the four hundred
and thirty thousand men on paper melted away to two hundred and thirty
thousand at the outside; the jealousies among the generals, each of
whom thought only of securing for himself a marshal's baton, and gave
no care to supporting his neighbor; the frightful lack of foresight,
mobilization and concentration being carried on simultaneously in
order to gain time, a process that resulted in confusion worse
confounded; a system, in a word, of dry rot and slow paralysis, which,
commencing with the head, with the Emperor himself, shattered in
health and lacking in promptness of decision, could not fail
ultimately to communicate itself to the whole army, disorganizing it
and annihilating its efficiency, leading it into disaster from which
it had not the means of extricating itself. And yet, over and above
the dull misery of that period of waiting, in the intuitive,
shuddering perception of what must infallibly happen, his certainty
that they must be victors in the end remained unimpaired.

On the 3d of August the cheerful news had been given to the public of
the victory of Sarrebruck, fought and won the day before. It could
scarcely be called a great victory, but the columns of the newspapers
teemed with enthusiastic gush; the invasion of Germany was begun, it
was the first step in their glorious march to triumph, and the little
Prince Imperial, who had coolly stooped and picked up a bullet from
the battlefield, then commenced to be celebrated in legend. Two days
later, however, when intelligence came of the surprise and defeat at
Wissembourg, every mouth was opened to emit a cry of rage and
distress. That five thousand men, caught in a trap, had faced
thirty-five thousand Prussians all one long summer day, that was not
a circumstance to daunt the courage of anyone; it simply called for
vengeance. Yes, the leaders had doubtless been culpably lacking in
vigilance and were to be censured for their want of foresight, but
that would soon be mended; MacMahon had sent for the 1st division of
the 7th corps, the 1st corps would be supported by the 5th, and the
Prussians must be across the Rhine again by that time, with the
bayonets of our infantry at their backs to accelerate their movement.
And so, beneath the deep, dim vault of heaven, the thought of the
battle that must have raged that day, the feverish impatience with
which the tidings were awaited, the horrible feeling of suspense that
pervaded the air about them, spread from man to man and became each
minute more tense and unendurable.

Maurice was just then saying to Weiss:

"Ah! we have certainly given them a righteous good drubbing to-day."

Weiss made no reply save to nod his head with an air of anxiety. His
gaze was directed toward the Rhine, on that Orient region where now
the night had settled down in earnest, like a wall of blackness,
concealing strange forms and shapes of mystery. The concluding strains
of the bugles for roll-call had been succeeded by a deep silence,
which had descended upon the drowsy camp and was only broken now and
then by the steps and voices of some wakeful soldiers. A light had
been lit--it looked like a twinkling star--in the main room of the
farmhouse where the staff, which is supposed never to sleep, was
awaiting the telegrams that came in occasionally, though as yet they
were undecided. And the green wood fire, now finally left to itself,
was still emitting its funereal wreaths of dense black smoke, which
drifted in the gentle breeze over the unsleeping farmhouse, obscuring
the early stars in the heavens above.

"A drubbing!" Weiss at last replied, "God grant it may be so!"

Jean, still seated a few steps away, pricked up his ears, while
Lieutenant Rochas, noticing that the wish was attended by a doubt,
stopped to listen.

"What!" Maurice rejoined, "have you not confidence? can you believe
that defeat is possible?"

His brother-in-law silenced him with a gesture; his hands were
trembling with agitation, his kindly pleasant face was pale and bore
an expression of deep distress.

"Defeat, ah! Heaven preserve us from that! You know that I was born in
this country; my grandfather and grandmother were murdered by the
Cossacks in 1814, and whenever I think of invasion it makes me clench
my fist and grit my teeth; I could go through fire and flood, like a
trooper, in my shirt sleeves! Defeat--no, no! I cannot, I will not
believe it possible."

He became calmer, allowing his arms to fall by his side in
discouragement.

"But my mind is not easy, do you see. I know Alsace; I was born there;
I am just off a business trip through the country, and we civilians
have opportunities of seeing many things that the generals persist in
ignoring, although they have them thrust beneath their very eyes. Ah,
_we_ wanted war with Prussia as badly as anyone; for a long, long time
we have been waiting patiently for a chance to pay off old scores, but
that did not prevent us from being on neighborly terms with the people
in Baden and Bavaria; every one of us, almost, has friends or
relatives across the Rhine. It was our belief that they felt like us
and would not be sorry to humble the intolerable insolence of the
Prussians. And now, after our long period of uncomplaining
expectation, for the past two weeks we have seen things going from bad
to worse, and it vexes and terrifies us. Since the declaration of war
the enemy's horse have been suffered to come among us, terrorizing the
villages, reconnoitering the country, cutting the telegraph wires.
Baden and Bavaria are rising; immense bodies of troops are being
concentrated in the Palatinate; information reaches us from every
quarter, from the great fairs and markets, that our frontier is
threatened, and when the citizens, the mayors of the communes, take
the alarm at last and hurry off to tell your officers what they know,
those gentlemen shrug their shoulders and reply: Those things spring
from the imagination of cowards; there is no enemy near here. And when
there is not an hour to lose, days and days are wasted. What are they
waiting for? To give the whole German nation time to concentrate on
the other bank of the river?"

His words were uttered in a low, mournful, voice, as if he were
reciting to himself a story that had long occupied his thoughts.

"Ah! Germany, I know her too well; and the terrible part of the
business is that you soldiers seem to know no more about her than you
do about China. You must remember my cousin Gunther, Maurice, the
young man, who came to pay me a flying visit at Sedan last spring. His
mother is a sister of my mother, and married a Berliner; the young man
is a German out and out; he detests everything French. He is a captain
in the 5th Prussian corps. I accompanied him to the railway station
that night, and he said to me in his sharp, peremptory way: 'If France
declares war on us, she will be soundly whipped!' I can hear his words
ringing in my ears yet."

Forthwith, Lieutenant Rochas, who had managed to contain himself until
then, not without some difficulty, stepped forward in a towering
rage. He was a tall, lean individual of about fifty, with a long,
weather-beaten, and wrinkled face; his inordinately long nose, curved
like the beak of a bird of prey, over a strong but well-shaped mouth,
concealed by a thick, bristling mustache that was beginning to be
touched with silver. And he shouted in a voice of thunder:

"See here, you, sir! what yarns are those that you are retailing to
dishearten my men?"

Jean did not interfere with his opinion, but he thought that the last
speaker was right, for he, too, while beginning to be conscious of the
protracted delay, and the general confusion in their affairs, had
never had the slightest doubt about that terrible thrashing they were
certain to give the Prussians. There could be no question about the
matter, for was not that the reason of their being there?

"But I am not trying to dishearten anyone, Lieutenant," Weiss answered
in astonishment. "Quite the reverse; I am desirous that others should
know what I know, because then they will be able to act with their
eyes open. Look here! that Germany of which we were speaking--"

And he went on in his clear, demonstrative way to explain the reason
of his fears: how Prussia had increased her resources since Sadowa;
how the national movement had placed her at the head of the other
German states, a mighty empire in process of formation and
rejuvenation, with the constant hope and desire for unity as the
incentive to their irresistible efforts; the system of compulsory
military service, which made them a nation of trained soldiers,
provided with the most effective arms of modern invention, with
generals who were masters in the art of strategy, proudly mindful
still of the crushing defeat they had administered to Austria; the
intelligence, the moral force that resided in that army, commanded as
it was almost exclusively by young generals, who in turn looked up to
a commander-in-chief who seemed destined to revolutionize the art of
war, whose prudence and foresight were unparalleled, whose correctness
of judgment was a thing to wonder at. And in contrast to that picture
of Germany he pointed to France: the Empire sinking into senile
decrepitude, sanctioned by the plebiscite, but rotten at its
foundation, destroying liberty, and therein stifling every idea of
patriotism, ready to give up the ghost as soon as it should cease to
satisfy the unworthy appetites to which it had given birth; then there
was the army, brave, it was true, as was to be expected from men of
their race, and covered with Crimean and Italian laurels, but vitiated
by the system that permitted men to purchase substitutes for a money
consideration, abandoned to the antiquated methods of African routine,
too confident of victory to keep abreast with the more perfect science
of modern times; and, finally, the generals, men for the most part not
above mediocrity, consumed by petty rivalries, some of them of an
ignorance beyond all belief, and at their head the Emperor, an ailing,
vacillating man, deceiving himself and everyone with whom he had
dealings in that desperate venture on which they were embarking, into
which they were all rushing blindfold, with no preparation worthy of
the name, with the panic and confusion of a flock of sheep on its way
to the shambles.

Rochas stood listening, open-mouthed, and with staring eyes; his
terrible nose dilated visibly. Then suddenly his lantern jaws parted
to emit an obstreperous, Homeric peal of laughter.

"What are you giving us there, you? what do you mean by all that silly
lingo? Why, there is not the first word of sense in your whole
harangue--it is too idiotic to deserve an answer. Go and tell those
things to the recruits, but don't tell them to me; no! not to me, who
have seen twenty-seven years of service."

And he gave himself a thump on the breast with his doubled fist. He
was the son of a master mason who had come from Limousin to Paris,
where the son, not taking kindly to the paternal handicraft, had
enlisted at the age of eighteen. He had been a soldier of fortune and
had carried the knapsack, was corporal in Africa, sergeant in the
Crimea, and after Solferino had been made lieutenant, having devoted
fifteen years of laborious toil and heroic bravery to obtaining that
rank, and was so illiterate that he had no chance of ever getting his
captaincy.

"You, sir, who think you know everything, let me tell you a thing you
don't know. Yes, at Mazagran I was scarce nineteen years old, and
there were twenty-three of us, not a living soul more, and for more
than four days we held out against twelve thousand Arabs. Yes, indeed!
for years and years, if you had only been with us out there in Africa,
sir, at Mascara, at Biskra, at Dellys, after that in Grand Kabylia,
after that again at Laghouat, you would have seen those dirty niggers
run like deer as soon as we showed our faces. And at Sebastopol, sir,
_fichtre_! you wouldn't have said it was the pleasantest place in the
world. The wind blew fit to take a man's hair out by the roots, it was
cold enough to freeze a brass monkey, and those beggars kept us on a
continual dance with their feints and sorties. Never mind; we made
them dance in the end; we danced them into the big hot frying pan, and
to quick music, too! And Solferino, you were not there, sir! then why
do you speak of it? Yes, at Solferino, where it was so hot, although I
suppose more rain fell there that day than you have seen in your whole
life, at Solferino, where we had our little brush with the Austrians,
it would have warmed your heart to see how they vanished before our
bayonets, riding one another down in their haste to get away from us,
as if their coat tails were on fire!"

He laughed the gay, ringing laugh of the daredevil French soldier; he
seemed to expand and dilate with satisfaction. It was the old story:
the French trooper going about the world with his girl on his arm and
a glass of good wine in his hand; thrones upset and kingdoms conquered
in the singing of a merry song. Given a corporal and four men, and
great armies would bite the dust. His voice suddenly sank to a low,
rumbling bass:

"What! whip France? We, whipped by those Prussian pigs, we!" He came
up to Weiss and grasped him violently by the lapel of his coat. His
entire long frame, lean as that of the immortal Knight Errant, seemed
to breathe defiance and unmitigated contempt for the foe, whoever he
might be, regardless of time, place, or any other circumstance.
"Listen to what I tell you, sir. If the Prussians dare to show their
faces here, we will kick them home again. You hear me? we will kick
them from here to Berlin." His bearing and manner were superb; the
serene tranquillity of the child, the candid conviction of the
innocent who knows nothing and fears nothing. "_Parbleu_! it is so,
because it is so, and that's all there is about it!"

Weiss, stunned and almost convinced, made haste to declare that he
wished for nothing better. As for Maurice, who had prudently held his
tongue, not venturing to express an opinion in presence of his
superior officer, he concluded by joining in the other's merriment; he
warmed the cockles of his heart, that devil of a man, whom he
nevertheless considered rather stupid. Jean, too, had nodded his
approval at every one of the lieutenant's assertions. He had also been
at Solferino, where it rained so hard. And that showed what it was to
have a tongue in one's head and know how to use it. If all the leaders
had talked like that they would not be in such a mess, and there would
be camp-kettles and flannel belts in abundance.

It was quite dark by this time, and Rochas continued to gesticulate
and brandish his long arms in the obscurity. His historical studies
had been confined to a stray volume of Napoleonic memoirs that had
found its way to his knapsack from a peddler's wagon. His excitement
refused to be pacified and all his book-learning burst from his lips
in a torrent of eloquence:

"We flogged the Austrians at Castiglione, at Marengo, at Austerlitz,
at Wagram; we flogged the Prussians at Eylau, at Jena, at Lutzen; we
flogged the Russians at Friedland, at Smolensk and at the Moskowa; we
flogged Spain and England everywhere; all creation flogged, flogged,
flogged, up and down, far and near, at home and abroad, and now you
tell me that it is we who are to take the flogging! Why, pray tell me?
How? Is the world coming to an end?" He drew his tall form up higher
still and raised his arm aloft, like the staff of a battle-flag. "Look
you, there has been a fight to-day, down yonder, and we are waiting
for the news. Well! I will tell you what the news is--I will tell you,
I! We have flogged the Prussians, flogged them until they didn't know
whether they were a-foot or a-horseback, flogged them to powder, so
that they had to be swept up in small pieces!"

At that moment there passed over the camp, beneath the somber heavens,
a loud, wailing cry. Was it the plaint of some nocturnal bird? Or was
it a mysterious voice, reaching them from some far-distant field of
carnage, ominous of disaster? The whole camp shuddered, lying there in
the shadows, and the strained, tense sensation of expectant anxiety
that hung, miasma-like, in the air became more strained, more
feverish, as they waited for telegrams that seemed as if they would
never come. In the distance, at the farmhouse, the candle that lighted
the dreary watches of the staff burned up more brightly, with an
erect, unflickering flame, as if it had been of wax instead of tallow.

But it was ten o'clock, and Gaude, rising to his feet from the ground
where he had been lost in the darkness, sounded taps, the first in all
the camp. Other bugles, far and near, took up the strain, and it
passed away in the distance with a dying, melancholy wail, as if the
angel of slumber had already brushed with his wings the weary men. And
Weiss, who had lingered there so late, embraced Maurice
affectionately; courage, and hope! he would kiss Henriette for her
brother and would have many things to tell uncle Fouchard when they
met. Then, just as he was turning to go, a rumor began to circulate,
accompanied by the wildest excitement. A great victory had been won by
Marshal MacMahon, so the report ran; the Crown Prince of Prussia a
prisoner, with twenty-five thousand men, the enemy's army repulsed and
utterly destroyed, its guns and baggage abandoned to the victors.

"Didn't I tell you so!" shouted Rochas, in his most thundering voice.
Then, running after Weiss, who, light of heart, was hastening to get
back to Mulhausen: "To Berlin, sir, and we'll kick them every step of
the way!"

A quarter of an hour later came another dispatch, announcing that the
army had been compelled to evacuate Woerth and was retreating. Ah,
what a night was that! Rochas, overpowered by sleep, wrapped his cloak
about him, threw himself down on the bare ground, as he had done many
a time before. Maurice and Jean sought the shelter of the tent, into
which were crowded, a confused tangle of arms and legs, Loubet,
Chouteau, Pache, and Lapoulle, their heads resting on their knapsacks.
There was room for six, provided they were careful how they disposed
of their legs. Loubet, by way of diverting his comrades and making
them forget their hunger, had labored for some time to convince
Lapoulle that there was to be a ration of poultry issued the next
morning, but they were too sleepy to keep up the joke; they were
snoring, and the Prussians might come, it was all one to them. Jean
lay for a moment without stirring, pressing close against Maurice;
notwithstanding his fatigue he was unable to sleep; he could not help
thinking of the things that gentleman had said, how all Germany was up
in arms and preparing to pour her devastating hordes across the Rhine;
and he felt that his tent-mate was not sleeping, either--was thinking
of the same things as he. Then the latter turned over impatiently and
moved away, and the other understood that his presence was not
agreeable. There was a lack of sympathy between the peasant and the
man of culture, an enmity of caste and education that amounted almost
to physical aversion. The former, however, experienced a sensation of
shame and sadness at this condition of affairs; he shrinkingly drew in
his limbs so as to occupy as small a space as possible, endeavoring to
escape from the hostile scorn that he was vaguely conscious of in his
neighbor. But although the night wind without had blown up chill, the
crowded tent was so stifling hot and close that Maurice, in a fever of
exasperation, raised the flap, darted out, and went and stretched
himself on the ground a few steps away. That made Jean still more
unhappy, and in his half-sleeping, half-waking condition he had
troubled dreams, made up of a regretful feeling that no one cared for
him, and a vague apprehension of impending calamity of which he seemed
to hear the steps approaching with measured tread from the shadowy,
mysterious depths of the unknown.

Two hours passed, and all the camp lay lifeless, motionless under the
oppression of the deep, weird darkness, that was instinct with some
dreadful horror as yet without a name. Out of the sea of blackness
came stifled sighs and moans; from an invisible tent was heard
something that sounded like the groan of a dying man, the fitful dream
of some tired soldier. Then there were other sounds that to the
strained ear lost their familiarity and became menaces of approaching
evil; the neighing of a charger, the clank of a sword, the hurrying
steps of some belated prowler. And all at once, off toward the
canteens, a great light flamed up. The entire front was brilliantly
illuminated; the long, regularly aligned array of stacks stood out
against the darkness, and the ruddy blaze, reflected from the
burnished barrels of the rifles, assumed the hue of new-shed blood;
the erect, stern figures of the sentries became visible in the fiery
glow. Could it be the enemy, whose presence the leaders had been
talking of for the past two days, and on whose trail they had come out
from Belfort to Mulhausen? Then a shower of sparks rose high in the
air and the conflagration subsided. It was only the pile of green wood
that had been so long the object of Loubet's and Lapoulle's care, and
which, after having smoldered for many hours, had at last flashed up
like a fire of straw.

Jean, alarmed by the vivid light, hastily left the tent and was near
falling over Maurice, who had raised himself on his elbow. The
darkness seemed by contrast more opaque than it had been before, and
the two men lay stretched on the bare ground, a few paces from each
other. All that they could descry before them in the dense shadows of
the night was the window of the farm-house, faintly illuminated by the
dim candle, which shone with a sinister gleam, as if it were doing
duty by the bedside of a corpse. What time was it? two o'clock, or
three, perhaps. It was plain that the staff had not made acquaintance
with their beds that night. They could hear Bourgain-Desfeuilles'
loud, disputatious voice; the general was furious that his rest should
be broken thus, and it required many cigars and toddies to pacify him.
More telegrams came in; things must be going badly; silhouettes of
couriers, faintly drawn against the uncertain sky line, could be
descried, galloping madly. There was the sound of scuffling steps,
imprecations, a smothered cry as of a man suddenly stricken down,
followed by a blood-freezing silence. What could it be? Was it the
end? A breath, chill and icy as that from the lips of death, had
passed over the camp that lay lost in slumber and agonized
expectation.

It was at that moment that Jean and Maurice recognized in the tall,
thin, spectral form that passed swiftly by, their colonel, de Vineuil.
He was accompanied by the regimental surgeon, Major Bouroche, a large
man with a leonine face They were conversing in broken, unfinished
sentences, whisperingly, such a conversation as we sometimes hear in
dreams.

"It came by the way of Basle. Our 1st division all cut to pieces. The
battle lasted twelve hours; the whole army is retreating--"

The colonel's specter halted and called by name another specter, which
came lightly forward; it was an elegant ghost, faultless in uniform
and equipment.

"Is that you, Beaudoin?"

"Yes, Colonel."

"Ah! bad news, my friend, terrible news! MacMahon beaten at
Froeschwiller, Frossard beaten at Spickeren, and between them de
Failly, held in check where he could give no assistance. At
Froeschwiller it was a single corps against an entire army; they
fought like heroes. It was a complete rout, a panic, and now France
lies open to their advance--"

His tears choked further utterance, the words came from his lips
unintelligible, and the three shadows vanished, swallowed up in the
obscurity.

Maurice rose to his feet; a shudder ran through his frame.

"Good God!" he stammeringly exclaimed.

And he could think of nothing else to say, while Jean, in whose bones
the very marrow seemed to be congealing, murmured in his resigned
manner:

"Ah, worse luck! The gentleman, that relative of yours, was right all
the same in saying that they are stronger than we."

Maurice was beside himself, could have strangled him. The Prussians
stronger than the French! The thought made his blood boil. The peasant
calmly and stubbornly added:

"That don't matter, mind you. A man don't give up whipped at the first
knock-down he gets. We shall have to keep hammering away at them all
the same."

But a tall figure arose before them. They recognized Rochas, still
wrapped in his long mantle, whom the fugitive sounds about him, or it
may have been the intuition of disaster, had awakened from his uneasy
slumber. He questioned them, insisted on knowing all. When he was
finally brought, with much difficulty, to see how matters stood,
stupor, immense and profound, filled his boyish, inexpressive eyes.
More than ten times in succession he repeated:

"Beaten! How beaten? Why beaten?"

And that was the calamity that had lain hidden in the blackness of
that night of agony. And now the pale dawn was appearing at the
portals of the east, heralding a day heavy with bitterest sorrow and
striking white upon the silent tents, in one of which began to be
visible the ashy faces of Loubet and Lapoulle, of Chouteau and of
Pache, who were snoring still with wide-open mouths. Forth from the
thin mists that were slowly creeping upward from the river off yonder
in the distance came the new day, bringing with it mourning and
affliction.



                                II.

About eight o'clock the sun dispersed the heavy clouds, and the broad,
fertile plain about Mulhausen lay basking in the warm, bright light of
a perfect August Sunday. From the camp, now awake and bustling with
life, could be heard the bells of the neighboring parishes, pealing
merrily in the limpid air. The cheerful Sunday following so close on
ruin and defeat had its own gayety, its sky was as serene as on a
holiday.

Gaude suddenly took his bugle and gave the call that announced the
distribution of rations, whereat Loubet appeared astonished. What was
it? What did it mean? Were they going to give out chickens, as he had
promised Lapoulle the night before? He had been born in the Halles, in
the Rue de la Cossonerie, was the unacknowledged son of a small
huckster, had enlisted "for the money there was in it," as he said,
after having been a sort of Jack-of-all-trades, and was now the
gourmand, the epicure of the company, continually nosing after
something good to eat. But he went off to see what was going on, while
Chouteau, the company artist, house-painter by trade at Belleville,
something of a dandy and a revolutionary republican, exasperated
against the government for having called him back to the colors after
he had served his time, was cruelly chaffing Pache, whom he had
discovered on his knees, behind the tent, preparing to say his
prayers. There was a pious man for you! Couldn't he oblige him,
Chouteau, by interceding with God to give him a hundred thousand
francs or some such small trifle? But Pache, an insignificant little
fellow with a head running up to a point, who had come to them from
some hamlet in the wilds of Picardy, received the other's raillery
with the uncomplaining gentleness of a martyr. He was the butt of the
squad, he and Lapoulle, the colossal brute who had got his growth in
the marshes of the Sologne, so utterly ignorant of everything that on
the day of his joining the regiment he had asked his comrades to show
him the King. And although the terrible tidings of the disaster at
Froeschwiller had been known throughout the camp since early morning,
the four men laughed, joked, and went about their usual tasks with the
indifference of so many machines.

But there arose a murmur of pleased surprise. It was occasioned by
Jean, the corporal, coming back from the commissary's, accompanied by
Maurice, with a load of firewood. So, they were giving out wood at
last, the lack of which the night before had deprived the men of their
soup! Twelve hours behind time, only!

"Hurrah for the commissary!" shouted Chouteau.

"Never mind, so long as it is here," said Loubet. "Ah! won't I make
you a bully _pot-au-feu_!"

He was usually quite willing to take charge of the mess arrangements,
and no one was inclined to say him nay, for he cooked like an angel.
On those occasions, however, Lapoulle would be given the most
extraordinary commissions to execute.

"Go and look after the champagne--Go out and buy some truffles--"

On that morning a queer conceit flashed across his mind, such a
conceit as only a Parisian _gamin_ contemplating the mystification of
a greenhorn is capable of entertaining:

"Look alive there, will you! Come, hand me the chicken."

"The chicken! what chicken, where?"

"Why, there on the ground at your feet, stupid; the chicken that I
promised you last night, and that the corporal has just brought in."

He pointed to a large, white, round stone, and Lapoulle, speechless
with wonder, finally picked it up and turned it about between his
fingers.

"A thousand thunders! Will you wash the chicken! More yet; wash its
claws, wash its neck! Don't be afraid of the water, lazybones!"

And for no reason at all except the joke of it, because the prospect
of the soup made him gay and sportive, he tossed the stone along with
the meat into the kettle filled with water.

"That's what will give the bouillon a flavor! Ah, you didn't know
that, _sacree andouille_! You shall have the pope's nose; you'll see
how tender it is."

The squad roared with laughter at sight of Lapoulle's face, who
swallowed everything and was licking his chops in anticipation of the
feast. That funny dog, Loubet, he was the man to cure one of the dumps
if anybody could! And when the fire began to crackle in the sunlight,
and the kettle commenced to hum and bubble, they ranged themselves
reverently about it in a circle with an expression of cheerful
satisfaction on their faces, watching the meat as it danced up and
down and sniffing the appetizing odor that it exhaled. They were as
hungry as a pack of wolves, and the prospect of a square meal made
them forgetful of all beside. They had had to take a thrashing, but
that was no reason why a man should not fill his stomach. Fires were
blazing and pots were boiling from one end of the camp to the other,
and amid the silvery peals of the bells that floated from Mulhausen
steeples mirth and jollity reigned supreme.

But just as the clocks were on the point of striking nine a commotion
arose and spread among the men; officers came running up, and
Lieutenant Rochas, to whom Captain Beaudoin had come and communicated
an order, passed along in front of the tents of his platoon and gave
the command:

"Pack everything! Get yourselves ready to march!"

"But the soup?"

"You will have to wait for your soup until some other day; we are to
march at once."

Gaude's bugle rang out in imperious accents. Then everywhere was
consternation; dumb, deep rage was depicted on every countenance.
What, march on an empty stomach! Could they not wait a little hour
until the soup was ready! The squad resolved that their bouillon
should not go to waste, but it was only so much hot water, and the
uncooked meat was like leather to their teeth. Chouteau growled and
grumbled, almost mutinously. Jean had to exert all his authority to
make the men hasten their preparations. What was the great urgency
that made it necessary for them to hurry off like that? What good was
there in hazing people about in that style, without giving them time
to regain their strength? And Maurice shrugged his shoulders
incredulously when someone said in his hearing that they were about to
march against the Prussians and settle old scores with them. In less
than fifteen minutes the tents were struck, folded, and strapped upon
the knapsacks, the stacks were broken, and all that remained of the
camp was the dying embers of the fires on the bare ground.

There were reasons, of importance that had induced General Douay's
determination to retreat immediately. The despatch from the
_sous-prefet_ at Schelestadt, now three days old, was confirmed; there
were telegrams that the fires of the Prussians, threatening
Markolsheim, had again been seen, and again, another telegram informed
them that one of the enemy's army corps was crossing the Rhine at
Huningue: the intelligence was definite and abundant; cavalry and
artillery had been sighted in force, infantry had been seen, hastening
from every direction to their point of concentration. Should they wait
an hour the enemy would surely be in their rear and retreat on Belfort
would be impossible. And now, in the shock consequent on defeat, after
Wissembourg and Froeschwiller, the general, feeling himself
unsupported in his exposed position at the front, had nothing left to
do but fall back in haste, and the more so that what news he had
received that morning made the situation look even worse than it had
appeared the night before.

The staff had gone on ahead at a sharp trot, spurring their horses in
the fear lest the Prussians might get into Altkirch before them.
General Bourgain-Desfeuilles, aware that he had a hard day's work
before him, had prudently taken Mulhausen in his way, where he
fortified himself with a copious breakfast, denouncing in language
more forcible than elegant such hurried movements. And Mulhausen
watched with sorrowful eyes the officers trooping through her streets;
as the news of the retreat spread the citizens streamed out of their
houses, deploring the sudden departure of the army for whose coming
they had prayed so earnestly: they were to be abandoned, then, and all
the costly merchandise that was stacked up in the railway station was
to become the spoil of the enemy; within a few hours their pretty city
was to be in the hands of foreigners? The inhabitants of the villages,
too, and of isolated houses, as the staff clattered along the country
roads, planted themselves before their doors with wonder and
consternation depicted on their faces. What! that army, that a short
while before they had seen marching forth to battle, was now retiring
without having fired a shot? The leaders were gloomy, urged their
chargers forward and refused to answer questions, as if ruin and
disaster were galloping at their heels. It was true, then, that the
Prussians had annihilated the army and were streaming into France from
every direction, like the angry waves of a stream that had burst its
barriers? And already to the frightened peasants the air seemed filled
with the muttering of distant invasion, rising louder and more
threatening at every instant, and already they were beginning to
forsake their little homes and huddle their poor belongings into
farm-carts; entire families might be seen fleeing in single file along
the roads that were choked with the retreating cavalry.

In the hurry and confusion of the movement the 106th was brought to a
halt at the very first kilometer of their march, near the bridge over
the canal of the Rhone and Rhine. The order of march had been badly
planned and still more badly executed, so that the entire 2d division
was collected there in a huddle, and the way was so narrow, barely
more than sixteen feet in width, that the passage of the troops was
obstructed.

Two hours elapsed, and still the 106th stood there watching the
seemingly endless column that streamed along before their eyes. In the
end the men, standing at rest with ordered arms, began to become
impatient. Jean's squad, whose position happened to be opposite a
break in the line of poplars where the sun had a fair chance at them,
felt themselves particularly aggrieved.

"Guess we must be the rear-guard," Loubet observed with good-natured
raillery.

But Chouteau scolded: "They don't value us at a brass farthing, and
that's why they let us wait this way. We were here first; why didn't
we take the road while it was empty?"

And as they began to discern more clearly beyond the canal, across the
wide fertile plain, along the level roads lined with hop-poles and
fields of ripening grain, the movement of the troops retiring along
the same way by which they had advanced but yesterday, gibes and jeers
rose on the air in a storm of angry ridicule.

"Ah, we are taking the back track," Chouteau continued. "I wonder if
that is the advance against the enemy that they have been dinning in
our ears of late! Strikes me as rather queer! No sooner do we get into
camp than we turn tail and make off, never even stopping to taste our
soup."

The derisive laughter became louder, and Maurice, who was next to
Chouteau in the ranks, took sides with him. Why could they not have
been allowed to cook their soup and eat it in peace, since they had
done nothing for the last two hours but stand there in the road like
so many sticks? Their hunger was making itself felt again; they had a
resentful recollection of the savory contents of the kettle dumped out
prematurely upon the ground, and they could see no necessity for this
headlong retrograde movement, which appeared to them idiotic and
cowardly. What chicken-livers they must be, those generals!

But Lieutenant Rochas came along and blew up Sergeant Sapin for not
keeping his men in better order, and Captain Beaudoin, very prim and
starchy, attracted by the disturbance, appeared upon the scene.

"Silence in the ranks!"

Jean, an old soldier of the army of Italy who knew what discipline
was, looked in silent amazement at Maurice, who appeared to be amused
by Chouteau's angry sneers; and he wondered how it was that a
_monsieur_, a young man of his acquirements, could listen approvingly
to things--they might be true, all the same--but that should not be
blurted out in public. The army would never accomplish much, that was
certain, if the privates were to take to criticizing the generals and
giving their opinions.

At last, after another hour's waiting, the order was given for the
106th to advance, but the bridge was still so encumbered by the rear
of the division that the greatest confusion prevailed. Several
regiments became inextricably mingled, and whole companies were swept
away and compelled to cross whether they would or no, while others,
crowded off to the side of the road, had to stand there and mark time;
and by way of putting the finishing touch to the muddle; a squadron of
cavalry insisted on passing, pressing back into the adjoining fields
the stragglers that the infantry had scattered along the roadside. At
the end of an hour's march the column had entirely lost its formation
and was dragging its slow length along, a mere disorderly rabble.

Thus it happened that Jean found himself away at the rear, lost in a
sunken road, together with his squad, whom he had been unwilling to
abandon. The 106th had disappeared, nor was there a man or an officer
of their company in sight. About them were soldiers, singly or in
little groups, from all the regiments, a weary, foot-sore crew,
knocked up at the beginning of the retreat, each man straggling on at
his own sweet will whithersoever the path that he was on might chance
to lead him. The sun beat down fiercely, the heat was stifling, and
the knapsack, loaded as it was with the tent and implements of every
description, made a terrible burden on the shoulders of the exhausted
men. To many of them the experience was an entirely new one, and the
heavy great-coats they wore seemed to them like vestments of lead. The
first to set an example for the others was a little pale faced soldier
with watery eyes; he drew beside the road and let his knapsack slide
off into the ditch, heaving a deep sigh as he did so, the long drawn
breath of a dying man who feels himself coming back to life.

"There's a man who knows what he is about," muttered Chouteau.

He still continued to plod along, however, his back bending beneath
its weary burden, but when he saw two others relieve themselves as the
first had done he could stand it no longer. "Ah! _zut_!" he exclaimed,
and with a quick upward jerk of the shoulder sent his kit rolling down
an embankment. Fifty pounds at the end of his backbone, he had had
enough of it, thank you! He was no beast of burden to lug that load
about.

Almost at the same moment Loubet followed his lead and incited
Lapoulle to do the same. Pache, who had made the sign of the cross at
every stone crucifix they came to, unbuckled the straps and carefully
deposited his load at the foot of a low wall, as if fully intending to
come back for it at some future time. And when Jean turned his head
for a look at his men he saw that every one of them had dropped his
burden except Maurice.

"Take up your knapsacks unless you want to have me put under arrest!"

But the men, although they did not mutiny as yet, were silent and
looked ugly; they kept advancing along the narrow road, pushing the
corporal before them.

"Will you take up your knapsacks! if you don't I will report you."

It was as if Maurice had been lashed with a whip across the face.
Report them! that brute of a peasant would report those poor devils
for easing their aching shoulders! And looking Jean defiantly in the
face, he, too, in an impulse of blind rage, slipped the buckles and
let his knapsack fall to the road.

"Very well," said the other in his quiet way, knowing that resistance
would be of no avail, "we will settle accounts to-night."

Maurice's feet hurt him abominably; the big, stiff shoes, to which he
was not accustomed, had chafed the flesh until the blood came. He was
not strong; his spinal column felt as if it were one long raw sore,
although the knapsack that had caused the suffering was no longer
there, and the weight of his piece, which he kept shifting from one
shoulder to the other, seemed as if it would drive all the breath from
his body. Great as his physical distress was, however, his moral agony
was greater still, for he was in the depths of one of those fits of
despair to which he was subject. At Paris the sum of his wrongdoing
had been merely the foolish outbreaks of "the other man," as he put
it, of his weak, boyish nature, capable of more serious delinquency
should he be subjected to temptation, but now, in this retreat that
was so like a rout, in which he was dragging himself along with weary
steps beneath a blazing sun, he felt all hope and courage vanishing
from his heart, he was but a beast in that belated, straggling herd
that filled the roads and fields. It was the reaction after the
terrible disasters at Wissembourg and Froeschwiller, the echo of the
thunder-clap that had burst in the remote distance, leagues and
leagues away, rattling at the heels of those panic-stricken men who
were flying before they had ever seen an enemy. What was there to hope
for now? Was it not all ended? They were beaten; all that was left
them was to lie down and die.

"It makes no difference," shouted Loubet, with the _blague_ of a child
of the Halles, "but this is not the Berlin road we are traveling, all
the same."

To Berlin! To Berlin! The cry rang in Maurice's ears, the yell of the
swarming mob that filled the boulevards on that midsummer night of
frenzied madness when he had determined to enlist. The gentle breeze
had become a devastating hurricane; there had been a terrific
explosion, and all the sanguine temper of his nation had manifested
itself in his absolute, enthusiastic confidence, which had vanished
utterly at the very first reverse, before the unreasoning impulse of
despair that was sweeping him away among those vagrant soldiers,
vanquished and dispersed before they had struck a stroke.

"This confounded blunderbuss must weigh a ton, I think," Loubet went
on. "This is fine music to march by!" And alluding to the sum he
received as substitute: "I don't care what people say, but fifteen
hundred 'balls' for a job like this is downright robbery. Just think
of the pipes he'll smoke, sitting by his warm fire, the stingy old
miser in whose place I'm going to get my brains knocked out!"

"As for me," growled Chouteau, "I had finished my time. I was going to
cut the service, and they keep me for their beastly war. Ah! true as I
stand here, I must have been born to bad luck to have got myself into
such a mess. And now the officers are going to let the Prussians knock
us about as they please, and we're dished and done for." He had been
swinging his piece to and fro in his hand; in his discouragement he
gave it a toss and landed it on the other side of the hedge. "Eh! get
you gone for a dirty bit of old iron!"

The musket made two revolutions in the air and fell into a furrow,
where it lay, long and motionless, reminding one somehow of a corpse.
Others soon flew to join it, and presently the field was filled with
abandoned arms, lying in long winrows, a sorrowful spectacle beneath
the blazing sky. It was an epidemic of madness, caused by the hunger
that was gnawing at their stomach, the shoes that galled their feet,
their weary march, the unexpected defeat that had brought the enemy
galloping at their heels. There was nothing more to be accomplished;
their leaders were looking out for themselves, the commissariat did
not even feed them; nothing but weariness and worriment; better to
leave the whole business at once, before it was begun. And what then?
why, the musket might go and keep the knapsack company; in view of the
work that was before them they might at least as well keep their arms
free. And all down the long line of stragglers that stretched almost
far as the eye could reach in the smooth and fertile country the
muskets flew through the air to the accompaniment of jeers and
laughter such as would have befitted the inmates of a lunatic asylum
out for a holiday.

Loubet, before parting with his, gave it a twirl as a drum-major does
his cane. Lapoulle, observing what all his comrades were doing, must
have supposed the performance to be some recent innovation in the
manual, and followed suit, while Pache, in the confused idea of duty
that he owed to his religious education, refused to do as the rest
were doing and was loaded with obloquy by Chouteau, who called him a
priest's whelp.

"Look at the sniveling papist! And all because his old peasant of a
mother used to make him swallow the holy wafer every Sunday in the
village church down there! Be off with you and go serve mass; a
man who won't stick with his comrades when they are right is a
poor-spirited cur."

Maurice toiled along dejectedly in silence, bowing his head beneath
the blazing sun. At every step he took he seemed to be advancing
deeper into a horrid, phantom-haunted nightmare; it was as if he saw a
yawning, gaping gulf before him toward which he was inevitably
tending; it meant that he was suffering himself to be degraded to the
level of the miserable beings by whom he was surrounded, that he was
prostituting his talents and his position as a man of education.

"Hold!" he said abruptly to Chouteau, "what you say is right; there is
truth in it."

And already he had deposited his musket upon a pile of stones, when
Jean, who had tried without success to check the shameful proceedings
of his men, saw what he was doing and hurried toward him.

"Take up your musket, at once! Do you hear me? take it up at once!"

Jean's face had flushed with sudden anger. Meekest and most pacific of
men, always prone to measures of conciliation, his eyes were now
blazing with wrath, his voice spoke with the thunders of authority.
His men had never before seen him in such a state, and they looked at
one another in astonishment.

"Take up your musket at once, or you will have me to deal with!"

Maurice was quivering with anger; he let fall one single word, into
which he infused all the insult that he had at command:

"Peasant!"

"Yes, that's just it; I am a peasant, while you, you, are a gentleman!
And it is for that reason that you are a pig! Yes! a dirty pig! I make
no bones of telling you of it."

Yells and cat-calls arose all around him, but the corporal continued
with extraordinary force and dignity:

"When a man has learning he shows it by his actions. If we are brutes
and peasants, you owe us the benefit of your example, since you know
more than we do. Take up your musket, or _Nom de Dieu!_ I will have
you shot the first halt we make."

Maurice was daunted; he stooped and raised the weapon in his hand.
Tears of rage stood in his eyes. He reeled like a drunken man as he
labored onward, surrounded by his comrades, who now were jeering at
him for having yielded. Ah, that Jean! he felt that he should never
cease to hate him, cut to the quick as he had been by that bitter
lesson, which he could not but acknowledge he had deserved. And when
Chouteau, marching at his side, growled: "When corporals are that way,
we just wait for a battle and blow a hole in 'em," the landscape
seemed red before his eyes, and he had a distinct vision of himself
blowing Jean's brains out from behind a wall.

But an incident occurred to divert their thoughts; Loubet noticed that
while the dispute was going on Pache had also abandoned his musket,
laying it down tenderly at the foot of an embankment. Why? What were
the reasons that had made him resist the example of his comrades in
the first place, and what were the reasons that influenced him now? He
probably could not have told himself, nor did he trouble his head
about the matter, chuckling inwardly with silent enjoyment, like a
schoolboy who, having long been held up as a model for his mates,
commits his first offense. He strode along with a self-contented,
rakish air, swinging his arms; and still along the dusty, sunlit
roads, between the golden grain and the fields of hops that succeeded
one another with tiresome monotony, the human tide kept pouring
onward; the stragglers, without arms or knapsacks, were now but a
shuffling, vagrant mob, a disorderly array of vagabonds and beggars,
at whose approach the frightened villagers barred their doors.

Something that happened just then capped the climax of Maurice's
misery. A deep, rumbling noise had for some time been audible in the
distance; it was the artillery, that had been the last to leave the
camp and whose leading guns now wheeled into sight around a bend in
the road, barely giving the footsore infantrymen time to seek safety
in the fields. It was an entire regiment of six batteries, and came up
in column, in splendid order, at a sharp trot, the colonel riding on
the flank at the center of the line, every officer at his post. The
guns went rattling, bounding by, accurately maintaining their
prescribed distances, each accompanied by its caisson, men and horses,
beautiful in the perfect symmetry of its arrangement; and in the 5th
battery Maurice recognized his cousin Honore. A very smart and
soldierly appearance the quartermaster-sergeant presented on horseback
in his position on the left hand of the forward driver, a good-looking
light-haired man, Adolphe by name, whose mount was a sturdy chestnut,
admirably matched with the mate that trotted at his side, while in his
proper place among the six men who were seated on the chests of the
gun and its caisson was the gunner, Louis, a small, dark man,
Adolphe's comrade; they constituted a team, as it is called, in
accordance with the rule of the service that couples a mounted and an
unmounted man together. They all appeared bigger and taller to
Maurice, somehow, than when he first made their acquaintance at the
camp, and the gun, to which four horses were attached, followed by the
caisson drawn by six, seemed to him as bright and refulgent as a sun,
tended and cherished as it was by its attendants, men and animals, who
closed around it protectingly as if it had been a living sentient
relative; and then, besides, the contemptuous look that Honore,
astounded to behold him among that unarmed rabble, cast on the
stragglers, distressed him terribly. And now the tail end of the
regiment was passing, the _materiel_ of the batteries, prolonges,
forges, forage-wagons, succeeded by the rag-tag, the spare men and
horses, and then all vanished in a cloud of dust at another turn in
the road amid the gradually decreasing clatter of hoofs and wheels.

"_Pardi_!" exclaimed Loubet, "it's not such a difficult matter to cut
a dash when one travels with a coach and four!"

The staff had found Altkirch free from the enemy; not a Prussian had
shown his face there yet. It had been the general's wish, not knowing
at what moment they might fall upon his rear, that the retreat should
be continued to Dannemarie, and it was not until five o'clock that the
heads of columns reached that place. Tents were hardly pitched and
fires lighted at eight, when night closed in, so great was the
confusion of the regiments, depleted by the absence of the stragglers.
The men were completely used up, were ready to drop with fatigue and
hunger. Up to eight o'clock soldiers, singly and in squads, came
trailing in, hunting for their commands; all that long train of the
halt, the lame, and the disaffected that we have seen scattered along
the roads.

As soon as Jean discovered where his regiment lay he went in quest of
Lieutenant Rochas to make his report. He found him, together with
Captain Beaudoin, in earnest consultation with the colonel at the door
of a small inn, all of them anxiously waiting to see what tidings
roll-call would give them as to the whereabouts of their missing men.
The moment the corporal opened his mouth to address the lieutenant,
Colonel Vineuil, who heard what the subject was, called him up and
compelled him to tell the whole story. On his long, yellow face, where
the intensely black eyes looked blacker still contrasted with the
thick snow-white hair and the long, drooping mustache, there was an
expression of patient, silent sorrow, and as the narrative proceeded,
how the miserable wretches deserted their colors, threw away arms and
knapsacks, and wandered off like vagabonds, grief and shame traced two
new furrows on his blanched cheeks.

"Colonel," exclaimed Captain Beaudoin, in his incisive voice, not
waiting for his superior to give an opinion, "it will best to shoot
half a dozen of those wretches."

And the lieutenant nodded his head approvingly. But the colonel's
despondent look expressed his powerlessness.

"There are too many of them. Nearly seven hundred! how are we to go to
work, whom are we to select? And then you don't know it, but the
general is opposed. He wants to be a father to his men, says he never
punished a soldier all the time he was in Africa. No, no; we shall
have to overlook it. I can do nothing. It is dreadful."

The captain echoed: "Yes, it is dreadful. It means destruction for us
all."

Jean was walking off, having said all he had to say, when he heard
Major Bouroche, whom he had not seen where he was standing in the
doorway of the inn, growl in a smothered voice: "No more punishment,
an end to discipline, the army gone to the dogs! Before a week is over
the scoundrels will be ripe for kicking their officers out of camp,
while if a few of them had been made an example of on the spot it
might have brought the remainder to their senses."

No one was punished. Some officers of the rear-guard that was
protecting the trains had been thoughtful enough to collect the
muskets and knapsacks scattered along the road. They were almost all
recovered, and by daybreak the men were equipped again, the operation
being conducted very quietly, as if to hush the matter up as much as
possible. Orders were given to break camp at five o'clock, but
reveille sounded at four and the retreat to Belfort was hurriedly
continued, for everyone was certain that the Prussians were only two
or three leagues away. Again there was nothing to eat but dry biscuit,
and as a consequence of their brief, disturbed rest and the lack of
something to warm their stomachs the men were weak as cats. Any
attempt to enforce discipline on the march that morning was again
rendered nugatory by the manner of their departure.

The day was worse than its predecessor, inexpressibly gloomy and
disheartening. The aspect of the landscape had changed, they were now
in a rolling country where the roads they were always alternately
climbing and descending were bordered with woods of pine and hemlock,
while the narrow gorges were golden with tangled thickets of broom.
But panic and terror lay heavy on the fair land that slumbered there
beneath the bright sun of August, and had been hourly gathering
strength since the preceeding day. A fresh dispatch, bidding the
mayors of communes warn the people that they would do well to hide
their valuables, had excited universal consternation. The enemy was at
hand, then! Would time be given them to make their escape? And to all
it seemed that the roar of invasion was ringing in their ears, coming
nearer and nearer, the roar of the rushing torrent that, starting from
Mulhausen, had grown louder and more ominous as it advanced, and to
which every village that it encountered in its course contributed its
own alarm amid the sound of wailing and lamentation.

Maurice stumbled along as best he might, like a man walking in a
dream; his feet were bleeding, his shoulders sore with the weight of
gun and knapsack. He had ceased to think, he advanced automatically
into the vision of horrors that lay before his eyes; he had ceased to
be conscious even of the shuffling tramp of the comrades around him,
and the only thing that was not dim and unreal to his sense was Jean,
marching at his side and enduring the same fatigue and horrible
distress. It was lamentable to behold the villages they passed
through, a sight to make a man's heart bleed with anguish. No sooner
did the inhabitants catch sight of the troops retreating in disorderly
array, with haggard faces and bloodshot eyes, than they bestirred
themselves to hasten their flight. They who had been so confident only
a short half month ago, those men and women of Alsace, who smiled when
war was mentioned, certain that it would be fought out in Germany! And
now France was invaded, and it was among them, above their abodes, in
their fields, that the tempest was to burst, like one of those dread
cataclysms that lay waste a province in an hour when the lightnings
flash and the gates of heaven are opened! Carts were backed up against
doors and men tumbled their furniture into them in wild confusion,
careless of what they broke. From the upper windows the women threw
out a last mattress, or handed down the child's cradle, that they had
been near forgetting, whereon baby would be tucked in securely and
hoisted to the top of the load, where he reposed serenely among a
grove of legs of chairs and upturned tables. At the back of another
cart was the decrepit old grandfather tied with cords to a wardrobe,
and he was hauled away for all the world as if he had been one of the
family chattels. Then there were those who did not own a vehicle, so
they piled their household goods haphazard on a wheelbarrow, while
others carried an armful of clothing, and others still had thought
only of saving the clock, which they went off pressing to their bosom
as if it had been a darling child. They found they could not remove
everything, and there were chairs and tables, and bundles of linen too
heavy to carry, lying abandoned in the gutter, Some before leaving had
carefully locked their dwellings, and the houses had a deathlike
appearance, with their barred doors and windows, but the greater
number, in their haste to get away and with the sorrowful conviction
that nothing would escape destruction, had left their poor abodes
open, and the yawning apertures displayed the nakedness of the
dismantled rooms; and those were the saddest to behold, with the
horrible sadness of a city upon which some great dread has fallen,
depopulating it, those poor houses opened to the winds of heaven,
whence the very cats had fled as if forewarned of the impending doom.
At every village the pitiful spectacle became more heartrending, the
number of the fugitives was greater, as they clove their way through
the ever thickening press, with hands upraised, amid oaths and tears.

But in the open country as they drew near Belfort, Maurice's heart was
still more sorely wrung, for there the homeless fugitives were in
greater numbers and lined the borders of the road in an unbroken
cortege. Ah! the unhappy ones, who had believed that they were to find
safety under the walls of the fortifications! The father lashed the
poor old nag, the mother followed after, leading her crying children
by the hand, and in this way entire families, sinking beneath the
weight of their burdens, were strung along the white, blinding road in
the fierce sunlight, where the tired little legs of the smaller
children were unable to keep up with the headlong flight. Many had
taken off their shoes and were going barefoot so as to get over the
ground more rapidly, and half-dressed mothers gave the breast to their
crying babies as they strode along. Affrighted faces turned for a look
backward, trembling hands were raised as if to shut out the horizon
from their sight, while the gale of panic tumbled their unkempt locks
and sported with their ill-adjusted garments. Others there were,
farmers and their men, who pushed straight across the fields, driving
before them their flocks and herds, cows, oxen, sheep, horses, that
they had driven with sticks and cudgels from their stables; these were
seeking the shelter of the inaccessible forests, of the deep valleys
and the lofty hill-tops, their course marked by clouds of dust, as in
the great migrations of other days, when invaded nations made way
before their barbarian conquerors. They were going to live in tents,
in some lonely nook among the mountains, where the enemy would never
venture to follow them; and the bleating and bellowing of the animals
and the trampling of their hoofs upon the rocks grew fainter in the
distance, and the golden nimbus that overhung them was lost to sight
among the thick pines, while down in the road beneath the tide of
vehicles and pedestrians was flowing still as strong as ever, blocking
the passage of the troops, and as they drew near Belfort the men had
to be brought to a halt again and again, so irresistible was the force
of that torrent of humanity.

It was during one of those short halts that Maurice witnessed a scene
that was destined to remain indelibly impressed upon his memory.

Standing by the road-side was a lonely house, the abode of some poor
peasant, whose lean acres extended up the mountainside in the rear.
The man had been unwilling to leave the little field that was his all
and had remained, for to go away would have been to him like parting
with life. He could be seen within the low-ceiled room, sitting
stupidly on a bench, watching with dull, lack-luster eyes the passing
of the troops whose retreat would give his ripe grain over to be the
spoil of the enemy. Standing beside him was his wife, still a young
woman, holding in her arms a child, while another was hanging by her
skirts; all three were weeping bitterly. Suddenly the door was thrown
open with violence and in its enframement appeared the grandmother, a
very old woman, tall and lean of form, with bare, sinewy arms like
knotted cords that she raised above her head and shook with frantic
gestures. Her gray, scanty locks had escaped from her cap and were
floating about her skinny face, and such was her fury that the words
she shouted choked her utterance and came from her lips almost
unintelligible.

At first the soldiers had laughed. Wasn't she a beauty, the old crazy
hag! Then words reached their ears; the old woman was screaming:

"Scum! Robbers! Cowards! Cowards!"

With a voice that rose shriller and more piercing still she kept
lashing them with her tongue, expectorating insult on them, and
taunting them for dastards with the full force of her lungs. And the
laughter ceased, it seemed as if a cold wind had blown over the ranks.
The men hung their heads, looked any way save that.

"Cowards! Cowards! Cowards!"

Then all at once her stature seemed to dilate; she drew herself up,
tragic in her leanness, in her poor old apology for a gown, and
sweeping the heavens with her long arm from west to east, with a
gesture so broad that it seemed to fill the dome:

"Cowards, the Rhine is not there! The Rhine lies yonder! Cowards,
cowards!"

They got under way again at last, and Maurice, whose look just then
encountered Jean's, saw that the latter's eyes were filled with tears,
and it did not alleviate his distress to think that those rough
soldiers, compelled to swallow an insult that they had done nothing to
deserve, were shamed by it. He was conscious of nothing save the
intolerable aching in his poor head, and in after days could never
remember how the march of that day ended, prostrated as he was by his
terrible suffering, mental and physical.

The 7th corps had spent the entire day in getting over the fourteen or
fifteen miles between Dannemarie and Belfort, and it was night again
before the troops got settled in their bivouacs under the walls of the
town, in the very same place whence they had started four days before
to march against the enemy. Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour
and their spent condition, the men insisted on lighting fires and
making soup; it was the first time since their departure that they had
had an opportunity to put warm food into their stomachs, and seated
about the cheerful blaze in the cool air of evening they were dipping
their noses in the porringers and grunting inarticulately in token of
satisfaction when news came in that burst upon the camp like a
thunderbolt, dumfoundering everyone. Two telegrams had just been
received: the Prussians had not crossed the Rhine at Markolsheim, and
there was not a single Prussian at Huningue. The passage of the Rhine
at Markolsheim and the bridge of boats constructed under the electric
light had existed merely in imagination, were an unexplained,
inexplicable nightmare of the prefet at Schelestadt; and as for the
army corps that had menaced Huningue, that famous corps of the Black
Forest, that had made so much talk, it was but an insignificant
detachment of Wurtemburgers, a couple of battalions of infantry and a
squadron of cavalry, which had maneuvered with such address, marching
and countermarching, appearing in one place and then suddenly popping
up in another at a distance, as to gain for themselves the reputation
of being thirty or forty thousand strong. And to think that that
morning they had been near blowing up the viaduct at Dannemarie!
Twenty leagues of fertile country had been depopulated by the most
idiotic of panics, and at the recollection of what they had seen
during their lamentable day's march, the inhabitants flying in
consternation to the mountains, driving their cattle before them; the
press of vehicles, laden with household effects, streaming cityward
and surrounded by bands of weeping women and children, the soldiers
waxed wroth and gave way to bitter, sneering denunciation of their
leaders.

"Ah! it is too ridiculous too talk about!" sputtered Loubet, not
stopping to empty his mouth, brandishing his spoon. "They take us out
to fight the enemy, and there's not a soul to fight with! Twelve
leagues there and twelve leagues back, and not so much as a mouse in
front of us! All that for nothing, just for the fun of being scared to
death!"

Chouteau, who was noisily absorbing the last drops in his porringer,
bellowed his opinion of the generals, without mentioning names:

"The pigs! what miserable boobies they are, _hein_! A pretty pack of
dunghill-cocks the government has given us as commanders! Wonder what
they would do if they had an army actually before them, if they show
the white feather this way when there's not a Prussian in sight,
_hein_!--Ah no, not any of it in mine, thank you; soldiers don't obey
such pigeon-livered gentlemen."

Someone had thrown another armful of wood on the fire for the
pleasurable sensation of comfort there was in the bright, dancing
flame, and Lapoulle, who was engaged in the luxurious occupation of
toasting his shins, suddenly went off into an imbecile fit of laughter
without in the least understanding what it was about, whereon Jean,
who had thus far turned a deaf ear to their talk, thought it time to
interfere, which he did by saying in a fatherly way:

"You had better hold your tongue, you fellows! It might be the worse
for you if anyone should hear you."

He himself, in his untutored, common-sense way of viewing things, was
exasperated by the stupid incompetency of their commanders, but then
discipline must be maintained, and as Chouteau still kept up a low
muttering he cut him short:

"Be silent, I say! Here is the lieutenant: address yourself to him if
you have anything to say."

Maurice had listened in silence to the conversation from his place a
little to one side. Ah, truly, the end was near! Scarcely had they
made a beginning, and all was over. That lack of discipline, that
seditious spirit among the men at the very first reverse, had already
made the army a demoralized, disintegrated rabble that would melt away
at the first indication of catastrophe. There they were, under the
walls of Belfort, without having sighted a Prussian, and they were
whipped.

The succeeding days were a period of monotony, full of uncertainty and
anxious forebodings. To keep his troops occupied General Douay set
them to work on the defenses of the place, which were in a state of
incompleteness; there was great throwing up of earth and cutting
through rock. And not the first item of news! Where was MacMahon's
army? What was going on at Metz? The wildest rumors were current, and
the Parisian journals, by their system of printing news only to
contradict it the next day, kept the country in an agony of suspense.
Twice, it was said, the general had written and asked for
instructions, and had not even received an answer. On the 12th of
August, however, the 7th corps was augmented by the 3d division, which
landed from Italy, but there were still only two divisions for duty,
for the 1st had participated in the defeat at Froeschwiller, had been
swept away in the general rout, and as yet no one had learned where it
had been stranded by the current. After a week of this abandonment, of
this entire separation from the rest of France, a telegram came
bringing them the order to march. The news was well received, for
anything was preferable to the prison life they were leading in
Belfort. And while they were getting themselves in readiness
conjecture and surmise were the order of the day, for no one as yet
knew what their destination was to be, some saying that they were to
be sent to the defense of Strasbourg, while others spoke with
confidence of a bold dash into the Black Forest that was to sever the
Prussian line of communication.

Early the next morning the 106th was bundled into cattle-cars and
started off among the first. The car that contained Jean's squad was
particularly crowded, so much so that Loubet declared there was not
even room in it to sneeze. It was a load of humanity, sent off to the
war just as a load of sacks would have been dispatched to the mill,
crowded in so as to get the greatest number into the smallest space,
and as rations had been given out in the usual hurried, slovenly
manner and the men had received in brandy what they should have
received in food, the consequence was that they were all roaring
drunk, with a drunkenness that vented itself in obscene songs, varied
by shrieks and yells. The heavy train rolled slowly onward; pipes were
alight and men could no longer see one another through the dense
clouds of smoke; the heat and odor that emanated from that mass of
perspiring human flesh were unendurable, while from the jolting, dingy
van came volleys of shouts and laughter that drowned the monotonous
rattle of the wheels and were lost amid the silence of the deserted
fields. And it was not until they reached Langres that the troops
learned that they were being carried back to Paris.

"Ah, _nom de Dieu!_" exclaimed Chouteau, who already, by virtue of his
oratorical ability, was the acknowledged sovereign of his corner,
"they will station us at Charentonneau, sure, to keep old Bismarck out
of the Tuileries."

The others laughed loud and long, considering the joke a very good
one, though no one could say why. The most trivial incidents of the
journey, however, served to elicit a storm of yells, cat-calls, and
laughter: a group of peasants standing beside the roadway, or the
anxious faces of the people who hung about the way-stations in the
hope of picking up some bits of news from the passing trains,
epitomizing on a small scale the breathless, shuddering alarm that
pervaded all France in the presence of invasion. And so it happened
that as the train thundered by, a fleeting vision of pandemonium, all
that the good burghers obtained in the way of intelligence was the
salutations of that cargo of food for powder as it hurried onward to
its destination, fast as steam could carry it. At a station where they
stopped, however, three well-dressed ladies, wealthy bourgeoises of
the town, who distributed cups of bouillon among the men, were
received with great respect. Some of the soldiers shed tears, and
kissed their hands as they thanked them.

But as soon as they were under way again the filthy songs and the wild
shouts began afresh, and so it went on until, a little while after
leaving Chaumont, they met another train that was conveying some
batteries of artillery to Metz. The locomotives slowed down and the
soldiers in the two trains fraternized with a frightful uproar. The
artillerymen were also apparently very drunk; they stood up in their
seats, and thrusting hands and arms out of the car-windows, gave this
cry with a vehemence that silenced every other sound:

"To the slaughter! to the slaughter! to the slaughter!"

It was as if a cold wind, a blast from the charnel-house, had swept
through the car. Amid the sudden silence that descended on them
Loubet's irreverent voice was heard, shouting:

"Not very cheerful companions, those fellows!"

"But they are right," rejoined Chouteau, as if addressing some
pot-house assemblage; "it is a beastly thing to send a lot of brave
boys to have their brains blown out for a dirty little quarrel about
which they don't know the first word."

And much more in the same strain. He was the type of the Belleville
agitator, a lazy, dissipated mechanic, perverting his fellow workmen,
constantly spouting the ill-digested odds and ends of political
harangues that he had heard, belching forth in the same breath the
loftiest sentiments and the most asinine revolutionary clap-trap. He
knew it all, and tried to inoculate his comrades with his ideas,
especially Lapoulle, of whom he had promised to make a lad of spirit.

"Don't you see, old man, it's all perfectly simple. If Badinguet and
Bismarck have a quarrel, let 'em go to work with their fists and fight
it out and not involve in their row some hundreds of thousands of men
who don't even know one another by sight and have not the slightest
desire to fight."

The whole car laughed and applauded, and Lapoulle, who did not know
who Badinguet[*] was, and could not have told whether it was a king or
an emperor in whose cause he was fighting, repeated like the gigantic
baby that he was:

[*] Napoleon III.

"Of course, let 'em fight it out, and take a drink together
afterward."

But Chouteau had turned to Pache, whom he now proceeded to take in
hand.

"You are in the same boat, you, who pretend to believe in the good
God. He has forbidden men to fight, your good God has. Why, then, are
you here, you great simpleton?"

"_Dame_!" Pache doubtfully replied, "it is not for any pleasure of
mine that I am here--but the gendarmes--"

"Oh, indeed, the gendarmes! let the gendarmes go milk the ducks!--say,
do you know what we would do, all of us, if we had the least bit of
spirit? I'll tell you; just the minute that they land us from the cars
we'd skip; yes, we'd go straight home, and leave that pig of a
Badinguet and his gang of two-for-a-penny generals to settle accounts
with their beastly Prussians as best they may!"

There was a storm of bravos; the leaven of perversion was doing its
work and it was Chouteau's hour of triumph, airing his muddled
theories and ringing the changes on the Republic, the Rights of Man,
the rottenness of the Empire, which must be destroyed, and the treason
of their commanders, who, as it had been proved, had sold themselves
to the enemy at the rate of a million a piece. _He_ was a
revolutionist, he boldly declared; the others could not even say that
they were republicans, did not know what their opinions were, in fact,
except Loubet, the concocter of stews and hashes, and _he_ had an
opinion, for he had been for soup, first, last, and always; but they
all, carried away by his eloquence, shouted none the less lustily
against the Emperor, their officers, the whole d----d shop, which they
would leave the first chance they got, see if they wouldn't! And
Chouteau, while fanning the flame of their discontent, kept an eye on
Maurice, the fine gentleman, who appeared interested and whom he was
proud to have for a companion; so that, by way of inflaming _his_
passions also, it occurred to him to make an attack on Jean, who
had thus far been tranquilly watching the proceedings out of his
half-closed eyes, unmoved among the general uproar. If there was any
remnant of resentment in the bosom of the volunteer since the time
when the corporal had inflicted such a bitter humiliation on him by
forcing him to resume his abandoned musket, now was a fine chance to
set the two men by the ears.

"I know some folks who talk of shooting us," Chouteau continued, with
an ugly look at Jean; "dirty, miserable skunks, who treat us worse
than beasts, and, when a man's back is broken with the weight of his
knapsack and Brownbess, _aie_! _aie_! object to his planting them in
the fields to see if a new crop will grow from them. What do you
suppose they would say, comrades, _hein_! now that we are masters, if
we should pitch them all out upon the track, and teach them better
manners? That's the way to do, _hein_! We'll show 'em that we won't be
bothered any longer with their mangy wars. Down with Badinguet's
bed-bugs! Death to the curs who want to make us fight!"

Jean's face was aflame with the crimson tide that never failed to rush
to his cheeks in his infrequent fits of anger. He rose, wedged in
though as he was between his neighbors as firmly as in a vise, and his
blazing eyes and doubled fists had such a look of business about them
that the other quailed.

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_ will you be silent, pig! For hours I have sat
here without saying anything, because we have no longer any leaders,
and I could not even send you to the guard-house. Yes, there's no
doubt of it, it would be a good thing to shoot such men as you and rid
the regiment of the vermin. But see here, as there's no longer any
discipline, I will attend to your case myself. There's no corporal
here now, but a hard-fisted fellow who is tired of listening to your
jaw, and he'll see if he can't make you keep your potato-trap shut.
Ah! you d----d coward! You won't fight yourself and you want to keep
others from fighting! Repeat your words once and I'll knock your head
off!"

By this time the whole car, won over by Jean's manly attitude, had
deserted Chouteau, who cowered back in his seat as if not anxious to
face his opponent's big fists.

"And I care no more for Badinguet than I do for you, do you
understand? I despise politics, whether they are republican or
imperial, and now, as in the past, when I used to cultivate my little
farm, there is but one thing that I wish for, and that is the
happiness of all, peace and good-order, freedom for every man to
attend to his affairs. No one denies that war is a terrible business,
but that is no reason why a man should not be treated to the sight of
a firing-party when he comes trying to dishearten people who already
have enough to do to keep their courage up. Good Heavens, friends, how
it makes a man's pulses leap to be told that the Prussians are in the
land and that he is to go help drive them out!"

Then, with the customary fickleness of a mob, the soldiers applauded
the corporal, who again announced his determination to thrash the
first man of his squad who should declare non-combatant principles.
Bravo, the corporal! they would soon settle old Bismarck's hash! And,
in the midst of the wild ovation of which he was the object, Jean, who
had recovered his self-control, turned politely to Maurice and
addressed him as if he had not been one of his men:

"Monsieur, you cannot have anything in common with those poltroons.
Come, we haven't had a chance at them yet; we are the boys who will
give them a good basting yet, those Prussians!"

It seemed to Maurice at that moment as if a ray of cheering sunshine
had penetrated his heart. He was humiliated, vexed with himself. What!
that man was nothing more than an uneducated rustic! And he remembered
the fierce hatred that had burned in his bosom the day he was
compelled to pick up the musket that he had thrown away in a moment of
madness. But he also remembered his emotion at seeing the two big
tears that stood in the corporal's eyes when the old grandmother, her
gray hairs streaming in the wind, had so bitterly reproached them and
pointed to the Rhine that lay beneath the horizon in the distance. Was
it the brotherhood of fatigue and suffering endured in common that had
served thus to dissipate his wrathful feelings? He was Bonapartist by
birth, and had never thought of the Republic except in a speculative,
dreamy way; his feeling toward the Emperor, personally, too, inclined
to friendliness, and he was favorable to the war, the very condition
of national existence, the great regenerative school of nationalities.
Hope, all at once, with one of those fitful impulses of the
imagination, that were common in his temperament, revived in him,
while the enthusiastic ardor that had impelled him to enlist one night
again surged through his veins and swelled his heart with confidence
of victory.

"Why, of course, Corporal," he gayly replied, "we shall give them a
basting!"

And still the car kept rolling onward with its load of human freight,
filled with reeking smoke of pipes and emanations of the crowded men,
belching its ribald songs and drunken shouts among the expectant
throngs of the stations through which it passed, among the rows of
white-faced peasants who lined the iron-way. On the 20th of August
they were at the Pantin Station in Paris, and that same evening
boarded another train which landed them next day at Rheims _en route_
for the camp at Chalons.



                                III.

Maurice was greatly surprised when the 106th, leaving the cars at
Rheims, received orders to go into camp there. So they were not to go
to Chalons, then, and unite with the army there? And when, two hours
later, his regiment had stacked muskets a league or so from the city
over in the direction of Courcelles, in the broad plain that lies
along the canal between the Aisne and Marne, his astonishment was
greater still to learn that the entire army of Chalons had been
falling back all that morning and was about to bivouac at that place.
From one extremity of the horizon to the other, as far as Saint
Thierry and Menvillette, even beyond the Laon road, the tents were
going up, and when it should be night the fires of four army-corps
would be blazing there. It was evident that the plan now was to go and
take a position under the walls of Paris and there await the
Prussians; and it was fortunate that that plan had received the
approbation of the government, for was it not the wisest thing they
could do?

Maurice devoted the afternoon of the 21st to strolling about the camp
in search of news. The greatest freedom prevailed; discipline appeared
to have been relaxed still further, the men went and came at their own
sweet will. He found no obstacle in the way of his return to the city,
where he desired to cash a money-order for a hundred francs that his
sister Henriette had sent him. While in a cafe he heard a sergeant
telling of the disaffection that existed in the eighteen battalions of
the garde mobile of the Seine, which had just been sent back to Paris;
the 6th battalion had been near killing their officers. Not a day
passed at the camp that the generals were not insulted, and since
Froeschwiller the soldiers had ceased to give Marshal MacMahon the
military salute. The cafe resounded with the sound of voices in
excited conversation; a violent dispute arose between two sedate
burghers in respect to the number of men that MacMahon would have at
his disposal. One of them made the wild assertion that there would be
three hundred thousand; the other, who seemed to be more at home upon
the subject, stated the strength of the four corps: the 12th, which
had just been made complete at the camp with great difficulty with the
assistance of provisional regiments and a division of infanterie de
marine; the 1st, which had been coming straggling in in fragments ever
since the 14th of the month and of which they were doing what they
could to perfect the organization; the 5th, defeated before it had
ever fought a battle, swept away and broken up in the general panic,
and finally, the 7th, then landing from the cars, demoralized like all
the rest and minus its 1st division, of which it had just recovered
the remains at Rheims; in all, one hundred and twenty thousand at the
outside, including the cavalry, Bonnemain's and Margueritte's
divisions. When the sergeant took a hand in the quarrel, however,
speaking of the army in terms of the utmost contempt, characterizing
it as a ruffianly rabble, with no _esprit de corps_, with nothing to
keep it together,--a pack of greenhorns with idiots to conduct them,
to the slaughter,--the two bourgeois began to be uneasy, and fearing
there might be trouble brewing, made themselves scarce.

When outside upon the street Maurice hailed a newsboy and purchased a
copy of every paper he could lay hands on, stuffing some in his
pockets and reading others as he walked along under the stately trees
that line the pleasant avenues of the old city. Where could the German
armies be? It seemed as if obscurity had suddenly swallowed them up.
Two were over Metz way, of course: the first, the one commanded by
General von Steinmetz, observing the place; the second, that of Prince
Frederick Charles, aiming to ascend the right bank of the Moselle in
order to cut Bazaine off from Paris. But the third army, that of the
Crown Prince of Prussia, the army that had been victorious at
Wissembourg and Froeschwiller and had driven our 1st and 5th corps,
where was it now, where was it to be located amid the tangled mess of
contradictory advices? Was it still in camp at Nancy, or was it true
that it had arrived before Chalons, and was that the reason why we had
abandoned our camp there in such hot haste, burning our stores,
clothing, forage, provisions, everything--property of which the value
to the nation was beyond compute? And when the different plans with
which our generals were credited came to be taken into consideration,
then there was more confusion, a fresh set of contradictory hypotheses
to be encountered. Maurice had until now been cut off in a measure
from the outside world, and now for the first time learned what had
been the course of events in Paris; the blasting effect of defeat upon
a populace that had been confident of victory, the terrible commotions
in the streets, the convoking of the Chambers, the fall of the liberal
ministry that had effected the plebiscite, the abrogation of the
Emperor's rank as General of the Army and the transfer of the supreme
command to Marshal Bazaine. The Emperor had been present at the camp
of Chalons since the 16th, and all the newspapers were filled with a
grand council that had been held on the 17th, at which Prince Napoleon
and some of the generals were present, but none of them were agreed
upon the decisions that had been arrived at outside of the resultant
facts, which were that General Trochu had been appointed governor of
Paris and Marshal MacMahon given the command of the army of Chalons,
and the inference from this was that the Emperor was to be shorn of
all his authority. Consternation, irresolution, conflicting plans that
were laid aside and replaced by fresh ones hour by hour; these were
the things that everybody felt were in the air. And ever and always
the question: Where were the German armies? Who were in the right,
those who asserted that Bazaine had no force worth mentioning in front
of him and was free to make his retreat through the towns of the north
whenever he chose to do so, or those who declared that he was already
besieged in Metz? There was a constantly recurring rumor of a series
of engagements that had raged during an entire week, from the 14th
until the 20th, but it failed to receive confirmation.

Maurice's legs ached with fatigue; he went and sat down upon a bench.
Around him the life of the city seemed to be going on as usual; there
were nursemaids seated in the shade of the handsome trees watching the
sports of their little charges, small property owners strolled
leisurely about the walks enjoying their daily constitutional. He had
taken up his papers again, when his eyes lighted on an article that
had escaped his notice, the "leader" in a rabid republican sheet; then
everything was made clear to him. The paper stated that at the council
of the 17th at the camp of Chalons the retreat of the army on Paris
had been fully decided on, and that General Trochu's appointment to
the command of the city had no other object than to facilitate the
Emperor's return; but those resolutions, the journal went on to say,
were rendered unavailing by the attitude of the Empress-regent and the
new ministry. It was the Empress's opinion that the Emperor's return
would certainly produce a revolution; she was reported to have said:
"He will never reach the Tuileries alive." Starting with these
premises she insisted with the utmost urgency that the army should
advance, at every risk, whatever might be the cost of human life, and
effect a junction with the army of Metz, in which course she was
supported moreover by General de Palikao, the Minister of War, who had
a plan of his own for reaching Bazaine by a rapid and victorious
march. And Maurice, letting his paper fall from his hand, his eyes
bent on space, believed that he now had the key to the entire mystery;
the two conflicting plans, MacMahon's hesitation to undertake that
dangerous flank movement with the unreliable army at his command, the
impatient orders that came to him from Paris, each more tart and
imperative than its predecessor, urging him on to that mad, desperate
enterprise. Then, as the central figure in that tragic conflict, the
vision of the Emperor suddenly rose distinctly before his inner eyes,
deprived of his imperial authority, which he had committed to the
hands of the Empress-regent, stripped of his military command, which
he had conferred on Marshal Bazaine; a nullity, the vague and
unsubstantial shadow of an emperor, a nameless, cumbersome nonentity
whom no one knew what to do with, whom Paris rejected and who had
ceased to have a position in the army, for he had pledged himself to
issue no further orders.

The next morning, however, after a rainy night through which he slept
outside his tent on the bare ground, wrapped in his rubber blanket,
Maurice was cheered by the tidings that the retreat on Paris had
finally carried the day. Another council had been held during the
night, it was said, at which M. Rouher, the former vice-Emperor, had
been present; he had been sent by the Empress to accelerate the
movement toward Verdun, and it would seem that the marshal had
succeeded in convincing him of the rashness of such an undertaking.
Were there unfavorable tidings from Bazaine? no one could say for
certain. But the absence of news was itself a circumstance of evil
omen, and all among the most influential of the generals had cast
their vote for the march on Paris, for which they would be the
relieving army. And Maurice, happy in the conviction that the
retrograde movement would commence not later than the morrow, since
the orders for it were said to be already issued, thought he would
gratify a boyish longing that had been troubling him for some time
past, to give the go-by for one day to soldier's fare, to wit and eat
his breakfast off a cloth, with the accompaniment of plate, knife and
fork, carafe, and a bottle of good wine, things of which it seemed to
him that he had been deprived for months and months. He had money in
his pocket, so off he started with quickened pulse, as if going out
for a lark, to search for a place of entertainment.

It was just at the entrance of the village of Courcelles, across the
canal, that he found the breakfast for which his mouth was watering.
He had been told the day before that the Emperor had taken up his
quarters in one of the houses of the village, and having gone to
stroll there out of curiosity, now remembered to have seen at the
junction of the two roads this little inn with its arbor, the
trellises of which were loaded with big clusters of ripe, golden,
luscious grapes. There was an array of green-painted tables set out in
the shade of the luxuriant vine, while through the open door of the
vast kitchen he had caught glimpses of the antique clock, the colored
prints pasted on the walls, and the comfortable landlady watching the
revolving spit. It was cheerful, smiling, hospitable; a regular type
of the good old-fashioned French hostelry.

A pretty, white-necked waitress came up and asked him with a great
display of flashing teeth:

"Will monsieur have breakfast?"

"Of course I will! Give me some eggs, a cutlet, and cheese. And a
bottle of white wine!"

She turned to go; he called her back. "Tell me, is it not in one of
those houses that the Emperor has his quarters?"

"There, monsieur, in that one right before you. Only you can't see it,
for it is concealed by the high wall with the overhanging trees."

He loosed his belt so as to be more at ease in his capote, and
entering the arbor, chose his table, on which the sunlight, finding
its way here and there through the green canopy above, danced in
little golden spangles. And constantly his thoughts kept returning to
that high wall behind which was the Emperor. A most mysterious house
it was, indeed, shrinking from the public gaze, even its slated roof
invisible. Its entrance was on the other side, upon the village
street, a narrow winding street between dead-walls, without a shop,
without even a window to enliven it. The small garden in the rear,
among the sparse dwellings that environed it, was like an island of
dense verdure. And across the road he noticed a spacious courtyard,
surrounded by sheds and stables, crowded with a countless train of
carriages and baggage-wagons, among which men and horses, coming and
going, kept up an unceasing bustle.

"Are those all for the service of the Emperor?" he inquired, meaning
to say something humorous to the girl, who was laying a snow-white
cloth upon the table.

"Yes, for the Emperor himself, and no one else!" she pleasantly
replied, glad of a chance to show her white teeth once more; and then
she went on to enumerate the suite from information that she had
probably received from the stablemen, who had been coming to the inn
to drink since the preceding day; there were the staff, comprising
twenty-five officers, the sixty cent-gardes and the half-troop of
guides for escort duty, the six gendarmes of the provost-guard; then
the household, seventy-three persons in all, chamberlains, attendants
for the table and the bedroom, cooks and scullions; then four
saddle-horses and two carriages for the Emperor's personal use, ten
horses for the equerries, eight for the grooms and outriders, not
mentioning forty-seven post-horses; then a _char a banc_ and twelve
baggage wagons, two of which, appropriated to the cooks, had
particularly excited her admiration by reason of the number and
variety of the utensils they contained, all in the most splendid
order.

"Oh, sir, you never saw such stew-pans! they shone like silver. And
all sorts of dishes, and jars and jugs, and lots of things of which it
would puzzle me to tell the use! And a cellar of wine, claret,
burgundy, and champagne--yes! enough to supply a wedding feast."

The unusual luxury of the snowy table-cloth and the white wine
sparkling in his glass sharpened Maurice's appetite; he devoured his
two poached eggs with a zest that made him fear he was developing
epicurean tastes. When he turned to the left and looked out through
the entrance of the leafy arbor he had before him the spacious plain,
covered with long rows of tents: a busy, populous city that had risen
like an exhalation from the stubble-fields between Rheims city and the
canal. A few clumps of stunted trees, three wind-mills lifting their
skeleton arms in the air, were all there was to relieve the monotony
of the gray waste, but above the huddled roofs of Rheims, lost in the
sea of foliage of the tall chestnut-trees, the huge bulk of the
cathedral with its slender spires was profiled against the blue sky,
looming colossal, notwithstanding the distance, beside the modest
houses. Memories of school and boyhood's days came over him, the tasks
he had learned and recited: all about the _sacre_ of our kings, the
_sainte ampoule_, Clovis, Jeanne d'Arc, all the long list of glories
of old France.

Then Maurice's thoughts reverted again to that unassuming bourgeoise
house, so mysterious in its solitude, and its imperial occupant; and
directing his eyes upon the high, yellow wall he was surprised to
read, scrawled there in great, awkward letters, the legend: _Vive
Napoleon!_ among the meaningless obscenities traced by schoolboys.
Winter's storms and summer's sun had half effaced the lettering;
evidently the inscription was very ancient. How strange, to see upon
that wall that old heroic battle-cry, which probably had been placed
there in honor of the uncle, not of the nephew! It brought all his
childhood back to him, and Maurice was again a boy, scarcely out of
his mother's arms, down there in distant Chene-Populeux, listening to
the stories of his grandfather, a veteran of the Grand Army. His
mother was dead, his father, in the inglorious days that followed the
collapse of the empire, had been compelled to accept a humble position
as collector, and there the grandfather lived, with nothing to support
him save his scanty pension, in the poor home of the small public
functionary, his sole comfort to fight his battles o'er again for the
benefit of his two little twin grandchildren, the boy and the girl, a
pair of golden-haired youngsters to whom he was in some sense a
mother. He would place Maurice on his right knee and Henriette on his
left, and then for hours on end the narrative would run on in Homeric
strain.

But small attention was paid to dates; his story was of the dire shock
of conflicting nations, and was not to be hampered by the minute
exactitude of the historian. Successively or together English,
Austrians, Prussians, Russians appeared upon the scene, according to
the then prevailing condition of the ever-changing alliances, and it
was not always an easy matter to tell why one nation received a
beating in preference to another, but beaten they all were in the end,
inevitably beaten from the very commencement, in a whirlwind of genius
and heroic daring that swept great armies like chaff from off the
earth. There was Marengo, the classic battle of the plain, with the
consummate generalship of its broad plan and the faultless retreat of
the battalions by squares, silent and impassive under the enemy's
terrible fire; the battle, famous in story, lost at three o'clock and
won at six, where the eight hundred grenadiers of the Consular Guard
withstood the onset of the entire Austrian cavalry, where Desaix
arrived to change impending defeat to glorious victory and die. There
was Austerlitz, with its sun of glory shining forth from amid the
wintry sky, Austerlitz, commencing with the capture of the plateau of
Pratzen and ending with the frightful catastrophe on the frozen lake,
where an entire Russian corps, men, guns, horses, went crashing
through the ice, while Napoleon, who in his divine omniscience had
foreseen it all, of course, directed his artillery to play upon the
struggling mass. There was Jena, where so many of Prussia's bravest
found a grave; at first the red flames of musketry flashing through
the October mists, and Ney's impatience, near spoiling all until
Augereau comes wheeling into line and saves him; the fierce charge
that tore the enemy's center in twain, and finally panic, the headlong
rout of their boasted cavalry, whom our hussars mow down like ripened
grain, strewing the romantic glen with a harvest of men and horses.
And Eylau, cruel Eylau, bloodiest battle of them all, where the maimed
corpses cumbered the earth in piles; Eylau, whose new-fallen snow was
stained with blood, the burial-place of heroes; Eylau, in whose name
reverberates still the thunder of the charge of Murat's eighty
squadrons, piercing the Russian lines in every direction, heaping the
ground so thick with dead that Napoleon himself could not refrain from
tears. Then Friedland, the trap into which the Russians again allowed
themselves to be decoyed like a flock of brainless sparrows, the
masterpiece of the Emperor's consummate strategy; our left held back
as in a leash, motionless, without a sign of life, while Ney was
carrying the city, street by street, and destroying the bridges, then
the left hurled like a thunderbolt on the enemy's right, driving it
into the river and annihilating it in that _cul-de-sac_; the slaughter
so great that at ten o'clock at night the bloody work was not
completed, most wonderful of all the successes of the great imperial
epic. And Wagram, where it was the aim of the Austrians to cut us off
from the Danube; they keep strengthening their left in order to
overwhelm Massena, who is wounded and issues his orders from an open
carriage, and Napoleon, like a malicious Titan, lets them go on
unchecked; then all at once a hundred guns vomit their terrible fire
upon their weakened center, driving it backward more than a league,
and their left, terror-stricken to find itself unsupported, gives way
before the again victorious Massena, sweeping away before it the
remainder of the army, as when a broken dike lets loose its torrents
upon the fields. And finally the Moskowa, where the bright sun of
Austerlitz shone for the last time; where the contending hosts were
mingled in confused _melee_ amid deeds of the most desperate daring:
mamelons carried under an unceasing fire of musketry, redoubts stormed
with the naked steel, every inch of ground fought over again and
again; such determined resistance on the part of the Russian Guards
that our final victory was only assured by Murat's mad charges, the
concentrated fire of our three hundred pieces of artillery, and the
valor of Ney, who was the hero of that most obstinate of conflicts.
And be the battle what it might, ever our flags floated proudly on the
evening air, and as the bivouac fires were lighted on the conquered
field out rang the old battle-cry: _Vive Napoleon!_ France, carrying
her invincible Eagles from end to end of Europe, seemed everywhere at
home, having but to raise her finger to make her will respected by the
nations, mistress of a world that in vain conspired to crush her and
upon which she set her foot.

Maurice was contentedly finishing his cutlet, cheered not so much by
the wine that sparkled in his glass as by the glorious memories that
were teeming in his brain, when his glance encountered two ragged,
dust-stained soldiers, less like soldiers than weary tramps just off
the road; they were asking the attendant for information as to the
position of the regiments that were encamped along the canal. He
hailed them.

"Hallo there, comrades, this way! You are 7th corps men, aren't you?"

"Right you are, sir; 1st division--at least I am, more by token that I
was at Froeschwiller, where it was warm enough, I can tell you. The
comrade, here, belongs in the 1st corps; he was at Wissembourg,
another beastly hole."

They told their story, how they had been swept away in the general
panic, had crawled into a ditch half-dead with fatigue and hunger,
each of them slightly wounded, and since then had been dragging
themselves along in the rear of the army, compelled to lie over in
towns when the fever-fits came on, until at last they had reached the
camp and were on the lookout to find their regiments.

Maurice, who had a piece of Gruyere before him, noticed the hungry
eyes fixed on his plate.

"Hi there, mademoiselle! bring some more cheese, will you--and bread
and wine. You will join me, won't you, comrades? It is my treat.
Here's to your good health!"

They drew their chairs up to the table, only too delighted with the
invitation. Their entertainer watched them as they attacked the food,
and a thrill of pity ran through him as he beheld their sorry plight,
dirty, ragged, arms gone, their sole attire a pair of red trousers and
the capote, kept in place by bits of twine and so patched and pieced
with shreds of vari-colored cloth that one would have taken them for
men who had been looting some battle-field and were wearing the spoil
they had gathered there.

"Ah! _foutre_, yes!" continued the taller of the two as he plied his
jaws, "it was no laughing matter there! You ought to have seen it,
--tell him how it was, Coutard."

And the little man told his story with many gestures, describing
figures on the air with his bread.

"I was washing my shirt, you see, while the rest of them were making
soup. Just try and picture to yourself a miserable hole, a regular
trap, all surrounded by dense woods that gave those Prussian pigs a
chance to crawl up to us before we ever suspected they were there. So,
then, about seven o'clock the shells begin to come tumbling about our
ears. _Nom de Dieu!_ but it was lively work! we jumped for our
shooting-irons, and up to eleven o'clock it looked as if we were going
to polish 'em off in fine style. But you must know that there were
only five thousand of us, and the beggars kept coming, coming as if
there was no end to them. I was posted on a little hill, behind a
bush, and I could see them debouching in front, to right, to left,
like rows of black ants swarming from their hill, and when you thought
there were none left there were always plenty more. There's no use
mincing matters, we all thought that our leaders must be first-class
nincompoops to thrust us into such a hornet's nest, with no support at
hand, and leave us to be crushed there without coming to our
assistance. And then our General, Douay,[*] poor devil! neither a fool
nor a coward, that man,--a bullet comes along and lays him on his
back. That ended it; no one left to command us! No matter, though, we
kept on fighting all the same; but they were too many for us, we had
to fall back at last. We held the railway station for a long time, and
then we fought behind a wall, and the uproar was enough to wake the
dead. And then, when the city was taken, I don't exactly remember how
it came about, but we were upon a mountain, the Geissberg, I think
they call it, and there we intrenched ourselves in a sort of castle,
and how we did give it to the pigs! they jumped about the rocks like
kids, and it was fun to pick 'em off and see 'em tumble on their nose.
But what would you have? they kept coming, coming, all the time, ten
men to our one, and all the artillery they could wish for. Courage is
a very good thing in its place, but sometimes it gets a man into
difficulties, and so, at last, when it got too hot to stand it any
longer, we cut and run. But regarded as nincompoops, our officers were
a decided success; don't you think so, Picot?"

[*] This was Abel Douay--not to be confounded with his brother,
    Felix, who commanded the 7th corps.-TR.

There was a brief interval of silence. Picot tossed off a glass of the
white wine and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Of course," said he. "It was just the same at Froeschwiller; the
general who would give battle under such circumstances is a fit
subject for a lunatic asylum. That's what my captain said, and he's a
little man who knows what he is talking about. The truth of the matter
is that no one knew anything; we were only forty thousand strong, and
we were surprised by a whole army of those pigs. And no one was
expecting to fight that day; battle was joined by degrees, one portion
after another of our troops became engaged, against the wishes of our
commanders, as it seems. Of course, I didn't see the whole of the
affair, but what I do know is that the dance lasted by fits and starts
all day long; a body would think it was ended; not a bit of it! away
would go the music more furiously than ever. The commencement was at
Woerth, a pretty little village with a funny clock-tower that looks
like a big stove, owing to the earthenware tiles they have stuck all
over it. I'll be hanged if I know why we let go our hold of it that
morning, for we broke all our teeth and nails trying to get it back
again in the afternoon, without succeeding. Oh, my children, if I were
to tell you of the slaughter there, the throats that were cut and the
brains knocked out, you would refuse to believe me! The next place
where we had trouble was around a village with the jaw-breaking name
of Elsasshausen. We got a peppering from a lot of guns that banged
away at us at their ease from the top of a blasted hill that we had
also abandoned that morning, why, no one has ever been able to tell.
And there it was that with these very eyes of mine I saw the famous
charge of the cuirassiers. Ah, how gallantly they rode to their death,
poor fellows! A shame it was, I say, to let men and horses charge over
ground like that, covered with brush and furze, cut up by ditches. And
on top of it all, _nom de Dieu!_ what good could they accomplish? But
it was very _chic_ all the same; it was a beautiful sight to see. The
next thing for us to do, shouldn't you suppose so? was to go and sit
down somewhere and try to get our wind again. They had set fire to the
village and it was burning like tinder, and the whole gang of
Bavarian, Wurtemburgian and Prussian pigs, more than a hundred and
twenty thousand of them there were, as we found out afterward, had got
around into our rear and on our flanks. But there was to be no rest
for us then, for just at that time the fiddles began to play again a
livelier tune than ever around Froeschwiller. For there's no use
talking, fellows, MacMahon may be a blockhead but he is a brave man;
you ought to have seen him on his big horse, with the shells bursting
all about him! The best thing to do would have been to give leg-bail
at the beginning, for it is no disgrace to a general to refuse to
fight an army of superior numbers, but he, once we had gone in, was
bound to see the thing through to the end. And see it through he did!
why, I tell you that the men down in Froeschwiller were no longer
human beings; they were ravening wolves devouring one another. For
near two hours the gutters ran red with blood. All the same, however,
we had to knuckle under in the end. And to think that after it was all
over they should come and tell us that we had whipped the Bavarians
over on our left! By the piper that played before Moses, if we had
only had a hundred and twenty thousand men, if _we_ had had guns, and
leaders with a little pluck!"

Loud and angry were the denunciations of Coutard and Picot in their
ragged, dusty uniforms as they cut themselves huge slices of bread and
bolted bits of cheese, evoking their bitter memories there in the
shade of the pretty trellis, where the sun played hide and seek among
the purple and gold of the clusters of ripening grapes. They had come
now to the horrible flight that succeeded the defeat; the broken,
demoralized, famishing regiments flying through the fields, the
highroads blocked with men, horses, wagons, guns, in inextricable
confusion; all the wreck and ruin of a beaten army that pressed on,
on, on, with the chill breath of panic on their backs. As they had not
had wit enough to fall back while there was time and take post among
the passes of the Vosges, where ten thousand men would have sufficed
to hold in check a hundred thousand, they should at least have blown
up the bridges and destroyed the tunnels; but the generals had lost
their heads, and both sides were so dazed, each was so ignorant of the
other's movements, that for a time each of them was feeling to
ascertain the position of its opponent, MacMahon hurrying off toward
Luneville, while the Crown Prince of Prussia was looking for him in
the direction of the Vosges. On the 7th the remnant of the 1st corps
passed through Saverne, like a swollen stream that carries away upon
its muddy bosom all with which it comes in contact. On the 8th, at
Sarrebourg, the 5th corps came tumbling in upon the 1st, like one mad
mountain torrent pouring its waters into another. The 5th was also
flying, defeated without having fought a battle, sweeping away with it
its commander, poor General de Failly, almost crazy with the thought
that to his inactivity was imputed the responsibility of the defeat,
when the fault all rested in the Marshal's having failed to send him
orders. The mad flight continued on the 9th and 10th, a stampede in
which no one turned to look behind him. On the 11th, in order to turn
Nancy, which a mistaken rumor had reported to be occupied by the
enemy, they made their way in a pouring rainstorm to Bayon; the 12th
they camped at Haroue, the 13th at Vicherey, and on the 14th were at
Neufchateau, where at last they struck the railroad, and for three
days the work went on of loading the weary men into the cars that were
to take them to Chalons. Twenty-four hours after the last train rolled
out of the station the Prussians entered the town. "Ah, the cursed
luck!" said Picot in conclusion; "how we had to ply our legs! And we
who should by rights have been in hospital!"

Coutard emptied what was left in the bottle into his own and his
comrade's glass. "Yes, we got on our pins, somehow, and are running
yet. Bah! it is the best thing for us, after all, since it gives us a
chance to drink the health of those who were not knocked over."

Maurice saw through it all. The sledge hammer blow of Froeschwiller,
following so close on the heels of the idiotic surprise at
Wissembourg, was the lightning flash whose baleful light disclosed to
him the entire naked, terrible truth. We were taken unprepared; we had
neither guns, nor men, nor generals, while our despised foe was an
innumerable host, provided with all modern appliances and faultless in
discipline and leadership. The three German armies had burst apart the
weak line of our seven corps, scattered between Metz and Strasbourg,
like three powerful wedges. We were doomed to fight our battle out
unaided; nothing could be hoped for now from Austria and Italy, for
all the Emperor's plans were disconcerted by the tardiness of our
operations and the incapacity of the commanders. Fate, even, seemed to
be working against us, heaping all sorts of obstacles and ill-timed
accidents in our path and favoring the secret plan of the Prussians,
which was to divide our armies, throwing one portion back on Metz,
where it would be cut off from France, while they, having first
destroyed the other fragment, should be marching on Paris. It was as
plain now as a problem in mathematics that our defeat would be owing
to causes that were patent to everyone; it was bravery without
intelligent guidance pitted against numbers and cold science. Men
might discuss the question as they would in after days; happen what
might, defeat was certain in spite of everything, as certain and
inexorable as the laws of nature that rule our planet.

In the midst of his uncheerful revery, Maurice's eyes suddenly lighted
on the legend scrawled on the wall before him--_Vive Napoleon!_ and a
sensation of intolerable distress seemed to pierce his heart like a
red hot iron. Could it be true, then, that France, whose victories
were the theme of song and story everywhere, the great nation whose
drums had sounded throughout the length and breadth of Europe, had
been thrown in the dust at the first onset by an insignificant race,
despised of everyone? Fifty years had sufficed to compass it; the
world had changed, and defeat most fearful had overtaken those who had
been deemed invincible. He remembered the words that had been uttered
by Weiss his brother-in-law, during that evening of anxiety when they
were at Mulhausen. Yes, he alone of them had been clear of vision, had
penetrated the hidden causes that had long been slowly sapping our
strength, had felt the freshening gale of youth and progress under the
impulse of which Germany was being wafted onward to prosperity and
power. Was not the old warlike age dying and a new one coming to the
front? Woe to that one among the nations which halted in its onward
march! the victory is to those who are with the advance-guard, to
those who are clear of head and strong of body, to the most powerful.

But just then there came from the smoke-blackened kitchen, where the
walls were bright with the colored prints of Epinal, a sound of voices
and the squalling of a girl who submits, not unwillingly, to be
tousled. It was Lieutenant Rochas, availing himself of his privilege
as a conquering hero, to catch and kiss the pretty waitress. He came
out into the arbor, where he ordered a cup of coffee to be served him,
and as he had heard the concluding words of Picot's narrative,
proceeded to take a hand in the conversation:

"Bah! my children, those things that you are speaking of don't amount
to anything. It is only the beginning of the dance; you will see the
fun commence in earnest presently. _Pardi_! up to the present time
they have been five to our one, but things are going to take a change
now; just put that in your pipe and smoke it. We are three hundred
thousand strong here, and every move we make, which nobody can see
through, is made with the intention of bringing the Prussians down on
us, while Bazaine, who has got his eye on them, will take them in
their rear. And then we'll smash 'em, _crac_! just as I smash this
fly!"

Bringing his hands together with a sounding clap he caught and crushed
a fly on the wing, and he laughed loud and cheerily, believing with
all his simple soul in the feasibility of a plan that seemed so
simple, steadfast in his faith in the invincibility of French courage.
He good-naturedly informed the two soldiers of the exact position of
their regiments, then lit a cigar and seated himself contentedly
before his _demitasse_.

"The pleasure was all mine, comrades!" Maurice replied to Coutard and
Picot, who, as they were leaving, thanked him for the cheese and wine.

He had also called for a cup of coffee and sat watching the
Lieutenant, whose hopefulness had communicated itself to him, a little
surprised, however, to hear him enumerate their strength at three
hundred thousand men, when it was not more than a hundred thousand,
and at his happy-go-lucky way of crushing the Prussians between the
two armies of Chalons and Metz. But then he, too, felt such need of
some comforting illusion! Why should he not continue to hope when all
those glorious memories of the past that he had evoked were still
ringing in his ears? The old inn was so bright and cheerful, with its
trellis hung with the purple grapes of France, ripening in the golden
sunlight! And again his confidence gained a momentary ascendancy over
the gloomy despair that the late events had engendered in him.

Maurice's eyes had rested for a moment on an officer of chasseurs
d'Afrique who, with his orderly, had disappeared at a sharp trot
around the corner of the silent house where the Emperor was quartered,
and when the orderly came back alone and stopped with his two horses
before the inn door he gave utterance to an exclamation of surprise:

"Prosper! Why, I supposed you were at Metz!"

It was a young man of Remilly, a simple farm-laborer, whom he had
known as a boy in the days when he used to go and spend his vacations
with his uncle Fouchard. He had been drawn, and when the war broke out
had been three years in Africa; he cut quite a dashing figure in his
sky-blue jacket, his wide red trousers with blue stripes and red
woolen belt, with his sun-dried face and strong, sinewy limbs that
indicated great strength and activity.

"Hallo! it's Monsieur Maurice! I'm glad to see you!"

He took things very easily, however, conducting the steaming horses to
the stable, and to his own, more particularly, giving a paternal
attention. It was no doubt his affection for the noble animal,
contracted when he was a boy and rode him to the plow, that had made
him select the cavalry arm of the service.

"We've just come in from Monthois, more than ten leagues at a
stretch," he said when he came back, "and Poulet will be wanting his
breakfast."

Poulet was the horse. He declined to eat anything himself; would only
accept a cup of coffee. He had to wait for his officer, who had to
wait for the Emperor; he might be five minutes, and then again he
might be two hours, so his officer had told him to put the horses in
the stable. And as Maurice, whose curiosity was aroused, showed some
disposition to pump him, his face became as vacant as a blank page.

"Can't say. An errand of some sort--papers to be delivered."

But Rochas looked at the chasseur with an eye of tenderness, for the
uniform awakened old memories of Africa.

"Eh! my lad, where were you stationed out there?"

"At Medeah, Lieutenant."

Ah, Medeah! And drawing their chairs closer together they started a
conversation, regardless of difference in rank. The life of the desert
had become a second nature, for Prosper, where the trumpet was
continually calling them to arms, where a large portion of their time
was spent on horseback, riding out to battle as they would to the
chase, to some grand battue of Arabs. There was just one soup-basin
for every six men, or tribe, as it was called, and each tribe was a
family by itself, one of its members attending to the cooking, another
washing their linen, the others pitching the tent, caring for the
horses, and cleaning the arms. By day they scoured the country beneath
a sun like a ball of blazing copper, loaded down with the burden of
their arms and utensils; at night they built great fires to drive away
the mosquitoes and sat around them, singing the songs of France. Often
it happened that in the luminous darkness of the night, thick set with
stars, they had to rise and restore peace among their four-footed
friends, who, in the balmy softness of the air, had set to biting and
kicking one another, uprooting their pickets and neighing and snorting
furiously. Then there was the delicious coffee, their greatest, indeed
their only, luxury, which they ground by the primitive appliances of a
carbine-butt and a porringer, and afterward strained through a red
woolen sash. But their life was not one of unalloyed enjoyment; there
were dark days, also, when they were far from the abodes of civilized
man with the enemy before them. No more fires, then; no singing, no
good times. There were times when hunger, thirst and want of sleep
caused them horrible suffering, but no matter; they loved that daring,
adventurous life, that war of skirmishes, so propitious for the
display of personal bravery and as interesting as a fairy tale,
enlivened by the _razzias_, which were only public plundering on a
larger scale, and by marauding, or the private peculations of the
chicken-thieves, which afforded many an amusing story that made even
the generals laugh.

"Ah!" said Prosper, with a more serious face, "it's different here;
the fighting is done in quite another way."

And in reply to a question asked by Maurice, he told the story of
their landing at Toulon and the long and wearisome march to Luneville.
It was there that they first received news of Wissembourg and
Froeschwiller. After that his account was less clear, for he got the
names of towns mixed, Nancy and Saint-Mihiel, Saint-Mihiel and Metz.
There must have been heavy fighting on the 14th, for the sky was all
on fire, but all he saw of it was four uhlans behind a hedge. On the
16th there was another engagement; they could hear the artillery going
as early as six o'clock in the morning, and he had been told that on
the 18th they started the dance again, more lively than ever. But the
chasseurs were not in it that time, for at Gravelotte on the 16th, as
they were standing drawn up along a road waiting to wheel into column,
the Emperor, who passed that way in a victoria, took them to act as
his escort to Verdun. And a pretty little jaunt it was, twenty-six
miles at a hard gallop, with the fear of being cut off by the
Prussians at any moment!

"And what of Bazaine?" asked Rochas.

"Bazaine? they say that he is mightily well pleased that the Emperor
lets him alone."

But the Lieutenant wanted to know if Bazaine was coming to join them,
whereon Prosper made a gesture expressive of uncertainty; what did any
one know? Ever since the 16th their time had been spent in marching
and countermarching in the rain, out on reconnoissance and grand-guard
duty, and they had not seen a sign of an enemy. Now they were part of
the army of Chalons. His regiment, together with two regiments of
chasseurs de France and one of hussars, formed one of the divisions of
the cavalry of reserve, the first division, commanded by General
Margueritte, of whom he spoke with most enthusiastic warmth.

"Ah, the _bougre_! the enemy will catch a Tartar in him! But what's
the good talking? the only use they can find for us is to send us
pottering about in the mud."

There was silence for a moment, then Maurice gave some brief news of
Remilly and uncle Fouchard, and Prosper expressed his regret that he
could not go and shake hands with Honore, the quartermaster-sergeant,
whose battery was stationed more than a league away, on the other side
of the Laon road. But the chasseur pricked up his ears at hearing the
whinnying of a horse and rose and went out to make sure that Poulet
was not in want of anything. It was the hour sacred to coffee and
_pousse-cafe_, and it was not long before the little hostelry was full
to overflowing with officers and men of every arm of the service.
There was not a vacant table, and the bright uniforms shone
resplendent against the green background of leaves checkered with
spots of sunshine. Major Bouroche had just come in and taken a seat
beside Rochas, when Jean presented himself with an order.

"Lieutenant, the captain desires me to say that he wishes to see you
at three o'clock on company business."

Rochas signified by a nod of the head that he had heard, and Jean did
not go away at once, but stood smiling at Maurice, who was lighting a
cigarette. Ever since the occurrence in the railway car there had been
a sort of tacit truce between the two men; they seemed to be
reciprocally studying each other, with an increasing interest and
attraction. But just then Prosper came back, a little out of temper.

"I mean to have something to eat unless my officer comes out of that
shanty pretty quick. The Emperor is just as likely as not to stay away
until dark, confound it all."

"Tell me," said Maurice, his curiosity again getting the better of
him, "isn't it possible that the news you are bringing may be from
Bazaine?"

"Perhaps so. There was a good deal of talk about him down there at
Monthois."

At that moment there was a stir outside in the street, and Jean, who
was standing by one of the doors of the arbor, turned and said:

"The Emperor!"

Immediately everyone was on his feet. Along the broad, white road,
with its rows of poplars on either side, came a troop of cent-gardes,
spick and span in their brilliant uniforms, their cuirasses blazing in
the sunlight, and immediately behind them rode the Emperor,
accompanied by his staff, in a wide open space, followed by a second
troop of cent-gardes.

There was a general uncovering of heads, and here and there a hurrah
was heard; and the Emperor raised his head as he passed; his face
looked drawn, the eyes were dim and watery. He had the dazed
appearance of one suddenly aroused from slumber, smiled faintly at
sight of the cheerful inn, and saluted. From behind them Maurice and
Jean distinctly heard old Bouroche growl, having first surveyed the
sovereign with his practiced eye:

"There's no mistake about it, that man is in a bad way." Then he
succinctly completed his diagnosis: "His jig is up!"

Jean shook his head and thought in his limited, common sense way: "It
is a confounded shame to let a man like that have command of the army!"
And ten minutes later, when Maurice, comforted by his good breakfast,
shook hands with Prosper and strolled away to smoke more cigarettes,
he carried with him the picture of the Emperor, seated on his
easy-gaited horse, so pale, so gentle, the man of thought, the
dreamer, wanting in energy when the moment for action came. He was
reputed to be good-hearted, capable, swayed by generous and noble
thoughts, a silent man of strong and tenacious will; he was very
brave, too, scorning danger with the scorn of the fatalist for whom
destiny has no fears; but in critical moments a fatal lethargy seemed
to overcome him; he appeared to become paralyzed in presence of
results, and powerless thereafter to struggle against Fortune should
she prove adverse. And Maurice asked himself if his were not a special
physiological condition, aggravated by suffering; if the indecision
and increasing incapacity that the Emperor had displayed ever since
the opening of the campaign were not to be attributed to his manifest
illness. That would explain everything: a minute bit of foreign
substance in a man's system, and empires totter.

The camp that evening was all astir with activity; officers were
bustling about with orders and arranging for the start the following
morning at five o'clock. Maurice experienced a shock of surprise and
alarm to learn that once again all their plans were changed, that they
were not to fall back on Paris, but proceed to Verdun and effect a
junction with Bazaine. There was a report that dispatches had come in
during the day from the marshal announcing that he was retreating, and
the young man's thoughts reverted to the officer of chasseurs and his
rapid ride from Monthois; perhaps he had been the bearer of a copy of
the dispatch. So, then, the opinions of the Empress-regent and the
Council of Ministers had prevailed with the vacillating MacMahon, in
their dread to see the Emperor return to Paris and their inflexible
determination to push the army forward in one supreme attempt to save
the dynasty; and the poor Emperor, that wretched man for whom there
was no place in all his vast empire, was to be bundled to and fro
among the baggage of his army like some worthless, worn-out piece of
furniture, condemned to the irony of dragging behind him in his suite
his imperial household, cent-gardes, horses, carriages, cooks, silver
stew-pans and cases of champagne, trailing his flaunting mantle,
embroidered with the Napoleonic bees, through the blood and mire of
the highways of his retreat.

At midnight Maurice was not asleep; he was feverishly wakeful, and his
gloomy reflections kept him tossing and tumbling on his pallet. He
finally arose and went outside, where he found comfort and refreshment
in the cool night air. The sky was overspread with clouds, the
darkness was intense; along the front of the line the expiring
watch-fires gleamed with a red and sullen light at distant intervals,
and in the deathlike, boding silence could be heard the long-drawn
breathing of the hundred thousand men who slumbered there. Then
Maurice became more tranquil, and there descended on him a sentiment
of brotherhood, full of compassionate kindness for all those
slumbering fellow-creatures, of whom thousands would soon be sleeping
the sleep of death. Brave fellows! True, many of them were thieves and
drunkards, but think of what they had suffered and the excuse there
was for them in the universal demoralization! The glorious veterans of
Solferino and Sebastopol were but a handful, incorporated in the ranks
of the newly raised troops, too few in number to make their example
felt. The four corps that had been got together and equipped so
hurriedly, devoid of every element of cohesion, were the forlorn hope,
the expiatory band that their rulers were sending to the sacrifice in
the endeavor to avert the wrath of destiny. They would bear their
cross to the bitter end, atoning with their life's blood for the
faults of others, glorious amid disaster and defeat.

And then it was that Maurice, there in the darkness that was instinct
with life, became conscious that a great duty lay before him. He
ceased to beguile himself with the illusive prospect of great
victories to be gained; the march to Verdun was a march to death, and
he so accepted it, since it was their lot to die, with brave and
cheerful resignation.



                                IV.

On Tuesday, the 23d of August, at six o'clock in the morning, camp was
broken, and as a stream that has momentarily expanded into a lake
resumes its course again, the hundred and odd thousand men of the army
of Chalons put themselves in motion and soon were pouring onward in a
resistless torrent; and notwithstanding the rumors that had been
current since the preceding day, it was a great surprise to most to
see that instead of continuing their retrograde movement they were
leaving Paris behind them and turning their faces toward the unknown
regions of the East.

At five o'clock in the morning the 7th corps was still unsupplied with
cartridges. For two days the artillerymen had been working like
beavers to unload the _materiel_, horses, and stores that had been
streaming from Metz into the overcrowded station, and it was only at
the very last moment that some cars of cartridges were discovered
among the tangled trains, and that a detail which included Jean among
its numbers was enabled to bring back two hundred and forty thousand
on carts that they had hurriedly requisitioned. Jean distributed the
regulation number, one hundred cartridges to a man, among his squad,
just as Gaude, the company bugler, sounded the order to march.

The 106th was not to pass through Rheims, their orders being to turn
the city and debouch into the Chalons road farther on, but on this
occasion there was the usual failure to regulate the order and time of
marching, so that, the four corps having commenced to move at the same
moment, they collided when they came out upon the roads that they were
to traverse in common and the result was inextricable confusion.
Cavalry and artillery were constantly cutting in among the infantry
and bringing them to a halt; whole brigades were compelled to leave
the road and stand at ordered arms in the plowed fields for more than
an hour, waiting until the way should be cleared. And to make matters
worse, they had hardly left the camp when a terrible storm broke over
them, the rain pelting down in torrents, drenching the men completely
and adding intolerably to the weight of knapsacks and great-coats.
Just as the rain began to hold up, however, the 106th saw a chance to
go forward, while some zouaves in an adjoining field, who were forced
to wait yet for a while, amused themselves by pelting one another with
balls of moist earth, and the consequent condition of their uniforms
afforded them much merriment.

The sun suddenly came shining out again in the clear sky, the warm,
bright sun of an August morning, and with it came returning gayety;
the men were steaming like a wash of linen hung out to dry in the open
air: the moisture evaporated from their clothing in little more time
than it takes to tell it, and when they were warm and dry again, like
dogs who shake the water from them when they emerge from a pond, they
chaffed one another good-naturedly on their bedraggled appearance and
the splashes of mud on their red trousers. Wherever two roads
intersected another halt was necessitated; the last one was in a
little village just beyond the walls of the city, in front of a small
saloon that seemed to be doing a thriving business. Thereon it
occurred to Maurice to treat the squad to a drink, by way of wishing
them all good luck.

"Corporal, will you allow me--"

Jean, after hesitating a moment, accepted a "pony" of brandy for
himself. Loubet and Chouteau were of the party (the latter had been
watchful and submissive since that day when the corporal had evinced a
disposition to use his heavy fists), and also Pache and Lapoulle, a
couple of very decent fellows when there was no one to set them a bad
example.

"Your good health, corporal!" said Chouteau in a respectful, whining
tone.

"Thank you; here's hoping that you may bring back your head and all
your legs and arms!" Jean politely replied, while the others laughed
approvingly.

But the column was about to move; Captain Beaudoin came up with a
scandalized look on his face and a reproof at the tip of his tongue,
while Lieutenant Rochas, more indulgent to the small weaknesses of his
men, turned his head so as not to see what was going on. And now they
were stepping out at a good round pace along the Chalons road, which
stretched before them for many a long league, bordered with trees on
either side, undeviatingly straight, like a never-ending ribbon
unrolled between the fields of yellow stubble that were dotted here
and there with tall stacks and wooden windmills brandishing their lean
arms. More to the north were rows of telegraph poles, indicating the
position of other roads, on which they could distinguish the black,
crawling lines of other marching regiments. In many places the troops
had left the highway and were moving in deep columns across the open
plain. To the left and front a cavalry brigade was seen, jogging along
at an easy trot in a blaze of sunshine. The entire wide horizon,
usually so silent and deserted, was alive and populous with those
streams of men, pressing onward, onward, in long drawn, black array,
like the innumerable throng of insects from some gigantic ant-hill.

About nine o'clock the regiment left the Chalons road and wheeled to
the left into another that led to Suippe, which, like the first,
extended, straight as an arrow's flight, far as the eye could see. The
men marched at the route-step in two straggling files along either
side of the road, thus leaving the central space free for the
officers, and Maurice could not help noticing their anxious, care-worn
air, in striking contrast with the jollity and good-humor of the
soldiers, who were happy as children to be on the move once more. As
the squad was near the head of the column he could even distinguish
the Colonel, M. de Vineuil, in the distance, and was impressed by the
grave earnestness of his manner, and his tall, rigid form, swaying in
cadence to the motion of his charger. The band had been sent back to
the rear, to keep company with the regimental wagons; it played but
once during that entire campaign. Then came the ambulances and
engineer's train attached to the division, and succeeding that the
corps train, an interminable procession of forage wagons, closed vans
for stores, carts for baggage, and vehicles of every known
description, occupying a space of road nearly four miles in length,
and which, at the infrequent curves in the highway, they could see
winding behind them like the tail of some great serpent. And last of
all, at the extreme rear of the column, came the herds, "rations on
the hoof," a surging, bleating, bellowing mass of sheep and oxen,
urged on by blows and raising clouds of dust, reminding one of the old
warlike peoples of the East and their migrations.

Lapoulle meantime would every now and then give a hitch of his
shoulders in an attempt to shift the weight of his knapsack when it
began to be too heavy. The others, alleging that he was the strongest,
were accustomed to make him carry the various utensils that were
common to the squad, including the big kettle and the water-pail; on
this occasion they had even saddled him with the company shovel,
assuring him that it was a badge of honor. So far was he from
complaining that he was now laughing at a song with which Loubet, the
tenor of the squad, was trying to beguile the tedium of the way.
Loubet had made himself quite famous by reason of his knapsack, in
which was to be found a little of everything: linen, an extra pair of
shoes, haberdashery, chocolate, brushes, a plate and cup, to say
nothing of his regular rations of biscuit and coffee, and although the
all-devouring receptacle also contained his cartridges, and his
blankets were rolled on top of it, together with the shelter-tent and
stakes, the load nevertheless appeared light, such an excellent system
he had of packing his trunk, as he himself expressed it.

"It's a beastly country, all the same!" Chouteau kept repeating from
time to time, casting a look of intense disgust over the dreary plains
of "lousy Champagne."

Broad expanses of chalky ground of a dirty white lay before and around
them, and seemed to have no end. Not a farmhouse to be seen anywhere,
not a living being; nothing but flocks of crows, forming small spots
of blackness on the immensity of the gray waste. On the left, far away
in the distance, the low hills that bounded the horizon in that
direction were crowned by woods of somber pines, while on the right an
unbroken wall of trees indicated the course of the river Vesle. But
over there behind the hills they had seen for the last hour a dense
smoke was rising, the heavy clouds of which obscured the sky and told
of a dreadful conflagration raging at no great distance.

"What is burning over there?" was the question that was on the lips of
everyone.

The answer was quickly given and ran through the column from front to
rear. The camp of Chalons had been fired, it was said, by order of the
Emperor, to keep the immense collection of stores there from falling
into the hands of the Prussians, and for the last two days it had been
going up in flame and smoke. The cavalry of the rear-guard had been
instructed to apply the torch to two immense warehouses, filled with
tents, tent-poles, mattresses, clothing, shoes, blankets, mess
utensils, supplies of every kind sufficient for the equipment of a
hundred thousand men. Stacks of forage also had been lighted, and were
blazing like huge beacon-fires, and an oppressive silence settled down
upon the army as it pursued its march across the wide, solitary plain
at sight of that dusky, eddying column that rose from behind the
distant hills, filling the heavens with desolation. All that was to be
heard in the bright sunlight was the measured tramp of many feet upon
the hollow ground, while involuntarily the eyes of all were turned on
that livid cloud whose baleful shadows rested on their march for many
a league.

Their spirits rose again when they made their midday halt in a field
of stubble, where the men could seat themselves on their unslung
knapsacks and refresh themselves with a bite. The large square
biscuits could only be eaten by crumbling them in the soup, but the
little round ones were quite a delicacy, light and appetizing; the
only trouble was that they left an intolerable thirst behind them.
Pache sang a hymn, being invited thereto, the squad joining in the
chorus. Jean smiled good-naturedly without attempting to check them in
their amusement, while Maurice, at sight of the universal cheerfulness
and the good order with which their first day's march was conducted,
felt a revival of confidence. The remainder of the allotted task of
the day was performed with the same light-hearted alacrity, although
the last five miles tried their endurance. They had abandoned the high
road, leaving the village of Prosnes to their right, in order to avail
themselves of a short cut across a sandy heath diversified by an
occasional thin pine wood, and the entire division, with its
interminable train at its heels, turned and twisted in and out among
the trees, sinking ankle deep in the yielding sand at every step. It
seemed as if the cheerless waste would never end; all that they met
was a flock of very lean sheep, guarded by a big black dog.

It was about four o'clock when at last the 106th halted for the night
at Dontrien, a small village on the banks of the Suippe. The little
stream winds among some pretty groves of trees; the old church stands
in the middle of the graveyard, which is shaded in its entire extent
by a magnificent chestnut. The regiment pitched its tents on the left
bank, in a meadow that sloped gently down to the margin of the river.
The officers said that all the four corps would bivouac that evening
on the line of the Suippe between Auberive and Hentregiville,
occupying the intervening villages of Dontrien, Betheniville and
Pont-Faverger, making a line of battle nearly five leagues long.

Gaude immediately gave the call for "distribution," and Jean had to
run for it, for the corporal was steward-in-chief, and it behooved him
to be on the lookout to protect his men's interests. He had taken
Lapoulle with him, and in a quarter of an hour they returned with some
ribs of beef and a bundle of firewood. In the short space of time
succeeding their arrival three steers of the herd that followed the
column had been knocked in the head under a great oak-tree, skinned,
and cut up. Lapoulle had to return for bread, which the villagers of
Dontrien had been baking all that afternoon in their ovens. There was
really no lack of anything on that first day, setting aside wine and
tobacco, with which the troops were to be obliged to dispense during
the remainder of the campaign.

Upon Jean's return he found Chouteau engaged in raising the tent,
assisted by Pache; he looked at them for a moment with the critical
eye of an old soldier who had no great opinion of their abilities.

"It will do very well if the weather is fine to-night," he said at
last, "but if it should come on to blow we would like enough wake up
and find ourselves in the river. Let me show you."

And he was about to send Maurice with the large pail for water, but
the young man had sat down on the ground, taken off his shoe, and was
examining his right foot.

"Hallo, there! what's the matter with you?"

"My shoe has chafed my foot and raised a blister. My other shoes were
worn out, and when we were at Rheims I bought these, like a big fool,
because they were a good fit. I should have selected gunboats."

Jean kneeled and took the foot in his hand, turning it over as
carefully as if it had been a little child's, with a disapproving
shake of his head.

"You must be careful; it is no laughing matter, a thing like that. A
soldier without the use of his feet is of no good to himself or anyone
else. When we were in Italy my captain used always to say that it is
the men's legs that win battles."

He bade Pache go for the water, no very hard task, as the river was
but a few yards away, and Loubet, having in the meantime dug a shallow
trench and lit his fire, was enabled to commence operations on his
_pot-au-feu_, which he did by putting on the big kettle full of water
and plunging into it the meat that he had previously corded together
with a bit of twine, _secundum artem_. Then it was solid comfort for
them to watch the boiling of the soup; the whole squad, their chores
done up and their day's labor ended, stretched themselves on the grass
around the fire in a family group, full of tender anxiety for the
simmering meat, while Loubet occasionally stirred the pot with a
gravity fitted to the importance of his position. Like children and
savages, their sole instinct was to eat and sleep, careless of the
morrow, while advancing to face unknown risks and dangers.

But Maurice had unpacked his knapsack and come across a newspaper that
he had bought at Rheims, and Chouteau asked:

"Is there anything about the Prussians in it? Read us the news!"

They were a happy family under Jean's mild despotism. Maurice
good-naturedly read such news as he thought might interest them, while
Pache, the seamstress of the company, mended his greatcoat for him and
Lapoulle cleaned his musket. The first item was a splendid victory won
by Bazaine, who had driven an entire Prussian corps into the quarries
of Jaumont, and the trumped-up tale was told with an abundance of
dramatic detail, how men and horses went over the precipice and were
crushed on the rocks beneath out of all semblance of humanity, so that
there was not one whole corpse found for burial. Then there were
minute details of the pitiable condition of the German armies ever
since they had invaded France: the ill-fed, poorly equipped soldiers
were actually falling from inanition and dying by the roadside of
horrible diseases. Another article told how the king of Prussia had
the diarrhea, and how Bismarck had broken his leg in jumping from the
window of an inn where a party of zouaves had just missed capturing
him. Capital news! Lapoulle laughed over it as if he would split his
sides, while Chouteau and the others, without expressing the faintest
doubt, chuckled at the idea that soon they would be picking up
Prussians as boys pick up sparrows in a field after a hail-storm. But
they laughed loudest at old Bismarck's accident; oh! the zouaves and
the turcos, they were the boys for one's money! It was said that the
Germans were in an ecstasy of fear and rage, declaring that it was
unworthy of a nation that claimed to be civilized to employ such
heathen savages in its armies. Although they had been decimated at
Froeschwiller, the foreign troops seemed to have a good deal of life
left in them.

It was just striking six from the steeple of the little church of
Dontrien when Loubet shouted:

"Come to supper!"

The squad lost no time in seating themselves in a circle. At the very
last moment Loubet had succeeded in getting some vegetables from a
peasant who lived hard by. That made the crowning glory of the feast:
a soup perfumed with carrots and onions, that went down the throat
soft as velvet--what could they have desired more? The spoons rattled
merrily in the little wooden bowls. Then it devolved on Jean, who
always served the portions, to distribute the beef, and it behooved
him that day to do it with the strictest impartiality, for hungry eyes
were watching him and there would have been a growl had anyone
received a larger piece than his neighbors. They concluded by licking
the porringers, and were smeared with soup up to their eyes.

"Ah, _nom de Dieu!_" Chouteau declared when he had finished, throwing
himself flat on his back; "I would rather take that than a beating,
any day!"

Maurice, too, whose foot pained him less now that he could give it a
little rest, was conscious of that sensation of well-being that is the
result of a full stomach. He was beginning to take more kindly to his
rough companions, and to bring himself down nearer to their level
under the pressure of the physical necessities of their life in
common. That night he slept the same deep sleep as did his five
tent-mates; they all huddled close together, finding the sensation of
animal warmth not disagreeable in the heavy dew that fell. It is
necessary to state that Lapoulle, at the instigation of Loubet, had
gone to a stack not far away and feloniously appropriated a quantity
of straw, in which our six gentlemen snored as if it had been a bed of
down. And from Auberive to Hentregiville, along the pleasant banks of
the Suippe as it meandered sluggishly between its willows, the fires
of those hundred thousand sleeping men illuminated the starlit night
for fifteen miles, like a long array of twinkling stars.

At sunrise they made coffee, pulverizing the berries in a wooden bowl
with a musket-butt, throwing the powder into boiling water, and
settling it with a drop of cold water. The luminary rose that morning
in a bank of purple and gold, affording a spectacle of royal
magnificence, but Maurice had no eye for such displays, and Jean, with
the weather-wisdom of a peasant, cast an anxious glance at the red
disk, which presaged rain; and it was for that reason that, the
surplus of bread baked the day before having been distributed and the
squad having received three loaves, he reproved severely Loubet and
Pache for making them fast on the outside of their knapsacks; but the
tents were folded and the knapsacks packed, and so no one paid any
attention to him. Six o'clock was sounding from all the bells of the
village when the army put itself in motion and stoutly resumed its
advance in the bright hopefulness of the dawn of the new day.

The 106th, in order to reach the road that leads from Rheims to
Vouziers, struck into a cross-road, and for more than an hour their
way was an ascending one. Below them, toward the north, Betheniville
was visible among the trees, where the Emperor was reported to have
slept, and when they reached the Vouziers road the level country of
the preceding day again presented itself to their gaze and the lean
fields of "lousy Champagne" stretched before them in wearisome
monotony. They now had the Arne, an insignificant stream, flowing on
their left, while to the right the treeless, naked country stretched
far as the eye could see in an apparently interminable horizon. They
passed through a village or two: Saint-Clement, with its single
winding street bordered by a double row of houses, Saint-Pierre, a
little town of miserly rich men who had barricaded their doors and
windows. The long halt occurred about ten o'clock, near another
village, Saint-Etienne, where the men were highly delighted to find
tobacco once more. The 7th corps had been cut up into several columns,
and the 106th headed one of these columns, having behind it only a
battalion of chasseurs and the reserve artillery. Maurice turned his
head at every bend in the road to catch a glimpse of the long train
that had so excited his interest the day before, but in vain; the
herds had gone off in some other direction, and all he could see was
the guns, looming inordinately large upon those level plains, like
monster insects of somber mien.

After leaving Saint-Etienne, however, there was a change for the
worse, and the road from bad became abominable, rising by an easy
ascent between great sterile fields in which the only signs of
vegetation were the everlasting pine woods with their dark verdure,
forming a dismal contrast with the gray-white soil. It was the most
forlorn spot they had seen yet. The ill-paved road, washed by the
recent rains, was a lake of mud, of tenacious, slippery gray clay,
which held the men's feet like so much pitch. It was wearisome work;
the troops were exhausted and could not get forward, and as if things
were not bad enough already, the rain suddenly began to come down most
violently. The guns were mired and had to be left in the road.

Chouteau, who had been given the squad's rice to carry, fatigued and
exasperated with his heavy load, watched for an opportunity when no
one was looking and dropped the package. But Loubet had seen him.

"See here, that's no way! you ought not to do that. The comrades will
be hungry by and by."

"Let be!" replied Chouteau. "There is plenty of rice; they will give
us more at the end of the march."

And Loubet, who had the bacon, convinced by such cogent reasoning,
dropped his load in turn.

Maurice was suffering more and more with his foot, of which the heel
was badly inflamed. He limped along in such a pitiable state that
Jean's sympathy was aroused.

"Does it hurt? is it no better, eh?" And as the men were halted just
then for a breathing spell, he gave him a bit of good advice. "Take
off your shoe and go barefoot; the cool earth will ease the pain."

And in that way Maurice found that he could keep up with his comrades
with some degree of comfort; he experienced a sentiment of deep
gratitude. It was a piece of great good luck that their squad had a
corporal like him, a man who had seen service and knew all the tricks
of the trade: he was an uncultivated peasant, of course, but a good
fellow all the same.

It was late when they reached their place of bivouac at Contreuve,
after marching a long time on the Chalons and Vouziers road and
descending by a steep path into the valley of the Semide, up which
they came through a stretch of narrow meadows. The landscape had
undergone a change; they were now in the Ardennes, and from the lofty
hills above the village where the engineers had staked off the ground
for the 7th corps' camp, the valley of the Aisne was dimly visible in
the distance, veiled in the pale mists of the passing shower.

Six o'clock came and there had been no distribution of rations,
whereon Jean, in order to keep occupied, apprehensive also of the
consequences that might result from the high wind that was springing
up, determined to attend in person to the setting up of the tent. He
showed his men how it should be done, selecting a bit of ground that
sloped away a little to one side, setting the pegs at the proper
angle, and digging a little trench around the whole to carry off the
water. Maurice was excused from the usual nightly drudgery on account
of his sore foot, and was an interested witness of the intelligence
and handiness of the big young fellow whose general appearance was so
stolid and ungainly. He was completely knocked up with fatigue, but
the confidence that they were now advancing with a definite end in
view served to sustain him. They had had a hard time of it since they
left Rheims, making nearly forty miles in two days' marching; if they
could maintain the pace and if they kept straight on in the direction
they were pursuing, there could be no doubt that they would destroy
the second German army and effect a junction with Bazaine before the
third, the Crown Prince of Prussia's, which was said to be at
Vitry-le Francois, could get up to Verdun.

"Oh, come now! I wonder if they are going to let us starve!" was
Chouteau's remark when, at seven o'clock, there was still no sign of
rations.

By way of taking time by the forelock, Jean had instructed Loubet to
light the fire and put on the pot, and, as there was no issue of
firewood, he had been compelled to be blind to the slight irregularity
of the proceeding when that individual remedied the omission by
tearing the palings from an adjacent fence. When he suggested knocking
up a dish of bacon and rice, however, the truth had to come out, and
he was informed that the rice and bacon were lying in the mud of the
Saint-Etienne road. Chouteau lied with the greatest effrontery
declaring that the package must have slipped from his shoulders
without his noticing it.

"You are a couple of pigs!" Jean shouted angrily, "to throw away good
victuals, when there are so many poor devils going with an empty
stomach!"

It was the same with the three loaves that had been fastened outside
the knapsacks; they had not listened to his warning, and the
consequence was that the rain had soaked the bread and reduced it to
paste.

"A pretty pickle we are in!" he continued. "We had food in plenty, and
now here we are, without a crumb! Ah! you are a pair of dirty pigs!"

At that moment the first sergeant's call was heard, and Sergeant
Sapin, returning presently with his usual doleful air, informed the
men that it would be impossible to distribute rations that evening,
and that they would have to content themselves with what eatables they
had on their persons. It was reported that the trains had been delayed
by the bad weather, and as to the herds, they must have straggled off
as a result of conflicting orders. Subsequently it became known that
on that day the 5th and 12th corps had got up to Rethel, where the
headquarters of the army were established, and the inhabitants of the
neighboring villages, possessed with a mad desire to see the Emperor,
had inaugurated a hegira toward that town, taking with them everything
in the way of provisions; so that when the 7th corps came up they
found themselves in a land of nakedness: no bread, no meat, no people,
even. To add to their distress a misconception of orders had caused
the supplies of the commissary department to be directed on
Chene-Populeux. This was a state of affairs that during the entire
campaign formed the despair of the wretched commissaries, who had to
endure the abuse and execrations of the whole army, while their sole
fault lay in being punctual at rendezvous at which the troops failed
to appear.

"It serves you right, you dirty pigs!" continued Jean in his wrath,
"and you don't deserve the trouble that I am going to have in finding
you something to eat, for I suppose it is my duty not to let you
starve, all the same." And he started off to see what he could find,
as every good corporal does under such circumstances, taking with him
Pache, who was a favorite on account of his quiet manner, although he
considered him rather too priest-ridden.

But Loubet's attention had just been attracted to a little farmhouse,
one of the last dwellings in Contreuve, some two or three hundred
yards away, where there seemed to him to be promise of good results.
He called Chouteau and Lapoulle to him and said:

"Come along, and let's see what we can do. I've a notion there's grub
to be had over that way."

So Maurice was left to keep up the fire and watch the kettle, in which
the water was beginning to boil. He had seated himself on his blanket
and taken off his shoe in order to give his blister a chance to heal.
It amused him to look about the camp and watch the behavior of the
different squads now that there was to be no issue of rations; the
deduction that he arrived at was that some of them were in a chronic
state of destitution, while others reveled in continual abundance, and
that these conditions were ascribable to the greater or less degree of
tact and foresight of the corporal and his men. Amid the confusion
that reigned about the stacks and tents he remarked some squads who
had not been able even to start a fire, others of which the men had
abandoned hope and lain themselves resignedly down for the night,
while others again were ravenously devouring, no one knew what,
something good, no doubt. Another thing that impressed him was the
good order that prevailed in the artillery, which had its camp above
him, on the hillside. The setting sun peeped out from a rift in the
clouds and his rays were reflected from the burnished guns, from which
the men had cleansed the coat of mud that they had picked up along the
road.

In the meantime General Bourgain-Desfeuilles, commanding the brigade,
had found quarters suited to his taste in the little farmhouse toward
which the designs of Loubet and his companions were directed. He had
discovered something that had the semblance of a bed and was seated at
table with a roasted chicken and an omelette before him; consequently
he was in the best of humors, and as Colonel de Vineuil happened in
just then on regimental business, had invited him to dine. They were
enjoying their repast, therefore, waited on by a tall, light-haired
individual who had been in the farmer's service only three days and
claimed to be an Alsatian, one of those who had been forced to leave
their country after the disaster of Froeschwiller. The general did not
seem to think it necessary to use any restraint in presence of the
man, commenting freely on the movements of the army, and finally,
forgetful of the fact that he was not an inhabitant of the
country, began to question him about localities and distances. His
questions displayed such utter ignorance of the country that the
colonel, who had once lived at Mezieres, was astounded; he gave such
information as he had at command, which elicited from the chief the
exclamation:

"It is just like our idiotic government! How can they expect us to
fight in a country of which we know nothing?"

The colonel's face assumed a look of vague consternation. He knew that
immediately upon the declaration of war maps of Germany had been
distributed among the officers, while it was quite certain that not
one of them had a map of France. He was amazed and confounded by what
he had seen and heard since the opening of the campaign. His
unquestioned bravery was his distinctive trait; he was a somewhat weak
and not very brilliant commander, which caused him to be more loved
than respected in his regiment.

"It's too bad that a man can't eat his dinner in peace!" the general
suddenly blurted out. "What does all that uproar mean? Go and see what
the matter is, you Alsatian fellow!"

But the farmer anticipated him by appearing at the door, sobbing and
gesticulating like a crazy man. They were robbing him, the zouaves and
chasseurs were plundering his house. As he was the only one in the
village who had anything to sell he had foolishly allowed himself to
be persuaded to open shop. At first he had sold his eggs and chickens,
his rabbits, and potatoes, without exacting an extortionate profit,
pocketing his money and delivering the merchandise; then the customers
had streamed in in a constantly increasing throng, jostling and
worrying the old man, finally crowding him aside and taking all he had
without pretense of payment. And thus it was throughout the war; if
many peasants concealed their property and even denied a drink of
water to the thirsty soldier, it was because of their fear of the
irresistible inroads of that ocean of men, who swept everything clean
before them, thrusting the wretched owners from their houses and
beggaring them.

"Eh! will you hold your tongue, old man!" shouted the general in
disgust. "Those rascals ought to be shot at the rate of a dozen a day.
What is one to do?" And to avoid taking the measures that the case
demanded he gave orders to close the door, while the colonel explained
to him that there had been no issue of rations and the men were
hungry.

While these things were going on within the house Loubet outside had
discovered a field of potatoes; he and Lapoulle scaled the fence and
were digging the precious tubers with their hands and stuffing their
pockets with them when Chouteau, who in the pursuit of knowledge was
looking over a low wall, gave a shrill whistle that called them
hurriedly to his side. They uttered an exclamation of wonder and
delight; there was a flock of geese, ten fat, splendid geese,
pompously waddling about a small yard. A council of war was held
forthwith, and it was decided that Lapoulle should storm the place and
make prisoners of the garrison. The conflict was a bloody one; the
venerable gander on which the soldier laid his predaceous hands had
nearly deprived him of his nose with its bill, hard and sharp as a
tailor's shears. Then he caught it by the neck and tried to choke it,
but the bird tore his trousers with its strong claws and pummeled him
about the body with its great wings. He finally ended the battle by
braining it with his fist, and it had not ceased to struggle when he
leaped the wall, hotly pursued by the remainder of the flock, pecking
viciously at his legs.

When they got back to camp, with the unfortunate gander and the
potatoes hidden in a bag, they found that Jean and Pache had also been
successful in their expedition, and had enriched the common larder
with four loaves of fresh bread and a cheese that they had purchased
from a worthy old woman.

"The water is boiling and we will make some coffee," said the
corporal. "Here are bread and cheese; it will be a regular feast!"

He could not help laughing, however, when he looked down and saw the
goose lying at his feet. He raised it, examining and hefting it with
the judgment of an expert.

"Ah! upon my word, a fine bird! it must weigh twenty pounds."

"We were out walking and met the bird," Loubet explained in an
unctuously sanctimonious voice, "and it insisted on making our
acquaintance."

Jean made no reply, but his manner showed that he wished to hear
nothing more of the matter. Men must live, and then why in the name of
common sense should not those poor fellows, who had almost forgotten
how poultry tasted, have a treat once in a way!

Loubet had already kindled the fire into a roaring blaze; Pache and
Lapoulle set to work to pluck the goose; Chouteau, who had run off to
the artillerymen and begged a bit of twine, came back and stretched it
between two bayonets; the bird was suspended in front of the hot fire
and Maurice was given a cleaning rod and enjoined to keep it turning.
The big tin basin was set beneath to catch the gravy. It was a triumph
of culinary art; the whole regiment, attracted by the savory odor,
came and formed a circle about the fire and licked their chops. And
what a feast it was! roast goose, boiled potatoes, bread, cheese, and
coffee! When Jean had dissected the bird the squad applied itself
vigorously to the task before it; there was no talk of portions, every
man ate as much as he was capable of holding. They even sent a plate
full over to the artillerymen who had furnished the cord.

The officers of the regiment that evening were a very hungry set of
men, for owing to some mistake the canteen wagon was among the
missing, gone off to look after the corps train, maybe. If the men
were inconvenienced when there was no issue of ration they scarcely
ever failed to find something to eat in the end; they helped one
another out; the men of the different squads "chipped in" their
resources, each contributing his mite, while the officer, with no one
to look to save himself, was in a fair way of starving as soon as he
had not the canteen to fall back on. So there was a sneer on
Chouteau's face, buried in the carcass of the goose, as he saw Captain
Beaudoin go by with his prim, supercilious air, for he had heard that
officer summoning down imprecations on the driver of the missing
wagon; and he gave him an evil look out of the corner of his eye.

"Just look at him! See, his nose twitches like a rabbit's. He would
give a dollar for the pope's nose."

They all made merry at the expense of the captain, who was too callow
and too harsh to be a favorite with his men; they called him a
_pete-sec_. He seemed on the point of taking the squad in hand for the
scandal they were creating with their goose dinner, but thought better
of the matter, ashamed, probably, to show his hunger, and walked off,
holding his head very erect, as if he had seen nothing.

As for Lieutenant Rochas, who was also conscious of a terribly empty
sensation in his epigastric region, he put on a brave face and laughed
good-naturedly as he passed the thrice-lucky squad. His men adored
him, in the first place because he was at sword's points with the
captain, that little whipper-snapper from Saint-Cyr, and also because
he had once carried a musket like themselves. He was not always easy
to get along with, however, and there were times when they would have
given a good deal could they have cuffed him for his brutality.

Jean glanced inquiringly at his comrades, and their mute reply being
propitious, arose and beckoned to Rochas to follow him behind the
tent.

"See here, Lieutenant, I hope you won't be offended, but if it is
agreeable to you--"

And he handed him half a loaf of bread and a wooden bowl in which
there were a second joint of the bird and six big mealy potatoes.

That night again the six men required no rocking; they digested their
dinner while sleeping the sleep of the just. They had reason to thank
the corporal for the scientific way in which he had set up their tent,
for they were not even conscious of a small hurricane that blew up
about two o'clock, accompanied by a sharp down-pour of rain; some of
the tents were blown down, and the men, wakened out of their sound
slumber, were drenched and had to scamper in the pitchy darkness,
while theirs stood firm and they were warm and dry, thanks to the
ingenious device of the trench.

Maurice awoke at daylight, and as they were not to march until eight
o'clock it occurred to him to walk out to the artillery camp on the
hill and say how do you do to his cousin Honore. His foot was less
painful after his good night's rest. His wonder and admiration were
again excited by the neatness and perfect order that prevailed
throughout the encampment, the six guns of a battery aligned with
mathematical precision and accompanied by their caissons, prolonges,
forage-wagons, and forges. A short way off, lined up to their rope,
stood the horses, whinnying impatiently and turning their muzzles to
the rising sun. He had no difficulty in finding Honore's tent, thanks
to the regulation which assigns to the men of each piece a separate
street, so that a single glance at a camp suffices to show the number
of guns.

When Maurice reached his destination the artillerymen were already
stirring and about to drink their coffee, and a quarrel had arisen
between Adolphe, the forward driver, and Louis, the gunner, his mate.
For the entire three years that they had been "married," in accordance
with the custom which couples a driver with a gunner, they had lived
happily together, with the one exception of meal-times. Louis, an
intelligent man and the better informed of the two, did not grumble at
the airs of superiority that are affected by every mounted over every
unmounted man: he pitched the tent, made the soup, and did the chores,
while Adolphe groomed his horses with the pride of a reigning
potentate. When the former, a little black, lean man, afflicted with
an enormous appetite, rose in arms against the exactions of the
latter, a big, burly fellow with huge blonde mustaches, who insisted
on being waited on like a lord, then the fun began. The subject matter
of the dispute on the present morning was that Louis, who had made the
coffee, accused Adolphe of having drunk it all. It required some
diplomacy to reconcile them.

Not a morning passed that Honore failed to go and look after his
piece, seeing to it that it was carefully dried and cleansed from the
night dew, as if it had been a favorite animal that he was fearful
might take cold, and there it was that Maurice found him, exercising
his paternal supervision in the crisp morning air.

"Ah, it's you! I knew that the 106th was somewhere in the vicinity; I
got a letter from Remilly yesterday and was intending to start out and
hunt you up. Let's go and have a glass of white wine."

For the sake of privacy he conducted his cousin to the little
farmhouse that the soldiers had looted the day before, where the old
peasant, undeterred by his losses and allured by the prospect of
turning an honest penny, had tapped a cask of wine and set up a kind
of public bar. He had extemporized a counter from a board rested on
two empty barrels before the door of his house, and over it he dealt
out his stock in trade at four sous a glass, assisted by the strapping
young Alsatian whom he had taken into his service three days before.

As Honore was touching glasses with Maurice his eyes lighted on this
man. He gazed at him a moment as if stupefied, then let slip a
terrible oath.

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_ Goliah!"

And he darted forward and would have caught him by the throat, but the
peasant, foreseeing in his action a repetition of his yesterday's
experience, jumped quickly within the house and locked the door behind
him. For a moment confusion reigned about the premises; soldiers came
rushing up to see what was going on, while the quartermaster-sergeant
shouted at the top of his voice:

"Open the door, open the door, you confounded idiot! It is a spy, I
tell you, a Prussian spy!"

Maurice doubted no longer; there was no room for mistake now; the
Alsatian was certainly the man whom he had seen arrested at the camp
of Mulhausen and released because there was not evidence enough to
hold him, and that man was Goliah, old Fouchard's quondam assistant on
his farm at Remilly. When finally the peasant opened his door the
house was searched from top to bottom, but to no purpose; the bird had
flown, the gawky Alsatian, the tow-headed, simple-faced lout whom
General Bourgain-Desfeuilles had questioned the day before at dinner
without learning anything and before whom, in the innocence of his
heart, he had disclosed things that would have better been kept
secret. It was evident enough that the scamp had made his escape by a
back window which was found open, but the hunt that was immediately
started throughout the village and its environs had no results; the
fellow, big as he was, had vanished as utterly as a smoke-wreath
dissolves upon the air.

Maurice thought it best to take Honore away, lest in his distracted
state he might reveal to the spectators unpleasant family secrets
which they had no concern to know.

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_" he cried again, "it would have done me such good
to strangle him!--The letter that I was speaking of revived all my old
hatred for him."

And the two of them sat down upon the ground against a stack of rye a
little way from the house, and he handed the letter to his cousin.

It was the old story: the course of Honore Fouchard's and Silvine
Morange's love had not run smooth. She, a pretty, meek-eyed,
brown-haired girl, had in early childhood lost her mother, an
operative in one of the factories of Raucourt, and Doctor Dalichamp,
her godfather, a worthy man who was greatly addicted to adopting the
wretched little beings whom he ushered into the world, had conceived
the idea of placing her in Father Fouchard's family as small maid of
all work. True it was that the old boor was a terrible skinflint and a
harsh, stern taskmaster; he had gone into the butchering business from
sordid love of lucre, and his cart was to be seen daily, rain or
shine, on the roads of twenty communes; but if the child was willing
to work she would have a home and a protector, perhaps some small
prospect in the future. At all events she would be spared the
contamination of the factory. And naturally enough it came to pass
that in old Fouchard's household the son and heir and the little maid
of all work fell in love with each other. Honore was then just turned
sixteen and she was twelve, and when she was sixteen and he twenty
there was a drawing for the army; Honore, to his great delight,
secured a lucky number and determined to marry. Nothing had ever
passed between them, thanks to the unusual delicacy that was inherent
in the lad's tranquil, thoughtful nature, more than an occasional hug
and a furtive kiss in the barn. But when he spoke of the marriage to
his father, the old man, who had the stubbornness of the mule, angrily
told him that his son might kill him, but never, never would he
consent, and continued to keep the girl about the house, not worrying
about the matter, expecting it would soon blow over. For two years
longer the young folks kept on adoring and desiring each other, and
never the least breath of scandal sullied their names. Then one day
there was a frightful quarrel between the two men, after which the
young man, feeling he could no longer endure his father's tyranny,
enlisted and was packed off to Africa, while the butcher still
retained the servant-maid, because she was useful to him. Soon after
that a terrible thing happened: Silvine, who had sworn that she would
be true to her lover and await his return, was detected one day, two
short weeks after his departure, in the company of a laborer who had
been working on the farm for some months past, that Goliah Steinberg,
the Prussian, as he was called; a tall, simple young fellow with
short, light hair, wearing a perpetual smile on his broad, pink face,
who had made himself Honore's chum. Had Father Fouchard traitorously
incited the man to take advantage of the girl? or had Silvine, sick at
heart and prostrated by the sorrow of parting with her lover, yielded
in a moment of unconsciousness? She could not tell herself; was dazed,
and saw herself driven by the necessity of her situation to a marriage
with Goliah. He, for his part, always with the everlasting smile on
his face, made no objection, only insisted on deferring the ceremony
until the child should be born. When that event occurred he suddenly
disappeared; it was rumored, subsequently that he had found work on
another farm, over Beaumont way. These things had happened three years
before the breaking out of the war, and now everyone was convinced
that that artless, simple Goliah, who had such a way of ingratiating
himself with the girls, was none else than one of those Prussian spies
who filled our eastern provinces. When Honore learned the tidings over
in Africa he was three months in hospital, as if the fierce sun of
that country had smitten him on the neck with one of his fiery
javelins, and never thereafter did he apply for leave of absence to
return to his country for fear lest he might again set eyes on Silvine
and her child.

The artilleryman's hands shook with agitation as Maurice perused the
letter. It was from Silvine, the first, the only one that she had ever
written him. What had been her guiding impulse, that silent,
submissive woman, whose handsome black eyes at times manifested a
startling fixedness of purpose in the midst of her never-ending
slavery? She simply said that she knew he was with the army, and
though she might never see him again, she could not endure the thought
that he might die and believe that she had ceased to love him. She
loved him still, had never loved another; and this she repeated again
and again through four closely written pages, in words of unvarying
import, without the slightest word of excuse for herself, without even
attempting to explain what had happened. There was no mention of the
child, nothing but an infinitely mournful and tender farewell.

The letter produced a profound impression upon Maurice, to whom his
cousin had once imparted the whole story. He raised his eyes and saw
that Honore was weeping; he embraced him like a brother.

"My poor Honore."

But the sergeant quickly got the better of his emotion. He carefully
restored the letter to its place over his heart and rebuttoned his
jacket.

"Yes, those are things that a man does not forget. Ah! the scoundrel,
if I could but have laid hands on him! But we shall see."

The bugles were sounding the signal to prepare for breaking camp, and
each had to hurry away to rejoin his command. The preparations for
departure dragged, however, and the troops had to stand waiting in
heavy marching order until nearly nine o'clock. A feeling of hesitancy
seemed to have taken possession of their leaders; there was not the
resolute alacrity of the first two days, when the 7th corps had
accomplished forty miles in two marches. Strange and alarming news,
moreover, had been circulating through the camp since morning, that
the three other corps were marching northward, the 1st at Juniville,
the 5th and 12th at Rethel, and this deviation from their route was
accounted for on the ground of the necessities of the commissariat.
Montmedy had ceased to be their objective, then? why were they thus
idling away their time again? What was most alarming of all was that
the Prussians could not now be far away, for the officers had
cautioned their men not to fall behind the column, as all stragglers
were liable to be picked up by the enemy's light cavalry.
It was the 25th of August, and Maurice, when he subsequently recalled
to mind Goliah's disappearance, was certain that the man had been
instrumental in affording the German staff exact information as to the
movements of the army of Chalons, and thus producing the change of
front of their third army. The succeeding morning the Crown Prince of
Prussia left Revigny and the great maneuver was initiated, that
gigantic movement by the flank, surrounding and enmeshing us by a
series of forced marches conducted in the most admirable order through
Champagne and the Ardennes. While the French were stumbling aimlessly
about the country, oscillating uncertainly between one place and
another, the Prussians were making their twenty miles a day and more,
gradually contracting their immense circle of beaters upon the band of
men whom they held within their toils, and driving their prey onward
toward the forests of the frontier.

A start was finally made, and the result of the day's movement showed
that the army was pivoting on its left; the 7th corps only traversed
the two short leagues between Contreuve and Vouziers, while the 5th
and 12th corps did not stir from Rethel, and the 1st went no farther
than Attigny. Between Contreuve and the valley of the Aisne the
country became level again and was more bare than ever; as they drew
near to Vouziers the road wound among desolate hills and naked gray
fields, without a tree, without a house, as gloomy and forbidding as a
desert, and the day's march, short as it was, was accomplished with
such fatigue and distress that it seemed interminably long. Soon after
midday, however, the 1st and 3d divisions had passed through the city
and encamped in the meadows on the farther bank of the Aisne, while a
brigade of the second, which included the 106th, had remained upon the
left bank, bivouacking among the waste lands of which the low
foot-hills overlooked the valley, observing from their position the
Monthois road, which skirts the stream and by which the enemy was
expected to make his appearance.

And Maurice was dumfoundered to behold advancing along that Monthois
road Margueritte's entire division, the body of cavalry to which had
been assigned the duty of supporting the 7th corps and watching the
left flank of the army. The report was that it was on its way to
Chene-Populeux. Why was the left wing, where alone they were
threatened by the enemy, stripped in that manner? What sense was there
in summoning in upon the center, where they could be of no earthly
use, those two thousand horsemen, who should have been dispersed upon
our flank, leagues away, as videttes to observe the enemy? And what
made matters worse was that they caused the greatest confusion among
the columns of the 7th corps, cutting in upon their line of march and
producing an inextricable jam of horses, guns, and men. A squadron of
chasseurs d'Afrique were halted for near two hours at the gate of
Vouziers, and by the merest chance Maurice stumbled on Prosper, who
had ridden his horse down to the bank of a neighboring pond to let him
drink, and the two men were enabled to exchange a few words. The
chasseur appeared stunned, dazed, knew nothing and had seen nothing
since they left Rheims; yes, though, he had: he had seen two uhlans
more; oh! but they were will o' the wisps, phantoms, they were, that
appeared and vanished, and no one could tell whence they came nor
whither they went. Their fame had spread, and stories of them were
already rife throughout the country, such, for instance, as that of
four uhlans galloping into a town with drawn revolvers and taking
possession of it, when the corps to which they belonged was a dozen
miles away. They were everywhere, preceding the columns like a
buzzing, stinging swarm of bees, a living curtain, behind which the
infantry could mask their movements and march and countermarch as
securely as if they were at home upon parade. And Maurice's heart sank
in his bosom as he looked at the road, crowded with chasseurs and
hussars which our leaders put to such poor use.

"Well, then, _au revoir_," said he, shaking Prosper by the hand;
"perhaps they will find something for you to do down yonder, after
all."

But the chasseur appeared disgusted with the task assigned him. He
sadly stroked Poulet's neck and answered:

"Ah, what's the use talking! they kill our horses and let us rot in
idleness. It is sickening."

When Maurice took off his shoe that evening to have a look at his
foot, which was aching and throbbing feverishly, the skin came with
it; the blood spurted forth and he uttered a cry of pain. Jean was
standing by, and exhibited much pity and concern.

"Look here, that is becoming serious; you are going to lie right down
and not attempt to move. That foot of yours must be attended to. Let
me see it."

He knelt down, washed the sore with his own hands and bound it up with
some clean linen that he took from his knapsack. He displayed the
gentleness of a woman and the deftness of a surgeon, whose big fingers
can be so pliant when necessity requires it.

A great wave of tenderness swept over Maurice, his eyes were dimmed
with tears, the familiar _thou_ rose from his heart to his lips with
an irresistible impulse of affection, as if in that peasant whom he
once had hated and abhorred, whom only yesterday he had despised, he
had discovered a long lost brother.

"Thou art a good fellow, thou! Thanks, good friend."

And Jean, too, looking very happy, dropped into the second person
singular, with his tranquil smile.

"Now, my little one, wilt thou have a cigarette? I have some tobacco
left."



                                 V.

On the morning of the following day, the 26th, Maurice arose with
stiffened limbs and an aching back, the result of his night under the
tent. He was not accustomed yet to sleeping on the bare ground; orders
had been given before the men turned in that they were not to remove
their shoes, and during the night the sergeants had gone the rounds,
feeling in the darkness to see if all were properly shod and gaitered,
so that his foot was much inflamed and very painful. In addition to
his other troubles he had imprudently stretched his legs outside the
canvas to relieve their cramped feeling and taken cold in them.

Jean said as soon as he set eyes on him:

"If we are to do any marching to-day, my lad, you had better see the
surgeon and get him to give you a place in one of the wagons."

But no one seemed to know what were the plans for the day, and the
most conflicting reports prevailed. It appeared for a moment as if
they were about to resume their march; the tents were struck and the
entire corps took the road and passed through Vouziers, leaving on the
right bank of the Aisne only one brigade of the second division,
apparently to continue the observation of the Monthois road; but all
at once, as soon as they had put the town behind them and were on the
left bank of the stream, they halted and stacked muskets in the fields
and meadows that skirt the Grand-Pre road on either hand, and the
departure of the 4th hussars, who just then moved off on that road at
a sharp trot, afforded fresh food for conjecture.

"If we are to remain here I shall stay with you," declared Maurice,
who was not attracted by the prospect of riding in an ambulance.

It soon became known that they were to occupy their present camp until
General Douay could obtain definite information as to the movements of
the enemy. The general had been harassed by an intense and constantly
increasing anxiety since the day before, when he had seen
Margueritte's division moving toward Chene, for he knew that his flank
was uncovered, that there was not a man to watch the passes of the
Argonne, and that he was liable to be attacked at any moment.
Therefore he had sent out the 4th hussars to reconnoiter the country
as far as the defiles of Grand-Pre and Croix-aux-Bois, with strict
orders not to return without intelligence.

There had been an issue of bread, meat, and forage the day before,
thanks to the efficient mayor of Vouziers, and about ten o'clock that
morning permission had been granted the men to make soup, in the fear
that they might not soon again have so good an opportunity, when
another movement of troops, the departure of Bordas' brigade over the
road taken by the hussars, set all tongues wagging afresh. What! were
they going to march again? were they not to be given a chance to eat
their breakfast in peace, now that the kettle was on the fire? But the
officers explained that Bordas' brigade had only been sent to occupy
Buzancy, a few kilometers from there. There were others, indeed, who
asserted that the hussars had encountered a strong force of the
enemy's cavalry and that the brigade had been dispatched to help them
out of their difficulty.

Maurice enjoyed a few hours of delicious repose. He had thrown himself
on the ground in a field half way up the hill where the regiment had
halted, and in a drowsy state between sleeping and waking was
contemplating the verdant valley of the Aisne, the smiling meadows
dotted with clumps of trees, among which the little stream wound
lazily. Before him and closing the valley in that direction lay
Vouziers, an amphitheater of roofs rising one above another and
overtopped by the church with its slender spire and dome-crowned
tower. Below him, near the bridge, smoke was curling upward from the
tall chimneys of the tanneries, while farther away a great mill
displayed its flour-whitened buildings among the fresh verdure of the
growths that lined the waterside. The little town that lay there,
bounding his horizon, hidden among the stately trees, appeared to him
to possess a gentle charm; it brought him memories of boyhood, of the
journeys that he had made to Vouziers in other days, when he had lived
at Chene, the village where he was born. For an hour he was oblivious
of the outer world.

The soup had long since been made and eaten and everyone was waiting
to see what would happen next, when, about half-past two o'clock, the
smoldering excitement began to gain strength, and soon pervaded the
entire camp. Hurried orders came to abandon the meadows, and the
troops ascended a line of hills between two villages, Chestres and
Falaise, some two or three miles apart, and took position there.
Already the engineers were at work digging rifle-pits and throwing up
epaulments; while over to the left the artillery had occupied the
summit of a rounded eminence. The rumor spread that General Bordas had
sent in a courier to announce that he had encountered the enemy in
force at Grand-Pre and had been compelled to fall back on Buzancy,
which gave cause to apprehend that he might soon be cut off from
retreat on Vouziers. For these reasons, the commander of the 7th
corps, believing an attack to be imminent, had placed his men in
position to sustain the first onset until the remainder of the army
should have time to come to his assistance, and had started off one of
his aides-de-camp with a letter to the marshal, apprising him of the
danger, and asking him for re-enforcements. Fearing for the safety of
the subsistence train, which had come up with the corps during the
night and was again dragging its interminable length in the rear, he
summarily sent it to the right about and directed it to make the best
of its way to Chagny. Things were beginning to look like fight.

"So, it looks like business this time--eh, Lieutenant?" Maurice
ventured to ask Rochas.

"Yes, thank goodness," replied the Lieutenant, his long arms going
like windmills. "Wait a little; you'll find it warm enough!"

The soldiers were all delighted; the animation in the camp was still
more pronounced. A feverish impatience had taken possession of the
men, now that they were actually in line of battle between Chestres
and Falaise. At last they were to have a sight of those Prussians who,
if the newspapers were to be believed, were knocked up by their long
marches, decimated by sickness, starving, and in rags, and every man's
heart beat high with the prospect of annihilating them at a single
blow.

"We are lucky to come across them again," said Jean. "They've been
playing hide-and-seek about long enough since they slipped through our
fingers after their battle down yonder on the frontier. But are these
the same troops that whipped MacMahon, I wonder?"

Maurice could not answer his question with any degree of certainty. It
seemed to him hardly probable, in view of what he had read in the
newspapers at Rheims, that the third army, commanded by the Crown
Prince of Prussia, could be at Vouziers, when, only two days before,
it was just on the point of going into camp at Vitry-le-Francois.
There had been some talk of a fourth army, under the Prince of Saxony,
which was to operate on the line of the Meuse; this was doubtless the
one that was now before them, although their promptitude in occupying
Grand-Pre was a matter of surprise, considering the distances. But
what put the finishing touch to the confusion of his ideas was his
stupefaction to hear General Bourgain-Desfeuilles ask a countryman if
the Meuse did not flow past Buzancy, and if the bridges there were
strong. The general announced, moreover, in the confidence of his
sublime ignorance, that a column of one hundred thousand men was on
the way from Grand-Pre to attack them, while another, of sixty
thousand, was coming up by the way of Sainte-Menehould.

"How's your foot, Maurice?" asked Jean.

"It don't hurt now," the other laughingly replied. "If there is to be
a fight, I think it will be quite well."

It was true; his nervous excitement was so great that he was hardly
conscious of the ground on which he trod. To think that in the whole
campaign he had not yet burned powder! He had gone forth to the
frontier, he had endured the agony of that terrible night of
expectation before Mulhausen, and had not seen a Prussian, had not
fired a shot; then he had retreated with the rest to Belfort, to
Rheims, had now been marching five days trying to find the enemy, and
his useless _chassepot_ was as clean as the day it left the shop,
without the least smell of smoke on it. He felt an aching desire to
discharge his piece once, if no more, to relieve the tension of his
nerves. Since the day, near six weeks ago, when he had enlisted in a
fit of enthusiasm, supposing that he would surely have to face the foe
in a day or two, all that he had done had been to tramp up and down
the country on his poor, sore feet--the feet of a man who had lived in
luxury, far from the battle-field; and so, among all those impatient
watchers, there was none who watched more impatiently than he the
Grand-Pre road, extending straight away to a seemingly infinite
distance between two rows of handsome trees. Beneath him was unrolled
the panorama of the valley; the Aisne was, like a silver ribbon,
flowing between its willows and poplars, and ever his gaze returned,
solicited by an irresistible attraction, to that road down yonder that
stretched away, far as the eye could see, to the horizon.

About four o'clock the 4th hussars returned, having made a wide
circuit in the country round about, and stories, which grew as they
were repeated, began to circulate of conflicts with uhlans, tending to
confirm the confident belief which everyone had that an attack was
imminent. Two hours later a courier came galloping in, breathless with
terror, to announce that General Bordas had positive information that
the enemy were on the Vouziers road, and dared not leave Grand-Pre. It
was evident that that could not be true, since the courier had just
passed over the road unharmed, but no one could tell at what moment it
might be the case, and General Dumont, commanding the division, set
out at once with his remaining brigade to bring off his other brigade
that was in difficulty. The sun went down behind Vouziers and the
roofs of the town were sharply profiled in black against a great red
cloud. For a long time the brigade was visible as it receded between
the double row of trees, until finally it was swallowed up in the
gathering darkness.

Colonel de Vineuil came to look after his regiment's position for the
night. He was surprised not to find Captain Beaudoin at his post, and
as that officer just then chanced to come in from Vouziers, where he
alleged in excuse for his absence that he had been breakfasting with
the Baronne de Ladicourt, he received a sharp reprimand, which he
digested in silence, with the rigid manner of a martinet conscious of
being in the wrong.

"My children," said the Colonel, as he passed along the line of men,
"we shall probably be attacked to-night, or if not, then by day-break
to-morrow morning at the latest. Be prepared, and remember that the
106th has never retreated before the enemy."

The little speech was received with loud hurrahs; everyone, in the
prevailing suspense and discouragement, preferred to "take the wipe of
the dish-clout" and have done with it. Rifles were examined to see
that they were in good order, belts were refilled with cartridges. As
they had eaten their soup that morning, the men were obliged to
content themselves with biscuits and coffee. An order was promulgated
that there was to be no sleeping. The grand-guards were out nearly a
mile to the front, and a chain of sentinels at frequent intervals
extended down to the Aisne. The officers were seated in little groups
about the camp-fires, and beside a low wall at the left of the road
the fitful blaze occasionally flared up and rescued from the darkness
the gold embroideries and bedizened uniforms of the Commander-in-Chief
and his staff, flitting to and fro like phantoms, watching the road
and listening for the tramp of horses in the mortal anxiety they were
in as to the fate of the third division.

It was about one o'clock in the morning when it came Maurice's turn to
take his post as sentry at the edge of an orchard of plum-trees,
between the road and the river. The night was black as ink, and as
soon as his comrades left him and he found himself alone in the deep
silence of the sleeping fields he was conscious of a sensation of fear
creeping over him, a feeling of abject terror such as he had never
known before and which he trembled with rage and shame at his
inability to conquer. He turned his head to cheer himself by a sight
of the camp-fires, but they were hidden from him by a wood; there was
naught behind him but an unfathomable sea of blackness; all that he
could discern was a few distant lights still dimly burning in
Vouziers, where the inhabitants, doubtless forewarned and trembling at
the thought of the impending combat, were keeping anxious vigil. His
terror was increased, if that were possible, on bringing his piece to
his shoulder to find that he could not even distinguish the sights on
it. Then commenced a period of suspense that tried his nerves most
cruelly; every faculty of his being was strained and concentrated in
the one sense of hearing; sounds so faint as to be imperceptible
reverberated in his ears like the crash of thunder; the plash of a
distant waterfall, the rustling of a leaf, the movement of an insect
in the grass, were like the booming of artillery. Was that the tramp
of cavalry, the deep rumbling of gun-carriages driven at speed, that
he heard down there to the right? And there on his left, what was
that? was it not the sound of stealthy whispers, stifled voices, a
party creeping up to surprise him under cover of the darkness? Three
times he was on the point of giving the alarm by firing his piece. The
fear that he might be mistaken and incur the ridicule of his comrades
served to intensify his distress. He had kneeled upon the ground,
supporting his left shoulder against a tree; it seemed to him that he
had been occupying that position for hours, that they had forgotten
him there, that the army had moved away without him. Then suddenly, at
once, his fear left him; upon the road, that he knew was not two
hundred yards away, he distinctly heard the cadenced tramp of marching
men. Immediately it flashed across his mind as a certainty that they
were the troops from Grand-Pre, whose coming had been awaited with
such anxiety--General Dumont bringing in Bordas' brigade. At that same
moment the corporal of the guard came along with the relief; he had
been on post a little less than the customary hour.

He had been right; it was the 3d division returning to camp. Everyone
felt a sensation of deep relief. Increased precautions were taken,
nevertheless, for what fresh intelligence they received tended to
confirm what they supposed they already knew of the enemy's approach.
A few uhlans, forbidding looking fellows in their long black cloaks,
were brought in as prisoners, but they were uncommunicative, and so
daylight came at last, the pale, ghastly light of a rainy morning,
bringing with it no alleviation of their terrible suspense. No one had
dared to close an eye during that long night. About seven o'clock
Lieutenant Rochas affirmed that MacMahon was coming up with the whole
army. The truth of the matter was that General Douay, in reply to his
dispatch of the preceding day announcing that a battle at Vouziers was
inevitable, had received a letter from the marshal enjoining him to
hold the position until re-enforcements could reach him; the forward
movement had been arrested; the 1st corps was being directed on
Terron, the 5th on Buzancy, while the 12th was to remain at Chene and
constitute our second line. Then the suspense became more breathless
still; it was to be no mere skirmish that the peaceful valley of the
Aisne was to witness that day, but a great battle, in which would
participate the entire army, that was even now turning its back upon
the Meuse and marching southward; and there was no making of soup, the
men had to content themselves with coffee and hard-tack, for everyone
was saying, without troubling himself to ask why, that the "wipe of
the dish-clout" was set down for midday. An aide-de-camp had been
dispatched to the marshal to urge him to hurry forward their supports,
as intelligence received from every quarter made it more and more
certain that the two Prussian armies were close at hand, and three
hours later still another officer galloped off like mad toward Chene,
where general headquarters were located, with a request for
instructions, for consternation had risen to a higher pitch then ever
with the receipt of fresh tidings from the _maire_ of a country
commune, who told of having seen a hundred thousand men at Grand-Pre,
while another hundred thousand were advancing by way of Buzancy.

Midday came, and not a sign of the Prussians. At one o'clock, at two,
it was the same, and a reaction of lassitude and doubt began to
prevail among the troops. Derisive jeers were heard at the expense of
the generals: perhaps they had seen their shadow on the wall; they
should be presented with a pair of spectacles. A pretty set of humbugs
they were, to have caused all that trouble for nothing! A fellow who
passed for a wit among his comrades shouted:

"It is like it was down there at Mulhausen, eh?"

The words recalled to Maurice's mind a flood of bitter memories. He
thought of that idiotic flight, that panic that had swept away the 7th
corps when there was not a German visible, nor within ten leagues of
where they were, and now he had a distinct certainty that they were to
have a renewal of that experience. It was plain that if twenty-four
hours had elapsed since the skirmish at Grand-Pre and they had not
been attacked, the reason was that the 4th hussars had merely struck
up against a reconnoitering body of cavalry; the main body of the
Prussians must be far away, probably a day's march or two. Then the
thought suddenly struck him of the time they had wasted, and it
terrified him; in three days they had only accomplished the distance
from Contreuve to Vouziers, a scant two leagues. On the 25th the other
corps, alleging scarcity of supplies, had diverted their course to the
north, while now, on the 27th, here they were coming southward again
to fight a battle with an invisible enemy. Bordas' brigade had
followed the 4th hussars into the abandoned passes of the Argonne, and
was supposed to have got itself into trouble; the division had gone to
its assistance, and that had been succeeded by the corps, and that by
the entire army, and all those movements had amounted to nothing.
Maurice trembled as he reflected how pricelessly valuable was every
hour, every minute, in that mad project of joining forces with
Bazaine, a project that could be carried to a successful issue only by
an officer of genius, with seasoned troops under him, who should press
forward to his end with the resistless energy of a whirlwind, crushing
every obstacle that lay in his path.

"It is all up with us!" said he, as the whole truth flashed through
his mind, to Jean, who had given way to despair. Then as the corporal,
failing to catch his meaning, looked at him wonderingly, he went on in
an undertone, for his friend's ear alone, to speak of their
commanders:

"They mean well, but they have no sense, that's certain--and no luck!
They know nothing; they foresee nothing; they have neither plans nor
ideas, nor happy intuitions. _Allons_! everything is against us; it is
all up!"

And by slow degrees that same feeling of discouragement that Maurice
had arrived at by a process of reasoning settled down upon the denser
intellects of the troops who lay there inactive, anxiously awaiting to
see what the end would be. Distrust, as a result of their truer
perception of the position they were in, was obscurely burrowing in
those darkened minds, and there was no man so ignorant as not to feel
a sense of injury at the ignorance and irresolution of their leaders,
although he might not have been able to express in distinct terms the
causes of his exasperation. In the name of Heaven, what were they
doing there, since the Prussians had not shown themselves? either let
them fight and have it over with, or else go off to some place where
they could get some sleep; they had had enough of that kind of work.
Since the departure of the second aide-de-camp, who had been
dispatched in quest of orders, this feeling of unrest had been
increasing momentarily; men collected in groups, talking loudly and
discussing the situation pro and con, and the general inquietude
communicating itself to the officers, they knew not what answer to
make to those of their men who ventured to question them. They ought
to be marching, it would not answer to dawdle thus; and so, when it
became known about five o'clock that the aide-de-camp had returned and
that they were to retreat, there was a sigh of relief throughout the
camp and every heart was lighter.

It seemed that the wiser counsel was to prevail, then, after all! The
Emperor and MacMahon had never looked with favor on the movement
toward Montmedy, and now, alarmed to learn that they were again
out-marched and out-maneuvered, and that they were to have the army of
the Prince of Saxony as well as that of the Crown Prince to contend
with, they had renounced the hazardous scheme of uniting their forces
with Bazaine, and would retreat through the northern strongholds with
a view to falling back ultimately on Paris. The 7th corps' destination
would be Chagny, by way of Chene, while the 5th corps would be
directed on Poix, and the 1st and 12th on Vendresse. But why, since
they were about to fall back, had they advanced to the line of the
Aisne? Why all that waste of time and labor, when it would have been
so easy and so rational to move straight from Rheims and occupy the
strong positions in the valley of the Marne? Was there no guiding
mind, no military talent, no common sense? But there should be no more
questioning; all should be forgiven, in the universal joy at the
adoption of that eminently wise counsel, which was the only means at
their command of extricating themselves from the hornets' nest into
which they had rushed so imprudently. All, officers and men, felt that
they would be the stronger for the retrograde movement, that under the
walls of Paris they would be invincible, and that there it was that
the Prussians would sustain their inevitable defeat. But Vouziers must
be evacuated before daybreak, and they must be well on the road to
Chene before the enemy should learn of the movement, and forthwith the
camp presented a scene of the greatest animation: trumpets sounding,
officers hastening to and fro with orders, while the baggage and
quartermaster's trains, in order not to encumber the rear-guard, were
sent forward in advance.

Maurice was delighted. As he was endeavoring to explain to Jean the
rationale of the impending movement, however, a cry of pain escaped
him; his excitement had subsided, and he was again conscious of his
foot, aching and burning as if it had been a ball of red-hot metal.

"What's the matter? is it hurting you again?" the corporal asked
sympathizingly. And with his calm and sensible resourcefulness he
said: "See here, little one, you told me yesterday that you have
acquaintances in the town, yonder. You ought to get permission from
the major and find some one to drive you over to Chene, where you
could have a good night's rest in a comfortable bed. We can pick you
up as we go by to-morrow if you are fit to march. What do you say to
that, _hein_?"

In Falaise, the village near which the camp was pitched, Maurice had
come across a small farmer, an old friend of his father's, who was
about to drive his daughter over to Chene to visit an aunt in that
town, and the horse was even then standing waiting, hitched to a light
carriole. The prospect was far from encouraging, however, when he
broached the subject to Major Bouroche.

"I have a sore foot, monsieur the doctor--"

Bouroche, with a savage shake of his big head with its leonine mane,
turned on him with a roar:

"I am not monsieur the doctor; who taught you manners?"

And when Maurice, taken all aback, made a stammering attempt to excuse
himself, he continued:

"Address me as major, do you hear, you great oaf!"

He must have seen that he had not one of the common herd to deal with
and felt a little ashamed of himself; he carried it off with a display
of more roughness.

"All a cock-and-bull story, that sore foot of yours!--Yes, yes; you
may go. Go in a carriage, go in a balloon, if you choose. We have too
many of you malingerers in the army!"

When Jean assisted Maurice into the carriole the latter turned to
thank him, whereon the two men fell into each other's arms and
embraced as if they were never to meet again. Who could tell, amid the
confusion and disorder of the retreat, with those bloody Prussians on
their track? Maurice could not tell how it was that there was already
such a tender affection between him and the young man, and twice he
turned to wave him a farewell. As he left the camp they were preparing
to light great fires in order to mislead the enemy when they should
steal away, in deepest silence, before the dawn of day.

As they jogged along the farmer bewailed the terrible times through
which they were passing. He had lacked the courage to remain at
Falaise, and already was regretting that he had left it, declaring
that if the Prussians burned his house it would ruin him. His
daughter, a tall, pale young woman, wept copiously. But Maurice was
like a dead man for want of sleep, and had no ears for the farmer's
lamentations; he slumbered peacefully, soothed by the easy motion of
the vehicle, which the little horse trundled over the ground at such a
good round pace that it took them less than an hour and a half to
accomplish the four leagues between Vouziers and Chene. It was not
quite seven o'clock and scarcely beginning to be dark when the young
man rubbed his eyes and alighted in a rather dazed condition on the
public square, near the bridge over the canal, in front of the modest
house where he was born and had passed twenty years of his life. He
got down there in obedience to an involuntary impulse, although the
house had been sold eighteen months before to a veterinary surgeon,
and in reply to the farmer's questions said that he knew quite well
where he was going, adding that he was a thousand times obliged to him
for his kindness.

He continued to stand stock-still, however, beside the well in the
middle of the little triangular _place_; he was as if stunned; his
memory was a blank. Where had he intended to go? and suddenly his wits
returned to him and he remembered that it was to the notary's, whose
house was next door to his father's, and whose mother, Madame
Desvallieres, an aged and most excellent lady, had petted him when he
was an urchin on account of their being neighbors. But he hardly
recognized Chene in the midst of the hurly-burly and confusion into
which the little town, ordinarily so dead, was thrown by the presence
of an army corps encamped at its gates and filling its quiet streets
with officers, couriers, soldiers, and camp-followers and stragglers
of every description. The canal was there as of old, passing through
the town from end to end and bisecting the market-place in the center
into two equal-sized triangles connected by a narrow stone bridge; and
there, on the other bank, was the old market with its moss-grown
roofs, and the Rue Berond leading away to the left and the Sedan road
to the right, but filling the Rue de Vouziers in front of him and
extending as far as the Hotel de Ville was such a compact, swarming,
buzzing crowd that he was obliged to raise his eyes and take a look
over the roof of the notary's house at the slate-covered bell tower in
order to assure himself that that was the quiet spot where he had
played hop-scotch when he was a youngster. There seemed to be an
effort making to clear the square; some men were roughly crowding back
the throng of idlers and gazers, and looking more closely he was
surprised to see, parked like the guns of a battery, a collection of
vans, baggage-wagons, and carriages open and closed; a miscellaneous
assortment of traps that he had certainly set eyes on before.

It was daylight still; the sun had just sunk in the canal at the point
where it vanished in the horizon and the long, straight stretch of
water was like a sea of blood, and Maurice was trying to make up his
mind what to do when a woman who stood near stared at him a moment and
then exclaimed:

"Why goodness gracious, is it possible! Are you the Levasseur boy?"

And thereon he recognized Madame Combette, the wife of the druggist,
whose shop was on the market-place. As he was trying to explain to her
that he was going to ask good Madame Desvallieres to give him a bed
for the night she excitedly hurried him away.

"No, no; come to our house. I will tell you why--" When they were in
the shop and she had cautiously closed the door she continued: "You
could not know, my dear boy, that the Emperor is at the Desvallieres.
His officers took possession of the house in his name and the family
are not any too well pleased with the great honor done them, I can
tell you. To think that the poor old mother, a woman more than
seventy, was compelled to give up her room and go up and occupy a
servant's bed in the garret! Look, there, on the place. All that you
see there is the Emperor's; those are his trunks, don't you see!"

And then Maurice remembered; they were the imperial carriages and
baggage-wagons, the entire magnificent train that he had seen at
Rheims.

"Ah! my dear boy, if you could but have seen the stuff they took from
them, the silver plate, and the bottles of wine, and the baskets of
good things, and the beautiful linen, and everything! I can't help
wondering where they find room for such heaps of things, for the house
is not a large one. Look, look! see what a fire they have lighted in
the kitchen!"

He looked over at the small white, two-storied house that stood at the
corner of the market-place and the Rue de Vouziers, a comfortable,
unassuming house of bourgeois aspect; how well he remembered it,
inside and out, with its central hall and four rooms on each floor;
why, it was as if he had just left it! There were lights in the corner
room on the first floor overlooking the square; the apothecary's wife
informed him that it was the bedroom of the Emperor. But the chief
center of activity seemed, as she had said, to be the kitchen, the
window of which opened on the Rue de Vouziers. In all their lives the
good people of Chene had witnessed no such spectacle, and the street
before the house was filled with a gaping crowd, constantly coming and
going, who stared with all their eyes at the range on which was
cooking the dinner of an Emperor. To obtain a breath of air the cooks
had thrown open the window to its full extent. They were three in
number, in jackets of resplendent whiteness, superintending the
roasting of chickens impaled on a huge spit, stirring the gravies and
sauces in copper vessels that shone like gold. And the oldest
inhabitant, evoking in memory all the civic banquets that he had
beheld at the Silver Lion, could truthfully declare that never at any
one time had he seen so much wood burning and so much food cooking.

Combette, a bustling, wizened little man, came in from the street in a
great state of excitement from all that he had seen and heard. His
position as deputy-mayor gave him facilities for knowing what was
going on. It was about half-past three o'clock when MacMahon had
telegraphed Bazaine that the Crown Prince of Prussia was approaching
Chalons, thus necessitating the withdrawal of the army to the places
along the Belgian frontier, and further dispatches were also in
preparation for the Minister of War, advising him of the projected
movement and explaining the terrible dangers of their position. It was
uncertain whether or not the dispatch for Bazaine would get through,
for communication with Metz had seemed to be interrupted for the past
few days, but the second dispatch was another and more serious matter;
and lowering his voice almost to a whisper the apothecary repeated the
words that he had heard uttered by an officer of rank: "If they get
wind of this in Paris, our goose is cooked!" Everyone was aware of the
unrelenting persistency with which the Empress and the Council of
Ministers urged the advance of the army. Moreover, the confusion went
on increasing from hour to hour, the most conflicting advices were
continually coming in as to the whereabouts of the German forces.
Could it be possible that the Crown Prince was at Chalons? What, then,
were the troops that the 7th corps had encountered among the passes of
the Argonne?

"They have no information at staff headquarters," continued the little
druggist, raising his arms above his head with a despairing gesture.
"Ah, what a mess we are in! But all will be well if the army
retreats to-morrow." Then, dropping public for private matters, the
kind-hearted man said: "Look here, my young friend, I am going to see
what I can do for that foot of yours; then we'll give you some dinner
and put you to bed in my apprentice's little room, who has cleared
out."

But Maurice was tormented by such an itching desire for further
intelligence that he could neither eat nor sleep until he had carried
into execution his original design of paying a visit to his old
friend, Madame Desvallieres, over the way. He was surprised that he
was not halted at the door, which, in the universal confusion, had
been left wide open, without so much as a sentry to guard it. People
were going out and coming in incessantly, military men and officers of
the household, and the roar from the blazing kitchen seemed to rise
and pervade the whole house. There was no light in the passage and on
the staircase, however, and he had to grope his way up as best he
might. On reaching the first floor he paused for a few seconds, his
heart beating violently, before the door of the apartment that he knew
contained the Emperor, but not a sound was to be heard in the room;
the stillness that reigned there was as of death. Mounting the last
flight he presented himself at the door of the servant's room to which
Madame Desvallieres had been consigned; the old lady was at first
terrified at sight of him. When she recognized him presently she said:

"Ah, my poor child, what a sad meeting is this! I would cheerfully
have surrendered my house to the Emperor, but the people he has about
him have no sense of decency. They lay hands on everything, without so
much as saying, 'By your leave,' and I am afraid they will burn the
house down with their great fires! He, poor man, looks like a corpse,
and such sadness in his face--"

And when the young man took leave of her with a few murmured words of
comfort she went with him to the door, and leaning over the banister:
"Look!" she softly said, "you can see him from where you are. Ah! we
are all undone. Adieu, my child!"

Maurice remained planted like a statue on one of the steps of the dark
staircase. Craning his neck and directing his glance through the
glazed fanlight over the door of the apartment, he beheld a sight that
was never to fade from his memory.

In the bare and cheerless room, the conventional bourgeois "parlor,"
was the Emperor, seated at a table on which his plate was laid,
lighted at either end by wax candles in great silver candelabra.
Silent in the background stood two aides-de-camp with folded arms. The
wine in the glass was untasted, the bread untouched, a breast of
chicken was cooling on the plate. The Emperor did not stir; he sat
staring down at the cloth with those dim, lusterless, watery eyes that
the young man remembered to have seen before at Rheims; but he
appeared more weary than then, and when, evidently at the cost of a
great effort, he had raised a couple of mouthfuls to his lips, he
impatiently pushed the remainder of the food from him with his hand.
That was his dinner. His pale face was blanched with an expression of
suffering endured in silence.

As Maurice was passing the dining room on the floor beneath, the door
was suddenly thrown open, and through the glow of candles and the
steam of smoking joints he caught a glimpse of a table of equerries,
chamberlains, and aides-de-camp, engaged in devouring the Emperor's
game and poultry and drinking his champagne, amid a great hubbub of
conversation. Now that the marshal's dispatch had been sent off, all
these people were delighted to know that the retreat was assured. In a
week they would be at Paris and could sleep between clean sheets.

Then, for the first time, Maurice suddenly became conscious of the
terrible fatigue that was oppressing him like a physical burden; there
was no longer room for doubt, the whole army was about to fall back,
and the best thing for him to do was to get some sleep while waiting
for the 7th corps to pass. He made his way back across the square to
the house of his friend Combette, where, like one in a dream, he ate
some dinner, after which he was mistily conscious of someone dressing
his foot and then conducting him upstairs to a bedroom. And then all
was blackness and utter annihilation; he slept a dreamless, unstirring
sleep. But after an uncertain length of time--hours, days, centuries,
he knew not--he gave a start and sat bolt upright in bed in the
surrounding darkness. Where was he? What was that continuous rolling
sound, like the rattling of thunder, that had aroused him from his
slumber? His recollection suddenly returned to him; he ran to the
window to see what was going on. In the obscurity of the street
beneath, where the night was usually so peaceful, the artillery was
passing, horses, men, and guns, in interminable array, with a roar and
clatter that made the lifeless houses quake and tremble. The abrupt
vision filled him with unreasoning alarm. What time might it be? The
great bell in the Hotel de Ville struck four. He was endeavoring to
allay his uneasiness by assuring himself that it was simply the
initial movement in the retreat that had been ordered the day
previous, when, raising his eyes, he beheld a sight that gave him
fresh cause for inquietude: there was a light still in the corner
window of the notary's house opposite, and the shadow of the Emperor,
drawn in dark profile on the curtain, appeared and disappeared at
regularly spaced intervals.

Maurice hastily slipped on his trousers preparatory to going down to
the street, but just then Combette appeared at the door with a
bed-candle in his hand, gesticulating wildly.

"I saw you from the square as I was coming home from the _Mairie_, and
I came up to tell you the news. They have been keeping me out of my
bed all this time; would you believe it, for more than two hours the
mayor and I have been busy attending to fresh requisitions. Yes,
everything is upset again; there has been another change of plans. Ah!
he knew what he was about, that officer did, who wanted to keep the
folks in Paris from getting wind of matters!"

He went on for a long time in broken, disjointed phrases, and when he
had finished the young man, speechless, brokenhearted, saw it all.
About midnight the Emperor had received a dispatch from the Minister
of War in reply to the one that had been sent by the marshal. Its
exact terms were not known, but an aide-de-camp at the Hotel de Ville
had stated openly that the Empress and the Council declared there
would be a revolution in Paris should the Emperor retrace his steps
and abandon Bazaine. The dispatch, which evinced the utmost ignorance
as to the position of the German armies and the resources of the army
of Chalons, advised, or rather ordered, an immediate forward movement,
regardless of all considerations, in spite of everything, with a heat
and fury that seemed incredible.

"The Emperor sent for the marshal," added the apothecary, "and they
were closeted together for near an hour; of course I am not in
position to say what passed between them, but I am told by all the
officers that there is to be no more retreating, and the advance to
the Meuse is to be resumed at once. We have been requisitioning all
the ovens in the city for the 1st corps, which will come up to-morrow
morning and take the place of the 12th, whose artillery you see at
this moment starting for la Besace. The matter is decided for good
this time; you will smell powder before you are much older."

He ceased. He also was gazing at the lighted window over in the
notary's house. Then he went on in a low voice, as if talking to
himself, with an expression on his face of reflective curiosity:

"I wonder what they had to say to each other? It strikes one as a
rather peculiar proceeding, all the same, to run away from a
threatened danger at six in the evening, and at midnight, when nothing
has occurred to alter the situation, to rush headlong into the very
self-same danger."

Below them in the street Maurice still heard the gun-carriages
rumbling and rattling over the stones of the little sleeping city,
that ceaseless tramp of horse and man, that uninterrupted tide of
humanity, pouring onward toward the Meuse, toward the unknown,
terrible fate that the morrow had in store for them. And still upon
the mean, cheap curtains of that bourgeois dwelling he beheld the
shadow of the Emperor passing and repassing at regular intervals, the
restless activity of the sick man, to whom his cares made sleep
impossible, whose sole repose was motion, in whose ears was ever
ringing that tramp of horses and men whom he was suffering to be sent
forward to their death. A few brief hours, then, had sufficed; the
slaughter was decided on; it was to be. What, indeed, could they have
found to say to each other, that Emperor and that marshal, conscious,
both of them, of the inevitable disaster that lay before them? Assured
as they were at night of defeat, from their knowledge of the wretched
condition the army would be in when the time should come for it to
meet the enemy, how, knowing as they did that the peril was hourly
becoming greater, could they have changed their mind in the morning?
Certain it was that General de Palikao's plan of a swift, bold dash on
Montmedy, which seemed hazardous on the 23d and was, perhaps, still
not impracticable on the 25th, if conducted with veteran troops and a
leader of ability, would on the 27th be an act of sheer madness amid
the divided counsels of the chiefs and the increasing demoralization
of the troops. This they both well knew; why, then, did they obey
those merciless drivers who were flogging them onward in their
irresolution? why did they hearken to those furious passions that were
spurring them forward? The marshal's, it might be said, was the
temperament of the soldier, whose duty is limited to obedience to his
instructions, great in its abnegation; while the Emperor, who had
ceased entirely to issue orders, was waiting on destiny. They were
called on to surrender their lives and the life of the army; they
surrendered them. It was the accomplishment of a crime, the black,
abominable night that witnessed the murder of a nation, for
thenceforth the army rested in the shadow of death; a hundred thousand
men and more were sent forward to inevitable destruction.

While pursuing this train of thought Maurice was watching the shadow
that still kept appearing and vanishing on the muslin of good Madame
Desvallieres' curtain, as if it felt the lash of the pitiless voice
that came to it from Paris. Had the Empress that night desired the
death of the father in order that the son might reign? March! forward
ever! with no look backward, through mud, through rain, to bitter
death, that the final game of the agonizing empire may be played out,
even to the last card. March! march! die a hero's death on the piled
corpses of your people, let the whole world gaze in awe-struck
admiration, for the honor and glory of your name! And doubtless the
Emperor was marching to his death. Below, the fires in the kitchen
flamed and flashed no longer; equerries, aides-de-camp and
chamberlains were slumbering, the whole house was wrapped in darkness,
while ever the lone shade went and came unceasingly, accepting with
resignation the sacrifice that was to be, amid the deafening uproar of
the 12th corps, that was defiling still through the black night.

Maurice suddenly reflected that, if the advance was to be resumed, the
7th corps would not pass through Chene, and he beheld himself left
behind, separated from his regiment, a deserter from his post. His
foot no longer pained him; his friend's dressing and a few hours of
complete rest had allayed the inflammation. Combette gave him a pair
of easy shoes of his own that were comfortable to his feet, and as
soon as he had them on he wanted to be off, hoping that he might yet
be able to overtake the 106th somewhere on the road between Chene and
Vouziers. The apothecary labored vainly to dissuade him, and had
almost made up his mind to put his horse in the gig and drive him over
in person, trusting to fortune to befriend him in finding the
regiment, when Fernand, the apprentice, appeared, alleging as an
excuse for his absence that he had been to see his sister. The youth
was a tall, tallow-faced individual, who looked as if he had not the
spirit of a mouse; the horse was quickly hitched to the carriage and
he drove off with Maurice. It was not yet five o'clock; the rain was
pouring in torrents from a sky of inky blackness, and the dim
carriage-lamps faintly illuminated the road and cast little fitful
gleams of light across the streaming fields on either side, over which
came mysterious sounds that made them pull up from time to time in the
belief that the army was at hand.

Jean, meantime, down there before Vouziers, had not been slumbering.
Maurice had explained to him how the retreat was to be salvation to
them all, and he was keeping watch, holding his men together and
waiting for the order to move, which might come at any minute. About
two o'clock, in the intense darkness that was dotted here and there by
the red glow of the watch-fires, a great trampling of horses resounded
through the camp; it was the advance-guard of cavalry moving
off toward Balay and Quatre-Champs so as to observe the roads from
Boult-aux-Bois and Croix-aux-Bois; then an hour later the infantry and
artillery also put themselves in motion, abandoning at last the
positions of Chestre and Falaise that they had defended so
persistently for two long days against an enemy who never showed
himself. The sky had become overcast, the darkness was profound, and
one by one the regiments marched out in deepest silence, an array of
phantoms stealing away into the bosom of the night. Every heart beat
joyfully, however, as if they were escaping from some treacherous
pitfall; already in imagination the troops beheld themselves under the
walls of Paris, where their revenge was awaiting them.

Jean looked out into the thick blackness. The road was bordered with
trees on either hand and, as far as he could see, appeared to lie
between wide meadows. Presently the country became rougher; there was
a succession of sharp rises and descents, and just as they were
entering a village which he supposed to be Balay, two straggling rows
of houses bordering the road, the dense cloud that had obscured the
heavens burst in a deluge of rain. The men had received so many
duckings within the past few days that they took this one without a
murmur, bowing their heads and plodding patiently onward; but when
they had left Balay behind them and were crossing a wide extent of
level ground near Quatre-Champs a violent wind began to rise. Beyond
Quatre-Champs, when they had fought their way upward to the wide
plateau that extends in a dreary stretch of waste land as far as
Noirval, the wind increased to a hurricane and the driving rain stung
their faces. There it was that the order, proceeding from the head of
the column and re-echoed down the line, brought the regiments one
after another to a halt, and the entire 7th corps, thirty-odd thousand
men, found itself once more reunited in the mud and rain of the gray
dawn. What was the matter? Why were they halted there? An uneasy
feeling was already beginning to pervade the ranks; it was asserted in
some quarters that there had been a change of orders. The men had been
brought to ordered arms and forbidden to leave the ranks or sit down.
At times the wind swept over the elevated plateau with such violence
that they had to press closely to one another to keep from being
carried off their feet. The rain blinded them and trickled in ice-cold
streams beneath their collars down their backs. And two hours passed,
a period of waiting that seemed as if it would never end, for what
purpose no one could say, in an agony of expectancy that chilled the
hearts of all.

As the daylight increased Jean made an attempt to discern where they
were. Someone had shown him where the Chene road lay off to the
northwest, passing over a hill beyond Quatre-Champs. Why had they
turned to the right instead of to the left? Another object of interest
to him was the general and his staff, who had established themselves
at the Converserie, a farm on the edge of the plateau. There seemed to
be a heated discussion going on; officers were going and coming and
the conversation was carried on with much gesticulation. What could
they be waiting for? nothing was coming that way. The plateau formed a
sort of amphitheater, broad expanses of stubble that were commanded to
the north and east by wooded heights; to the south were thick woods,
while to the west an opening afforded a glimpse of the valley of the
Aisne with the little white houses of Vouziers. Below the Converserie
rose the slated steeple of Quatre-Champs church, looming dimly through
the furious storm, which seemed as if it would sweep away bodily the
few poor moss-grown cottages of the village. As Jean's glance wandered
down the ascending road he became conscious of a doctor's gig coming
up at a sharp trot along the stony road, that was now the bed of a
rapid torrent.

It was Maurice, who, at a turn in the road, from the hill that lay
beyond the valley, had finally discerned the 7th corps. For two hours
he had been wandering about the country, thanks to the stupidity of a
peasant who had misdirected him and the sullen ill-will of his driver,
whom fear of the Prussians had almost deprived of his wits. As soon as
he reached the farmhouse he leaped from the gig and had no further
trouble in finding the regiment.

Jean addressed him in amazement:

"What, is it you? What is the meaning of this? I thought you were to
wait until we came along."

Maurice's tone and manner told of his rage and sorrow.

"Ah, yes! we are no longer going in that direction; it is down yonder
we are to go, to get ourselves knocked in the head, all of us!"

"Very well," said the other presently, with a very white face. "We
will die together, at all events."

The two men met, as they had parted, with an embrace. In the drenching
rain that still beat down as pitilessly as ever, the humble private
resumed his place in the ranks, while the corporal, in his streaming
garments, never murmured as he gave him the example of what a soldier
should be.

And now the tidings became more definite and spread among the men;
they were no longer retreating on Paris; the advance to the Meuse was
again the order of the day. An aide-de-camp had brought to the 7th
corps instructions from the marshal to go and encamp at Nonart; the
5th was to take the direction of Beauclair, where it would be the
right wing of the army, while the 1st was to move up to Chene and
relieve the 12th, then on the march to la Besace on the extreme left.
And the reason why more than thirty thousand men had been kept waiting
there at ordered arms, for nearly three hours in the midst of a
blinding storm, was that General Douay, in the deplorable confusion
incident on this new change of front, was alarmed for the safety of
the train that had been sent forward the day before toward Chagny; the
delay was necessary to give the several divisions time to close up. In
the confusion of all these conflicting movements it was said that the
12th corps train had blocked the road at Chene, thus cutting off that
of the 7th. On the other hand, an important part of the _materiel_,
all the forges of the artillery, had mistaken their road and strayed
off in the direction of Terron; they were now trying to find their way
back by the Vouziers road, where they were certain to fall into the
hands of the Germans. Never was there such utter confusion, never was
anxiety so intense.

A feeling of bitterest discouragement took possession of the troops.
Many of them in their despair would have preferred to seat themselves
on their knapsacks, in the midst of that sodden, wind-swept plain, and
wait for death to come to them. They reviled their leaders and loaded
them with insult: ah! famous leaders, they; brainless boobies, undoing
at night what they had done in the morning, idling and loafing when
there was no enemy in sight, and taking to their heels as soon as he
showed his face! Each minute added to the demoralization that was
already rife, making of that army a rabble, without faith or hope,
without discipline, a herd that their chiefs were conducting to the
shambles by ways of which they themselves were ignorant. Down in the
direction of Vouziers the sound of musketry was heard; shots were
being exchanged between the rear-guard of the 7th corps and the German
skirmishers; and now every eye was turned upon the valley of the
Aisne, where volumes of dense black smoke were whirling upward toward
the sky from which the clouds had suddenly been swept away; they all
knew it was the village of Falaise burning, fired by the uhlans. Every
man felt his blood boil in his veins; so the Prussians were there at
last; they had sat and waited two days for them to come up, and then
had turned and fled. The most ignorant among the men had felt their
cheeks tingle for very shame as, in their dull way, they recognized
the idiocy that had prompted that enormous blunder, that imbecile
delay, that trap into which they had walked blindfolded; the light
cavalry of the IVth army feinting in front of Bordas' brigade and
halting and neutralizing, one by one, the several corps of the army of
Chalons, solely to give the Crown Prince time to hasten up with the
IIId army. And now, thanks to the marshal's complete and astounding
ignorance as to the identity of the troops he had before him, the
junction was accomplished, and the 5th and 7th corps were to be
roughly handled, with the constant menace of disaster overshadowing
them.

Maurice's eyes were bent on the horizon, where it was reddened with
the flames of burning Falaise. They had one consolation, however: the
train that had been believed to be lost came crawling along out of the
Chene road. Without delay the 2d division put itself in motion and
struck out across the forest for Boult-aux-Bois; the 3d took post on
the heights of Belleville to the left in order to keep an eye to the
communications, while the 1st remained at Quatre-Champs to wait for
the coming up of the train and guard its countless wagons. Just then
the rain began to come down again with increased violence, and as the
106th moved off the plateau, resuming the march that should have never
been, toward the Meuse, toward the unknown, Maurice thought he beheld
again his vision of the night: the shadow of the Emperor, incessantly
appearing and vanishing, so sad, so pitiful a sight, on the white
curtain of good old Madame Desvallieres. Ah! that doomed army, that
army of despair, that was being driven forward to inevitable
destruction for the salvation of a dynasty! March, march, onward ever,
with no look behind, through mud, through rain, to the bitter end!



                                VI.

"Thunder!" Chouteau ejaculated the following morning when he awoke,
chilled and with aching bones, under the tent, "I wouldn't mind having
a bouillon with plenty of meat in it."

At Boult-aux-Bois, where they were now encamped, the only ration
issued to the men the night before had been an extremely slender one
of potatoes; the commissariat was daily more and more distracted and
disorganized by the everlasting marches and countermarches, never
reaching the designated points of rendezvous in time to meet the
troops. As for the herds, no one had the faintest idea where they
might be upon the crowded roads, and famine was staring the army in
the face.

Loubet stretched himself and plaintively replied:

"Ah, _fichtre_, yes!--No more roast goose for us now."

The squad was out of sorts and sulky. Men couldn't be expected to be
lively on an empty stomach. And then there was the rain that poured
down incessantly, and the mud in which they had to make their beds.

Observing Pache make the sign of the cross after mumbling his morning
prayer, Chouteau captiously growled:

"Ask that good God of yours, if he is good for anything, to send us
down a couple of sausages and a mug of beer apiece."

"Ah, if we only had a good big loaf of bread!" sighed Lapoulle, whose
ravenous appetite made hunger a more grievous affliction to him than
to the others.

But Lieutenant Rochas, passing by just then, made them be silent. It
was scandalous, never to think of anything but their stomachs! When
_he_ was hungry he tightened up the buckle of his trousers. Now that
things were becoming decidedly squally and the popping of rifles was
to be heard occasionally in the distance, he had recovered all his old
serene confidence: it was all plain enough, now; the Prussians were
there--well, all they had to do was, go out and lick 'em. And he gave
a significant shrug of the shoulders, standing behind Captain
Beaudoin, the _very_ young man, as he called him, with his pale face
and pursed up lips, whom the loss of his baggage had afflicted so
grievously that he had even ceased to fume and scold. A man might get
along without eating, at a pinch, but that he could not change his
linen was a circumstance productive of sorrow and anger.

Maurice awoke to a sensation of despondency and physical discomfort.
Thanks to his easy shoes the inflammation in his foot had gone down,
but the drenching he had received the day before, from the effects of
which his greatcoat seemed to weigh a ton, had left him with a
distinct and separate ache in every bone of his body. When he was sent
to the spring to get water for the coffee he took a survey of the
plain on the edge of which Boult-aux-Bois is situated: forests rise to
the west and north, and there is a hill crowned by the hamlet of
Belleville, while, over to the east, Buzancy way, there is a broad,
level expanse, stretching far as the eye can see, with an occasional
shallow depression concealing a small cluster of cottages. Was it from
that direction that they were to expect the enemy? As he was returning
from the stream with his bucket filled with water, the father of a
family of wretched peasants hailed him from the door of his hovel, and
asked him if the soldiers were this time going to stay and defend
them. In the confusion of conflicting orders the 5th corps had already
traversed the region no less than three times. The sound of
cannonading had reached them the day before from the direction of Bar;
the Prussians could not be more than a couple of leagues away. And
when Maurice made answer to the poor folks that doubtless the 7th
corps would also be called away after a time, their tears flowed
afresh. Then they were to be abandoned to the enemy, and the soldiers
had not come there to fight, whom they saw constantly vanishing and
reappearing, always on the run?

"Those who like theirs sweet," observed Loubet, as he poured the
coffee, "have only to stick their thumb in it and wait for it to
melt."

Not a man of them smiled. It was too bad, all the same, to have to
drink their coffee without sugar; and then, too, if they only had some
biscuit! Most of them had devoured what eatables they had in their
knapsacks, to the very last crumb, to while away their time of
waiting, the day before, on the plateau of Quatre-Champs. Among them,
however, the members of the squad managed to collect a dozen potatoes,
which they shared equally.

Maurice, who began to feel a twinging sensation in his stomach,
uttered a regretful cry:

"If I had known of this I would have bought some bread at Chene."

Jean listened in silence. He had had a dispute with Chouteau that
morning, who, on being ordered to go for firewood, had insolently
refused, alleging that it was not his turn. Now that everything was so
rapidly going to the dogs, insubordination among the men had increased
to such a point that those in authority no longer ventured to
reprimand them, and Jean, with his sober good sense and pacific
disposition, saw that if he would preserve his influence with his
squad he must keep the corporal in the background as far as possible.
For this reason he was hail-fellow-well-met with his men, who could
not fail to see what a treasure they had in a man of his experience,
for if those committed to his care did not always have all they wanted
to eat, they had, at all events, not suffered from hunger, as had been
the case with so many others. But he was touched by the sight of
Maurice's suffering. He saw that he was losing strength, and looked at
him anxiously, asking himself how that delicate young man would ever
manage to sustain the privations of that horrible campaign.

When Jean heard Maurice bewail the lack of bread he arose quietly,
went to his knapsack, and, returning, slipped a biscuit into the
other's hand.

"Here! don't let the others see it; I have not enough to go round."

"But what will you do?" asked the young man, deeply affected.

"Oh, don't be alarmed about me--I have two left."

It was true; he had carefully put aside three biscuits, in case there
should be a fight, knowing that men are often hungry on the
battlefield. And then, besides, he had just eaten a potato; that would
be sufficient for him. Perhaps something would turn up later on.

About ten o'clock the 7th corps made a fresh start. The marshal's
first intention had been to direct it by way of Buzancy upon Stenay,
where it would have passed the Meuse, but the Prussians, outmarching
the army of Chalons, were already in Stenay, and were even reported to
be at Buzancy. Crowded back in this manner to the northward, the 7th
corps had received orders to move to la Besace, some twelve or fifteen
miles from Boult-aux-Bois, whence, on the next day, they would proceed
to pass the Meuse at Mouzon. The start was made in a very sulky humor;
the men, with empty stomachs and bodies unrefreshed by repose,
unnerved, mentally and physically, by the experience of the past few
days, vented their dissatisfaction by growling and grumbling, while
the officers, without a spark of their usual cheerful gayety, with a
vague sense of impending disaster awaiting them at the end of their
march, taxed the dilatoriness of their chiefs, and reproached them for
not going to the assistance of the 5th corps at Buzancy, where the
sound of artillery-firing had been heard. That corps, too, was on the
retreat, making its way toward Nonart, while the 12th was even then
leaving la Besace for Mouzon and the 1st was directing its course
toward Raucourt. It was like nothing so much as the passage of a drove
of panic-stricken cattle, with the dogs worrying them and snapping at
their heels--a wild stampede toward the Meuse.

When, in the outstreaming torrent of the three divisions that striped
the plain with columns of marching men, the 106th left Boult-aux-Bois
in the rear of the cavalry and artillery, the sky was again overspread
with a pall of dull leaden clouds that further lowered the spirits of
the soldiers. Its route was along the Buzancy highway, planted on
either side with rows of magnificent poplars. When they reached
Germond, a village where there was a steaming manure-heap before every
one of the doors that lined the two sides of the straggling street,
the sobbing women came to their thresholds with their little children
in their arms, and held them out to the passing troops, as if begging
the men to take them with them. There was not a mouthful of bread to
be had in all the hamlet, nor even a potato, After that, the regiment,
instead of keeping straight on toward Buzancy, turned to the left and
made for Authe, and when the men turned their eyes across the plain
and beheld upon the hilltop Belleville, through which they had passed
the day before, the fact that they were retracing their steps was
impressed more vividly on their consciousness.

"Heavens and earth!" growled Chouteau, "do they take us for tops?"

And Loubet chimed in:

"Those cheap-John generals of ours are all at sea again! They must
think that men's legs are cheap."

The anger and disgust were general. It was not right to make men
suffer like that, just for the fun of walking them up and down the
country. They were advancing in column across the naked plain in two
files occupying the sides of the road, leaving a free central space in
which the officers could move to and fro and keep an eye on their men,
but it was not the same now as it had been in Champagne after they
left Rheims, a march of song and jollity, when they tramped along
gayly and the knapsack was like a feather to their shoulders, in the
belief that soon they would come up with the Prussians and give them a
sound drubbing; now they were dragging themselves wearily forward in
angry silence, cursing the musket that galled their shoulder and the
equipments that seemed to weigh them to the ground, their faith in
their leaders gone, and possessed by such bitterness of despair that
they only went forward as does a file of manacled galley-slaves, in
terror of the lash. The wretched army had begun to ascend its Calvary.

Maurice, however, within the last few minutes had made a discovery
that interested him greatly. To their left was a range of hills that
rose one above another as they receded from the road, and from the
skirt of a little wood, far up on the mountain-side, he had seen a
horseman emerge. Then another appeared, and then still another. There
they stood, all three of them, without sign of life, apparently no
larger than a man's hand and looking like delicately fashioned toys.
He thought they were probably part of a detachment of our hussars out
on a reconnoissance, when all at once he was surprised to behold
little points of light flashing from their shoulders, doubtless the
reflection of the sunlight from epaulets of brass.

"Look there!" he said, nudging Jean, who was marching at his side.
"Uhlans!"

The corporal stared with all his eyes. "They, uhlans!"

They were indeed uhlans, the first Prussians that the 106th had set
eyes on. They had been in the field nearly six weeks now, and in all
that time not only had they never smelt powder, but had never even
seen an enemy. The news spread through the ranks, and every head was
turned to look at them. Not such bad-looking fellows, those uhlans,
after all.

"One of them looks like a jolly little fat fellow," Loubet remarked.

But presently an entire squadron came out and showed itself on a
plateau to the left of the little wood, and at sight of the
threatening demonstration the column halted. An officer came riding up
with orders, and the 106th moved off a little and took position on the
bank of a small stream behind a clump of trees. The artillery had come
hurrying back from the front on a gallop and taken possession of a
low, rounded hill. For near two hours they remained there thus in line
of battle without the occurrence of anything further; the body of
hostile cavalry remained motionless in the distance, and finally,
concluding that they were only wasting time that was valuable, the
officers set the column moving again.

"Ah well," Jean murmured regretfully, "we are not booked for it this
time."

Maurice, too, had felt his finger-tips tingling with the desire to
have just one shot. He kept harping on the theme of the mistake they
had made the day before in not going to the support of the 5th corps.
If the Prussians had not made their attack yet, it must be because
their infantry had not got up in sufficient strength, whence it was
evident that their display of cavalry in the distance was made with no
other end than to harass us and check the advance of our corps. We had
again fallen into the trap set for us, and thenceforth the regiment
was constantly greeted with the sight of uhlans popping up on its left
flank wherever the ground was favorable for them, tracking it like
sleuthhounds, disappearing behind a farmhouse only to reappear at the
corner of a wood.

It eventually produced a disheartening effect on the troops to see
that cordon closing in on them in the distance and enveloping them as
in the meshes of some gigantic, invisible net. Even Pache and Lapoulle
had an opinion on the subject.

"It is beginning to be tiresome!" they said. "It would be a comfort to
send them our compliments in the shape of a musket-ball!"

But they kept toiling wearily onward on their tired feet, that seemed
to them as if they were of lead. In the distress and suffering of that
day's march there was ever present to all the undefined sensation of
the proximity of the enemy, drawing in on them from every quarter,
just as we are conscious of the coming storm before we have seen a
cloud on the horizon. Instructions were given the rear-guard to use
severe measures, if necessary, to keep the column well closed up; but
there was not much straggling, aware as everyone was that the
Prussians were close in our rear, and ready to snap up every
unfortunate that they could lay hands on. Their infantry was coming up
with the rapidity of the whirlwind, making its twenty-five miles a
day, while the French regiments, in their demoralized condition,
seemed in comparison to be marking time.

At Authe the weather cleared, and Maurice, taking his bearings by the
position of the sun, noticed that instead of bearing off toward Chene,
which lay three good leagues from where they were, they had turned and
were moving directly eastward. It was two o'clock; the men, after
shivering in the rain for two days, were now suffering from the
intense heat. The road ascended, with long sweeping curves, through a
region of utter desolation: not a house, not a living being, the only
relief to the dreariness of the waste lands an occasional little
somber wood; and the oppressive silence communicated itself to the
men, who toiled onward with drooping heads, bathed in perspiration. At
last Saint-Pierremont appeared before them, a few empty houses on a
small elevation. They did not pass through the village. Maurice
observed that here they made a sudden wheel to the left, resuming
their northern course, toward la Besace. He now understood the route
that had been adopted in their attempt to reach Mouzon ahead of the
Prussians; but would they succeed, with such weary, demoralized
troops? At Saint-Pierremont the three uhlans had shown themselves
again, at a turn in the road leading to Buzancy, and just as the
rear-guard was leaving the village a battery was unmasked and a few
shells came tumbling among them, without doing any injury, however. No
response was attempted, and the march was continued with constantly
increasing effort.

From Saint-Pierremont to la Besace the distance is three good leagues,
and when Maurice imparted that information to Jean the latter made a
gesture of discouragement: the men would never be able to accomplish
it; they showed it by their shortness of breath, by their haggard
faces. The road continued to ascend, between gently sloping hills on
either side that were gradually drawing closer together. The condition
of the men necessitated a halt, but the only effect of their brief
repose was to increase the stiffness of their benumbed limbs, and when
the order was given to march the state of affairs was worse than it
had been before; the regiments made no progress, men were everywhere
falling in the ranks. Jean, noticing Maurice's pallid face and glassy
eyes, infringed on what was his usual custom and conversed,
endeavoring by his volubility to divert the other's attention and keep
him awake as he moved automatically forward, unconscious of his
actions.

"Your sister lives in Sedan, you say; perhaps we shall be there before
long."

"What, at Sedan? Never! You must be crazy; it don't lie in our way."

"Is your sister young?"

"Just my age; you know I told you we are twins."

"Is she like you?"

"Yes, she is fair-haired, too; and oh! such pretty curling hair! She
is a mite of a woman, with a little thin face, not one of your noisy,
flashy hoydens, ah, no!--Dear Henriette!"

"You love her very dearly!"

"Yes, yes--"

There was silence between them after that, and Jean, glancing at
Maurice, saw that his eyes were closing and he was about to fall.

"Hallo there, old fellow! Come, confound it all, brace up! Let me take
your gun a moment; that will give you a chance to rest. They can't
have the cruelty to make us march any further to-day! we shall leave
half our men by the roadside."

At that moment he caught sight of Osches lying straight ahead of them,
its few poor hovels climbing in straggling fashion up the hillside,
and the yellow church, embowered in trees, looking down on them from
its perch upon the summit.

"There's where we shall rest, for certain."

He had guessed aright; General Douay saw the exhausted condition of
the troops, and was convinced that it would be useless to attempt to
reach la Besace that day. What particularly influenced his
determination, however, was the arrival of the train, that ill-starred
train that had been trailing in his rear since they left Rheims, and
of which the nine long miles of vehicles and animals had so terribly
impeded his movements. He had given instructions from Quatre-Champs to
direct it straight on Saint-Pierremont, and it was not until Osches
that the teams came up with the corps, in such a state of exhaustion
that the horses refused to stir. It was now five o'clock; the general,
not liking the prospect of attempting the pass of Stonne at that late
hour, determined to take the responsibility of abridging the task
assigned them by the marshal. The corps was halted and proceeded to
encamp; the train below in the meadows, guarded by a division, while
the artillery took position on the hills to the rear, and the brigade
detailed to act as rear-guard on the morrow rested on a height
facing Saint-Pierremont. The other division, which included
Bourgain-Desfeuilles' brigade, bivouacked on a wide plateau, bordered
by an oak wood, behind the church. There was such confusion in
locating the bodies of troops that it was dark before the 106th could
move into its position at the edge of the wood.

"_Zut_!" said Chouteau in a furious rage, "no eating for me; I want to
sleep!"

And that was the cry of all; they were overcome with fatigue. Many of
them lacked strength and courage to erect their tents, but dropping
where they stood, at once fell fast asleep on the bare ground. In
order to eat, moreover, rations would have been necessary, and the
commissary wagons, which were waiting for the 7th corps to come to
them at la Besace, could not well be at Osches at the same time. In
the universal relaxation of order and system even the customary
corporal's call was omitted: it was everyone for himself. There were
to be no more issues of rations from that time forth; the soldiers
were to subsist on the provisions they were supposed to carry in their
knapsacks, and that evening the sacks were empty; few indeed were
those who could muster a crust of bread or some crumbs of the
abundance in which they had been living at Vouziers of late. There was
coffee, and those who were not too tired made and drank it without
sugar.

When Jean thought to make a division of his wealth by eating one of
his biscuits himself and giving the other to Maurice, he discovered
that the latter was sound asleep. He thought at first he would awake
him, but changed his mind and stoically replaced the biscuits in his
sack, concealing them with as much caution as if they had been bags of
gold; he could get along with coffee, like the rest of the boys. He
had insisted on having the tent put up, and they were all stretched on
the ground beneath its shelter when Loubet returned from a foraging
expedition, bringing in some carrots that he had found in a
neighboring field. As there was no fire to cook them by they munched
them raw, but the vegetables only served to aggravate their hunger,
and they made Pache ill.

"No, no; let him sleep," said Jean to Chouteau, who was shaking
Maurice to wake him and give him his share.

"Ah," Lapoulle broke in, "we shall be at Angouleme to-morrow, and then
we'll have some bread. I had a cousin in the army once, who was
stationed at Angouleme. Nice garrison, that."

They all looked surprised, and Chouteau exclaimed:

"Angouleme--what are you talking about! Just listen to the bloody
fool, saying he is at Angouleme!"

It was impossible to extract any explanation from Lapoulle. He had
insisted that morning that the uhlans that they sighted were some of
Bazaine's troops.

Then darkness descended on the camp, black as ink, silent as death.
Notwithstanding the coolness of the night air the men had not been
permitted to make fires; the Prussians were known to be only a few
miles away, and it would not do to put them on the alert; orders even
were transmitted in a hushed voice. The officers had notified their
men before retiring that the start would be made at about four in the
morning, in order that they might have all the rest possible, and all
had hastened to turn in and were sleeping greedily, forgetful of their
troubles. Above the scattered camps the deep respiration of all those
slumbering crowds, rising upon the stillness of the night, was like
the long-drawn breathing of old Mother Earth.

Suddenly a shot rang out in the darkness and aroused the sleepers. It
was about three o'clock, and the obscurity was profound. Immediately
everyone was on foot, the alarm spread through the camp; it was
supposed the Prussians were attacking. It was only Loubet who, unable
to sleep longer, had taken it in his head to make a foray into the
oak-wood, which he thought gave promise of rabbits: what a jolly good
lark it would be if he could bring in a pair of nice rabbits for the
comrades' breakfast! But as he was looking about for a favorable place
in which to conceal himself, he heard the sound of voices and the
snapping of dry branches under heavy footsteps; men were coming toward
him; he took alarm and discharged his piece, believing the Prussians
were at hand. Maurice, Jean, and others came running up in haste, when
a hoarse voice made itself heard:

"For God's sake, don't shoot!"

And there at the edge of the wood stood a tall, lanky man, whose
thick, bristling beard they could just distinguish in the darkness. He
wore a gray blouse, confined at the waist by a red belt, and carried a
musket slung by a strap over his shoulder. He hurriedly explained that
he was French, a sergeant of francs-tireurs, and had come with two of
his men from the wood of Dieulet, bringing important information for
the general.

"Hallo there, Cabasse! Ducat!" he shouted, turning his head, "hallo!
you infernal poltroons, come here!"

The men were evidently badly scared, but they came forward. Ducat,
short and fat, with a pale face and scanty hair; Cabasse short and
lean, with a black face and a long nose not much thicker than a
knife-blade.

Meantime Maurice had stepped up and taken a closer look at the
sergeant; he finally asked him:

"Tell me, are you not Guillaume Sambuc, of Remilly?"

And when the man hesitatingly answered in the affirmative Maurice
recoiled a step or two, for this Sambuc had the reputation of being a
particularly hard case, the worthy son of a family of woodcutters who
had all gone to the bad, the drunken father being found one night
lying by the roadside with his throat cut, the mother and daughter,
who lived by begging and stealing, having disappeared, most likely, in
the seclusion of some penitentiary. He, Guillaume, did a little in the
poaching and smuggling lines, and only one of that litter of wolves'
whelps had grown up to be an honest man, and that was Prosper, the
hussar, who had gone to work on a farm before he was conscripted,
because he hated the life of the forest.

"I saw your brother at Vouziers," Maurice continued; "he is well."

Sambuc made no reply. To end the situation he said:

"Take me to the general. Tell him that the francs-tireurs of the wood
of Dieulet have something important to say to him."

On the way back to the camp Maurice reflected on those free companies
that had excited such great expectations at the time of their
formation, and had since been the object of such bitter denunciation
throughout the country. Their professed purpose was to wage a sort of
guerilla warfare, lying in ambush behind hedges, harassing the enemy,
picking off his sentinels, holding the woods, from which not a
Prussian was to emerge alive; while the truth of the matter was that
they had made themselves the terror of the peasantry, whom they
failed utterly to protect and whose fields they devastated. Every
ne'er-do-well who hated the restraints of the regular service made
haste to join their ranks, well pleased with the chance that exempted
him from discipline and enabled him to lead the life of a tramp,
tippling in pothouses and sleeping by the roadside at his own sweet
will. Some of the companies were recruited from the very worst
material imaginable.

"Hallo there, Cabasse! Ducat!" Sambuc was constantly repeating,
turning to his henchmen at every step he took, "Come along, will you,
you snails!"

Maurice was as little charmed with the two men as with their leader.
Cabasse, the little lean fellow, was a native of Toulon, had served as
waiter in a cafe at Marseilles, had failed at Sedan as a broker in
southern produce, and finally had brought up in a police-court, where
it came near going hard with him, in connection with a robbery of
which the details were suppressed. Ducat, the little fat man, quondam
_huissier_ at Blainville, where he had been forced to sell out his
business on account of a malodorous woman scrape, had recently been
brought face to face with the court of assizes for an indiscretion of
a similar nature at Raucourt, where he was accountant in a factory.
The latter quoted Latin in his conversation, while the other could
scarcely read, but the two were well mated, as unprepossessing a pair
as one could expect to meet in a summer's day.

The camp was already astir; Jean and Maurice took the francs-tireurs
to Captain Beaudoin, who conducted them to the quarters of Colonel
Vineuil. The colonel attempted to question them, but Sambuc,
intrenching himself in his dignity, refused to speak to anyone except
the general. Now Bourgain-Desfeuilles had taken up his quarters that
night with the cure of Osches, and just then appeared, rubbing his
eyes, in the doorway of the parsonage; he was in a horribly bad humor
at his slumbers having been thus prematurely cut short, and the
prospect that he saw before him of another day of famine and fatigue;
hence his reception of the men who were brought before him was not
exactly lamblike. Who were they? Whence did they come? What did they
want? Ah, some of those francs-tireurs gentlemen--eh! Same thing as
skulkers and riff-raff!

"General," Sambuc replied, without allowing himself to be
disconcerted, "we and our comrades are stationed in the woods of
Dieulet--"

"The woods of Dieulet--where's that?"

"Between Stenay and Mouzon, General."

"What do I know of your Stenay and Mouzon? Do you expect me to be
familiar with all these strange names?"

The colonel was distressed by his chief's display of ignorance; he
hastily interfered to remind him that Stenay and Mouzon were on the
Meuse, and that, as the Germans had occupied the former of those
towns, the army was about to attempt the passage of the river at the
other, which was situated more to the northward.

"So you see, General," Sambuc continued, "we've come to tell you that
the woods of Dieulet are alive with Prussians. There was an engagement
yesterday as the 5th corps was leaving Bois-les-Dames, somewhere about
Nonart--"

"What, yesterday? There was fighting yesterday?"

"Yes, General, the 5th corps was engaged as it was falling back; it
must have been at Beaumont last night. So, while some of us hurried
off to report to it the movements of the enemy, we thought it best to
come and let you know how matters stood, so that you might go to its
assistance, for it will certainly have sixty thousand men to deal with
in the morning."

General Bourgain-Desfeuilles gave a contemptuous shrug of his
shoulders.

"Sixty thousand men! Why the devil don't you call it a hundred
thousand at once? You were dreaming, young man; your fright has made
you see double. It is impossible there should be sixty thousand
Germans so near us without our knowing it."

And so he went on. It was to no purpose that Sambuc appealed to Ducat
and Cabasse to confirm his statement.

"We saw the guns," the Provencal declared; "and those chaps must be
crazy to take them through the forest, where the rains of the past few
days have left the roads in such a state that they sink in the mud up
to the hubs."

"They have someone to guide them, for certain," said the ex-bailiff.

Since leaving Vouziers the general had stoutly refused to attach any
further credit to reports of the junction of the two German armies
which, as he said, they had been trying to stuff down his throat. He
did not even consider it worth his while to send the francs-tireurs
before his corps commander, to whom the partisans supposed, all along,
that they were talking; if they should attempt to listen to all the
yarns that were brought them by tramps and peasants, they would have
their hands full and be driven from pillar to post without ever
advancing a step. He directed the three men to remain with the column,
however, since they were acquainted with the country.

"They are good fellows, all the same," Jean said to Maurice, as they
were returning to fold the tent, "to have tramped three leagues across
lots to let us know."

The young man agreed with him and commended their action, knowing as
he did the country, and deeply alarmed to hear that the Prussians were
in Dieulet forest and moving on Sommanthe and Beaumont. He had flung
himself down by the roadside, exhausted before the march had
commenced, with a sorrowing heart and an empty stomach, at the dawning
of that day which he felt was to be so disastrous for them all.
Distressed to see him looking so pale, the corporal affectionately
asked him:

"Are you feeling so badly still? What is it? Does your foot pain you?"

Maurice shook his head. His foot had ceased to trouble him, thanks to
the big shoes.

"Then you are hungry." And Jean, seeing that he did not answer, took
from his knapsack one of the two remaining biscuits, and with a
falsehood for which he may be forgiven: "Here, take it; I kept your
share for you. I ate mine a while ago."

Day was breaking when the 7th corps marched out of Osches en route for
Mouzon by way of la Besace, where they should have bivouacked. The
train, cause of so many woes, had been sent on ahead, guarded by the
first division, and if its own wagons, well horsed as for the most
part they were, got over the ground at a satisfactory pace, the
requisitioned vehicles, most of them empty, delayed the troops and
produced sad confusion among the hills of the defile of Stonne. After
leaving the hamlet of la Berliere the road rises more sharply between
wooded hills on either side. Finally, about eight o'clock, the two
remaining divisions got under way, when Marshal MacMahon came
galloping up, vexed to find there those troops that he supposed had
left la Besace that morning, with only a short march between them and
Mouzon; his comment to General Douay on the subject was expressed in
warm language. It was determined that the first division and the train
should be allowed to proceed on their way to Mouzon, but that the two
other divisions, that they might not be further retarded by this
cumbrous advance-guard, should move by the way of Raucourt and
Autrecourt so as to pass the Meuse at Villers. The movement to the
north was dictated by the marshal's intense anxiety to place the river
between his army and the enemy; cost what it might, they must be on
the right bank that night. The rear-guard had not yet left Osches when
a Prussian battery, recommencing the performance of the previous day,
began to play on them from a distant eminence, over in the direction
of Saint-Pierremont. They made the mistake of firing a few shots in
reply; then the last of the troops filed out of the town.

Until nearly eleven o'clock the 106th slowly pursued its way along the
road which zigzags through the pass of Stonne between high hills. On
the left hand the precipitous summits rear their heads, devoid of
vegetation, while to the right the gentler slopes are clad with woods
down to the roadside. The sun had come out again, and the heat was
intense down in the inclosed valley, where an oppressive solitude
prevailed. After leaving la Berliere, which lies at the foot of a
lofty and desolate mountain surmounted by a Calvary, there is not a
house to be seen, not a human being, not an animal grazing in the
meadows. And the men, the day before so faint with hunger, so spent
with fatigue, who since that time had had no food to restore, no
slumber, to speak of, to refresh them, were now dragging themselves
listlessly along, disheartened, filled with sullen anger.

Soon after that, just as the men had been halted for a short rest
along the roadside, the roar of artillery was heard away at their
right; judging from the distinctness of the detonations the firing
could not be more than two leagues distant. Upon the troops, weary
with waiting, tired of retreating, the effect was magical; in the
twinkling of an eye everyone was on his feet, eager, in a quiver of
excitement, no longer mindful of his hunger and fatigue: why did they
not advance? They preferred to fight, to die, rather than keep on
flying thus, no one knew why or whither.

General Bourgain-Desfeuilles, accompanied by Colonel de Vineuil, had
climbed a hill on the right to reconnoiter the country. They were
visible up there in a little clearing between two belts of wood,
scanning the surrounding hills with their field-glasses, when all at
once they dispatched an aide-de-camp to the column, with instructions
to send up to them the francs-tireurs if they were still there. A few
men, Jean and Maurice among them, accompanied the latter, in case
there should be need of messengers.

"A beastly country this, with its everlasting hills and woods!" the
general shouted, as soon as he caught sight of Sambuc. "You hear the
music--where is it? where is the fighting going on?"

Sambuc, with Ducat and Cabasse close at his heels, listened a moment
before he answered, casting his eye over the wide horizon, and
Maurice, standing beside him and gazing out over the panorama of
valley and forest that lay beneath him, was struck with admiration. It
was like a boundless sea, whose gigantic waves had been arrested by
some mighty force. In the foreground the somber verdure of the woods
made splashes of sober color on the yellow of the fields, while in the
brilliant sunlight the distant hills were bathed in purplish vapors.
And while nothing was to be seen, not even the tiniest smoke-wreath
floating on the cloudless sky, the cannon were thundering away in the
distance, like the muttering of a rising storm.

"Here is Sommanthe, to the right," Sambuc said at last, pointing to a
high hill crowned by a wood. "Yoncq lies off yonder to the left. The
fighting is at Beaumont, General."

"Either at Varniforet or Beaumont," Ducat observed.

The general muttered below his breath: "Beaumont, Beaumont--a man can
never tell where he is in this d----d country." Then raising his
voice: "And how far may this Beaumont be from here?"

"A little more than six miles, if you take the road from Chene to
Stenay, which runs up the valley yonder."

There was no cessation of the firing, which seemed to be advancing
from west to east with a continuous succession of reports like peals
of thunder. Sambuc added:

"_Bigre_! it's getting warm. It is just what I expected; you know what
I told you this morning, General; it is certainly the batteries that
we saw in the wood of Dieulet. By this time the whole army that came
up through Buzancy and Beauclair is at work mauling the 5th corps."

There was silence among them, while the battle raging in the distance
growled more furiously than ever, and Maurice had to set tight his
teeth to keep himself from speaking his mind aloud. Why did they not
hasten whither the guns were calling them, without such waste of
words? He had never known what it was to be excited thus; every
discharge found an echo in his bosom and inspired him with a fierce
longing to be present at the conflict, to put an end to it. Were they
to pass by that battle, so near almost that they could stretch forth
their arm and touch it with their hand, and never expend a cartridge?
It must be to decide a wager that some one had made, that since the
beginning of the campaign they were dragged about the country thus,
always flying before the enemy! At Vouziers they had heard the
musketry of the rear-guard, at Osches the German guns had played a
moment on their retreating backs; and now they were to run for it
again, they were not to be allowed to advance at double-quick to the
succor of comrades in distress! Maurice looked at Jean, who was also
very pale, his eyes shining with a bright, feverish light. Every heart
leaped in every bosom at the loud summons of the artillery.

While they were waiting a general, attended by his staff, was seen
ascending the narrow path that wound up the hill. It was Douay, their
corps-commander, who came hastening up, with anxiety depicted on his
countenance, and when he had questioned the francs-tireurs he gave
utterance to an exclamation of despair. But what could he have done,
even had he learned their tidings that morning? The marshal's orders
were explicit: they must be across the Meuse that night, cost what it
might. And then again, how was he to collect his scattered troops,
strung out along the road to Raucourt, and direct then on Beaumont?
Could they arrive in time to be of use? The 5th corps must be in full
retreat on Mouzon by that time, as was indicated by the sound of the
firing, which was receding more and more to the eastward, as a deadly
hurricane moves off after having accomplished its disastrous work.
With a fierce gesture, expressive of his sense of impotency, General
Douay outstretched his arms toward the wide horizon of hill and dale,
of woods and fields, and the order went forth to proceed with the
march to Raucourt.

Ah, what a march was that through that dismal pass of Stonne, with the
lofty summits o'erhanging them on either side, while through the woods
on their right came the incessant volleying of the artillery. Colonel
de Vineuil rode at the head of his regiment, bracing himself firmly in
his saddle, his face set and very pale, his eyes winking like those of
one trying not to weep. Captain Beaudoin strode along in silence,
gnawing his mustache, while Lieutenant Rochas let slip an occasional
imprecation, invoking ruin and destruction on himself and everyone
besides. Even the most cowardly among the men, those who had the least
stomach for fighting, were shamed and angered by their continuous
retreat; they felt the bitter humiliation of turning their backs while
those beasts of Prussians were murdering their comrades over yonder.

After emerging from the pass the road, from a tortuous path among the
hills, increased in width and led through a broad stretch of level
country, dotted here and there with small woods. The 106th was now a
portion of the rear-guard, and at every moment since leaving Osches
had been expecting to feel the enemy's attack, for the Prussians were
following the column step by step, never letting it escape their
vigilant eyes, waiting, doubtless, for a favorable opportunity to fall
on its rear. Their cavalry were on the alert to take advantage of any
bit of ground that promised them an opportunity of getting in on our
flank; several squadrons of Prussian Guards were seen advancing from
behind a wood, but they gave up their purpose upon a demonstration
made by a regiment of our hussars, who came up at a gallop, sweeping
the road. Thanks to the breathing-spell afforded them by this
circumstance the retreat went on in sufficiently good order, and
Raucourt was not far away, when a spectacle greeted their eyes that
filled them with consternation and completely demoralized the troops.
Upon coming to a cross-road they suddenly caught sight of a hurrying,
straggling, flying throng, wounded officers, soldiers without arms and
without organization, runaway teams from the train, all--men and
animals--mingled in wildest confusion, wild with panic. It was the
wreck of one of the brigades of the 1st division, which had been sent
that morning to escort the train to Mouzon; there had been an
unfortunate misconception of orders, and this brigade and a portion of
the wagons had taken a wrong road and reached Varniforet, near
Beaumont, at the very time when the 5th corps was being driven back in
disorder. Taken unawares, overborne by the flank attack of an enemy
superior in numbers, they had fled; and bleeding, with haggard faces,
crazed with fear, were now returning to spread consternation among
their comrades; it was as if they had been wafted thither on the
breath of the battle that had been raging incessantly since noon.

Alarm and anxiety possessed everyone, from highest to lowest, as the
column poured through Raucourt in wild stampede. Should they turn to
the left, toward Autrecourt, and attempt to pass the Meuse at Villers,
as had been previously decided? The general hesitated, fearing to
encounter difficulties in crossing there, even if the bridge were not
already in possession of the Prussians; he finally decided to keep
straight on through the defile of Harancourt and thus reach Remilly
before nightfall. First Mouzon, then Villers, and last Remilly; they
were still pressing on northward, with the tramp of the uhlans on the
road behind them. There remained scant four miles for them to
accomplish, but it was five o'clock, and the men were sinking with
fatigue. They had been under arms since daybreak, twelve hours had
been consumed in advancing three short leagues; they were harassed and
fatigued as much by their constant halts and the stress of their
emotions as by the actual toil of the march. For the last two nights
they had had scarce any sleep; their hunger had been unappeased since
they left Vouziers. In Raucourt the distress was terrible; men fell in
the ranks from sheer inanition.

The little town is rich, with its numerous factories, its handsome
thoroughfare lined with two rows of well-built houses, and its pretty
church and _mairie_; but the night before Marshal MacMahon and the
Emperor had passed that way with their respective staffs and all the
imperial household, and during the whole of the present morning the
entire 1st corps had been streaming like a torrent through the main
street. The resources of the place had not been adequate to meet the
requirements of these hosts; the shelves of the bakers and grocers
were empty, and even the houses of the bourgeois had been swept clean
of provisions; there was no bread, no wine, no sugar, nothing capable
of allaying hunger or thirst. Ladies had been seen to station
themselves before their doors and deal out glasses of wine and cups of
bouillon until cask and kettle alike were drained of their last drop.
And so there was an end, and when, about three o'clock, the first
regiments of the 7th corps began to appear the scene was a pitiful
one; the broad street was filled from curb to curb with weary,
dust-stained men, dying with hunger, and there was not a mouthful of
food to give them. Many of them stopped, knocking at doors and
extending their hands beseechingly toward windows, begging for a
morsel of bread, and women were seen to cry and sob as they motioned
that they could not help them, that they had nothing left.

At the corner of the Rue Dix-Potiers Maurice had an attack of
dizziness and reeled as if about to fall. To Jean, who came hastening
up, he said:

"No, leave me; it is all up with me. I may as well die here!"

He had sunk down upon a door-step. The corporal spoke in a rough tone
of displeasure assumed for the occasion:

"_Nom de Dieu!_ why don't you try to behave like a soldier! Do you
want the Prussians to catch you? Come, get up!"

Then, as the young man, lividly pale, his eyes tight-closed, almost
unconscious, made no reply, he let slip another oath, but in another
key this time, in a tone of infinite gentleness and pity:

"_Nom de Dieu!_ _Nom de Dieu!_"

And running to a drinking-fountain near by, he filled his basin with
water and hurried back to bathe his friend's face. Then, without
further attempt at concealment, he took from his sack the last
remaining biscuit that he had guarded with such jealous caution, and
commenced crumbling it into small bits that he introduced between the
other's teeth. The famishing man opened his eyes and ate greedily.

"But you," he asked, suddenly recollecting himself, "how comes it that
you did not eat it?"

"Oh, I!" said Jean. "I'm tough, I can wait. A good drink of Adam's
ale, and I shall be all right."

He went and filled his basin again at the fountain, emptied it at a
single draught, and came back smacking his lips in token of
satisfaction with his feast. He, too, was cadaverously pale, and so
faint with hunger that his hands were trembling like a leaf.

"Come, get up, and let's be going. We must be getting back to the
comrades, little one."

Maurice leaned on his arm and suffered himself to be helped along as
if he had been a child; never had woman's arm about him so warmed his
heart. In that extremity of distress, with death staring him in the
face, it afforded him a deliciously cheering sense of comfort to know
that someone loved and cared for him, and the reflection that that
heart, which was so entirely his, was the heart of a simple-minded
peasant, whose aspirations scarcely rose above the satisfaction of his
daily wants, for whom he had recently experienced a feeling of
repugnance, served to add to his gratitude a sensation of ineffable
joy. Was it not the brotherhood that had prevailed in the world in its
earlier days, the friendship that had existed before caste and culture
were; that friendship which unites two men and makes them one in their
common need of assistance, in the presence of Nature, the common
enemy? He felt the tie of humanity uniting him and Jean, and was proud
to know that the latter, his comforter and savior, was stronger than
he; while to Jean, who did not analyze his sensations, it afforded
unalloyed pleasure to be the instrument of protecting, in his friend,
that cultivation and intelligence which, in himself, were only
rudimentary. Since the death of his wife, who had been snatched away
from him by a frightful catastrophe, he had believed that his heart
was dead, he had sworn to have nothing more to do with those
creatures, who, even when they are not wicked and depraved, are cause
of so much suffering to man. And thus, to both of them their
friendship was a comfort and relief. There was no need of any
demonstrative display of affection; they understood each other; there
was close community of sympathy between them, and, notwithstanding
their apparent external dissimilarity, the bond of pity and common
suffering made them as one during their terrible march that day to
Remilly.

As the French rear-guard left Raucourt by one end of the town the
Germans came in at the other, and forthwith two of their batteries
commenced firing from the position they had taken on the heights to
the left; the 106th, retreating along the road that follows the course
of the Emmane, was directly in the line of fire. A shell cut down a
poplar on the bank of the stream; another came and buried itself in
the soft ground close to Captain Beaudoin, but did not burst. From
there on to Harancourt, however, the walls of the pass kept
approaching nearer and nearer, and the troops were crowded together in
a narrow gorge commanded on either side by hills covered with trees. A
handful of Prussians in ambush on those heights might have caused
incalculable disaster. With the cannon thundering in their rear and
the menace of a possible attack on either flank, the men's uneasiness
increased with every step they took, and they were in haste to get out
of such a dangerous neighborhood; hence they summoned up their
reserved strength, and those soldiers who, but now in Raucourt, had
scarce been able to drag themselves along, now, with the peril that
lay behind them as an incentive, struck out at a good round pace. The
very horses seemed to be conscious that the loss of a minute might
cost them dear. And the impetus thus given continued; all was going
well, the head of the column must have reached Remilly, when, all at
once, their progress was arrested.

"Heavens and earth!" said Chouteau, "are they going to leave us here
in the road?"

The regiment had not yet reached Harancourt, and the shells were still
tumbling about them; while the men were marking time, awaiting the
word to go ahead again, one burst, on the right of the column, without
injuring anyone, fortunately. Five minutes passed, that seemed to them
long as an eternity, and still they did not move; there was some
obstacle on ahead that barred their way as effectually as if a strong
wall had been built across the road. The colonel, standing up in his
stirrups, peered nervously to the front, for he saw that it would
require but little to create a panic among his men.

"We are betrayed; everybody can see it," shouted Chouteau.

Murmurs of reproach arose on every side, the sullen muttering of their
discontent exasperated by their fears. Yes, yes! they had been brought
there to be sold, to be delivered over to the Prussians. In the
baleful fatality that pursued them, and among all the blunders of
their leaders, those dense intelligences were unable to account for
such an uninterrupted succession of disasters on any other ground than
that of treachery.

"We are betrayed! we are betrayed!" the men wildly repeated.

Then Loubet's fertile intellect evolved an idea: "It is like enough
that that pig of an Emperor has sat himself down in the road, with his
baggage, on purpose to keep us here."

The idle fancy was received as true, and immediately spread up and
down the line; everyone declared that the imperial household had
blocked the road and was responsible for the stoppage. There was a
universal chorus of execration, of opprobrious epithets, an unchaining
of the hatred and hostility that were inspired by the insolence of the
Emperor's attendants, who took possession of the towns where they
stopped at night as if they owned them, unpacking their luxuries,
their costly wines and plate of gold and silver, before the eyes of
the poor soldiers who were destitute of everything, filling the
kitchens with the steam of savory viands while they, poor devils, had
nothing for it but to tighten the belt of their trousers. Ah! that
wretched Emperor, that miserable man, deposed from his throne and
stripped of his command, a stranger in his own empire; whom they were
conveying up and down the country along with the other baggage, like
some piece of useless furniture, whose doom it was ever to drag behind
him the irony of his imperial state: cent-gardes, horses, carriages,
cooks, and vans, sweeping, as it were, the blood and mire from the
roads of his defeat with the magnificence of his court mantle,
embroidered with the heraldic bees!

In rapid succession, one after the other, two more shells fell;
Lieutenant Rochas had his _kepi_ carried away by a fragment. The men
huddled closer together and began to crowd forward, the movement
gathering strength as it ran from rear to front. Inarticulate cries
were heard, Lapoulle shouted furiously to go ahead. A minute longer
and there would have been a horrible catastrophe, and many men must
have been crushed to death in the mad struggle to escape from the
funnel-like gorge.

The colonel--he was very pale--turned and spoke to the soldiers:

"My children, my children, be a little patient. I have sent to see
what is the matter--it will only be a moment--"

But they did not advance, and the seconds seemed like centuries. Jean,
quite cool and collected, resumed his hold of Maurice's hand, and
whispered to him that, in case their comrades began to shove, they two
could leave the road, climb the hill on the left, and make their way
to the stream. He looked about to see where the francs-tireurs were,
thinking he might gain some information from them regarding the roads,
but was told they had vanished while the column was passing through
Raucourt. Just then the march was resumed, and almost immediately a
bend in the road took them out of range of the German batteries. Later
in the day it was ascertained that it was four cuirassier regiments of
Bonnemain's division who, in the disorder of that ill-starred retreat,
had thus blocked the road of the 7th corps and delayed the march.

It was nearly dark when the 106th passed through Angecourt. The wooded
hills continued on the right, but to the left the country was more
level, and a valley was visible in the distance, veiled in bluish
mists. At last, just as the shades of night were descending, they
stood on the heights of Remilly and beheld a ribbon of pale silver
unrolling its length upon a broad expanse of verdant plain. It was the
Meuse, that Meuse they had so longed to see, and where it seemed as if
victory awaited them.

Pointing to some lights in the distance that were beginning to twinkle
cheerily among the trees, down in that fertile valley that lay there
so peaceful in the mellow twilight, Maurice said to Jean, with the
glad content of a man revisiting a country that he knows and loves:

"Look! over that way--that is Sedan!"



                                VII.

Remilly is built on a hill that rises from the left bank of the Meuse,
presenting the appearance of an amphitheater; the one village street
that meanders circuitously down the sharp descent was thronged with
men, horses, and vehicles in dire confusion. Half-way up the hill, in
front of the church, some drivers had managed to interlock the wheels
of their guns, and all the oaths and blows of the artillerymen were
unavailing to get them forward. Further down, near the woolen mill,
where the Emmane tumbles noisily over the dam, the road was choked
with a long line of stranded baggage wagons, while close at hand, at
the inn of the Maltese Cross, a constantly increasing crowd of angry
soldiers pushed and struggled, and could not obtain so much as a glass
of wine.

All this mad hurly-burly was going on at the southern end of the
village, which is here separated from the Meuse by a little grove of
trees, and where the engineers had that morning stretched a bridge of
boats across the river. There was a ferry to the right; the ferryman's
house stood by itself, white and staring, amid a rank growth of weeds.
Great fires had been built on either bank, which, being replenished
from time to time, glared ruddily in the darkness and made the stream
and both its shores as light as day. They served to show the immense
multitude of men massed there, awaiting a chance to cross, while the
footway only permitted the passage of two men abreast, and over the
bridge proper the cavalry and artillery were obliged to proceed at a
walk, so that the crossing promised to be a protracted operation. It
was said that the troops still on the left bank comprised a brigade of
the 1st corps, an ammunition train, and the four regiments of
cuirassiers belonging to Bonnemain's division, while coming up in hot
haste behind them was the 7th corps, over thirty thousand strong,
possessed with the belief that the enemy was at their heels and
pushing on with feverish eagerness to gain the security of the other
shore.

For a while despair reigned. What! they had been marching since
morning with nothing to eat, they had summoned up all their energies
to escape that deadly trap at Harancourt pass, only in the end to be
landed in that slough of despond, with an insurmountable wall staring
them in the face! It would be hours, perhaps, before it became the
last comer's turn to cross, and everyone knew that even if the
Prussians should not be enterprising enough to continue their pursuit
in the darkness they would be there with the first glimpse of
daylight. Orders came for them to stack muskets, however, and they
made their camp on the great range of bare hills which slope downward
to the meadows of the Meuse, with the Mouzon road running at their
base. To their rear and occupying the level plateau on top of the
range the guns of the reserve artillery were arranged in battery,
pointed so as to sweep the entrance of the pass should there be
necessity for it. And thus commenced another period of agonized,
grumbling suspense.

When finally the preparations were all completed the 106th found
themselves posted in a field of stubble above the road, in a position
that commanded a view of the broad plain. The men had parted
regretfully with their arms, casting timorous looks behind them that
showed they were apprehensive of a night attack. Their faces were
stern and set, and silence reigned, only broken from time to time by
some sullen murmur of angry complaint. It was nearly nine o'clock,
they had been there two hours, and yet many of them, notwithstanding
their terrible fatigue, could not sleep; stretched on the bare ground,
they would start and bend their ears to catch the faintest sound that
rose in the distance. They had ceased to fight their torturing hunger;
they would eat over yonder, on the other bank, when they had passed
the river; they would eat grass if nothing else was to be found. The
crowd at the bridge, however, seemed to increase rather than diminish;
the officers that General Douay had stationed there came back to him
every few minutes, always bringing the same unwelcome report, that it
would be hours and hours before any relief could be expected. Finally
the general determined to go down to the bridge in person, and the men
saw him on the bank, bestirring himself and others and hurrying the
passage of the troops.

Maurice, seated with Jean against a wall, pointed to the north, as he
had done before. "There is Sedan in the distance. And look! Bazeilles
is over yonder--and then comes Douzy, and then Carignan, more to the
right. We shall concentrate at Carignan, I feel sure we shall. Ah!
there is plenty of room, as you would see if it were daylight!"

And his sweeping gesture embraced the entire valley that lay beneath
them, enfolded in shadow. There was sufficient light remaining in the
sky that they could distinguish the pale gleam of the river where it
ran its course among the dusky meadows. The scattered trees made
clumps of denser shade, especially a row of poplars to the left, whose
tops were profiled on the horizon like the fantastic ornaments on some
old castle gateway. And in the background, behind Sedan, dotted with
countless little points of brilliant light, the shadows had mustered,
denser and darker, as if all the forests of the Ardennes had collected
the inky blackness of their secular oaks and cast it there.

Jean's gaze came back to the bridge of boats beneath them.

"Look there! everything is against us. We shall never get across."

The fires upon both banks blazed up more brightly just then, and their
light was so intense that the whole fearful scene was pictured on the
darkness with vivid distinctness. The boats on which the longitudinal
girders rested, owing to the weight of the cavalry and artillery that
had been crossing uninterruptedly since morning, had settled to such
an extent that the floor of the bridge was covered with water. The
cuirassiers were passing at the time, two abreast, in a long unbroken
file, emerging from the obscurity of the hither shore to be swallowed
up in the shadows of the other, and nothing was to be seen of the
bridge; they appeared to be marching on the bosom of the ruddy stream,
that flashed and danced in the flickering firelight. The horses
snorted and hung back, manifesting every indication of terror as they
felt the unstable pathway yielding beneath their feet, and the
cuirassiers, standing erect in their stirrups and clutching at the
reins, poured onward in a steady, unceasing stream, wrapped in their
great white mantles, their helmets flashing in the red light of the
flames. One might have taken them for some spectral band of knights,
with locks of fire, going forth to do battle with the powers of
darkness.

Jean's suffering wrested from him a deep-toned exclamation:

"Oh! I am hungry!"

On every side, meantime, the men, notwithstanding the complainings of
their empty stomachs, had thrown themselves down to sleep. Their
fatigue was so great that it finally got the better of their fears and
struck them down upon the bare earth, where they lay on their back,
with open mouth and arms outstretched, like logs beneath the moonless
sky. The bustle of the camp was stilled, and all along the naked
range, from end to end, there reigned a silence as of death.

"Oh! I am hungry; I am so hungry that I could eat dirt!"

Jean, patient as he was and inured to hardship, could not restrain the
cry; he had eaten nothing in thirty-six hours, and it was torn from
him by sheer stress of physical suffering. Then Maurice, knowing that
two or three hours at all events must elapse before their regiment
could move to pass the stream, said:

"See here, I have an uncle not far from here--you know, Uncle
Fouchard, of whom you have heard me speak. His house is five or six
hundred yards from here; I didn't like the idea, but as you are so
hungry-- The deuce! the old man can't refuse us bread!"

His comrade made no objection and they went off together. Father
Fouchard's little farm was situated just at the mouth of Harancourt
pass, near the plateau where the artillery was posted. The house was a
low structure, surrounded by quite an imposing cluster of
dependencies; a barn, a stable, and cow-sheds, while across the road
was a disused carriage-house which the old peasant had converted into
an abattoir, where he slaughtered with his own hands the cattle which
he afterward carried about the country in his wagon to his customers.

Maurice was surprised as he approached the house to see no light.

"Ah, the old miser! he has locked and barred everything tight and
fast. Like as not he won't let us in."

But something that he saw brought him to a standstill. Before the
house a dozen soldiers were moving to and fro, hungry plunderers,
doubtless, on the prowl in quest of something to eat. First they had
called, then had knocked, and now, seeing that the place was dark and
deserted, they were hammering at the door with the butts of their
muskets in an attempt to force it open. A growling chorus of
encouragement greeted them from the outsiders of the circle.

"_Nom de Dieu!_ go ahead! smash it in, since there is no one at home!"

All at once the shutter of a window in the garret was thrown back and
a tall old man presented himself, bare-headed, wearing the peasant's
blouse, with a candle in one hand and a gun in the other. Beneath the
thick shock of bristling white hair was a square face, deeply seamed
and wrinkled, with a strong nose, large, pale eyes, and stubborn chin.

"You must be robbers, to smash things as you are doing!" he shouted in
an angry tone. "What do you want?"

The soldiers, taken by surprise, drew back a little way.

"We are perishing with hunger; we want something to eat."

"I have nothing, not a crust. Do you suppose that I keep victuals in
my house to fill a hundred thousand mouths? Others were here before
you; yes, General Ducrot's men were here this morning, I tell you, and
they cleaned me out of everything."

The soldiers came forward again, one by one.

"Let us in, all the same; we can rest ourselves, and you can hunt up
something--"

And they were commencing to hammer at the door again, when the old
fellow, placing his candle on the window-sill, raised his gun to his
shoulder.

"As true as that candle stands there, I'll put a hole in the first man
that touches that door!"

The prospect looked favorable for a row. Oaths and imprecations
resounded, and one of the men was heard to shout that they would
settle matters with the pig of a peasant, who was like all the rest of
them and would throw his bread in the river rather than give a
mouthful to a starving soldier. The light of the candle glinted on the
barrels of the chassepots as they were brought to an aim; the angry
men were about to shoot him where he stood, while he, headstrong and
violent, would not yield an inch.

"Nothing, nothing! Not a crust! I tell you they cleaned me out!"

Maurice rushed in in affright, followed by Jean.

"Comrades, comrades--"

He knocked up the soldiers' guns, and raising his eyes, said
entreatingly:

"Come, be reasonable. Don't you know me? It is I."

"Who, I?"

"Maurice Levasseur, your nephew."

Father Fouchard took up his candle. He recognized his nephew, beyond a
doubt, but was firm in his resolve not to give so much as a glass of
water.

"How can I tell whether you are my nephew or not in this infernal
darkness? Clear out, everyone of you, or I will fire!"

And amid an uproar of execration, and threats to bring him down and
burn the shanty, he still had nothing to say but: "Clear out, or I'll
fire!" which he repeated more than twenty times.

Suddenly a loud clear voice was heard rising above the din:

"But not on me, father?"

The others stood aside, and in the flickering light of the candle a
man appeared, wearing the chevrons of a quartermaster-sergeant. It was
Honore, whose battery was a short two hundred yards from there and who
had been struggling for the last two hours against an irresistible
longing to come and knock at that door. He had sworn never to set foot
in that house again, and in all his four years of army life had not
exchanged a single letter with that father whom he now addressed so
curtly. The marauders had drawn apart and were conversing excitedly
among themselves; what, the old man's son, and a "non-com."! it
wouldn't answer; better go and try their luck elsewhere! So they slunk
away and vanished in the darkness.

When Fouchard saw that he had nothing more to fear he said in a
matter-of-course way, as if he had seen his son only the day before:

"It's you-- All right, I'll come down."

His descent was a matter of time. He could be heard inside the house
opening locked doors and carefully fastening them again, the maneuvers
of a man determined to leave nothing at loose ends. At last the door
was opened, but only for a few inches, and the strong grasp that held
it would let it go no further.

"Come in, _thou_! and no one besides!"

He could not turn away his nephew, however, notwithstanding his
manifest repugnance.

"Well, thou too!"

He shut the door flat in Jean's face, in spite of Maurice's
entreaties. But he was obdurate. No, no! he wouldn't have it; he had
no use for strangers and robbers in his house, to smash and destroy
his furniture! Finally Honore shoved their comrade inside the door by
main strength and the old man had to make the best of it, grumbling
and growling vindictively. He had carried his gun with him all this
time. When at last he had ushered the three men into the common
sitting-room and had stood his gun in a corner and placed the candle
on the table, he sank into a mulish silence.

"Say, father, we are perishing with hunger. You will let us have a
little bread and cheese, won't you?"

He made a pretense of not hearing and did not answer, turning his head
at every instant toward the window as if listening for some other band
that might be coming to lay siege to his house.

"Uncle, Jean has been a brother to me; he deprived himself of food to
give it to me. And we have seen such suffering together!"

He turned and looked about the room to assure himself that nothing was
missing, not giving the three soldiers so much as a glance, and at
last, still without a word spoken, appeared to come to a decision. He
suddenly arose, took the candle and went out, leaving them in darkness
and carefully closing and locking the door behind him in order that no
one might follow him. They could hear his footsteps on the stairs that
led to the cellar. There was another long period of waiting, and when
he returned, again locking and bolting everything after him, he placed
upon the table a big loaf of bread and a cheese, amid a silence which,
once his anger had blown over, was merely the result of cautious
cunning, for no one can ever tell what may come of too much talking.
The three men threw themselves ravenously upon the food, and the only
sound to be heard in the room was the fierce grinding of their jaws.

Honore rose, and going to the sideboard brought back a pitcher of
water.

"I think you might have given us some wine, father."

Whereupon Fouchard, now master of himself and no longer fearing that
this anger might lead him into unguarded speech, once more found his
tongue.

"Wine! I haven't any, not a drop! The others, those fellows of
Ducrot's, ate and drank all I had, robbed me of everything!"

He was lying, and try to conceal it as he might the shifty expression
in his great light eyes showed it. For the past two days he had been
driving away his cattle, as well those reserved for work on the farm
as those he had purchased to slaughter, and hiding them, no one knew
where, in the depths of some wood or in some abandoned quarry, and he
had devoted hours to burying all his household stores, wine, bread,
and things of the least value, even to the flour and salt, so that
anyone might have ransacked his cupboards and been none the richer for
it. He had refused to sell anything to the first soldiers who came
along; no one knew, he might be able to do better later on; and the
patient, sly old curmudgeon indulged himself with vague dreams of
wealth.

Maurice, who was first to satisfy his appetite, commenced to talk.

"Have you seen my sister Henriette lately?"

The old man was pacing up and down the room, casting an occasional
glance at Jean, who was bolting huge mouthfuls of bread; after
apparently giving the subject long consideration he deliberately
answered:

"Henriette, yes, I saw her last month when I was in Sedan. But I saw
Weiss, her husband, this morning. He was with Monsieur Delaherche, his
boss, who had come over in his carriage to see the soldiers at
Mouzon--which is the same as saying that they were out for a good
time."

An expression of intense scorn flitted over the old peasant's
impenetrable face.

"Perhaps they saw more of the army than they wanted to, and didn't
have such a very good time after all, for ever since three o'clock the
roads have been impassable on account of the crowds of flying
soldiers."

In the same unmoved voice, as if the matter were one of perfect
indifference to him, he gave them some tidings of the defeat of the
5th corps, that had been surprised at Beaumont while the men were
making their soup and chased by the Bavarians all the way to Mouzon.
Some fugitives who had passed through Remilly, mad with terror, had
told him that they had been betrayed once more and that de Failly had
sold them to Bismarck. Maurice's thoughts reverted to the aimless,
blundering movements of the last two days, to Marshal MacMahon
hurrying on their retreat and insisting on getting them across the
Meuse at every cost, after wasting so many precious hours in
incomprehensible delays. It was too late. Doubtless the marshal, who
had stormed so on finding the 7th corps still at Osches when he
supposed it to be at la Besace, had felt assured that the 5th corps
was safe in camp at Mouzon when, lingering in Beaumont, it had come to
grief there. But what could they expect from troops so poorly
officered, demoralized by suspense and incessant retreat, dying with
hunger and fatigue?

Fouchard had finally come and planted himself behind Jean's chair,
watching with astonishment the inroads he was making on the bread and
cheese. In a coldly sarcastic tone he asked:

"Are you beginning to feel better, _hein_?"

The corporal raised his head and replied with the same peasant-like
directness:

"Just beginning, thank you!"

Honore, notwithstanding his hunger, had ceased from eating whenever it
seemed to him that he heard a noise about the house. If he had
struggled long, and finally been false to his oath never to set foot
in that house again, the reason was that he could no longer withstand
his craving desire to see Silvine. The letter that he had received
from her at Rheims lay on his bosom, next his skin, that letter, so
tenderly passionate, in which she told him that she loved him still,
that she should never love anyone save him, despite the cruel past,
despite Goliah and little Charlot, that man's child. He was thinking
of naught save her, was wondering why he had not seen her yet, all the
time watching himself that he might not let his father see his
anxiety. At last his passion became too strong for him, however, and
he asked in a tone as natural as he could command:

"Is not Silvine with you any longer?"

Fouchard gave his son a glance out of the corner of his eye, chuckling
internally.

"Yes, yes."

Then he expectorated and was silent, so that the artillery man had
presently to broach the subject again.

"She has gone to bed, then?"

"No, no."

Finally the old fellow condescended to explain that he, too, had been
taking an outing that morning, had driven over to Raucourt market in
his wagon and taken his little servant with him. He saw no reason,
because a lot of soldiers happened to pass that way, why folks should
cease to eat meat or why a man should not attend to his business, so
he had taken a sheep and a quarter of beef over there, as it was his
custom to do every Tuesday, and had just disposed of the last of his
stock-in-trade when up came the 7th corps and he found himself in the
middle of a terrible hubbub. Everyone was running, pushing, and
crowding. Then he became alarmed lest they should take his horse and
wagon from him, and drove off, leaving his servant, who was just then
making some purchases in the town.

"Oh, Silvine will come back all right," he concluded in his tranquil
voice. "She must have taken shelter with Doctor Dalichamp, her
godfather. You would think to look at her that she wouldn't dare to
say boo to a goose, but she is a girl of courage, all the same. Yes,
yes; she has lots of good qualities, Silvine has."

Was it an attempt on his part to be jocose? or did he wish to explain
why it was he kept her in his service, that girl who had caused
dissension between father and son, whose child by the Prussian was in
the house? He again gave his boy that sidelong look and laughed his
voiceless laugh.

"Little Charlot is asleep there in his room; she surely won't be long
away, now."

Honore, with quivering lips, looked so intently at his father that the
old man began to pace the floor again. _Mon Dieu!_ yes, the child was
there; doubtless he would have to look on him. A painful silence
filled the room, while he mechanically cut himself more bread and
began to eat again. Jean also continued his operations in that line,
without finding it necessary to say a word. Maurice contemplated the
furniture, the old sideboard, the antique clock, and reflected on the
long summer days that he had spent at Remilly in bygone times with his
sister Henriette. The minutes slipped away, the clock struck eleven.

"The devil!" he murmured, "it will never do to let the regiment go off
without us!"

He stepped to the window and opened it, Fouchard making no objection.
Beneath lay the valley, a great bowl filled to the brim with
blackness; presently, however, when his eyes became more accustomed to
the obscurity, he had no difficulty in distinguishing the bridge,
illuminated by the fires on the two banks. The cuirassiers were
passing still, like phantoms in their long white cloaks, while their
steeds trod upon the bosom of the stream and a chill wind of terror
breathed on them from behind; and so the spectral train moved on,
apparently interminable, in an endless, slow-moving vision of
unsubstantial forms. Toward the right, over the bare hills where the
slumbering army lay, there brooded a stillness and repose like death.

"Ah well!" said Maurice with a gesture of disappointment, "'twill be
to-morrow morning."

He had left the window open, and Father Fouchard, seizing his gun,
straddled the sill and stepped outside, as lightly as a young man. For
a time they could hear his tramp upon the road, as regular as that of
a sentry pacing his beat, but presently it ceased and the only sound
that reached their ears was the distant clamor on the crowded bridge;
it must be that he had seated himself by the wayside, where he could
watch for approaching danger and at slightest sign leap to defend his
property.

Honore's anxiety meantime was momentarily increasing; his eyes were
fixed constantly on the clock. It was less than four miles from
Raucourt to Remilly, an easy hour's walk for a woman as young and
strong as Silvine. Why had she not returned in all that time since the
old man lost sight of her in the confusion? He thought of the disorder
of a retreating army corps, spreading over the country and blocking
the roads; some accident must certainly have happened, and he pictured
her in distress, wandering among the lonely fields, trampled under
foot by the horsemen.

But suddenly the three men rose to their feet, moved by a common
impulse. There was a sound of rapid steps coming up the road and the
old man was heard to cock his weapon.

"Who goes there?" he shouted. "Is it you, Silvine?"

There was no reply. He repeated his question, threatening to fire.
Then a laboring, breathless voice managed to articulate:

"Yes, yes, Father Fouchard; it is I." And she quickly asked: "And
Charlot?"

"He is abed and asleep."

"That is well! Thanks."

There was no longer cause for her to hasten; she gave utterance to a
deep-drawn sigh, as if to rid herself of her burden of fatigue and
distress.

"Go in by the window," said Fouchard. "There is company in there."

She was greatly agitated when, leaping lightly into the room, she
beheld the three men. In the uncertain candle-light she gave the
impression of being very dark, with thick black hair and a pair of
large, fine, lustrous eyes, the chief adornment of a small oval face,
strong by reason of its tranquil resignation. The sudden meeting with
Honore had sent all the blood rushing from her heart to her cheeks;
and yet she was hardly surprised to find him there; he had been in her
thoughts all the way home from Raucourt.

He, trembling with agitation, his heart in his throat, spoke with
affected calmness:

"Good-evening, Silvine."

"Good-evening, Honore."

Then, to keep from breaking down and bursting into tears, she turned
away, and recognizing Maurice, gave him a smile. Jean's presence was
embarrassing to her. She felt as if she were choking somehow, and
removed the _foulard_ that she wore about her neck.

Honore continued, dropping the friendly _thou_ of other days:

"We were anxious about you, Silvine, on account of the Prussians being
so near at hand."

All at once her face became very pale and showed great distress;
raising her hand to her eyes as if to shut out some atrocious vision,
and directing an involuntary glance toward the room where Charlot was
slumbering, she murmured:

"The Prussians-- Oh! yes, yes, I saw them."

Sinking wearily upon a chair she told how, when the 7th corps came
into Raucourt, she had fled for shelter to the house of her godfather,
Doctor Dalichamp, hoping that Father Fouchard would think to come and
take her up before he left the town. The main street was filled with a
surging throng, so dense that not even a dog could have squeezed his
way through it, and up to four o'clock she had felt no particular
alarm, tranquilly employed in scraping lint in company with some of
the ladies of the place; for the doctor, with the thought that they
might be called on to care for some of the wounded, should there be a
battle over in the direction of Metz and Verdun, had been busying
himself for the last two weeks with improvising a hospital in the
great hall of the _mairie_. Some people who dropped in remarked that
they might find use for their hospital sooner than they expected, and
sure enough, a little after midday, the roar of artillery had reached
their ears from over Beaumont way. But that was not near enough to
cause anxiety and no one was alarmed, when, all at once, just as the
last of the French troops were filing out of Raucourt, a shell, with a
frightful crash, came tearing through the roof of a neighboring house.
Two others followed in quick succession; it was a German battery
shelling the rear-guard of the 7th corps. Some of the wounded from
Beaumont had already been brought in to the _mairie_, where it was
feared that the enemy's projectiles would finish them as they lay on
their mattresses waiting for the doctor to come and operate on them.
The men were crazed with fear, and would have risen and gone down
into the cellars, notwithstanding their mangled limbs, which extorted
from them shrieks of agony.

"And then," continued Silvine, "I don't know how it happened, but all
at once the uproar was succeeded by a deathlike stillness. I had gone
upstairs and was looking from a window that commanded a view of the
street and fields. There was not a soul in sight, not a 'red-leg' to
be seen anywhere, when I heard the tramp, tramp of heavy footsteps,
and then a voice shouted something that I could not understand and all
the muskets came to the ground together with a great crash. And I
looked down into the street below, and there was a crowd of small,
dirty-looking men in black, with ugly, big faces and wearing helmets
like those our firemen wear. Someone told me they were Bavarians. Then
I raised my eyes again and saw, oh! thousands and thousands of them,
streaming in by the roads, across the fields, through the woods, in
serried, never-ending columns. In the twinkling of an eye the ground
was black with them, a black swarm, a swarm of black locusts, coming
thicker and thicker, so that, in no time at all, the earth was hid
from sight."

She shivered and repeated her former gesture, veiling her vision from
some atrocious spectacle.

"And the things that occurred afterward would exceed belief. It seems
those men had been marching three days, and on top of that had fought
at Beaumont like tigers; hence they were perishing with hunger, their
eyes were starting from their sockets, they were beside themselves.
The officers made no effort to restrain them; they broke into shops
and private houses, smashing doors and windows, demolishing furniture,
searching for something to eat and drink, no matter what, bolting
whatever they could lay their hands on. I saw one in the shop of
Monsieur Simonin, the grocer, ladling molasses from a cask with his
helmet. Others were chewing strips of raw bacon, others again had
filled their mouths with flour. They were told that our troops had
been passing through the town for the last two days and there was
nothing left, but here and there they found some trifling store that
had been hid away, not sufficient to feed so many hungry mouths, and
that made them think the folks were lying to them, and they went on to
smash things more furiously than ever. In less than an hour, there was
not a butcher's, grocer's, or baker's shop in the city left ungutted;
even the private houses were entered, their cellars emptied, and their
closets pillaged. At the doctor's--did you ever hear of such a thing?
I caught one big fellow devouring the soap. But the cellar was the
place where they did most mischief; we could hear them from upstairs
smashing the bottles and yelling like demons, and they drew the
spigots of the casks, so that the place was flooded with wine; when
they came out their hands were red with the good wine they had
spilled. And to show what happens, men when they make such brutes of
themselves: a soldier found a large bottle of laudanum and drank it
all down, in spite of Monsieur Dalichamp's efforts to prevent him. The
poor wretch was in horrible agony when I came away; he must be dead by
this time."

A great shudder ran through her, and she put her hand to her eyes to
shut out the horrid sight.

"No, no! I cannot bear it; I saw too much!"

Father Fouchard had crossed the road and stationed himself at the open
window where he could hear, and the tale of pillage made him uneasy;
he had been told that the Prussians paid for all they took; were they
going to start out as robbers at that late day? Maurice and Jean, too,
were deeply interested in those details about an enemy whom the girl
had seen, and whom they had not succeeded in setting eyes on in their
whole month's campaigning, while Honore, pensive and with dry, parched
lips, was conscious only of the sound of _her_ voice; he could think
of nothing save her and the misfortune that had parted them.

Just then the door of the adjoining room was opened, and little
Charlot appeared. He had heard his mother's voice, and came trotting
into the apartment in his nightgown to give her a kiss. He was a
chubby, pink little urchin, large and strong for his age, with a
thatch of curling, straw-colored hair and big blue eyes. Silvine
shivered at his sudden appearance, as if the sight of him had recalled
to her mind the image of someone else that affected her disagreeably.
Did she no longer recognize him, then, her darling child, that she
looked at him thus, as if he were some evocation of that horrid
nightmare! She burst into tears.

"My poor, poor child!" she exclaimed, and clasped him wildly to her
breast, while Honore, ghastly pale, noted how strikingly like the
little one was to Goliah; the same broad, pink face, the true Teutonic
type, in all the health and strength of rosy, smiling childhood. The
son of the Prussian, _the Prussian_, as the pothouse wits of Remilly
had styled him! And the French mother, who sat there, pressing him to
her bosom, her heart still bleeding with the recollection of the cruel
sights she had witnessed that day!

"My poor child, be good; come with me back to bed. Say good-night, my
poor child."

She vanished, bearing him away. When she returned from the adjoining
room she was no longer weeping; her face wore its customary expression
of calm and courageous resignation.

It was Honore who, with a trembling voice, started the conversation
again.

"And what did the Prussians do then?"

"Ah, yes; the Prussians. Well, they plundered right and left,
destroying everything, eating and drinking all they could lay hands
on. They stole linen as well, napkins and sheets, and even curtains,
tearing them in strips to make bandages for their feet. I saw some
whose feet were one raw lump of flesh, so long and hard had been their
march. One little group I saw, seated at the edge of the gutter before
the doctor's house, who had taken off their shoes and were bandaging
themselves with handsome chemises, trimmed with lace, stolen,
doubtless, from pretty Madame Lefevre, the manufacturer's wife. The
pillage went on until night. The houses had no doors or windows left,
and one passing in the street could look within and see the wrecked
furniture, a scene of destruction that would have aroused the anger of
a saint. For my part, I was almost wild, and could remain there no
longer. They tried in vain to keep me, telling me that the roads were
blocked, that I would certainly be killed; I started, and as soon as I
was out of Raucourt, struck off to the right and took to the fields.
Carts, loaded with wounded French and Prussians, were coming in from
Beaumont. Two passed quite close to me in the darkness; I could hear
the shrieks and groans, and I ran, oh! how I ran, across fields,
through woods, I could not begin to tell you where, except that I made
a wide circuit over toward Villers.

"Twice I thought I heard soldiers coming and hid, but the only person
I met was another woman, a fugitive like myself. She was from
Beaumont, she said, and she told me things too horrible to repeat.
After that we ran harder than ever. And at last I am here, so
wretched, oh! so wretched with what I have seen!"

Her tears flowed again in such abundance as to choke her utterance.
The horrors of the day kept rising to her memory and would not down;
she related the story that the woman of Beaumont had told her. That
person lived in the main street of the village, where she had
witnessed the passage of all the German artillery after nightfall. The
column was accompanied on either side of the road by a file of
soldiers bearing torches of pitch-pine, which illuminated the scene
with the red glare of a great conflagration, and between the flaring,
smoking lights the impetuous torrent of horses, guns, and men tore
onward at a mad gallop. Their feet were winged with the tireless speed
of victory as they rushed on in devilish pursuit of the French, to
overtake them in some last ditch and crush them, annihilate them
there. They stopped for nothing; on, on they went, heedless of what
lay in their way. Horses fell; their traces were immediately cut, and
they were left to be ground and torn by the pitiless wheels until they
were a shapeless, bleeding mass. Human beings, prisoners and wounded
men, who attempted to cross the road, were ruthlessly borne down and
shared their fate. Although the men were dying with hunger the fierce
hurricane poured on unchecked; was a loaf thrown to the drivers, they
caught it flying; the torch-bearers passed slices of meat to them on
the end of their bayonets, and then, with the same steel that had
served that purpose, goaded their maddened horses on to further
effort. And the night grew old, and still the artillery was passing,
with the mad roar of a tempest let loose upon the land, amid the
frantic cheering of the men.

Maurice's fatigue was too much for him, and notwithstanding the
interest with which he listened to Silvine's narrative, after the
substantial meal he had eaten he let his head decline upon the table
on his crossed arms. Jean's resistance lasted a little longer, but
presently he too was overcome and fell dead asleep at the other end of
the table. Father Fouchard had gone and taken his position in the road
again; Honore was alone with Silvine, who was seated, motionless,
before the still open window.

The artilleryman rose, and drawing his chair to the window, stationed
himself there beside her. The deep peacefulness of the night was
instinct with the breathing of the multitude that lay lost in slumber
there, but on it now rose other and louder sounds; the straining and
creaking of the bridge, the hollow rumble of wheels; the artillery was
crossing on the half-submerged structure. Horses reared and plunged in
terror at sight of the swift-running stream, the wheel of a caisson
ran over the guard-rail; immediately a hundred strong arms seized the
encumbrance and hurled the heavy vehicle to the bottom of the river
that it might not obstruct the passage. And as the young man watched
the slow, toilsome retreat along the opposite bank, a movement that
had commenced the day before and certainly would not be ended by the
coming dawn, he could not help thinking of that other artillery that
had gone storming through Beaumont, bearing down all before it,
crushing men and horses in its path that it might not be delayed the
fraction of a second.

Honore drew his chair nearer to Silvine, and in the shuddering
darkness, alive with all those sounds of menace, gently whispered:

"You are unhappy?"

"Oh! yes; so unhappy!"

She was conscious of the subject on which he was about to speak, and
her head sank sorrowfully on her bosom.

"Tell me, how did it happen? I wish to know."

But she could not find words to answer him.

"Did he take advantage of you, or was it with your consent?"

Then she stammered, in a voice that was barely audible:

"_Mon Dieu!_ I do not know; I swear to you, I do not know, more than a
babe unborn. I will not lie to you--I cannot! No, I have no excuse to
offer; I cannot say he beat me. You had left me, I was beside myself,
and it happened, how, I cannot, no, I cannot tell!"

Sobs choked her utterance, and he, ashy pale and with a great lump
rising in his throat, waited silently for a moment. The thought that
she was unwilling to tell him a lie, however, was an assuagement to
his rage and grief; he went on to question her further, anxious to
know the many things, that as yet he had been unable to understand.

"My father has kept you here, it seems?"

She replied with her resigned, courageous air, without raising her
eyes:

"I work hard for him, it does not cost much to keep me, and as there
is now another mouth to feed he has taken advantage of it to reduce my
wages. He knows well enough that now, when he orders, there is nothing
left for me but to obey."

"But why do you stay with him?"

The question surprised her so that she looked him in the face.

"Where would you have me go? Here my little one and I have at least a
home and enough to keep us from starving."

They were silent again, both intently reading in the other's eyes,
while up the shadowy valley the sounds of the sleeping camp came
faintly to their ears, and the dull rumble of wheels upon the bridge
of boats went on unceasingly. There was a shriek, the loud, despairing
cry of man or beast in mortal peril, that passed, unspeakably
mournful, through the dark night.

"Listen, Silvine," Honore slowly and feelingly went on; "you sent
me a letter that afforded me great pleasure. I should have never
come back here, but that letter--I have been reading it again this
evening--speaks of things that could not have been expressed more
delicately--"

She had turned pale when first she heard the subject mentioned.
Perhaps he was angry that she had dared to write to him, like one
devoid of shame; then, as his meaning became more clear, her face
reddened with delight.

"I know you to be truthful, and knowing it, I believe what you wrote
in that letter--yes, I believe it now implicitly. You were right in
supposing that, if I were to die in battle without seeing you again,
it would be a great sorrow to me to leave this world with the thought
that you no longer loved me. And therefore, since you love me still,
since I am your first and only love--" His tongue became thick, his
emotion was so deep that expression failed him. "Listen, Silvine; if
those beasts of Prussians let me live, you shall yet be mine, yes, as
soon as I have served my time out we will be married."

She rose and stood erect upon her feet, gave a cry of joy, and threw
herself upon the young man's bosom. She could not speak a word; every
drop of blood in her veins was in her cheeks. He seated himself upon
the chair and drew her down upon his lap.

"I have thought the matter over carefully; it was to say what I have
said that I came here this evening. Should my father refuse us his
consent, the earth is large; we will go away. And your little one, no
one shall harm him, _mon Dieu!_ More will come along, and among them
all I shall not know him from the others."

She was forgiven, fully and entirely. Such happiness seemed too great
to be true; she resisted, murmuring:

"No, it cannot be; it is too much; perhaps you might repent your
generosity some day. But how good it is of you, Honore, and how I love
you!"

He silenced her with a kiss upon the lips, and strength was wanting
her longer to put aside the great, the unhoped-for good fortune that
had come to her; a life of happiness where she had looked forward to
one of loneliness and sorrow! With an involuntary, irresistible
impulse she threw her arms about him, kissing him again and again,
straining him to her bosom with all her woman's strength, as a
treasure that was lost and found again, that was hers, hers alone,
that thenceforth no one was ever to take from her. He was hers once
more, he whom she had lost, and she would die rather than let anyone
deprive her of him.

At that moment confused sounds reached their ears; the sleeping camp
was awaking amid a tumult that rose and filled the dark vault of
heaven. Hoarse voices were shouting orders, bugles were sounding,
drums beating, and from the naked fields shadowy forms were seen
emerging in indistinguishable masses, a surging, billowing sea whose
waves were already streaming downward to the road beneath. The fires
on the banks of the stream were dying down; all that could be seen
there was masses of men moving confusedly to and fro; it was not even
possible to tell if the movement across the river was still in
progress. Never had the shades of night veiled such depths of
distress, such abject misery of terror.

Father Fouchard came to the window and shouted that the troops were
moving. Jean and Maurice awoke, stiff and shivering, and got on their
feet. Honore took Silvine's hands in his and gave them a swift parting
clasp.

"It is a promise. Wait for me."

She could find no word to say in answer, but all her soul went out to
him in one long, last look, as he leaped from the window and hurried
away to find his battery.

"Good-by, father!"

"Good-by, my boy!"

And that was all; peasant and soldier parted as they had met, without
embracing, like a father and son whose existence was of little import
to each other.

Maurice and Jean also left the farmhouse, and descended the steep hill
on a run. When they reached the bottom the 106th was nowhere to be
found; the regiments had all moved off. They made inquiries, running
this way and that, and were directed first one way and then another.
At last, when they had near lost their wits in the fearful confusion,
they stumbled on their company, under the command of Lieutenant
Rochas; as for the regiment and Captain Beaudoin, no one could say
where they were. And Maurice was astounded when he noticed for the
first time that that mob of men, guns, and horses was leaving Remilly
and taking the Sedan road that lay on the left bank. Something was
wrong again; the passage of the Meuse was abandoned, they were in full
retreat to the north!

An officer of chasseurs, who was standing near, spoke up in a loud
voice:

"_Nom de Dieu!_ the time for us to make the movement was the 28th,
when we were at Chene!"

Others were more explicit in their information; fresh news had been
received. About two o'clock in the morning one of Marshal MacMahon's
aides had come riding up to say to General Douay that the whole army
was ordered to retreat immediately on Sedan, without loss of a
minute's time. The disaster of the 5th corps at Beaumont had involved
the three other corps. The general, who was at that time down at the
bridge of boats superintending operations, was in despair that only a
portion of his 3d division had so far crossed the stream; it would
soon be day, and they were liable to be attacked at any moment. He
therefore sent instructions to the several organizations of his
command to make at once for Sedan, each independently of the others,
by the most direct roads, while he himself, leaving orders to burn the
bridge of boats, took the road on the left bank with his 2d division
and the artillery, and the 3d division pursued that on the right bank;
the 1st, that had felt the enemy's claws at Beaumont, was flying in
disorder across the country, no one knew where. Of the 7th corps, that
had not seen a battle, all that remained were those scattered,
incoherent fragments, lost among lanes and by-roads, running away in
the darkness.

It was not yet three o'clock, and the night was as black as ever.
Maurice, although he knew the country, could not make out where they
were in the noisy, surging throng that filled the road from ditch to
ditch, pouring onward like a brawling mountain stream. Interspersed
among the regiments were many fugitives from the rout at Beaumont, in
ragged uniforms, begrimed with blood and dirt, who inoculated the
others with their own terror. Down the wide valley, from the wooded
hills across the stream, came one universal, all-pervading uproar, the
scurrying tramp of other hosts in swift retreat; the 1st corps, coming
from Carignan and Douzy, the 12th flying from Mouzon with the
shattered remnants of the 5th, moved like puppets and driven onward,
all of them, by that one same, inexorable, irresistible pressure that
since the 28th had been urging the army northward and driving it into
the trap where it was to meet its doom.

Day broke as Maurice's company was passing through Pont Maugis, and
then he recognized their locality, the hills of Liry to the left, the
Meuse running beside the road on the right. Bazeilles and Balan
presented an inexpressibly funereal aspect, looming among the
exhalations of the meadows in the chill, wan light of dawn, while
against the somber background of her great forests Sedan was profiled
in livid outlines, indistinct as the creation of some hideous
nightmare. When they had left Wadelincourt behind them and were come
at last to the Torcy gate, the governor long refused them admission;
he only yielded, after a protracted conference, upon their threat to
storm the place. It was five o'clock when at last the 7th corps,
weary, cold, and hungry, entered Sedan.



                               VIII.

In the crush on the Place de Torcy that ensued upon the entrance of
the troops into the city Jean became separated from Maurice, and all
his attempts to find him again among the surging crowd were fruitless.
It was a piece of extreme ill-luck, for he had accepted the young
man's invitation to go with him to his sister's, where there would be
rest and food for them, and even the luxury of a comfortable bed. The
confusion was so great--the regiments disintegrated, no discipline,
and no officers to enforce it--that the men were free to do pretty
much as they pleased. There was plenty of time to look about them and
hunt up their commands; they would have a few hours of sleep first.

Jean in his bewilderment found himself on the viaduct of Torcy,
overlooking the broad meadows which, by the governor's orders, had
been flooded with water from the river. Then, passing through
another archway and crossing the Pont de Meuse, he entered the old,
rampart-girt city, where, among the tall and crowded houses and the
damp, narrow streets, it seemed to him that night was descending
again, notwithstanding the increasing daylight. He could not so much
as remember the name of Maurice's brother-in-law; he only knew that
his sister's name was Henriette. The outlook was not encouraging; all
that kept him awake was the automatic movement of walking; he felt
that he should drop were he to stop. The indistinct ringing in his
ears was the same that is experienced by one drowning; he was only
conscious of the ceaseless onpouring of the stream of men and animals
that carried him along with it on its current. He had partaken of food
at Remilly, sleep was now his great necessity; and the same was true
of the shadowy bands that he saw flitting past him in those strange,
fantastic streets. At every moment a man would sink upon the sidewalk
or tumble into a doorway, and there would remain, as if struck by
death.

Raising his eyes, Jean read upon a signboard: Avenue de la
Sous-Prefecture. At the end of the street was a monument standing in a
public garden, and at the corner of the avenue he beheld a horseman, a
chasseur d'Afrique, whose face seemed familiar to him. Was it not
Prosper, the young man from Remilly, whom he had seen in Maurice's
company at Vouziers? Perhaps he had been sent in with dispatches. He
had dismounted, and his skeleton of a horse, so weak that he could
scarcely stand, was trying to satisfy his hunger by gnawing at the
tail-board of an army wagon that was drawn up against the curb. There
had been no forage for the animals for the last two days, and they
were literally dying of starvation. The big strong teeth rasped
pitifully on the woodwork of the wagon, while the soldier stood by and
wept as he watched the poor brute.

Jean was moving away when it occurred to him that the trooper might be
able to give him the address of Maurice's sister. He returned, but the
other was gone, and it would have been useless to attempt to find him
in that dense throng. He was utterly disheartened, and wandering
aimlessly from street to street at last found himself again before the
Sous-Prefecture, whence he struggled onward to the Place Turenne. Here
he was comforted for an instant by catching sight of Lieutenant
Rochas, standing in front of the Hotel de Ville with a few men of his
company, at the foot of the statue he had seen before; if he could not
find his friend he could at all events rejoin the regiment and have a
tent to sleep under. Nothing had been seen of Captain Beaudoin;
doubtless he had been swept away in the press and landed in some place
far away, while the lieutenant was endeavoring to collect his
scattered men and fruitlessly inquiring of everyone he met where
division headquarters were. As he advanced into the city, however, his
numbers, instead of increasing, dwindled. One man, with the gestures
of a lunatic, entered an inn and was seen no more. Three others were
halted in front of a grocer's shop by a party of zouaves who had
obtained possession of a small cask of brandy; one was already lying
senseless in the gutter, while the other two tried to get away, but
were too stupid and dazed to move. Loubet and Chouteau had nudged each
other with the elbow and disappeared down a blind alley in pursuit of
a fat woman with a loaf of bread, so that all who remained with the
lieutenant were Pache and Lapoulle, with some ten or a dozen more.

Rochas was standing by the base of the bronze statue of Turenne,
making heroic efforts to keep his eyes open. When he recognized Jean
he murmured:

"Ah, is it you, corporal? Where are your men?"

Jean, by a gesture expressive in its vagueness, intimated that he did
not know, but Pache, pointing to Lapoulle, answered with tears in his
eyes:

"Here we are; there are none left but us two. The merciful Lord have
pity on our sufferings; it is too hard!"

The other, the colossus with the colossal appetite, looked hungrily at
Jean's hands, as if to reproach them for being always empty in those
days. Perhaps, in his half-sleeping state, he had dreamed that Jean
was away at the commissary's for rations.

"D----n the luck!" he grumbled, "we'll have to tighten up our belts
another hole!"

Gaude, the bugler, was leaning against the iron railing, waiting for
the lieutenant's order to sound the assembly; sleep came to him so
suddenly that he slid from his position and within a second was lying
flat on his back, unconscious. One by one they all succumbed to the
drowsy influence and snored in concert, except Sergeant Sapin alone,
who, with his little pinched nose in his small pale face, stood
staring with distended eyes at the horizon of that strange city, as if
trying to read his destiny there.

Lieutenant Rochas meantime had yielded to an irresistible impulse and
seated himself on the ground. He attempted to give an order.

"Corporal, you will--you will--"

And that was as far as he could proceed, for fatigue sealed his lips,
and like the rest he suddenly sank down and was lost in slumber.

Jean, not caring to share his comrades' fate and pillow his head
on the hard stones, moved away; he was bent on finding a bed in
which to sleep. At a window of the Hotel of the Golden Cross, on
the opposite side of the square, he caught a glimpse of General
Bourgain-Desfeuilles, already half-undressed and on the point of
tasting the luxury of clean white sheets. Why should he be more
self-denying than the rest of them? he asked himself; why should he
suffer longer? And just then a name came to his recollection that
caused him a thrill of delight, the name of the manufacturer in whose
employment Maurice's brother-in-law was. M. Delaherche! yes, that was
it. He accosted an old man who happened to be passing.

"Can you tell me where M. Delaherche lives?"

"In the Rue Maqua, near the corner of the Rue au Beurre; you can't
mistake it; it is a big house, with statues in the garden."

The old man turned away, but presently came running back. "I see you
belong to the 106th. If it is your regiment you are looking for, it
left the city by the Chateau, down there. I just met the colonel,
Monsieur de Vineuil; I used to know him when he lived at Mezieres."

But Jean went his way, with an angry gesture of impatience. No, no! no
sleeping on the hard ground for him, now that he was certain of
finding Maurice. And yet he could not help feeling a twinge of remorse
as he thought of the dignified old colonel, who stood fatigue so
manfully in spite of his years, sharing the sufferings of his men,
with no more luxurious shelter than his tent. He strode across the
Grande Rue with rapid steps and soon was in the midst of the tumult
and uproar of the city; there he hailed a small boy, who conducted him
to the Rue Maqua.

There it was that in the last century a grand-uncle of the present
Delaherche had built the monumental structure that had remained in the
family a hundred and sixty years. There is more than one cloth factory
in Sedan that dates back to the early years of Louis XV.; enormous
piles, they are, covering as much ground as the Louvre, and with
stately facades of royal magnificence. The one in the Rue Maqua was
three stories high, and its tall windows were adorned with carvings of
severe simplicity, while the palatial courtyard in the center was
filled with grand old trees, gigantic elms that were coeval with the
building itself. In it three generations of Delaherches had amassed
comfortable fortunes for themselves. The father of Charles, the
proprietor in our time, had inherited the property from a cousin who
had died without being blessed with children, so that it was now a
younger branch that was in possession. The affairs of the house had
prospered under the father's control, but he was something of a blade
and a roisterer, and his wife's existence with him was not one of
unmixed happiness; the consequence of which was that the lady, when
she became a widow, not caring to see a repetition by the son of the
performances of the father, made haste to find a wife for him in the
person of a simple-minded and exceedingly devout young woman, and
subsequently kept him tied to her apron string until he had attained
the mature age of fifty and over. But no one in this transitory world
can tell what time has in store for him; when the devout young
person's time came to leave this life Delaherche, who had known none
of the joys of youth, fell head over ears in love with a young widow
of Charleville, pretty Madame Maginot, who had been the subject of
some gossip in her day, and in the autumn preceding the events
recorded in this history had married her, in spite of all his mother's
prayers and tears. It is proper to add that Sedan, which is very
straitlaced in its notions of propriety, has always been inclined to
frown on Charleville, the city of laughter and levity. And then again
the marriage would never have been effected but for the fact that
Gilberte's uncle was Colonel de Vineuil, who it was supposed would
soon be made a general. This relationship and the idea that he had
married into army circles was to the cloth manufacturer a source of
great delight.

That morning Delaherche, when he learned that the army was to pass
through Mouzon, had invited Weiss, his accountant, to accompany him on
that carriage ride of which we have heard Father Fouchard speak to
Maurice. Tall and stout, with a florid complexion, prominent nose and
thick lips, he was of a cheerful, sanguine temperament and had all the
French bourgeois' boyish love for a handsome display of troops. Having
ascertained from the apothecary at Mouzon that the Emperor was at
Baybel, a farm in the vicinity, he had driven up there; had seen the
monarch, and even had been near speaking to him, an adventure of such
thrilling interest that he had talked of it incessantly ever since his
return. But what a terrible return that had been, over roads choked
with the panic-stricken fugitives from Beaumont! twenty times their
cabriolet was near being overturned into the ditch. Obstacle after
obstacle they had encountered, and it was night before the two men
reached home. The element of the tragic and unforeseen there was in
the whole business, that army that Delaherche had driven out to pass
in review and which had brought him home with it, whether he would or
no, in the mad gallop of its retreat, made him repeat again and again
during their long drive:

"I supposed it was moving on Verdun and would have given anything
rather than miss seeing it. Ah well! I have seen it now, and I am
afraid we shall see more of it in Sedan than we desire."

The following morning he was awakened at five o'clock by the hubbub,
like the roar of water escaping from a broken dam, made by the 7th
corps as it streamed through the city; he dressed in haste and went
out, and almost the first person he set eyes on in the Place Turenne
was Captain Beaudoin. When pretty Madame Maginot was living at
Charleville the year before the captain had been one of her best
friends, and Gilberte had introduced him to her husband before they
were married. Rumor had it that the captain had abdicated his position
as first favorite and made way for the cloth merchant from motives of
delicacy, not caring to stand in the way of the great good fortune
that seemed coming to his fair friend.

"Hallo, is that you?" exclaimed Delaherche. "Good Heavens, what a
state you're in!"

It was but too true; the dandified Beaudoin, usually so trim and
spruce, presented a sorry spectacle that morning in his soiled uniform
and with his grimy face and hands. Greatly to his disgust he had had a
party of Turcos for traveling companions, and could not explain how he
had become separated from his company. Like all the others he was
ready to drop with fatigue and hunger, but that was not what most
afflicted him; he had not been able to change his linen since leaving
Rheims, and was inconsolable.

"Just think of it!" he wailed, "those idiots, those scoundrels, lost
my baggage at Vouziers. If I ever catch them I will break every bone
in their body! And now I haven't a thing, not a handkerchief, not a
pair of socks! Upon my word, it is enough to make one mad!"

Delaherche was for taking him home to his house forthwith, but he
resisted. No, no; he was no longer a human being, he would not
frighten people out of their wits. The manufacturer had to make solemn
oath that neither his wife nor his mother had risen yet; and besides
he should have soap, water, linen, everything he needed.

It was seven o'clock when Captain Beaudoin, having done what he could
with the means at his disposal to improve his appearance, and
comforted by the sensation of wearing under his uniform a clean shirt
of his host's, made his appearance in the spacious, high-ceiled dining
room with its somber wainscoting. The elder Madame Delaherche was
already there, for she was always on foot at daybreak, notwithstanding
she was seventy-eight years old. Her hair was snowy white; in her
long, lean face was a nose almost preternaturally thin and sharp and a
mouth that had long since forgotten how to laugh. She rose, and with
stately politeness invited the captain to be seated before one of the
cups of _cafe au lait_ that stood on the table.

"But, perhaps, sir, you would prefer meat and wine after the fatigue
to which you have been subjected?"

He declined the offer, however. "A thousand thanks, madame; a little
milk, with bread and butter, will be best for me."

At that moment a door was smartly opened and Gilberte entered the room
with outstretched hand. Delaherche must have told her who was there,
for her ordinary hour of rising was ten o'clock. She was tall, lithe
of form and well-proportioned, with an abundance of handsome black
hair, a pair of handsome black eyes, and a very rosy, wholesome
complexion withal; she had a laughing, rather free and easy way with
her, and it did not seem possible she could ever look angry. Her
peignoir of beige, embroidered with red silk, was evidently of
Parisian manufacture.

"Ah, Captain," she rapidly said, shaking hands with the young man,
"how nice of you to stop and see us, away up in this out-of-the-world
place!" But she was the first to see that she had "put her foot in it"
and laugh at her own blunder. "Oh, what a stupid thing I am! I might
know you would rather be somewhere else than at Sedan, under the
circumstances. But I am very glad to see you once more."

She showed it; her face was bright and animated, while Madame
Delaherche, who could not have failed to hear something of the gossip
that had been current among the scandalmongers of Charleville, watched
the pair closely with her puritanical air. The captain was very
reserved in his behavior, however, manifesting nothing more than a
pleasant recollection of hospitalities previously received in the
house where he was visiting.

They had no more than sat down at table than Delaherche, burning to
relieve himself of the subject that filled his mind, commenced to
relate his experiences of the day before.

"You know I saw the Emperor at Baybel."

He was fairly started and nothing could stop him. He began by
describing the farmhouse, a large structure with an interior court,
surrounded by an iron railing, and situated on a gentle eminence
overlooking Mouzon, to the left of the Carignan road. Then he came
back to the 12th corps, whom he had visited in their camp among the
vines on the hillsides; splendid troops they were, with their
equipments brightly shining in the sunlight, and the sight of them had
caused his heart to beat with patriotic ardor.

"And there I was, sir, when the Emperor, who had alighted to breakfast
and rest himself a bit, came out of the farmhouse. He wore a general's
uniform and carried an overcoat across his arm, although the sun was
very hot. He was followed by a servant bearing a camp stool. He did
not look to me like a well man; ah no, far from it; his stooping form,
the sallowness of his complexion, the feebleness of his movements, all
indicated him to be in a very bad way. I was not surprised, for the
druggist at Mouzon, when he recommended me to drive on to Baybel, told
me that an aide-de-camp had just been in his shop to get some
medicine--you understand what I mean, medicine for--" The presence of
his wife and mother prevented him from alluding more explicitly to the
nature of the Emperor's complaint, which was an obstinate diarrhea
that he had contracted at Chene and which compelled him to make those
frequent halts at houses along the road. "Well, then, the attendant
opened the camp stool and placed it in the shade of a clump of trees
at the edge of a field of wheat, and the Emperor sat down on it.
Sitting there in a limp, dejected attitude, perfectly still, he looked
for all the world like a small shopkeeper taking a sun bath for his
rheumatism. His dull eyes wandered over the wide horizon, the Meuse
coursing through the valley at his feet, before him the range of
wooded heights whose summits recede and are lost in the distance, on
the left the waving tree-tops of Dieulet forest, on the right the
verdure-clad eminence of Sommanthe. He was surrounded by his military
family, aides and officers of rank, and a colonel of dragoons, who had
already applied to me for information about the country, had just
motioned me not to go away, when all at once--" Delaherche rose from
his chair, for he had reached the point where the dramatic interest of
his story culminated and it became necessary to re-enforce words by
gestures. "All at once there is a succession of sharp reports and
right in front of us, over the wood of Dieulet, shells are seen
circling through the air. It produced on me no more effect than a
display of fireworks in broad daylight, sir, upon my word it didn't!
The people about the Emperor, of course, showed a good deal of
agitation and uneasiness. The colonel of dragoons comes running up
again to ask if I can give them an idea whence the firing proceeds. I
answer him off-hand: 'It is at Beaumont; there is not the slightest
doubt about it.' He returns to the Emperor, on whose knees an
aide-de-camp was unfolding a map. The Emperor was evidently of opinion
that the fighting was not at Beaumont, for he sent the colonel back to
me a third time. But I couldn't well do otherwise than stick to what I
had said before, could I, now? the more that the shells kept flying
through the air, nearer and nearer, following the line of the Mouzon
road. And then, sir, as sure as I see you standing there, I saw the
Emperor turn his pale face toward me. Yes sir, he looked at me a
moment with those dim eyes of his, that were filled with an expression
of melancholy and distrust. And then his face declined upon his map
again and he made no further movement."

Delaherche, although he was an ardent Bonapartist at the time of the
plebiscite, had admitted after our early defeats that the government
was responsible for some mistakes, but he stood up for the dynasty,
compassionating and excusing Napoleon III., deceived and betrayed as
he was by everyone. It was his firm opinion that the men at whose door
should be laid the responsibility for all our disasters were none
other than those Republican deputies of the opposition who had stood
in the way of voting the necessary men and money.

"And did the Emperor return to the farmhouse?" asked Captain Beaudoin.

"That's more than I can say, my dear sir; I left him sitting on his
stool. It was midday, the battle was drawing nearer, and it occurred
to me that it was time to be thinking of my own return. All that I can
tell you besides is that a general to whom I pointed out the position
of Carignan in the distance, in the plain to our rear, appeared
greatly surprised to learn that the Belgian frontier lay in that
direction and was only a few miles away. Ah, that the poor Emperor
should have to rely on such servants!"

Gilberte, all smiles, was giving her attention to the captain and
keeping him supplied with buttered toast, as much at ease as she had
ever been in bygone days when she received him in her salon during her
widowhood. She insisted that he should accept a bed with them, but he
declined, and it was agreed that he should rest for an hour or two on
a sofa in Delaherche's study before going out to find his regiment. As
he was taking the sugar bowl from the young woman's hands old Madame
Delaherche, who had kept her eye on them, distinctly saw him squeeze
her fingers, and the old lady's suspicions were confirmed. At that
moment a servant came to the door.

"Monsieur, there is a soldier outside who wants to know the address of
Monsieur Weiss."

There was nothing "stuck-up" about Delaherche, people said; he was
fond of popularity and was always delighted to have a chat with those
of an inferior station.

"He wants Weiss's address! that's odd. Bring the soldier in here."

Jean entered the room in such an exhausted state that he reeled as if
he had been drunk. He started at seeing his captain seated at the
table with two ladies, and involuntarily withdrew the hand that he had
extended toward a chair in order to steady himself; he replied briefly
to the questions of the manufacturer, who played his part of the
soldier's friend with great cordiality. In a few words he explained
his relation toward Maurice and the reason why he was looking for him.

"He is a corporal in my company," the captain finally said by way of
cutting short the conversation, and inaugurated a series of questions
on his own account to learn what had become of the regiment. As Jean
went on to tell that the colonel had been seen crossing the city to
reach his camp at the head of what few men were left him, Gilberte
again thoughtlessly spoke up, with the vivacity of a woman whose
beauty is supposed to atone for her indiscretion:

"Oh! he is my uncle; why does he not come and breakfast with us? We
could fix up a room for him here. Can't we send someone for him?"

But the old lady discouraged the project with an authority there was
no disputing. The good old bourgeois blood of the frontier towns
flowed in her veins; her austerely patriotic sentiments were almost
those of a man. She broke the stern silence that she had preserved
during the meal by saying:

"Never mind Monsieur de Vineuil; he is doing his duty."

Her short speech was productive of embarrassment among the party.
Delaherche conducted the captain to his study, where he saw him safely
bestowed upon the sofa; Gilberte moved lightly off about her business,
no more disconcerted by her rebuff than is the bird that shakes its
wings in gay defiance of the shower; while the handmaid to whom Jean
had been intrusted led him by a very labyrinth of passages and
staircases through the various departments of the factory.

The Weiss family lived in the Rue des Voyards, but their house, which
was Delaherche's property, communicated with the great structure in
the Rue Maqua. The Rue des Voyards was at that time one of the most
squalid streets in Sedan, being nothing more than a damp, narrow lane,
its normal darkness intensified by the proximity of the ramparts,
which ran parallel to it. The roofs of the tall houses almost met, the
dark passages were like the mouths of caverns, and more particularly
so at that end where rose the high college walls. Weiss, however, with
free quarters and free fuel on his third floor, found the location a
convenient one on account of its nearness to his office, to which he
could descend in slippers without having to go around by the street.
His life had been a happy one since his marriage with Henriette, so
long the object of his hopes and wishes since first he came to know
her at Chene, filling her dead mother's place when only six years old
and keeping the house for her father, the tax-collector; while he,
entering the big refinery almost on the footing of a laborer, was
picking up an education as best he could, and fitting himself for the
accountant's position which was the reward of his unremitting toil.
And even when he had attained to that measure of success his dream was
not to be realized; not until the father had been removed by death,
not until the brother at Paris had been guilty of those excesses: that
brother Maurice to whom his twin sister had in some sort made herself
a servant, to whom she had sacrificed her little all to make him a
gentleman--not until then was Henriette to be his wife. She had never
been aught more than a little drudge at home; she could barely read
and write; she had sold house, furniture, all she had, to pay the
young man's debts, when good, kind Weiss came to her with the offer of
his savings, together with his heart and his two strong arms; and she
had accepted him with grateful tears, bringing him in return for his
devotion a steadfast, virtuous affection, replete with tender esteem,
if not the stormier ardors of a passionate love. Fortune had smiled on
them; Delaherche had spoken of giving Weiss an interest in the
business, and when children should come to bless their union their
felicity would be complete.

"Look out!" the servant said to Jean; "the stairs are steep."

He was stumbling upward as well as the intense darkness of the place
would let him, when suddenly a door above was thrown open, a broad
belt of light streamed out across the landing, and he heard a soft
voice saying:

"It is he."

"Madame Weiss," cried the servant, "here is a soldier who has been
inquiring for you."

There came the sound of a low, pleased laugh, and the same soft voice
replied:

"Good! good! I know who it is." Then to the corporal, who was
hesitating, rather diffidently, on the landing: "Come in, Monsieur
Jean. Maurice has been here nearly two hours, and we have been
wondering what detained you."

Then, in the pale sunlight that filled the room, he saw how like she
was to Maurice, with that wonderful resemblance that often makes twins
so like each other as to be indistinguishable. She was smaller and
slighter than he, however; more fragile in appearance, with a rather
large mouth and delicately molded features, surmounted by an opulence
of the most beautiful hair imaginable, of the golden yellow of ripened
grain. The feature where she least resembled him was her gray eyes,
great calm, brave orbs, instinct with the spirit of the grandfather,
the hero of the Grand Army. She used few words, was noiseless in her
movements, and was so gentle, so cheerful, so helpfully active that
where she passed her presence seemed to linger in the air, like a
fragrant caress.

"Come this way, Monsieur Jean," she said. "Everything will soon be
ready for you."

He stammered something inarticulately, for his emotion was such that
he could find no word of thanks. In addition to that his eyes were
closing he beheld her through the irresistible drowsiness that was
settling on him as a sea-fog drifts in and settles on the land, in
which she seemed floating in a vague, unreal way, as if her feet no
longer touched the earth. Could it be that it was all a delightful
apparition, that friendly young woman who smiled on him with such
sweet simplicity? He fancied for a moment that she had touched his
hand and that he had felt the pressure of hers, cool and firm, loyal
as the clasp of an old tried friend.

That was the last moment in which Jean was distinctly conscious of
what was going on about him. They were in the dining room; bread and
meat were set out on the table, but for the life of him he could not
have raised a morsel to his lips. A man was there, seated on a chair.
Presently he knew it was Weiss, whom he had seen at Mulhausen, but he
had no idea what the man was saying with such a sober, sorrowful air,
with slow and emphatic gestures. Maurice was already sound asleep,
with the tranquillity of death resting on his face, on a bed that had
been improvised for him beside the stove, and Henriette was busying
herself about a sofa on which a mattress had been thrown; she brought
in a bolster, pillow and coverings; with nimble, dexterous hands she
spread the white sheets, snowy white, dazzling in their whiteness.

Ah! those clean, white sheets, so long coveted, so ardently desired;
Jean had eyes for naught save them. For six weeks he had not had his
clothes off, had not slept in a bed. He was as impatient as a child
waiting for some promised treat, or a lover expectant of his
mistress's coming; the time seemed long, terribly long to him, until
he could plunge into those cool, white depths and lose himself there.
Quickly, as soon as he was alone, he removed his shoes and tossed his
uniform across a chair, then, with a deep sigh of satisfaction, threw
himself on the bed. He opened his eyes a little way for a last look
about him before his final plunge into unconsciousness, and in the
pale morning light that streamed in through the lofty window beheld a
repetition of his former pleasant vision, only fainter, more aerial; a
vision of Henriette entering the room on tiptoe, and placing on the
table at his side a water-jug and glass that had been forgotten
before. She seemed to linger there a moment, looking at the sleeping
pair, him and her brother, with her tranquil, ineffably tender smile
upon her lips, then faded into air, and he, between his white sheets,
was as if he were not.

Hours--or was it years? slipped by; Jean and Maurice were like dead
men, without a dream, without consciousness of the life that was
within them. Whether it was ten years or ten minutes, time had stood
still for them; the overtaxed body had risen against its oppressor and
annihilated their every faculty. They awoke simultaneously with a
great start and looked at each other inquiringly; where were they?
what had happened? how long had they slept? The same pale light was
entering through the tall window. They felt as if they had been
racked; joints stiffer, limbs wearier, mouth more hot and dry than
when they had lain down; they could not have slept more than an hour,
fortunately. It did not surprise them to see Weiss sitting where they
had seen him before, in the same dejected attitude, apparently waiting
for them to awake.

"_Fichtre_!" exclaimed Jean, "we must get up and report ourselves to
the first sergeant before noon."

He uttered a smothered cry of pain as he jumped to the floor and began
to dress.

"Before noon!" said Weiss. "Are you aware that it is seven o'clock in
the evening? You have slept about twelve hours."

Great heavens, seven o'clock! They were thunderstruck. Jean, who by
that time was completely dressed, would have run for it, but Maurice,
still in bed, found he no longer had control of his legs; how were
they ever to find their comrades? would not the army have marched
away? They took Weiss to task for having let them sleep so long. But
the accountant shook his head sorrowfully and said:

"You have done just as well to remain in bed, for all that has been
accomplished."

All that day, from early morning, he had been scouring Sedan and its
environs in quest of news, and was just come in, discouraged with the
inactivity of the troops and the inexplicable delay that had lost them
the whole of that precious day, the 31st. The sole excuse was that the
men were worn out and rest was an absolute necessity for them, but
granting that, he could not see why the retreat should not have been
continued after giving them a few hours of repose.

"I do not pretend to be a judge of such matters," he continued, "but I
have a feeling, so strong as to be almost a conviction, that the army
is very badly situated at Sedan. The 12th corps is at Bazeilles, where
there was a little fighting this morning; the 1st is strung out along
the Givonne between la Moncelle and Holly, while the 7th is encamped
on the plateau of Floing, and the 5th, what is left of it, is crowded
together under the ramparts of the city, on the side of the Chateau.
And that is what alarms me, to see them all concentrated thus about
the city, waiting for the coming of the Prussians. If I were in
command I would retreat on Mezieres, and lose no time about it,
either. I know the country; it is the only line of retreat that is
open to us, and if we take any other course we shall be driven into
Belgium. Come here! let me show you something."

He took Jean by the hand and led him to the window.

"Tell me what you see over yonder on the crest of the hills."

Looking from the window over the ramparts, over the adjacent
buildings, their view embraced the valley of the Meuse to the
southward of Sedan. There was the river, winding through broad
meadows; there, to the left, was Remilly in the background, Pont
Maugis and Wadelincourt before them and Frenois to the right; and
shutting in the landscape the ranges of verdant hills, Liry first,
then la Marfee and la Croix Piau, with their dense forests. A deep
tranquillity, a crystalline clearness reigned over the wide prospect
that lay there in the mellow light of the declining day.

"Do you see that moving line of black upon the hilltops, that
procession of small black ants?"

Jean stared in amazement, while Maurice, kneeling on his bed, craned
his neck to see.

"Yes, yes!" they cried. "There is a line, there is another, and
another, and another! They are everywhere."

"Well," continued Weiss, "those are Prussians. I have been watching
them since morning, and they have been coming, coming, as if there
were no end to them! You may be sure of one thing: if our troops are
waiting for them, they have no intention of disappointing us. And not
I alone, but every soul in the city saw them; it is only the generals
who persist in being blind. I was talking with a general officer a
little while ago; he shrugged his shoulders and told me that Marshal
MacMahon was absolutely certain that he had not over seventy thousand
men in his front. God grant he may be right! But look and see for
yourselves; the ground is hid by them! they keep coming, ever coming,
the black swarm!"

At this juncture Maurice threw himself back in his bed and gave way to
a violent fit of sobbing. Henriette came in, a smile on her face. She
hastened to him in alarm.

"What is it?"

But he pushed her away. "No, no! leave me, have nothing more to do
with me; I have never been anything but a burden to you. When I think
that you were making yourself a drudge, a slave, while I was attending
college--oh! to what miserable use have I turned that education! And I
was near bringing dishonor on our name; I shudder to think where I
might be now, had you not beggared yourself to pay for my extravagance
and folly."

Her smile came back to her face, together with her serenity.

"Is that all? Your sleep don't seem to have done you good, my poor
friend. But since that is all gone and past, forget it! Are you not
doing your duty now, like a good Frenchman? I am very proud of you, I
assure you, now that you are a soldier."

She had turned toward Jean, as if to ask him to come to her
assistance, and he looked at her with some surprise that she appeared
to him less beautiful than yesterday; she was paler, thinner, now that
the glamour was no longer in his drowsy eyes. The one striking point
that remained unchanged was her resemblance to her brother, and yet
the difference in their two natures was never more strongly marked
than at that moment; he, weak and nervous as a woman, swayed by the
impulse of the hour, displaying in his person all the fitful and
emotional temperament of his nation, vibrating from one moment to
another between the loftiest enthusiasm and the most abject despair;
she, the patient, indomitable housewife, such an inconsiderable little
creature in her resignation and self-effacement, meeting adversity
with a brave face and eyes full of inexpugnable courage and
resolution, fashioned from the stuff of which heroes are made.

"Proud of me!" cried Maurice. "Ah! truly, you have great reason to be.
For a month and more now we have been flying, like the cowards that we
are!"

"What of it? we are not the only ones," said Jean with his practical
common sense; "we do what we are told to do."

But the young man broke out more furiously than ever: "I have had
enough of it, I tell you! Our imbecile leaders, our continual defeats,
our brave soldiers led like sheep to the slaughter--is it not enough,
seeing all these things, to make one weep tears of blood? We are here
now in Sedan, caught in a trap from which there is no escape; you can
see the Prussians closing in on us from every quarter, and certain
destruction is staring us in the face; there is no hope, the end is
come. No! I shall remain where I am; I may as well be shot as a
deserter. Jean, do you go, and leave me here. No! I won't go back
there; I will stay here."

He sank upon the pillow in a renewed outpour of tears. It was an utter
breakdown of the nervous system, sweeping everything before it, one of
those sudden lapses into hopelessness to which he was so subject, in
which he despised himself and all the world. His sister, knowing as
she did the best way of treating such crises, kept an unruffled face.

"That would not be a nice thing to do, dear Maurice--desert your post
in the hour of danger."

He rose impetuously to a sitting posture: "Then give me my musket! I
will go and blow my brains out; that will be the shortest way of
ending it." Then, pointing with outstretched arm to Weiss, where he
sat silent and motionless, he said: "There! that is the only sensible
man I have seen; yes, he is the only one who saw things as they were.
You remember what he said to me, Jean, at Mulhausen, a month ago?"

"It is true," the corporal assented; "the gentleman said we should be
beaten."

And the scene rose again before their mind's eye, that night of
anxious vigil, the agonized suspense, the prescience of the disaster
at Froeschwiller hanging in the sultry heavy air, while the Alsatian
told his prophetic fears; Germany in readiness, with the best of arms
and the best of leaders, rising to a man in a grand outburst of
patriotism; France dazed, a century behind the age, debauched, and a
prey to intestine disorder, having neither commanders, men, nor arms
to enable her to cope with her powerful adversary. How quickly the
horrible prediction had proved itself true!

Weiss raised his trembling hands. Profound sorrow was depicted on his
kind, honest face, with its red hair and beard and its great prominent
blue eyes.

"Ah!" he murmured, "I take no credit to myself for being right. I
don't claim to be wiser than others, but it was all so clear, when one
only knew the true condition of affairs! But if we are to be beaten we
shall first have the pleasure of killing some of those Prussians of
perdition. There is that comfort for us; I believe that many of us are
to leave their bones there, and I hope there will be plenty of
Prussians to keep them company; I would like to see the ground down
there in the valley heaped with dead Prussians!" He arose and pointed
down the valley of the Meuse. Fire flashed from his myopic eyes, which
had exempted him from service with the army. "A thousand thunders! I
would fight, yes, I would, if they would have me. I don't know whether
it is seeing them assume the airs of masters in my country--in this
country where once the Cossacks did such mischief; but whenever I
think of their being here, of their entering our houses, I am seized
with an uncontrollable desire to cut a dozen of their throats. Ah! if
it were not for my eyes, if they would take me, I would go!" Then,
after a moment's silence: "And besides; who can tell?"

It was the hope that sprang eternal, even in the breast of the least
confident, of the possibility of victory, and Maurice, ashamed by this
time of his tears, listened and caught at the pleasing speculation.
Was it not true that only the day before there had been a rumor that
Bazaine was at Verdun? Truly, it was time that Fortune should work a
miracle for that France whose glories she had so long protected.
Henriette, with an imperceptible smile on her lips, silently left the
room, and was not the least bit surprised when she returned to find
her brother up and dressed, and ready to go back to his duty. She
insisted, however, that he and Jean should take some nourishment
first. They seated themselves at the table, but the morsels choked
them; their stomachs, weakened by their heavy slumber, revolted at the
food. Like a prudent old campaigner Jean cut a loaf in two halves and
placed one in Maurice's sack, the other in his own. It was growing
dark, it behooved them to be going. Henriette, who was standing at the
window watching the Prussian troops incessantly defiling on distant la
Marfee, the swarming legions of black ants that were gradually being
swallowed up in the gathering shadows, involuntarily murmured:

"Oh, war! what a dreadful thing it is!"

Maurice, seeing an opportunity to retort her sermon to him,
immediately took her up:

"How is this, little sister? you are anxious to have people fight, and
you speak disrespectfully of war!"

She turned and faced him, valiantly as ever: "It is true; I abhor it,
because it is an abomination and an injustice. It may be simply
because I am a woman, but the thought of such butchery sickens me. Why
cannot nations adjust their differences without shedding blood?"

Jean, the good fellow, seconded her with a nod of the head, and
nothing to him, too, seemed easier--to him, the unlettered man--than
to come together and settle matters after a fair, honest talk; but
Maurice, mindful of his scientific theories, reflected on the
necessity of war--war, which is itself existence, the universal law.
Was it not poor, pitiful man who conceived the idea of justice and
peace, while impassive nature revels in continual slaughter?

"That is all very fine!" he cried. "Yes, centuries hence, if it shall
come to pass that then all the nations shall be merged in one;
centuries hence man may look forward to the coming of that golden age;
and even in that case would not the end of war be the end of humanity?
I was a fool but now; we must go and fight, since it is nature's law."
He smiled and repeated his brother-in-law's expression: "And besides,
who can tell?"

He saw things now through the mirage of his vivid self-delusion, they
came to his vision distorted through the lens of his diseased nervous
sensibility.

"By the way," he continued cheerfully, "what do you hear of our cousin
Gunther? You know we have not seen a German yet, so you can't look to
me to give you any foreign news."

The question was addressed to his brother-in-law, who had relapsed
into a thoughtful silence and answered by a motion of his hand,
expressive of his ignorance.

"Cousin Gunther?" said Henriette, "Why, he belongs to the Vth corps
and is with the Crown Prince's army; I read it in one of the
newspapers, I don't remember which. Is that army in this
neighborhood?"

Weiss repeated his gesture, which was imitated by the two soldiers,
who could not be supposed to know what enemies were in front of them
when their generals did not know. Rising to his feet, the master of
the house at last made use of articulate speech.

"Come along; I will go with you. I learned this afternoon where the
106th's camp is situated." He told his wife that she need not expect
to see him again that night, as he would sleep at Bazeilles, where
they had recently bought and furnished a little place to serve them as
a residence during the hot months. It was near a dyehouse that
belonged to M. Delaherche. The accountant's mind was ill at ease in
relation to certain stores that he had placed in the cellar--a cask of
wine and a couple of sacks of potatoes; the house would certainly be
visited by marauders if it was left unprotected, he said, while by
occupying it that night he would doubtless save it from pillage. His
wife watched him closely while he was speaking.

"You need not be alarmed," he added, with a smile; "I harbor no darker
design than the protection of our property, and I pledge my word that
if the village is attacked, or if there is any appearance of danger, I
will come home at once."

"Well, then, go," she said. "But remember, if you are not back in good
season you will see me out there looking for you."

Henriette went with them to the door, where she embraced Maurice
tenderly and gave Jean a warm clasp of the hand.

"I intrust my brother to your care once more. He has told me of your
kindness to him, and I love you for it."

He was too flustered to do more than return the pressure of the small,
firm hand. His first impression returned to him again, and he beheld
Henriette in the light in which she had first appeared to him, with
her bright hair of the hue of ripe golden grain, so alert, so sunny,
so unselfish, that her presence seemed to pervade the air like a
caress.

Once they were outside they found the same gloomy and forbidding Sedan
that had greeted their eyes that morning. Twilight with its shadows
had invaded the narrow streets, sidewalk and carriage-way alike were
filled with a confused, surging throng. Most of the shops were closed,
the houses seemed to be dead or sleeping, while out of doors the crowd
was so dense that men trod on one another. With some little
difficulty, however, they succeeded in reaching the Place de l'Hotel
de Ville, where they encountered M. Delaherche, intent on picking up
the latest news and seeing what was to be seen. He at once came up and
greeted them, apparently delighted to meet Maurice, to whom he said
that he had just returned from accompanying Captain Beaudoin over to
Floing, where the regiment was posted, and he became, if that were
possible, even more gracious than ever upon learning that Weiss
proposed to pass the night at Bazeilles, where he himself, he
declared, had just been telling the captain that he intended to take a
bed, in order to see how things were looking at the dyehouse.

"We'll go together and be company for each other, Weiss. But first
let's go as far as the Sous-Prefecture; we may be able to catch a
glimpse of the Emperor."

Ever since he had been so near having the famous conversation with him
at Baybel his mind had been full of Napoleon III.; he was not
satisfied until he had induced the two soldiers to accompany him. The
Place de la Sous-Prefecture was comparatively empty; a few men were
standing about in groups, engaged in whispered conversation, while
occasionally an officer hurried by, haggard and careworn. The bright
hues of the foliage were beginning to fade and grow dim in the
melancholy, thick-gathering shades of night; the hoarse murmur of the
Meuse was heard as its current poured onward beneath the houses to the
right. Among the whisperers it was related how the Emperor--who with
the greatest difficulty had been prevailed on to leave Carignan the
night before about eleven o'clock--when entreated to push on to
Mezieres had refused point-blank to abandon the post of danger and
take a step that would prove so demoralizing to the troops. Others
asserted that he was no longer in the city, that he had fled, leaving
behind him a dummy emperor, one of his officers dressed in his
uniform, a man whose startling resemblance to his imperial master had
often puzzled the army. Others again declared, and called upon their
honor to substantiate their story, that they had seen the army wagons
containing the imperial treasure, one hundred millions, all in
brand-new twenty-franc pieces, drive into the courtyard of the
Prefecture. This convoy was, in fact, neither more nor less than the
vehicles for the personal use of the Emperor and his suite, the _char
a banc_, the two _caleches_, the twelve baggage and supply wagons,
which had almost excited a riot in the villages through which they had
passed--Courcelles, le Chene, Raucourt; assuming in men's imagination
the dimensions of a huge train that had blocked the road and arrested
the march of armies, and which now, shorn of their glory, execrated by
all, had come in shame and disgrace to hide themselves among the
sous-prefect's lilac bushes.

While Delaherche was raising himself on tiptoe and trying to peer
through the windows of the _rez-de-chaussee_, an old woman at his
side, some poor day-worker of the neighborhood, with shapeless form
and hands calloused and distorted by many years of toil, was mumbling
between her teeth:

"An emperor--I should like to see one once--just once--so I could say
I had seen him."

Suddenly Delaherche exclaimed, seizing Maurice by the arm:

"See, there he is! at the window, to the left. I had a good view of
him yesterday; I can't be mistaken. There, he has just raised the
curtain; see, that pale face, close to the glass."

The old woman had overheard him and stood staring with wide-open mouth
and eyes, for there, full in the window, was an apparition that
resembled a corpse more than a living being; its eyes were lifeless,
its features distorted; even the mustache had assumed a ghastly
whiteness in that final agony. The old woman was dumfounded; forthwith
she turned her back and marched off with a look of supreme contempt.

"That thing an emperor! a likely story."

A zouave was standing near, one of those fugitive soldiers who were in
no haste to rejoin their commands. Brandishing his chassepot and
expectorating threats and maledictions, he said to his companion:

"Wait! see me put a bullet in his head!"

Delaherche remonstrated angrily, but by that time the Emperor had
disappeared. The hoarse murmur of the Meuse continued uninterruptedly;
a wailing lament, inexpressibly mournful, seemed to pass above them
through the air, where the darkness was gathering intensity. Other
sounds rose in the distance, like the hollow muttering of the rising
storm; were they the "March! march!" that terrible order from Paris
that had driven that ill-starred man onward day by day, dragging
behind him along the roads of his defeat the irony of his imperial
escort, until now he was brought face to face with the ruin he had
foreseen and come forth to meet? What multitudes of brave men were to
lay down their lives for his mistakes, and how complete the wreck, in
all his being, of that sick man, that sentimental dreamer, awaiting in
gloomy silence the fulfillment of his destiny!

Weiss and Delaherche accompanied the two soldiers to the plateau of
Floing, where the 7th corps camps were.

"Adieu!" said Maurice as he embraced his brother-in-law.

"No, no; not adieu, the deuce! Au _revoir_!" the manufacturer gayly
cried.

Jean's instinct led him at once to their regiment, the tents of which
were pitched behind the cemetery, where the ground of the plateau
begins to fall away. It was nearly dark, but there was sufficient
light yet remaining in the sky to enable them to distinguish the black
huddle of roofs above the city, and further in the distance Balan and
Bazeilles, lying in the broad meadows that stretch away to the range
of hills between Remilly and Frenois, while to the right was the dusky
wood of la Garenne, and to the left the broad bosom of the Meuse had
the dull gleam of frosted silver in the dying daylight. Maurice
surveyed the broad landscape that was momentarily fading in the
descending shadows.

"Ah, here is the corporal!" said Chouteau. "I wonder if he has been
looking after our rations!"

The camp was astir with life and bustle. All day the men had been
coming in, singly and in little groups, and the crowd and confusion
were such that the officers made no pretense of punishing or even
reprimanding them; they accepted thankfully those who were so kind as
to return and asked no questions. Captain Beaudoin had made his
appearance only a short time before, and it was about two o'clock when
Lieutenant Rochas had brought in his collection of stragglers, about
one-third of the company strength. Now the ranks were nearly full once
more. Some of the men were drunk, others had not been able to secure
even a morsel of bread and were sinking from inanition; again there
had been no distribution of rations. Loubet, however, had discovered
some cabbages in a neighboring garden, and cooked them after a
fashion, but there was no salt or lard; the empty stomachs continued
to assert their claims.

"Come, now, corporal, you are a knowing old file," Chouteau tauntingly
continued, "what have you got for us? Oh, it's not for myself I care;
Loubet and I had a good breakfast; a lady gave it us. You were not at
distribution, then?"

Jean beheld a circle of expectant eyes bent on him; the squad had been
waiting for him with anxiety, Pache and Lapoulle in particular,
luckless dogs, who had found nothing they could appropriate; they all
relied on him, who, as they expressed it, could get bread out of a
stone. And the corporal's conscience smote him for having abandoned
his men; he took pity on them and divided among them half the bread
that he had in his sack.

"Name o' God! Name o' God!" grunted Lapoulle as he contentedly munched
the dry bread; it was all he could find to say; while Pache repeated a
_Pater_ and an _Ave_ under his breath to make sure that Heaven should
not forget to send him his breakfast in the morning.

Gaude, the bugler, with his darkly mysterious air, as of a man who has
had troubles of which he does not care to speak, sounded the call for
evening muster with a glorious fanfare; but there was no necessity for
sounding taps that night, the camp was immediately enveloped in
profound silence. And when he had verified the names and seen that
none of his half-section were missing, Sergeant Sapin, with his thin,
sickly face and his pinched nose, softly said:

"There will be one less to-morrow night."

Then, as he saw Jean looking at him inquiringly, he added with calm
conviction, his eyes bent upon the blackness of the night, as if
reading there the destiny that he predicted:

"It will be mine; I shall be killed to-morrow."

It was nine o'clock, with promise of a chilly, uncomfortable night,
for a dense mist had risen from the surface of the river, so that the
stars were no longer visible. Maurice shivered, where he lay with Jean
beneath a hedge, and said they would do better to go and seek the
shelter of the tent; the rest they had taken that day had left them
wakeful, their joints seemed stiffer and their bones sorer than
before; neither could sleep. They envied Lieutenant Rochas, who,
stretched on the damp ground and wrapped in his blanket, was snoring
like a trooper, not far away. For a long time after that they watched
with interest the feeble light of a candle that was burning in a large
tent where the colonel and some officers were in consultation. All
that evening M. de Vineuil had manifested great uneasiness that he had
received no instructions to guide him in the morning. He felt that his
regiment was too much "in the air," too much advanced, although it
had already fallen back from the exposed position that it had
occupied earlier in the day. Nothing had been seen of General
Bourgain-Desfeuilles, who was said to be ill in bed at the Hotel of
the Golden Cross, and the colonel decided to send one of his officers
to advise him of the danger of their new position in the too extended
line of the 7th corps, which had to cover the long stretch from the
bend in the Meuse to the wood of la Garenne. There could be no doubt
that the enemy would attack with the first glimpse of daylight; only
for seven or eight hours now would that deep tranquillity remain
unbroken. And shortly after the dim light in the colonel's tent was
extinguished Maurice was amazed to see Captain Beaudoin glide by,
keeping close to the hedge, with furtive steps, and vanish in the
direction of Sedan.

The darkness settled down on them, denser and denser; the chill mists
rose from the stream and enshrouded everything in a dank, noisome fog.

"Are you asleep, Jean?"

Jean was asleep, and Maurice was alone. He could not endure the
thought of going to the tent where Lapoulle and the rest of them were
slumbering; he heard their snoring, responsive to Rochas' strains, and
envied them. If our great captains sleep soundly the night before a
battle, it is like enough for the reason that their fatigue will not
let them do otherwise. He was conscious of no sound save the equal,
deep-drawn breathing of that slumbering multitude, rising from the
darkening camp like the gentle respiration of some huge monster;
beyond that all was void. He only knew that the 5th corps was close at
hand, encamped beneath the rampart, that the 1st's line extended from
the wood of la Garenne to la Moncelle, while the 12th was posted on
the other side of the city, at Bazeilles; and all were sleeping; the
whole length of that long line, from the nearest tent to the most
remote, for miles and miles, that low, faint murmur ascended in
rhythmic unison from the dark, mysterious bosom of the night. Then
outside this circle lay another region, the realm of the unknown,
whence also sounds came intermittently to his ears, so vague, so
distant, that he scarcely knew whether they were not the throbbings of
his own excited pulses; the indistinct trot of cavalry plashing over
the low ground, the dull rumble of gun and caisson along the roads,
and, still more marked, the heavy tramp of marching men; the gathering
on the heights above of that black swarm, engaged in strengthening the
meshes of their net, from which night itself had not served to divert
them. And below, there by the river's side, was there not the flash of
lights suddenly extinguished, was not that the sound of hoarse voices
shouting orders, adding to the dread suspense of that long night of
terror while waiting for the coming of the dawn?

Maurice put forth his hand and felt for Jean's; at last he slumbered,
comforted by the sense of human companionship. From a steeple in Sedan
came the deep tones of a bell, slowly, mournfully, tolling the hour;
then all was blank and void.



                            PART SECOND



                                 I.

Weiss, in the obscurity of his little room at Bazeilles, was aroused
by a commotion that caused him to leap from his bed. It was the roar
of artillery. Groping about in the darkness he found and lit a candle
to enable him to consult his watch: it was four o'clock, just
beginning to be light. He adjusted his double eyeglass upon his nose
and looked out into the main street of the village, the road that
leads to Douzy, but it was filled with a thick cloud of something that
resembled dust, which made it impossible to distinguish anything. He
passed into the other room, the windows of which commanded a view of
the Meuse and the intervening meadows, and saw that the cause of his
obstructed vision was the morning mist arising from the river. In the
distance, behind the veil of fog, the guns were barking more fiercely
across the stream. All at once a French battery, close at hand, opened
in reply, with such a tremendous crash that the walls of the little
house were shaken.

Weiss's house was situated near the middle of the village, on the
right of the road and not far from the Place de l'Eglise. Its front,
standing back a little from the street, displayed a single story with
three windows, surmounted by an attic; in the rear was a garden of
some extent that sloped gently downward toward the meadows and
commanded a wide panoramic view of the encircling hills, from Remilly
to Frenois. Weiss, with the sense of responsibility of his new
proprietorship strong upon him, had spent the night in burying his
provisions in the cellar and protecting his furniture, as far as
possible, against shot and shell by applying mattresses to the
windows, so that it was nearly two o'clock before he got to bed. His
blood boiled at the idea that the Prussians might come and plunder the
house, for which he had toiled so long and which had as yet afforded
him so little enjoyment.

He heard a voice summoning him from the street.

"I say, Weiss, are you awake?"

He descended and found it was Delaherche, who had passed the night at
his dyehouse, a large brick structure, next door to the accountant's
abode. The operatives had all fled, taking to the woods and making for
the Belgian frontier, and there was no one left to guard the property
but the woman concierge, Francoise Quittard by name, the widow of a
mason; and she also, beside herself with terror, would have gone with
the others had it not been for her ten-year-old boy Charles, who was
so ill with typhoid fever that he could not be moved.

"I say," Delaherche continued, "do you hear that? It is a promising
beginning. Our best course is to get back to Sedan as soon as
possible."

Weiss's promise to his wife, that he would leave Bazeilles at the
first sign of danger, had been given in perfect good faith, and he had
fully intended to keep it; but as yet there was only an artillery duel
at long range, and the aim could not be accurate enough to do much
damage in the uncertain, misty light of early morning.

"Wait a bit, confound it!" he replied. "There is no hurry."

Delaherche, too, was curious to see what would happen; his curiosity
made him valiant. He had been so interested in the preparations for
defending the place that he had not slept a wink. General Lebrun,
commanding the 12th corps, had received notice that he would be
attacked at daybreak, and had kept his men occupied during the night
in strengthening the defenses of Bazeilles, which he had instructions
to hold in spite of everything. Barricades had been thrown up across
the Douzy road, and all the smaller streets; small parties of soldiers
had been thrown into the houses by way of garrison; every narrow lane,
every garden had become a fortress, and since three o'clock the
troops, awakened from their slumbers without beat of drum or call of
bugle in the inky blackness, had been at their posts, their chassepots
freshly greased and cartridge boxes filled with the obligatory ninety
rounds of ammunition. It followed that when the enemy opened their
fire no one was taken unprepared, and the French batteries, posted to
the rear between Balan and Bazeilles, immediately commenced to answer,
rather with the idea of showing they were awake than for any other
purpose, for in the dense fog that enveloped everything the practice
was of the wildest.

"The dyehouse will be well defended," said Delaherche. "I have a whole
section in it. Come and see."

It was true; forty and odd men of the infanterie de marine had been
posted there under the command of a lieutenant, a tall, light-haired
young fellow, scarcely more than a boy, but with an expression of
energy and determination on his face. His men had already taken full
possession of the building, some of them being engaged in loopholing
the shutters of the ground-floor windows that commanded the street,
while others, in the courtyard that overlooked the meadows in the
rear, were breaching the wall for musketry. It was in this courtyard
that Delaherche and Weiss found the young officer, straining his eyes
to discover what was hidden behind the impenetrable mist.

"Confound this fog!" he murmured. "We can't fight when we don't know
where the enemy is." Presently he asked, with no apparent change of
voice or manner: "What day of the week is this?"

"Thursday," Weiss replied.

"Thursday, that's so. Hanged if I don't think the world might come to
an end and we not know it!"

But just at that moment the uninterrupted roar of the artillery was
diversified by a brisk rattle of musketry proceeding from the edge of
the meadows, at a distance of two or three hundred yards. And at the
same time there was a transformation, as rapid and startling, almost,
as the stage effect in a fairy spectacle: the sun rose, the
exhalations of the Meuse were whirled away like bits of finest,
filmiest gauze, and the blue sky was revealed, in serene limpidity,
undimmed by a single cloud. It was the exquisite morning of a
faultless summer day.

"Ah!" exclaimed Delaherche, "they are crossing the railway bridge.
See, they are making their way along the track. How stupid of us not
to have blown up the bridge!"

The officer's face bore an expression of dumb rage. The mines had been
prepared and charged, he averred, but they had fought four hours the
day before to regain possession of the bridge and then had forgot to
touch them off.

"It is just our luck," he curtly said.

Weiss was silent, watching the course of events and endeavoring to
form some idea of the true state of affairs. The position of the
French in Bazeilles was a very strong one. The village commanded the
meadows, and was bisected by the Douzy road, which, turning sharp to
the left, passed under the walls of the Chateau, while another road,
the one that led to the railway bridge, bent around to the right and
forked at the Place de l'Eglise. There was no cover for any force
advancing by these two approaches; the Germans would be obliged to
traverse the meadows and the wide, bare level that lay between the
outskirts of the village and the Meuse and the railway. Their prudence
in avoiding unnecessary risks was notorious, hence it seemed
improbable that the real attack would come from that quarter. They
kept coming across the bridge, however, in deep masses, and that
notwithstanding the slaughter that a battery of mitrailleuses, posted
at the edge of the village, effected in their ranks, and all at once
those who had crossed rushed forward in open order, under cover of the
straggling willows, the columns were re-formed and began to advance.
It was from there that the musketry fire, which was growing hotter,
had proceeded.

"Oh, those are Bavarians," Weiss remarked. "I recognize them by the
braid on their helmets."

But there were other columns, moving to the right and partially
concealed by the railway embankment, whose object, it seemed to him,
was to gain the cover of some trees in the distance, whence they might
descend and take Bazeilles in flank and rear. Should they succeed in
effecting a lodgment in the park of Montivilliers, the village might
become untenable. This was no more than a vague, half-formed idea,
that flitted through his mind for a moment and faded as rapidly as it
had come; the attack in front was becoming more determined, and his
every faculty was concentrated on the struggle that was assuming, with
every moment, larger dimensions.

Suddenly he turned his head and looked away to the north, over the
city of Sedan, where the heights of Floing were visible in the
distance. A battery had just commenced firing from that quarter; the
smoke rose in the bright sunshine in little curls and wreaths, and the
reports came to his ears very distinctly. It was in the neighborhood
of five o'clock.

"Well, well," he murmured, "they are all going to have a hand in the
business, it seems."

The lieutenant of marines, who had turned his eyes in the same
direction, spoke up confidently:

"Oh! Bazeilles is the key of the position. This is the spot where the
battle will be won or lost."

"Do you think so?" Weiss exclaimed.

"There is not the slightest doubt of it. It is certainly the marshal's
opinion, for he was here last night and told us that we must hold the
village if it cost the life of every man of us."

Weiss slowly shook his head, and swept the horizon with a glance; then
in a low, faltering voice, as if speaking to himself, he said:

"No--no! I am sure that is a mistake. I fear the danger lies in
another quarter--where, or what it is, I dare not say--"

He said no more. He simply opened wide his arms, like the jaws of a
vise, then, turning to the north, brought his hands together, as if
the vise had closed suddenly upon some object there.

This was the fear that had filled his mind for the last twenty-four
hours, for he was thoroughly acquainted with the country and had
watched narrowly every movement of the troops during the previous day,
and now, again, while the broad valley before him lay basking in the
radiant sunlight, his gaze reverted to the hills of the left bank,
where, for the space of all one day and all one night, his eyes had
beheld the black swarm of the Prussian hosts moving steadily onward to
some appointed end. A battery had opened fire from Remilly, over to
the left, but the one from which the shells were now beginning to
reach the French position was posted at Pont-Maugis, on the river
bank. He adjusted his binocle by folding the glasses over, the one
upon the other, to lengthen its range and enable him to discern what
was hidden among the recesses of the wooded slopes, but could
distinguish nothing save the white smoke-wreaths that rose momentarily
on the tranquil air and floated lazily away over the crests. That
human torrent that he had seen so lately streaming over those hills,
where was it now--where were massed those innumerable hosts? At last,
at the corner of a pine wood, above Noyers and Frenois, he succeeded
in making out a little cluster of mounted men in uniform--some general,
doubtless, and his staff. And off there to the west the Meuse curved
in a great loop, and in that direction lay their sole line of retreat
on Mezieres, a narrow road that traversed the pass of Saint-Albert,
between that loop and the dark forest of Ardennes. While
reconnoitering the day before he had met a general officer who, he
afterward learned, was Ducrot, commanding the 1st corps, on a by-road
in the valley of Givonne, and had made bold to call his attention to
the importance of that, their only line of retreat. If the army did
not retire at once by that road while it was still open to them, if it
waited until the Prussians should have crossed the Meuse at Donchery
and come up in force to occupy the pass, it would be hemmed in and
driven back on the Belgian frontier. As early even as the evening of
that day the movement would have been too late. It was asserted that
the uhlans had possession of the bridge, another bridge that had not
been destroyed, for the reason, this time, that some one had neglected
to provide the necessary powder. And Weiss sorrowfully acknowledged to
himself that the human torrent, the invading horde, could now be
nowhere else than on the plain of Donchery, invisible to him, pressing
onward to occupy Saint-Albert pass, pushing forward its advanced
guards to Saint-Menges and Floing, whither, the day previous, he had
conducted Jean and Maurice. In the brilliant sunshine the steeple of
Floing church appeared like a slender needle of dazzling whiteness.

And off to the eastward the other arm of the powerful vise was slowly
closing in on them. Casting his eyes to the north, where there was a
stretch of level ground between the plateaus of Illy and of Floing, he
could make out the line of battle of the 7th corps, feebly supported
by the 5th, which was posted in reserve under the ramparts of the
city; but he could not discern what was occurring to the east, along
the valley of the Givonne, where the 1st corps was stationed, its line
stretching from the wood of la Garenne to Daigny village. Now,
however, the guns were beginning to thunder in that direction also;
the conflict seemed to be raging in Chevalier's wood, in front of
Daigny. His uneasiness was owing to reports that had been brought in
by peasants the day previous, that the Prussian advance had reached
Francheval, so that the movement which was being conducted at the
west, by way of Donchery, was also in process of execution at the
east, by way of Francheval, and the two jaws of the vise would come
together up there at the north, near the Calvary of Illy, unless the
two-fold flanking movement could be promptly checked. He knew nothing
of tactics or strategy, had nothing but his common sense to guide him;
but he looked with fear and trembling on that great triangle that had
the Meuse for one of its sides, and for the other two the 7th and 1st
corps on the north and east respectively, while the extreme angle at
the south was occupied by the 12th at Bazeilles--all the three corps
facing outward on the periphery of a semicircle, awaiting the
appearance of an enemy who was to deliver his attack at some one
point, where or when no one could say, but who, instead, fell on them
from every direction at once. And at the very center of all, as at the
bottom of a pit, lay the city of Sedan, her ramparts furnished with
antiquated guns, destitute of ammunition and provisions.

"Understand," said Weiss, with a repetition of his previous gesture,
extending his arms and bringing his hands slowly together, "that is
how it will be unless your generals keep their eyes open. The movement
at Bazeilles is only a feint--"

But his explanation was confused and unintelligible to the lieutenant,
who knew nothing of the country, and the young man shrugged his
shoulders with an expression of impatience and disdain for the
bourgeois in spectacles and frock coat who presumed to set his opinion
against the marshal's. Irritated to hear Weiss reiterate his view that
the attack on Bazeilles was intended only to mask other and more
important movements, he finally shouted:

"Hold your tongue, will you! We shall drive them all into the Meuse,
those Bavarian friends of yours, and that is all they will get by
their precious feint."

While they were talking the enemy's skirmishers seemed to have come up
closer; every now and then their bullets were heard thudding against
the dyehouse wall, and our men, kneeling behind the low parapet of the
courtyard, were beginning to reply. Every second the report of a
chassepot rang out, sharp and clear, upon the air.

"Oh, of course! drive them into the Meuse, by all means," muttered
Weiss, "and while we are about it we might as well ride them down and
regain possession of the Carignan road." Then addressing himself to
Delaherche, who had stationed himself behind the pump where he might
be out of the way of the bullets: "All the same, it would have been
their wisest course to make tracks last night for Mezieres, and if I
were in their place I would much rather be there than here. As it is,
however, they have got to show fight, since retreat is out of the
question now."

"Are you coming?" asked Delaherche, who, notwithstanding his eager
curiosity, was beginning to look pale in the face. "We shall be unable
to get into the city if we remain here longer."

"Yes, in one minute I will be with you."

In spite of the danger that attended the movement he raised himself on
tiptoe, possessed by an irresistible desire to see how things were
shaping. On the right lay the meadows that had been flooded by order
of the governor for the protection of the city, now a broad lake
stretching from Torcy to Balan, its unruffled bosom glimmering in the
morning sunlight with a delicate azure luster. The water did not
extend as far as Bazeilles, however, and the Prussians had worked
their way forward across the fields, availing themselves of the
shelter of every ditch, of every little shrub and tree. They were now
distant some five hundred yards, and Weiss was impressed by the
caution with which they moved, the dogged resolution and patience with
which they advanced, gaining ground inch by inch and exposing
themselves as little as possible. They had a powerful artillery fire,
moreover, to sustain them; the pure, cool air was vocal with the
shrieking of shells. Raising his eyes he saw that the Pont-Maugis
battery was not the only one that was playing on Bazeilles; two
others, posted half way up the hill of Liry, had opened fire, and
their projectiles not only reached the village, but swept the naked
plain of la Moncelle beyond, where the reserves of the 12th corps
were, and even the wooded slopes of Daigny, held by a division of the
1st corps, were not beyond their range. There was not a summit,
moreover, on the left bank of the stream that was not tipped with
flame. The guns seemed to spring spontaneously from the soil, like
some noxious growth; it was a zone of fire that grew hotter and
fiercer every moment; there were batteries at Noyers shelling Balan,
batteries at Wadelincourt shelling Sedan, and at Frenois, down under
la Marfee, there was a battery whose guns, heavier than the rest, sent
their missiles hurtling over the city to burst among the troops of the
7th corps on the plateau of Floing. Those hills that he had always
loved so well, that he had supposed were planted there solely to
delight the eye, encircling with their verdurous slopes the pretty,
peaceful valley that lay beneath, were now become a gigantic, frowning
fortress, vomiting ruin and destruction on the feeble defenses of
Sedan, and Weiss looked on them with terror and detestation. Why had
steps not been taken to defend them the day before, if their leaders
had suspected this, or why, rather, had they insisted on holding the
position?

A sound of falling plaster caused him to raise his head; a shot had
grazed his house, the front of which was visible to him above the
party wall. It angered him excessively, and he growled:

"Are they going to knock it about my ears, the brigands!"

Then close behind him there was a little dull, strange sound that he
had never heard before, and turning quickly he saw a soldier, shot
through the heart, in the act of falling backward. There was a brief
convulsive movement of the legs; the youthful, tranquil expression of
the face remained, stamped there unalterably by the hand of death. It
was the first casualty, and the accountant was startled by the crash
of the musket falling and rebounding from the stone pavement of the
courtyard.

"Ah, I have seen enough, I am going," stammered Delaherche. "Come, if
you are coming; if not, I shall go without you."

The lieutenant, whom their presence made uneasy, spoke up:

"It will certainly be best for you to go, gentlemen. The enemy may
attempt to carry the place at any moment."

Then at last, casting a parting glance at the meadows, where the
Bavarians were still gaining ground, Weiss gave in and followed
Delaherche, but when they had gained the street he insisted upon going
to see if the fastening of his door was secure, and when he came back
to his companion there was a fresh spectacle, which brought them both
to a halt.

At the end of the street, some three hundred yards from where they
stood, a strong Bavarian column had debouched from the Douzy road and
was charging up the Place de l'Eglise. The square was held by a
regiment of sailor-boys, who appeared to slacken their fire for a
moment as if with the intention of drawing their assailants on; then,
when the close-massed column was directly opposite their front, a most
surprising maneuver was swiftly executed: the men abandoned their
formation, some of them stepping from the ranks and flattening
themselves against the house fronts, others casting themselves prone
upon the ground, and down the vacant space thus suddenly formed the
mitrailleuses that had been placed in battery at the farther end
poured a perfect hailstorm of bullets. The column disappeared as if it
had been swept bodily from off the face of the earth. The recumbent
men sprang to their feet with a bound and charged the scattered
Bavarians with the bayonet, driving them and making the rout complete.
Twice the maneuver was repeated, each time with the same success. Two
women, unwilling to abandon their home, a small house at the corner of
an intersecting lane, were sitting at their window; they laughed
approvingly and clapped their hands, apparently glad to have an
opportunity to behold such a spectacle.

"There, confound it!" Weiss suddenly said, "I forgot to lock the
cellar door! I must go back. Wait for me; I won't be a minute."

There was no indication that the enemy contemplated a renewal of
their attack, and Delaherche, whose curiosity was reviving after
the shock it had sustained, was less eager to get away. He had halted
in front of his dyehouse and was conversing with the concierge, who
had come for a moment to the door of the room she occupied in the
_rez-de-chaussee_.

"My poor Francoise, you had better come along with us. A lone woman
among such dreadful sights--I can't bear to think of it!"

She raised her trembling hands. "Ah, sir, I would have gone when the
others went, indeed I would, if it had not been for my poor sick boy.
Come in, sir, and look at him."

He did not enter, but glanced into the apartment from the threshold,
and shook his head sorrowfully at sight of the little fellow in his
clean, white bed, his face exhibiting the scarlet hue of the disease,
and his glassy, burning eyes bent wistfully on his mother.

"But why can't you take him with you?" he urged. "I will find quarters
for you in Sedan. Wrap him up warmly in a blanket, and come along with
us."

"Oh, no, sir, I cannot. The doctor told me it would kill him. If only
his poor father were alive! but we two are all that are left, and we
must live for each other. And then, perhaps the Prussians will be
merciful; perhaps they won't harm a lone woman and a sick boy."

Just then Weiss reappeared, having secured his premises to his
satisfaction. "There, I think it will trouble them some to get in now.
Come on! And it is not going to be a very pleasant journey, either;
keep close to the houses, unless you want to come to grief."

There were indications, indeed, that the enemy were making ready for
another assault. The infantry fire was spluttering away more furiously
than ever, and the screaming of the shells was incessant. Two had
already fallen in the street a hundred yards away, and a third had
imbedded itself, without bursting, in the soft ground of the adjacent
garden.

"Ah, here is Francoise," continued the accountant. "I must have a look
at your little Charles. Come, come, you have no cause for alarm; he
will be all right in a couple of days. Keep your courage up, and the
first thing you do go inside, and don't put your nose outside the
door." And the two men at last started to go.

"_Au revoir_, Francoise."

"_Au revoir_, sirs."

And as they spoke, there came an appalling crash. It was a shell,
which, having first wrecked the chimney of Weiss's house, fell upon
the sidewalk, where it exploded with such terrific force as to break
every window in the vicinity. At first it was impossible to
distinguish anything in the dense cloud of dust and smoke that rose in
the air, but presently this drifted away, disclosing the ruined facade
of the dyehouse, and there, stretched across the threshold, Francoise,
a corpse, horribly torn and mangled, her skull crushed in, a fearful
spectacle.

Weiss sprang to her side. Language failed him; he could only express
his feelings by oaths and imprecations.

"_Nom de Dieu!_ _Nom de Dieu!_"

Yes, she was dead. He had stooped to feel her pulse, and as he arose
he saw before him the scarlet face of little Charles, who had raised
himself in bed to look at his mother. He spoke no word, he uttered no
cry; he gazed with blazing, tearless eyes, distended as if they would
start from their sockets, upon the shapeless mass that was strange,
unknown to him; and nothing more.

Weiss found words at last: "_Nom de Dieu!_ they have taken to killing
women!"

He had risen to his feet; he shook his fist at the Bavarians, whose
braid-trimmed helmets were commencing to appear again in the direction
of the church. The chimney, in falling, had crushed a great hole in
the roof of his house, and the sight of the havoc made him furious.

"Dirty loafers! You murder women, you have destroyed my house. No, no!
I will not go now, I cannot; I shall stay here."

He darted away and came running back with the dead soldier's rifle and
ammunition. He was accustomed to carry a pair of spectacles on his
person for use on occasions of emergency, when he wished to see with
great distinctness, but did not wear them habitually out of respect
for the wishes of his young wife. He now impatiently tore off his
double eyeglass and substituted the spectacles, and the big, burly
bourgeois, his overcoat flapping about his legs, his honest, kindly,
round face ablaze with wrath, who would have been ridiculous had he
not been so superbly heroic, proceeded to open fire, peppering away at
the Bavarians at the bottom of the street. It was in his blood, he
said; he had been hankering for something of the kind ever since the
days of his boyhood, down there in Alsace, when he had been told all
those tales of 1814. "Ah! you dirty loafers! you dirty loafers!" And
he kept firing away with such eagerness that, finally, the barrel of
his musket became so hot it burned his fingers.

The assault was made with great vigor and determination. There was no
longer any sound of musketry in the direction of the meadows. The
Bavarians had gained possession of a narrow stream, fringed with
willows and poplars, and were making preparations for storming the
houses, or rather fortresses, in the Place de l'Eglise. Their
skirmishers had fallen back with the same caution that characterized
their advance, and the wide grassy plain, dotted here and there with a
black form where some poor fellow had laid down his life, lay spread
in the mellow, slumbrous sunshine like a great cloth of gold. The
lieutenant, knowing that the street was now to be the scene of action,
had evacuated the courtyard of the dyehouse, leaving there only one
man as guard. He rapidly posted his men along the sidewalk with
instructions, should the enemy carry the position, to withdraw into
the building, barricade the first floor, and defend themselves there
as long as they had a cartridge left. The men fired at will, lying
prone upon the ground, and sheltering themselves as best they might
behind posts and every little projection of the walls, and the storm
of lead, interspersed with tongues of flame and puffs of smoke, that
tore through that broad, deserted, sunny avenue was like a downpour of
hail beaten level by the fierce blast of winter. A woman was seen to
cross the roadway, running with wild, uncertain steps, and she escaped
uninjured. Next, an old man, a peasant, in his blouse, who would not
be satisfied until he saw his worthless nag stabled, received a bullet
square in his forehead, and the violence of the impact was such that
it hurled him into the middle of the street. A shell had gone crashing
through the roof of the church; two others fell and set fire to
houses, which burned with a pale flame in the intense daylight, with a
loud snapping and crackling of their timbers. And that poor woman, who
lay crushed and bleeding in the doorway of the house where her sick
boy was, that old man with a bullet in his brain, all that work of
ruin and devastation, maddened the few inhabitants who had chosen to
end their days in their native village rather than seek safety in
Belgium. Other bourgeois, and workingmen as well, the neatly attired
citizen alongside the man in overalls, had possessed themselves of the
weapons of dead soldiers, and were in the street defending their
firesides or firing vengefully from the windows.

"Ah!" suddenly said Weiss, "the scoundrels have got around to our
rear. I saw them sneaking along the railroad track. Hark! don't you
hear them off there to the left?"

The heavy fire of musketry that was now audible behind the park of
Montivilliers, the trees of which overhung the road, made it evident
that something of importance was occurring in that direction. Should
the enemy gain possession of the park Bazeilles would be at their
mercy, but the briskness of the firing was in itself proof that the
general commanding the 12th corps had anticipated the movement and
that the position was adequately defended.

"Look out, there, you blockhead!" exclaimed the lieutenant, violently
forcing Weiss up against the wall; "do you want to get yourself blown
to pieces?"

He could not help laughing a little at the queer figure of the big
gentleman in spectacles, but his bravery had inspired him with a very
genuine feeling of respect, so, when his practiced ear detected a
shell coming their way, he had acted the part of a friend and placed
the civilian in a safer position. The missile landed some ten paces
from where they were and exploded, covering them both with earth and
debris. The citizen kept his feet and received not so much as a
scratch, while the officer had both legs broken.

"It is well!" was all he said; "they have sent me my reckoning!"

He caused his men to take him across the sidewalk and place him with
his back to the wall, near where the dead woman lay, stretched across
her doorstep. His boyish face had lost nothing of its energy and
determination.

"It don't matter, my children; listen to what I say. Don't fire too
hurriedly; take your time. When the time comes for you to charge, I
will tell you."

And he continued to command them still, with head erect, watchful of
the movements of the distant enemy. Another house was burning,
directly across the street. The crash and rattle of musketry, the roar
of bursting shells, rent the air, thick with dust and sulphurous
smoke. Men dropped at the corner of every lane and alley; corpses
scattered here and there upon the pavement, singly or in little
groups, made splotches of dark color, hideously splashed with red. And
over the doomed village a frightful uproar rose and swelled, the
vindictive shouts of thousands, devoting to destruction a few hundred
brave men, resolute to die.

Then Delaherche, who all this time had been frantically shouting to
Weiss without intermission, addressed him one last appeal:

"You won't come? Very well! then I shall leave you to your fate.
Adieu!"

It was seven o'clock, and he had delayed his departure too long. So
long as the houses were there to afford him shelter he took advantage
of every doorway, of every bit of projecting wall, shrinking at every
volley into cavities that were ridiculously small in comparison with
his bulk. He turned and twisted in and out with the sinuous dexterity
of the serpent; he would never have supposed that there was so much of
his youthful agility left in him. When he reached the end of the
village, however, and had to make his way for a space of some three
hundred yards along the deserted, empty road, swept by the batteries
on Liry hill, although the perspiration was streaming from his face
and body, he shivered and his teeth chattered. For a minute or so he
advanced cautiously along the bed of a dry ditch, bent almost double,
then, suddenly forsaking the protecting shelter, burst into the open
and ran for it with might and main, wildly, aimlessly, his ears
ringing with detonations that sounded to him like thunder-claps. His
eyes burned like coals of fire; it seemed to him that he was wrapt in
flame. It was an eternity of torture. Then he suddenly caught sight of
a little house to his left, and he rushed for the friendly refuge,
gained it, with a sensation as if an immense load had been lifted from
his breast. The place was tenanted, there were men and horses there.
At first he could distinguish nothing. What he beheld subsequently
filled him with amazement.

Was not that the Emperor, attended by his brilliant staff? He
hesitated, although for the last two days he had been boasting of his
acquaintance with him, then stood staring, open-mouthed. It was indeed
Napoleon III.; he appeared larger, somehow, and more imposing on
horseback, and his mustache was so stiffly waxed, there was such a
brilliant color on his cheeks, that Delaherche saw at once he had been
"made up" and painted like an actor. He had had recourse to cosmetics
to conceal from his army the ravages that anxiety and illness had
wrought in his countenance, the ghastly pallor of his face, his
pinched nose, his dull, sunken eyes, and having been notified at five
o'clock that there was fighting at Bazeilles, had come forth to see,
sadly and silently, like a phantom with rouged cheeks.

There was a brick-kiln near by, behind which there was safety from the
rain of bullets that kept pattering incessantly on its other front and
the shells that burst at every second on the road. The mounted group
had halted.

"Sire," someone murmured, "you are in danger--"

But the Emperor turned and motioned to his staff to take refuge in the
narrow road that skirted the kiln, where men and horses would be
sheltered from the fire.

"Really, Sire, this is madness. Sire, we entreat you--"

His only answer was to repeat his gesture; probably he thought that
the appearance of a group of brilliant uniforms on that deserted road
would draw the fire of the batteries on the left bank. Entirely
unattended he rode forward into the midst of the storm of shot and
shell, calmly, unhurriedly, with his unvarying air of resigned
indifference, the air of one who goes to meet his appointed fate.
Could it be that he heard behind him the implacable voice that was
urging him onward, that voice from Paris: "March! march! die the
hero's death on the piled corpses of thy countrymen, let the whole
world look on in awe-struck admiration, so that thy son may reign!"
--could that be what he heard? He rode forward, controlling his
charger to a slow walk. For the space of a hundred yards he thus rode
forward, then halted, awaiting the death he had come there to seek.
The bullets sang in concert with a music like the fierce autumnal
blast; a shell burst in front of him and covered him with earth. He
maintained his attitude of patient waiting. His steed, with distended
eyes and quivering frame, instinctively recoiled before the grim
presence who was so close at hand and yet refused to smite horse or
rider. At last the trying experience came to an end, and the Emperor,
with his stoic fatalism, understanding that his time was not yet come,
tranquilly retraced his steps, as if his only object had been to
reconnoiter the position of the German batteries.

"What courage, Sire! We beseech you, do not expose yourself further--"

But, unmindful of their solicitations, he beckoned to his staff to
follow him, not offering at present to consult their safety more than
he did his own, and turned his horse's head toward la Moncelle,
quitting the road and taking the abandoned fields of la Ripaille. A
captain was mortally wounded, two horses were killed. As he passed
along the line of the 12th corps, appearing and vanishing like a
specter, the men eyed him with curiosity, but did not cheer.

To all these events had Delaherche been witness, and now he trembled
at the thought that he, too, as soon as he should have left the brick
works, would have to run the gauntlet of those terrible projectiles.
He lingered, listening to the conversation of some dismounted officers
who had remained there.

"I tell you he was killed on the spot; cut in two by a shell."

"You are wrong, I saw him carried off the field. His wound was not
severe; a splinter struck him on the hip."

"What time was it?"

"Why, about an hour ago--say half-past six. It was up there around la
Moncelle, in a sunken road."

"I know he is dead."

"But I tell you he is not! He even sat his horse for a moment after he
was hit, then he fainted and they carried him into a cottage to attend
to his wound."

"And then returned to Sedan?"

"Certainly; he is in Sedan now."

Of whom could they be speaking? Delaherche quickly learned that it was
of Marshal MacMahon, who had been wounded while paying a visit of
inspection to his advanced posts. The marshal wounded! it was "just
our luck," as the lieutenant of marines had put it. He was reflecting
on what the consequences of the mishap were likely to be when an
_estafette_ dashed by at top speed, shouting to a comrade, whom he
recognized:

"General Ducrot is made commander-in-chief! The army is ordered to
concentrate at Illy in order to retreat on Mezieres!"

The courier was already far away, galloping into Bazeilles under the
constantly increasing fire, when Delaherche, startled by the strange
tidings that came to him in such quick succession and not relishing
the prospect of being involved in the confusion of the retreating
troops, plucked up courage and started on a run for Balan, whence he
regained Sedan without much difficulty.

The _estafette_ tore through Bazeilles on a gallop, disseminating the
news, hunting up the commanders to give them their instructions, and
as he sped swiftly on the intelligence spread among the troops:
Marshal MacMahon wounded, General Ducrot in command, the army falling
back on Illy!

"What is that they are saying?" cried Weiss, whose face by this time
was grimy with powder. "Retreat on Mezieres at this late hour! but it
is absurd, they will never get through!"

And his conscience pricked him, he repented bitterly having given that
counsel the day before to that very general who was now invested with
the supreme command. Yes, certainly, that was yesterday the best,
the only plan, to retreat, without loss of a minute's time, by the
Saint-Albert pass, but now the way could be no longer open to them,
the black swarms of Prussians had certainly anticipated them and were
on the plain of Donchery. There were two courses left for them to
pursue, both desperate; and the most promising, as well as the
bravest, of them was to drive the Bavarians into the Meuse, and cut
their way through and regain possession of the Carignan road.

Weiss, whose spectacles were constantly slipping down upon his nose,
adjusted them nervously and proceeded to explain matters to the
lieutenant, who was still seated against the wall with his two stumps
of legs, very pale and slowly bleeding to death.

"Lieutenant, I assure you I am right. Tell your men to stand their
ground. You can see for yourself that we are doing well. One more
effort like the last, and we shall drive them into the river."

It was true that the Bavarians' second attack had been repulsed. The
mitrailleuses had again swept the Place de l'Eglise, the heaps of
corpses in the square resembled barricades, and our troops, emerging
from every cross street, had driven the enemy at the point of the
bayonet through the meadows toward the river in headlong flight, which
might easily have been converted into a general rout had there been
fresh troops to support the sailor-boys, who had suffered severely and
were by this time much distressed. And in Montivilliers Park, again,
the firing did not seem to advance, which was a sign that in that
quarter, also, reinforcements, could they have been had, would have
cleared the wood.

"Order your men to charge them with the bayonet, lieutenant."

The waxen pallor of death was on the poor boy-officer's face; yet he
had strength to murmur in feeble accents:

"You hear, my children; give them the bayonet!"

It was his last utterance; his spirit passed, his ingenuous, resolute
face and his wide open eyes still turned on the battle. The flies
already were beginning to buzz about Francoise's head and settle
there, while lying on his bed little Charles, in an access of
delirium, was calling on his mother in pitiful, beseeching tones to
give him something to quench his thirst.

"Mother, mother, awake; get up--I am thirsty, I am so thirsty."

But the instructions of the new chief were imperative, and the
officers, vexed and grieved to see the successes they had achieved
thus rendered nugatory, had nothing for it but to give orders for the
retreat. It was plain that the commander-in-chief, possessed by a
haunting dread of the enemy's turning movement, was determined to
sacrifice everything in order to escape from the toils. The Place de
l'Eglise was evacuated, the troops fell back from street to street;
soon the broad avenue was emptied of its defenders. Women shrieked and
sobbed, men swore and shook their fists at the retiring troops,
furious to see themselves abandoned thus. Many shut themselves in
their houses, resolved to die in their defense.

"Well, _I_ am not going to give up the ship!" shouted Weiss, beside
himself with rage. "No! I will leave my skin here first. Let them come
on! let them come and smash my furniture and drink my wine!"

Wrath filled his mind to the exclusion of all else, a wild, fierce
desire to fight, to kill, at the thought that the hated foreigner
should enter his house, sit in his chair, drink from his glass. It
wrought a change in all his nature; everything that went to make up
his daily life--wife, business, the methodical prudence of the small
bourgeois--seemed suddenly to become unstable and drift away from him.
And he shut himself up in his house and barricaded it, he paced the
empty apartments with the restless impatience of a caged wild beast,
going from room to room to make sure that all the doors and windows
were securely fastened. He counted his cartridges and found he had
forty left, then, as he was about to give a final look to the meadows
to see whether any attack was to be apprehended from that quarter, the
sight of the hills on the left bank arrested his attention for a
moment. The smoke-wreaths indicated distinctly the position of the
Prussian batteries, and at the corner of a little wood on la Marfee,
over the powerful battery at Frenois, he again beheld the group of
uniforms, more numerous than before, and so distinct in the bright
sunlight that by supplementing his spectacles with his binocle he
could make out the gold of their epaulettes and helmets.

"You dirty scoundrels, you dirty scoundrels!" he twice repeated,
extending his clenched fist in impotent menace.

Those who were up there on la Marfee were King William and his staff.
As early as seven o'clock he had ridden up from Vendresse, where he
had had quarters for the night, and now was up there on the heights,
out of reach of danger, while at his feet lay the valley of the Meuse
and the vast panorama of the field of battle. Far as the eye could
reach, from north to south, the bird's-eye view extended, and standing
on the summit of the hill, as from his throne in some colossal opera
box, the monarch surveyed the scene.

In the central foreground of the picture, and standing out in bold
relief against the venerable forests of the Ardennes, that stretched
away on either hand from right to left, filling the northern horizon
like a curtain of dark verdure, was the city of Sedan, with the
geometrical lines and angles of its fortifications, protected on the
south and west by the flooded meadows and the river. In Bazeilles
houses were already burning, and the dark cloud of war hung heavy over
the pretty village. Turning his eyes eastward he might discover,
holding the line between la Moncelle and Givonne, some regiments of
the 12th and 1st corps, looking like diminutive insects at that
distance and lost to sight at intervals in the dip of the narrow
valley in which the hamlets lay concealed; and beyond that valley rose
the further slope, an uninhabited, uncultivated heath, of which the
pale tints made the dark green of Chevalier's Wood look black by
contrast. To the north the 7th corps was more distinctly visible in
its position on the plateau of Floing, a broad belt of sere, dun
fields, that sloped downward from the little wood of la Garenne to the
verdant border of the stream. Further still were Floing, Saint-Menges,
Fleigneux, Illy, small villages that lay nestled in the hollows of
that billowing region where the landscape was a succession of hill and
dale. And there, too, to the left was the great bend of the Meuse,
where the sluggish stream, shimmering like molten silver in the bright
sunlight, swept lazily in a great horseshoe around the peninsula of
Iges and barred the road to Mezieres, leaving between its further
bank and the impassable forest but one single gateway, the defile of
Saint-Albert.

It was in that triangular space that the hundred thousand men and five
hundred guns of the French army had now been crowded and brought to
bay, and when His Prussian Majesty condescended to turn his gaze still
further to the westward he might perceive another plain, the plain of
Donchery, a succession of bare fields stretching away toward
Briancourt, Marancourt, and Vrigne-aux-Bois, a desolate expanse of
gray waste beneath the clear blue sky; and did he turn him to the
east, he again had before his eyes, facing the lines in which the
French were so closely hemmed, a vast level stretch of country in
which were numerous villages, first Douzy and Carignan, then more to
the north Rubecourt, Pourru-aux-Bois, Francheval, Villers-Cernay, and
last of all, near the frontier, Chapelle. All about him, far as he
could see, the land was his; he could direct the movements of the
quarter of a million of men and the eight hundred guns that
constituted his army, could master at a glance every detail of the
operations of his invading host. Even then the XIth corps was pressing
forward toward Saint-Menges, while the Vth was at Vrigne-aux-Bois, and
the Wurtemburg division was near Donchery, awaiting orders. This was
what he beheld to the west, and if, turning to the east, he found his
view obstructed in that quarter by tree-clad hills, he could picture
to himself what was passing, for he had seen the XIIth corps entering
the wood of Chevalier, he knew that by that time the Guards were at
Villers-Cernay. There were the two arms of the gigantic vise, the army
of the Crown Prince of Prussia on the left, the Saxon Prince's army on
the right, slowly, irresistibly closing on each other, while the two
Bavarian corps were hammering away at Bazeilles.

Underneath the King's position the long line of batteries, stretching
with hardly an interval from Remilly to Frenois, kept up an
unintermittent fire, pouring their shells into Daigny and la Moncelle,
sending them hurtling over Sedan city to sweep the northern plateaus.
It was barely eight o'clock, and with eyes fixed on the gigantic board
he directed the movements of the game, awaiting the inevitable end,
calmly controlling the black cloud of men that beneath him swept, an
array of pigmies, athwart the smiling landscape.



                                II.

In the dense fog up on the plateau of Floing Gaude, the bugler,
sounded reveille at peep of day with all the lung-power he was
possessed of, but the inspiring strain died away and was lost in the
damp, heavy air, and the men, who had not had courage even to erect
their tents and had thrown themselves, wrapped in their blankets, upon
the muddy ground, did not awake or stir, but lay like corpses, their
ashen features set and rigid in the slumber of utter exhaustion. To
arouse them from their trance-like sleep they had to be shaken, one by
one, and, with ghastly faces and haggard eyes, they rose to their
feet, like beings summoned, against their will, back from another
world. It was Jean who awoke Maurice.

"What is it? Where are we!" asked the younger man. He looked
affrightedly around him, and beheld only that gray waste, in which
were floating the unsubstantial forms of his comrades. Objects twenty
yards away were undistinguishable; his knowledge of the country
availed him not; he could not even have indicated in which direction
lay Sedan. Just then, however, the boom of cannon, somewhere in the
distance, fell upon his ear. "Ah! I remember; the battle is for
to-day; they are fighting. So much the better; there will be an end to
our suspense!"

He heard other voices around him expressing the same idea. There was a
feeling of stern satisfaction that at last their long nightmare was to
be dispelled, that at last they were to have a sight of those
Prussians whom they had come out to look for, and before whom they had
been retreating so many weary days; that they were to be given a
chance to try a shot at them, and lighten the load of cartridges that
had been tugging at their belts so long, with never an opportunity to
burn a single one of them. Everyone felt that, this time, the battle
would not, could not be avoided.

But the guns began to thunder more loudly down at Bazeilles, and Jean
bent his ear to listen.

"Where is the firing?"

"Faith," replied Maurice, "it seems to me to be over toward the Meuse;
but I'll be hanged if I know where we are."

"Look here, youngster," said the corporal, "you are going to stick
close by me to-day, for unless a man has his wits about him, don't you
see, he is likely to get in trouble. Now, I have been there before,
and can keep an eye out for both of us."

The others of the squad, meantime, were growling angrily because they
had nothing with which to warm their stomachs. There was no
possibility of kindling fires without dry wood in such weather as
prevailed then, and so, at the very moment when they were about to go
into battle, the inner man put in his claim for recognition, and would
not be denied. Hunger is not conducive to heroism; to those poor
fellows eating was the great, the momentous question of life; how
lovingly they watched the boiling pot on those red-letter days when
the soup was rich and thick; how like children or savages they were in
their wrath when rations were not forthcoming!

"No eat, no fight!" declared Chouteau. "I'll be blowed if I am going
to risk my skin to-day!"

The radical was cropping out again in the great hulking house-painter,
the orator of Belleville, the pothouse politician, who drowned what
few correct ideas he picked up here and there in a nauseous mixture of
ineffable folly and falsehood.

"Besides," he went on, "what good was there in making fools of us as
they have been doing all along, telling us that the Prussians were
dying of hunger and disease, that they had not so much as a shirt to
their back, and were tramping along the highways like ragged, filthy
paupers!"

Loubet laughed the laugh of the Parisian gamin, who has experienced
the various vicissitudes of life in the Halles.

"Oh, that's all in my eye! it is we fellows who have been catching it
right along; we are the poor devils whose leaky brogans and tattered
toggery would make folks throw us a copper. And then those great
victories about which they made such a fuss! What precious liars they
must be, to tell us that old Bismarck had been made prisoner and that
a German army had been driven over a quarry and dashed to pieces! Oh
yes, they fooled us in great shape."

Pache and Lapoulle, who were standing near, shook their heads and
clenched their fists ominously. There were others, also, who made no
attempt to conceal their anger, for the course of the newspapers in
constantly printing bogus news had had most disastrous results; all
confidence was destroyed, men had ceased to believe anything or
anybody. And so it was that in the soldiers, children of a larger
growth, their bright dreams of other days had now been supplanted by
exaggerated anticipations of misfortune.

"_Pardi_!" continued Chouteau, "the thing is accounted for easily
enough, since our rulers have been selling us to the enemy right from
the beginning. You all know that it is so."

Lapoulle's rustic simplicity revolted at the idea.

"For shame! what wicked people they must be!"

"Yes, sold, as Judas sold his master," murmured Pache, mindful of his
studies in sacred history.

It was Chouteau's hour of triumph. "_Mon Dieu!_ it is as plain as the
nose on your face. MacMahon got three millions and each of the other
generals got a million, as the price of bringing us up here. The
bargain was made at Paris last spring, and last night they sent up a
rocket as a signal to let Bismarck know that everything was fixed and
he might come and take us."

The story was so inanely stupid that Maurice was disgusted. There had
been a time when Chouteau, thanks to his facundity of the faubourg,
had interested and almost convinced him, but now he had come to detest
that apostle of falsehood, that snake in the grass, who calumniated
honest effort of every kind in order to sicken others of it.

"Why do you talk such nonsense?" he exclaimed. "You know very well
there is no truth in it."

"What, not true? Do you mean to say it is not true that we are
betrayed? Ah, come, my aristocratic friend, perhaps you are one of
them, perhaps you belong to the d--d band of dirty traitors?" He came
forward threateningly. "If you are you have only to say so, my fine
gentleman, for we will attend to your case right here, and won't wait
for your friend Bismarck, either."

The others were also beginning to growl and show their teeth, and Jean
thought it time that he should interfere.

"Silence there! I will report the first man who says another word!"

But Chouteau sneered and jeered at him; what did he care whether he
reported him or not! He was not going to fight unless he chose, and
they need not try to ride him rough-shod, because he had cartridges in
his box for other people beside the Prussians. They were going into
action now, and what discipline had been maintained by fear would be
at an end: what could they do to him, anyway? he would just skip as
soon as he thought he had enough of it. And he was profane and
obscene, egging the men on against the corporal, who had been allowing
them to starve. Yes, it was his fault that the squad had had nothing
to eat in the last three days, while their neighbors had soup and
fresh meat in plenty, but "monsieur" had to go off to town with the
"aristo" and enjoy himself with the girls. People had spotted 'em,
over in Sedan.

"You stole the money belonging to the squad; deny it if you dare, you
_bougre_ of a belly-god!"

Things were beginning to assume an ugly complexion; Lapoulle was
doubling his big fists in a way that looked like business, and Pache,
with the pangs of hunger gnawing at his vitals, laid aside his natural
douceness and insisted on an explanation. The only reasonable one
among them was Loubet, who gave one of his pawky laughs and suggested
that, being Frenchmen, they might as well dine off the Prussians as
eat one another. For his part, he took no stock in fighting, either
with fists or firearms, and alluding to the few hundred francs that he
had earned as substitute, added:

"And so, that was all they thought my hide was worth! Well, I am not
going to give them more than their money's worth."

Maurice and Jean were in a towering rage at the idotic onslaught,
talking loudly and repelling Chouteau's insinuations, when out from
the fog came a stentorian voice, bellowing:

"What's this? what's this? Show me the rascals who dare quarrel in the
company street!"

And Lieutenant Rochas appeared upon the scene, in his old _kepi_,
whence the rain had washed all the color, and his great coat, minus
many of its buttons, evincing in all his lean, shambling person the
extreme of poverty and distress. Notwithstanding his forlorn aspect,
however, his sparkling eye and bristling mustache showed that his old
time confidence had suffered no impairment.

Jean spoke up, scarce able to restrain himself. "Lieutenant, it is
these men, who persist in saying that we are betrayed. Yes, they dare
to assert that our generals have sold us--"

The idea of treason did not appear so extremely unnatural to Rochas's
thick understanding, for it served to explain those reverses that he
could not account for otherwise.

"Well, suppose they are sold, is it any of their business? What
concern is it of theirs? The Prussians are there all the same, aren't
they? and we are going to give them one of the old-fashioned hidings,
such as they won't forget in one while." Down below them in the thick
sea of fog the guns at Bazeilles were still pounding away, and he
extended his arms with a broad, sweeping gesture: "_Hein_! this is the
time that we've got them! We'll see them back home, and kick them
every step of the way!"

All the trials and troubles of the past were to him as if they had not
been, now that his ears were gladdened by the roar of the guns: the
delays and conflicting orders of the chiefs, the demoralization of the
troops, the stampede at Beaumont, the distress of the recent forced
retreat on Sedan--all were forgotten. Now that they were about to
fight at last, was not victory certain? He had learned nothing and
forgotten nothing; his blustering, boastful contempt of the enemy, his
entire ignorance of the new arts and appliances of war, his rooted
conviction that an old soldier of Africa, Italy, and the Crimea could
by no possibility be beaten, had suffered no change. It was really a
little too comical that a man at his age should take the back track
and begin at the beginning again!

All at once his lantern jaws parted and gave utterance to a loud
laugh. He was visited by one of those impulses of good-fellowship that
made his men swear by him, despite the roughness of the jobations that
he frequently bestowed on them.

"Look here, my children, in place of quarreling it will be a great
deal better to take a good nip all around. Come, I'm going to treat,
and you shall drink my health."

From the capacious pocket of his capote he extracted a bottle of
brandy, adding, with his all-conquering air, that it was the gift of a
lady. (He had been seen the day before, seated at the table of a
tavern in Floing and holding the waitress on his lap, evidently on the
best of terms with her.) The soldiers laughed and winked at one
another, holding out their porringers, into which he gayly poured the
golden liquor.

"Drink to your sweethearts, my children, if you have any and don't
forget to drink to the glory of France. Them's my sentiments, so _vive
la joie_!"

"That's right, Lieutenant. Here's to your health, and everybody
else's!"

They all drank, and their hearts were warmed and peace reigned once
more. The "nip" had much of comfort in it, in the chill morning, just
as they were going into action, and Maurice felt it tingling in his
veins, giving him cheer and a sort of what is known colloquially as
"Dutch courage." Why should they not whip the Prussians? Have not
battles their surprises? has not history embalmed many an instance of
the fickleness of fortune? That mighty man of war, the lieutenant,
added that Bazaine was on the way to join them, would be with them
before the day was over: oh, the information was positive; he had it
from an aid to one of the generals; and although, in speaking of the
route the marshal was to come by, he pointed to the frontier of
Belgium, Maurice yielded to one of those spasmodic attacks of
hopefulness of his, without which life to him would not have been
worth living. Might it not be that the day of reckoning was at hand?

"Why don't we move, Lieutenant?" he made bold to ask. "What are we
waiting for?"

Rochas made a gesture, which the other interpreted to mean that no
orders had been received. Presently he asked:

"Has anybody seen the captain?"

No one answered. Jean remembered perfectly having seen him making for
Sedan the night before, but to the soldier who knows what is good for
himself, his officers are always invisible when they are not on duty.
He held his tongue, therefore, until happening to turn his head, he
caught sight of a shadowy form flitting along the hedge.

"Here he is," said he.

It was Captain Beaudoin in the flesh. They were all surprised by the
nattiness of his appearance, his resplendent shoes, his well-brushed
uniform, affording such a striking contrast to the lieutenant's
pitiful state. And there was a finicking completeness, moreover, about
his toilet, greater than the male being is accustomed to bestow upon
himself, in his scrupulously white hands and his carefully curled
mustache, and a faint perfume of Persian lilac, which had the effect
of reminding one in some mysterious way of the dressing room of a
young and pretty woman.

"Hallo!" said Loubet, with a sneer, "the captain has recovered his
baggage!"

But no one laughed, for they all knew him to be a man with whom it was
not well to joke. He was stiff and consequential with his men, and was
detested accordingly; a _pete sec_, to use Rochas's expression. He had
seemed to regard the early reverses of the campaign as personal
affronts, and the disaster that all had prognosticated was to him an
unpardonable crime. He was a strong Bonapartist by conviction; his
prospects for promotion were of the brightest; he had several
important salons looking after his interests; naturally, he did not
take kindly to the changed condition of affairs that promised to make
his cake dough. He was said to have a remarkably fine tenor voice,
which had helped him no little in his advancement. He was not devoid
of intelligence, though perfectly ignorant as regarded everything
connected with his profession; eager to please, and very brave, when
there was occasion for being so, without superfluous rashness.

"What a nasty fog!" was all he said, pleased to have found his company
at last, for which he had been searching for more than half an hour.

At the same time their orders came, and the battalion moved forward.
They had to proceed with caution, feeling their way, for the
exhalations continued to rise from the stream and were now so dense
that they were precipitated in a fine, drizzling rain. A vision rose
before Maurice's eyes that impressed him deeply; it was Colonel de
Vineuil, who loomed suddenly from out the mist, sitting his horse,
erect and motionless, at the intersection of two roads--the man
appearing of preternatural size, and so pale and rigid that he might
have served a sculptor as a study for a statue of despair; the steed
shivering in the raw, chill air of morning, his dilated nostrils
turned in the direction of the distant firing. Some ten paces to their
rear were the regimental colors, which the sous-lieutenant whose duty
it was to bear them had thus early taken from their case and proudly
raised aloft, and as the driving, vaporous rack eddied and swirled
about them, they shone like a radiant vision of glory emblazoned on
the heavens, soon to fade and vanish from the sight. Water was
dripping from the gilded eagle, and the tattered, shot-riddled
tri-color, on which were embroidered the names of former victories,
was stained and its bright hues dimmed by the smoke of many a
battlefield; the sole bit of brilliant color in all the faded splendor
was the enameled cross of honor that was attached to the _cravate_.

Another billow of vapor came scurrying up from the river, enshrouding
in its fleecy depths colonel, standard, and all, and the battalion
passed on, whitherward no one could tell. First their route had
conducted them over descending ground, now they were climbing a hill.
On reaching the summit the command, halt! started at the front and ran
down the column; the men were cautioned not to leave the ranks, arms
were ordered, and there they remained, the heavy knapsacks forming a
grievous burden to weary shoulders. It was evident that they were on a
plateau, but to discern localities was out of the question; twenty
paces was the extreme range of vision. It was now seven o'clock; the
sound of firing reached them more distinctly, other batteries were
apparently opening on Sedan from the opposite bank.

"Oh! I," said Sergeant Sapin with a start, addressing Jean and
Maurice, "I shall be killed to-day."

It was the first time he had opened his lips that morning; an
expression of dreamy melancholy had rested on his thin face, with its
big, handsome eyes and thin, pinched nose.

"What an idea!" Jean exclaimed; "who can tell what is going to happen
him? Every bullet has its billet, they say, but you stand no worse
chance than the rest of us."

"Oh, but me--I am as good as dead now. I tell you I shall be killed
to-day."

The near files turned and looked at him curiously, asking him if he
had had a dream. No, he had dreamed nothing, but he felt it; it was
there.

"And it is a pity, all the same, because I was to be married when I
got my discharge."

A vague expression came into his eyes again; his past life rose before
him. He was the son of a small retail grocer at Lyons, and had been
petted and spoiled by his mother up to the time of her death; then
rejecting the proffer of his father, with whom he did not hit it off
well, to assist in purchasing his discharge, he had remained with the
army, weary and disgusted with life and with his surroundings. Coming
home on furlough, however, he fell in love with a cousin and they
became engaged; their intention was to open a little shop on the small
capital which she would bring him, and then existence once more became
desirable. He had received an elementary education; could read, write,
and cipher. For the past year he had lived only in anticipation of
this happy future.

He shivered, and gave himself a shake to dispel his revery, repeating
with his tranquil air:

"Yes, it is too bad; I shall be killed to-day."

No one spoke; the uncertainty and suspense continued. They knew not
whether the enemy was on their front or in their rear. Strange sounds
came to their ears from time to time from out the depths of the
mysterious fog: the rumble of wheels, the deadened tramp of moving
masses, the distant clatter of horses' hoofs; it was the evolutions of
troops, hidden from view behind the misty curtain, the batteries,
battalions, and squadrons of the 7th corps taking up their positions
in line of battle. Now, however, it began to look as if the fog was
about to lift; it parted here and there and fragments floated lightly
off, like strips of gauze torn from a veil, and bits of sky appeared,
not transparently blue, as on a bright summer's day, but opaque and of
the hue of burnished steel, like the cheerless bosom of some deep,
sullen mountain tarn. It was in one of those brighter moments when the
sun was endeavoring to struggle forth that the regiments of chasseurs
d'Afrique, constituting part of Margueritte's division, came riding
by, giving the impression of a band of spectral horsemen. They sat
very stiff and erect in the saddle, with their short cavalry jackets,
broad red sashes and smart little _kepis_, accurate in distance and
alignment and managing admirably their lean, wiry mounts, which were
almost invisible under the heterogeneous collection of tools and camp
equipage that they had to carry. Squadron after squadron they swept by
in long array, to be swallowed in the gloom from which they had just
emerged, vanishing as if dissolved by the fine rain. The truth was,
probably, that they were in the way, and their leaders, not knowing
what use to put them to, had packed them off the field, as had often
been the case since the opening of the campaign. They had scarcely
ever been employed on scouting or reconnoitering duty, and as soon as
there was prospect of a fight were trotted about for shelter from
valley to valley, useless objects, but too costly to be endangered.

Maurice thought of Prosper as he watched them. "That fellow, yonder,
looks like him," he said, under his breath. "I wonder if it is he?"

"Of whom are you speaking?" asked Jean.

"Of that young man of Remilly, whose brother we met at Osches, you
remember."

Behind the chasseurs, when they had all passed, came a general officer
and his staff dashing down the descending road, and Maurice recognized
the general of their brigade, Bourgain-Desfeuilles, shouting and
gesticulating wildly. He had torn himself reluctantly from his
comfortable quarters at the Hotel of the Golden Cross, and it was
evident from the horrible temper he was in that the condition of
affairs that morning was not satisfactory to him. In a tone of voice
so loud that everyone could hear he roared:

"In the devil's name, what stream is that off yonder, the Meuse or the
Moselle?"

The fog dispersed at last, this time in earnest. As at Bazeilles the
effect was theatrical; the curtain rolled slowly upward to the flies,
disclosing the setting of the stage. From a sky of transparent blue
the sun poured down a flood of bright, golden light, and Maurice was
no longer at a loss to recognize their position.

"Ah!" he said to Jean, "we are on the plateau de l'Algerie. That
village that you see across the valley, directly in our front, is
Floing, and that more distant one is Saint-Menges, and that one, more
distant still, a little to the right, is Fleigneux. Then those scrubby
trees on the horizon, away in the background, are the forest of the
Ardennes, and there lies the frontier--"

He went on to explain their position, naming each locality and
pointing to it with outstretched hand. The plateau de l'Algerie was a
belt of reddish ground, something less than two miles in length,
sloping gently downward from the wood of la Garenne toward the Meuse,
from which it was separated by the meadows. On it the line of the 7th
corps had been established by General Douay, who felt that his numbers
were not sufficient to defend so extended a position and properly
maintain his touch with the 1st corps, which was posted at right
angles with his line, occupying the valley of la Givonne, from the
wood of la Garenne to Daigny.

"Oh, isn't it grand, isn't it magnificent!"

And Maurice, revolving on his heel, made with his hand a sweeping
gesture that embraced the entire horizon. From their position on the
plateau the whole wide field of battle lay stretched before them to
the south and west: Sedan, almost at their feet, whose citadel they
could see overtopping the roofs, then Balan and Bazeilles, dimly seen
through the dun smoke-clouds that hung heavily in the motionless air,
and further in the distance the hills of the left bank, Liry, la
Marfee, la Croix-Piau. It was away toward the west, however, in the
direction of Donchery, that the prospect was most extensive. There the
Meuse curved horseshoe-wise, encircling the peninsula of Iges with a
ribbon of pale silver, and at the northern extremity of the loop was
distinctly visible the narrow road of the Saint-Albert pass, winding
between the river bank and a beetling, overhanging hill that was
crowned with the little wood of Seugnon, an offshoot of the forest of
la Falizette. At the summit of the hill, at the _carrefour_ of la
Maison-Rouge, the road from Donchery to Vrigne-aux-Bois debouched into
the Mezieres pike.

"See, that is the road by which we might retreat on Mezieres."

Even as he spoke the first gun was fired from Saint-Menges. The
fog still hung over the bottom-lands in shreds and patches, and
through it they dimly descried a shadowy body of men moving through
the Saint-Albert defile.

"Ah, they are there," continued Maurice, instinctively lowering his
voice. "Too late, too late; they have intercepted us!"

It was not eight o'clock. The guns, which were thundering more
fiercely than ever in the direction of Bazeilles, now also began to
make themselves heard at the eastward, in the valley of la Givonne,
which was hid from view; it was the army of the Crown Prince of
Saxony, debouching from the Chevalier wood and attacking the 1st
corps, in front of Daigny village; and now that the XIth Prussian
corps, moving on Floing, had opened fire on General Douay's troops,
the investment was complete at every point of the great periphery of
several leagues' extent, and the action was general all along the
line.

Maurice suddenly perceived the enormity of their blunder in not
retreating on Mezieres during the night; but as yet the consequences
were not clear to him; he could not foresee all the disaster that was
to result from that fatal error of judgment. Moved by some indefinable
instinct of danger, he looked with apprehension on the adjacent
heights that commanded the plateau de l'Algerie. If time had not been
allowed them to make good their retreat, why had they not backed
up against the frontier and occupied those heights of Illy and
Saint-Menges, whence, if they could not maintain their position, they
would at least have been free to cross over into Belgium? There were
two points that appeared to him especially threatening, the _mamelon_
of Hattoy, to the north of Floing on the left, and the Calvary of
Illy, a stone cross with a linden tree on either side, the highest bit
of ground in the surrounding country, to the right. General Douay was
keenly alive to the importance of these eminences, and the day before
had sent two battalions to occupy Hattoy; but the men, feeling that
they were "in the air" and too remote from support, had fallen back
early that morning. It was understood that the left wing of the 1st
corps was to take care of the Calvary of Illy. The wide expanse of
naked country between Sedan and the Ardennes forest was intersected by
deep ravines, and the key of the position was manifestly there, in the
shadow of that cross and the two lindens, whence their guns might
sweep the fields in every direction for a long distance.

Two more cannon shots rang out, quickly succeeded by a salvo; they
detected the bluish smoke rising from the underbrush of a low hill to
the left of Saint-Menges.

"Our turn is coming now," said Jean.

Nothing more startling occurred just then, however. The men, still
preserving their formation and standing at ordered arms, found
something to occupy their attention in the fine appearance made by the
2d division, posted in front of Floing, with their left refused and
facing the Meuse, so as to guard against a possible attack from that
quarter. The ground to the east, as far as the wood of la Garenne,
beneath Illy village, was held by the 3d division, while the 1st,
which had lost heavily at Beaumont, formed a second line. All night
long the engineers had been busy with pick and shovel, and even after
the Prussians had opened fire they were still digging away at their
shelter trenches and throwing up epaulments.

Then a sharp rattle of musketry, quickly silenced, however, was heard
proceeding from a point beneath Floing, and Captain Beaudoin received
orders to move his company three hundred yards to the rear. Their new
position was in a great field of cabbages, upon reaching which the
captain made his men lie down. The sun had not yet drunk up the
moisture that had descended on the vegetables in the darkness, and
every fold and crease of the thick, golden-green leaves was filled
with trembling drops, as pellucid and luminous as brilliants of the
fairest water.

"Sight for four hundred yards," the captain ordered.

Maurice rested the barrel of his musket on a cabbage that reared its
head conveniently before him, but it was impossible to see anything
in his recumbent position: only the blurred surface of the fields
traversed by his level glance, diversified by an occasional tree or
shrub. Giving Jean, who was beside him, a nudge with his elbow, he
asked what they were to do there. The corporal, whose experience in
such matters was greater, pointed to an elevation not far away, where
a battery was just taking its position; it was evident that they had
been placed there to support that battery, should there be need of
their services. Maurice, wondering whether Honore and his guns were
not of the party, raised his head to look, but the reserve artillery
was at the rear, in the shelter of a little grove of trees.

"_Nom de Dieu!_" yelled Rochas, "will you lie down!"

And Maurice had barely more than complied with this intimation when a
shell passed screaming over him. From that time forth there seemed to
be no end to them. The enemy's gunners were slow in obtaining the
range, their first projectiles passing over and landing well to the
rear of the battery, which was now opening in reply. Many of their
shells, too, fell upon the soft ground, in which they buried
themselves without exploding, and for a time there was a great display
of rather heavy wit at the expense of those bloody sauerkraut eaters.

"Well, well!" said Loubet, "their fireworks are a fizzle!"

"They ought to take them in out of the rain," sneered Chouteau.

Even Rochas thought it necessary to say something. "Didn't I tell you
that the dunderheads don't know enough even to point a gun?"

But they were less inclined to laugh when a shell burst only ten yards
from them and sent a shower of earth flying over the company; Loubet
affected to make light of it by ordering his comrades to get out their
brushes from the knapsacks, but Chouteau suddenly became very pale and
had not a word to say. He had never been under fire, nor had Pache and
Lapoulle, nor any member of the squad, in fact, except Jean. Over eyes
that had suddenly lost their brightness lids flickered tremulously;
voices had an unnatural, muffled sound, as if arrested by some
obstruction in the throat. Maurice, who was sufficiently master of
himself as yet, endeavored to diagnose his symptoms; he could not be
afraid, for he was not conscious that he was in danger; he only felt a
slight sensation of discomfort in the epigastric region, and his head
seemed strangely light and empty; ideas and images came and went
independent of his will. His recollection of the brave show made by
the troops of the 2d division made him hopeful, almost to buoyancy;
victory appeared certain to him if only they might be allowed to go at
the enemy with the bayonet.

"Listen!" he murmured, "how the flies buzz; the place is full of
them." Thrice he had heard something that sounded like the humming of
a swarm of bees.

"That was not a fly," Jean said, with a laugh. "It was a bullet."

Again and again the hum of those invisible wings made itself heard.
The men craned their necks and looked about them with eager interest;
their curiosity was uncontrollable--would not allow them to remain
quiet.

"See here," Loubet said mysteriously to Lapoulle, with a view to raise
a laugh at the expense of his simple-minded comrade, "when you see a
bullet coming toward you you must raise your forefinger before your
nose--like that; it divides the air, and the bullet will go by to the
right or left."

"But I can't see them," said Lapoulle.

A loud guffaw burst from those near.

"Oh, crickey! he says he can't see them! Open your garret windows,
stupid! See! there's one--see! there's another. Didn't you see that
one? It was of the most beautiful green."

And Lapoulle rolled his eyes and stared, placing his finger before his
nose, while Pache fingered the scapular he wore and wished it was
large enough to shield his entire person.

Rochas, who had remained on his feet, spoke up and said jocosely:

"Children, there is no objection to your ducking to the shells when
you see them coming. As for the bullets, it is useless; they are too
numerous!"

At that very instant a soldier in the front rank was struck on the
head by a fragment of an exploding shell. There was no outcry; simply
a spurt of blood and brain, and all was over.

"Poor devil!" tranquilly said Sergeant Sapin, who was quite cool and
exceedingly pale. "Next!"

But the uproar had by this time become so deafening that the men could
no longer hear one another's voice; Maurice's nerves, in particular,
suffered from the infernal _charivari_. The neighboring battery was
banging away as fast as the gunners could load the pieces; the
continuous roar seemed to shake the ground, and the mitrailleuses were
even more intolerable with their rasping, grating, grunting noise.
Were they to remain forever reclining there among the cabbages? There
was nothing to be seen, nothing to be learned; no one had any idea how
the battle was going. And _was_ it a battle, after all--a genuine
affair? All that Maurice could make out, projecting his eyes along the
level surface of the fields, was the rounded, wood-clad summit of
Hattoy in the remote distance, and still unoccupied. Neither was there
a Prussian to be seen anywhere on the horizon; the only evidence of
life were the faint, blue smoke-wreaths that rose and floated an
instant in the sunlight. Chancing to turn his head, he was greatly
surprised to behold at the bottom of a deep, sheltered valley,
surrounded by precipitous heights, a peasant calmly tilling his little
field, driving the plow through the furrow with the assistance of a
big white horse. Why should he lose a day? The corn would keep
growing, let them fight as they would, and folks must live.

Unable longer to control his impatience, the young man jumped to his
feet. He had a fleeting vision of the batteries of Saint-Menges,
crowned with tawny vapors and spewing shot and shell upon them; he had
also time to see, what he had seen before and had not forgotten, the
road from Saint-Albert's pass black with minute moving objects--the
swarming hordes of the invader. Then Jean seized him by the legs and
pulled him violently to his place again.

"Are you crazy? Do you want to leave your bones here?"

And Rochas chimed in:

"Lie down, will you! What am I to do with such d----d rascals, who get
themselves killed without orders!"

"But you don't lie down, lieutenant," said Maurice.

"That's a different thing. I have to know what is going on."

Captain Beaudoin, too, kept his legs like a man, but never opened his
lips to say an encouraging word to his men, having nothing in common
with them. He appeared nervous and unable to remain long in one place,
striding up and down the field, impatiently awaiting orders.

No orders came, nothing occurred to relieve their suspense. Maurice's
knapsack was causing him horrible suffering; it seemed to be crushing
his back and chest in that recumbent position, so painful when
maintained for any length of time. The men had been cautioned against
throwing away their sacks unless in case of actual necessity, and he
kept turning over, first on his right side, then on the left, to ease
himself a moment of his burden by resting it on the ground. The shells
continued to fall around them, but the German gunners did not succeed
in getting the exact range; no one was killed after the poor fellow
who lay there on his stomach with his skull fractured.

"Say, is this thing to last all day?" Maurice finally asked Jean, in
sheer desperation.

"Like enough. At Solferino they put us in a field of carrots, and
there we stayed five mortal hours with our noses to the ground." Then
he added, like the sensible fellow he was: "Why do you grumble? we are
not so badly off here. You will have an opportunity to distinguish
yourself before the day is over. Let everyone have his chance, don't
you see; if we should all be killed at the beginning there would be
none left for the end."

"Look," Maurice abruptly broke in, "look at that smoke over Hattoy.
They have taken Hattoy; we shall have plenty of music to dance to
now!"

For a moment his burning curiosity, which he was conscious was now for
the first time beginning to be dashed with personal fear, had
sufficient to occupy it; his gaze was riveted on the rounded summit of
the _mamelon_, the only elevation that was within his range of vision,
dominating the broad expanse of plain that lay level with his eye.
Hattoy was too far distant to permit him to distinguish the gunners of
the batteries that the Prussians had posted there; he could see
nothing at all, in fact, save the smoke that at each discharge rose
above a thin belt of woods that served to mask the guns. The enemy's
occupation of the position, of which General Douay had been forced to
abandon the defense, was, as Maurice had instinctively felt, an event
of the gravest importance and destined to result in the most
disastrous consequences; its possessors would have entire command of
all the surrounding plateau. This was quickly seen to be the case, for
the batteries that opened on the second division of the 7th corps did
fearful execution. They had now perfected their range, and the French
battery, near which Beaudoin's company was stationed, had two men
killed in quick succession. A quartermaster's man in the company had
his left heel carried away by a splinter and began to howl most
dismally, as if visited by a sudden attack of madness.

"Shut up, you great calf!" said Rochas. "What do you mean by yelling
like that for a little scratch!"

The man suddenly ceased his outcries and subsided into a stupid
silence, nursing his foot in his hand.

And still the tremendous artillery duel raged, and the death-dealing
missiles went screaming over the recumbent ranks of the regiments that
lay there on the sullen, sweltering plain, where no thing of life was
to be seen beneath the blazing sun. The crashing thunder, the
destroying hurricane, were masters in that solitude, and many long
hours would pass before the end. But even thus early in the day the
Germans had demonstrated the superiority of their artillery; their
percussion shells had an enormous range, and exploded, with hardly an
exception, on reaching their destination, while the French time-fuse
shells, with a much shorter range, burst for the most part in the air
and were wasted. And there was nothing left for the poor fellows
exposed to that murderous fire save to hug the ground and make
themselves as small as possible; they were even denied the privilege
of firing in reply, which would have kept their mind occupied and
given them a measure of relief; but upon whom or what were they to
direct their rifles? since there was not a living soul to be seen upon
the entire horizon!

"Are we never to have a shot at them? I would give a dollar for just
one chance!" said Maurice, in a frenzy of impatience. "It is
disgusting to have them blazing away at us like this and not be
allowed to answer."

"Be patient; the time will come," Jean imperturbably replied.

Their attention was attracted by the sound of mounted men approaching
on their left, and turning their heads they beheld General Douay, who,
accompanied by his staff, had come galloping up to see how his troops
were behaving under the terrible fire from Hattoy. He appeared well
pleased with what he saw and was in the act of making some suggestions
to the officers grouped around him, when, emerging from a sunken road,
General Bourgain-Desfeuilles also rode up. This officer, though he
owed his advancement to "influence" was wedded to the antiquated
African routine and had learned nothing by experience, sat his horse
with great composure under the storm of projectiles. He was shouting
to the men and gesticulating wildly, after the manner of Rochas: "They
are coming, they will be here right away, and then we'll let them have
the bayonet!" when he caught sight of General Douay and drew up to his
side.

"Is it true that the marshal is wounded, general?" he asked.

"It is but too true, unfortunately. I received a note from Ducrot only
a few minutes ago, in which he advises me of the fact, and also
notifies me that, by the marshal's appointment, he is in command of
the army."

"Ah! so it is Ducrot who is to have his place! And what are the orders
now?"

The general shook his head sorrowfully. He had felt that the army was
doomed, and for the last twenty-four hours had been strenuously
recommending the occupation of Illy and Saint-Menges in order to keep
a way of retreat open on Mezieres.

"Ducrot will carry out the plan we talked of yesterday: the whole army
is to be concentrated on the plateau of Illy."

And he repeated his previous gesture, as if to say it was too late.

His words were partly inaudible in the roar of the artillery, but
Maurice caught their significance clearly enough, and it left him
dumfounded by astonishment and alarm. What! Marshal MacMahon wounded
since early that morning, General Ducrot commanding in his place for
the last two hours, the entire army retreating to the northward of
Sedan--and all these important events kept from the poor devils of
soldiers who were squandering their life's blood! and all their
destinies, dependent on the life of a single man, were to be intrusted
to the direction of fresh and untried hands! He had a distinct
consciousness of the fate that was in reserve for the army of Chalons,
deprived of its commander, destitute of any guiding principle of
action, dragged purposelessly in this direction and in that, while the
Germans went straight and swift to their preconcerted end with
mechanical precision and directness.

Bourgain-Desfeuilles had wheeled his horse and was moving away, when
General Douay, to whom a grimy, dust-stained hussar had galloped up
with another dispatch, excitedly summoned him back.

"General! General!"

His voice rang out so loud and clear, with such an accent of surprise,
that it drowned the uproar of the guns.

"General, Ducrot is no longer in command; de Wimpffen is chief. You
know he reached here yesterday, just in the very thick of the disaster
at Beaumont, to relieve de Failly at the head of the 5th corps--and he
writes me that he has written instructions from the Minister of War
assigning him to the command of the army in case the post should
become vacant. And there is to be no more retreating; the orders now
are to reoccupy our old positions, and defend them to the last."

General Bourgain-Desfeuilles drank in the tidings, his eyes bulging
with astonishment. "_Nom de Dieu!_" he at last succeeded in
ejaculating, "one would like to know-- But it is no business of mine,
anyhow." And off he galloped, not allowing himself to be greatly
agitated by this unexpected turn of affairs, for he had gone into the
war solely in the hope of seeing his name raised a grade higher in the
army list, and it was his great desire to behold the end of the
beastly campaign as soon as possible, since it was productive of so
little satisfaction to anyone.

Then there was an explosion of derision and contempt among the men of
Beaudoin's company. Maurice said nothing, but he shared the opinion of
Chouteau and Loubet, who chaffed and blackguarded everyone without
mercy. "See-saw, up and down, move as I pull the string! A fine gang
they were, those generals! they understood one another; they were not
going to pull all the blankets off the bed! What was a poor devil of a
soldier to do when he had such leaders put over him? Three commanders
in two hours' time, three great numskulls, none of whom knew what was
the right thing to do, and all of them giving different orders!
Demoralized, were they? Good Heavens, it was enough to demoralize God
Almighty himself, and all His angels!" And the inevitable accusation
of treason was again made to do duty; Ducrot and de Wimpffen wanted to
get three millions apiece out of Bismarck, as MacMahon had done.

Alone in advance of his staff General Douay sat on his horse a long
time, his gaze bent on the distant positions of the enemy and in his
eyes an expression of infinite melancholy. He made a minute and
protracted observation of Hattoy, the shells from which came tumbling
almost at his very feet; then, giving a glance at the plateau of Illy,
called up an officer to carry an order to the brigade of the 5th corps
that he had borrowed the day previous from General de Wimpffen, and
which served to connect his right with the left of General Ducrot. He
was distinctly heard to say these words:

"If the Prussians should once get possession of the Calvary it would
be impossible for us to hold this position an hour; we should be
driven into Sedan."

He rode off and was lost to view, together with his escort, at the
entrance of the sunken road, and the German fire became hotter than
before. They had doubtless observed the presence of the group of
mounted officers; but now the shells, which hitherto had come from the
front, began to fall upon them laterally, from the left; the batteries
at Frenois, together with one which the enemy had carried across the
river and posted on the peninsula of Iges, had established, in
connection with the guns on Hattoy, an enfilading fire which swept the
plateau de l'Algerie in its entire length and breadth. The position of
the company now became most lamentable; the men, with death in front
of them and on their flank, knew not which way to turn or which of the
menacing perils to guard themselves against. In rapid succession three
men were killed outright and two severely wounded.

It was then that Sergeant Sapin met the death that he had predicted
for himself. He had turned his head, and caught sight of the
approaching missile when it was too late for him to avoid it.

"Ah, here it is!" was all he said.

There was no terror in the thin face, with its big handsome eyes; it
was only pale; very pale and inexpressibly mournful. The wound was in
the abdomen.

"Oh! do not leave me here," he pleaded; "take me to the ambulance, I
beseech you. Take me to the rear."

Rochas endeavored to silence him, and it was on his brutal lips to say
that it was useless to imperil two comrades' lives for one whose wound
was so evidently mortal, when his better nature made its influence
felt and he murmured:

"Be patient for a little, my poor boy, and the litter-bearers will
come and get you."

But the wretched man, whose tears were now flowing, kept crying, as
one distraught that his dream of happiness was vanishing with his
trickling life-blood:

"Take me away, take me away--"

Finally Captain Beaudoin, whose already unstrung nerves were further
irritated by his pitiful cries, called for two volunteers to carry him
to a little piece of woods a short way off where a flying ambulance
had been established. Chouteau and Loubet jumped to their feet
simultaneously, anticipating the others, seized the sergeant, one of
them by the shoulders, the other by the legs, and bore him away on a
run. They had gone but a little way, however, when they felt the body
becoming rigid in the final convulsion; he was dying.

"I say, he's dead," exclaimed Loubet. "Let's leave him here."

But Chouteau, without relaxing his speed, angrily replied:

"Go ahead, you booby, will you! Do you take me for a fool, to leave
him here and have them call us back!"

They pursued their course with the corpse until they came to the
little wood, threw it down at the foot of a tree, and went their way.
That was the last that was seen of them until nightfall.

The battery beside them had been strengthened by three additional
guns; the cannonade on either side went on with increased fury, and in
the hideous uproar terror--a wild, unreasoning terror--filled
Maurice's soul. It was his first experience of the sensation; he had
not until now felt that cold sweat trickling down his back, that
terrible sinking at the pit of the stomach, that unconquerable desire
to get on his feet and run, yelling and screaming, from the field. It
was nothing more than the strain from which his nervous, high-strung
temperament was suffering from reflex action; but Jean, who was
observing him narrowly, detected the incipient crisis in the
wandering, vacant eyes, and seizing him with his strong hand, held him
down firmly at his side. The corporal lectured him paternally in a
whisper, not mincing his words, but employing good, vigorous language
to restore him to a sense of self-respect, for he knew by experience
that a man in panic is not to be coaxed out of his cowardice. There
were others also who were showing the white feather, among them Pache,
who was whimpering involuntarily, in the low, soft voice of a little
baby, his eyes suffused with tears. Lapoulle's stomach betrayed him
and he was very ill; and there were many others who also found relief
in vomiting, amid their comrade's loud jeers and laughter, which
helped to restore their courage to them all.

"My God!" ejaculated Maurice, ghastly pale, his teeth chattering. "My
God!"

Jean shook him roughly. "You infernal coward, are you going to be sick
like those fellows over yonder? Behave yourself, or I'll box your
ears."

He was trying to put heart into his friend by gruff but friendly
speeches like the above, when they suddenly beheld a dozen dark forms
emerging from a little wood upon their front and about four hundred
yards away. Their spiked helmets announced them to be Prussians; the
first Prussians they had had within reach of their rifles since the
opening of the campaign. This first squad was succeeded by others, and
in front of their position the little dust clouds that rose where the
French shells struck were distinctly visible. It was all very vivid
and clear-cut in the transparent air of morning; the Germans, outlined
against the dark forest, presented the toy-like appearance of those
miniature soldiers of lead that are the delight of children; then, as
the enemy's shells began to drop in their vicinity with uncomfortable
frequency, they withdrew and were lost to sight within the wood whence
they had come.

But Beaudoin's company had seen them there once, and to their eyes
they were there still; the chassepots seemed to go off of their own
accord. Maurice was the first man to discharge his piece; Jean, Pache,
Lapoulle and the others all followed suit. There had been no order
given to commence firing, and the captain made an attempt to check it,
but desisted upon Rochas's representation that it was absolutely
necessary as a measure of relief for the men's pent-up feelings. So,
then, they were at liberty to shoot at last, they could use up those
cartridges that they had been lugging around with them for the last
month, without ever burning a single one! The effect on Maurice in
particular was electrical; the noise he made had the effect of
dispelling his fear and blunting the keenness of his sensations. The
little wood had resumed its former deserted aspect; not a leaf
stirred, no more Prussians showed themselves; and still they kept on
blazing away as madly as ever at the immovable trees.

Raising his eyes presently Maurice was startled to see Colonel de
Vineuil sitting his big horse at no great distance, man and steed
impassive and motionless as if carved from stone, patient were they
under the leaden hail, with face turned toward the enemy. The entire
regiment was now collected in that vicinity, the other companies being
posted in the adjacent fields; the musketry fire seemed to be drawing
nearer. The young man also beheld the regimental colors a little to
the rear, borne aloft by the sturdy arm of the standard-bearer, but it
was no longer the phantom flag that he had seen that morning, shrouded
in mist and fog; the golden eagle flashed and blazed in the fierce
sunlight, and the tri-colored silk, despite the rents and stains of
many a battle, flaunted its bright hues defiantly to the breeze.
Waving in the breath of the cannon, floating proudly against the blue
of heaven, it shone like an emblem of victory.

And why, now that the day of battle had arrived, should not victory
perch upon that banner? With that reflection Maurice and his
companions kept on industriously wasting their powder on the distant
wood, producing havoc there among the leaves and twigs.



                                III.

Sleep did not visit Henriette's eyes that night. She knew her husband
to be a prudent man, but the thought that he was in Bazeilles, so near
the German lines, was cause to her of deep anxiety. She tried to
soothe her apprehensions by reminding herself that she had his solemn
promise to return at the first appearance of danger; it availed not,
and at every instant she detected herself listening to catch the sound
of his footstep on the stair. At ten o'clock, as she was about to go
to bed, she opened her window, and resting her elbows on the sill,
gazed out into the night.

The darkness was intense; looking downward, she could scarce discern
the pavement of the Rue des Voyards, a narrow, obscure passage,
overhung by old frowning mansions. Further on, in the direction of the
college, a smoky street lamp burned dimly. A nitrous exhalation rose
from the street; the squall of a vagrant cat; the heavy step of a
belated soldier. From the city at her back came strange and alarming
sounds: the patter of hurrying feet, an ominous, incessant rumbling, a
muffled murmur without a name that chilled her blood. Her heart beat
loudly in her bosom as she bent her ear to listen, and still she heard
not the familiar echo of her husband's step at the turning of the
street below.

Hours passed, and now distant lights that began to twinkle in the open
fields beyond the ramparts excited afresh her apprehensions. It was so
dark that it cost her an effort of memory to recall localities. She
knew that the broad expanse that lay beneath her, reflecting a dim
light, was the flooded meadows, and that flame that blazed up and was
suddenly extinguished, surely it must be on la Marfee. But never, to
her certain knowledge, had there been farmer's house or peasant's
cottage on those heights; what, then, was the meaning of that light?
And then on every hand, at Pont-Maugis, Noyers, Frenois, other fires
arose, coruscating fitfully for an instant and giving mysterious
indication of the presence of the swarming host that lay hidden in the
bosom of the night. Yet more: there were strange sounds and voices in
the air, subdued murmurings such as she had never heard before, and
that made her start in terror; the stifled hum of marching men, the
neighing and snorting of steeds, the clash of arms, hoarse words of
command, given in guttural accents; an evil dream of a demoniac crew,
a witch's sabbat, in the depths of those unholy shades. Suddenly a
single cannon-shot rang out, ear-rending, adding fresh terror to the
dead silence that succeeded it. It froze her very marrow; what could
it mean? A signal, doubtless, telling of the successful completion of
some movement, announcing that everything was ready, down there, and
that now the sun might rise.

It was about two o'clock when Henriette, forgetting even to close her
window, at last threw herself, fully dressed, upon her bed. Her
anxiety and fatigue had stupefied her and benumbed her faculties. What
could ail her, thus to shiver and burn alternately, she who was always
so calm and self-reliant, moving with so light a step that those about
her were unconscious of her existence? Finally she sank into a fitful,
broken slumber that brought with it no repose, in which was present
still that persistent sensation of impending evil that filled the
dusky heavens. All at once, arousing her from her unrefreshing stupor,
the firing commenced again, faint and muffled in the distance, not a
single shot this time, but peal after peal following one another in
quick succession. Trembling, she sat upright in bed. The firing
continued. Where was she? The place seemed strange to her; she could
not distinguish the objects in her chamber, which appeared to be
filled with dense clouds of smoke. Then she remembered: the fog must
have rolled in from the near-by river and entered the room through the
window. Without, the distant firing was growing fiercer. She leaped
from her bed and ran to the casement to listen.

Four o'clock was striking from a steeple in Sedan, and day was
breaking, tingeing the purplish mists with a sickly, sinister light.
It was impossible to discern objects; even the college buildings,
distant but a few yards, were undistinguishable. Where could the
firing be, _mon Dieu_! Her first thought was for her brother Maurice;
for the reports were so indistinct that they seemed to her to come
from the north, above the city; then, listening more attentively, her
doubt became certainty; the cannonading was there, before her, and she
trembled for her husband. It was surely at Bazeilles. For a little
time, however, she suffered herself to be cheered by a ray of hope,
for there were moments when the reports seemed to come from the right.
Perhaps the fighting was at Donchery, where she knew that the French
had not succeeded in blowing up the bridge. Then she lapsed into a
condition of most horrible uncertainty; it seemed to be now at
Donchery, now at Bazeilles; which, it was impossible to decide, there
was such a ringing, buzzing sensation in her head. At last the feeling
of suspense became so acute that she felt she could not endure it
longer; she _must_ know; every nerve in her body was quivering with
the ungovernable desire, so she threw a shawl over her shoulders and
left the house in quest of news.

When she had descended and was in the street Henriette hesitated a
brief moment, for the little light that was in the east had not yet
crept downward along the weather-blackened house-fronts to the
roadway, and in the old city, shrouded in opaque fog, the darkness
still reigned impenetrable. In the tap-room of a low pot-house in the
Rue au Beurre, dimly lighted by a tallow candle, she saw two drunken
Turcos and a woman. It was not until she turned into the Rue Maqua
that she encountered any signs of life: soldiers slinking furtively
along the sidewalk and hugging the walls, deserters probably, on the
lookout for a place in which to hide; a stalwart trooper with
despatches, searching for his captain and knocking thunderously at
every door; a group of fat burghers, trembling with fear lest they had
tarried there too long, and preparing to crowd themselves into one
small carriole if so be they might yet reach Bouillon, in Belgium,
whither half the population of Sedan had emigrated within the last two
days. She instinctively turned her steps toward the Sous-Prefecture,
where she might depend on receiving information, and her desire to
avoid meeting acquaintances determined her to take a short cut through
lanes and by-ways. On reaching the Rue du Four and the Rue des
Laboureurs, however, she found an obstacle in her way; the place had
been pre-empted by the ordnance department, and guns, caissons, forges
were there in interminable array, having apparently been parked away
in that remote corner the day before and then forgotten there. There
was not so much as a sentry to guard them. It sent a chill to her
heart to see all that artillery lying there silent and ineffective,
sleeping its neglected sleep in the concealment of those deserted
alleys. She was compelled to retrace her steps, therefore, which she
did by passing through the Place du College to the Grande-Rue, where
in front of the Hotel de l'Europe she saw a group of orderlies holding
the chargers of some general officers, whose high-pitched voices were
audible from the brilliantly lighted dining room. On the Place du
Rivage and the Place Turenne the crowd was even greater still,
composed of anxious groups of citizens, with women and children
interspersed among the struggling, terror-stricken throng, hurrying in
every direction; and there she saw a general emerge from the Hotel of
the Golden Cross, swearing like a pirate, and spur his horse off up
the street at a mad gallop, careless whom he might overturn. For a
moment she seemed about to enter the Hotel de Ville, then changed
her mind, and taking the Rue du Pont-de-Meuse, pushed on to the
Sous-Prefecture.

Never had Sedan appeared to her in a light so tragically sinister as
now, when she beheld it in the livid, forbidding light of early dawn,
enveloped in its shroud of fog. The houses were lifeless and silent as
tombs; many of them had been empty and abandoned for the last two
days, others the terrified owners had closely locked and barred.
Shuddering, the city awoke to the cares and occupations of the new
day; the morning was fraught with chill misery in those streets, still
half deserted, peopled only by a few frightened pedestrians and those
hurrying fugitives, the remnant of the exodus of previous days. Soon
the sun would rise and send down its cheerful light upon the scene;
soon the city, overwhelmed in the swift-rising tide of disaster, would
be crowded as it had never been before. It was half-past five o'clock;
the roar of the cannon, caught and deadened among the tall dingy
houses, sounded more faintly in her ears.

At the Sous-Prefecture Henriette had some acquaintance with the
concierge's daughter, Rose by name, a pretty little blonde of refined
appearance who was employed in Delaherche's factory. She made her way
at once to the lodge; the mother was not there, but Rose received her
with her usual amiability.

"Oh! dear lady, we are so tired we can scarcely stand; mamma has gone
to lie down and rest a while. Just think! all night long people have
been coming and going, and we have not been able to get a wink of
sleep."

And burning to tell all the wonderful sights that she had been witness
to since the preceding day, she did not wait to be questioned, but ran
on volubly with her narrative.

"As for the marshal, he slept very well, but that poor Emperor! you
can't think what suffering he has to endure! Yesterday evening, do you
know, I had gone upstairs to help give out the linen, and as I entered
the apartment that adjoins his dressing-room I heard groans, oh,
_such_ groans! just like someone dying. I thought a moment and knew it
must be the Emperor, and I was so frightened I couldn't move; I just
stood and trembled. It seems he has some terrible complaint that makes
him cry out that way. When there are people around he holds in, but as
soon as he is alone it is too much for him, and he groans and shrieks
in a way to make your hair stand on end."

"Do you know where the fighting is this morning?" asked Henriette,
desiring to check her loquacity.

Rose dismissed the question with a wave of her little hand and went on
with her narrative.

"That made me curious to know more, you see, and I went upstairs four
or five times during the night and listened, and every time it was
just the same; I don't believe he was quiet an instant all night long,
or got a minute's sleep. Oh! what a terrible thing it is to suffer
like that with all he has to worry him! for everything is upside down;
it is all a most dreadful mess. Upon my word, I believe those generals
are out of their senses; such ghostly faces and frightened eyes! And
people coming all the time, and doors banging and some men scolding
and others crying, and the whole place like a sailor's boarding-house;
officers drinking from bottles and going to bed in their boots! The
Emperor is the best of the whole lot, and the one who gives least
trouble, in the corner where he conceals himself and his suffering!"
Then, in reply to Henriette's reiterated question: "The fighting?
there has been fighting at Bazeilles this morning. A mounted officer
brought word of it to the marshal, who went immediately to notify the
Emperor. The marshal has been gone ten minutes, and I shouldn't wonder
if the Emperor intends to follow him, for they are dressing him
upstairs. I just now saw them combing him and plastering his face with
all sorts of cosmetics."

But Henriette, having finally learned what she desired to know, rose
to go.

"Thank you, Rose. I am in somewhat of a hurry this morning."

The young girl went with her to the street door, and took leave of her
with a courteous:

"Glad to have been of service to you, Madame Weiss. I know that
anything said to you will go no further."

Henriette hurried back to her house in the Rue des Voyards. She felt
quite certain that her husband would have returned, and even reflected
that he would be alarmed at not finding her there, and hastened her
steps in consequence. As she drew near the house she raised her eyes
in the expectation of seeing him at the window watching for her, but
the window, wide open as she had left it when she went out, was
vacant, and when she had run up the stairs and given a rapid glance
through her three rooms, it was with a sinking heart that she saw they
were untenanted save for the chill fog and continuous roar of the
cannonade. The distant firing was still going on. She went and stood
for a moment at the window; although the encircling wall of vapor was
not less dense than it had been before, she seemed to have a clearer
apprehension, now that she had received oral information, of the
details of the conflict raging at Bazeilles, the grinding sound of the
mitrailleuses, the crashing volleys of the French batteries answering
the German batteries in the distance. The reports seemed to be drawing
nearer to the city, the battle to be waxing fiercer and fiercer with
every moment.

Why did not Weiss return? He had pledged himself so faithfully not to
outstay the first attack! And Henriette began to be seriously alarmed,
depicting to herself the various obstacles that might have detained
him: perhaps he had not been able to leave the village, perhaps the
roads were blocked or rendered impassable by the projectiles. It might
even be that something had happened him, but she put the thought aside
and would not dwell on it, preferring to view things on their brighter
side and finding in hope her safest mainstay and reliance. For an
instant she harbored the design of starting out and trying to find her
husband, but there were considerations that seemed to render that
course inadvisable: supposing him to have started on his return, what
would become of her should she miss him on the way? and what would be
his anxiety should he come in and find her absent? Her guiding
principle in all her thoughts and actions was her gentle, affectionate
devotedness, and she saw nothing strange or out of the way in a visit
to Bazeilles under such extraordinary circumstances, accustomed as she
was, like an affectionate little woman, to perform her duty in silence
and do the thing that she deemed best for their common interest. Where
her husband was, there was her place; that was all there was about it.

She gave a sudden start and left the window, saying:

"Monsieur Delaherche, how could I forget--"

It had just come to her recollection that the cloth manufacturer had
also passed the night at Bazeilles, and if he had returned would be
able to give her the intelligence she wanted. She ran swiftly down the
stairs again. In place of taking the more roundabout way by the Rue
des Voyards, she crossed the little courtyard of her house and entered
the passage that conducted to the huge structure that fronted on the
Rue Maqua. As she came out into the great central garden, paved with
flagstones now and retaining of its pristine glories only a few
venerable trees, magnificent century-old elms, she was astonished to
see a sentry mounting guard at the door of a carriage-house; then it
occurred to her that she had been told the day before that the camp
chests of the 7th corps had been deposited there for safe keeping, and
it produced a strange impression on her mind that all the gold,
millions, it was said to amount to, should be lying in that shed while
the men for whom it was destined were being killed not far away. As
she was about to ascend the private staircase, however, that conducted
to the apartment of Gilberte, young Madame Delaherche, she experienced
another surprise in an encounter that startled her so that she
retraced her steps a little way, doubtful whether it would not be
better to abandon her intention, and go home again. An officer, a
captain, had crossed her path, as noiselessly as a phantom and
vanishing as swiftly, and yet she had had time to recognize him,
having seen him in the past at Gilberte's house in Charleville, in the
days when she was still Madame Maginot. She stepped back a few steps
in the courtyard and raised her eyes to the two tall windows of the
bedroom, the blinds of which were closed, then dismissed her scruples
and entered.

Upon reaching the first floor, availing herself of that privilege of
old acquaintanceship by virtue of which one woman often drops in upon
another for an unceremonious early morning chat, she was about to
knock at the door of the dressing-room, but apparently someone had
left the room hastily and failed to secure the door, so that it was
standing ajar, and all she had to do was give it a push to find
herself in the dressing room, whence she passed into the bedroom. From
the lofty ceiling of the latter apartment depended voluminous curtains
of red velvet, protecting the large double bed. The warm, moist air
was fragrant with a faint perfume of Persian lilac, and there was no
sound to break the silence save a gentle, regular respiration,
scarcely audible.

"Gilberte!" said Henriette, very softly.

The young woman was sleeping peacefully, and the dim light that
entered the room between the red curtains of the high windows
displayed her exquisitely rounded head resting upon a naked arm and
her profusion of beautiful hair straying in disorder over the pillow.
Her lips were parted in a smile.

"Gilberte!"

She slightly moved and stretched her arms, without opening her eyes.

"Yes, yes; good-by. Oh! please--" Then, raising her head and
recognizing Henriette: "What, is it you! How late is it?"

When she learned that it had not yet struck six she seemed
disconcerted, assuming a sportive air to hide her embarrassment,
saying it was unfair to come waking people up at such an hour. Then,
to her friend, questioning her about her husband, she made answer:

"Why, he has not returned; I don't look for him much before nine
o'clock. What makes you so eager to see him at this hour of the
morning?"

Henriette's voice had a trace of sternness in it as she answered,
seeing the other so smiling, so dull of comprehension in her happy
waking.

"I tell you there has been fighting all the morning at Bazeilles, and
I am anxious about my husband."

"Oh, my dear," exclaimed Gilberte, "I assure you there is not the
slightest reason for your feeling so. My husband is so prudent that he
would have been home long ago had there been any danger. Until you see
him back here you may rest easy, take my word for it."

Henriette was struck by the justness of the argument; Delaherche, it
was true, was distinctly not a man to expose himself uselessly. She
was reassured, and went and drew the curtains and threw back the
blinds; the tawny light from without, where the sun was beginning to
pierce the fog with his golden javelins, streamed in a bright flood
into the apartment. One of the windows was part way open, and in the
soft air of the spacious bedroom, but now so close and stuffy, the two
women could hear the sound of the guns. Gilberte, half recumbent, her
elbow resting on the pillow, gazed out upon the sky with her lustrous,
vacant eyes.

"So, then, they are fighting," she murmured. Her chemise had slipped
downward, exposing a rosy, rounded shoulder, half hidden beneath the
wandering raven tresses, and her person exhaled a subtle, penetrating
odor, the odor of love. "They are fighting, so early in the morning,
_mon Dieu!_ It would be ridiculous if it were not for the horror of
it."

But Henriette, in looking about the room, had caught sight of a pair
of gauntlets, the gloves of a man, lying forgotten on a small table,
and she started perceptibly. Gilberte blushed deeply, and extending
her arms with a conscious, caressing movement, drew her friend to her
and rested her head upon her bosom.

"Yes," she almost whispered, "I saw that you noticed it. Darling, you
must not judge me too severely. He is an old friend; I told you all
about it at Charleville, long ago, you remember." Her voice sank lower
still; there was something that sounded very like a laugh of
satisfaction in her tender tones. "He pleaded so with me yesterday
that I would see him just once more. Just think, this morning he is in
action; he may be dead by this. How could I refuse him?" It was all so
heroic and so charming, the contrast was so delicious between war's
stern reality and tender sentiment; thoughtless as a linnet, she
smiled again, notwithstanding her confusion. Never could she have
found it in her heart to drive him from her door, when circumstances
all were propitious for the interview. "Do you condemn me?"

Henriette had listened to her confidences with a very grave face. Such
things surprised her, for she could not understand them; it must be
that she was constituted differently from other women. Her heart that
morning was with her husband, her brother, down there where the battle
was raging. How was it possible that anyone could sleep so peacefully
and be so gay and cheerful when the loved ones were in peril?

"But think of your husband, my dear, and of that poor young man as
well. Does not your heart yearn to be with them? You do not reflect
that their lifeless forms may be brought in and laid before your eyes
at any moment."

Gilberte raised her adorable bare arm before her face to shield her
vision from the frightful picture.

"O Heaven! what is that you say? It is cruel of you to destroy all the
pleasure of my morning in this way. No, no; I won't think of such
things. They are too mournful."

Henriette could not refrain from smiling in spite of her anxiety. She
was thinking of the days of their girlhood, and how Gilberte's father,
Captain de Vineuil, an old naval officer who had been made collector
of customs at Charleville when his wounds had incapacitated him for
active service, hearing his daughter cough and fearing for her the
fate of his young wife, who had been snatched from his arms by that
terrible disease, consumption, had sent her to live at a farm-house
near Chene-Populeux. The little maid was not nine years old, and
already she was a consummate actress--a perfect type of the village
coquette, queening it over her playmates, tricked out in what old
finery she could lay hands on, adorning herself with bracelets and
tiaras made from the silver paper wrappings of the chocolate. She had
not changed a bit when, later, at the age of twenty, she married
Maginot, the inspector of woods and forests. Mezieres, a dark, gloomy
town, surrounded by ramparts, was not to her taste, and she continued
to live at Charleville, where the gay, generous life, enlivened by
many festivities, suited her better. Her father was dead, and with a
husband whom, by reason of his inferior social position, her friends
and acquaintances treated with scant courtesy, she was absolutely
mistress of her own actions. She did not escape the censure of the
stern moralists who inhabit our provincial cities, and in those days
was credited with many lovers; but of the gay throng of officers who,
thanks to her father's old connection and her kinship to Colonel de
Vineuil, disported themselves in her drawing-room, Captain Beaudoin
was the only one who had really produced an impression. She was light
and frivolous--nothing more--adoring pleasure and living entirely in
the present, without the least trace of perverse inclination; and if
she accepted the captain's attentions, it is pretty certain that she
did it out of good-nature and love of admiration.

"You did very wrong to see him again," Henriette finally said, in her
matter-of-fact way.

"Oh! my dear, since I could not possibly do otherwise, and it was only
for just that once. You know very well I would die rather than deceive
my new husband."

She spoke with much feeling, and seemed distressed to see her friend
shake her head disapprovingly. They dropped the subject, and clasped
each other in an affectionate embrace, notwithstanding their
diametrically different natures. Each could hear the beating of the
other's heart, and they might have understood the tongues those organs
spoke--one, the slave of pleasure, wasting and squandering all that
was best in herself; the other, with the mute heroism of a lofty soul,
devoting herself to a single ennobling affection.

"But hark! how the cannon are roaring," Gilberte presently exclaimed.
"I must make haste and dress."

The reports sounded more distinctly in the silent room now that their
conversation had ceased. Leaving her bed, the young woman accepted the
assistance of her friend, not caring to summon her maid, and rapidly
made her toilet for the day, in order that she might be ready to go
downstairs should she be needed there. As she was completing the
arrangement of her hair there was a knock at the door, and,
recognizing the voice of the elder Madame Delaherche, she hastened to
admit her.

"Certainly, dear mother, you may come in."

With the thoughtlessness that was part of her nature, she allowed the
old lady to enter without having first removed the gauntlets from the
table. It was in vain that Henriette darted forward to seize them and
throw them behind a chair. Madame Delaherche stood glaring for some
seconds at the spot where they had been with an expression on her face
as if she were slowly suffocating. Then her glance wandered
involuntarily from object to object in the room, stopping finally at
the great red-curtained bed, the coverings thrown back in disorder.

"I see that Madame Weiss has disturbed your slumbers. Then you were
able to sleep, daughter?"

It was plain that she had had another purpose in coming there than to
make that speech. Ah, that marriage that her son had insisted on
contracting, contrary to her wish, at the mature age of fifty, after
twenty years of joyless married life with a shrewish, bony wife; he,
who had always until then deferred so to her will, now swayed only by
his passion for this gay young widow, lighter than thistle-down! She
had promised herself to keep watch over the present, and there was the
past coming back to plague her. But ought she to speak? Her life in
the household was one of silent reproach and protest; she kept herself
almost constantly imprisoned in her chamber, devoting herself rigidly
to the observances of her austere religion. Now, however, the wrong
was so flagrant that she resolved to speak to her son.

Gilberte blushingly replied, without an excessive manifestation of
embarrassment, however:

"Oh, yes, I had a few hours of refreshing sleep. You know that Jules
has not returned--"

Madame Delaherche interrupted her with a grave nod of her head. Ever
since the artillery had commenced to roar she had been watching
eagerly for her son's return, but she was a Spartan mother, and
concealed her gnawing anxiety under a cloak of brave silence. And then
she remembered what was the object of her visit there.

"Your uncle, the colonel, has sent the regimental surgeon with a note
in pencil, to ask if we will allow them to establish a hospital here.
He knows that we have abundance of space in the factory, and I have
already authorized the gentlemen to make use of the courtyard and the
big drying-room. But you should go down in person--"

"Oh, at once, at once!" exclaimed Henriette, hastening toward the
door. "We will do what we can to help."

Gilberte also displayed much enthusiasm for her new occupation as
nurse; she barely took the time to throw a lace scarf over her head,
and the three women went downstairs. When they reached the bottom and
stood in the spacious vestibule, looking out through the main
entrance, of which the leaves had been thrown wide back, they beheld a
crowd collected in the street before the house. A low-hung carriage
was advancing slowly along the roadway, a sort of carriole, drawn by a
single horse, which a lieutenant of zouaves was leading by the bridle.
They took it to be a wounded man that they were bringing to them, the
first of their patients.

"Yes, yes! This is the place; this way!"

But they were quickly undeceived. The sufferer recumbent in the
carriole was Marshal MacMahon, severely wounded in the hip, who, his
hurt having been provisionally cared for in the cottage of a gardener,
was now being taken to the Sous-Prefecture. He was bareheaded and
partially divested of his clothing, and the gold embroidery on his
uniform was tarnished with dust and blood. He spoke no word, but had
raised his head from the pillow where it lay and was looking about him
with a sorrowful expression, and perceiving the three women where they
stood, wide eyed with horror, their joined hands resting on their
bosom, in presence of that great calamity, the whole army stricken in
the person of its chief at the very beginning of the conflict, he
slightly bowed his head, with a faint, paternal smile. A few of those
about him removed their hats; others, who had no time for such idle
ceremony, were circulating the report of General Ducrot's appointment
to the command of the army. It was half-past seven o'clock.

"And what of the Emperor?" Henriette inquired of a bookseller, who was
standing at his door.

"He left the city near an hour ago," replied the neighbor. "I was
standing by and saw him pass out at the Balan gate. There is a rumor
that his head was taken off by a cannon ball."

But this made the grocer across the street furious. "Hold your
tongue," he shouted, "it is an infernal lie! None but the brave will
leave their bones there to-day!"

When near the Place du College the marshal's carriole was lost to
sight in the gathering crowd, among whose numbers the most strange and
contradictory reports from the field of battle were now beginning to
circulate. The fog was clearing; the streets were bright with
sunshine.

A hail, in no gentle terms, was heard proceeding from the courtyard:
"Now then, ladies, here is where you are wanted, not outside!"

They all three hastened inside and found themselves in presence of
Major Bouroche, who had thrown his uniform coat upon the floor, in a
corner of the room, and donned a great white apron. Above the broad
expanse of, as yet, unspotted white, his blazing, leonine eyes and
enormous head, with shock of harsh, bristling hair, seemed to exhale
energy and determination. So terrible did he appear to them that the
women were his most humble servants from the very start, obedient to
his every sign, treading on one another to anticipate his wishes.

"There is nothing here that is needed. Get me some linen; try and
see if you can't find some more mattresses; show my men where the
pump is--"

And they ran as if their life was at stake to do his bidding; were so
active that they seemed to be ubiquitous.

The factory was admirably adapted for a hospital. The drying-room was
a particularly noticeable feature, a vast apartment with numerous and
lofty windows for light and ventilation, where they could put in a
hundred beds and yet have room to spare, and at one side was a shed
that seemed to have been built there especially for the convenience of
the operators: three long tables had been brought in, the pump
was close at hand, and a small grass-plot adjacent might serve as
ante-chamber for the patients while awaiting their turn. And the
handsome old elms, with their deliciously cool shade, roofed the spot
in most agreeably.

Bouroche had considered it would be best to establish himself in Sedan
at the commencement, foreseeing the dreadful slaughter and the
inevitable panic that would sooner or later drive the troops to the
shelter of the ramparts. All that he had deemed it necessary to leave
with the regiment was two flying ambulances and some "first aids,"
that were to send him in the casualties as rapidly as possible after
applying the primary dressings. The details of litter-bearers were all
out there, whose duty it was to pick up the wounded under fire, and
with them were the ambulance wagons and _fourgons_ of the medical
train. The two assistant-surgeons and three hospital stewards whom he
had retained, leaving two assistants on the field, would doubtless be
sufficient to perform what operations were necessary. He had also a
corps of dressers under him. But he was not gentle in manner and
language, for all he did was done impulsively, zealously, with all his
heart and soul.

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_ how do you suppose we are going to distinguish
the cases from one another when they begin to come in presently? Take
a piece of charcoal and number each bed with a big figure on the wall
overhead, and place those mattresses closer together, do you hear? We
can strew some straw on the floor in that corner if it becomes
necessary."

The guns were barking, preparing his work for him; he knew that at any
moment now the first carriage might drive up and discharge its load of
maimed and bleeding flesh, and he hastened to get all in readiness in
the great, bare room. Outside in the shed the preparations were of
another nature: the chests were opened and their contents arranged in
order on a table, packages of lint, bandages, compresses, rollers,
splints for fractured limbs, while on another table, alongside a great
jar of cerate and a bottle of chloroform, were the surgical cases with
their blood-curdling array of glittering instruments, probes, forceps,
bistouries, scalpels, scissors, saws, an arsenal of implements of
every imaginable shape adapted to pierce, cut, slice, rend, crush. But
there was a deficient supply of basins.

"You must have pails, pots, jars about the house--something that will
hold water. We can't work besmeared with blood all day, that's
certain. And sponges, try to get me some sponges."

Madame Delaherche hurried away and returned, followed by three women
bearing a supply of the desired vessels. Gilberte, standing by the
table where the instruments were laid out, summoned Henriette to her
side by a look and pointed to them with a little shudder. They grasped
each other's hand and stood for a moment without speaking, but their
mute clasp was eloquent of the solemn feeling of terror and pity that
filled both their souls. And yet there was a difference, for one
retained, even in her distress, the involuntary smile of her bright
youth, while in the eyes of the other, pale as death, was the grave
earnestness of the heart which, one love lost, can never love again.

"How terrible it must be, dear, to have an arm or leg cut off!"

"Poor fellows!"

Bouroche had just finished placing a mattress on each of the three
tables, covering them carefully with oil-cloth, when the sound of
horses' hoofs was heard outside and the first ambulance wagon rolled
into the court. There were ten men in it, seated on the lateral
benches, only slightly wounded; two or three of them carrying their
arm in a sling, but the majority hurt about the head. They alighted
with but little assistance, and the inspection of their cases
commenced forthwith.

One of them, scarcely more than a boy, had been shot through the
shoulder, and as Henriette was tenderly assisting him to draw off his
greatcoat, an operation that elicited cries of pain, she took notice
of the number of his regiment.

"Why, you belong to the 106th! Are you in Captain Beaudoin's company?"

No, he belonged to Captain Bonnaud's company, but for all that he was
well acquainted with Corporal Macquart and felt pretty certain that
his squad had not been under fire as yet. The tidings, meager as they
were, sufficed to remove a great load from the young woman's heart:
her brother was alive and well; if now her husband would only return,
as she was expecting every moment he would do, her mind would be quite
at rest.

At that moment, just as Henriette raised her head to listen to the
cannonade, which was then roaring with increased viciousness, she was
thunderstruck to see Delaherche standing only a few steps away in the
middle of a group of men, to whom he was telling the story of the
frightful dangers he had encountered in getting from Bazeilles to
Sedan. How did he happen to be there? She had not seen him come in.
She darted toward him.

"Is not my husband with you?"

But Delaherche, who was just then replying to the fond questions of
his wife and mother, was in no haste to answer.

"Wait, wait a moment." And resuming his narrative: "Twenty times
between Bazeilles and Balan I just missed being killed. It was a
storm, a regular hurricane, of shot and shell! And I saw the Emperor,
too. Oh! but he is a brave man!--And after leaving Balan I ran--"

Henriette shook him by the arm.

"My husband?"

"Weiss? why, he stayed behind there, Weiss did."

"What do you mean, behind there?"

"Why, yes; he picked up the musket of a dead soldier, and is fighting
away with the best of them."

"He is fighting, you say?--and why?"

"He must be out of his head, I think. He would not come with me, and
of course I had to leave him."

Henriette gazed at him fixedly, with wide-dilated eyes. For a moment
no one spoke; then in a calm voice she declared her resolution.

"It is well; I will go to him."

What, she, go to him? But it was impossible, it was preposterous!
Delaherche had more to say of his hurricane of shot and shell.
Gilberte seized her by the wrists to detain her, while Madame
Delaherche used all her persuasive powers to convince her of the folly
of the mad undertaking. In the same gentle, determined tone she
repeated:

"It is useless; I will go to him."

She would only wait to adjust upon her head the lace scarf that
Gilberte had been wearing and which the latter insisted she should
accept. In the hope that his offer might cause her to abandon her
resolve Delaherche declared that he would go with her at least as far
as the Balan gate, but just then he caught sight of the sentry, who,
in all the turmoil and confusion of the time, had been pacing
uninterruptedly up and down before the building that contained the
treasure chests of the 7th corps, and suddenly he remembered, was
alarmed, went to give a look and assure himself that the millions were
there still. In the meantime Henriette had reached the portico and was
about to pass out into the street.

"Wait for me, won't you? Upon my word, you are as mad as your
husband!"

Another ambulance had driven up, moreover, and they had to wait to let
it pass in. It was smaller than the other, having but two wheels, and
the two men whom it contained, both severely wounded, rested on
stretchers placed upon the floor. The first one whom the attendants
took out, using the most tender precaution, had one hand broken and
his side torn by a splinter of shell; he was a mass of bleeding flesh.
The second had his left leg shattered; and Bouroche, giving orders to
extend the latter on one of the oil-cloth-covered mattresses,
proceeded forthwith to operate on him, surrounded by the staring,
pushing crowd of dressers and assistants. Madame Delaherche and
Gilberte were seated near the grass-plot, employed in rolling
bandages.

In the street outside Delaherche had caught up with Henriette.

"Come, my dear Madame Weiss, abandon this foolhardy undertaking. How
can you expect to find Weiss in all that confusion? Most likely he is
no longer there by this time; he is probably making his way home
through the fields. I assure you that Bazeilles is inaccessible."

But she did not even listen to him, only increasing her speed, and had
now entered the Rue de Menil, her shortest way to the Balan gate. It
was nearly nine o'clock, and Sedan no longer wore the forbidding,
funereal aspect of the morning, when it awoke to grope and shudder
amid the despair and gloom of its black fog. The shadows of the houses
were sharply defined upon the pavement in the bright sunlight, the
streets were filled with an excited, anxious throng, through which
orderlies and staff officers were constantly pushing their way at a
gallop. The chief centers of attraction were the straggling soldiers
who, even at this early hour of the day, had begun to stream into the
city, minus arms and equipments, some of them slightly wounded, others
in an extreme condition of nervous excitation, shouting and
gesticulating like lunatics. And yet the place would have had very
much its every-day aspect, had it not been for the tight-closed
shutters of the shops, the lifeless house-fronts, where not a blind
was open. Then there was the cannonade, that never-ceasing cannonade,
beneath which earth and rocks, walls and foundations, even to the very
slates upon the roofs, shook and trembled.

What between the damage that his reputation as a man of bravery and
politeness would inevitably suffer should he desert Henriette in her
time of trouble, and his disinclination to again face the iron hail on
the Bazeilles road, Delaherche was certainly in a very unpleasant
predicament. Just as they reached the Balan gate a bevy of mounted
officers, returning to the city, suddenly came riding up, and they
were parted. There was a dense crowd of people around the gate,
waiting for news. It was all in vain that he ran this way and that,
looking for the young woman in the throng; she must have been beyond
the walls by that time, speeding along the road, and pocketing his
gallantry for use on some future occasion, he said to himself aloud:

"Very well, so much the worse for her; it was too idiotic."

Then the manufacturer strolled about the city, bourgeois-like desirous
to lose no portion of the spectacle, and at the same time tormented by
a constantly increasing feeling of anxiety. How was it all to end? and
would not the city suffer heavily should the army be defeated? The
questions were hard ones to answer; he could not give a satisfactory
solution to the conundrum when so much depended on circumstances, but
none the less he was beginning to feel very uneasy for his factory and
house in the Rue Maqua, whence he had already taken the precaution to
remove his securities and valuables and bury them in a place of
safety. He dropped in at the Hotel de Ville, found the Municipal
Council sitting in permanent session, and loitered away a couple of
hours there without hearing any fresh news, unless that affairs
outside the walls were beginning to look very threatening. The army,
under the pushing and hauling process, pushed back to the rear by
General Ducrot during the hour and a half while the command was in his
hands, hauled forward to the front again by de Wimpffen, his
successor, knew not where to yield obedience, and the entire lack of
plan and competent leadership, the incomprehensible vacillation, the
abandonment of positions only to retake them again at terrible cost of
life, all these things could not fail to end in ruin and disaster.

From there Delaherche pushed forward to the Sous-Prefecture to
ascertain whether the Emperor had returned yet from the field of
battle. The only tidings he gleaned here were of Marshal MacMahon, who
was said to be resting comfortably, his wound, which was not
dangerous, having been dressed by a surgeon. About eleven o'clock,
however, as he was again going the rounds, his progress was arrested
for a moment in the Grande-Rue, opposite the Hotel de l'Europe, by a
sorry cavalcade of dust-stained horsemen, whose jaded nags were moving
at a walk, and at their head he recognized the Emperor, who was
returning after having spent four hours on the battle-field. It was
plain that death would have nothing to do with him. The big drops of
anguish had washed the rouge from off those painted cheeks, the waxed
mustache had lost its stiffness and drooped over the mouth, and in
that ashen face, in those dim eyes, was the stupor of one in his last
agony. One of the officers alighted in front of the hotel and
proceeded to give some friends, who were collected there, an account
of their route, from la Moncelle to Givonne, up the entire length of
the little valley among the soldiers of the 1st corps, who had already
been pressed back by the Saxons across the little stream to the right
bank; and they had returned by the sunken road of the Fond de Givonne,
which was even then in such an encumbered condition that had the
Emperor desired to make his way to the front again he would have found
the greatest difficulty in doing so. Besides, what would it have
availed?

As Delaherche was drinking in these particulars with greedy ears a
loud explosion shook the quarter. It was a shell, which had demolished
a chimney in the Rue Sainte-Barbe, near the citadel. There was a
general rush and scramble; men swore and women shrieked. He had
flattened himself against the wall, when another explosion broke the
windows in a house not far away. The consequences would be dreadful if
they should shell Sedan; he made his way back to the Rue Maqua on a
keen run, and was seized by such an imperious desire to learn the
truth that he did not pause below stairs, but hurried to the roof,
where there was a terrace that commanded a view of the city and its
environs.

A glance of the situation served to reassure him; the German fire was
not directed against the city; the batteries at Frenois and la Marfee
were shelling the Plateau de l'Algerie over the roofs of the houses,
and now that his alarm had subsided he could even watch with a certain
degree of admiration the flight of the projectiles as they sailed over
Sedan in a wide, majestic curve, leaving behind them a faint trail of
smoke upon the air, like gigantic birds, invisible to mortal eye and
to be traced only by the gray plumage shed by their pinions. At first
it seemed to him quite evident that what damage had been done so far
was the result of random practice by the Prussian gunners: they were
not bombarding the city yet; then, upon further consideration, he was
of opinion that their firing was intended as a response to the
ineffectual fire of the few guns mounted on the fortifications of the
place. Turning to the north he looked down from his position upon the
extended and complex system of defenses of the citadel, the frowning
curtains black with age, the green expanses of the turfed glacis, the
stern bastions that reared their heads at geometrically accurate
angles, prominent among them the three cyclopean salients, the
Ecossais, the Grand Jardin, and la Rochette, while further to the
west, in extension of the line, were Fort Nassau and Fort Palatinat,
above the faubourg of Menil. The sight produced in him a melancholy
impression of immensity and futility. Of what avail were they now
against the powerful modern guns with their immense range? Besides,
the works were not manned; cannon, ammunition, men were wanting. Some
three weeks previously the governor had invited the citizens to
organize and form a National Guard, and these volunteers were now
doing duty as gunners; and thus it was that there were three guns in
service at Palatinat, while at the Porte de Paris there may have been
a half dozen. As they had only seven or eight rounds to each gun,
however, the men husbanded their ammunition, limiting themselves to
a shot every half hour, and that only as a sort of salve to their
self-respect, for none of their missiles reached the enemy; all were
lost in the meadows opposite them. Hence the enemy's batteries,
disdainful of such small game, contemptuously pitched a shell at them
from time to time, out of charity, as it were.

Those batteries over across the river were objects of great interest
to Delaherche. He was eagerly scanning the heights of la Marfee with
his naked eye, when all at once he thought of the spy-glass with which
he sometimes amused himself by watching the doings of his neighbors
from the terrace. He ran downstairs and got it, returned and placed it
in position, and as he was slowly sweeping the horizon and trees,
fields, houses came within his range of vision, he lighted on that
group of uniforms, at the angle of a pine wood, over the main battery
at Frenois, of which Weiss had caught a glimpse from Bazeilles. To
him, however, thanks to the excellence of his glass, it would have
been no difficult matter to count the number of officers of the staff,
so distinctly he made them out. Some of them were reclining carelessly
on the grass, others were conversing in little groups, and in front of
them all stood a solitary figure, a spare, well-proportioned man to
appearances, in an unostentatious uniform, who yet asserted in some
indefinable way his masterhood. It was the Prussian King, scarce half
finger high, one of those miniature leaden toys that afford children
such delight. Although he was not certain of this identity until later
on the manufacturer found himself, by reason of some inexplicable
attraction, constantly returning to that diminutive puppet, whose
face, scarce larger than a pin's head, was but a pale point against
the immense blue sky.

It was not midday yet, and since nine o'clock the master had been
watching the movements, inexorable as fate, of his armies. Onward,
ever onward, they swept, by roads traced for them in advance,
completing the circle, slowly but surely closing in and enveloping
Sedan in their living wall of men and guns. The army on his left, that
had come up across the level plain of Donchery, was debouching still
from the pass of Saint-Albert and, leaving Saint-Menges in its rear,
was beginning to show its heads of columns at Fleigneux; and, in the
rear of the XIth corps, then sharply engaged with General Douay's
force, he could discern the Vth corps, availing itself of the shelter
of the woods and advancing stealthily on Illy, while battery upon
battery came wheeling into position, an ever-lengthening line of
thundering guns, until the horizon was an unbroken ring of fire. On
the right the army was now in undisputed possession of the valley of
the Givonne; the XIIth corps had taken la Moncelle, the Guards had
forced the passage of the stream at Daigny, compelling General Ducrot
to seek the protection of the wood of la Garenne, and were pushing up
the right bank, likewise in full march upon the plateau of Illy. Their
task was almost done; one effort more, and up there at the north,
among those barren fields, on the very verge of the dark forests of
the Ardennes, the Crown Prince of Prussia would join hands with the
Crown Prince of Saxony. To the south of Sedan the village of Bazeilles
was lost to sight in the dense smoke of its burning houses, in the
clouds of dun vapor that rose above the furious conflict.

And tranquilly, ever since the morning, the King had been watching and
waiting. An hour yet, two hours, it might be three, it mattered not;
it was only a question of time. Wheel and pinion, cog and lever, were
working in harmony, the great engine of destruction was in motion, and
soon would have run its course. In the center of the immense horizon,
beneath the deep vault of sunlit sky, the bounds of the battlefield
were ever becoming narrower, the black swarms were converging, closing
in on doomed Sedan. There were fiery reflexions in the windows of the
city; to the left, in the direction of the Faubourg de la Cassine, it
seemed as if a house was burning. And outside the circle of flame and
smoke, in the fields no longer trodden by armed men, over by Donchery,
over by Carignan, peace, warm and luminous, lay upon the land; the
bright waters of the Meuse, the lusty trees rejoicing in their
strength, the broad, verdant meadows, the fertile, well-kept farms,
all rested peacefully beneath the fervid noonday sun.

Turning to his staff, the King briefly called for information upon
some point. It was the royal will to direct each move on the gigantic
chessboard; to hold in the hollow of his hand the hosts who looked to
him for guidance. At his left, a flock of swallows, affrighted by the
noise of the cannonade, rose high in air, wheeled, and vanished in the
south.



                                IV.

Between the city and Balan, Henriette got over the ground at a good,
round pace. It was not yet nine o'clock; the broad footpath, bordered
by gardens and pretty cottages, was as yet comparatively free,
although as she approached the village it began to be more and more
obstructed by flying citizens and moving troops. When she saw a great
surge of the human tide advancing on her she hugged the walls and
house-fronts, and by dint of address and perseverance slipped through,
somehow. The fold of black lace that half concealed her fair hair and
small, pale face, the sober gown that enveloped her slight form, made
her an inconspicuous object among the throng; she went her way
unnoticed by the by-passers, and nothing retarded her light, silent
steps.

At Balan, however, she found the road blocked by a regiment of
infanterie de marine. It was a compact mass of men, drawn up under the
tall trees that concealed them from the enemy's observation, awaiting
orders. She raised herself on tiptoe, and could not see the end;
still, she made herself as small as she could and attempted to worm
her way through. The men shoved her with their elbows, and the butts
of their muskets made acquaintance with her ribs; when she had
advanced a dozen paces there was a chorus of shouts and angry
protests. A captain turned on her and roughly cried:

"Hi, there, you woman! are you crazy? Where are you going?"

"I am going to Bazeilles."

"What, to Bazeilles?"

There was a shout of laughter. The soldiers pointed at her with their
fingers; she was the object of their witticisms. The captain, also,
greatly amused by the incident, had to have his joke.

"You should take us along with you, my little dear, if you are going
to Bazeilles. We were there a short while ago, and I am in hope that
we shall go back there, but I can tell you that the temperature of the
place is none too cool."

"I am going to Bazeilles to look for my husband," Henriette declared,
in her gentle voice, while her blue eyes shone with undiminished
resolution.

The laughter ceased; an old sergeant extricated her from the crowd
that had collected around her, and forced her to retrace her steps.

"My poor child, you see it is impossible to get through. Bazeilles is
no place for you. You will find your husband by and by. Come, listen
to reason!"

She had to obey, and stood aside beneath the trees, raising herself on
her toes at every moment to peer before her, firm in her resolve to
continue her journey as soon as she should be allowed to pass. She
learned the condition of affairs from the conversation that went on
around her. Some officers were criticising with great acerbity the
order for the abandonment of Bazeilles, which had occurred at a
quarter-past eight, at the time when General Ducrot, taking over the
command from the marshal, had considered it best to concentrate the
troops on the plateau of Illy. What made matters worse was, that the
valley of the Givonne having fallen into the hands of the Germans
through the premature retirement of the 1st corps, the 12th corps,
which was even then sustaining a vigorous attack in front, was
overlapped on its left flank. Now that General de Wimpffen had
relieved General Ducrot, it seemed that the original plan was to be
carried out. Orders had been received to retake Bazeilles at every
cost, and drive the Bavarians into the Meuse. And so, in the ranks of
that regiment that had been halted there in full retreat at the
entrance of the village and ordered to resume the offensive, there was
much bitter feeling, and angry words were rife. Was ever such
stupidity heard of? to make them abandon a position, and immediately
tell them to turn round and retake it from the enemy! They were
willing enough to risk their life in the cause, but no one cared to
throw it away for nothing!

A body of mounted men dashed up the street and General de Wimpffen
appeared among them, and raising himself erect on his stirrups, with
flashing eyes, he shouted, in ringing tones:

"Friends, we cannot retreat; it would be ruin to us all. And if we do
have to retreat, it shall be on Carignan, and not on Mezieres. But we
shall be victorious! You beat the enemy this morning; you will beat
them again!"

He galloped off on a road that conducted to la Moncelle. It was said
that there had been a violent altercation between him and General
Ducrot, each upholding his own plan, and decrying the plan of the
other--one asserting that retreat by way of Mezieres had been
impracticable all that morning; the other predicting that, unless they
fell back on Illy, the army would be surrounded before night. And
there was a great deal of bitter recrimination, each taxing the other
with ignorance of the country and of the situation of the troops. The
pity of it was that both were right.

But Henriette, meantime, had made an encounter that caused her to
forget her project for a moment. In some poor outcasts; stranded by
the wayside, she had recognized a family of honest weavers from
Bazeilles, father, mother, and three little girls, of whom the largest
was only nine years old. They were utterly disheartened and forlorn,
and so weary and footsore that they could go no further, and had
thrown themselves down at the foot of a wall.

"Alas! dear lady," the wife and mother said to Henriette, "we have
lost our all. Our house--you know where our house stood on the Place
de l'Eglise--well, a shell came and burned it. Why we and the children
did not stay and share its fate I do not know--"

At these words the three little ones began to cry and sob afresh,
while the mother, in distracted language, gave further details of the
catastrophe.

"The loom, I saw it burn like seasoned kindling wood, and the bed,
the chairs and tables, they blazed like so much straw. And even the
clock--yes, the poor old clock that I tried to save and could not."

"My God! my God!" the man exclaimed, his eyes swimming with tears,
"what is to become of us?"

Henriette endeavored to comfort them, but it was in a voice that
quavered strangely.

"You have been preserved to each other, you are safe and unharmed;
your three little girls are left you. What reason have you to
complain?"

Then she proceeded to question them to learn how matters stood in
Bazeilles, whether they had seen her husband, in what state they had
left her house, but in their half-dazed condition they gave
conflicting answers. No, they had not seen M. Weiss. One of the little
girls, however, declared that she had seen him, and that he was lying
on the ground with a great hole in his head, whereon the father gave
her a box on the ear, bidding her hold her tongue and not tell such
lies to the lady. As for the house, they could say with certainty that
it was intact at the time of their flight; they even remembered to
have observed, as they passed it, that the doors and windows were
tightly secured, as if it was quite deserted. At that time, moreover,
the only foothold that the Bavarians had secured for themselves was in
the Place de l'Eglise, and to carry the village they would have to
fight for it, street by street, house by house. They must have been
gaining ground since then, though; all Bazeilles was in flames by that
time, like enough, and not a wall left standing, thanks to the
fierceness of the assailants and the resolution of the defenders. And
so the poor creatures went on, with trembling, affrighted gestures,
evoking the horrid sights their eyes had seen and telling their
dreadful tale of slaughter and conflagration and corpses lying in
heaps upon the ground.

"But my husband?" Henriette asked again.

They made no answer, only continued to cover their face with their
hands and sob. Her cruel anxiety, as she stood there erect, with no
outward sign of weakness, was only evinced by a slight quivering of
the lips. What was she to believe? Vainly she told herself the child
was mistaken; her mental vision pictured her husband lying there dead
before her in the street with a bullet wound in the head. Again, that
house, so securely locked and bolted, was another source of alarm; why
was it so? was he no longer in it? The conviction that he was dead
sent an icy chill to her heart; but perhaps he was only wounded,
perhaps he was breathing still; and so sudden and imperious was the
need she felt of flying to his side that she would again have
attempted to force her passage through the troops had not the bugles
just then sounded the order for them to advance.

The regiment was largely composed of raw, half-drilled recruits from
Toulon, Brest, and Rochefort, men who had never fired a shot, but all
that morning they had fought with a bravery and firmness that would
not have disgraced veteran troops. They had not shown much aptitude
for marching on the road from Rheims to Mouzon, weighted as they were
with their unaccustomed burdens, but when they came to face the enemy
their discipline and sense of duty made themselves felt, and
notwithstanding the righteous anger that was in their hearts, the
bugle had but to sound and they returned to brave the fire and
encounter the foe. Three several times they had been promised a
division to support them; it never came. They felt that they were
deserted, sacrificed; it was the offering of their life that was
demanded of them by those who, having first made them evacuate the
place, were now sending them back into the fiery furnace of Bazeilles.
And they knew it, and they gave their life, freely, without a murmur,
closing up their ranks and leaving the shelter of the trees to meet
afresh the storm of shell and bullets.

Henriette gave a deep sigh of relief; at last they were about to move!
She followed them, with the hope that she might enter the village
unperceived in their rear, prepared to run with them should they take
the double-quick. But they had scarcely begun to move when they came
to a halt again. The projectiles were now falling thick and fast; to
regain possession of Bazeilles it would be necessary to dispute every
inch of the road, occupying the cross-streets, the houses and gardens
on either side of the way. A brisk fire of musketry proceeded from the
head of the column, the advance was irregular, by fits and starts,
every petty obstacle entailed a delay of many minutes. She felt that
she would never attain her end by remaining there at the rear of the
column, waiting for it to fight its way through, and with prompt
decision she bent her course to the right and took a path that led
downward between two hedges to the meadows.

Henriette's plan now was to reach Bazeilles by those broad levels that
border the Meuse. She was not very clear about it in her mind,
however, and continued to hasten onward in obedience to that blind
instinct which had originally imparted to her its impulse. She had not
gone far before she found herself standing and gazing in dismay at a
miniature ocean which barred her further progress in that direction.
It was the inundated fields, the low-lying lands that a measure of
defense had converted into a lake, which had escaped her memory. For a
single moment she thought of turning back; then, at the risk of
leaving her shoes behind, she pushed on, hugging the bank, through the
water that covered the grass and rose above her ankles. For a hundred
yards her way, though difficult, was not impracticable; then she
encountered a garden-wall directly in her front; the ground fell off
sharply, and where the wall terminated the water was six feet deep.
Her path was closed effectually; she clenched her little fists and had
to summon up all her resolution to keep from bursting into tears. When
the first shock of disappointment had passed over she made her way
along the enclosure and found a narrow lane that pursued a tortuous
course among the scattered houses. She believed that now her troubles
were at an end, for she was acquainted with that labyrinth, that
tangled maze of passages, which, to one who had the key to them, ended
at the village.

But the missiles seemed to be falling there even more thickly than
elsewhere. Henriette stopped short in her tracks and all the blood in
her body seemed to flow back upon her heart at a frightful detonation,
so close that she could feel the wind upon her cheek. A shell had
exploded directly before her and only a few yards away. She turned her
head and scrutinized for a moment the heights of the left bank, above
which the smoke from the German batteries was curling upward; she saw
what she must do, and when she started on her way again it was with
eyes fixed on the horizon, watching for the shells in order to avoid
them. There was method in the rash daring of her proceeding, and all
the brave tranquillity that the prudent little housewife had at her
command. She was not going to be killed if she could help it; she
wished to find her husband and bring him back with her, that they
might yet have many days of happy life together. The projectiles still
came tumbling frequently as ever; she sped along behind walls, made a
cover of boundary stones, availed herself of every slight depression.
But presently she came to an open space, a bit of unprotected road
where splinters and fragments of exploded shells lay thick, and she
was watching behind a shed for a chance to make a dash when she
perceived, emerging from a sort of cleft in the ground in front of
her, a human head and two bright eyes that peered about inquisitively.
It was a little, bare-footed, ten-year-old boy, dressed in a shirt and
ragged trousers, an embryonic tramp, who was watching the battle with
huge delight. At every report his small black beady eyes would snap
and sparkle, and he jubilantly shouted:

"Oh my! aint it bully!--Look out, there comes another one! don't stir!
Boom! that was a rouser!--Don't stir! don't stir!"

And each time there came a shell he dived to the bottom of his hole,
then reappeared, showing his dirty, elfish face, until it was time to
duck again.

Henriette now noticed that the projectiles all came from Liry, while
the batteries at Pont-Maugis and Noyers were confining their attention
to Balan. At each discharge she could see the smoke distinctly,
immediately afterward she heard the scream of the shell, succeeded by
the explosion. Just then the gunners afforded them a brief respite;
the bluish haze above the heights drifted slowly away upon the wind.

"They've stopped to take a drink, you can go your money on it," said
the urchin. "Quick, quick, give me your hand! Now's the time to skip!"

He took her by the hand and dragged her along with him, and in this
way they crossed the open together, side by side, running for dear
life, with head and shoulders down. When they were safely ensconced
behind a stack that opportunely offered its protection at the end of
their course and turned to look behind them, they beheld another shell
come rushing through the air and alight upon the shed at the very spot
they had occupied so lately. The crash was fearful; the shed was
knocked to splinters. The little ragamuffin considered that a capital
joke, and fairly danced with glee.

"Bravo, hit 'em agin! that's the way to do it!--But it was time for us
to skip, though, wasn't it?"

But again Henriette struck up against insurmountable obstacles in the
shape of hedges and garden-walls, that offered absolutely no outlet.
Her irrepressible companion, still wearing his broad grin and
remarking that where there was a will there was a way, climbed to the
coping of a wall and assisted her to scale it. On reaching the further
side they found themselves in a kitchen garden among beds of peas and
string-beans and surrounded by fences on every side; their sole exit
was through the little cottage of the gardener. The boy led the way,
swinging his arms and whistling unconcernedly, with an expression on
his face of most profound indifference. He pushed open a door that
admitted him to a bedroom, from which he passed on into another room,
where there was an old woman, apparently the only living being upon
the premises. She was standing by a table, in a sort of dazed stupor;
she looked at the two strangers who thus unceremoniously made a
highway of her dwelling, but addressed them no word, nor did they
speak a word to her. They vanished as quickly as they had appeared,
emerging by the exit opposite their entrance upon an alley that they
followed for a moment. After that there were other difficulties to be
surmounted, and thus they went on for more than half a mile, scaling
walls, struggling through hedges, availing themselves of every short
cut that offered, it might be the door of a stable or the window of a
cottage, as the exigencies of the case demanded. Dogs howled
mournfully; they had a narrow escape from being run down by a cow that
was plunging along, wild with terror. It seemed as if they must be
approaching the village, however; there was an odor of burning wood in
the air, and momentarily volumes of reddish smoke, like veils of finest
gauze floating in the wind, passed athwart the sun and obscured his
light.

All at once the urchin came to a halt and planted himself in front of
Henriette.

"I say, lady, tell us where you're going, will you?"

"You can see very well where I am going; to Bazeilles."

He gave a low whistle of astonishment, following it up with the shrill
laugh of the careless vagabond to whom nothing is sacred, who is not
particular upon whom or what he launches his irreverent gibes.

"To Bazeilles--oh, no, I guess not; I don't think my business lies
that way--I have another engagement. Bye-bye, ta-ta!"

He turned on his heel and was off like a shot, and she was none the
wiser as to whence he came or whither he went. She had found him in a
hole, she had lost sight of him at the corner of a wall, and never was
she to set eyes on him again.

When she was alone again Henriette experienced a strange sensation of
fear. He had been no protection to her, that scrubby urchin, but his
chatter had been a distraction; he had kept her spirits up by his way
of making game of everything, as if it was all one huge raree show.
Now she was beginning to tremble, her strength was failing her, she,
who by nature was so courageous. The shells no longer fell around her:
the Germans had ceased firing on Bazeilles, probably to avoid killing
their own men, who were now masters of the village; but within the
last few minutes she had heard the whistling of bullets, that peculiar
sound like the buzzing of a bluebottle fly, that she recognized by
having heard it described. There was such a raging, roaring clamor
rising to the heavens in the distance, the confused uproar of other
sounds was so violent, that in it she failed to distinguish the report
of musketry. As she was turning the corner of a house there was a
deadened thud close at her ear, succeeded by the sound of falling
plaster, which brought her to a sudden halt; it was a bullet that had
struck the facade. She was pale as death, and asked herself if her
courage would be sufficient to carry her through to the end; and
before she had time to frame an answer, she received what seemed to
her a blow from a hammer upon her forehead, and sank, stunned, upon
her knees. It was a spent ball that had ricocheted and struck her a
little above the left eyebrow with sufficient force to raise an ugly
contusion. When she came to, raising her hands to her forehead, she
withdrew them covered with blood. But the pressure of her fingers had
assured her that the bone beneath was uninjured, and she said aloud,
encouraging herself by the sound of her own voice:

"It is nothing, it is nothing. Come, I am not afraid; no, no! I am not
afraid."

And it was the truth; she arose, and from that time walked amid the
storm of bullets with absolute indifference, like one whose soul is
parted from his body, who reasons not, who gives his life. She marched
straight onward, with head erect, no longer seeking to shelter
herself, and if she struck out at a swifter pace it was only that she
might reach her appointed end more quickly. The death-dealing missiles
pattered on the road before and behind her; twenty times they were
near taking her life; she never noticed them. At last she was at
Bazeilles, and struck diagonally across a field of lucerne in order to
regain the road, the main street that traversed the village. Just as
she turned into it she cast her eyes to the right, and there, some two
hundred paces from her, beheld her house in a blaze. The flames were
invisible against the bright sunlight; the roof had already fallen in
in part, the windows were belching dense clouds of black smoke. She
could restrain herself no longer, and ran with all her strength.

Ever since eight o'clock Weiss, abandoned by the retiring troops, had
been a self-made prisoner there. His return to Sedan had become an
impossibility, for the Bavarians, immediately upon the withdrawal of
the French, had swarmed down from the park of Montivilliers and
occupied the road. He was alone and defenseless, save for his musket
and what few cartridges were left him, when he beheld before his door
a little band of soldiers, ten in number, abandoned, like himself, and
parted from their comrades, looking about them for a place where they
might defend themselves and sell their lives dearly. He ran downstairs
to admit them, and thenceforth the house had a garrison, a lieutenant,
corporal and eight men, all bitterly inflamed against the enemy, and
resolved never to surrender.

"What, Laurent, you here!" he exclaimed, surprised to recognize among
the soldiers a tall, lean young man, who held in his hand a musket,
doubtless taken from some corpse.

Laurent was dressed in jacket and trousers of blue cloth; he was
helper to a gardener of the neighborhood, and had lately lost his
mother and his wife, both of whom had been carried off by the same
insidious fever.

"And why shouldn't I be?" he replied. "All I have is my skin, and I'm
willing to give that. And then I am not such a bad shot, you know, and
it will be just fun for me to blaze away at those rascals and knock
one of 'em over every time."

The lieutenant and the corporal had already begun to make an
inspection of the premises. There was nothing to be done on the ground
floor; all they did was to push the furniture against the door and
windows in such a way as to form as secure a barricade as possible.
After attending to that they proceeded to arrange a plan for the
defense of the three small rooms of the first floor and the open
attic, making no change, however, in the measures that had been
already taken by Weiss, the protection of the windows by mattresses,
the loopholes cut here and there in the slats of the blinds. As the
lieutenant was leaning from the window to take a survey of their
surroundings, he heard the wailing cry of a child.

"What is that?" he asked.

Weiss looked from the window, and, in the adjoining dyehouse, beheld
the little sick boy, Charles, his scarlet face resting on the white
pillow, imploringly begging his mother to bring him a drink: his
mother, who lay dead across the threshold, beyond hearing or
answering. With a sorrowful expression he replied:

"It is a poor little child next door, there, crying for his mother,
who was killed by a Prussian shell."

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_" muttered Laurent, "how are they ever going to
pay for all these things!"

As yet only a few random shots had struck the front of the house.
Weiss and the lieutenant, accompanied by the corporal and two men, had
ascended to the attic, where they were in better position to observe
the road, of which they had an oblique view as far as the Place de
l'Eglise. The square was now occupied by the Bavarians, but any
further advance was attended by difficulties that made them very
circumspect. A handful of French soldiers, posted at the mouth of a
narrow lane, held them in check for nearly a quarter of an hour, with
a fire so rapid and continuous that the dead bodies lay in piles. The
next obstacle they encountered was a house on the opposite corner,
which also detained them some time before they could get possession of
it. At one time a woman, with a musket in her hands, was seen through
the smoke, firing from one of the windows. It was the abode of a
baker, and a few soldiers were there in addition to the regular
occupants; and when the house was finally carried there was a hoarse
shout: "No quarter!" a surging, struggling, vociferating throng poured
from the door and rolled across the street to the dead-wall opposite,
and in the raging torrent were seen the woman's skirt, the jacket of a
man, the white hairs of the grandfather; then came the crash of a
volley of musketry, and the wall was splashed with blood from base to
coping. This was a point on which the Germans were inexorable;
everyone caught with arms in his hands and not belonging to some
uniformed organization was shot without the formality of a trial, as
having violated the law of nations. They were enraged at the obstinate
resistance offered them by the village, and the frightful loss they
had sustained during the five hours' conflict provoked them to the
most atrocious reprisals. The gutters ran red with blood, the piled
dead in the streets formed barricades, some of the more open places
were charnel-houses, from whose depths rose the death-rattle of men in
their last agony. And in every house that they had to carry by assault
in this way men were seen distributing wisps of lighted straw, others
ran to and fro with blazing torches, others smeared the walls and
furniture with petroleum; soon whole streets were burning,
Bazeilles was in flames.

And now Weiss's was the only house in the central portion of the
village that still continued to hold out, preserving its air of
menace, like some stern citadel determined not to yield.

"Look out! here they come!" shouted the lieutenant.

A simultaneous discharge from the attic and the first floor laid low
three of the Bavarians, who had come forward hugging the walls. The
remainder of the body fell back and posted themselves under cover
wherever the street offered facilities, and the siege of the house
began; the bullets pelted on the front like rattling hail. For nearly
ten minutes the fusillade continued without cessation, damaging the
stucco, but not doing much mischief otherwise, until one of the men
whom the lieutenant had taken with him to the garret was so imprudent
as to show himself at a window, when a bullet struck him square in the
forehead, killing him instantly. It was plain that whoever exposed
himself would do so at peril of his life.

"Doggone it! there's one gone!" growled the lieutenant. "Be careful,
will you; there's not enough of us that we can afford to let ourselves
be killed for the fun of it!"

He had taken a musket and was firing away like the rest of them from
behind the protection of a shutter, at the same time watching and
encouraging his men. It was Laurent, the gardener's helper, however,
who more than all the others excited his wonder and admiration.
Kneeling on the floor, with his chassepot peering out of the narrow
aperture of a loophole, he never fired until absolutely certain of his
aim; he even told in advance where he intended hitting his living
target.

"That little officer in blue that you see down there, in the heart.
--That other fellow, the tall, lean one, between the eyes.--I don't
like the looks of that fat man with the red beard; I think I'll let
him have it in the stomach."

And each time his man went down as if struck by lightning, hit in the
very spot he had mentioned, and he continued to fire at intervals,
coolly, without haste, there being no necessity for hurrying himself,
as he remarked, since it would require too long a time to kill them
all in that way.

"Oh! if I had but my eyes!" Weiss impatiently exclaimed. He had broken
his spectacles a while before, to his great sorrow. He had his double
eye-glass still, but the perspiration was rolling down his face in
such streams that it was impossible to keep it on his nose. His usual
calm collectedness was entirely lost in his over-mastering passion;
and thus, between his defective vision and his agitated nerves, many
of his shots were wasted.

"Don't hurry so, it is only throwing away powder," said Laurent. "Do
you see that man who has lost his helmet, over yonder by the grocer's
shop? Well, now draw a bead on him,--carefully, don't hurry. That's
first-rate! you have broken his paw for him and made him dance a jig
in his own blood."

Weiss, rather pale in the face, gave a look at the result of his
marksmanship.

"Put him out of his misery," he said.

"What, waste a cartridge! Not, much. Better save it for another of
'em."

The besiegers could not have failed to notice the remarkable practice
of the invisible sharpshooter in the attic. Whoever of them showed
himself in the open was certain to remain there. They therefore
brought up re-enforcements and placed them in position, with
instructions to maintain an unremitting fire upon the roof of the
building. It was not long before the attic became untenable; the
slates were perforated as if they had been tissue paper, the bullets
found their way to every nook and corner, buzzing and humming as if
the room had been invaded by a swarm of angry bees. Death stared them
all in the face if they remained there longer.

"We will go downstairs," said the lieutenant. "We can hold the first
floor for awhile yet." But as he was making for the ladder a bullet
struck him in the groin and he fell. "Too late, doggone it!"

Weiss and Laurent, aided by the remaining soldiers, carried him below,
notwithstanding his vehement protests; he told them not to waste their
time on him, his time had come; he might as well die upstairs as down.
He was still able to be of service to them, however, when they had
laid him on a bed in a room of the first floor, by advising them what
was best to do.

"Fire into the mass," he said; "don't stop to take aim. They are too
cowardly to risk an advance unless they see your fire begin to
slacken."

And so the siege of the little house went on as if it was to last for
eternity. Twenty times it seemed as if it must be swept away bodily by
the storm of iron that beat upon it, and each time, as the smoke
drifted away, it was seen amid the sulphurous blasts, torn, pierced,
mangled, but erect and menacing, spitting fire and lead with
undiminished venom from each one of its orifices. The assailants,
furious that they should be detained for such length of time and lose
so many men before such a hovel, yelled and fired wildly in the
distance, but had not courage to attempt to carry the lower floor by a
rush.

"Look out!" shouted the corporal, "there is a shutter about to fall!"

The concentrated fire had torn one of the inside blinds from its
hinges, but Weiss darted forward and pushed a wardrobe before the
window, and Laurent was enabled to continue his operations under
cover. One of the soldiers was lying at his feet with his jaw broken,
losing blood freely. Another received a bullet in his chest, and
dragged himself over to the wall, where he lay gasping in protracted
agony, while convulsive movements shook his frame at intervals. They
were but eight, now, all told, not counting the lieutenant, who, too
weak to speak, his back supported by the headboard of the bed,
continued to give his directions by signs. As had been the case with
the attic, the three rooms of the first floor were beginning to be
untenable, for the mangled mattresses no longer afforded protection
against the missiles; at every instant the plaster fell in sheets from
the walls and ceiling, and the furniture was in process of demolition:
the sides of the wardrobe yawned as if they had been cloven by an ax.
And worse still, the ammunition was nearly exhausted.

"It's too bad!" grumbled Laurent; "just when everything was going so
beautifully!"

But suddenly Weiss was struck with an idea.

"Wait!"

He had thought of the dead soldier up in the garret above, and climbed
up the ladder to search for the cartridges he must have about him. A
wide space of the roof had been crushed in; he saw the blue sky, a
patch of bright, wholesome light that made him start. Not wishing to
be killed, he crawled over the floor on his hands and knees, then,
when he had the cartridges in his possession, some thirty of them, he
made haste down again as fast his legs could carry him.

Downstairs, as he was sharing his newly acquired treasure with the
gardener's lad, a soldier uttered a piercing cry and sank to his
knees. They were but seven; and presently they were but six, a bullet
having entered the corporal's head at the eye and lodged in the brain.

From that time on, Weiss had no distinct consciousness of what was
going on around him; he and the five others continued to blaze away
like lunatics, expending their cartridges, with not the faintest idea
in their heads that there could be such a thing as surrender. In the
three small rooms the floor was strewn with fragments of the broken
furniture. Ingress and egress were barred by the corpses that lay
before the doors; in one corner a wounded man kept up a pitiful wail
that was frightful to hear. Every inch of the floor was slippery with
blood; a thin stream of blood from the attic was crawling lazily down
the stairs. And the air was scarce respirable, an air thick and hot
with sulphurous fumes, heavy with smoke, filled with an acrid,
nauseating dust; a darkness dense as that of night, through which
darted the red flame-tongues of the musketry.

"By God's thunder!" cried Weiss, "they are bringing up artillery!"

It was true. Despairing of ever reducing that handful of madmen, who
had consumed so much of their time, the Bavarians had run up a gun to
the corner of the Place de l'Eglise, and were putting it into
position; perhaps they would be allowed to pass when they should have
knocked the house to pieces with their solid shot. And the honor there
was to them in the proceeding, the gun trained on them down there in
the square, excited the bitter merriment of the besieged; the utmost
intensity of scorn was in their gibes. Ah! the cowardly _bougres_,
with their artillery! Kneeling in his old place still, Laurent
carefully adjusted his aim and each time picked off a gunner, so that
the service of the piece became impossible, and it was five or six
minutes before they fired their first shot. It ranged high, moreover,
and only clipped away a bit of the roof.

But the end was now at hand. It was all in vain that they searched the
dead men's belts; there was not a single cartridge left. With
vacillating steps and haggard faces the six groped around the room,
seeking what heavy objects they might find to hurl from the windows
upon their enemies. One of them showed himself at the casement,
vociferating insults, and shaking his fist; instantly he was pierced
by a dozen bullets; and there remained but five. What were they to do?
go down and endeavor to make their escape by way of the garden and the
meadows? The question was never answered, for at that moment a tumult
arose below, a furious mob came tumbling up the stairs: it was the
Bavarians, who had at last thought of turning the position by breaking
down the back door and entering the house by that way. For a brief
moment a terrible hand-to-hand conflict raged in the small rooms among
the dead bodies and the debris of the furniture. One of the soldiers
had his chest transfixed by a bayonet thrust, the two others were made
prisoners, while the attitude of the lieutenant, who had given up the
ghost, was that of one about to give an order, his mouth open, his arm
raised aloft.

While these things were occurring an officer, a big, flaxen-haired
man, carrying a revolver in his hand, whose bloodshot eyes seemed
bursting from their sockets, had caught sight of Weiss and Laurent,
both in their civilian attire; he roared at them in French:

"Who are you, you fellows? and what are you doing here?"

Then, glancing at their faces, black with powder-stains, he saw how
matters stood, he heaped insult and abuse on them in guttural German,
in a voice that shook with anger. Already he had raised his revolver
and was about to send a bullet into their heads, when the soldiers of
his command rushed in, seized Laurent and Weiss, and hustled them out
to the staircase. The two men were borne along like straws upon a
mill-race amidst that seething human torrent, under whose pressure
they were hurled from out the door and sent staggering, stumbling
across the street to the opposite wall amid a chorus of execration
that drowned the sound of their officers' voices. Then, for a space of
two or three minutes, while the big fair-haired officer was
endeavoring to extricate them in order to proceed with their
execution, an opportunity was afforded them to raise themselves erect
and look about them.

Other houses had taken fire; Bazeilles was now a roaring, blazing
furnace. Flames had begun to appear at the tall windows of the church
and were creeping upward toward the roof. Some soldiers who were
driving a venerable lady from her home had compelled her to furnish
the matches with which to fire her own beds and curtains. Lighted by
blazing brands and fed by petroleum in floods, fires were rising and
spreading in every quarter; it was no longer civilized warfare, but a
conflict of savages, maddened by the long protracted strife, wreaking
vengeance for their dead, their heaps of dead, upon whom they trod at
every step they took. Yelling, shouting bands traversed the streets
amid the scurrying smoke and falling cinders, swelling the hideous
uproar into which entered sounds of every kind: shrieks, groans, the
rattle of musketry, the crash of falling walls. Men could scarce see
one another; great livid clouds drifted athwart the sun and obscured
his light, bearing with them an intolerable stench of soot and blood,
heavy with the abominations of the slaughter. In every quarter the
work of death and destruction still went on: the human brute
unchained, the imbecile wrath, the mad fury, of man devouring his
brother man.

And Weiss beheld his house burn before his eyes. Some soldiers had
applied the torch, others fed the flame by throwing upon it the
fragments of the wrecked furniture. The _rez-de-chaussee_ was quickly
in a blaze, the smoke poured in dense black volumes from the wounds in
the front and roof. But now the dyehouse adjoining was also on fire,
and horrible to relate, the voice of little Charles, lying on his bed
delirious with fever, could be heard through the crackling of the
flames, beseeching his mother to bring him a draught of water, while
the skirts of the wretched woman who, with her disfigured face, lay
across the door-sill, were even then beginning to kindle.

"Mamma, mamma, I am thirsty! Mamma, bring me a drink of water--"

The weak, faint voice was drowned in the roar of the conflagration;
the cheering of the victors rose on the air in the distance.

But rising above all other sounds, dominating the universal clamor, a
terrible cry was heard. It was Henriette, who had reached the place at
last, and now beheld her husband, backed up against the wall, facing a
platoon of men who were loading their muskets.

She flew to him and threw her arms about his neck.

"My God! what is it! They cannot be going to kill you!"

Weiss looked at her with stupid, unseeing eyes. She! his wife, so long
the object of his desire, so fondly idolized! A great shudder passed
through his frame and he awoke to consciousness of his situation. What
had he done? why had he remained there, firing at the enemy, instead
of returning to her side, as he had promised he would do? It all
flashed upon him now, as the darkness is illuminated by the
lightning's glare: he had wrecked their happiness, they were to be
parted, forever parted. Then he noticed the blood upon her forehead.

"Are you hurt?" he asked. "You were mad to come--"

She interrupted him with an impatient gesture.

"Never mind me; it is a mere scratch. But you, you! why are you here?
They shall not kill you; I will not suffer it!"

The officer, who was endeavoring to clear the road in order to give
the firing party the requisite room, came up on hearing the sound of
voices, and beholding a woman with her arms about the neck of one of
his prisoners, exclaimed loudly in French:

"Come, come, none of this nonsense here! Whence come you? What is your
business here?"

"Give me my husband."

"What, is he your husband, that man? His sentence is pronounced; the
law must take its course."

"Give me my husband."

"Come, be rational. Stand aside; we do not wish to harm you."

"Give me my husband."

Perceiving the futility of arguing with her, the officer was about to
give orders to remove her forcibly from the doomed man's arms when
Laurent, who until then had maintained an impassive silence, ventured
to interfere.

"See here, Captain, I am the man who killed so many of your men; go
ahead and shoot me--that will be all right, especially as I have
neither chick nor child in all the world. But this gentleman's case is
different; he is a married man, don't you see. Come, now, let him go;
then you can settle my business as soon as you choose."

Beside himself with anger, the captain screamed:

"What is all this lingo? Are you trying to make game of me? Come, step
out here, some one of you fellows, and take away this woman!"

He had to repeat his order in German, whereon a soldier came forward
from the ranks, a short stocky Bavarian, with an enormous head
surrounded by a bristling forest of red hair and beard, beneath which
all that was to be seen were a pair of big blue eyes and a massive
nose. He was besmeared with blood, a hideous spectacle, like nothing
so much as some fierce, hairy denizen of the woods, emerging from his
cavern and licking his chops, still red with the gore of the victims
whose bones he has been crunching.

With a heart-rending cry Henriette repeated:

"Give me my husband, or let me die with him."

This seemed to cause the cup of the officer's exasperation to overrun;
he thumped himself violently on the chest, declaring that he was no
executioner, that he would rather die than harm a hair of an innocent
head. There was nothing against her; he would cut off his right hand
rather than do her an injury. And then he repeated his order that she
be taken away.

As the Bavarian came up to carry out his instructions Henriette
tightened her clasp on Weiss's neck, throwing all her strength into
her frantic embrace.

"Oh, my love! Keep me with you, I beseech you; let me die with you--"

Big tears were rolling down his cheeks as, without answering, he
endeavored to loosen the convulsive clasp of the fingers of the poor
creature he loved so dearly.

"You love me no longer, then, that you wish to die without me. Hold
me, keep me, do not let them take me. They will weary at last, and
will kill us together."

He had loosened one of the little hands, and carried it to his lips
and kissed it, working all the while to make the other release its
hold.

"No, no, it shall not be! I will not leave thy bosom; they shall
pierce my heart before reaching thine. I will not survive--"

But at last, after a long struggle, he held both the hands in his.
Then he broke the silence that he had maintained until then, uttering
one single word:

"Farewell, dear wife."

And with his own hands he placed her in the arms of the Bavarian, who
carried her away. She shrieked and struggled, while the soldier,
probably with intent to soothe her, kept pouring in her ear an
uninterrupted stream of words in unmelodious German. And, having freed
her head, looking over the shoulder of the man, she beheld the end.

It lasted not five seconds. Weiss, whose eye-glass had slipped from
its position in the agitation of their parting, quickly replaced it
upon his nose, as if desirous to look death in the face. He stepped
back and placed himself against the wall, and the face of the
self-contained, strong young man, as he stood there in his tattered
coat, was sublimely beautiful in its expression of tranquil courage.
Laurent, who stood beside him, had thrust his hands deep down into his
pockets. The cold cruelty of the proceeding disgusted him; it seemed
to him that they could not be far removed from savagery who could thus
slaughter men before the eyes of their wives. He drew himself up,
looked them square in the face, and in a tone of deepest contempt
expectorated:

"Dirty pigs!"

The officer raised his sword; the signal was succeeded by a crashing
volley, and the two men sank to the ground, an inert mass, the
gardener's lad upon his face, the other, the accountant, upon his
side, lengthwise of the wall. The frame of the latter, before he
expired, contracted in a supreme convulsion, the eyelids quivered, the
mouth opened as if he was about to speak. The officer came up and
stirred him with his foot, to make sure that he was really dead.

Henriette had seen the whole: the fading eyes that sought her in
death, the last struggle of the strong man in agony, the brutal boot
spurning the corpse. And while the Bavarian still held her in his
arms, conveying her further and further from the object of her love,
she uttered no cry; she set her teeth, in silent fury, into what was
nearest: a human hand, it chanced to be. The soldier gave vent to a
howl of anguish and dashed her to the ground; raising his uninjured
fist above her head he was on the point of braining her. And for a
moment their faces were in contact; she experienced a feeling of
intensest loathing for the monster, and that blood-stained hair and
beard, those blue eyes, dilated and brimming with hate and rage, were
destined to remain forever indelibly imprinted on her memory.

In after days Henriette could never account distinctly to herself for
the time immediately succeeding these events. She had but one desire:
to return to the spot where her loved one had died, take possession of
his remains, and watch and weep over them; but, as in an evil dream,
obstacles of every sort arose before her and barred the way. First a
heavy infantry fire broke out afresh, and there was great activity
among the German troops who were holding Bazeilles; it was due to the
arrival of the infanterie de marine and other regiments that had been
despatched from Balan to regain possession of the village, and the
battle commenced to rage again with the utmost fury. The young woman,
in company with a band of terrified citizens, was swept away to the
left into a dark alley. The result of the conflict could not remain
long doubtful, however; it was too late to reconquer the abandoned
positions. For near half an hour the infantry struggled against
superior numbers and faced death with splendid bravery, but the
enemy's strength was constantly increasing, their re-enforcements were
pouring in from every direction, the roads, the meadows, the park of
Montivilliers; no force at our command could have dislodged them from
the position, so dearly bought, where they had left thousands of their
bravest. Destruction and devastation now had done their work; the
place was a shambles, disgraceful to humanity, where mangled forms lay
scattered among smoking ruins, and poor Bazeilles, having drained the
bitter cup, went up at last in smoke and flame.

Henriette turned and gave one last look at her little house, whose
floors fell in even as she gazed, sending myriads of little sparks
whirling gayly upward on the air. And there, before her, prone at the
wall's foot, she saw her husband's corpse, and in her despair and
grief would fain have returned to him, but just then another crowd
came up and surged around her, the bugles were sounding the signal to
retire, she was borne away, she knew not how, among the retreating
troops. Her faculty of self-guidance left her; she was as a bit of
flotsam swept onward by the eddying human tide that streamed along the
way. And that was all she could remember until she became herself
again and found she was at Balan, among strangers, her head reclined
upon a table in a kitchen, weeping.



                                 V.

It was nearly ten o'clock up on the Plateau de l'Algerie, and still
the men of Beaudoin's company were resting supine, among the cabbages,
in the field whence they had not budged since early morning. The cross
fire from the batteries on Hattoy and the peninsula of Iges was hotter
than ever; it had just killed two more of their number, and there were
no orders for them to advance. Were they to stay there and be shelled
all day, without a chance to see anything of the fighting?

They were even denied the relief of discharging their chassepots.
Captain Beaudoin had at last put his foot down and stopped the firing,
that senseless fusillade against the little wood in front of them,
which seemed entirely deserted by the Prussians. The heat was
stifling; it seemed to them that they should roast, stretched there on
the ground under the blazing sky.

Jean was alarmed, on turning to look at Maurice, to see that he had
declined his head and was lying, with closed eyes, apparently
inanimate, his cheek against the bare earth. He was very pale, there
was no sign of life in his face.

"Hallo there! what's the matter?"

But Maurice was only sleeping. The mental strain, conjointly with his
fatigue, had been too much for him, in spite of the dangers that
menaced them at every moment. He awoke with a start and stared about
him, and the peace that slumber had left in his wide-dilated eyes was
immediately supplanted by a look of startled affright as it dawned on
him where he was. He had not the remotest idea how long he had slept;
all he knew was that the state from which he had been recalled to the
horrors of the battlefield was one of blessed oblivion and
tranquillity.

"Hallo! that's funny; I must have been asleep!" he murmured. "Ah! it
has done me good."

It was true that he suffered less from that pressure about his temples
and at his heart, that horrible constriction that seems as if it would
crush one's bones. He chaffed Lapoulle, who had manifested much
uneasiness since the disappearance of Chouteau and Loubet and spoke of
going to look for them. A capital idea! so he might get away and hide
behind a tree, and smoke a pipe! Pache thought that the surgeons
had detained them at the ambulance, where there was a scarcity of
sick-bearers. That was a job that he had no great fancy for, to go
around under fire and collect the wounded! And haunted by a lingering
superstition of the country where he was born, he added that it was
unlucky to touch a corpse; it brought death.

"Shut up, confound you!" roared Lieutenant Rochas. "Who is going to
die?"

Colonel de Vineuil, sitting his tall horse, turned his head and gave a
smile, the first that had been seen on his face that morning. Then he
resumed his statue-like attitude, waiting for orders as impassively as
ever under the tumbling shells.

Maurice's attention was attracted to the sick-bearers, whose movements
he watched with interest as they searched for wounded men among the
depressions of the ground. At the end of a sunken road, and protected
by a low ridge not far from their position, a flying ambulance of
first aid had been established, and its emissaries had begun to
explore the plateau. A tent was quickly erected, while from the
hospital van the attendants extracted the necessary supplies;
compresses, bandages, linen, and the few indispensable instruments
required for the hasty dressings they gave before dispatching the
patients to Sedan, which they did as rapidly as they could secure
wagons, the supply of which was limited. There was an assistant
surgeon in charge, with two subordinates of inferior rank under him.
In all the army none showed more gallantry and received less
acknowledgment than the litter-bearers. They could be seen all over
the field in their gray uniform, with the distinctive red badge on
their cap and on their arm, courageously risking their lives and
unhurriedly pushing forward through the thickest of the fire to the
spots where men had been seen to fall. At times they would creep on
hands and knees: would always take advantage of a hedge or ditch, or
any shelter that was afforded by the conformation of the ground, never
exposing themselves unnecessarily out of bravado. When at last they
reached the fallen men their painful task commenced, which was made
more difficult and protracted by the fact that many of the subjects
had fainted, and it was hard to tell whether they were alive or dead.
Some lay face downward with their mouths in a pool of blood, in danger
of suffocating, others had bitten the ground until their throats were
choked with dry earth, others, where a shell had fallen among a group,
were a confused, intertwined heap of mangled limbs and crushed trunks.
With infinite care and patience the bearers would go through the
tangled mass, separating the living from the dead, arranging their
limbs and raising the head to give them air, cleansing the face as
well as they could with the means at their command. Each of them
carried a bucket of cool water, which he had to use very savingly. And
Maurice could see them thus engaged, often for minutes at a time,
kneeling by some man whom they were trying to resuscitate, waiting for
him to show some sign of life.

He watched one of them, some fifty yards away to the left, working
over the wound of a little soldier from the sleeve of whose tunic a
thin stream of blood was trickling, drop by drop. The man of the red
cross discovered the source of the hemorrhage and finally checked it
by compressing the artery. In urgent cases, like that of the little
soldier, they rendered these partial attentions, locating fractures,
bandaging and immobilizing the limbs so as to reduce the danger of
transportation. And the transportation, even, was an affair that
called for a great deal of judgment and ingenuity; they assisted those
who could walk, and carried others, either in their arms, like little
children, or pickaback when the nature of the hurt allowed it; at
other times they united in groups of two, three, or four, according to
the requirements of the case, and made a chair by joining their hands,
or carried the patient off by his legs and shoulders in a recumbent
posture. In addition to the stretchers provided by the medical
department there were all sorts of temporary makeshifts, such as the
stretchers improvised from knapsack straps and a couple of muskets.
And in every direction on the unsheltered, shell-swept plain they
could be seen, singly or in groups, hastening with their dismal loads
to the rear, their heads bowed and picking their steps, an admirable
spectacle of prudent heroism.

Maurice saw a pair on his right, a thin, puny little fellow lugging a
burly sergeant, with both legs broken, suspended from his neck; the
sight reminded the young man of an ant, toiling under a burden many
times larger than itself; and even as he watched them a shell burst
directly in their path and they were lost to view. When the smoke
cleared away the sergeant was seen lying on his back, having received
no further injury, while the bearer lay beside him, disemboweled. And
another came up, another toiling ant, who, when he had turned his dead
comrade on his back and examined him, took the sergeant up and made
off with his load.

It gave Maurice a chance to read Lapoulle a lesson.

"I say, if you like the business, why don't you go and give that man a
lift!"

For some little time the batteries at Saint-Menges had been thundering
as if determined to surpass all previous efforts, and Captain
Beaudoin, who was still tramping nervously up and down before his
company line, at last stepped up to the colonel. It was a pity, he
said, to waste the men's morale in that way and keep their minds on
the stretch for hours and hours.

"I can't help it; I have no orders," the colonel stoically replied.

They had another glimpse of General Douay as he flew by at a gallop,
followed by his staff. He had just had an interview with General de
Wimpffen, who had ridden up to entreat him to hold his ground, which
he thought he could promise to do, but only so long as the Calvary of
Illy, on his right, held out; Illy once taken, he would be responsible
for nothing; their defeat would be inevitable. General de Wimpffen
averred that the 1st corps would look out for the position at Illy,
and indeed a regiment of zouaves was presently seen to occupy the
Calvary, so that General Douay, his anxiety being relieved on that
score, sent Dumont's division to the assistance of the 12th corps,
which was then being hard pushed. Scarcely fifteen minutes later,
however, as he was returning from the left, whither he had ridden to
see how affairs were looking, he was surprised, raising his eyes to
the Calvary, to see it was unoccupied; there was not a zouave to be
seen there, they had abandoned the plateau that was no longer tenable
by reason of the terrific fire from the batteries at Fleigneux. With a
despairing presentiment of impending disaster he was spurring as fast
as he could to the right, when he encountered Dumont's division,
flying in disorder, broken and tangled in inextricable confusion with
the debris of the 1st corps. The latter, which, after its retrograde
movement, had never been able to regain possession of the posts it had
occupied in the morning, leaving Daigny in the hands of the XIIth
Saxon corps and Givonne to the Prussian Guards, had been compelled to
retreat in a northerly direction across the wood of Garenne, harassed
by the batteries that the enemy had posted on every summit from one
end of the valley to the other. The terrible circle of fire and flame
was contracting; a portion of the Guards had continued their march on
Illy, moving from east to west and turning the eminences, while
from west to east, in the rear of the XIth corps, now masters of
Saint-Menges, the Vth, moving steadily onward, had passed Fleigneux
and with insolent temerity was constantly pushing its batteries more
and more to the front, and so contemptuous were they of the ignorance
and impotence of the French that they did not even wait for the
infantry to come up to support their guns. It was midday; the entire
horizon was aflame, concentrating its destructive fire on the 7th and
1st corps.

Then General Douay, while the German artillery was thus preparing the
way for the decisive movement that should make them masters of the
Calvary, resolved to make one last desperate attempt to regain
possession of the hill. He dispatched his orders, and throwing himself
in person among the fugitives of Dumont's division, succeeded in
forming a column which he sent forward to the plateau. It held its
ground for a few minutes, but the bullets whistled so thick, the
naked, treeless fields were swept by such a tornado of shot and shell,
that it was not long before the panic broke out afresh, sweeping the
men adown the slopes, rolling them up as straws are whirled before the
wind. And the general, unwilling to abandon his project, ordered up
other regiments.

A staff officer galloped by, shouting to Colonel de Vineuil as he
passed an order that was lost in the universal uproar. Hearing, the
colonel was erect in his stirrups in an instant, his face aglow with
the gladness of battle, and pointing to the Calvary with a grand
movement of his sword:

"Our turn has come at last, boys!" he shouted. "Forward!"

A thrill of enthusiasm ran through the ranks at the brief address, and
the regiment put itself in motion. Beaudoin's company was among the
first to get on its feet, which it did to the accompaniment of much
good-natured chaff, the men declaring they were so rusty they could
not move; the gravel must have penetrated their joints. The fire was
so hot, however, that by the time they had advanced a few feet they
were glad to avail themselves of the protection of a shelter trench
that lay in their path, along which they crept in an undignified
posture, bent almost double.

"Now, young fellow, look out for yourself!" Jean said to Maurice;
"we're in for it. Don't let 'em see so much as the end of your nose,
for if you do they will surely snip it off, and keep a sharp lookout
for your legs and arms unless you have more than you care to keep.
Those who come out of this with a whole skin will be lucky."

Maurice did not hear him very distinctly; the words were lost in the
all-pervading clamor that buzzed and hummed in the young man's ears.
He could not have told now whether he was afraid or not; he went
forward because the others did, borne along with them in their
headlong rush, without distinct volition of his own; his sole desire
was to have the affair ended as soon as possible. So true was it that
he was a mere drop in the on-pouring torrent that when the leading
files came to the end of the trench and began to waver at the prospect
of climbing the exposed slope that lay before them, he immediately
felt himself seized by a sensation of panic, and was ready to turn and
fly. It was simply an uncontrollable instinct, a revolt of the
muscles, obedient to every passing breath.

Some of the men had already faced about when the colonel came hurrying
up.

"Steady there, my children. You won't cause me this great sorrow; you
won't behave like cowards. Remember, the 106th has never turned its
back upon the enemy; will you be the first to disgrace our flag?"

And he spurred his charger across the path of the fugitives,
addressing them individually, speaking to them, of their country, in a
voice that trembled with emotion.

Lieutenant Rochas was so moved by his words that he gave way to an
ungovernable fit of anger, raising his sword and belaboring the men
with the flat as if it had been a club.

"You dirty loafers, I'll see whether you will go up there or not! I'll
kick you up! About face! and I'll break the jaw of the first man that
refuses to obey!"

But such an extreme measure as kicking a regiment into action was
repugnant to the colonel.

"No, no, lieutenant; they will follow me. Won't you, my children? You
won't let your old colonel fight it out alone with the Prussians! Up
there lies the way; forward!"

He turned his horse and left the trench, and they did all follow, to a
man, for he would have been considered the lowest of the low who could
have abandoned their leader after that brave, kind speech. He was the
only one, however, who, while crossing the open fields, erect on his
tall horse, was cool and unconcerned; the men scattered, advancing in
open order and availing themselves of every shelter afforded by the
ground. The land sloped upward; there were fully five hundred yards of
stubble and beet fields between them and the Calvary, and in place of
the correctly aligned columns that the spectator sees advancing when a
charge is ordered in field maneuvers, all that was to be seen was a
loose array of men with rounded backs, singly or in small groups,
hugging the ground, now crawling warily a little way on hands and
knees, now dashing forward for the next cover, like huge insects
fighting their way upward to the crest by dint of agility and address.
The enemy's batteries seemed to have become aware of the movement;
their fire was so rapid that the reports of the guns were blended in
one continuous roar. Five men were killed, a lieutenant was cut in
two.

Maurice and Jean had considered themselves fortunate that their way
led along a hedge behind which they could push forward unseen, but the
man immediately in front of them was shot through the temples and fell
back dead in their arms; they had to cast him down at one side. By
this time, however, the casualties had ceased to excite attention;
they were too numerous. A man went by, uttering frightful shrieks and
pressing his hands upon his protruding entrails; they beheld a horse
dragging himself along with both thighs broken, and these anguishing
sights, these horrors of the battlefield, affected them no longer.
They were suffering from the intolerable heat, the noonday sun that
beat upon their backs and burned like hot coals.

"How thirsty I am!" Maurice murmured. "My throat is like an ash
barrel. Don't you notice that smell of something scorching, a smell
like burning woolen?"

Jean nodded. "It was just the same at Solferino; perhaps it is the
smell that always goes with war. But hold, I have a little brandy
left; we'll have a sup."

And they paused behind the hedge a moment and raised the flask to
their lips, but the brandy, instead of relieving their thirst, burned
their stomach. It irritated them, that nasty taste of burnt rags in
their mouths. Moreover they perceived that their strength was
commencing to fail for want of sustenance and would have liked to take
a bite from the half loaf that Maurice had in his knapsack, but it
would not do to stop and breakfast there under fire, and then they had
to keep up with their comrades. There was a steady stream of men
coming up behind them along the hedge who pressed them forward, and
so, doggedly bending their backs to the task before them, they resumed
their course. Presently they made their final rush and reached the
crest. They were on the plateau, at the very foot of the Calvary, the
old weather-beaten cross that stood between two stunted lindens.

"Good for our side!" exclaimed Jean; "here we are! But the next thing
is to remain here!"

He was right; it was not the pleasantest place in the world to be in,
as Lapoulle remarked in a doleful tone that excited the laughter of
the company. They all lay down again, in a field of stubble, and for
all that three men were killed in quick succession. It was pandemonium
let loose up there on the heights; the projectiles from Saint-Menges,
Fleigneux, and Givonne fell in such numbers that the ground fairly
seemed to smoke, as it does at times under a heavy shower of rain. It
was clear that the position could not be maintained unless artillery
was dispatched at once to the support of the troops who had been sent
on such a hopeless undertaking. General Douay, it was said, had given
instructions to bring up two batteries of the reserve artillery, and
the men were every moment turning their heads, watching anxiously for
the guns that did not come.

"It is absurd, ridiculous!" declared Beaudoin, who was again fidgeting
up and down before the company. "Who ever heard of placing a regiment
in the air like this and giving it no support!" Then, observing a
slight depression on their left, he turned to Rochas: "Don't you
think, Lieutenant, that the company would be safer there?"

Rochas stood stock still and shrugged his shoulders. "It is six of one
and half a dozen of the other, Captain. My opinion is that we will do
better to stay where we are."

Then the captain, whose principles were opposed to swearing, forgot
himself.

"But, good God! there won't a man of us escape! We can't allow the men
to be murdered like this!"

And he determined to investigate for himself the advantages of the
position he had mentioned, but had scarcely taken ten steps when he
was lost to sight in the smoke of an exploding shell; a splinter of
the projectile had fractured his right leg. He fell upon his back,
emitting a shrill cry of alarm, like a woman's.

"He might have known as much," Rochas muttered. "There's no use his
making such a fuss over it; when the dose is fixed for one, he has to
take it."

Some members of the company had risen to their feet on seeing their
captain fall, and as he continued to call lustily for assistance, Jean
finally ran to him, immediately followed by Maurice.

"Friends, friends, for Heaven's sake do not leave me here; carry me to
the ambulance!"

"_Dame_, Captain, I don't know that we shall be able to get so far,
but we can try."

As they were discussing how they could best take hold to raise him
they perceived, behind the hedge that had sheltered them on their way
up, two stretcher-bearers who seemed to be waiting for something to
do, and finally, after protracted signaling, induced them to draw
near. All would be well if they could only get the wounded man to the
ambulance without accident, but the way was long and the iron hail
more pitiless than ever.

The bearers had tightly bandaged the injured limb in order to keep the
bones in position and were about to bear the captain off the field on
what children call a "chair," formed by joining their hands and
slipping an arm of the patient over each of their necks, when Colonel
de Vineuil, who had heard of the accident, came up, spurring his
horse. He manifested much emotion, for he had known the young man ever
since his graduation from Saint-Cyr.

"Cheer up, my poor boy; have courage. You are in no danger; the
doctors will save your leg."

The captain's face wore an expression of resignation, as if he had
summoned up all his courage to bear his misfortune manfully.

"No, my dear Colonel; I feel it is all up with me, and I would rather
have it so. The only thing that distresses me is the waiting for the
inevitable end."

The bearers carried him away, and were fortunate enough to reach the
hedge in safety, behind which they trotted swiftly away with their
burden. The colonel's eyes followed them anxiously, and when he saw
them reach the clump of trees where the ambulance was stationed a look
of deep relief rose to his face.

"But you, Colonel," Maurice suddenly exclaimed, "you are wounded too!"

He had perceived blood dripping from the colonel's left boot. A
projectile of some description had carried away the heel of the
foot-covering and forced the steel shank into the flesh.

M. de Vineuil bent over his saddle and glanced unconcernedly at the
member, in which the sensation at that time must have been far from
pleasurable.

"Yes, yes," he replied, "it is a little remembrance that I received a
while ago. A mere scratch, that don't prevent me from sitting my
horse--" And he added, as he turned to resume his position to the rear
of his regiment: "As long as a man can stick on his horse he's all
right."

At last the two batteries of reserve artillery came up. Their arrival
was an immense relief to the anxiously expectant men, as if the guns
were to be a rampart of protection to them and at the same time
demolish the hostile batteries that were thundering against them from
every side. And then, too, it was in itself an exhilarating spectacle
to see the magnificent order they preserved as they came dashing up,
each gun followed by its caisson, the drivers seated on the near horse
and holding the off horse by the bridle, the cannoneers bolt upright
on the chests, the chiefs of detachment riding in their proper
position on the flank. Distances were preserved as accurately as if
they were on parade, and all the time they were tearing across the
fields at headlong speed, with the roar and crash of a hurricane.

Maurice, who had lain down again, arose and said to Jean in great
excitement:

"Look! over there on the left, that is Honore's battery. I can
recognize the men."

Jean gave him a back-handed blow that brought him down to his
recumbent position.

"Lie down, will you! and make believe dead!"

But they were both deeply interested in watching the maneuvers of the
battery, and never once removed their eyes from it; it cheered their
heart to witness the cool and intrepid activity of those men, who,
they hoped, might yet bring victory to them.

The battery had wheeled into position on a bare summit to the left,
where it brought up all standing; then, quick as a flash, the
cannoneers leaped from the chests and unhooked the limbers, and the
drivers, leaving the gun in position, drove fifteen yards to the rear,
where they wheeled again so as to bring team and limber face to the
enemy and there remained, motionless as statues. In less time than it
takes to tell it the guns were in place, with the proper intervals
between them, distributed into three sections of two guns each, each
section commanded by a lieutenant, and over the whole a captain, a
long maypole of a man, who made a terribly conspicuous landmark on the
plateau. And this captain, having first made a brief calculation, was
heard to shout:

"Sight for sixteen hundred yards!"

Their fire was to be directed upon a Prussian battery, screened by
some bushes, to the left of Fleigneux, the shells from which were
rendering the position of the Calvary untenable.

"Honore's piece, you see," Maurice began again, whose excitement was
such that he could not keep still, "Honore's piece is in the center
section. There he is now, bending over to speak to the gunner; you
remember Louis, the gunner, don't you? the little fellow with whom we
had a drink at Vouziers? And that fellow in the rear, who sits so
straight on his handsome chestnut, is Adolphe, the driver--"

First came the gun with its chief and six cannoneers, then the limber
with its four horses ridden by two men, beyond that the caisson with
its six horses and three drivers, still further to the rear were the
_prolonge_, forge, and battery wagon; and this array of men, horses
and _materiel_ extended to the rear in a straight unbroken line of
more than a hundred yards in length; to say nothing of the spare
caisson and the men and beasts who were to fill the places of those
removed by casualties, who were stationed at one side, as much as
possible out of the enemy's line of fire.

And now Honore was attending to the loading of his gun. The two men
whose duty it was to fetch the cartridge and the projectile returned
from the caisson, where the corporal and the artificer were stationed;
two other cannoneers, standing at the muzzle of the piece, slipped
into the bore the cartridge, a charge of powder in an envelope of
serge, and gently drove it home with the rammer, then in like manner
introduced the shell, the studs of which creaked faintly in the
spirals of the rifling. When the primer was inserted in the vent and
all was in readiness, Honore thought he would like to point the gun
himself for the first shot, and throwing himself in a semi-recumbent
posture on the trail, working with one hand the screw that regulated
the elevation, with the other he signaled continually to the gunner,
who, standing behind him, moved the piece by imperceptible degrees to
right or left with the assistance of the lever.

"That ought to be about right," he said as he arose.

The captain came up, and stooping until his long body was bent almost
double, verified the elevation. At each gun stood the assistant
gunner, waiting to pull the lanyard that should ignite the fulminate
by means of a serrated wire. And the orders were given in succession,
deliberately, by number:

"Number one, Fire! Number two, Fire!"

Six reports were heard, the guns recoiled, and while they were being
brought back to position the chiefs of detachment observed the effect
of the shots and found that the range was short. They made the
necessary correction and the evolution was repeated, in exactly the
same manner as before; and it was that cool precision, that mechanical
routine of duty, without agitation and without haste, that did so much
to maintain the _morale_ of the men. They were a little family, united
by the tie of a common occupation, grouped around the gun, which they
loved and reverenced as if it had been a living thing; it was the
object of all their care and attention, to it all else was
subservient, men, horses, caisson, everything. Thence also arose the
spirit of unity and cohesion that animated the battery at large,
making all its members work together for the common glory and the
common good, like a well-regulated household.

The 106th had cheered lustily at the completion of the first round;
they were going to make those bloody Prussian guns shut their mouths
at last! but their elation was succeeded by dismay when it was seen
that the projectiles fell short, many of them bursting in the air and
never reaching the bushes that served to mask the enemy's artillery.

"Honore," Maurice continued, "says that all the other pieces are
popguns and that his old girl is the only one that is good for
anything. Ah, his old girl! He talks as if she were his wife and there
were not another like her in the world! Just notice how jealously he
watches her and makes the men clean her off! I suppose he is afraid
she will overheat herself and take cold!"

He continued rattling on in this pleasant vein to Jean, both of them
cheered and encouraged by the cool bravery with which the artillerymen
served their guns; but the Prussian batteries, after firing three
rounds, had now got the range, which, too long at the beginning, they
had at last ciphered down to such a fine point that their shells were
landed invariably among the French pieces, while the latter,
notwithstanding the efforts that were made to increase their range,
still continued to place their projectiles short of the enemy's
position. One of Honore's cannoneers was killed while loading the
piece; the others pushed the body out of their way, and the service
went on with the same methodical precision, with neither more nor less
haste. In the midst of the projectiles that fell and burst continually
the same unvarying rhythmical movements went on uninterruptedly about
the gun; the cartridge and shell were introduced, the gun was pointed,
the lanyard pulled, the carriage brought back to place; and all with
such undeviating regularity that the men might have been taken for
automatons, devoid of sight and hearing.

What impressed Maurice, however, more than anything else, was the
attitude of the drivers, sitting straight and stiff in their saddles
fifteen yards to the rear, face to the enemy. There was Adolphe, the
broad-chested, with his big blond mustache across his rubicund face;
and who shall tell the amount of courage a man must have to enable him
to sit without winking and watch the shells coming toward him, and he
not allowed even to twirl his thumbs by way of diversion! The men who
served the guns had something to occupy their minds, while the
drivers, condemned to immobility, had death constantly before their
eyes, and plenty of leisure to speculate on probabilities. They were
made to face the battlefield because, had they turned their backs to
it, the coward that so often lurks at the bottom of man's nature might
have got the better of them and swept away man and beast. It is the
unseen danger that makes dastards of us; that which we can see we
brave. The army has no more gallant set of men in its ranks than the
drivers in their obscure position.

Another man had been killed, two horses of a caisson had been
disemboweled, and the enemy kept up such a murderous fire that there
was a prospect of the entire battery being knocked to pieces should
they persist in holding that position longer. It was time to take some
step to baffle that tremendous fire, notwithstanding the danger there
was in moving, and the captain unhesitatingly gave orders to bring up
the limbers.

The risky maneuver was executed with lightning speed; the drivers came
up at a gallop, wheeled their limber into position in rear of the gun,
when the cannoneers raised the trail of the piece and hooked on. The
movement, however, collecting as it did, momentarily, men and horses
on the battery front in something of a huddle, created a certain
degree of confusion, of which the enemy took advantage by increasing
the rapidity of their fire; three more men dropped. The teams darted
away at breakneck speed, describing an arc of a circle among the
fields, and the battery took up its new position some fifty or sixty
yards more to the right, on a gentle eminence that was situated on the
other flank of the 106th. The pieces were unlimbered, the drivers
resumed their station at the rear, face to the enemy, and the firing
was reopened; and so little time was lost between leaving their old
post and taking up the new that the earth had barely ceased to tremble
under the concussion.

Maurice uttered a cry of dismay, when, after three attempts, the
Prussians had again got their range; the first shell landed squarely
on Honore's gun. The artilleryman rushed forward, and with a trembling
hand felt to ascertain what damage had been done his pet; a great
wedge had been chipped from the bronze muzzle. But it was not
disabled, and the work went on as before, after they had removed from
beneath the wheels the body of another cannoneer, with whose blood the
entire carriage was besplashed.

"It was not little Louis; I am glad of that," said Maurice, continuing
to think aloud. "There he is now, pointing his gun; he must be
wounded, though, for he is only using his left arm. Ah, he is a brave
lad, is little Louis; and how well he and Adolphe get on together, in
spite of their little tiffs, only provided the gunner, the man who
serves on foot, shows a proper amount of respect for the driver, the
man who rides a horse, notwithstanding that the latter is by far the
more ignorant of the two. Now that they are under fire, though, Louis
is as good a man as Adolphe--"

Jean, who had been watching events in silence, gave utterance to a
distressful cry:

"They will have to give it up! No troops in the world could stand such
a fire."

Within the space of five minutes the second position had become as
untenable as was the first; the projectiles kept falling with the same
persistency, the same deadly precision. A shell dismounted a gun,
fracturing the chase, killing a lieutenant and two men. Not one of the
enemy's shots failed to reach, and at each discharge they secured a
still greater accuracy of range, so that if the battery should remain
there another five minutes they would not have a gun or a man left.
The crushing fire threatened to wipe them all out of existence.

Again the captain's ringing voice was heard ordering up the limbers.
The drivers dashed up at a gallop and wheeled their teams into place
to allow the cannoneers to hook on the guns, but before Adolphe had
time to get up Louis was struck by a fragment of shell that tore open
his throat and broke his jaw; he fell across the trail of the carriage
just as he was on the point of raising it. Adolphe was there
instantly, and beholding his prostrate comrade weltering in his blood,
jumped from his horse and was about to raise him to his saddle and
bear him away. And at that moment, just as the battery was exposed
flank to the enemy in the act of wheeling, offering a fair target, a
crashing discharge came, and Adolphe reeled and fell to the ground,
his chest crushed in, with arms wide extended. In his supreme
convulsion he seized his comrade about the body, and thus they lay,
locked in each other's arms in a last embrace, "married" even in
death.

Notwithstanding the slaughtered horses and the confusion that that
death-dealing discharge had caused among the men, the battery had
rattled up the slope of a hillock and taken post a few yards from the
spot where Jean and Maurice were lying. For the third time the guns
were unlimbered, the drivers retired to the rear and faced the enemy,
and the cannoneers, with a gallantry that nothing could daunt, at once
reopened fire.

"It is as if the end of all things were at hand!" said Maurice, the
sound of whose voice was lost in the uproar.

It seemed indeed as if heaven and earth were confounded in that
hideous din. Great rocks were cleft asunder, the sun was hid from
sight at times in clouds of sulphurous vapor. When the cataclysm was
at its height the horses stood with drooping heads, trembling, dazed
with terror. The captain's tall form was everywhere upon the eminence;
suddenly he was seen no more; a shell had cut him clean in two, and he
sank, as a ship's mast that is snapped off at the base.

But it was about Honore's gun, even more than the others, that the
conflict raged, with cool efficiency and obstinate determination. The
non-commissioned officer found it necessary to forget his chevrons for
the time being and lend a hand in working the piece, for he had now
but three cannoneers left; he pointed the gun and pulled the lanyard,
while the others brought ammunition from the caisson, loaded, and
handled the rammer and the sponge. He had sent for men and horses from
the battery reserves that were kept to supply the places of those
removed by casualties, but they were slow in coming, and in the
meantime the survivors must do the work of the dead. It was a great
discouragement to all that their projectiles ranged short and burst
almost without exception in the air, inflicting no injury on the
powerful batteries of the foe, the fire of which was so efficient. And
suddenly Honore let slip an oath that was heard above the thunder of
the battle; ill-luck, ill-luck, nothing but ill-luck! the right wheel
of his piece was smashed! _Tonnerre de Dieu!_ what a state she was in,
the poor darling! stretched on her side with a broken paw, her nose
buried in the ground, crippled and good for nothing! The sight brought
big tears to his eyes, he laid his trembling hand upon the breech, as
if the ardor of his love might avail to warm his dear mistress back to
life. And the best gun of them all, the only one that had been able to
drop a few shells among the enemy! Then suddenly he conceived a daring
project, nothing less than to repair the injury there and then, under
that terrible fire. Assisted by one of his men he ran back to the
caisson and secured the spare wheel that was attached to the rear
axle, and then commenced the most dangerous operation that can be
executed on a battlefield. Fortunately the extra men and horses that
he had sent for came up just then, and he had two cannoneers to lend
him a hand.

For the third time, however, the strength of the battery was so
reduced as practically to disable it. To push their heroic daring
further would be madness; the order was given to abandon the position
definitely.

"Make haste, comrades!" Honore exclaimed. "Even if she is fit for no
further service we'll carry her off; those fellows shan't have her!"

To save the gun, even as men risk their life to save the flag; that
was his idea. And he had not ceased to speak when he was stricken down
as by a thunderbolt, his right arm torn from its socket, his left
flank laid open. He had fallen upon his gun he loved so well, and lay
there as if stretched on a bed of honor, with head erect, his
unmutilated face turned toward the enemy, and bearing an expression of
proud defiance that made him beautiful in death. From his torn jacket
a letter had fallen to the ground and lay in the pool of blood that
dribbled slowly from above.

The only lieutenant left alive shouted the order: "Bring up the
limbers!"

A caisson had exploded with a roar that rent the skies. They were
obliged to take the horses from another caisson in order to save a gun
of which the team had been killed. And when, for the last time, the
drivers had brought up their smoking horses and the guns had been
limbered up, the whole battery flew away at a gallop and never stopped
until they reached the edge of the wood of la Garenne, nearly twelve
hundred yards away.

Maurice had seen the whole. He shivered with horror, and murmured
mechanically, in a faint voice:

"Oh! poor fellow, poor fellow!"

In addition to this feeling of mental distress he had a horrible
sensation of physical suffering, as if something was gnawing at his
vitals. It was the animal portion of his nature asserting itself; he
was at the end of his endurance, was ready to sink with hunger. His
perceptions were dimmed, he was not even conscious of the dangerous
position the regiment was in now it no longer was protected by the
battery. It was more than likely that the enemy would not long delay
to attack the plateau in force.

"Look here," he said to Jean, "I _must_ eat--if I am to be killed for
it the next minute, I must eat."

He opened his knapsack and, taking out the bread with shaking hands,
set his teeth in it voraciously. The bullets were whistling above
their heads, two shells exploded only a few yards away, but all was as
naught to him in comparison with his craving hunger.

"Will you have some, Jean?"

The corporal was watching him with hungry eyes and a stupid expression
on his face; his stomach was also twinging him.

"Yes, I don't care if I do; this suffering is more than I can stand."

They divided the loaf between them and each devoured his portion
gluttonously, unmindful of what was going on about them so long as a
crumb remained. And it was at that time that they saw their colonel
for the last time, sitting his big horse, with his blood-stained boot.
The regiment was surrounded on every side; already some of the
companies had left the field. Then, unable longer to restrain their
flight, with tears standing in his eyes and raising his sword above
his head:

"My children," cried M. de Vineuil, "I commend you to the protection
of God, who thus far has spared us all!"

He rode off down the hill, surrounded by a swarm of fugitives, and
vanished from their sight.

Then, they knew not how, Maurice and Jean found themselves once more
behind the hedge, with the remnant of their company. Some forty men at
the outside were all that remained, with Lieutenant Rochas as their
commander, and the regimental standard was with them; the subaltern
who carried it had furled the silk about the staff in order to try to
save it. They made their way along the hedge, as far as it extended,
to a cluster of small trees upon a hillside, where Rochas made them
halt and reopen fire. The men, dispersed in skirmishing order and
sufficiently protected, could hold their ground, the more that an
important calvary movement was in preparation on their right and
regiments of infantry were being brought up to support it.

It was at that moment that Maurice comprehended the full scope of that
mighty, irresistible turning movement that was now drawing near
completion. That morning he had watched the Prussians debouching by
the Saint-Albert pass and had seen their advanced guard pushed
forward, first to Saint-Menges, then to Fleigneux, and now, behind the
wood of la Garenne, he could hear the thunder of the artillery of the
Guard, could behold other German uniforms arriving on the scene over
the hills of Givonne. Yet a few moments, it might be, and the circle
would be complete; the Guard would join hands with the Vth corps,
surrounding the French army with a living wall, girdling them about
with a belt of flaming artillery. It was with the resolve to make one
supreme, desperate effort, to try to hew a passage through that
advancing wall, that General Margueritte's division of the reserve
cavalry was massing behind a protecting crest preparatory to charging.
They were about to charge into the jaws of death, with no possibility
of achieving any useful result, solely for the glory of France and the
French army. And Maurice, whose thoughts turned to Prosper, was a
witness of the terrible spectacle.

What between the messages that were given him to carry and their
answers, Prosper had been kept busy since daybreak spurring up and
down the plateau of Illy. The cavalrymen had been awakened at peep of
dawn, man by man, without sound of trumpet, and to make their morning
coffee had devised the ingenious expedient of screening their fires
with a greatcoat so as not to attract the attention of the enemy. Then
there came a period when they were left entirely to themselves, with
nothing to occupy them; they seemed to be forgotten by their
commanders. They could hear the sound of the cannonading, could descry
the puffs of smoke, could see the distant movements of the infantry,
but were utterly ignorant of the battle, its importance, and its
results. Prosper, as far as he was concerned, was suffering from want
of sleep. The cumulative fatigue induced by many nights of broken
rest, the invincible somnolency caused by the easy gait of his mount,
made life a burden. He dreamed dreams and saw visions; now he was
sleeping comfortably in a bed between clean sheets, now snoring on the
bare ground among sharpened flints. For minutes at a time he would
actually be sound asleep in his saddle, a lifeless clod, his steed's
intelligence answering for both. Under such circumstances comrades had
often tumbled from their seats upon the road. They were so fagged that
when they slept the trumpets no longer awakened them; the only way to
rouse them from their lethargy and get them on their feet was to kick
them soundly.

"But what are they going to do, what are they going to do with us?"
Prosper kept saying to himself. It was the only thing he could think
of to keep himself awake.

For six hours the cannon had been thundering. As they climbed a hill
two comrades, riding at his side, had been struck down by a shell, and
as they rode onward seven or eight others had bit the dust, pierced by
rifle-balls that came no one could say whence. It was becoming
tiresome, that slow parade, as useless as it was dangerous, up and
down the battlefield. At last--it was about one o'clock--he learned
that it had been decided they were to be killed off in a somewhat more
decent manner. Margueritte's entire division, comprising three
regiments of chasseurs d'Afrique, one of chasseurs de France, and one
of hussars, had been drawn in and posted in a shallow valley a little
to the south of the Calvary of Illy. The trumpets had sounded:
"Dismount!" and then the officers' command ran down the line to
tighten girths and look to packs.

Prosper alighted, stretched his cramped limbs, and gave Zephyr a
friendly pat upon the neck. Poor Zephyr! he felt the degradation of
the ignominious, heartbreaking service they were subjected to almost
as keenly as his master; and not only that, but he had to carry a
small arsenal of stores and implements of various kinds: the holsters
stuffed with his master's linen and underclothing and the greatcoat
rolled above, the stable suit, blouse, and overalls, and the sack
containing brushes, currycomb, and other articles of equine toilet
behind the saddle, the haversack with rations slung at his side, to
say nothing of such trifles as side-lines and picket-pins, the
watering bucket and the wooden basin. The cavalryman's tender heart
was stirred by a feeling of compassion, as he tightened up the girth
and looked to see that everything was secure in its place.

It was a trying moment. Prosper was no more a coward than the next
man, but his mouth was intolerably dry and hot; he lit a cigarette in
the hope that it would relieve the unpleasant sensation. When about to
charge no man can assert with any degree of certainty that he will
ride back again. The suspense lasted some five or six minutes; it was
said that General Margueritte had ridden forward to reconnoiter the
ground over which they were to charge; they were awaiting his return.
The five regiments had been formed in three columns, each column
having a depth of seven squadrons; enough to afford an ample meal to
the hostile guns.

Presently the trumpets rang out: "To horse!" and this was succeeded
almost immediately by the shrill summons: "Draw sabers!"

The colonel of each regiment had previously ridden out and taken his
proper position, twenty-five yards to the front, the captains were all
at their posts at the head of their squadrons. Then there was another
period of anxious waiting, amid a silence heavy as that of death. Not
a sound, not a breath, there, beneath the blazing sun; nothing, save
the beating of those brave hearts. One order more, the supreme, the
decisive one, and that mass, now so inert and motionless, would become
a resistless tornado, sweeping all before it.

At that juncture, however, an officer appeared coming over the crest
of the hill in front, wounded, and preserving his seat in the saddle
only by the assistance of a man on either side. No one recognized him
at first, but presently a deep, ominous murmur began to run from
squadron to squadron, which quickly swelled into a furious uproar. It
was General Margueritte, who had received a wound from which he died a
few days later; a musket-ball had passed through both cheeks, carrying
away a portion of the tongue and palate. He was incapable of speech,
but waved his arm in the direction of the enemy. The fury of his men
knew no bounds; their cries rose louder still upon the air.

"It is our general! Avenge him, avenge him!"

Then the colonel of the first regiment, raising aloft his saber,
shouted in a voice of thunder:

"Charge!"

The trumpets sounded, the column broke into a trot and was away.
Prosper was in the leading squadron, but almost at the extreme right
of the right wing, a position of less danger than the center, upon
which the enemy always naturally concentrate their hottest fire. When
they had topped the summit of the Calvary and began to descend the
slope beyond that led downward into the broad plain he had a distinct
view, some two-thirds of a mile away, of the Prussian squares that
were to be the object of their attack. Beside that vision all the rest
was dim and confused before his eyes; he moved onward as one in a
dream, with a strange ringing in his ears, a sensation of voidness in
his mind that left him incapable of framing an idea. He was a part of
the great engine that tore along, controlled by a superior will. The
command ran along the line: "Keep touch of knees! Keep touch of
knees!" in order to keep the men closed up and give their ranks the
resistance and rigidity of a wall of granite, and as their trot became
swifter and swifter and finally broke into a mad gallop, the chasseurs
d'Afrique gave their wild Arab cry that excited their wiry steeds to
the verge of frenzy. Onward they tore, faster and faster still, until
their gallop was a race of unchained demons, their shouts the shrieks
of souls in mortal agony; onward they plunged amid a storm of bullets
that rattled on casque and breastplate, on buckle and scabbard, with a
sound like hail; into the bosom of that hailstorm flashed that
thunderbolt beneath which the earth shook and trembled, leaving behind
it, as it passed, an odor of burned woolen and the exhalations of wild
beasts.

At five hundred yards the line wavered an instant, then swirled and
broke in a frightful eddy that brought Prosper to the ground. He
clutched Zephyr by the mane and succeeded in recovering his seat. The
center had given way, riddled, almost annihilated as it was by the
musketry fire, while the two wings had wheeled and ridden back a
little way to renew their formation. It was the foreseen, foredoomed
destruction of the leading squadron. Disabled horses covered the
ground, some quiet in death, but many struggling violently in their
strong agony; and everywhere dismounted riders could be seen, running
as fast as their short legs would let them, to capture themselves
another mount. Many horses that had lost their master came galloping
back to the squadron and took their place in line of their own accord,
to rush with their comrades back into the fire again, as if there was
some strange attraction for them in the smell of gunpowder. The charge
was resumed; the second squadron went forward, like the first, at a
constantly accelerated rate of speed, the men bending upon their
horses' neck, holding the saber along the thigh, ready for use upon
the enemy. Two hundred yards more were gained this time, amid the
thunderous, deafening uproar, but again the center broke under the
storm of bullets; men and horses went down in heaps, and the piled
corpses made an insurmountable barrier for those who followed. Thus
was the second squadron in its turn mown down, annihilated, leaving
its task to be accomplished by those who came after.

When for the third time the men were called upon to charge and
responded with invincible heroism, Prosper found that his companions
were principally hussars and chasseurs de France. Regiments and
squadrons, as organizations, had ceased to exist; their constituent
elements were drops in the mighty wave that alternately broke and
reared its crest again, to swallow up all that lay in its destructive
path. He had long since lost distinct consciousness of what was going
on around him, and suffered his movements to be guided by his mount,
faithful Zephyr, who had received a wound in the ear that seemed to
madden him. He was now in the center, where all about him horses were
rearing, pawing the air, and falling backward; men were dismounted as
if torn from their saddle by the blast of a tornado, while others,
shot through some vital part, retained their seat and rode onward in
the ranks with vacant, sightless eyes. And looking back over the
additional two hundred yards that this effort had won for them, they
could see the field of yellow stubble strewn thick with dead and
dying. Some there were who had fallen headlong from their saddle and
buried their face in the soft earth. Others had alighted on their back
and were staring up into the sun with terror-stricken eyes that seemed
bursting from their sockets. There was a handsome black horse, an
officer's charger, that had been disemboweled, and was making frantic
efforts to rise, his fore feet entangled in his entrails. Beneath the
fire, that became constantly more murderous as they drew nearer, the
survivors in the wings wheeled their horses and fell back to
concentrate their strength for a fresh onset.

Finally it was the fourth squadron, which, on the fourth attempt,
reached the Prussian lines. Prosper made play with his saber, hacking
away at helmets and dark uniforms as well as he could distinguish
them, for all was dim before him, as in a dense mist. Blood flowed in
torrents; Zephyr's mouth was smeared with it, and to account for it he
said to himself that the good horse must have been using his teeth on
the Prussians. The clamor around him became so great that he could not
hear his own voice, although his throat seemed splitting from the
yells that issued from it. But behind the first Prussian line there
was another, and then another, and then another still. Their gallant
efforts went for nothing; those dense masses of men were like a
tangled jungle that closed around the horses and riders who entered it
and buried them in its rank growths. They might hew down those who
were within reach of their sabers; others stood ready to take their
place, the last squadrons were lost and swallowed up in their vast
numbers. The firing, at point-blank range, was so furious that the
men's clothing was ignited. Nothing could stand before it, all went
down; and the work that it left unfinished was completed by bayonet
and musket butt. Of the brave men who rode into action that day
two-thirds remained upon the battlefield, and the sole end achieved by
that mad charge was to add another glorious page to history. And then
Zephyr, struck by a musket-ball full in the chest, dropped in a heap,
crushing beneath him Prosper's right thigh; and the pain was so acute
that the young man fainted.

Maurice and Jean, who had watched the gallant effort with burning
interest, uttered an exclamation of rage.

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_ what bravery wasted!"

And they resumed their firing from among the trees of the low hill
where they were deployed in skirmishing order. Rochas himself had
picked up an abandoned musket and was blazing away with the rest. But
the plateau of Illy was lost to them by this time beyond hope of
recovery; the Prussians were pouring in upon it from every quarter. It
was somewhere in the neighborhood of two o'clock, and their great
movement was accomplished; the Vth corps and the Guards had effected
their junction, the investment of the French army was complete.

Jean was suddenly brought to the ground.

"I am done for," he murmured.

He had received what seemed to him like a smart blow of a hammer on
the crown of his head, and his _kepi_ lay behind him with a great
furrow plowed through its top. At first he thought that the bullet had
certainly penetrated the skull and laid bare the brain; his dread of
finding a yawning orifice there was so great that for some seconds he
dared not raise his hand to ascertain the truth. When finally he
ventured, his fingers, on withdrawing them, were red with an abundant
flow of blood, and the pain was so intense that he fainted.

Just then Rochas gave the order to fall back. The Prussians had crept
up on them and were only two or three hundred yards away; they were in
danger of being captured.

"Be cool, don't hurry; face about and give 'em another shot. Rally
behind that low wall that you see down there."

Maurice was in despair; he knew not what to do.

"We are not going to leave our corporal behind, are we, lieutenant?"

"What are we to do? he has turned up his toes."

"No, no! he is breathing still. Take him along!"

Rochas shrugged his shoulders as if to say they could not bother
themselves for every man that dropped. A wounded man is esteemed of
little value on the battlefield. Then Maurice addressed his
supplications to Lapoulle and Pache.

"Come, give me a helping hand. I am not strong enough to carry him
unassisted."

They were deaf to his entreaties; all they could hear was the voice
that urged them to seek safety for themselves. The Prussians were now
not more than a hundred yards from them; already they were on their
hands and knees, crawling as fast as they could go toward the wall.

And Maurice, weeping tears of rage, thus left alone with his
unconscious companion, raised him in his arms and endeavored to lug
him away, but he found his puny strength unequal to the task,
exhausted as he was by fatigue and the emotions of the day. At the
first step he took he reeled and fell with his burden. If only he
could catch sight of a stretcher-bearer! He strained his eyes, thought
he had discovered one among the crowd of fugitives, and made frantic
gestures of appeal; no one came, they were left behind, alone.
Summoning up his strength with a determined effort of the will he
seized Jean once more and succeeded in advancing some thirty paces,
when a shell burst near them and he thought that all was ended, that
he, too, was to die on the body of his comrade.

Slowly, cautiously, Maurice picked himself up. He felt his body, arms,
and legs; nothing, not a scratch. Why should he not look out for
himself and fly, alone? There was time left still; a few bounds would
take him to the wall and he would be saved. His horrible sensation of
fear returned and made him frantic. He was collecting his energies to
break away and run, when a feeling stronger than death intervened and
vanquished the base impulse. What, abandon Jean! he could not do it.
It would be like mutilating his own being; the brotherly affection
that had bourgeoned and grown between him and that rustic had struck
its roots down into his life, too deep to be slain like that. The
feeling went back to the earliest days, was perhaps as old as the
world itself; it was as if there were but they two upon earth, of whom
one could not forsake the other without forsaking himself, and being
doomed thenceforth to an eternity of solitude. Molded of the same
clay, quickened by the same spirit, duty imperiously commanded to save
himself in saving his brother.

Had it not been for the crust of bread he ate an hour before under the
Prussian shells Maurice could never have done what he did; _how_ he
did it he could never in subsequent days remember. He must have
hoisted Jean upon his shoulders and crawled through the brush and
brambles, falling a dozen times only to pick himself up and go on
again, stumbling at every rut, at every pebble. His indomitable will
sustained him, his dogged resolution would have enabled him to bear a
mountain on his back. Behind the low wall he found Rochas and the few
men that were left of the squad, firing away as stoutly as ever and
defending the flag, which the subaltern held beneath his arm. It had
not occurred to anyone to designate lines of retreat for the several
army corps in case the day should go against them; owing to this want
of foresight every general was at liberty to act as seemed to him
best, and at this stage of the conflict they all found themselves
being crowded back upon Sedan under the steady, unrelaxing pressure of
the German armies. The second division of the 7th corps fell back in
comparatively good order, while the remnants of the other divisions,
mingled with the debris of the 1st corps, were already streaming into
the city in terrible disorder, a roaring torrent of rage and fright
that bore all, men and beasts, before it.

But to Maurice, at that moment, was granted the satisfaction of seeing
Jean unclose his eyes, and as he was running to a stream that flowed
near by, for water with which to bathe his friend's face, he was
surprised, looking down on his right into a sheltered valley that lay
between rugged slopes, to behold the same peasant whom he had seen
that morning, still leisurely driving the plow through the furrow with
the assistance of his big white horse. Why should he lose a day? Men
might fight, but none the less the corn would keep on growing; and
folks must live.



                                VI.

Up on his lofty terrace, whither he had betaken himself to watch how
affairs were shaping, Delaherche at last became impatient and was
seized with an uncontrollable desire for news. He could see that the
enemy's shells were passing over the city and that the few projectiles
which had fallen on the houses in the vicinity were only responses,
made at long intervals, to the irregular and harmless fire from Fort
Palatinat, but he could discern nothing of the battle, and his
agitation was rising to fever heat; he experienced an imperious
longing for intelligence, which was constantly stimulated by the
reflection that his life and fortune would be in danger should the
army be defeated. He found it impossible to remain there longer, and
went downstairs, leaving behind him the telescope on its tripod,
turned on the German batteries.

When he had descended, however, he lingered a moment, detained by the
aspect of the central garden of the factory. It was near one o'clock,
and the ambulance was crowded with wounded men; the wagons kept
driving up to the entrance in an unbroken stream. The regular
ambulance wagons of the medical department, two-wheeled and
four-wheeled, were too few in number to meet the demand, and vehicles
of every description from the artillery and other trains, _prolonges_,
provision vans, everything on wheels that could be picked up on the
battlefield, came rolling up with their ghastly loads; and later in
the day even carrioles and market-gardeners' carts were pressed into
the service and harnessed to horses that were found straying along the
roads. Into these motley conveyances were huddled the men collected
from the flying ambulances, where their hurts had received such hasty
attention as could be afforded. It was a sight to move the most
callous to behold the unloading of those poor wretches, some with a
greenish pallor on their face, others suffused with the purple hue
that denotes congestion; many were in a state of coma, others
uttered piercing cries of anguish; some there were who, in their
semi-conscious condition, yielded themselves to the arms of the
attendants with a look of deepest terror in their eyes, while a few,
the minute a hand was laid on them, died of the consequent shock. They
continued to arrive in such numbers that soon every bed in the vast
apartment would have its occupant, and Major Bouroche had given orders
to make use of the straw that had been spread thickly upon the floor
at one end. He and his assistants had thus far been able to attend to
all the cases with reasonable promptness; he had requested Mme.
Delaherche to furnish him with another table, with mattress and
oilcloth cover, for the shed where he had established his operating
room. The assistant would thrust a napkin saturated with chloroform to
the patient's nostrils, the keen knife flashed in the air, there was
the faint rasping of the saw, barely audible, the blood spurted in
short, sharp jets that were checked immediately. As soon as one
subject had been operated on another was brought in, and they followed
one another in such quick succession that there was barely time to
pass a sponge over the protecting oilcloth. At the extremity of the
grass plot, screened from sight by a clump of lilac bushes, they had
set up a kind of morgue whither they carried the bodies of the dead,
which were removed from the beds without a moment's delay in order to
make room for the living, and this receptacle also served to receive
the amputated legs, and arms, whatever debris of flesh and bone
remained upon the table.

Mme. Delaherche and Gilberte, seated at the foot of one of the great
trees, found it hard work to keep pace with the demand for bandages.
Bouroche, who happened to be passing, his face very red, his apron
white no longer, threw a bundle of linen to Delaherche and shouted:

"Here! be doing something; make yourself useful!"

But the manufacturer objected. "Oh! excuse me; I must go and try to
pick up some news. One can't tell whether his neck is safe or not."
Then, touching his lips to his wife's hair: "My poor Gilberte, to
think that a shell may burn us out of house and home at any moment! It
is horrible."

She was very pale; she raised her head and glanced about her,
shuddering as she did so. Then, involuntarily, her unextinguishable
smile returned to her lips.

"Oh, horrible, indeed! and all those poor men that they are cutting
and carving. I don't see how it is that I stay here without fainting."

Mme. Delaherche had watched her son as he kissed the young woman's
hair. She made a movement as if to part them, thinking of that other
man who must have kissed those tresses so short a time ago; then her
old hands trembled, she murmured beneath her breath:

"What suffering all about us, _mon Dieu!_ It makes one forget his
own."

Delaherche left them, with the assurance that he would be away no
longer than was necessary to ascertain the true condition of affairs.
In the Rue Maqua he was surprised to observe the crowds of soldiers
that were streaming into the city, without arms and in torn,
dust-stained uniforms. It was in vain, however, that he endeavored to
slake his thirst for news by questioning them; some answered with
vacant, stupid looks that they knew nothing, while others told long
rambling stories, with the maniacal gestures and whirling words of one
bereft of reason. He therefore mechanically turned his steps again
toward the Sous Prefecture as the likeliest quarter in which to look
for information. As he was passing along the Place du College two
guns, probably all that remained of some battery, came dashing up to
the curb on a gallop, and were abandoned there. When at last he turned
into the Grande Rue he had further evidence that the advanced guards
of the fugitives were beginning to take possession, of the city; three
dismounted hussars had seated themselves in a doorway and were sharing
a loaf of bread; two others were walking their mounts up and down,
leading them by the bridle, not knowing where to look for stabling for
them; officers were hurrying to and fro distractedly, seemingly
without any distinct purpose. On the Place Turenne a lieutenant
counseled him not to loiter unnecessarily, for the shells had an
unpleasant way of dropping there every now and then; indeed, a
splinter had just demolished the railing about the statue of the great
commander who overran the Palatinate. And as if to emphasize the
officer's advice, while he was making fast time down the Rue de la
Sous Prefecture he saw two projectiles explode, with a terrible crash,
on the Pont de Meuse.

He was standing in front of the janitor's lodge, debating with himself
whether it would be best to send in his card and try to interview one
of the aides-de-camp, when he heard a girlish voice calling him by
name.

"M. Delaherche! Come in here, quick; it is not safe out there."

It was Rose, his little operative, whose existence he had quite
forgotten. She might be a useful ally in assisting him to gain access
to headquarters; he entered the lodge and accepted her invitation to
be seated.

"Just think, mamma is down sick with the worry and confusion; she
can't leave her bed, so, you see, I have to attend to everything, for
papa is with the National Guards up in the citadel. A little while ago
the Emperor left the building--I suppose he wanted to let people see
he is not a coward--and succeeded in getting as far as the bridge down
at the end of the street. A shell alighted right in front of him; one
of his equerries had his horse killed under him. And then he came
back--he couldn't do anything else, could he, now?"

"You must have heard some talk of how the battle is going. What do
they say, those gentlemen upstairs?"

She looked at him in surprise. Her pretty face was bright and smiling,
with its fluffy golden hair and the clear, childish eyes of one who
bestirred herself among her multifarious duties, in the midst of all
those horrors, which she did not well understand.

"No, I know nothing. About midday I sent up a letter for Marshal
MacMahon, but it could not be given him right away, because the
Emperor was in the room. They were together nearly an hour, the
Marshal lying on his bed, the Emperor close beside him seated on a
chair. That much I know for certain, because I saw them when the door
was opened."

"And then, what did they say to each other?"

She looked at him again, and could not help laughing.

"Why, I don't know; how could you expect me to? There's not a living
soul knows what they said to each other."

She was right; he made an apologetic gesture in recognition of the
stupidity of his question. But the thought of that fateful
conversation haunted him; the interest there was in it for him who
could have heard it! What decision had they arrived at?

"And now," Rose added, "the Emperor is back in his cabinet again,
where he is having a conference with two generals who have just come
in from the battlefield." She checked herself, casting a glance at the
main entrance of the building. "See! there is one of them, now--and
there comes the other."

He hurried from the room, and in the two generals recognized Ducrot
and Douay, whose horses were standing before the door. He watched them
climb into their saddles and gallop away. They had hastened into the
city, each independently of the other, after the plateau of Illy had
been captured by the enemy, to notify the Emperor that the battle was
lost. They placed the entire situation distinctly before him; the army
and Sedan were even then surrounded on every side; the result could
not help but be disastrous.

For some minutes the Emperor continued silently to pace the floor of
his cabinet, with the feeble, uncertain step of an invalid. There was
none with him save an aide-de-camp, who stood by the door, erect and
mute. And ever, to and fro, from the window to the fireplace, from the
fireplace to the window, the sovereign tramped wearily, the
inscrutable face now drawn and twitching spasmodically with a nervous
tic. The back was bent, the shoulders bowed, as if the weight of his
falling empire pressed on them more heavily, and the lifeless eyes,
veiled by their heavy lids, told of the anguish of the fatalist who
has played his last card against destiny and lost. Each time, however,
that his walk brought him to the half-open window he gave a start and
lingered there a second. And during one of those brief stoppages he
faltered with trembling lips:

"Oh! those guns, those guns, that have been going since the morning!"

The thunder of the batteries on la Marfee and at Frenois seemed,
indeed, to resound with more terrific violence there than elsewhere.
It was one continuous, uninterrupted crash, that shook the windows,
nay, the very walls themselves; an incessant uproar that exasperated
the nerves by its persistency. And he could not banish the reflection
from his mind that, as the struggle was now hopeless, further
resistance would be criminal. What would avail more bloodshed, more
maiming and mangling; why add more corpses to the dead that were
already piled high upon that bloody field? They were vanquished, it
was all ended; then why not stop the slaughter? The abomination of
desolation raised its voice to heaven: let it cease.

The Emperor, again before the window, trembled and raised his hands to
his ears, as if to shut out those reproachful voices.

"Oh, those guns, those guns! Will they never be silent!"

Perhaps the dreadful thought of his responsibilities arose before him,
with the vision of all those thousands of bleeding forms with which
his errors had cumbered the earth; perhaps, again, it was but
the compassionate impulse of the tender-hearted dreamer, of the
well-meaning man whose mind was stocked with humanitarian theories. At
the moment when he beheld utter ruin staring him in the face, in that
frightful whirlwind of destruction that broke him like a reed and
scattered his fortunes in the dust, he could yet find tears for
others. Almost crazed at the thought of the slaughter that was
mercilessly going on so near him, he felt he had not strength to
endure it longer; each report of that accursed cannonade seemed to
pierce his heart and intensified a thousandfold his own private
suffering.

"Oh, those guns, those guns! they must be silenced at once, at once!"

And that monarch who no longer had a throne, for he had delegated all
his functions to the Empress regent, that chief without an army, since
he had turned over the supreme command to Marshal Bazaine, now felt
that he must once more take the reins in his hand and be the master.
Since they left Chalons he had kept himself in the background, had
issued no orders, content to be a nameless nullity without recognized
position, a cumbrous burden carried about from place to place among
the baggage of his troops, and it was only in their hour of defeat
that the Emperor reasserted itself in him; the one order that he was
yet to give, out of the pity of his sorrowing heart, was to raise the
white flag on the citadel to request an armistice.

"Those guns, oh! those guns! Take a sheet, someone, a tablecloth, it
matters not what! only hasten, hasten, and see that it is done!"

The aide-de-camp hurried from the room, and with unsteady steps the
Emperor continued to pace his beat, back and forth, between the window
and the fireplace, while still the batteries kept thundering, shaking
the house from garret to foundation.

Delaherche was still chatting with Rose in the room below when a
non-commissioned officer of the guard came running in and interrupted
them.

"Mademoiselle, the house is in confusion, I cannot find a servant. Can
you let me have something from your linen closet, a white cloth of
some kind?"

"Will a napkin answer?"

"No, no, it would not be large enough. Half of a sheet, say."

Rose, eager to oblige, was already fumbling in her closet.

"I don't think I have any half-sheets. No, I don't see anything that
looks as if it would serve your purpose. Oh, here is something; could
you use a tablecloth?"

"A tablecloth! just the thing. Nothing could be better." And he added
as he left the room: "It is to be used as a flag of truce, and hoisted
on the citadel to let the enemy know we want to stop the fighting.
Much obliged, mademoiselle."

Delaherche gave a little involuntary start of delight; they were to
have a respite at last, then! Then he thought it might be unpatriotic
to be joyful at such a time, and put on a long face again; but none
the less his heart was very glad and he contemplated with much
interest a colonel and captain, followed by the sergeant, as they
hurriedly left the Sous-Prefecture. The colonel had the tablecloth,
rolled in a bundle, beneath his arm. He thought he should like to
follow them, and took leave of Rose, who was very proud that her
napery was to be put to such use. It was then just striking two
o'clock.

In front of the Hotel de Ville Delaherche was jostled by a disorderly
mob of half-crazed soldiers who were pushing their way down from the
Faubourg de la Cassine; he lost sight of the colonel, and abandoned
his design of going to witness the raising of the white flag. He
certainly would not be allowed to enter the citadel, and then again he
had heard it reported that shells were falling on the college, and a
new terror filled his mind; his factory might have been burned since
he left it. All his feverish agitation returned to him and he started
off on a run; the rapid motion was a relief to him. But the streets
were blocked by groups of men, at every crossing he was delayed by
some new obstacle. It was only when he reached the Rue Maqua and
beheld the monumental facade of his house intact, no smoke or sign of
fire about it, that his anxiety was allayed, and he heaved a deep sigh
of satisfaction. He entered, and from the doorway shouted to his
mother and wife:

"It is all right! they are hoisting the white flag; the cannonade
won't last much longer."

He said nothing more, for the appearance presented by the ambulance
was truly horrifying.

In the vast drying-room, the wide door of which was standing open, not
only was every bed occupied, but there was no more room upon the
litter that had been shaken down on the floor at the end of the
apartment. They were commencing to strew straw in the spaces between
the beds, the wounded were crowded together so closely that they were
in contact. Already there were more than two hundred patients there,
and more were arriving constantly; through the lofty windows the
pitiless white daylight streamed in upon that aggregation of suffering
humanity. Now and then an unguarded movement elicited an involuntary
cry of anguish. The death-rattle rose on the warm, damp air. Down the
room a low, mournful wail, almost a lullaby, went on and ceased not.
And all about was silence, intense, profound, the stolid resignation
of despair, the solemn stillness of the death-chamber, broken only
by the tread and whispers of the attendants. Rents in tattered,
shell-torn uniforms disclosed gaping wounds, some of which had
received a hasty dressing on the battlefield, while others were still
raw and bleeding. There were feet, still incased in their coarse
shoes, crushed into a mass like jelly; from knees and elbows, that
were as if they had been smashed by a hammer, depended inert limbs.
There were broken hands, and fingers almost severed, ready to drop,
retained only by a strip of skin. Most numerous among the casualties
were the fractures; the poor arms and legs, red and swollen, throbbed
intolerably and were heavy as lead. But the most dangerous hurts were
those in the abdomen, chest, and head. There were yawning fissures
that laid open the entire flank, the knotted viscera were drawn into
great hard lumps beneath the tight-drawn skin, while as the effect of
certain wounds the patient frothed at the mouth and writhed like an
epileptic. Here and there were cases where the lungs had been
penetrated, the puncture now so minute as to permit no escape of
blood, again a wide, deep orifice through which the red tide of life
escaped in torrents; and the internal hemorrhages, those that were hid
from sight, were the most terrible in their effects, prostrating their
victim like a flash, making him black in the face and delirious. And
finally the head, more than any other portion of the frame, gave
evidence of hard treatment; a broken jaw, the mouth a pulp of teeth
and bleeding tongue, an eye torn from its socket and exposed upon the
cheek, a cloven skull that showed the palpitating brain beneath. Those
in whose case the bullet had touched the brain or spinal marrow were
already as dead men, sunk in the lethargy of coma, while the fractures
and other less serious cases tossed restlessly on their pallets and
beseechingly called for water to quench their thirst.

Leaving the large room and passing out into the courtyard, the shed
where the operations were going on presented another scene of horror.
In the rush and hurry that had continued unabated since morning it was
impossible to operate on every case that was brought in, so their
attention had been confined to those urgent cases that imperatively
demanded it. Whenever Bouroche's rapid judgment told him that
amputation was necessary, he proceeded at once to perform it. In the
same way he lost not a moment's time in probing the wound and
extracting the projectile whenever it had lodged in some locality
where it might do further mischief, as in the muscles of the neck, the
region of the arm pit, the thigh joint, the ligaments of the knee and
elbow. Severed arteries, too, had to be tied without delay. Other
wounds were merely dressed by one of the hospital stewards under his
direction and left to await developments. He had already with his own
hand performed four amputations, the only rest that he allowed himself
being to attend to some minor cases in the intervals between them, and
was beginning to feel fatigue. There were but two tables, his own and
another, presided over by one of his assistants; a sheet had been hung
between them, to isolate the patients from each other. Although the
sponge was kept constantly at work the tables were always red, and the
buckets that were emptied over a bed of daisies a few steps away, the
clear water in which a single tumbler of blood sufficed to redden,
seemed to be buckets of unmixed blood, torrents of blood, inundating
the gentle flowers of the parterre. Although the room was thoroughly
ventilated a nauseating smell arose from the tables and their horrid
burdens, mingled with the sweetly insipid odor of chloroform.

Delaherche, naturally a soft-hearted man, was in a quiver of
compassionate emotion at the spectacle that lay before his eyes, when
his attention was attracted by a landau that drove up to the door. It
was a private carriage, but doubtless the ambulance attendants had
found none other ready to their hand and had crowded their patients
into it. There were eight of them, sitting on one another's knees, and
as the last man alighted the manufacturer recognized Captain Beaudoin,
and gave utterance to a cry of terror and surprise.

"Ah, my poor friend! Wait, I will call my mother and my wife."

They came running up, leaving the bandages to be rolled by servants.
The attendants had already raised the captain and brought him into the
room, and were about to lay him down upon a pile of straw when
Delaherche noticed, lying on a bed, a soldier whose ashy face and
staring eyes exhibited no sign of life.

"Look, is he not dead, that man?"

"That's so!" replied the attendant. "He may as well make room for
someone else!"

He and one of his mates took the body by the arms and legs and carried
it off to the morgue that had been extemporized behind the lilac
bushes. A dozen corpses were already there in a row, stiff and stark,
some drawn out to their full length as if in an attempt to rid
themselves of the agony that racked them, others curled and twisted in
every attitude of suffering. Some seemed to have left the world with a
sneer on their faces, their eyes retroverted till naught was visible
but the whites, the grinning lips parted over the glistening teeth,
while in others, with faces unspeakably sorrowful, big tears still
stood on the cheeks. One, a mere boy, short and slight, half whose
face had been shot away by a cannon-ball, had his two hands clasped
convulsively above his heart, and in them a woman's photograph, one of
those pale, blurred pictures that are made in the quarters of the
poor, bedabbled with his blood. And at the feet of the dead had been
thrown in a promiscuous pile the amputated arms and legs, the refuse
of the knife and saw of the operating table, just as the butcher
sweeps into a corner of his shop the offal, the worthless odds and
ends of flesh and bone.

Gilberte shuddered as she looked on Captain Beaudoin. Good God! how
pale he was, stretched out on his mattress, his face so white beneath
the encrusting grime! And the thought that but a few short hours
before he had held her in his arms, radiant in all his manly strength
and beauty, sent a chill of terror to her heart. She kneeled beside
him.

"What a terrible misfortune, my friend! But it won't amount to
anything, will it?" And she drew her handkerchief from her pocket and
began mechanically to wipe his face, for she could not bear to look at
it thus soiled with powder, sweat, and clay. It seemed to her, too,
that she would be helping him by cleansing him a little. "Will it? it
is only your leg that is hurt; it won't amount to anything."

The captain made an effort to rouse himself from his semi-conscious
state, and opened his eyes. He recognized his friends and greeted them
with a faint smile.

"Yes, it is only the leg. I was not even aware of being hit; I thought
I had made a misstep and fallen--" He spoke with great difficulty.
"Oh! I am so thirsty!"

Mme. Delaherche, who was standing at the other side of the mattress,
looking down compassionately on the young man, hastily left the room.
She returned with a glass and a carafe of water into which a little
cognac had been poured, and when the captain had greedily swallowed
the contents of the glass, she distributed what remained in the carafe
among the occupants of the adjacent beds, who begged with trembling
outstretched hands and tearful voices for a drop. A zouave, for whom
there was none left, sobbed like a child in his disappointment.

Delaherche was meantime trying to gain the major's ear to see if
he could not prevail on him to take up the captain's case out of
its regular turn. Bouroche came into the room just then, with his
blood-stained apron and lion's mane hanging in confusion about his
perspiring face, and the men raised their heads as he passed and
endeavored to stop him, all clamoring at once for recognition and
immediate attention: "This way, major! It's my turn, major!" Faltering
words of entreaty went up to him, trembling hands clutched at his
garments, but he, wrapped up in the work that lay before him and
puffing with his laborious exertions, continued to plan and calculate
and listened to none of them. He communed with himself aloud, counting
them over with his finger and classifying them, assigning them their
numbers; this one first, then that one, then that other fellow; one,
two, three; the jaw, the arm, then the thigh; while the assistant who
accompanied him on his round made himself all ears in his effort to
memorize his directions.

"Major," said Delaherche, plucking him by the sleeve, "there is an
officer over here, Captain Beaudoin--"

Bouroche interrupted him. "What, Beaudoin here! Ah, the poor devil!"
And he crossed over at once to the side of the wounded man. A single
glance, however, must have sufficed to show him that the case was a
bad one, for he added in the same breath, without even stooping to
examine the injured member: "Good! I will have them bring him to me at
once, just as soon as I am through with the operation that is now in
hand."

And he went back to the shed, followed by Delaherche, who would not
lose sight of him for fear lest he might forget his promise.

The business that lay before him now was the rescision of a
shoulder-joint in accordance with Lisfranc's method, which surgeons
never fail to speak of as a "very pretty" operation, something neat
and expeditious, barely occupying forty seconds in the performance.
The patient was subjected to the influence of chloroform, while an
assistant grasped the shoulder with both hands, the fingers under the
armpit, the thumbs on top. Bouroche, brandishing the long, keen knife,
cried: "Raise him!" seized the deltoid with his left hand and with a
swift movement of the right cut through the flesh of the arm and
severed the muscle; then, with a deft rearward cut, he disarticulated
the joint at a single stroke, and presto! the arm fell on the table,
taken off in three motions. The assistant slipped his thumbs over the
brachial artery in such manner as to close it. "Let him down!"
Bouroche could not restrain a little pleased laugh as he proceeded to
secure the artery, for he had done it in thirty-five seconds. All that
was left to do now was to bring a flap of skin down over the wound and
stitch it, in appearance something like a flat epaulette. It was not
only "pretty," but exciting, on account of the danger, for a man will
pump all the blood out of his body in two minutes through the
brachial, to say nothing of the risk there is in bringing a patient to
a sitting posture when under the influence of anaesthetics.

Delaherche was white as a ghost; a thrill of horror ran down his back.
He would have turned and fled, but time was not given him; the arm was
already off. The soldier was a new recruit, a sturdy peasant lad; on
emerging from his state of coma he beheld a hospital attendant
carrying away the amputated limb to conceal it behind the lilacs.
Giving a quick downward glance at his shoulder, he saw the bleeding
stump and knew what had been done, whereon he became furiously angry.

"Ah, _nom de Dieu!_ what have you been doing to me? It is a shame!"

Bouroche was too done up to make him an immediate answer, but
presently, in his fatherly way:

"I acted for the best; I didn't want to see you kick the bucket, my
boy. Besides, I asked you, and you told me to go ahead."

"I told you to go ahead! I did? How could I know what I was saying!"
His anger subsided and he began to weep scalding tears. "What is going
to become of me now?"

They carried him away and laid him on the straw, and gave the table
and its covering a thorough cleansing; and the buckets of blood-red
water that they threw out across the grass plot gave to the pale
daisies a still deeper hue of crimson.

When Delaherche had in some degree recovered his equanimity he was
astonished to notice that the bombardment was still going on. Why had
it not been silenced? Rose's tablecloth must have been hoisted over
the citadel by that time, and yet it seemed as if the fire of the
Prussian batteries was more rapid and furious than ever. The uproar
was such that one could not hear his own voice; the sustained
vibration tried the stoutest nerves. On both operators and patients
the effect could not but be most unfavorable of those incessant
detonations that seemed to penetrate the inmost recesses of one's
being. The entire hospital was in a state of feverish alarm and
apprehension.

"I supposed it was all over; what can they mean by keeping it up?"
exclaimed Delaherche, who was nervously listening, expecting each shot
would be the last.

Returning to Bouroche to remind him of his promise and conduct him to
the captain, he was astonished to find him seated on a bundle of straw
before two pails of iced water, into which he had plunged both his
arms, bared to the shoulder. The major, weary and disheartened,
overwhelmed by a sensation of deepest melancholy and dejection, had
reached one of those terrible moments when the practitioner becomes
conscious of his own impotency; he had exhausted his strength,
physical and moral, and taken this means to restore it. And yet he was
not a weakling; he was steady of hand and firm of heart; but the
inexorable question had presented itself to him: "What is the use?"
The feeling that he could accomplish so little, that so much must be
left undone, had suddenly paralyzed him. What was the use? since
Death, in spite of his utmost effort, would always be victorious.
Two attendants came in, bearing Captain Beaudoin on a stretcher.

"Major," Delaherche ventured to say, "here is the captain."

Bouroche opened his eyes, withdrew his arms from their cold bath,
shook and dried them on the straw. Then, rising to his feet:

"Ah, yes; the next one-- Well, well, the day's work is not yet done."
And he shook the tawny locks upon his lion's head, rejuvenated and
refreshed, restored to himself once more by the invincible habit of
duty and the stern discipline of his profession.

"Good! just above the right ankle," said Bouroche, with unusual
garrulity, intended to quiet the nerves of the patient. "You displayed
wisdom in selecting the location of your wound; one is not much the
worse for a hurt in that quarter. Now we'll just take a little look at
it."

But Beaudoin's persistently lethargic condition evidently alarmed him.
He inspected the contrivance that had been applied by the field
attendant to check the flow of blood, which was simply a cord passed
around the leg outside the trousers and twisted tight with the
assistance of a bayonet sheath, with a growling request to be informed
what infernal ignoramus had done that. Then suddenly he saw how
matters were and was silent; while they were bringing him in from the
field in the overcrowded landau the improvised tourniquet had become
loosened and slipped down, thus giving rise to an extensive
hemorrhage. He relieved his feelings by storming at the hospital
steward who was assisting him.

"You confounded snail, cut! Are you going to keep me here all day?"

The attendant cut away the trousers and drawers, then the shoe and
sock, disclosing to view the leg and foot in their pale nudity,
stained with blood. Just over the ankle was a frightful laceration,
into which the splinter of the bursting shell had driven a piece of
the red cloth of the trousers. The muscle protruded from the lips of
the gaping orifice, a roll of whitish, mangled tissue.

Gilberte had to support herself against one of the uprights of the
shed. Ah! that flesh, that poor flesh that was so white; now all torn
and maimed and bleeding! Despite the horror and terror of the sight
she could not turn away her eyes.

"Confound it!" Bouroche exclaimed, "they have made a nice mess here!"

He felt the foot and found it cold; the pulse, if any, was so feeble
as to be undistinguishable. His face was very grave, and he pursed his
lips in a way that was habitual with him when he had a more than
usually serious case to deal with.

"Confound it," he repeated, "I don't like the looks of that foot!"

The captain, whom his anxiety had finally aroused from his
semi-somnolent state, asked:

"What were you saying, major?"

Bouroche's tactics, whenever an amputation became necessary, were
never to appeal directly to the patient for the customary
authorization. He preferred to have the patient accede to it
voluntarily.

"I was saying that I don't like the looks of that foot," he murmured,
as if thinking aloud. "I am afraid we shan't be able to save it."

In a tone of alarm Beaudoin rejoined: "Come, major, there is no use
beating about the bush. What is your opinion?"

"My opinion is that you are a brave man, captain, and that you are
going to let me do what the necessity of the case demands."

To Captain Beaudoin it seemed as if a sort of reddish vapor arose
before his eyes through which he saw things obscurely. He understood.
But notwithstanding the intolerable fear that appeared to be clutching
at his throat, he replied, unaffectedly and bravely:

"Do as you think best, major."

The preparations did not consume much time. The assistant had
saturated a cloth with chloroform and was holding it in readiness; it
was at once applied to the patient's nostrils. Then, just at the
moment that the brief struggle set in that precedes anaesthesia, two
attendants raised the captain and placed him on the mattress upon his
back, in such a position that the legs should be free; one of them
retained his grasp on the left limb, holding it flexed, while an
assistant, seizing the right, clasped it tightly with both his hands
in the region of the groin in order to compress the arteries.

Gilberte, when she saw Bouroche approach the victim with the
glittering steel, could endure no more.

"Oh, don't! oh, don't! it is too horrible!"

And she would have fallen had it not been that Mme. Delaherche put
forth her arm to sustain her.

"But why do you stay here?"

Both the women remained, however. They averted their eyes, not wishing
to see the rest; motionless and trembling they stood locked in each
other's arms, notwithstanding the little love there was between them.

At no time during the day had the artillery thundered more loudly than
now. It was three o'clock, and Delaherche declared angrily that he
gave it up--he could not understand it. There could be no doubt about
it now, the Prussian batteries, instead of slackening their fire, were
extending it. Why? What had happened? It was as if all the forces of
the nether regions had been unchained; the earth shook, the heavens
were on fire. The ring of flame-belching mouths of bronze that
encircled Sedan, the eight hundred guns of the German armies, that
were served with such activity and raised such an uproar, were
expending their thunders on the adjacent fields; had that concentric
fire been focused upon the city, had the batteries on those commanding
heights once begun to play upon Sedan, it would have been reduced to
ashes and pulverized into dust in less than fifteen minutes. But now
the projectiles were again commencing to fall upon the houses, the
crash that told of ruin and destruction was heard more frequently. One
exploded in the Rue des Voyards, another grazed the tall chimney of
the factory, and the bricks and mortar came tumbling to the ground
directly in front of the shed where the surgeons were at work.
Bouroche looked up and grumbled:

"Are they trying to finish our wounded for us? Really, this racket is
intolerable."

In the meantime an attendant had seized the captain's leg, and the
major, with a swift circular motion of his hand, made an incision in
the skin below the knee and some two inches below the spot where he
intended to saw the bone; then, still employing the same thin-bladed
knife, that he did not change in order to get on more rapidly, he
loosened the skin on the superior side of the incision and turned it
back, much as one would peel an orange. But just as he was on the
point of dividing the muscles a hospital steward came up and whispered
in his ear:

"Number two has just slipped his cable."

The major did not hear, owing to the fearful uproar.

"Speak up, can't you! My ear drums are broken with their d-----d
cannon."

"Number two has just slipped his cable."

"Who is that, number two?"

"The arm, you know."

"Ah, very good! Well, then, you can bring me number three, the jaw."

And with wonderful dexterity, never changing his position, he cut
through the muscles clean down to the bone with a single motion of his
wrist. He laid bare the tibia and fibula, introduced between them an
implement to keep them in position, drew the saw across them once, and
they were sundered. And the foot remained in the hands of the
attendant who was holding it.

The flow of blood had been small, thanks to the pressure maintained by
the assistant higher up the leg, at the thigh. The ligature of the
three arteries was quickly accomplished, but the major shook his head,
and when the assistant had removed his fingers he examined the stump,
murmuring, certain that the patient could not hear as yet:

"It looks bad; there's no blood coming from the arterioles."

And he completed his diagnosis of the case by an expressive gesture:
Another poor fellow who was soon to answer the great roll-call! while
on his perspiring face was again seen that expression of weariness and
utter dejection, that hopeless, unanswerable: "What is the use?" since
out of every ten cases that they assumed the terrible responsibility
of operating on they did not succeed in saving four. He wiped his
forehead, and set to work to draw down the flap of skin and put in the
three sutures that were to hold it in place.

Delaherche having told Gilberte that the operation was completed, she
turned her gaze once more upon the table; she caught a glimpse of the
captain's foot, however, as the attendant was carrying it away to the
place behind the lilacs. The charnel house there continued to receive
fresh occupants; two more corpses had recently been brought in and
added to the ghastly array, one with blackened lips still parted wide
as if rending the air with shrieks of anguish, the other, his form so
contorted and contracted in the convulsions of the last agony that he
was like a stunted, malformed boy. Unfortunately, there was beginning
to be a scarcity of room in the little secluded corner, and the human
debris had commenced to overflow and invade the adjacent alley. The
attendant hesitated a moment, in doubt what to do with the captain's
foot, then finally concluded to throw it on the general pile.

"Well, captain, that's over with," the major said to Beaudoin when he
regained consciousness. "You'll be all right now."

But the captain did not show the cheeriness that follows a successful
operation. He opened his eyes and made an attempt to raise himself,
then fell back on his pillow, murmuring wearily, in a faint voice:

"Thanks, major. I'm glad it's over."

He was conscious of the pain, however, when the alcohol of the
dressing touched the raw flesh. He flinched a little, complaining that
they were burning him. And just as they were bringing up the stretcher
preparatory to carrying him back into the other room the factory was
shaken to its foundations by a most terrific explosion; a shell had
burst directly in the rear of the shed, in the small courtyard where
the pump was situated. The glass in the windows was shattered into
fragments, and a dense cloud of smoke came pouring into the ambulance.
The wounded men, stricken with panic terror, arose from their bed of
straw; all were clamoring with affright; all wished to fly at once.

Delaherche rushed from the building in consternation to see what
damage had been done. Did they mean to burn his house down over his
head? What did it all mean? Why did they open fire again when the
Emperor had ordered that it should cease?

"Thunder and lightning! Stir yourselves, will you!" Bouroche shouted
to his staff, who were standing about with pallid faces, transfixed by
terror. "Wash off the table; go and bring me in number three!"

They cleansed the table; and once more the crimson contents of the
buckets were hurled across the grass plot upon the bed of daisies,
which was now a sodden, blood-soaked mat of flowers and verdure. And
Bouroche, to relieve the tedium until the attendants should bring him
"number three," applied himself to probing for a musket-ball, which,
having first broken the patient's lower jaw, had lodged in the root of
the tongue. The blood flowed freely and collected on his fingers in
glutinous masses.

Captain Beaudoin was again resting on his mattress in the large room.
Gilberte and Mme. Delaherche had followed the stretcher when he was
carried from the operating table, and even Delaherche, notwithstanding
his anxiety, came in for a moment's chat.

"Lie here and rest a few minutes, Captain. We will have a room
prepared for you, and you shall be our guest."

But the wounded man shook off his lethargy and for a moment had
command of his faculties.

"No, it is not worth while; I feel that I am going to die."

And he looked at them with wide eyes, filled with the horror of death.

"Oh, Captain! why do you talk like that?" murmured Gilberte, with a
shiver, while she forced a smile to her lips. "You will be quite well
a month hence."

He shook his head mournfully, and in the room was conscious of no
presence save hers; on all his face was expressed his unutterable
yearning for life, his bitter, almost craven regret that he was to be
snatched away so young, leaving so many joys behind untasted.

"I am going to die, I am going to die. Oh! 'tis horrible--"

Then suddenly he became conscious of his torn, soiled uniform and the
grime upon his hands, and it made him feel uncomfortable to be in the
company of women in such a state. It shamed him to show such weakness,
and his desire to look and be the gentleman to the last restored to
him his manhood. When he spoke again it was in a tone almost of
cheerfulness.

"If I have got to die, though, I would rather it should be with clean
hands. I should count it a great kindness, madame, if you would
moisten a napkin and let me have it."

Gilberte sped away and quickly returned with the napkin, with which
she herself cleansed the hands of the dying man. Thenceforth, desirous
of quitting the scene with dignity, he displayed much firmness.
Delaherche did what he could to cheer him, and assisted his wife in
the small attentions she offered for his comfort. Old Mme. Delaherche,
too, in presence of the man whose hours were numbered, felt her enmity
subsiding. She would be silent, she who knew all and had sworn to
impart her knowledge to her son. What would it avail to excite discord
in the household, since death would soon obliterate all trace of the
wrong?

The end came very soon. Captain Beaudoin, whose strength was ebbing
rapidly, relapsed into his comatose condition, and a cold sweat broke
out and stood in beads upon his neck and forehead. He opened his eyes
again, and began to feebly grope about him with his stiffening
fingers, as if feeling for a covering that was not there, pulling at
it with a gentle, continuous movement, as if to draw it up around his
shoulders.

"It is cold-- Oh! it is so cold."

And so he passed from life, peacefully, without a struggle; and on his
wasted, tranquil face rested an expression of unspeakable melancholy.

Delaherche saw to it that the remains, instead of being borne away and
placed among the common dead, were deposited in one of the
outbuildings of the factory. He endeavored to prevail on Gilberte, who
was tearful and disconsolate, to retire to her apartment, but she
declared that to be alone now would be more than her nerves could
stand, and begged to be allowed to remain with her mother-in-law in
the ambulance, where the noise and movement would be a distraction to
her. She was seen presently running to carry a drink of water to a
chasseur d'Afrique whom his fever had made delirious, and she assisted
a hospital steward to dress the hand of a little recruit, a lad of
twenty, who had had his thumb shot away and come in on foot from the
battlefield; and as he was jolly and amusing, treating his wound with
all the levity and nonchalance of the Parisian rollicker, she was soon
laughing and joking as merrily as he.

While the captain lay dying the cannonade seemed, if that were
possible, to have increased in violence; another shell had landed in
the garden, shattering one of the old elms. Terror-stricken men came
running in to say that all Sedan was in danger of destruction; a great
fire had broken out in the Faubourg de la Cassine. If the bombardment
should continue with such fury for any length of time there would be
nothing left of the city.

"It can't be; I am going to see about it!" Delaherche exclaimed,
violently excited.

"Where are you going, pray?" asked Bouroche.

"Why, to the Sous-Prefecture, to see what the Emperor means by fooling
us in this way, with his talk of hoisting the white flag."

For some few seconds the major stood as if petrified at the idea of
defeat and capitulation, which presented itself to him then for the
first time in the midst of his impotent efforts to save the lives of
the poor maimed creatures they were bringing in to him from the field.
Rage and grief were in his voice as he shouted:

"Go to the devil, if you will! All you can do won't keep us from being
soundly whipped!"

On leaving the factory Delaherche found it no easy task to squeeze his
way through the throng; at every instant the crowd of straggling
soldiers that filled the streets received fresh accessions. He
questioned several of the officers whom he encountered; not one of
them had seen the white flag on the citadel. Finally he met a colonel,
who declared that he had caught a momentary glimpse of it: that it had
been run up and then immediately hauled down. That explained matters;
either the Germans had not seen it, or seeing it appear and disappear
so quickly, had inferred the distressed condition of the French and
redoubled their fire in consequence. There was a story in circulation
how a general officer, enraged beyond control at the sight of the
flag, had wrested it from its bearer, broken the staff, and trampled
it in the mud. And still the Prussian batteries continued to play upon
the city, shells were falling upon the roofs and in the streets,
houses were in flames; a woman had just been killed at the corner of
the Rue Pont de Meuse and the Place Turenne.

At the Sous-Prefecture Delaherche failed to find Rose at her usual
station in the janitor's lodge. Everywhere were evidences of disorder;
all the doors were standing open; the reign of terror had commenced.
As there was no sentry or anyone to prevent, he went upstairs,
encountering on the way only a few scared-looking men, none of whom
made any offer to stop him. He had reached the first story and was
hesitating what to do next when he saw the young girl approaching him.

"Oh, M. Delaherche! isn't this dreadful! Here, quick! this way, if you
would like to see the Emperor."

On the left of the corridor a door stood ajar, and through the narrow
opening a glimpse could be had of the sovereign, who had resumed his
weary, anguished tramp between the fireplace and the window. Back and
forth he shuffled with heavy, dragging steps, and ceased not, despite
his unendurable suffering. An aide-de-camp had just entered the room
--it was he who had failed to close the door behind him--and
Delaherche heard the Emperor ask him in a sorrowfully reproachful
voice:

"What is the reason of this continued firing, sir, after I gave orders
to hoist the white flag?"

The torture to him had become greater than he could bear, that
never-ceasing cannonade, that seemed to grow more furious with every
minute. Every time he approached the window it pierced him to the
heart. More spilling of blood, more useless squandering of human life!
At every moment the piles of corpses were rising higher on the
battlefield, and his was the responsibility. The compassionate
instincts that entered so largely into his nature revolted at it, and
more than ten times already he had asked that question of those who
approached him.

"I gave orders to raise the white flag; tell me, why do they continue
firing?"

The aide-de-camp made answer in a voice so low that Delaherche failed
to catch its purport. The Emperor, moreover, seemed not to pause to
listen, drawn by some irresistible attraction to that window at which,
each time he approached it, he was greeted by that terrible salvo of
artillery that rent and tore his being. His pallor was greater even
than it had been before; his poor, pinched, wan face, on which were
still visible traces of the rouge that had been applied that morning,
bore witness to his anguish.

At that moment a short, quick-motioned man in dust-soiled uniform,
whom Delaherche recognized as General Lebrun, hurriedly crossed the
corridor and pushed open the door, without waiting to be announced.
And scarcely was he in the room when again was heard the Emperor's so
oft repeated question.

"Why do they continue to fire, General, when I have given orders to
hoist the white flag?"

The aide-de-camp left the apartment, shutting the door behind him, and
Delaherche never knew what was the general's answer. The vision had
faded from his sight.

"Ah!" said Rose, "things are going badly; I can see that clearly
enough by all those gentlemen's faces. It is bad for my tablecloth,
too; I am afraid I shall never see it again; somebody told me it had
been torn in pieces. But it is for the Emperor that I feel most sorry
in all this business, for he is in a great deal worse condition than
the marshal; he would be much better off in his bed than in that room,
where he is wearing himself out with his everlasting walking."

She spoke with much feeling, and on her pretty pink and white face
there was an expression of sincere pity, but Delaherche, whose
Bonapartist ardor had somehow cooled considerably during the last two
days, said to himself that she was a little fool. He nevertheless
remained chatting with her a moment in the hall below while waiting
for General Lebrun to take his departure, and when that officer
appeared and left the building he followed him.

General Lebrun had explained to the Emperor that if it was thought
best to apply for an armistice, etiquette demanded that a letter to
that effect, signed by the commander-in-chief of the French forces,
should be dispatched to the German commander-in-chief. He had also
offered to write the letter, go in search of General de Wimpffen, and
obtain his signature to it. He left the Sous-Prefecture with the
letter in his pocket, but apprehensive he might not succeed in finding
de Wimpffen, entirely ignorant as he was of the general's whereabouts
on the field of battle. Within the ramparts of Sedan, moreover, the
crowd was so dense that he was compelled to walk his horse, which
enabled Delaherche to keep him in sight until he reached the Minil
gate.

Once outside upon the road, however, General Lebrun struck into a
gallop, and when near Balan had the good fortune to fall in with the
chief. Only a few minutes previous to this the latter had written to
the Emperor: "Sire, come and put yourself at the head of your troops;
they will force a passage through the enemy's lines for you, or perish
in the attempt;" therefore he flew into a furious passion at the mere
mention of the word armistice. No, no! he would sign nothing, he would
fight it out! This was about half-past three o'clock, and it was
shortly afterward that occurred the gallant, but mad attempt, the last
serious effort of the day, to pierce the Bavarian lines and regain
possession of Bazeilles. In order to put heart into the troops a ruse
was resorted to: in the streets of Sedan and in the fields outside the
walls the shout was raised: "Bazaine is coming up! Bazaine is at
hand!" Ever since morning many had allowed themselves to be deluded by
that hope; each time that the Germans opened fire with a fresh battery
it was confidently asserted to be the guns of the army of Metz. In the
neighborhood of twelve hundred men were collected, soldiers of all
arms, from every corps, and the little column bravely advanced into
the storm of missiles that swept the road, at double time. It was a
splendid spectacle of heroism and endurance while it lasted; the
numerous casualties did not check the ardor of the survivors, nearly
five hundred yards were traversed with a courage and nerve that seemed
almost like madness; but soon there were great gaps in the ranks, the
bravest began to fall back. What could they do against overwhelming
numbers? It was a mad attempt, anyway; the desperate effort of a
commander who could not bring himself to acknowledge that he was
defeated. And it ended by General de Wimpffen finding himself and
General Lebrun alone together on the Bazeilles road, which they had to
make up their mind to abandon to the enemy, for good and all. All that
remained for them to do was to retreat and seek security under the
walls of Sedan.

Upon losing sight of the general at the Minil gate Delaherche had
hurried back to the factory at the best speed he was capable of,
impelled by an irresistible longing to have another look from his
observatory at what was going on in the distance. Just as he reached
his door, however, his progress was arrested a moment by encountering
Colonel de Vineuil, who, with his blood-stained boot, was being
brought in for treatment in a condition of semi-consciousness, upon
a bed of straw that had been prepared for him on the floor of a
market-gardener's wagon. The colonel had persisted in his efforts to
collect the scattered fragments of his regiment until he dropped from
his horse. He was immediately carried upstairs and put to bed in a
room on the first floor, and Bouroche, who was summoned at once,
finding the injury not of a serious character, had only to apply a
dressing to the wound, from which he first extracted some bits of the
leather of the boot. The worthy doctor was wrought up to a high pitch
of excitement; he exclaimed, as he went downstairs, that he would
rather cut off one of his own legs than continue working in that
unsatisfactory, slovenly way, without a tithe of either the assistants
or the appliances that he ought to have. Below in the ambulance,
indeed, they no longer knew where to bestow the cases that were
brought them, and had been obliged to have recourse to the lawn, where
they laid them on the grass. There were already two long rows of them,
exposed beneath the shrieking shells, filling the air with their
dismal plaints while waiting for his ministrations. The number of
cases brought in since noon exceeded four hundred, and in response to
Bouroche's repeated appeals for assistance he had been sent one young
doctor from the city. Good as was his will, he was unequal to the
task; he probed, sliced, sawed, sewed like a man frantic, and was
reduced to despair to see his work continually accumulating before
him. Gilberte, satiated with sights of horror, unable longer to endure
the sad spectacle of blood and tears, remained upstairs with her
uncle, the colonel, leaving to Mme. Delaherche the care of moistening
fevered lips and wiping the cold sweat from the brow of the dying.

Rapidly climbing the stairs to his terrace, Delaherche endeavored to
form some idea for himself of how matters stood. The city had suffered
less injury than was generally supposed; there was one great
conflagration, however, over in the Faubourg de la Cassine, from which
dense volumes of smoke were rising. Fort Palatinat had discontinued
its fire, doubtless because the ammunition was all expended; the guns
mounted on the Porte de Paris alone continued to make themselves heard
at infrequent intervals. But something that he beheld presently had
greater interest for his eyes than all beside; they had run up the
white flag on the citadel again, but it must be that it was invisible
from the battlefield, for there was no perceptible slackening of the
fire. The Balan road was concealed from his vision by the neighboring
roofs; he was unable to make out what the troops were doing in that
direction. Applying his eye to the telescope, however, which remained
as he had left it, directed on la Marfee, he again beheld the cluster
of officers that he had seen in that same place about midday. The
master of them all, that miniature toy-soldier in lead, half finger
high, in whom he had thought to recognize the King of Prussia, was
there still, erect in his plain, dark uniform before the other
officers, who, in their showy trappings, were for the most part
reclining carelessly on the grass. Among them were officers from
foreign lands, aides-de-camp, generals, high officials, princes; all
of them with field glasses in their hands, with which, since early
morning, they had been watching every phase of the death-struggle of
the army of Chalons, as if they were at the play. And the direful
drama was drawing to its end.

From among the trees that clothed the summit of la Marfee King William
had just witnessed the junction of his armies. It was an accomplished
fact; the third army, under the leadership of his son, the Crown
Prince, advancing by the way of Saint-Menges and Fleigneux, had
secured possession of the plateau of Illy, while the fourth, commanded
by the Crown Prince of Saxony, turning the wood of la Garenne and,
coming up through Givonne and Daigny, had also reached its appointed
rendezvous. There, too, the XIth and Vth corps had joined hands with
the XIIth corps and the Guards. The gallant but ineffectual charge of
Margueritte's division in its supreme effort to break through the
hostile lines at the very moment when the circle was being rounded out
had elicited from the king the exclamation: "Ah, the brave fellows!"
Now the great movement, inexorable as fate, the details of which had
been arranged with such mathematical precision, was complete, the jaws
of the vise had closed, and stretching on his either hand far in the
distance, a mighty wall of adamant surrounding the army of the French,
were the countless men and guns that called him master. At the north
the contracting lines maintained a constantly increasing pressure on
the vanquished, forcing them back upon Sedan under the merciless fire
of the batteries that lined the horizon in an array without a break.
Toward the south, at Bazeilles, where the conflict had ceased to rage
and the scene was one of mournful desolation, great clouds of smoke
were rising from the ruins of what had once been happy homes, while
the Bavarians, now masters of Balan, had advanced their batteries to
within three hundred yards of the city gates. And the other batteries,
those posted on the left bank at Pont Maugis, Noyers, Frenois,
Wadelincourt, completing the impenetrable rampart of flame and
bringing it around to the sovereign's feet on his right, that had been
spouting fire uninterruptedly for nearly twelve hours, now thundered
more loudly still.

But King William, to give his tired eyes a moment's rest, dropped his
glass to his side and continued his observations with unassisted
vision. The sun was slanting downward to the woods on his left, about
to set in a sky where there was not a cloud, and the golden light that
lay upon the landscape was so transcendently clear and limpid that the
most insignificant objects stood out with startling distinctness. He
could almost count the houses in Sedan, whose windows flashed back the
level rays of the departing day-star, and the ramparts and
fortifications, outlined in black against the eastern sky, had an
unwonted aspect of frowning massiveness. Then, scattered among the
fields to right and left, were the pretty, smiling villages, reminding
one of the toy villages that come packed in boxes for the little ones;
to the west Donchery, seated at the border of her broad plain; Douzy
and Carignan to the east, among the meadows. Shutting in the picture
to the north was the forest of the Ardennes, an ocean of sunlit
verdure, while the Meuse, loitering with sluggish current through the
plain with many a bend and curve, was like a stream of purest molten
gold in that caressing light. And seen from that height, with the
sun's parting kiss resting on it, the horrible battlefield, with its
blood and smoke, became an exquisite and highly finished miniature;
the dead horsemen and disemboweled steeds on the plateau of Floing
were so many splashes of bright color; on the right, in the direction
of Givonne, those minute black specks that whirled and eddied with
such apparent lack of aim, like motes dancing in the sunshine, were
the retreating fragments of the beaten army; while on the left a
Bavarian battery on the peninsula of Iges, its guns the size of
matches, might have been taken for some mechanical toy as it performed
its evolutions with clockwork regularity. The victory was crushing,
exceeding all that the victor could have desired or hoped, and the
King felt no remorse in presence of all those corpses, of those
thousands of men that were as the dust upon the roads of that broad
valley where, notwithstanding the burning of Bazeilles, the slaughter
of Illy, the anguish of Sedan, impassive nature yet could don her
gayest robe and put on her brightest smile as the perfect day faded
into the tranquil evening.

But suddenly Delaherche descried a French officer climbing the steep
path up the flank of la Marfee; he was a general, wearing a blue
tunic, mounted on a black horse, and preceded by a hussar bearing a
white flag. It was General Reille, whom the Emperor had entrusted with
this communication for the King of Prussia: "My brother, as it has
been denied me to die at the head of my army, all that is left me is
to surrender my sword to Your Majesty. I am Your Majesty's
affectionate brother, Napoleon." Desiring to arrest the butchery and
being no longer master, the Emperor yielded himself a prisoner, in the
hope to placate the conqueror by the sacrifice. And Delaherche saw
General Reille rein up his charger and dismount at ten paces from the
King, then advance and deliver his letter; he was unarmed and merely
carried a riding whip. The sun was setting in a flood of rosy light;
the King seated himself on a chair in the midst of a grassy open
space, and resting his hand on the back of another chair that was held
in place by a secretary, replied that he accepted the sword and would
await the appearance of an officer empowered to settle the terms of
the capitulation.



                                VII.

As when the ice breaks up and the great cakes come crashing, grinding
down upon the bosom of the swollen stream, carrying away all before
them, so now, from every position about Sedan that had been wrested
from the French, from Floing and the plateau of Illy, from the wood of
la Garenne, the valley of la Givonne and the Bazeilles road, the
stampede commenced; a mad torrent of horses, guns, and affrighted men
came pouring toward the city. It was a most unfortunate inspiration
that brought the army under the walls of that fortified place. There
was too much in the way of temptation there; the shelter that it
afforded the skulker and the deserter, the assurance of safety that
even the bravest beheld behind its ramparts, entailed widespread panic
and demoralization. Down there behind those protecting walls, so
everyone imagined, was safety from that terrible artillery that had
been blazing without intermission for near twelve hours; duty,
manhood, reason were all lost sight of; the man disappeared and was
succeeded by the brute, and their fierce instinct sent them racing
wildly for shelter, seeking a place where they might hide their head
and lie down and sleep.

When Maurice, bathing Jean's face with cool water behind the shelter
of their bit of wall, saw his friend open his eyes once more, he
uttered an exclamation of delight.

"Ah, poor old chap, I was beginning to fear you were done for! And
don't think I say it to find fault, but really you are not so light as
you were when you were a boy."

It seemed to Jean, in his still dazed condition, that he was awaking
from some unpleasant dream. Then his recollection returned to him
slowly, and two big tears rolled down his cheeks. To think that little
Maurice, so frail and slender, whom he had loved and petted like a
child, should have found strength to lug him all that distance!

"Let's see what damage your knowledge-box has sustained."

The wound was not serious; the bullet had plowed its way through the
scalp and considerable blood had flowed. The hair, which was now
matted with the coagulated gore, had served to stanch the current,
therefore Maurice refrained from applying water to the hurt, so as not
to cause it to bleed afresh.

"There, you look a little more like a civilized being, now that you
have a clean face on you. Let's see if I can find something for you to
wear on your head." And picking up the _kepi_ of a soldier who lay
dead not far away, he tenderly adjusted it on his comrade. "It fits
you to a T. Now if you can only walk everyone will say we are a very
good-looking couple."

Jean got on his legs and gave his head a shake to assure himself it
was secure. It seemed a little heavier than usual, that was all; he
thought he should get along well enough. A great wave of tenderness
swept through his simple soul; he caught Maurice in his arms and
hugged him to his bosom, while all he could find to say was:

"Ah! dear boy, dear boy!"

But the Prussians were drawing near: it would not answer to loiter
behind the wall. Already Lieutenant Rochas, with what few men were
left him, was retreating, guarding the flag, which the sous-lieutenant
still carried under his arm, rolled around the staff. Lapoulle's great
height enabled him to fire an occasional shot at the advancing enemy
over the coping of the wall, while Pache had slung his chassepot
across his shoulder by the strap, doubtless considering that he had
done a fair day's work and it was time to eat and sleep. Maurice and
Jean, stooping until they were bent almost double, hastened to rejoin
them. There was no scarcity of muskets and ammunition; all they had to
do was stoop and pick them up. They equipped themselves afresh, having
left everything behind, knapsacks included, when one lugged the other
out of danger on his shoulders. The wall extended to the wood of la
Garenne, and the little band, believing that now their safety was
assured, made a rush for the protection afforded by some farm
buildings, whence they readily gained the shelter of the trees.

"Ah!" said Rochas, drawing a long breath, "we will remain here a
moment and get our wind before we resume the offensive." No adversity
could shake his unwavering faith.

They had not advanced many steps before all felt that they were
entering the valley of death, but it was useless to think of retracing
their steps; their only line of retreat lay through the wood, and
cross it they must, at every hazard. At that time, instead of la
Garenne, its more fitting name would have been the wood of despair and
death; the Prussians, knowing that the French troops were retiring in
that direction, were riddling it with artillery and musketry. Its
shattered branches tossed and groaned as if enduring the scourging of
a mighty tempest. The shells hewed down the stalwart trees, the
bullets brought the leaves fluttering to the earth in showers; wailing
voices seemed to issue from the cleft trunks, sobs accompanied the
little twigs as they fell bleeding from the parent stem. It might have
been taken for the agony of some vast multitude, held there in chains
and unable to flee under the pelting of that pitiless iron hail; the
shrieks, the terror of thousands of creatures rooted to the ground.
Never was anguish so poignant as of that bombarded forest.

Maurice and Jean, who by this time had caught up with their
companions, were greatly alarmed. The wood where they then were was a
growth of large trees, and there was no obstacle to their running, but
the bullets came whistling about their ears from every direction,
making it impossible for them to avail themselves of the shelter of
the trunks. Two men were killed, one of them struck in the back, the
other in front. A venerable oak, directly in Maurice's path, had its
trunk shattered by a shell, and sank, with the stately grace of a
mailed paladin, carrying down all before it, and even as the young man
was leaping back the top of a gigantic ash on his left, struck by
another shell, came crashing to the ground like some tall cathedral
spire. Where could they fly? whither bend their steps? Everywhere the
branches were falling; it was as one who should endeavor to fly from
some vast edifice menaced with destruction, only to find himself in
each room he enters in succession confronted with crumbling walls and
ceilings. And when, in order to escape being crushed by the big trees,
they took refuge in a thicket of bushes, Jean came near being killed
by a projectile, only it fortunately failed to explode. They could no
longer make any progress now on account of the dense growth of the
shrubbery; the supple branches caught them around the shoulders, the
rank, tough grass held them by the ankles, impenetrable walls of
brambles rose before them and blocked their way, while all the time
the foliage was fluttering down about them, clipped by the gigantic
scythe that was mowing down the wood. Another man was struck dead
beside them by a bullet in the forehead, and he retained his erect
position, caught in some vines between two small birch trees. Twenty
times, while they were prisoners in that thicket, did they feel death
hovering over them.

"Holy Virgin!" said Maurice, "we shall never get out of this alive."

His face was ashy pale, he was shivering again with terror; and Jean,
always so brave, who had cheered and comforted him that morning, he,
also, was very white and felt a strange, chill sensation creeping down
his spine. It was fear, horrible, contagious, irresistible fear. Again
they were conscious of a consuming thirst, an intolerable dryness of
the mouth, a contraction of the throat, painful as if someone were
choking them. These symptoms were accompanied by nausea and qualms at
the pit of the stomach, while maleficent goblins kept puncturing their
aguish, trembling legs with needles. Another of the physical effects
of their fear was that in the congested condition of the blood vessels
of the retina they beheld thousands upon thousands of small black
specks flitting past them, as if it had been possible to distinguish
the flying bullets.

"Confound the luck!" Jean stammered. "It is not worth speaking of, but
it's vexatious all the same, to be here getting one's head broken for
other folks, when those other folks are at home, smoking their pipe in
comfort."

"Yes, that's so," Maurice replied, with a wild look. "Why should it be
I rather than someone else?"

It was the revolt of the individual Ego, the unaltruistic refusal of
the one to make himself a sacrifice for the benefit of the species.

"And then again," Jean continued, "if a fellow could but know the
rights of the matter; if he could be sure that any good was to come
from it all." Then turning his head and glancing at the western sky:
"Anyway, I wish that blamed sun would hurry up and go to roost.
Perhaps they'll stop fighting when it's dark."

With no distinct idea of what o'clock it was and no means of measuring
the flight of time, he had long been watching the tardy declination of
the fiery disk, which seemed to him to have ceased to move, hanging
there in the heavens over the woods of the left bank. And this was not
owing to any lack of courage on his part; it was simply the
overmastering, ever increasing desire, amounting to an imperious
necessity, to be relieved from the screaming and whistling of those
projectiles, to run away somewhere and find a hole where he might hide
his head and lose himself in oblivion. Were it not for the feeling of
shame that is implanted in men's breasts and keeps them from showing
the white feather before their comrades, every one of them would lose
his head and run, in spite of himself, like the veriest poltroon.

Maurice and Jean, meanwhile, were becoming somewhat more accustomed to
their surroundings, and even when their terror was at its highest
there came to them a sort of exalted self-unconsciousness that had in
it something of bravery. They finally reached a point when they did
not even hasten their steps as they made their way through the
accursed wood. The horror of the bombardment was even greater than it
had been previously among that race of sylvan denizens, killed at
their post, struck down on every hand, like gigantic, faithful
sentries. In the delicious twilight that reigned, golden-green,
beneath their umbrageous branches, among the mysterious recesses of
romantic, moss-carpeted retreats, Death showed his ill-favored,
grinning face. The solitary fountains were contaminated; men fell dead
in distant nooks whose depths had hitherto been trod by none save
wandering lovers. A bullet pierced a man's chest; he had time to utter
the one word: "hit!" and fell forward on his face, stone dead. Upon
the lips of another, who had both legs broken by a shell, the gay
laugh remained; unconscious of his hurt, he supposed he had tripped
over a root. Others, injured mortally, would run on for some yards,
jesting and conversing, until suddenly they went down like a log in
the supreme convulsion. The severest wounds were hardly felt at the
moment they were received; it was only at a later period that the
terrible suffering commenced, venting itself in shrieks and hot tears.

Ah, that accursed wood, that wood of slaughter and despair, where,
amid the sobbing of the expiring trees, arose by degrees and swelled
the agonized clamor of wounded men. Maurice and Jean saw a zouave,
nearly disemboweled, propped against the trunk of an oak, who kept up
a most terrific howling, without a moment's intermission. A little way
beyond another man was actually being slowly roasted; his clothing had
taken fire and the flames had run up and caught his beard, while he,
paralyzed by a shot that had broken his back, was silently weeping
scalding tears. Then there was a captain, who, one arm torn from its
socket and his flank laid open to the thigh, was writhing on the
ground in agony unspeakable, beseeching, in heartrending accents, the
by-passers to end his suffering. There were others, and others, and
others still, whose torments may not be described, strewing the
grass-grown paths in such numbers that the utmost caution was required
to avoid treading them under foot. But the dead and wounded had ceased
to count; the comrade who fell by the way was abandoned to his fate,
forgotten as if he had never been. No one turned to look behind. It
was his destiny, poor devil! Next it would be someone else,
themselves, perhaps.

They were approaching the edge of the wood when a cry of distress was
heard behind them.

"Help! help!"

It was the subaltern standard-bearer, who had been shot through the
left lung. He had fallen, the blood pouring in a stream from his
mouth, and as no one heeded his appeal he collected his fast ebbing
strength for another effort:

"To the colors!"

Rochas turned and in a single bound was at his side. He took the flag,
the staff of which had been broken in the fall, while the young
officer murmured in words that were choked by the bubbling tide of
blood and froth:

"Never mind me; I am a goner. Save the flag!"

And they left him to himself in that charming woodland glade to writhe
in protracted agony upon the ground, tearing up the grass with his
stiffening fingers and praying for death, which would be hours yet ere
it came to end his misery.

At last they had left the wood and its horrors behind them. Beside
Maurice and Jean all that were left of the little band were Lieutenant
Rochas, Lapoulle and Pache. Gaude, who had strayed away from his
companions, presently came running from a thicket to rejoin them, his
bugle hanging from his neck and thumping against his back with every
step he took. It was a great comfort to them all to find themselves
once again in the open country, where they could draw their breath;
and then, too, there were no longer any whistling bullets and crashing
shells to harass them; the firing had ceased on this side of the
valley.

The first object they set eyes on was an officer who had reined in
his smoking, steaming charger before a farm-yard gate and was venting
his towering rage in a volley of Billingsgate. It was General
Bourgain-Desfeuilles, the commander of their brigade, covered with
dust and looking as if he was about to tumble from his horse with
fatigue. The chagrin on his gross, high-colored, animal face told how
deeply he took to heart the disaster that he regarded in the light of
a personal misfortune. His command had seen nothing of him since
morning. Doubtless he was somewhere on the battlefield, striving to
rally the remnants of his brigade, for he was not the man to look
closely to his own safety in his rage against those Prussian batteries
that had at the same time destroyed the empire and the fortunes of a
rising officer, the favorite of the Tuileries.

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_" he shouted, "is there no one of whom one can ask
a question in this d-----d country?"

The farmer's people had apparently taken to the woods. At last a very
old woman appeared at the door, some servant who had been forgotten,
or whose feeble legs had compelled her to remain behind.

"Hallo, old lady, come here! Which way from here is Belgium?"

She looked at him stupidly, as one who failed to catch his meaning.
Then he lost all control of himself and effervesced, forgetful that
the woman was only a poor peasant, bellowing that he had no idea of
going back to Sedan to be caught like a rat in a trap; not he! he was
going to make tracks for foreign parts, he was, and d-----d quick,
too! Some soldiers had come up and stood listening.

"But you won't get through, General," spoke up a sergeant; "the
Prussians are everywhere. This morning was the time for you to cut
stick."

There were stories even then in circulation of companies that had
become separated from their regiments and crossed the frontier without
any intention of doing so, and of others that, later in the day, had
succeeded in breaking through the enemy's lines before the armies had
effected their final junction.

The general shrugged his shoulders impatiently. "What, with a few
daring fellows of your stripe, do you mean to say we couldn't go where
we please? I think I can find fifty daredevils to risk their skin in
the attempt." Then, turning again to the old peasant: "_Eh!_ you old
mummy, answer, will you, in the devil's name! where is the frontier?"

She understood him this time. She extended her skinny arm in the
direction of the forest.

"That way, that way!"

"Eh? What's that you say? Those houses that we see down there, at the
end of the field?"

"Oh! farther, much farther. Down yonder, away down yonder!"

The general seemed as if his anger must suffocate him. "It is too
disgusting, an infernal country like this! one can make neither top
nor tail of it. There was Belgium, right under our nose; we were all
afraid we should put our foot in it without knowing it; and now that
one wants to go there it is somewhere else. No, no! it is too much;
I've had enough of it; let them take me prisoner if they will, let
them do what they choose with me; I am going to bed!" And clapping
spurs to his horse, bobbing up and down on his saddle like an inflated
wine skin, he galloped off toward Sedan.

A winding path conducted the party down into the Fond de Givonne, an
outskirt of the city lying between two hills, where the single village
street, running north and south and sloping gently upward toward the
forest, was lined with gardens and modest houses. This street was just
then so obstructed by flying soldiers that Lieutenant Rochas, with
Pache, Lapoulle, and Gaude, found himself caught in the throng and
unable for the moment to move in either direction. Maurice and Jean
had some difficulty in rejoining them; and all were surprised to hear
themselves hailed by a husky, drunken voice, proceeding from the
tavern on the corner, near which they were blockaded.

"My stars, if here ain't the gang! Hallo, boys, how are you? My stars,
I'm glad to see you!"

They turned, and recognized Chouteau, leaning from a window of the
ground floor of the inn. He seemed to be very drunk, and went on,
interspersing his speech with hiccoughs:

"Say, fellows, don't stand on ceremony if you're thirsty. There's
enough left for the comrades." He turned unsteadily and called to
someone who was invisible within the room: "Come here, you lazybones.
Give these gentlemen something to drink--"

Loubet appeared in turn, advancing with a flourish and holding aloft
in either hand a full bottle, which he waved above his head
triumphantly. He was not so far gone as his companion; with his
Parisian _blague_, imitating the nasal drawl of the coco-venders of
the boulevards on a public holiday, he cried:

"Here you are, nice and cool, nice and cool! Who'll have a drink?"

Nothing had been seen of the precious pair since they had vanished
under pretense of taking Sergeant Sapin into the ambulance. It was
sufficiently evident that since then they had been strolling and
seeing the sights, taking care to keep out of the way of the shells,
until finally they had brought up at this inn that was given over to
pillage.

Lieutenant Rochas was very angry. "Wait a bit, you scoundrels, just
wait, and I'll attend to your case! deserting and getting drunk while
the rest of your company were under fire!"

But Chouteau would have none of his reprimand. "See here, you old
lunatic, I want you to understand that the grade of lieutenant is
abolished; we are all free and equal now. Aren't you satisfied with
the basting the Prussians gave you to-day, or do you want some more?"

The others had to restrain the lieutenant to keep him from assaulting
the socialist. Loubet himself, dandling his bottles affectionately in
his arms, did what he could to pour oil upon the troubled waters.

"Quit that, now! what's the use quarreling, when all men are
brothers!" And catching sight of Lapoulle and Pache, his companions in
the squad: "Don't stand there like great gawks, you fellows! Come in
here and take something to wash the dust out of your throats."

Lapoulle hesitated a moment, dimly conscious of the impropriety there
was in the indulgence when so many poor devils were in such sore
distress, but he was so knocked up with fatigue, so terribly hungry
and thirsty! He said not a word, but suddenly making up his mind, gave
one bound and landed in the room, pushing before him Pache, who,
equally silent, yielded to the temptation he had not strength to
resist. And they were seen no more.

"The infernal scoundrels!" muttered Rochas. "They deserve to be shot,
every mother's son of them!"

He had now remaining with him of his party only Jean, Maurice, and
Gaude, and all four of them, notwithstanding their resistance, were
gradually involved and swallowed up in the torrent of stragglers and
fugitives that streamed along the road, filling its whole width from
ditch to ditch. Soon they were at a distance from the inn. It was the
routed army rolling down upon the ramparts of Sedan, a roily, roaring
flood, such as the disintegrated mass of earth and boulders that the
storm, scouring the mountainside, sweeps down into the valley. From
all the surrounding plateaus, down every slope, up every narrow gorge,
by the Floing road, by Pierremont, by the cemetery, by the Champ de
Mars, as well as through the Fond de Givonne, the same sorry rabble
was streaming cityward in panic haste, and every instant brought fresh
accessions to its numbers. And who could reproach those wretched men,
who, for twelve long, mortal hours, had stood in motionless array
under the murderous artillery of an invisible enemy, against whom they
could do nothing? The batteries now were playing on them from front,
flank, and rear; as they drew nearer the city they presented a fairer
mark for the convergent fire; the guns dealt death and destruction out
by wholesale on that dense, struggling mass of men in that accursed
hole, where there was no escape from the bursting shells. Some
regiments of the 7th corps, more particularly those that had been
stationed about Floing, had left the field in tolerably good order,
but in the Fond de Givonne there was no longer either organization or
command; the troops were a pushing, struggling mob, composed of debris
from regiments of every description, zouaves, turcos, chasseurs,
infantry of the line, most of them without arms, their uniforms soiled
and torn, with grimy hands, blackened faces, bloodshot eyes starting
from their sockets and lips swollen and distorted from their yells of
fear or rage. At times a riderless horse would dash through the
throng, overturning those who were in his path and leaving behind him
a long wake of consternation. Then some guns went thundering by at
breakneck speed, a retreating battery abandoned by its officers, and
the drivers, as if drunk, rode down everything and everyone, giving no
word of warning. And still the shuffling tramp of many feet along the
dusty road went on and ceased not, the close-compacted column pressed
on, breast to back, side to side; a retreat _en masse_, where
vacancies in the ranks were filled as soon as made, all moved by one
common impulse, to reach the shelter that lay before them and be
behind a wall.

Again Jean raised his head and gave an anxious glance toward the west;
through the dense clouds of dust raised by the tramp of that great
multitude the luminary still poured his scorching rays down upon the
exhausted men. The sunset was magnificent, the heavens transparently,
beautifully blue.

"It's a nuisance, all the same," he muttered, "that plaguey sun that
stays up there and won't go to roost!"

Suddenly Maurice became aware of the presence of a young woman whom
the movement of the resistless throng had jammed against a wall and
who was in danger of being injured, and on looking more attentively
was astounded to recognize in her his sister Henriette. For near a
minute he stood gazing at her in open-mouthed amazement, and finally
it was she who spoke, without any appearance of surprise, as if she
found the meeting entirely natural.

"They shot him at Bazeilles--and I was there. Then, in the hope that
they might at least let me have his body, I had an idea--"

She did not mention either Weiss or the Prussians by name; it seemed
to her that everyone must understand. Maurice did understand. It made
his heart bleed; he gave a great sob.

"My poor darling!"

When, about two o'clock, Henriette recovered consciousness, she found
herself at Balan, in the kitchen of some people who were strangers to
her, her head resting on a table, weeping. Almost immediately,
however, she dried her tears; already the heroic element was
reasserting itself in that silent woman, so frail, so gentle, yet of a
spirit so indomitable that she could suffer martyrdom for the faith,
or the love, that was in her. She knew not fear; her quiet,
undemonstrative courage was lofty and invincible. When her distress
was deepest she had summoned up her resolution, devoting her
reflections to how she might recover her husband's body, so as to give
it decent burial. Her first project was neither more nor less than to
make her way back to Bazeilles, but everyone advised her against this
course, assuring her that it would be absolutely impossible to get
through the German lines. She therefore abandoned the idea, and tried
to think of someone among her acquaintance who would afford her the
protection of his company, or at least assist her in the necessary
preliminaries. The person to whom she determined she would apply was a
M. Dubreuil, a cousin of hers, who had been assistant superintendent
of the refinery at Chene at the time her husband was employed there;
Weiss had been a favorite of his; he would not refuse her his
assistance. Since the time, now two years ago, when his wife had
inherited a handsome fortune, he had been occupying a pretty villa,
called the Hermitage, the terraces of which could be seen skirting the
hillside of a suburb of Sedan, on the further side of the Fond de
Givonne. And thus it was toward the Hermitage that she was now bending
her steps, compelled at every moment to pause before some fresh
obstacle, continually menaced with being knocked down and trampled to
death.

Maurice, to whom she briefly explained her project, gave it his
approval.

"Cousin Dubreuil has always been a good friend to us. He will be of
service to you."

Then an idea of another nature occurred to him. Lieutenant Rochas was
greatly embarrassed as to what disposition he should make of the flag.
They all were firmly resolved to save it--to do anything rather than
allow it to fall into the hands of the Prussians. It had been
suggested to cut it into pieces, of which each should carry one off
under his shirt, or else to bury it at the foot of a tree, so noting
the locality in memory that they might be able to come and disinter it
at some future day; but the idea of mutilating the flag, or burying it
like a corpse, affected them too painfully, and they were considering
if they might not preserve it in some other manner. When Maurice,
therefore, proposed to entrust the standard to a reliable person who
would conceal it and, in case of necessity, defend it, until such day
as he should restore it to them intact, they all gave their assent.

"Come," said the young man, addressing his sister, "we will go with
you to the Hermitage and see if Dubreuil is there. Besides, I do not
wish to leave you without protection."

It was no easy matter to extricate themselves from the press, but they
succeeded finally and entered a path that led upward on their left.
They soon found themselves in a region intersected by a perfect
labyrinth of lanes and narrow passages, a district where truck farms
and gardens predominated, interspersed with an occasional villa and
small holdings of extremely irregular outline, and these lanes and
passages wound circuitously between blank walls, turning sharp corners
at every few steps and bringing up abruptly in the cul-de-sac of some
courtyard, affording admirable facilities for carrying on a guerilla
warfare; there were spots where ten men might defend themselves for
hours against a regiment. Desultory firing was already beginning to be
heard, for the suburb commanded Balan, and the Bavarians were already
coming up on the other side of the valley.

When Maurice and Henriette, who were in the rear of the others, had
turned once to the left, then to the right and then to the left again,
following the course of two interminable walls, they suddenly came out
before the Hermitage, the door of which stood wide open. The grounds,
at the top of which was a small park, were terraced off in three broad
terraces, on one of which stood the residence, a roomy, rectangular
structure, approached by an avenue of venerable elms. Facing it, and
separated from it by the deep, narrow valley, with its steeply sloping
banks, were other similar country seats, backed by a wood.

Henriette's anxiety was aroused at sight of the open door, "They are
not at home," she said; "they must have gone away."

The truth was that Dubreuil had decided the day before to take his
wife and children to Bouillon, where they would be in safety from the
disaster he felt was impending. And yet the house was not unoccupied;
even at a distance and through the intervening trees the approaching
party were conscious of movements going on within its walls. As the
young woman advanced into the avenue she recoiled before the dead body
of a Prussian soldier.

"The devil!" exclaimed Rochas; "so they have already been exchanging
civilities in this quarter!"

Then all hands, desiring to ascertain what was going on, hurried
forward to the house, and there their curiosity was quickly gratified;
the doors and windows of the _rez-de-chaussee_ had been smashed in
with musket-butts and the yawning apertures disclosed the destruction
that the marauders had wrought in the rooms within, while on the
graveled terrace lay various articles of furniture that had been
hurled from the stoop. Particularly noticeable was a drawing-room
suite in sky-blue satin, its sofa and twelve fauteuils piled in dire
confusion, helter-skelter, on and around a great center table, the
marble top of which was broken in twain. And there were zouaves,
chasseurs, liners, and men of the infanterie de marine running to and
fro excitedly behind the buildings and in the alleys, discharging
their pieces into the little wood that faced them across the valley.

"Lieutenant," a zouave said to Rochas, by way of explanation, "we
found a pack of those dirty Prussian hounds here, smashing things and
raising Cain generally. We settled their hash for them, as you can see
for yourself; only they will be coming back here presently, ten to our
one, and that won't be so pleasant."

Three other corpses of Prussian soldiers were stretched upon the
terrace. As Henriette was looking at them absently, her thoughts
doubtless far away with her husband, who, amid the blood and ashes of
Bazeilles, was also sleeping his last sleep, a bullet whistled close
to her head and struck a tree that stood behind her. Jean sprang
forward.

"Madame, don't stay there. Go inside the house, quick, quick!"

His heart overflowed with pity as he beheld the change her terrible
affliction had wrought in her, and he recalled her image as she had
appeared to him only the day before, her face bright with the kindly
smile of the happy, loving wife. At first he had found no word to say
to her, hardly knowing even if she would recognize him. He felt that
he could gladly give his life, if that would serve to restore her
peace of mind.

"Go inside, and don't come out. At the first sign of danger we will
come for you, and we will all escape together by way of the wood up
yonder."

But she apathetically replied:

"Ah, M. Jean, what is the use?"

Her brother, however, was also urging her, and finally she ascended
the stoop and took her position within the vestibule, whence her
vision commanded a view of the avenue in its entire length. She was a
spectator of the ensuing combat.

Maurice and Jean had posted themselves behind one of the elms near the
house. The gigantic trunks of the centenarian monarchs were amply
sufficient to afford shelter to two men. A little way from them Gaude,
the bugler, had joined forces with Lieutenant Rochas, who, unwilling
to confide the flag to other hands, had rested it against the tree at
his side while he handled his musket. And every trunk had its
defenders; from end to end the avenue was lined with men covered,
Indian fashion, by the trees, who only exposed their head when ready
to fire.

In the wood across the valley the Prussians appeared to be receiving
re-enforcements, for their fire gradually grew warmer. There was no
one to be seen; at most, the swiftly vanishing form now and then of a
man changing his position. A villa, with green shutters, was occupied
by their sharpshooters, who fired from the half-open windows of the
_rez-de-chaussee_. It was about four o'clock, and the noise of the
cannonade in the distance was diminishing, the guns were being
silenced one by one; and there they were, French and Prussians, in
that out-of-the-way-corner whence they could not see the white flag
floating over the citadel, still engaged in the work of mutual
slaughter, as if their quarrel had been a personal one.
Notwithstanding the armistice there were many such points where the
battle continued to rage until it was too dark to see; the rattle of
musketry was heard in the faubourg of the Fond de Givonne and in the
gardens of Petit-Pont long after it had ceased elsewhere.

For a quarter of an hour the bullets flew thick and fast from one side
of the valley to the other. Now and again someone who was so
incautious as to expose himself went down with a ball in his head or
chest. There were three men lying dead in the avenue. The rattling in
the throat of another man who had fallen prone upon his face was
something horrible to listen to, and no one thought to go and turn him
on his back to ease his dying agony. Jean, who happened to look around
just at that moment, beheld Henriette glide tranquilly down the steps,
approach the wounded man and turn him over, then slip a knapsack
beneath his head by way of pillow. He ran and seized her and forcibly
brought her back behind the tree where he and Maurice were posted.

"Do you wish to be killed?"

She appeared to be entirely unconscious of the danger to which she had
exposed herself.

"Why, no--but I am afraid to remain in that house, all alone. I would
rather be outside."

And so she stayed with them. They seated her on the ground at their
feet, against the trunk of the tree, and went on expending the few
cartridges that were left them, blazing away to right and left, with
such fury that they quite forgot their sensations of fear and fatigue.
They were utterly unconscious of what was going on around them,
acting mechanically, with but one end in view; even the instinct of
self-preservation had deserted them.

"Look, Maurice," suddenly said Henriette; "that dead soldier there
before us, does he not belong to the Prussian Guard?"

She had been eying attentively for the past minute or two one of the
dead bodies that the enemy had left behind them when they retreated, a
short, thick-set young man, with big mustaches, lying upon his side on
the gravel of the terrace.

The chin-strap had broken, releasing the spiked helmet, which had
rolled away a few steps. And it was indisputable that the body was
attired in the uniform of the Guard; the dark gray trousers, the blue
tunic with white facings, the greatcoat rolled and worn, belt-wise,
across the shoulder.

"It is the Guard uniform," she said; "I am quite certain of it. It is
exactly like the colored plate I have at home, and then the photograph
that Cousin Gunther sent us--" She stopped suddenly, and with her
unconcerned, fearless air, before anyone could make a motion to detain
her, walked up to the corpse, bent down and read the number of the
regiment. "Ah, the Forty-third!" she exclaimed. "I knew it."

And she returned to her position, while a storm of bullets whistled
around her ears. "Yes, the Forty-third; Cousin Gunther's regiment
--something told me it must be so. Ah! if my poor husband were only
here!"

After that all Jean's and Maurice's entreaties were ineffectual to
make her keep quiet. She was feverishly restless, constantly
protruding her head to peer into the opposite wood, evidently harassed
by some anxiety that preyed upon her mind. Her companions continued to
load and fire with the same blind fury, pushing her back with their
knee whenever she exposed herself too rashly. It looked as if the
Prussians were beginning to consider that their numbers would warrant
them in attacking, for they showed themselves more frequently and
there were evidences of preparations going on behind the trees. They
were suffering severely, however, from the fire of the French, whose
bullets at that short range rarely failed to bring down their man.

"That may be your cousin," said Jean. "Look, that officer over there,
who has just come out of the house with the green shutters."

He was a captain, as could be seen by the gold braid on the collar of
his tunic and the golden eagle on his helmet that flashed back the
level ray of the setting sun. He had discarded his epaulettes, and
carrying his saber in his right hand, was shouting an order in a
sharp, imperative voice; and the distance between them was so small, a
scant two hundred yards, that every detail of his trim, slender figure
was plainly discernible, as well as the pinkish, stern face and slight
blond mustache.

Henriette scrutinized him with attentive eyes. "It is he," she
replied, apparently unsurprised. "I recognize him perfectly."

With a look of concentrated rage Maurice drew his piece to his
shoulder and covered him. "The cousin-- Ah! sure as there is a God in
heaven he shall pay for Weiss."

But, quivering with excitement, she jumped to her feet and knocked up
the weapon, whose charge was wasted on the air.

"Stop, stop! we must not kill acquaintances, relatives! It is too
barbarous."

And, all her womanly instincts coming back to her, she sank down
behind the tree and gave way to a fit of violent weeping. The horror
of it all was too much for her; in her great dread and sorrow she was
forgetful of all beside.

Rochas, meantime, was in his element. He had excited the few zouaves
and other troops around him to such a pitch of frenzy, their fire had
become so murderously effective at sight of the Prussians, that the
latter first wavered and then retreated to the shelter of their wood.

"Stand your ground, my boys! don't give way an inch! Aha, see 'em run,
the cowards! we'll fix their flint for 'em!"

He was in high spirits and seemed to have recovered all his unbounded
confidence, certain that victory was yet to crown their efforts. There
had been no defeat. The handful of men before him stood in his eyes
for the united armies of Germany, and he was going to destroy them at
his leisure. All his long, lean form, all his thin, bony face, where
the huge nose curved down upon the self-willed, sensual mouth, exhaled
a laughing, vain-glorious satisfaction, the joy of the conquering
trooper who goes through the world with his sweetheart on his arm and
a bottle of good wine in his hand.

"_Parbleu_, my children, what are we here for, I'd like to know, if
not to lick 'em out of their boots? and that's the way this affair is
going to end, just mark my words. We shouldn't know ourselves any
longer if we should let ourselves be beaten. Beaten! come, come, that
is too good! When the neighbors tread on our toes, or when we feel we
are beginning to grow rusty for want of something to do, we just turn
to and give 'em a thrashing; that's all there is to it. Come, boys,
let 'em have it once more, and you'll see 'em run like so many
jackrabbits!"

He bellowed and gesticulated like a lunatic, and was such a good
fellow withal in the comforting illusion of his ignorance that the men
were inoculated with his confidence. He suddenly broke out again:

"And we'll kick 'em, we'll kick 'em, we'll kick 'em to the frontier!
Victory, victory!"

But at that juncture, just as the enemy across the valley seemed
really to be falling back, a hot fire of musketry came pouring in on
them from the left. It was a repetition of the everlasting flanking
movement that had done the Prussians such good service; a strong
detachment of the Guards had crept around toward the French rear
through the Fond de Givonne. It was useless to think of holding the
position longer; the little band of men who were defending the
terraces were caught between two fires and menaced with being cut off
from Sedan. Men fell on every side, and for a moment the confusion was
extreme; the Prussians were already scaling the wall of the park, and
advancing along the pathways. Some zouaves rushed forward to repel
them, and there was a fierce hand-to-hand struggle with the bayonet.
There was one zouave, a big, handsome, brown-bearded man, bare-headed
and with his jacket hanging in tatters from his shoulders, who did his
work with appalling thoroughness, driving his reeking bayonet home
through splintering bones and yielding tissues, cleansing it of the
gore that it had contracted from one man by plunging it into the flesh
of another; and when it broke he laid about him, smashing many a
skull, with the butt of his musket; and when finally he made a misstep
and lost his weapon he sprung, bare-handed, for the throat of a burly
Prussian, with such tigerish fierceness that both men rolled over and
over on the gravel to the shattered kitchen door, clasped in a mortal
embrace. The trees of the park looked down on many such scenes of
slaughter, and the green lawn was piled with corpses. But it was
before the stoop, around the sky-blue sofa and fauteuils, that the
conflict raged with greatest fury; a maddened mob of savages, firing
at one another at point-blank range, so that hair and beards were set
on fire, tearing one another with teeth and nails when a knife was
wanting to slash the adversary's throat.

Then Gaude, with his sorrowful face, the face of a man who has had his
troubles of which he does not care to speak, was seized with a sort of
sudden heroic madness. At that moment of irretrievable defeat, when he
must have known that the company was annihilated and that there was
not a man left to answer his summons, he grasped his bugle, carried it
to his lips and sounded the general, in so tempestuous, ear-splitting
strains that one would have said he wished to wake the dead. Nearer
and nearer came the Prussians, but he never stirred, only sounding the
call the louder, with all the strength of his lungs. He fell, pierced
with many bullets, and his spirit passed in one long-drawn, parting
wail that died away and was lost upon the shuddering air.

Rochas made no attempt to fly; he seemed unable to comprehend. Even
more erect than usual, he waited the end, stammering:

"Well, what's the matter? what's the matter?"

Such a possibility had never entered his head as that they could be
defeated. They were changing everything in these degenerate days, even
to the manner of fighting; had not those fellows a right to remain on
their own side of the valley and wait for the French to go and attack
them? There was no use killing them; as fast as they were killed more
kept popping up. What kind of a d-----d war was it, anyway, where they
were able to collect ten men against their opponent's one, where they
never showed their face until evening, after blazing away at you all
day with their artillery until you didn't know on which end you were
standing? Aghast and confounded, having failed so far to acquire the
first idea of the rationale of the campaign, he was dimly conscious of
the existence of some mysterious, superior method which he could not
comprehend, against which he ceased to struggle, although in his
dogged stubbornness he kept repeating mechanically:

"Courage, my children! victory is before us!"

Meanwhile he had stooped and clutched the flag. That was his last, his
only thought, to save the flag, retreating again, if necessary, so
that it might not be defiled by contact with Prussian hands. But the
staff, although it was broken, became entangled in his legs; he
narrowly escaped falling. The bullets whistled past him, he felt that
death was near; he stripped the silk from the staff and tore it into
shreds, striving to destroy it utterly. And then it was that, stricken
at once in the neck, chest, and legs, he sank to earth amid the bright
tri-colored rags, as if they had been his pall. He survived a moment
yet, gazing before him with fixed, dilated eyes, reading, perhaps, in
the vision he beheld on the horizon the stern lesson that War conveys,
the cruel, vital struggle that is to be accepted not otherwise than
gravely, reverently, as immutable law. Then a slight tremor ran
through his frame, and darkness succeeded to his infantine
bewilderment; he passed away, like some poor dumb, lowly creature of a
day, a joyous insect that mighty, impassive Nature, in her relentless
fatality, has caught and crushed. In him died all a legend.

When the Prussians began to draw near Jean and Maurice had retreated,
retiring from tree to tree, face to the enemy, and always, as far as
possible, keeping Henriette behind them. They did not give over
firing, discharging their pieces and then falling back to seek a fresh
cover. Maurice knew where there was a little wicket in the wall at the
upper part of the park, and they were so fortunate as to find it
unfastened. With lighter hearts when they had left it behind them,
they found themselves in a narrow by-road that wound between two high
walls, but after following it for some distance the sound of firing in
front caused them to turn into a path on their left. As luck would
have it, it ended in an _impasse_; they had to retrace their steps,
running the gauntlet of the bullets, and take the turning to the
right. When they came to exchange reminiscences in later days they
could never agree on which road they had taken. In that tangled
network of suburban lanes and passages there was firing still going on
from every corner that afforded a shelter, protracted battles raged at
the gates of farmyards, everything that could be converted into a
barricade had its defenders, from whom the assailants tried to wrest
it; all with the utmost fury and vindictiveness. And all at once they
came out upon the Fond de Givonne road, not far from Sedan.

For the third time Jean raised his eyes toward the western sky, that
was all aflame with a bright, rosy light; and he heaved a sigh of
unspeakable relief.

"Ah, that pig of a sun! at last he is going to bed!"

And they ran with might and main, all three of them, never once
stopping to draw breath. About them, filling the road in all its
breadth, was the rear-guard of fugitives from the battlefield, still
flowing onward with the irresistible momentum of an unchained mountain
torrent. When they came to the Balan gate they had a long period of
waiting in the midst of the impatient, ungovernable throng. The chains
of the drawbridge had given way, and the only path across the fosse
was by the foot-bridge, so that the guns and horses had to turn back
and seek admission by the bridge of the chateau, where the jam was
said to be even still more fearful. At the gate of la Cassine, too,
people were trampled to death in their eagerness to gain admittance.
From all the adjacent heights the terror-stricken fragments of the
army came tumbling into the city, as into a cesspool, with the hollow
roar of pent-up water that has burst its dam. The fatal attraction of
those walls had ended by making cowards of the bravest; men trod one
another down in their blind haste to be under cover.

Maurice had caught Henriette in his arms, and in a voice that trembled
with suspense:

"It cannot be," he said, "that they will have the cruelty to close the
gate and shut us out."

That was what the crowd feared would be done. To right and left,
however, upon the glacis soldiers were already arranging their
bivouacs, while entire batteries, guns, caissons, and horses, in
confusion worse confounded, had thrown themselves pell-mell into the
fosse for safety.

But now shrill, impatient bugle calls rose on the evening air,
followed soon by the long-drawn strains of retreat. They were
summoning the belated soldiers back to their comrades, who came
running in, singly and in groups. A dropping fire of musketry still
continued in the faubourgs, but it was gradually dying out. Heavy
guards were stationed on the banquette behind the parapet to protect
the approaches, and at last the gate was closed. The Prussians were
within a hundred yards of the sally-port; they could be seen moving on
the Balan road, tranquilly establishing themselves in the houses and
gardens.

Maurice and Jean, pushing Henriette before them to protect her from
the jostling of the throng, were among the last to enter Sedan. Six
o'clock was striking. The artillery fire had ceased nearly an hour
ago. Soon the distant musketry fire, too, was silenced. Then, to the
deafening uproar, to the vengeful thunder that had been roaring since
morning, there succeeded a stillness as of death. Night came, and with
it came a boding silence, fraught with terror.



                               VIII.

At half-past five o'clock, after the closing of the gates, Delaherche,
in his eager thirst for news, now that he knew the battle lost, had
again returned to the Sous-Prefecture. He hung persistently about the
approaches of the janitor's lodge, tramping up and down the paved
courtyard with feverish impatience, for more than three hours,
watching for every officer who came up and interviewing him, and thus
it was that he had become acquainted, piecemeal, with the rapid series
of events; how General de Wimpffen had tendered his resignation and
then withdrawn it upon the peremptory refusal of Generals Ducrot and
Douay to append their names to the articles of capitulation, how the
Emperor had thereupon invested the General with full authority to
proceed to the Prussian headquarters and treat for the surrender of
the vanquished army on the most advantageous terms obtainable; how,
finally, a council of war had been convened with the object of
deciding what possibilities there were of further protracting the
struggle successfully by the defense of the fortress. During the
deliberations of this council, which consisted of some twenty officers
of the highest rank and seemed to him as if it would never end, the
cloth manufacturer climbed the steps of the huge public building at
least twenty times, and at last his curiosity was gratified by
beholding General de Wimpffen emerge, very red in the face and his
eyelids puffed and swollen with tears, behind whom came two other
generals and a colonel. They leaped into the saddle and rode away over
the Pont de Meuse. The bells had struck eight some time before; the
inevitable capitulation was now to be accomplished, from which there
was no escape.

Delaherche, somewhat relieved in mind by what he had heard and seen,
remembered that it was a long time since he had tasted food and
resolved to turn his steps homeward, but the terrific crowd that had
collected since he first came made him pause in dismay. It is no
exaggeration to say that the streets and squares were so congested, so
thronged, so densely packed with horses, men, and guns, that one would
have declared the closely compacted mass could only have been squeezed
and wedged in there thus by the effort of some gigantic mechanism.
While the ramparts were occupied by the bivouacs of such regiments as
had fallen back in good order, the city had been invaded and submerged
by an angry, surging, desperate flood, the broken remnants of the
various corps, stragglers and fugitives from all arms of the service,
and the dammed-up tide made it impossible for one to stir foot or
hand. The wheels of the guns, of the caissons, and the innumerable
vehicles of every description, had interlocked and were tangled in
confusion worse confounded, while the poor horses, flogged
unmercifully by their drivers and pulled, now in this direction, now
in that, could only dance in their bewilderment, unable to move a step
either forward or back. And the men, deaf to reproaches and threats
alike, forced their way into the houses, devoured whatever they could
lay hands on, flung themselves down to sleep wherever they could find
a vacant space, it might be in the best bedroom or in the cellar. Many
of them had fallen in doorways, where they blocked the vestibule;
others, without strength to go farther, lay extended on the sidewalks
and slept the sleep of death, not even rising when some by-passer trod
on them and bruised an arm or leg, preferring the risk of death to the
fatigue of changing their location.

These things all helped to make Delaherche still more keenly conscious
of the necessity of immediate capitulation. There were some quarters
in which numerous caissons were packed so close together that they
were in contact, and a single Prussian shell alighting on one of them
must inevitably have exploded them all, entailing the immediate
destruction of the city by conflagration. Then, too, what could be
accomplished with such an assemblage of miserable wretches, deprived
of all their powers, mental and physical, by reason of their
long-endured privations, and destitute of either ammunition or
subsistence? Merely to clear the streets and reduce them to a
condition of something like order would require a whole day. The place
was entirely incapable of defense, having neither guns nor provisions.

These were the considerations that had prevailed at the council among
those more reasonable officers who, in the midst of their grief and
sorrow for their country and the army, had retained a clear and
undistorted view of the situation as it was; and the more hot-headed
among them, those who cried with emotion that it was impossible for an
army to surrender thus, had been compelled to bow their head upon
their breast in silence and admit that they had no practicable scheme
to offer whereby the conflict might be recommenced on the morrow.

In the Place Turenne and Place du Rivage, Delaherche succeeded with
the greatest difficulty in working his way through the press. As he
passed the Hotel of the Golden Cross a sorrowful vision greeted his
eyes, that of the generals seated in the dining room, gloomily silent,
around the empty board; there was nothing left to eat in the house,
not even bread. General Bourgain-Desfeuilles, however, who had been
storming and vociferating in the kitchen, appeared to have found
something, for he suddenly held his peace and ran away swiftly up the
stairs, holding in his hands a large paper parcel of a greasy aspect.
Such was the crowd assembled there, to stare through the lighted
windows upon the guests assembled around that famine-stricken _table
d'hote_, that the manufacturer was obliged to make vigorous play with
his elbows, and was frequently driven back by some wild rush of the
mob and lost all the distance, and more, that he had just gained. In
the Grande Rue, however, the obstacles became actually impassable, and
there was a moment when he was inclined to give up in despair; a
complete battery seemed to have been driven in there and the guns and
_materiel_ piled, pell-mell, on top of one another. Deciding finally
to take the bull by the horns, he leaped to the axle of a piece and so
pursued his way, jumping from wheel to wheel, straddling the guns, at
the imminent risk of breaking his legs, if not his neck. Afterward it
was some horses that blocked his way, and he made himself lowly and
stooped, creeping among the feet and underneath the bellies of the
sorry jades, who were ready to die of inanition, like their masters.
Then, when after a quarter of an hour's laborious effort he reached
the junction of the Rue Saint-Michel, he was terrified at the prospect
of the dangers and obstacles that he had still to face, and which,
instead of diminishing, seemed to be increasing, and made up his mind
to turn down the street above mentioned, which would take him into the
Rue des Laboureurs; he hoped that by taking these usually quiet and
deserted passages he should escape the crowd and reach his home in
safety. As luck would have it he almost directly came upon a house of
ill-fame to which a band of drunken soldiers were in process of laying
siege, and considering that a stray shot, should one reach him in the
fracas, would be equally as unpleasant as one intended for him, he
made haste to retrace his steps. Resolving to have done with it he
pushed on to the end of the Grande Rue, now gaining a few feet by
balancing himself, rope-walker fashion, along the pole of some
vehicle, now climbing over an army wagon that barred his way. At the
Place du College he was carried along--bodily on the shoulders of the
throng for a space of thirty paces; he fell to the ground, narrowly
escaped a set of fractured ribs, and saved himself only by the
proximity of a friendly iron railing, by the bars of which he pulled
himself to his feet. And when at last he reached the Rue Maqua,
inundated with perspiration, his clothing almost torn from his back,
he found that he had been more than an hour in coming from the
Sous-Prefecture, a distance which in ordinary times he was accustomed
to accomplish in less than five minutes.

Major Bouroche, with the intention of keeping the ambulance and garden
from being overrun with intruders, had caused two sentries to be
mounted at the door. This measure was a source of great comfort to
Delaherche, who had begun to contemplate the possibilities of his
house being subjected to pillage. The sight of the ambulance in the
garden, dimly lighted by a few candles and exhaling its fetid,
feverish emanations, caused him a fresh constriction of the heart;
then, stumbling over the body of a soldier who was stretched in
slumber on the stone pavement of the walk, he supposed him to be one
of the fugitives who had managed to find his way in there from
outside, until, calling to mind the 7th corps treasure that had been
deposited there and the sentry who had been set over it, he saw how
matters stood: the poor fellow, stationed there since early morning,
had been overlooked by his superiors and had succumbed to his fatigue.
Besides, the house seemed quite deserted; the ground floor was black
as Egypt, and the doors stood wide open. The servants were doubtless
all at the ambulance, for there was no one in the kitchen, which was
faintly illuminated by the light of a wretched little smoky lamp. He
lit a candle and ascended the main staircase very softly, in order not
to awaken his wife and mother, whom he had begged to go to bed early
after a day where the stress, both mental and physical, had been so
intense.

On entering his study, however, he beheld a sight that caused his eyes
to dilate with astonishment. Upon the sofa on which Captain Beaudoin
had snatched a few hours' repose the day before a soldier lay
outstretched; and he could not understand the reason of it until he
had looked and recognized young Maurice Levasseur, Henriette's
brother. He was still more surprised when, on turning his head, he
perceived, stretched on the floor and wrapped in a bed quilt, another
soldier, that Jean, whom he had seen for a moment just before the
battle. It was plain that the poor fellows, in their distress and
fatigue after the conflict, not knowing where else to bestow
themselves, had sought refuge there; they were crushed, annihilated,
like dead men. He did not linger there, but pushed on to his wife's
chamber, which was the next room on the corridor. A lamp was burning
on a table in a corner; the profound silence seemed to shudder.
Gilberte had thrown herself crosswise on the bed, fully dressed,
doubtless in order to be prepared for any catastrophe, and was
sleeping peacefully, while, seated on a chair at her side with her
head declined and resting lightly on the very edge of the mattress,
Henriette was also slumbering, with a fitful, agitated sleep, while
big tears welled up beneath her swollen eyelids. He contemplated them
silently for a moment, strongly tempted to awake and question the
young woman in order to ascertain what she knew. Had she succeeded in
reaching Bazeilles? and why was it that she was back there? Perhaps
she would be able to give him some tidings of his dyehouse were he to
ask her? A feeling of compassion stayed him, however, and he was about
to leave the room when his mother, ghost-like, appeared at the
threshold of the open door and beckoned him to follow her.

As they were passing through the dining room he expressed his
surprise.

"What, have you not been abed to-night?"

She shook her head, then said below her breath:

"I cannot sleep; I have been sitting in an easy-chair beside the
colonel. He is very feverish; he awakes at every instant, almost, and
then plies me with questions. I don't know how to answer them. Come in
and see him, you."

M. de Vineuil had fallen asleep again. His long face, now brightly
red, barred by the sweeping mustache that fell across it like a snowy
avalanche, was scarce distinguishable on the pillow. Mme. Delaherche
had placed a newspaper before the lamp and that corner of the room was
lost in semi-darkness, while all the intensity of the bright lamplight
was concentrated on her where she sat, uncompromisingly erect, in her
fauteuil, her hands crossed before her in her lap, her vague eyes bent
on space, in sorrowful reverie.

"I think he must have heard you," she murmured; "he is awaking again."

It was so; the colonel, without moving his head, had reopened his eyes
and bent them on Delaherche. He recognized him, and immediately asked
in a voice that his exhausted condition made tremulous:

"It is all over, is it not? We have capitulated."

The manufacturer, who encountered the look his mother cast on him at
that moment, was on the point of equivocating. But what good would it
do? A look of discouragement passed across his face.

"What else remained to do? A single glance at the streets of the city
would convince you. General de Wimpffen has just set out for Prussian
general headquarters to discuss conditions."

M. de Vineuil's eyes closed again, his long frame was shaken with a
protracted shiver of supremely bitter grief, and this deep, long-drawn
moan escaped his lips:

"Ah! merciful God, merciful God!" And without opening his eyes he went
on in faltering, broken accents: "Ah! the plan I spoke of yesterday
--they should have adopted it. Yes, I knew the country; I spoke of my
apprehensions to the general, but even him they would not listen to.
Occupy all the heights up there to the north, from Saint-Menges to
Fleigneux, with your army looking down on and commanding Sedan, able
at any time to move on Vrigne-aux-Bois, mistress of Saint-Albert's
pass--and there we are; our positions are impregnable, the Mezieres
road is under our control--"

His speech became more confused as he proceeded; he stammered a few
more unintelligible words, while the vision of the battle that had
been born of his fever little by little grew blurred and dim and at
last was effaced by slumber. He slept, and in his sleep perhaps the
honest officer's dreams were dreams of victory.

"Does the major speak favorably of his case?" Delaherche inquired in a
whisper.

Madame Delaherche nodded affirmatively.

"Those wounds in the foot are dreadful things, though," he went on. "I
suppose he is likely to be laid up for a long time, isn't he?"

She made him no answer this time, as if all her being, all her
faculties were concentrated on contemplating the great calamity of
their defeat. She was of another age; she was a survivor of that
strong old race of frontier burghers who defended their towns so
valiantly in the good days gone by. The clean-cut lines of her stern,
set face, with its fleshless, uncompromising nose and thin lips, which
the brilliant light of the lamp brought out in high relief against the
darkness of the room, told the full extent of her stifled rage and
grief and the wound sustained by her antique patriotism, the revolt of
which refused even to let her sleep.

About that time Delaherche became conscious of a sensation of
isolation, accompanied by a most uncomfortable feeling of physical
distress. His hunger was asserting itself again, a griping,
intolerable hunger, and he persuaded himself that it was debility
alone that was thus robbing him of courage and resolution. He tiptoed
softly from the room and, with his candle, again made his way down to
the kitchen, but the spectacle he witnessed there was even still more
cheerless; the range cold and fireless, the closets empty, the floor
strewn with a disorderly litter of towels, napkins, dish-clouts and
women's aprons; as if the hurricane of disaster had swept through that
place as well, bearing away on its wings all the charm and cheer that
appertain naturally to the things we eat and drink. At first he
thought he was not going to discover so much as a crust, what was left
over of the bread having all found its way to the ambulance in the
form of soup. At last, however, in the dark corner of a cupboard he
came across the remainder of the beans from yesterday's dinner, where
they had been forgotten, and ate them. He accomplished his luxurious
repast without the formality of sitting down, without the
accompaniment of salt and butter, for which he did not care to trouble
himself to ascend to the floor above, desirous only to get away as
speedily as possible from that dismal kitchen, where the blinking,
smoking little lamp perfumed the air with fumes of petroleum.

It was not much more than ten o'clock, and Delaherche had no other
occupation than to speculate on the various probabilities connected
with the signing of the capitulation. A persistent apprehension
haunted him; a dread lest the conflict might be renewed, and the
horrible thought of what the consequences must be in such an event, of
which he could not speak, but which rested on his bosom like an
incubus. When he had reascended to his study, where he found Maurice
and Jean in exactly the same position he had left them in, it was
all in vain that he settled himself comfortably in his favorite
easy-chair; sleep would not come to him; just as he was on the point
of losing himself the crash of a shell would arouse him with a great
start. It was the frightful cannonade of the day, the echoes of which
were still ringing in his ears; and he would listen breathlessly for a
moment, then sit and shudder at the equally appalling silence by which
he was now surrounded. As he could not sleep he preferred to move
about; he wandered aimlessly among the rooms, taking care to avoid
that in which his mother was sitting by the colonel's bedside, for the
steady gaze with which she watched him as he tramped nervously up and
down had finally had the effect of disconcerting him. Twice he
returned to see if Henriette had not awakened, and he paused an
instant to glance at his wife's pretty face, so calmly peaceful, on
which seemed to be flitting something like the faint shadow of a
smile. Then, knowing not what to do, he went downstairs again, came
back, moved about from room to room, until it was nearly two in the
morning, wearying his ears with trying to decipher some meaning in the
sounds that came to him from without.

This condition of affairs could not last. Delaherche resolved to
return once more to the Sous-Prefecture, feeling assured that all rest
would be quite out of the question for him so long as his ignorance
continued. A feeling of despair seized him, however, when he went
downstairs and looked out upon the densely crowded street, where the
confusion seemed to be worse than ever; never would he have the
strength to fight his way to the Place Turenne and back again through
obstacles the mere memory of which caused every bone in his body to
ache again. And he was mentally discussing matters, when who should
come up but Major Bouroche, panting, perspiring, and swearing.

"_Tonnerre de Dieu!_ I wonder if my head's on my shoulders or not!"

He had been obliged to visit the Hotel de Ville to see the mayor about
his supply of chloroform, and urge him to issue a requisition for a
quantity, for he had many operations to perform, his stock of the drug
was exhausted, and he was afraid, he said, that he should be compelled
to carve up the poor devils without putting them to sleep.

"Well?" inquired Delaherche.

"Well, they can't even tell whether the apothecaries have any or not!"

But the manufacturer was thinking of other things than chloroform.
"No, no," he continued. "Have they brought matters to a conclusion
yet? Have they signed the agreement with the Prussians?"

The major made a gesture of impatience. "There is nothing concluded,"
he cried. "It appears that those scoundrels are making demands out of
all reason. Ah, well; let 'em commence afresh, then, and we'll all
leave our bones here. That will be best!"

Delaherche's face grew very pale as he listened. "But are you quite
sure these things are so?"

"I was told them by those fellows of the municipal council, who are in
permanent session at the city hall. An officer had been dispatched
from the Sous-Prefecture to lay the whole affair before them."

And he went on to furnish additional details. The interview had taken
place at the Chateau de Bellevue, near Donchery, and the participants
were General de Wimpffen, General von Moltke, and Bismarck. A stern
and inflexible man was that von Moltke, a terrible man to deal with!
He began by demonstrating that he was perfectly acquainted with the
hopeless situation of the French army; it was destitute of ammunition
and subsistence, demoralization and disorder pervaded its ranks, it
was utterly powerless to break the iron circle by which it was girt
about; while on the other hand the German armies occupied commanding
positions from which they could lay the city in ashes in two hours.
Coldly, unimpassionedly, he stated his terms: the entire French army
to surrender arms and baggage and be treated as prisoners of war.
Bismarck took no part in the discussion beyond giving the general his
support, occasionally showing his teeth, like a big mastiff, inclined
to be pacific on the whole, but quite ready to rend and tear should
there be occasion for it. General de Wimpffen in reply protested with
all the force he had at his command against these conditions, the most
severe that ever were imposed on a vanquished army. He spoke of his
personal grief and ill-fortune, the bravery of the troops, the danger
there was in driving a proud nation to extremity; for three hours he
spoke with all the energy and eloquence of despair, alternately
threatening and entreating, demanding that they should content
themselves with interning their prisoners in France, or even in
Algeria; and in the end the only concession granted was, that the
officers might retain their swords, and those among them who should
enter into a solemn arrangement, attested by a written parole, to
serve no more during the war, might return to their homes. Finally,
the armistice to be prolonged until the next morning at ten o'clock;
if at that time the terms had not been accepted, the Prussian
batteries would reopen fire and the city would be burned.

"That's stupid!" exclaimed Delaherche; "they have no right to burn a
city that has done nothing to deserve it!"

The major gave him still further food for anxiety by adding that some
officers whom he had met at the Hotel de l'Europe were talking of
making a sortie _en masse_ just before daylight. An extremely excited
state of feeling had prevailed since the tenor of the German demands
had become known, and measures the most extravagant were proposed and
discussed. No one seemed to be deterred by the consideration that it
would be dishonorable to break the truce, taking advantage of the
darkness and giving the enemy no notification, and the wildest, most
visionary schemes were offered; they would resume the march on
Carignan, hewing their way through the Bavarians, which they could do
in the black night; they would recapture the plateau of Illy by a
surprise; they would raise the blockade of the Mezieres road, or, by a
determined, simultaneous rush, would force the German lines and throw
themselves into Belgium. Others there were, indeed, who, feeling the
hopelessness of their position, said nothing; they would have accepted
any terms, signed any paper, with a glad cry of relief, simply to have
the affair ended and done with.

"Good-night!" Bouroche said in conclusion. "I am going to try to sleep
a couple of hours; I need it badly."

When left by himself Delaherche could hardly breathe. What, could it
be true that they were going to fight again, were going to burn and
raze Sedan! It was certainly to be, soon as the morrow's sun should be
high enough upon the hills to light the horror of the sacrifice. And
once again he almost unconsciously climbed the steep ladder that led
to the roofs and found himself standing among the chimneys, at the
edge of the narrow terrace that overlooked the city; but at that hour
of the night the darkness was intense and he could distinguish
absolutely nothing amid the swirling waves of the Cimmerian sea that
lay beneath him. Then the buildings of the factory below were the
first objects which, one by one, disentangled themselves from the
shadows and stood out before his vision in indistinct masses, which he
had no difficulty in recognizing: the engine-house, the shops, the
drying rooms, the storehouses, and when he reflected that within
twenty-four hours there would remain of that imposing block of
buildings, his fortune and his pride, naught save charred timbers and
crumbling walls, he overflowed with pity for himself. He raised his
glance thence once more to the horizon, and sent it traveling in a
circuit around that profound, mysterious veil of blackness behind
which lay slumbering the menace of the morrow. To the south, in the
direction of Bazeilles, a few quivering little flames that rose
fitfully on the air told where had been the site of the unhappy
village, while toward the north the farmhouse in the wood of la
Garenne, that had been fired late in the afternoon, was burning still,
and the trees about were dyed of a deep red with the ruddy blaze.
Beyond the intermittent flashing of those two baleful fires no light
to be seen; the brooding silence unbroken by any sound save those
half-heard mutterings that pass through the air like harbingers of
evil; about them, everywhere, the unfathomable abyss, dead and
lifeless. Off there in the distance, very far away, perhaps, perhaps
upon the ramparts, was a sound of someone weeping. It was all in vain
that he strained his eyes to pierce the veil, to see something of
Liry, la Marfee, the batteries of Frenois, and Wadelincourt, that
encircling belt of bronze monsters of which he could instinctively
feel the presence there, with their outstretched necks and yawning,
ravenous muzzles. And as he recalled his glance and let it fall upon
the city that lay around and beneath him, he heard its frightened
breathing. It was not alone the unquiet slumbers of the soldiers who
had fallen in the streets, the blending of inarticulate sounds
produced by that gathering of guns, men, and horses; what he fancied
he could distinguish was the insomnia, the alarmed watchfulness of his
bourgeois neighbors, who, no more than he, could sleep, quivering with
feverish terrors, awaiting anxiously the coming of the day. They all
must be aware that the capitulation had not been signed, and were all
counting the hours, quaking at the thought that should it not be
signed the sole resource left them would be to go down into their
cellars and wait for their own walls to tumble in on them and crush
the life from their bodies. The voice of one in sore straits came up,
it seemed to him, from the Rue des Voyards, shouting: "Help! murder!"
amid the clash of arms. He bent over the terrace to look, then
remained aloft there in the murky thickness of the night where there
was not a star to cheer him, wrapped in such an ecstasy of terror that
the hairs of his body stood erect.

Below-stairs, at early daybreak, Maurice awoke upon his sofa. He was
sore and stiff as if he had been racked; he did not stir, but lay
looking listlessly at the windows, which gradually grew white under
the light of a cloudy dawn. The hateful memories of the day before all
came back to him with that distinctness that characterizes the
impressions of our first waking, how they had fought, fled,
surrendered. It all rose before his vision, down to the very least
detail, and he brooded with horrible anguish on the defeat, whose
reproachful echoes seemed to penetrate to the inmost fibers of his
being, as if he felt that all the responsibility of it was his. And he
went on to reason on the cause of the evil, analyzing himself,
reverting to his old habit of bitter and unavailing self-reproach. He
would have felt so brave, so glorious had victory remained with them!
And now, in defeat, weak and nervous as a woman, he once again gave
way to one of those overwhelming fits of despair in which the entire
world, seemed to him to be foundering. Nothing was left them; the end
of France was come. His frame was shaken by a storm of sobs, he wept
hot tears, and joining his hands, the prayers of his childhood rose to
his lips in stammering accents.

"O God! take me unto Thee! O God! take unto Thyself all those who are
weary and heavy-laden!"

Jean, lying on the floor wrapped in his bed-quilt, began to show some
signs of life. Finally, astonished at what he heard, he arose to a
sitting posture.

"What is the matter, youngster? Are you ill?" Then, with a glimmering
perception of how matters stood, he adopted a more paternal tone.
"Come, tell me what the matter is. You must not let yourself be
worried by such a little thing as this, you know."

"Ah!" exclaimed Maurice, "it is all up with us, _va_! we are Prussians
now, and we may as well make up our mind to it."

As the peasant, with the hard-headedness of the uneducated, expressed
surprise to hear him talk thus, he endeavored to make it clear to him
that, the race being degenerate and exhausted, it must disappear and
make room for a newer and more vigorous strain. But the other, with an
obstinate shake of the head, would not listen to the explanation.

"What! would you try to make me believe that my bit of land is no
longer mine? that I would permit the Prussians to take it from me
while I am alive and my two arms are left to me? Come, come!"

Then painfully, in such terms as he could command, he went on to tell
how affairs looked to him. They had received an all-fired good
basting, that was sure as sure could be! but they were not all dead
yet, he didn't believe; there were some left, and those would suffice
to rebuild the house if they only behaved themselves, working hard and
not drinking up what they earned. When a family has trouble, if its
members work and put by a little something, they will pull through, in
spite of all the bad luck in the world. And further, it is not such a
bad thing to get a good cuffing once in a way; it sets one thinking.
And, great heavens! if a man has something rotten about him, if he has
gangrene in his arms or legs that is spreading all the time, isn't it
better to take a hatchet and lop them off rather than die as he would
from cholera?

"All up, all up! Ah, no, no! no, no!" he repeated several times. "It
is not all up with me, I know very well it is not."

And notwithstanding his seedy condition and demoralized appearance,
his hair all matted and pasted to his head by the blood that had
flowed from his wound, he drew himself up defiantly, animated by a
keen desire to live, to take up the tools of his trade or put his hand
to the plow, in order, to use his own expression, to "rebuild the
house." He was of the old soil where reason and obstinacy grow side by
side, of the land of toil and thrift.

"All the same, though," he continued, "I am sorry for the Emperor.
Affairs seemed to be going on well; the farmers were getting a good
price for their grain. But surely it was bad judgment on his part to
allow himself to become involved in this business!"

Maurice, who was still in "the blues," spoke regretfully: "Ah, the
Emperor! I always liked him in my heart, in spite of my republican
ideas. Yes, I had it in the blood, on account of my grandfather, I
suppose. And now that that limb is rotten and we shall have to lop it
off, what is going to become of us?"

His eyes began to wander, and his voice and manner evinced such
distress that Jean became alarmed and was about to rise and go to him,
when Henriette came into the room. She had just awakened on hearing
the sound of voices in the room adjoining hers. The pale light of a
cloudy morning now illuminated the apartment.

"You come just in time to give him a scolding," he said, with an
affectation of liveliness. "He is not a good boy this morning."

But the sight of his sister's pale, sad face and the recollection of
her affliction had had a salutary effect on Maurice by determining a
sudden crisis of tenderness. He opened his arms and took her to his
bosom, and when she rested her head upon his shoulder, when he held
her locked in a close embrace, a feeling of great gentleness pervaded
him and they mingled their tears.

"Ah, my poor, poor darling, why have I not more strength and courage
to console you! for my sorrows are as nothing compared with yours.
That good, faithful Weiss, the husband who loved you so fondly! What
will become of you? You have always been the victim; always, and never
a murmur from your lips. Think of the sorrow I have already caused
you, and who can say that I shall not cause you still more in the
future!"

She was silencing him, placing her hand upon his mouth, when
Delaherche came into the room, beside himself with indignation. While
still on the terrace he had been seized by one of those uncontrollable
nervous fits of hunger that are aggravated by fatigue, and had
descended to the kitchen in quest of something warm to drink, where he
had found, keeping company with his cook, a relative of hers, a
carpenter of Bazeilles, whom she was in the act of treating to a bowl
of hot wine. This person, who had been one of the last to leave the
place while the conflagrations were at their height, had told him that
his dyehouse was utterly destroyed, nothing left of it but a heap of
ruins.

"The robbers, the thieves! Would you have believed it, _hein_?" he
stammered, addressing Jean and Maurice. "There is no hope left; they
mean to burn Sedan this morning as they burned Bazeilles yesterday.
I'm ruined, I'm ruined!" The scar that Henriette bore on her forehead
attracted his attention, and he remembered that he had not spoken to
her yet. "It is true, you went there, after all; you got that
wound-- Ah! poor Weiss!"

And seeing by the young woman's tears that she was acquainted with her
husband's fate, he abruptly blurted out the horrible bit of news that
the carpenter had communicated to him among the rest.

"Poor Weiss! it seems they burned him. Yes, after shooting all the
civilians who were caught with arms in their hands, they threw their
bodies into the flames of a burning house and poured petroleum over
them."

Henriette was horror-stricken as she listened. Her tears burst forth,
her frame was shaken by her sobs. My God, my God, not even the poor
comfort of going to claim her dear dead and give him decent sepulture;
his ashes were to be scattered by the winds of heaven! Maurice had
again clasped her in his arms and spoke to her endearingly, calling
her his poor Cinderella, beseeching her not to take the matter so to
heart, a brave woman as she was.

After a time, during which no word was spoken, Delaherche, who had
been standing at the window watching the growing day, suddenly turned
and addressed the two soldiers:

"By the way, I was near forgetting. What I came up here to tell you is
this: down in the courtyard, in the shed where the treasure chests
were deposited, there is an officer who is about to distribute the
money among the men, so as to keep the Prussians from getting it. You
had better go down, for a little money may be useful to you, that is,
provided we are all alive a few hours hence."

The advice was good, and Maurice and Jean acted on it, having first
prevailed on Henriette to take her brother's place on the sofa. If she
could not go to sleep again, she would at least be securing some
repose. As for Delaherche, he passed through the adjoining chamber,
where Gilberte with her tranquil, pretty face was slumbering still as
soundly as a child, neither the sound of conversation nor even
Henriette's sobs having availed to make her change her position. From
there he went to the apartment where his mother was watching at
Colonel de Vineuil's bedside, and thrust his head through the door;
the old lady was asleep in her fauteuil, while the colonel, his eyes
closed, was like a corpse. He opened them to their full extent and
asked:

"Well, it's all over, isn't it?"

Irritated by the question, which detained him at the very moment when
he thought he should be able to slip away unobserved, Delaherche gave
a wrathful look and murmured, sinking his voice:

"Oh, yes, all over! until it begins again! There is nothing signed."

The colonel went on in a voice scarcely higher than a whisper;
delirium was setting in.

"Merciful God, let me die before the end! I do not hear the guns. Why
have they ceased firing? Up there at Saint-Menges, at Fleigneux, we
have command of all the roads; should the Prussians dare turn Sedan
and attack us, we will drive them into the Meuse. The city is there,
an insurmountable obstacle between us and them; our positions, too,
are the stronger. Forward! the 7th corps will lead, the 12th will
protect the retreat--"

And his fingers kept drumming on the counterpane with a measured
movement, as if keeping time with the trot of the charger he was
riding in his vision. Gradually the motion became slower and slower as
his words became more indistinct and he sank off into slumber. It
ceased, and he lay motionless and still, as if the breath had left his
body.

"Lie still and rest," Delaherche whispered; "when I have news I will
return."

Then, having first assured himself that he had not disturbed his
mother's slumber, he slipped away and disappeared.

Jean and Maurice, on descending to the shed in the courtyard, had
found there an officer of the pay department, seated on a common
kitchen chair behind a little unpainted pine table, who, without pen,
ink, or paper, without taking receipts or indulging in formalities of
any kind, was dispensing fortunes. He simply stuck his hand into the
open mouth of the bags filled with bright gold pieces, and as the
sergeants of the 7th corps passed in line before him he filled their
_kepis_, never counting what he bestowed with such rapid liberality.
The understanding was that the sergeants were subsequently to divide
what they received with the surviving men of their half-sections. Each
of them received his portion awkwardly, as if it had been a ration of
meat or coffee, then stalked off in an embarrassed, self-conscious
sort of way, transferring the contents of the _kepi_ to his trousers'
pockets so as not to display his wealth to the world at large. And not
a word was spoken; there was not a sound to be heard but the
crystalline chink and rattle of the coin as it was received by those
poor devils, dumfounded to see the responsibility of such riches
thrust on them when there was not a place in the city where they could
purchase a loaf of bread or a quart of wine.

When Jean and Maurice appeared before him the officer, who was holding
outstretched his hand filled, as usual, with louis, drew it back.

"Neither of you fellows is a sergeant. No one except sergeants is
entitled to receive the money." Then, in haste to be done with his
task, he changed his mind: "Never mind, though; here, you corporal,
take this. Step lively, now. Next man!"

And he dropped the gold coins into the _kepi_ that Jean held out to
him. The latter, oppressed by the magnitude of the amount, nearly six
hundred francs, insisted that Maurice should take one-half. No one
could say what might happen; they might be parted from each other.

They made the division in the garden, before the ambulance, and when
they had concluded their financial business they entered, having
recognized on the straw near the entrance the drummer-boy of their
company, Bastian, a fat, good-natured little fellow, who had had the
ill-luck to receive a spent ball in the groin about five o'clock the
day before, when the battle was ended. He had been dying by inches for
the last twelve hours.

In the dim, white light of morning, at that hour of awakening, the
sight of the ambulance sent a chill of horror through them. Three more
patients had died during the night, without anyone being aware of it,
and the attendants were hurriedly bearing away the corpses in order to
make room for others. Those who had been operated on the day before
opened wide their eyes in their somnolent, semi-conscious state, and
looked with dazed astonishment on that vast dormitory of suffering,
where the victims of the knife, only half-slaughtered, rested on their
straw. It was in vain that some attempts had been made the night
before to clean up the room after the bloody work of the operations;
there were great splotches of blood on the ill-swept floor; in a
bucket of water a great sponge was floating, stained with red, for all
the world like a human brain; a hand, its fingers crushed and broken,
had been overlooked and lay on the floor of the shed. It was the
parings and trimmings of the human butcher shop, the horrible waste
and refuse that ensues upon a day of slaughter, viewed in the cold,
raw light of dawn.

Bouroche, who, after a few hours of repose, had already resumed his
duties, stopped in front of the wounded drummer-boy, Bastian, then
passed on with an imperceptible shrug of his shoulders. A hopeless
case; nothing to be done. The lad had opened his eyes, however, and
emerging from the comatose state in which he had been lying, was
eagerly watching a sergeant who, his _kepi_ filled with gold in his
hand, had come into the room to see if there were any of his men among
those poor wretches. He found two, and to each of them gave twenty
francs. Other sergeants came in, and the gold began to fall in showers
upon the straw, among the dying men. Bastian, who had managed to raise
himself, stretched out his two hands, even then shaking in the final
agony.

"Don't forget me! don't forget me!"

The sergeant would have passed on and gone his way, as Bouroche had
done. What good could money do there? Then yielding to a kindly
impulse, he threw some coins, never stopping to count them, into the
poor hands that were already cold.

"Don't forget me! don't forget me!"

Bastian fell backward on his straw. For a long time he groped with
stiffening fingers for the elusive gold, which seemed to avoid him.
And thus he died.

"The gentleman has blown his candle out; good-night!" said a little,
black, wizened zouave, who occupied the next bed. "It's vexatious,
when one has the wherewithal to pay for wetting his whistle!"

He had his left foot done up in splints. Nevertheless he managed to
raise himself on his knees and elbows and in this posture crawl over
to the dead man, whom he relieved of all his money, forcing open his
hands, rummaging among his clothing and the folds of his capote. When
he got back to his place, noticing that he was observed, he simply
said:

"There's no use letting the stuff be wasted, is there?"

Maurice, sick at heart in that atmosphere of human distress and
suffering, had long since dragged Jean away. As they passed out
through the shed where the operations were performed they saw Bouroche
preparing to amputate the leg of a poor little man of twenty, without
chloroform, he having been unable to obtain a further supply of the
anaesthetic. And they fled, running, so as not to hear the poor boy's
shrieks.

Delaherche, who came in from the street just then, beckoned to them
and shouted:

"Come upstairs, come, quick! we are going to have breakfast. The cook
has succeeded in procuring some milk, and it is well she did, for we
are all in great need of something to warm our stomachs." And
notwithstanding his efforts to do so, he could not entirely repress
his delight and exultation. With a radiant countenance he added,
lowering his voice: "It is all right this time. General de Wimpffen
has set out again for the German headquarters to sign the
capitulation."

Ah, how much those words meant to him, what comfort there was in them,
what relief! his horrid nightmare dispelled, his property saved from
destruction, his daily life to be resumed, under changed conditions,
it is true, but still it was to go on, it was not to cease! It was
little Rose who had told him of the occurrences of the morning at the
Sous-Prefecture; the girl had come hastening through the streets, now
somewhat less choked than they had been, to obtain a supply of bread
from an aunt of hers who kept a baker's shop in the quarter; it was
striking nine o'clock. As early as eight General de Wimpffen had
convened another council of war, consisting of more than thirty
generals, to whom he related the results that had been reached so far,
the hard conditions imposed by the victorious foe, and his own
fruitless efforts to secure a mitigation of them. His emotion was such
that his hands shook like a leaf, his eyes were suffused with tears.
He was still addressing the assemblage when a colonel of the German
staff presented himself, on behalf of General von Moltke, to remind
them that, unless a decision were arrived at by ten o'clock, their
guns would open fire on the city of Sedan. With this horrible
alternative before them the council could do nothing save authorize
the general to proceed once more to the Chateau of Bellevue and accept
the terms of the victors. He must have accomplished his mission by
that time, and the entire French army were prisoners of war.

When she had concluded her narrative Rose launched out into a detailed
account of the tremendous excitement the tidings had produced in the
city. At the Sous-Prefecture she had seen officers tear the epaulettes
from their shoulders, weeping meanwhile like children. Cavalrymen had
thrown their sabers from the Pont de Meuse into the river; an entire
regiment of cuirassiers had passed, each man tossing his blade over
the parapet and sorrowfully watching the water close over it. In the
streets many soldiers grasped their muskets by the barrel and smashed
them against a wall, while there were artillerymen who removed the
mechanism from the mitrailleuses and flung it into the sewer. Some
there were who buried or burned the regimental standards. In the Place
Turenne an old sergeant climbed upon a gate-post and harangued the
throng as if he had suddenly taken leave of his senses, reviling the
leaders, stigmatizing them as poltroons and cowards. Others seemed as
if dazed, shedding big tears in silence, and others also, it must be
confessed (and it is probable that they were in the majority),
betrayed by their laughing eyes and pleased expression the
satisfaction they felt at the change in affairs. There was an end to
their suffering at last; they were prisoners of war, they could not be
obliged to fight any more! For so many days they had been distressed
by those long, weary marches, with never food enough to satisfy their
appetite! And then, too, they were the weaker; what use was there in
fighting? If their chiefs had betrayed them, had sold them to the
enemy, so much the better; it would be the sooner ended! It was such a
delicious thing to think of, that they were to have white bread to
eat, were to sleep between sheets!

As Delaherche was about to enter the dining room in company with
Maurice and Jean, his mother called to him from above.

"Come up here, please; I am anxious about the colonel."

M. de Vineuil, with wide-open eyes, was talking rapidly and excitedly
of the subject that filled his bewildered brain.

"The Prussians have cut us off from Mezieres, but what matters it!
See, they have outmarched us and got possession of the plain of
Donchery; soon they will be up with the wood of la Falizette and flank
us there, while more of them are coming up along the valley of the
Givonne. The frontier is behind us; let us kill as many of them as we
can and cross it at a bound. Yesterday, yes, that is what I would have
advised--"

At that moment his burning eyes lighted on Delaherche. He recognized
him; the sight seemed to sober him and dispel the hallucination under
which he was laboring, and coming back to the terrible reality, he
asked for the third time:

"It is all over, is it not?"

The manufacturer explosively blurted out the expression of his
satisfaction; he could not restrain it.

"Ah, yes, God be praised! it is all over, completely over. The
capitulation must be signed by this time."

The colonel raised himself at a bound to a sitting posture,
notwithstanding his bandaged foot; he took his sword from the chair by
the bedside where it lay and made an attempt to break it, but his
hands trembled too violently, and the blade slipped from his fingers.

"Look out! he will cut himself!" Delaherche cried in alarm. "Take that
thing away from him; it is dangerous!"

Mme. Delaherche took possession of the sword. With a feeling of
compassionate respect for the poor colonel's grief and despair she did
not conceal it, as her son bade her do, but with a single vigorous
effort snapped it across her knee, with a strength of which she
herself would never have supposed her poor old hands capable. The
colonel laid himself down again, casting a look of extreme gentleness
upon his old friend, who went back to her chair and seated herself in
her usual rigid attitude.

In the dining room the cook had meantime served bowls of hot coffee
and milk for the entire party. Henriette and Gilberte had awakened,
the latter, completely restored by her long and refreshing slumber,
with bright eyes and smiling face; she embraced most tenderly her
friend, whom she pitied, she said, from the bottom of her heart.
Maurice seated himself beside his sister, while Jean, who was unused
to polite society, but could not decline the invitation that was
extended to him, was Delaherche's right-hand neighbor. It was Mme.
Delaherche's custom not to come to the table with the family; a
servant carried her a bowl, which she drank while sitting by the
colonel. The party of five, however, who sat down together, although
they commenced their meal in silence, soon became cheerful and
talkative. Why should they not rejoice and be glad to find themselves
there, safe and sound, with food before them to satisfy their hunger,
when the country round about was covered with thousands upon thousands
of poor starving wretches? In the cool, spacious dining room the
snow-white tablecloth was a delight to the eye and the steaming _cafe
au lait_ seemed delicious.

They conversed, Delaherche, who had recovered his assurance and was
again the wealthy manufacturer, the condescending patron courting
popularity, severe only toward those who failed to succeed, spoke of
Napoleon III., whose face as he saw it last continued to haunt his
memory. He addressed himself to Jean, having that simple-minded young
man as his neighbor. "Yes, sir, the Emperor has deceived me, and I
don't hesitate to say so. His henchmen may put in the plea of
mitigating circumstances, but it won't go down, sir; he is evidently
the first, the only cause of our misfortunes."

He had quite forgotten that only a few months before he had been an
ardent Bonapartist and had labored to ensure the success of the
plebiscite, and now he who was henceforth to be known as the Man of
Sedan was not even worthy to be pitied; he ascribed to him every known
iniquity.

"A man of no capacity, as everyone is now compelled to admit; but let
that pass, I say nothing of that. A visionary, a theorist, an
unbalanced mind, with whom affairs seemed to succeed as long as he had
luck on his side. And there's no use, don't you see, sir, in
attempting to work on our sympathies and excite our commiseration by
telling us that he was deceived, that the opposition refused him the
necessary grants of men and money. It is he who has deceived us, he
whose crimes and blunders have landed us in the horrible muddle where
we are."

Maurice, who preferred to say nothing on the subject, could not help
smiling, while Jean, embarrassed by the political turn the
conversation had taken and fearful lest he might make some ill-timed
remark, simply replied:

"They say he is a brave man, though."

But those few words, modestly expressed, fairly made Delaherche jump.
All his past fear and alarm, all the mental anguish he had suffered,
burst from his lips in a cry of concentrated passion, closely allied
to hatred.

"A brave man, forsooth; and what does that amount to! Are you aware,
sir, that my factory was struck three times by Prussian shells, and
that it is no fault of the Emperor's that it was not burned! Are you
aware that I, I shall lose a hundred thousand francs by this idiotic
business! No, no; France invaded, pillaged, and laid waste, our
industries compelled to shut down, our commerce ruined; it is a little
too much, I tell you! One brave man like that is quite sufficient; may
the Lord preserve us from any more of them! He is down in the blood
and mire, and there let him remain!"

And he made a forcible gesture with his closed fist as if thrusting
down and holding under the water some poor wretch who was struggling
to save himself, then finished his coffee, smacking his lips like a
true gourmand. Gilberte waited on Henriette as if she had been a
child, laughing a little involuntary laugh when the latter made some
exhibition of absent-mindedness. And when at last the coffee had all
been drunk they still lingered on in the peaceful quiet of the great
cool dining room.

And at that same hour Napoleon III. was in the weaver's lowly cottage
on the Donchery road. As early as five o'clock in the morning he had
insisted on leaving the Sous-Prefecture; he felt ill at ease in Sedan,
which was at once a menace and a reproach to him, and moreover he
thought he might, in some measure, alleviate the sufferings of his
tender heart by obtaining more favorable terms for his unfortunate
army. His object was to have a personal interview with the King of
Prussia. He had taken his place in a hired caleche and been driven
along the broad highway, with its row of lofty poplars on either side,
and this first stage of his journey into exile, accomplished in the
chill air of early dawn, must have reminded him forcibly of the
grandeur that had been his and that he was putting behind him forever.
It was on this road that he had his encounter with Bismarck, who came
hurrying to meet him in an old cap and coarse, greased boots, with the
sole object of keeping him occupied and preventing him from seeing the
King until the capitulation should have been signed. The King was
still at Vendresse, some nine miles away. Where was he to go? What
roof would afford him shelter while he waited? In his own country, so
far away, the Palace of the Tuileries had disappeared from his sight,
swallowed up in the bosom of a storm-cloud, and he was never to see it
more. Sedan seemed already to have receded into the distance, leagues
and leagues, and to be parted from him by a river of blood. In France
there were no longer imperial chateaus, nor official residences, nor
even a chimney-nook in the house of the humblest functionary, where he
would have dared to enter and claim hospitality. And it was in the
house of the weaver that he determined to seek shelter, the
squalid cottage that stood close to the roadside, with its scanty
kitchen-garden inclosed by a hedge and its front of a single story
with little forbidding windows. The room above-stairs was simply
whitewashed and had a tiled floor; the only furniture was a common
pine table and two straw-bottomed chairs. He spent two hours there, at
first in company with Bismarck, who smiled to hear him speak of
generosity, after that alone in silent misery, flattening his ashy
face against the panes, taking his last look at French soil and at the
Meuse, winding in and out, so beautiful, among the broad fertile
fields.

Then the next day and the days that came after were other wretched
stages of that journey; the Chateau of Bellevue, a pretty bourgeois
retreat overlooking the river, where he rested that night, where he
shed tears after his interview with King William; the sorrowful
departure, that most miserable flight in a hired caleche over remote
roads to the north of the city, which he avoided, not caring to face
the wrath of the vanquished troops and the starving citizens, making a
wide circuit over cross-roads by Floing, Fleigneux, and Illy and
crossing the stream on a bridge of boats, laid down by the Prussians
at Iges; the tragic encounter, the story of which has been so often
told, that occurred on the corpse-cumbered plateau of Illy: the
miserable Emperor, whose state was such that his horse could not be
allowed to trot, had sunk under some more than usually violent attack
of his complaint, mechanically smoking, perhaps, his everlasting
cigarette, when a band of haggard, dusty, blood-stained prisoners, who
were being conducted from Fleigneux to Sedan, were forced to leave the
road to let the carriage pass and stood watching it from the ditch;
those who were at the head of the line merely eyed him in silence;
presently a hoarse, sullen murmur began to make itself heard, and
finally, as the caleche proceeded down the line, the men burst out
with a storm of yells and cat-calls, shaking their fists and calling
down maledictions on the head of him who had been their ruler. After
that came the interminable journey across the battlefield, as far as
Givonne, amid scenes of havoc and devastation, amid the dead, who lay
with staring eyes upturned that seemed to be full of menace; came,
too, the bare, dreary fields, the great silent forest, then the
frontier, running along the summit of a ridge, marked only by a stone,
facing a wooden post that seemed ready to fall, and beyond the soil of
Belgium, the end of all, with its road bordered with gloomy hemlocks
descending sharply into the narrow valley.

And that first night of exile, that he spent at a common inn, the
Hotel de la Poste at Bouillon, what a night it was! When the Emperor
showed himself at his window in deference to the throng of French
refugees and sight-seers that filled the place, he was greeted with a
storm of hisses and hostile murmurs. The apartment assigned him, the
three windows of which opened on the public square and on the Semoy,
was the typical tawdry bedroom of the provincial inn with its
conventional furnishings: the chairs covered with crimson damask, the
mahogany _armoire a glace_, and on the mantel the imitation bronze
clock, flanked by a pair of conch shells and vases of artificial
flowers under glass covers. On either side of the door was a little
single bed, to one of which the wearied aide-de-camp betook himself at
nine o'clock and was immediately wrapped in soundest slumber. On the
other the Emperor, to whom the god of sleep was less benignant, tossed
almost the whole night through, and if he arose to try to quiet his
excited nerves by walking, the sole distraction that his eyes
encountered was a pair of engravings that were hung to right and left
of the chimney, one depicting Rouget de Lisle singing the
Marseillaise, the other a crude representation of the Last Judgment,
the dead rising from their graves at the sound of the Archangel's
trump, the resurrection of the victims of the battlefield, about to
appear before their God to bear witness against their rulers.

The imperial baggage train, cause in its day of so much scandal, had
been left behind at Sedan, where it rested in ignominious hiding
behind the Sous-Prefet's lilac bushes. It puzzled the authorities
somewhat to devise means for ridding themselves of what was to them a
_bete noire_, for getting it away from the city unseen by the
famishing multitude, upon whom the sight of its flaunting splendor
would have produced much the same effect that a red rag does on a
maddened bull. They waited until there came an unusually dark night,
when horses, carriages, and baggage-wagons, with their silver
stew-pans, plate, linen, and baskets of fine wines, all trooped out of
Sedan in deepest mystery and shaped their course for Belgium,
noiselessly, without beat of drum, over the least frequented roads
like a thief stealing away in the night.



                             PART THIRD



                                 I.

All the long, long day of the battle Silvine, up on Remilly hill,
where Father Fouchard's little farm was situated, but her heart and
soul absent with Honore amid the dangers of the conflict, never once
took her eyes from off Sedan, where the guns were roaring. The
following day, moreover, her anxiety was even greater still, being
increased by her inability to obtain any definite tidings, for the
Prussians who were guarding the roads in the vicinity refused to
answer questions, as much from reasons of policy as because they knew
but very little themselves. The bright sun of the day before was no
longer visible, and showers had fallen, making the valley look less
cheerful than usual in the wan light.

Toward evening Father Fouchard, who was also haunted by a sensation of
uneasiness in the midst of his studied taciturnity, was standing on
his doorstep reflecting on the probable outcome of events. His son had
no place in his thoughts, but he was speculating how he best might
convert the misfortunes of others into fortune for himself, and as he
revolved these considerations in his mind he noticed a tall, strapping
young fellow, dressed in the peasant's blouse, who had been strolling
up and down the road for the last minute or so, looking as if he did
not know what to do with himself. His astonishment on recognizing him
was so great that he called him aloud by name, notwithstanding that
three Prussians happened to be passing at the time.

"Why, Prosper! Is that you?"

The chasseur d'Afrique imposed silence on him with an emphatic
gesture; then, coming closer, he said in an undertone:

"Yes, it is I. I have had enough of fighting for nothing, and I cut my
lucky. Say, Father Fouchard, you don't happen to be in need of a
laborer on your farm, do you?"

All the old man's prudence came back to him in a twinkling. He _was_
looking for someone to help him, but it would be better not to say so
at once.

"A lad on the farm? faith, no--not just now. Come in, though, all the
same, and have a glass. I shan't leave you out on the road when you're
in trouble, that's sure."

Silvine, in the kitchen, was setting the pot of soup on the fire,
while little Charlot was hanging by her skirts, frolicking and
laughing. She did not recognize Prosper at first, although they had
formerly served together in the same household, and it was not until
she came in, bringing a bottle of wine and two glasses, that she
looked him squarely in the face. She uttered a cry of joy and
surprise; her sole thought was of Honore.

"Ah, you were there, weren't you? Is Honore all right?"

Prosper's answer was ready to slip from his tongue; he hesitated. For
the last two days he had been living in a dream, among a rapid
succession of strange, ill-defined events which left behind them no
precise memory, as a man starts, half-awakened, from a slumber peopled
with fantastic visions. It was true, doubtless, he believed he had
seen Honore lying upon a cannon, dead, but he would not have cared to
swear to it; what use is there in afflicting people when one is not
certain?

"Honore," he murmured, "I don't know, I couldn't say."

She continued to press him with her questions, looking at him
steadily.

"You did not see him, then?"

He waved his hands before him with a slow, uncertain motion and an
expressive shake of the head.

"How can you expect one to remember! There were such lots of things,
such lots of things. Look you, of all that d-----d battle, if I was to
die for it this minute, I could not tell you that much--no, not even
the place where I was. I believe men get to be no better than idiots,
'pon my word I do!" And tossing off a glass of wine, he sat gloomily
silent, his vacant eyes turned inward on the dark recesses of his
memory. "All that I remember is that it was beginning to be dark when
I recovered consciousness. I went down while we were charging, and
then the sun was very high. I must have been lying there for hours, my
right leg caught under poor old Zephyr, who had received a piece of
shell in the middle of his chest. There was nothing to laugh at in my
position, I can tell you; the dead comrades lying around me in piles,
not a living soul in sight, and the certainty that I should have to
kick the bucket too unless someone came to put me on my legs again.
Gently, gently, I tried to free my leg, but it was no use; Zephyr's
weight must have been fully up to that of the five hundred thousand
devils. He was warm still. I patted him, I spoke to him, saying all
the pretty things I could think of, and here's a thing, do you see,
that I shall never forget as long as I live: he opened his eyes and
made an effort to raise his poor old head, which was resting on the
ground beside my own. Then we had a talk together: 'Poor old fellow,'
says I, 'I don't want to say a word to hurt your feelings, but you
must want to see me croak with you, you hold me down so hard.' Of
course he didn't say he did; he couldn't, but for all that I could
read in his great sorrowful eyes how bad he felt to have to part with
me. And I can't say how the thing happened, whether he intended it or
whether it was part of the death struggle, but all at once he gave
himself a great shake that sent him rolling away to one side. I was
enabled to get on my feet once more, but ah! in what a pickle; my leg
was swollen and heavy as a leg of lead. Never mind, I took Zephyr's
head in my arms and kept on talking to him, telling him all the kind
thoughts I had in my heart, that he was a good horse, that I loved him
dearly, that I should never forget him. He listened to me, he seemed
to be so pleased! Then he had another long convulsion, and so he died,
with his big vacant eyes fixed on me till the last. It is very
strange, though, and I don't suppose anyone will believe me; still, it
is the simple truth that great, big tears were standing in his eyes.
Poor old Zephyr, he cried just like a man--"

At this point Prosper's emotion got the better of him; tears choked
his utterance and he was obliged to break off. He gulped down another
glass of wine and went on with his narrative in disjointed, incomplete
sentences. It kept growing darker and darker, until there was only a
narrow streak of red light on the horizon at the verge of the
battlefield; the shadows of the dead horses seemed to be projected
across the plain to an infinite distance. The pain and stiffness in
his leg kept him from moving; he must have remained for a long time
beside Zephyr. Then, with his fears as an incentive, he had managed to
get on his feet and hobble away; it was an imperative necessity to him
not to be alone, to find comrades who would share his fears with him
and make them less. Thus from every nook and corner of the
battlefield, from hedges and ditches and clumps of bushes, the wounded
who had been left behind dragged themselves painfully in search of
companionship, forming when possible little bands of four or five,
finding it less hard to agonize and die in the company of their
fellow-beings. In the wood of la Garenne Prosper fell in with two men
of the 43d regiment; they were not wounded, but had burrowed in the
underbrush like rabbits, waiting for the coming of the night. When
they learned that he was familiar with the roads they communicated to
him their plan, which was to traverse the woods under cover of the
darkness and make their escape into Belgium. At first he declined to
share their undertaking, for he would have preferred to proceed direct
to Remilly, where he was certain to find a refuge, but where was he to
obtain the blouse and trousers that he required as a disguise? to say
nothing of the impracticability of getting past the numerous Prussian
pickets and outposts that filled the valley all the way from la
Garenne to Remilly. He therefore ended by consenting to act as guide
to the two comrades. His leg was less stiff than it had been, and they
were so fortunate as to secure a loaf of bread at a farmhouse. Nine
o'clock was striking from the church of a village in the distance as
they resumed their way. The only point where they encountered any
danger worth mentioning was at la Chapelle, where they fell directly
into the midst of a Prussian advanced post before they were aware of
it; the enemy flew to arms and blazed away into the darkness, while
they, throwing themselves on the ground and alternately crawling and
running until the fire slackened, ultimately regained the shelter of
the trees. After that they kept to the woods, observing the utmost
vigilance. At a bend in the road, they crept up behind an out-lying
picket and, leaping on his back, buried a knife in his throat. Then
the road was free before them and they no longer had to observe
precaution; they went ahead, laughing and whistling. It was about
three in the morning when they reached a little Belgian village, where
they knocked up a worthy farmer, who at once opened his barn to them;
they snuggled among the hay and slept soundly until morning.

The sun was high in the heavens when Prosper awoke. As he opened his
eyes and looked about him, while the two comrades were still snoring,
he beheld their entertainer engaged in hitching a horse to a great
carriole loaded with bread, rice, coffee, sugar, and all sorts of
eatables, the whole concealed under sacks of charcoal, and a little
questioning elicited from the good man the fact that he had two
married daughters living at Raucourt, in France, whom the passage of
the Bavarian troops had left entirely destitute, and that the
provisions in the carriole were intended for them. He had procured
that very morning the safe-conduct that was required for the journey.
Prosper was immediately seized by an uncontrollable desire to take a
seat in that carriole and return to the country that he loved so and
for which his heart was yearning with such a violent nostalgia. It was
perfectly simple; the farmer would have to pass through Remilly to
reach Raucourt; he would alight there. The matter was arranged in
three minutes; he obtained a loan of the longed-for blouse and
trousers, and the farmer gave out, wherever they stopped, that he was
his servant; so that about six o'clock he got down in front of the
church, not having been stopped more than two or three times by the
German outposts.

They were all silent for a while, then: "No, I had enough of it!" said
Prosper. "If they had but set us at work that amounted to something,
as out there in Africa! but this going up the hill only to come down
again, the feeling that one is of no earthly use to anyone, that is no
kind of a life at all. And then I should be lonely, now that poor
Zephyr is dead; all that is left me to do is to go to work on a farm.
That will be better than living among the Prussians as a prisoner,
don't you think so? You have horses, Father Fouchard; try me, and see
whether or not I will love them and take good care of them."

The old fellow's eyes gleamed, but he touched glasses once more with
the other and concluded the arrangement without any evidence of
eagerness.

"Very well; I wish to be of service to you as far as lies in my power;
I will take you. As regards the question of wages, though, you must
not speak of it until the war is over, for really I am not in need of
anyone and the times are too hard."

Silvine, who had remained seated with Charlot on her lap, had never
once taken her eyes from Prosper's face. When she saw him rise with
the intention of going to the stable and making immediate acquaintance
with its four-footed inhabitants, she again asked:

"Then you say you did not see Honore?"

The question repeated thus abruptly made him start, as if it had
suddenly cast a flood of light in upon an obscure corner of his
memory. He hesitated for a little, but finally came to a decision and
spoke.

"See here, I did not wish to grieve you just now, but I don't believe
Honore will ever come back."

"Never come back--what do you mean?"

"Yes, I believe that the Prussians did his business for him. I saw him
lying across his gun, his head erect, with a great wound just beneath
the heart."

There was silence in the room. Silvine's pallor was frightful to
behold, while Father Fouchard displayed his interest in the narrative
by replacing upon the table his glass, into which he had just poured
what wine remained in the bottle.

"Are you quite certain?" she asked in a choking voice.

"_Dame_! as certain as one can be of a thing he has seen with his own
two eyes. It was on a little hillock, with three trees in a group
right beside it; it seems to me I could go to the spot blindfolded."

If it was true she had nothing left to live for. That lad who had been
so good to her, who had forgiven her her fault, had plighted his troth
and was to marry her when he came home at the end of the campaign! and
they had robbed her of him, they had murdered him, and he was lying
out there on the battlefield with a wound under the heart! She had
never known how strong her love for him had been, and now the thought
that she was to see him no more, that he who was hers was hers no
longer, aroused her almost to a pitch of madness and made her forget
her usual tranquil resignation. She set Charlot roughly down upon the
floor, exclaiming:

"Good! I shall not believe that story until I see the evidence of it,
until I see it with my own eyes. Since you know the spot you shall
conduct me to it. And if it is true, if we find him, we will bring him
home with us."

Her tears allowed her to say no more; she bowed her head upon the
table, her frame convulsed by long-drawn, tumultuous sobs that shook
her from head to foot, while the child, not knowing what to make of
such unusual treatment at his mother's hands, also commenced to weep
violently. She caught him up and pressed him to her heart, with
distracted, stammering words:

"My poor child! my poor child!"

Consternation was depicted on old Fouchard's face. Appearances
notwithstanding, he did love his son, after a fashion of his own.
Memories of the past came back to him, of days long vanished, when his
wife was still living and Honore was a boy at school, and two big
tears appeared in his small red eyes and trickled down his old
leathery cheeks. He had not wept before in more than ten years. In the
end he grew angry at the thought of that son who was his and upon whom
he was never to set eyes again; he rapped out an oath or two.

"_Nom de Dieu!_ it is provoking all the same, to have only one boy,
and that he should be taken from you!"

When their agitation had in a measure subsided, however, Fouchard was
annoyed that Silvine still continued to talk of going to search for
Honore's body out there on the battlefield. She made no further noisy
demonstration, but harbored her purpose with the dogged silence of
despair, and he failed to recognize in her the docile, obedient
servant who was wont to perform her daily tasks without a murmur; her
great, submissive eyes, in which lay the chief beauty of her face, had
assumed an expression of stern determination, while beneath her thick
brown hair her cheeks and brow wore a pallor that was like death. She
had torn off the red kerchief that was knotted about her neck, and was
entirely in black, like a widow in her weeds. It was all in vain that
he tried to impress on her the difficulties of the undertaking, the
dangers she would be subjected to, the little hope there was of
recovering the corpse; she did not even take the trouble to answer
him, and he saw clearly that unless he seconded her in her plan she
would start out alone and do some unwise thing, and this aspect of the
case worried him on account of the complications that might arise
between him and the Prussian authorities. He therefore finally decided
to go and lay the matter before the mayor of Remilly, who was a kind
of distant cousin of his, and they two between them concocted a story:
Silvine was to pass as the actual widow of Honore, Prosper became her
brother, so that the Bavarian colonel, who had his quarters in the
Hotel of the Maltese Cross down in the lower part of the village, made
no difficulty about granting a pass which authorized the brother and
sister to bring home the body of the husband, provided they could find
it. By this time it was night; the only concession that could be
obtained from the young woman was that she would delay starting on her
expedition until morning.

When morning came old Fouchard could not be prevailed on to allow one
of his horses to be taken, fearing he might never set eyes on it
again. What assurance had he that the Prussians would not confiscate
the entire equipage? At last he consented, though with very bad grace,
to loan her the donkey, a little gray animal, and his cart, which,
though small, would be large enough to hold a dead man. He gave minute
instructions to Prosper, who had had a good night's sleep, but was
anxious and thoughtful at the prospect of the expedition now that,
being rested and refreshed, he attempted to remember something of the
battle. At the last moment Silvine went and took the counterpane from
her own bed, folding and spreading it on the floor of the cart. Just
as she was about to start she came running back to embrace Charlot.

"I entrust him to your care, Father Fouchard; keep an eye on him and
see that he doesn't get hold of the matches."

"Yes, yes; never fear!"

They were late in getting off; it was near seven o'clock when the
little procession, the donkey, hanging his head and drawing the narrow
cart, leading, descended the steep hill of Remilly. It had rained
heavily during the night, and the roads were become rivers of mud;
great lowering clouds hung in the heavens, imparting an air of
cheerless desolation to the scene.

Prosper, wishing to save all the distance he could, had determined on
taking the route that lay through the city of Sedan, but before they
reached Pont-Maugis a Prussian outpost halted the cart and held it for
over an hour, and finally, after their pass had been referred, one
after another, to four or five officials, they were told they might
resume their journey, but only on condition of taking the longer,
roundabout route by way of Bazeilles, to do which they would have to
turn into a cross-road on their left. No reason was assigned; their
object was probably to avoid adding to the crowd that encumbered the
streets of the city. When Silvine crossed the Meuse by the railroad
bridge, that ill-starred bridge that the French had failed to destroy
and which, moreover, had been the cause of such slaughter among the
Bavarians, she beheld the corpse of an artilleryman floating lazily
down with the sluggish current. It caught among some rushes near the
bank, hung there a moment, then swung clear and started afresh on its
downward way.

Bazeilles, through which they passed from end to end at a slow walk,
afforded a spectacle of ruin and desolation, the worst that war can
perpetrate when it sweeps with devastating force, like a cyclone,
through a land. The dead had been removed; there was not a single
corpse to be seen in the village streets, and the rain had washed away
the blood; pools of reddish water were to be seen here and there in
the roadway, with repulsive, frowzy-looking debris, matted masses that
one could not help associating in his mind with human hair. But what
shocked and saddened one more than all the rest was the ruin that was
visible everywhere; that charming village, only three days before so
bright and smiling, with its pretty houses standing in their well-kept
gardens, now razed, demolished, annihilated, nothing left of all its
beauties save a few smoke-stained walls. The church was burning still,
a huge pyre of smoldering beams and girders, whence streamed
continually upward a column of dense black smoke that, spreading in
the heavens, overshadowed the city like a gigantic funeral pall.
Entire streets had been swept away, not a house left on either side,
nor any trace that houses had ever been there, save the calcined
stone-work lying in the gutter in a pasty mess of soot and ashes, the
whole lost in the viscid, ink-black mud of the thoroughfare. Where
streets intersected the corner houses were razed down to their
foundations, as if they had been carried away bodily by the fiery
blast that blew there. Others had suffered less; one in particular,
owing to some chance, had escaped almost without injury, while its
neighbors on either hand, literally torn to pieces by the iron hail,
were like gaunt skeletons. An unbearable stench was everywhere,
noticeable, the nauseating odor that follows a great fire, aggravated
by the penetrating smell of petroleum, that had been used without
stint upon floors and walls. Then, too, there was the pitiful, mute
spectacle of the household goods that the people had endeavored to
save, the poor furniture that had been thrown from windows and smashed
upon the sidewalk, crazy tables with broken legs, presses with cloven
sides and split doors, linen, also, torn and soiled, that was trodden
under foot; all the sorry crumbs, the unconsidered trifles of the
pillage, of which the destruction was being completed by the
dissolving rain. Through the breach in a shattered house-front a
clock was visible, securely fastened high up on the wall above the
mantel-shelf, that had miraculously escaped intact.

"The beasts! the pigs!" growled Prosper, whose blood, though he was no
longer a soldier, ran hot at the sight of such atrocities.

He doubled his fists, and Silvine, who was white as a ghost, had to
exert the influence of her glance to calm him every time they
encountered a sentry on their way. The Bavarians had posted sentinels
near all the houses that were still burning, and it seemed as if those
men, with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets, were guarding the fires
in order that the flames might finish their work. They drove away the
mere sightseers who strolled about in the vicinity, and the persons
who had an interest there as well, employing first a menacing gesture,
and in case that was not sufficient, uttering a single brief, guttural
word of command. A young woman, her hair streaming about her
shoulders, her gown plastered with mud, persisted in hanging about the
smoking ruins of a little house, of which she desired to search the
hot ashes, notwithstanding the prohibition of the sentry. The report
ran that the woman's little baby had been burned with the house. And
all at once, as the Bavarian was roughly thrusting her aside with his
heavy hand, she turned on him, vomiting in his face all her despair
and rage, lashing him with taunts and insults that were redolent of
the gutter, with obscene words which likely afforded her some
consolation in her grief and distress. He could not have understood
her, for he drew back a pace or two, eying her with apprehension.
Three comrades came running up and relieved him of the fury, whom they
led away screaming at the top of her voice. Before the ruins of
another house a man and two little girls, all three so weary and
miserable that they could not stand, lay on the bare ground, sobbing
as if their hearts would break; they had seen their little all go up
in smoke and flame, and had no place to go, no place to lay their
head. But just then a patrol went by, dispersing the knots of idlers,
and the street again assumed its deserted aspect, peopled only by the
stern, sullen sentries, vigilant to see that their iniquitous
instructions were enforced.

"The beasts! the pigs!" Prosper repeated in a stifled voice. "How I
should like, oh! how I should like to kill a few of them!"

Silvine again made him be silent. She shuddered. A dog, shut up in a
carriage-house that the flames had spared and forgotten there for the
last two days, kept up an incessant, continuous howling, in a key so
inexpressibly mournful that a brooding horror seemed to pervade the
low, leaden sky, from which a drizzling rain had now begun to fall.
They were then just abreast of the park of Montivilliers, and there
they witnessed a most horrible sight. Three great covered carts, those
carts that pass along the streets in the early morning before it is
light and collect the city's filth and garbage, stood there in a row,
loaded with corpses; and now, instead of refuse, they were being
filled with dead, stopping wherever there was a body to be loaded,
then going on again with the heavy rumbling of their wheels to make
another stop further on, threading Bazeilles in its every nook and
corner until their hideous cargo overflowed. They were waiting now
upon the public road to be driven to the place of their discharge, the
neighboring potter's field. Feet were seen projecting from the mass
into the air. A head, half-severed from its trunk, hung over the side
of the vehicle. When the three lumbering vans started again, swaying
and jolting over the inequalities of the road, a long, white hand was
hanging outward from one of them; the hand caught upon the wheel, and
little by little the iron tire destroyed it, eating through skin and
flesh clean down to the bones.

By the time they reached Balan the rain had ceased, and Prosper
prevailed on Silvine to eat a bit of the bread he had had the
foresight to bring with them. When they were near Sedan, however, they
were brought to a halt by another Prussian post, and this time the
consequences threatened to be serious; the officer stormed at them,
and even refused to restore their pass, which he declared, in
excellent French, to be a forgery. Acting on his orders some soldiers
had run the donkey and the little cart under a shed. What were they to
do? were they to be forced to abandon their undertaking? Silvine was
in despair, when all at once she thought of M. Dubreuil, Father
Fouchard's relative, with whom she had some slight acquaintance and
whose place, the Hermitage, was only a few hundred yards distant, on
the summit of the eminence that overlooked the faubourg. Perhaps he
might have some influence with the military, seeing that he was a
citizen of the place. As they were allowed their freedom,
conditionally upon abandoning their equipage, she left the donkey and
cart under the shed and bade Prosper accompany her. They ascended the
hill on a run, found the gate of the Hermitage standing wide open, and
on turning into the avenue of secular elms beheld a spectacle that
filled them with amazement.

"The devil!" said Prosper; "there are a lot of fellows who seem to be
taking things easy!"

On the fine-crushed gravel of the terrace, at the bottom of the steps
that led to the house, was a merry company. Arranged in order around a
marble-topped table were a sofa and some easy-chairs in sky-blue
satin, forming a sort of fantastic open-air drawing-room, which must
have been thoroughly soaked by the rain of the preceding day. Two
zouaves, seated in a lounging attitude at either end of the sofa,
seemed to be laughing boisterously. A little infantryman, who occupied
one of the fauteuils, his head bent forward, was apparently holding
his sides to keep them from splitting. Three others were seated in a
negligent pose, their elbows resting on the arms of their chairs,
while a chasseur had his hand extended as if in the act of taking a
glass from the table. They had evidently discovered the location of
the cellar, and were enjoying themselves.

"But how in the world do they happen to be here?" murmured Prosper,
whose stupefaction increased as he drew nearer to them. "Have the
rascals forgotten there are Prussians about?"

But Silvine, whose eyes had dilated far beyond their natural size,
suddenly uttered an exclamation of horror. The soldiers never moved
hand or foot; they were stone dead. The two zouaves were stiff and
cold; they both had had the face shot away, the nose was gone, the
eyes were torn from their sockets. If there appeared to be a laugh on
the face of him who was holding his sides, it was because a bullet had
cut a great furrow through the lower portion of his countenance,
smashing all his teeth. The spectacle was an unimaginably horrible
one, those poor wretches laughing and conversing in their attitude of
manikins, with glassy eyes and open mouths, when Death had laid his
icy hand on them and they were never more to know the warmth and
motion of life. Had they dragged themselves, still living, to that
place, so as to die in one another's company? or was it not rather a
ghastly prank of the Prussians, who had collected the bodies and
placed them in a circle about the table, out of derision for the
traditional gayety of the French nation?

"It's a queer start, though, all the same," muttered Prosper, whose
face was very pale. And casting a look at the other dead who lay
scattered about the avenue, under the trees and on the turf, some
thirty brave fellows, among them Lieutenant Rochas, riddled with
wounds and surrounded still by the shreds of the flag, he added
seriously and with great respect: "There must have been some very
pretty fighting about here! I don't much believe we shall find the
bourgeois for whom you are looking."

Silvine entered the house, the doors and windows of which had been
battered in and afforded admission to the damp, cold air from without.
It was clear enough that there was no one there; the masters must have
taken their departure before the battle. She continued to prosecute
her search, however, and had entered the kitchen, when she gave
utterance to another cry of terror. Beneath the sink were two bodies,
fast locked in each other's arms in mortal embrace, one of them a
zouave, a handsome, brown-bearded man, the other a huge Prussian with
red hair. The teeth of the former were set in the latter's cheek,
their arms, stiff in death, had not relaxed their terrible hug,
binding the pair with such a bond of everlasting hate and fury that
ultimately it was found necessary to bury them in a common grave.

Then Prosper made haste to lead Silvine away, since they could
accomplish nothing in that house where Death had taken up his abode,
and upon their return, despairing, to the post where the donkey and
cart had been detained, it so chanced that they found, in company with
the officer who had treated them so harshly, a general on his way to
visit the battlefield. This gentleman requested to be allowed to see
the pass, which he examined attentively and restored to Silvine; then,
with an expression of compassion on his face, he gave directions that
the poor woman should have her donkey returned to her and be allowed
to go in quest of her husband's body. Stopping only long enough to
thank her benefactor, she and her companion, with the cart trundling
after them, set out for the Fond de Givonne, obedient to the
instructions that were again given them not to pass through Sedan.

After that they bent their course to the left in order to reach the
plateau of Illy by the road that crosses the wood of la Garenne, but
here again they were delayed; twenty times they nearly abandoned all
hope of getting through the wood, so numerous were the obstacles they
encountered. At every step their way was barred by huge trees that had
been laid low by the artillery fire, stretched on the ground like
mighty giants fallen. It was the part of the forest that had suffered
so severely from the cannonade, where the projectiles had plowed their
way through the secular growths as they might have done through a
square of the Old Guard, meeting in either case with the sturdy
resistance of veterans. Everywhere the earth was cumbered with
gigantic trunks, stripped of their leaves and branches, pierced and
mangled, even as mortals might have been, and this wholesale
destruction, the sight of the poor limbs, maimed, slaughtered and
weeping tears of sap, inspired the beholder with the sickening horror
of a human battlefield. There were corpses of men there, too;
soldiers, who had stood fraternally by the trees and fallen with them.
A lieutenant, from whose mouth exuded a bloody froth, had been tearing
up the grass by handfuls in his agony, and his stiffened fingers were
still buried in the ground. A little farther on a captain, prone on
his stomach, had raised his head to vent his anguish in yells and
screams, and death had caught and fixed him in that strange attitude.
Others seemed to be slumbering among the herbage, while a zouave;
whose blue sash had taken fire, had had his hair and beard burned
completely from his head. And several times it happened, as they
traversed those woodland glades, that they had to remove a body from
the path before the donkey could proceed on his way. Presently they
came to a little valley, where the sights of horror abruptly ended.
The battle had evidently turned at this point and expended its force
in another direction, leaving this peaceful nook of nature untouched.
The trees were all uninjured; the carpet of velvety moss was undefiled
by blood. A little brook coursed merrily among the duckweed, the path
that ran along its bank was shaded by tall beeches. A penetrating
charm, a tender peacefulness pervaded the solitude of the lovely spot,
where the living waters gave up their coolness to the air and the
leaves whispered softly in the silence.

Prosper had stopped to let the donkey drink from the stream.

"Ah, how pleasant it is here!" he involuntarily exclaimed in his
delight.

Silvine cast an astonished look about her, as if wondering how it was
that she, too, could feel the influence of the peaceful scene. Why
should there be repose and happiness in that hidden nook, when
surrounding it on every side were sorrow and affliction? She made a
gesture of impatience.

"Quick, quick, let us be gone. Where is the spot? Where did you tell
me you saw Honore?"

And when, at some fifty paces from there, they at last came out on the
plateau of Illy, the level plain unrolled itself in its full extent
before their vision. It was the real, the true battlefield that they
beheld now, the bare fields stretching away to the horizon under the
wan, cheerless sky, whence showers were streaming down continually.
There were no piles of dead visible; all the Prussians must have been
buried by this time, for there was not a single one to be seen among
the corpses of the French that were scattered here and there, along
the roads and in the fields, as the conflict had swayed in one
direction or another. The first that they encountered was a sergeant,
propped against a hedge, a superb man, in the bloom of his youthful
vigor; his face was tranquil and a smile seemed to rest on his parted
lips. A hundred paces further on, however, they beheld another, lying
across the road, who had been mutilated most frightfully, his head
almost entirely shot away, his shoulders covered with great splotches
of brain matter. Then, as they advanced further into the field, after
the single bodies, distributed here and there, they came across little
groups; they saw seven men aligned in single rank, kneeling and with
their muskets at the shoulder in the position of aim, who had been hit
as they were about to fire, while close beside them a subaltern had
also fallen as he was in the act of giving the word of command. After
that the road led along the brink of a little ravine, and there they
beheld a spectacle that aroused their horror to the highest pitch as
they looked down into the chasm, into which an entire company seemed
to have been blown by the fiery blast; it was choked with corpses, a
landslide, an avalanche of maimed and mutilated men, bent and twisted
in an inextricable tangle, who with convulsed fingers had caught at
the yellow clay of the bank to save themselves in their descent,
fruitlessly. And a dusky flock of ravens flew away, croaking noisily,
and swarms of flies, thousands upon thousands of them, attracted by
the odor of fresh blood, were buzzing over the bodies and returning
incessantly.

"Where is the spot?" Silvine asked again.

They were then passing a plowed field that was completely covered with
knapsacks. It was manifest that some regiment had been roughly handled
there, and the men, in a moment of panic, had relieved themselves of
their burdens. The debris of every sort with which the ground was
thickly strewn served to explain the episodes of the conflict. There
was a stubble field where the scattered _kepis_, resembling huge
poppies, shreds of uniforms, epaulettes, and sword-belts told the
story of one of those infrequent hand-to-hand contests in the fierce
artillery duel that had lasted twelve hours. But the objects that were
encountered most frequently, at every step, in fact, were abandoned
weapons, sabers, bayonets, and, more particularly, chassepots; and so
numerous were they that they seemed to have sprouted from the earth, a
harvest that had matured in a single ill-omened day. Porringers and
buckets, also, were scattered along the roads, together with the
heterogeneous contents of knapsacks, rice, brushes, clothing,
cartridges. The fields everywhere presented an uniform scene of
devastation: fences destroyed, trees blighted as if they had been
struck by lightning, the very soil itself torn by shells, compacted
and hardened by the tramp of countless feet, and so maltreated that it
seemed as if seasons must elapse before it could again become
productive. Everything had been drenched and soaked by the rain of the
preceding day; an odor arose and hung in the air persistently, that
odor of the battlefield that smells like fermenting straw and burning
cloth, a mixture of rottenness and gunpowder.

Silvine, who was beginning to weary of those fields of death over
which she had tramped so many long miles, looked about her with
increasing distrust and uneasiness.

"Where is the spot? where is it?"

But Prosper made no answer; he also was becoming uneasy. What
distressed him even more than the sights of suffering among his
fellow-soldiers was the dead horses, the poor brutes that lay
outstretched upon their side, that were met with in great numbers.
Many of them presented a most pitiful spectacle, in all sorts of
harrowing attitudes, with heads torn from the body, with lacerated
flanks from which the entrails protruded. Many were resting on their
back, with their four feet elevated in the air like signals of
distress. The entire extent of the broad plain was dotted with them.
There were some that death had not released after their two days'
agony; at the faintest sound they would raise their head, turning it
eagerly from right to left, then let it fall again upon the ground,
while others lay motionless and momentarily gave utterance to that
shrill scream which one who has heard it can never forget, the lament
of the dying horse, so piercingly mournful that earth and heaven
seemed to shudder in unison with it. And Prosper, with a bleeding
heart, thought of poor Zephyr, and told himself that perhaps he might
see him once again.

Suddenly he became aware that the ground was trembling under the
thundering hoof-beats of a headlong charge. He turned to look, and had
barely time to shout to his companion:

"The horses, the horses! Get behind that wall!"

From the summit of a neighboring eminence a hundred riderless horses,
some of them still bearing the saddle and master's kit, were plunging
down upon them at break-neck speed. They were cavalry mounts that had
lost their masters and remained on the battlefield, and instinct had
counseled them to associate together in a band. They had had neither
hay nor oats for two days, and had cropped the scanty grass from off
the plain, shorn the hedge-rows of leaves and twigs, gnawed the bark
from the trees, and when they felt the pangs of hunger pricking at
their vitals like a keen spur, they started all together at a mad
gallop and charged across the deserted, silent fields, crushing the
dead out of all human shape, extinguishing the last spark of life in
the wounded.

The band came on like a whirlwind; Silvine had only time to pull the
donkey and cart to one side where they would be protected by the wall.

"_Mon Dieu!_ we shall be killed!"

But the horses had taken the obstacle in their stride and were already
scouring away in the distance on the other side with a rumble like
that of a receding thunder-storm; striking into a sunken road they
pursued it as far as the corner of a little wood, behind which they
were lost to sight.

Silvine, when she had brought the cart back into the road, insisted
that Prosper should answer her question before they proceeded further.

"Come, where is it? You told me you could find the spot with your eyes
bandaged; where is it? We have reached the ground."

He, drawing himself up and anxiously scanning the horizon in every
direction, seemed to become more and more perplexed.

"There were three trees, I must find those three trees in the first
place. Ah, _dame_! see here, one's sight is not of the clearest when
he is fighting, and it is no such easy matter to remember afterward
the roads one has passed over!"

Then perceiving people to his left, two men and a woman, it occurred
to him to question them, but the woman ran away at his approach and
the men repulsed him with threatening gestures; and he saw others of
the same stripe, clad in sordid rags, unspeakably filthy, with the
ill-favored faces of thieves and murderers, and they all shunned him,
slinking away among the corpses like jackals or other unclean,
creeping beasts. Then he noticed that wherever these villainous gentry
passed the dead behind them were shoeless, their bare, white feet
exposed, devoid of covering, and he saw how it was: they were the
tramps and thugs who followed the German armies for the sake of
plundering the dead, the detestable crew who followed in the wake of
the invasion in order that they might reap their harvest from the
field of blood. A tall, lean fellow arose in front of him and scurried
away on a run, a sack slung across his shoulder, the watches and small
coins, proceeds of his robberies, jingling in his pockets.

A boy about fourteen or fifteen years old, however, allowed Prosper to
approach him, and when the latter, seeing him to be French, rated him
soundly, the boy spoke up in his defense. What, was it wrong for a
poor fellow to earn his living? He was collecting chassepots, and
received five sous for every chassepot he brought in. He had run away
from his village that morning, having eaten nothing since the day
before, and engaged himself to a contractor from Luxembourg, who had
an arrangement with the Prussians by virtue of which he was to gather
the muskets from the field of battle, the Germans fearing that should
the scattered arms be collected by the peasants of the frontier, they
might be conveyed into Belgium and thence find their way back to
France. And so it was that there was quite a flock of poor devils
hunting for muskets and earning their five sous, rummaging among the
herbage, like the women who may be seen in the meadows, bent nearly
double, gathering dandelions.

"It's a dirty business," Prosper growled.

"What would you have! A chap must eat," the boy replied. "I am not
robbing anyone."

Then, as he did not belong to that neighborhood and could not give the
information that Prosper wanted, he pointed out a little farmhouse not
far away where he had seen some people stirring.

Prosper thanked him and was moving away to rejoin Silvine when he
caught sight of a chassepot, partially buried in a furrow. His first
thought was to say nothing of his discovery; then he turned about
suddenly and shouted, as if he could not help it:

"Hallo! here's one; that will make five sous more for you."

As they approached the farmhouse Silvine noticed other peasants
engaged with spades and picks in digging long trenches; but these men
were under the direct command of Prussian officers, who, with nothing
more formidable than a light walking-stick in their hands, stood by,
stiff and silent, and superintended the work. They had requisitioned
the inhabitants of all the villages of the vicinity in this manner,
fearing that decomposition might be hastened, owing to the rainy
weather. Two cart-loads of dead bodies were standing near, and a gang
of men was unloading them, laying the corpses side by side in close
contiguity to one another, not searching them, not even looking at
their faces, while two men followed after, equipped with great
shovels, and covered the row with a layer of earth, so thin that the
ground had already begun to crack beneath the showers. The work was so
badly and hastily done that before two weeks should have elapsed each
of those fissures would be breathing forth pestilence. Silvine could
not resist the impulse to pause at the brink of the trench and look at
those pitiful corpses as they were brought forward, one after another.
She was possessed by a horrible fear that in each fresh body the men
brought from the cart she might recognize Honore. Was not that he,
that poor wretch whose left eye had been destroyed? No! Perhaps that
one with the fractured jaw was he? The one thing certain to her mind
was that if she did not make haste to find him, wherever he might be
on that boundless, indeterminate plateau, they would pick him up and
bury him in a common grave with the others. She therefore hurried to
rejoin Prosper, who had gone on to the farmhouse with the cart.

"_Mon Dieu!_ how is it that you are not better informed? Where is the
place? Ask the people, question them."

There were none but Prussians at the farm, however, together with a
woman servant and her child, just come in from the woods, where they
had been near perishing of thirst and hunger. The scene was one of
patriarchal simplicity and well-earned repose after the fatigues of
the last few days. Some of the soldiers had hung their uniforms from a
clothes-line and were giving them a thorough brushing, another was
putting a patch on his trousers, with great neatness and dexterity,
while the cook of the detachment had built a great fire in the middle
of the courtyard on which the soup was boiling in a huge pot from
which ascended a most appetizing odor of cabbage and bacon. There is
no denying that the Prussians generally displayed great moderation
toward the inhabitants of the country after the conquest, which was
made the easier to them by the spirit of discipline that prevailed
among the troops. These men might have been taken for peaceable
citizens just come in from their daily avocations, smoking their long
pipes. On a bench beside the door sat a stout, red-bearded man, who
had taken up the servant's child, a little urchin five or six years
old, and was dandling it and talking baby-talk to it in German,
delighted to see the little one laugh at the harsh syllables which it
could not understand.

Prosper, fearing there might be more trouble in store for them, had
turned his back on the soldiers immediately on entering, but those
Prussians were really good fellows; they smiled at the little donkey,
and did not even trouble themselves to ask for a sight of the pass.

Then ensued a wild, aimless scamper across the bosom of the great,
sinister plain. The sun, now sinking rapidly toward the horizon,
showed its face for a moment from between two clouds. Was night to
descend and surprise them in the midst of that vast charnel-house?
Another shower came down; the sun was obscured, the rain and mist
formed an impenetrable barrier about them, so that the country around,
roads, fields, trees, was shut out from their vision. Prosper knew not
where they were; he was lost, and admitted it: his memory was all
astray, he could recall nothing precise of the occurrences of that
terrible day but one before. Behind them, his head lowered almost to
the ground, the little donkey trotted along resignedly, dragging the
cart, with his customary docility. First they took a northerly course,
then they returned toward Sedan. They had lost their bearings and
could not tell in which direction they were going; twice they noticed
that they were passing localities that they had passed before and
retraced their steps. They had doubtless been traveling in a circle,
and there came a moment when in their exhaustion and despair they
stopped at a place where three roads met, without courage to pursue
their search further, the rain pelting down on them, lost and utterly
miserable in the midst of a sea of mud.

But they heard the sound of groans, and hastening to a lonely little
house on their left, found there, in one of the bedrooms, two wounded
men. All the doors were standing open; the two unfortunates had
succeeded in dragging themselves thus far and had thrown themselves on
the beds, and for the two days that they had been alternately
shivering and burning, their wounds having received no attention, they
had seen no one, not a living soul. They were tortured by a consuming
thirst, and the beating of the rain against the window-panes added to
their torment, but they could not move hand or foot. Hence, when they
heard Silvine approaching, the first word that escaped their lips was:
"Drink! Give us to drink!" that longing, pathetic cry, with which the
wounded always pursue the by-passer whenever the sound of footsteps
arouses them from their lethargy. There were many cases similar to
this, where men were overlooked in remote corners, whither they had
fled for refuge. Some were picked up even five and six days later,
when their sores were filled with maggots and their sufferings had
rendered them delirious.

When Silvine had given the wretched men a drink Prosper, who, in the
more sorely injured of the twain, had recognized a comrade of his
regiment, a chasseur d'Afrique, saw that they could not be far from
the ground over which Margueritte's division had charged, inasmuch as
the poor devil had been able to drag himself to that house. All the
information he could get from him, however, was of the vaguest; yes,
it was over that way; you turned to the left, after passing a big
field of potatoes.

Immediately she was in possession of this slender clue Silvine
insisted on starting out again. An inferior officer of the medical
department chanced to pass with a cart just then, collecting the dead;
she hailed him and notified him of the presence of the wounded men,
then, throwing the donkey's bridle across her arm, urged him along
over the muddy road, eager to reach the designated spot, beyond the
big potato field. When they had gone some distance she stopped,
yielding to her despair.

"My God, where is the place! Where can it be?"

Prosper looked about him, taxing his recollection fruitlessly.

"I told you, it is close beside the place where we made our charge. If
only I could find my poor Zephyr--"

And he cast a wistful look on the dead horses that lay around them. It
had been his secret hope, his dearest wish, during the entire time
they had been wandering over the plateau, to see his mount once more,
to bid him a last farewell.

"It ought to be somewhere in this vicinity," he suddenly said. "See!
over there to the left, there are the three trees. You see the
wheel-tracks? And, look, over yonder is a broken-down caisson. We have
found the spot; we are here at last!"

Quivering with emotion, Silvine darted forward and eagerly scanned the
faces of two corpses, two artillerymen who had fallen by the roadside.

"He is not here! He is not here! You cannot have seen aright. Yes,
that is it; some delusion must have cheated your eyes." And little by
little an air-drawn hope, a wild delight crept into her mind. "If you
were mistaken, if he should be alive! And be sure he is alive, since
he is not here!"

Suddenly she gave utterance to a low, smothered cry. She had turned,
and was standing on the very position that the battery had occupied.
The scene was most frightful, the ground torn and fissured as by an
earthquake and covered with wreckage of every description, the dead
lying as they had fallen in every imaginable attitude of horror, arms
bent and twisted, legs doubled under them, heads thrown back, the lips
parted over the white teeth as if their last breath had been expended
in shouting defiance to the foe. A corporal had died with his hands
pressed convulsively to his eyes, unable longer to endure the dread
spectacle. Some gold coins that a lieutenant carried in a belt about
his body had been spilled at the same time as his life-blood, and lay
scattered among his entrails. There were Adolphe, the driver, and the
gunner, Louis, clasped in each other's arms in a fierce embrace, their
sightless orbs starting from their sockets, mated even in death. And
there, at last, was Honore, recumbent on his disabled gun as on a bed
of honor, with the great rent in his side that had let out his young
life, his face, unmutilated and beautiful in its stern anger, still
turned defiantly toward the Prussian batteries.

"Oh! my friend," sobbed Silvine, "my friend, my friend--"

She had fallen to her knees on the damp, cold ground, her hands joined
as if in prayer, in an outburst of frantic grief. The word friend, the
only name by which it occurred to her to address him, told the story
of the tender affection she had lost in that man, so good, so loving,
who had forgiven her, had meant to make her his wife, despite the ugly
past. And now all hope was dead within her bosom, there was nothing
left to make life desirable. She had never loved another; she would
put away her love for him at the bottom of her heart and hold it
sacred there. The rain had ceased; a flock of crows that circled above
the three trees, croaking dismally, affected her like a menace of
evil. Was he to be taken from her again, her cherished dead, whom she
had recovered with such difficulty? She dragged herself along upon her
knees, and with a trembling hand brushed away the hungry flies that
were buzzing about her friend's wide-open eyes.

She caught sight of a bit of blood-stained paper between Honore's
stiffened fingers. It troubled her; she tried to gain possession of
the paper, pulling at it gently, but the dead man would not surrender
it, seemingly tightening his hold on it, guarding it so jealously that
it could not have been taken from him without tearing it in bits. It
was the letter she had written him, that he had always carried next
his heart, and that he had taken from its hiding place in the moment
of his supreme agony, as if to bid her a last farewell. It seemed so
strange, was such a revelation, that he should have died thinking of
her; when she saw what it was a profound delight filled her soul in
the midst of her affliction. Yes, surely, she would leave it with him,
the letter that was so dear to him! she would not take it from him,
since he was so bent on carrying it with him to the grave. Her tears
flowed afresh, but they were beneficent tears this time, and brought
healing and comfort with them. She arose and kissed his hands, kissed
him on the forehead, uttering meanwhile but that one word, which was
in itself a prolonged caress:

"My friend! my friend--"

Meantime the sun was declining; Prosper had gone and taken the
counterpane from the cart, and between them they raised Honore's body,
slowly, reverently, and laid it on the bed-covering, which they had
stretched upon the ground; then, first wrapping him in its folds, they
bore him to the cart. It was threatening to rain again, and they had
started on their return, forming, with the donkey, a sorrowful little
cortege on the broad bosom of the accursed plain, when a deep rumbling
as of thunder was heard in the distance. Prosper turned his head and
had only time to shout:

"The horses! the horses!"

It was the starving, abandoned cavalry mounts making another charge.
They came up this time in a deep mass across a wide, smooth field,
manes and tails streaming in the wind, froth flying from their
nostrils, and the level rays of the fiery setting sun sent the shadow
of the infuriated herd clean across the plateau. Silvine rushed
forward and planted herself before the cart, raising her arms above
her head as if her puny form might have power to check them.
Fortunately the ground fell off just at that point, causing them to
swerve to the left; otherwise they would have crushed donkey, cart,
and all to powder. The earth trembled, and their hoofs sent a volley
of clods and small stones flying through the air, one of which struck
the donkey on the head and wounded him. The last that was seen of them
they were tearing down a ravine.

"It's hunger that starts them off like that," said Prosper. "Poor
beasts!"

Silvine, having bandaged the donkey's ear with her handkerchief, took
him again by the bridle, and the mournful little procession began to
retrace its steps across the plateau, to cover the two leagues that
lay between it and Remilly. Prosper had turned and cast a look on the
dead horses, his heart heavy within him to leave the field without
having seen Zephyr.

A little below the wood of la Garenne, as they were about to turn off
to the left to take the road that they had traversed that morning,
they encountered another German post and were again obliged to exhibit
their pass. And the officer in command, instead of telling them to
avoid Sedan, ordered them to keep straight on their course and pass
through the city; otherwise they would be arrested. This was the most
recent order; it was not for them to question it. Moreover, their
journey would be shortened by a mile and a quarter, which they did not
regret, weary and foot-sore as they were.

When they were within Sedan, however, they found their progress
retarded owing to a singular cause. As soon as they had passed the
fortifications their nostrils were saluted by such a stench, they were
obliged to wade through such a mass of abominable filth, reaching
almost to their knees, as fairly turned their stomachs. The city,
where for three days a hundred thousand men had lived without the
slightest provision being made for decency or cleanliness, had become
a cesspool, a foul sewer, and this devil's broth was thickened by all
sorts of solid matter, rotting hay and straw, stable litter, and the
excreta of animals. The carcasses of the horses, too, that were
knocked on the head, skinned, and cut up in the public squares, in
full view of everyone, had their full share in contaminating the
atmosphere; the entrails lay decaying in the hot sunshine, the bones
and heads were left lying on the pavement, where they attracted swarms
of flies. Pestilence would surely break out in the city unless they
made haste to rid themselves of all that carrion, of that stratum of
impurity, which, in the Rue de Minil, the Rue Maqua, and even on the
Place Turenne, reached a depth of twelve inches. The Prussian
authorities had taken the matter up, and their placards were to be
seen posted about the city, requisitioning the inhabitants,
irrespective of rank, laborers, merchants, bourgeois, magistrates, for
the morrow; they were ordered to assemble, armed with brooms and
shovels, and apply themselves to the task, and were warned that they
would be subjected to heavy penalties if the city was not clean by
night. The President of the Tribunal had taken time by the forelock,
and might even then be seen scraping away at the pavement before his
door and loading the results of his labors upon a wheelbarrow with a
fire-shovel.

Silvine and Prosper, who had selected the Grande Rue as their route
for traversing the city, advanced but slowly through that lake of
malodorous slime. In addition to that the place was in a state of
ferment and agitation that made it necessary for them to pull up
almost at every moment. It was the time that the Prussians had
selected for searching the houses in order to unearth those soldiers,
who, determined that they would not give themselves up, had hidden
themselves away. When, at about two o'clock of the preceding day,
General de Wimpffen had returned from the chateau of Bellevue after
signing the capitulation, the report immediately began to circulate
that the surrendered troops were to be held under guard in the
peninsula of Iges until such time as arrangements could be perfected
for sending them off to Germany. Some few officers had expressed their
intention of taking advantage of that stipulation which accorded them
their liberty conditionally on their signing an agreement not to
serve again during the campaign. Only one general, so it was said,
Bourgain-Desfeuilles, alleging his rheumatism as a reason, had bound
himself by that pledge, and when, that very morning, his carriage had
driven up to the door of the Hotel of the Golden Cross and he had
taken his seat in it to leave the city, the people had hooted and
hissed him unmercifully. The operation of disarming had been going on
since break of day; the manner of its performance was, the troops
defiled by battalions on the Place Turenne, where each man deposited
his musket and bayonet on the pile, like a mountain of old iron, which
kept rising higher and higher, in a corner of the place. There was a
Prussian detachment there under the command of a young officer, a
tall, pale youth, wearing a sky-blue tunic and a cap adorned with
a cock's feather, who superintended operations with a lofty but
soldier-like air, his hands encased in white gloves. A zouave, in a
fit of insubordination, having refused to give up his chassepot, the
officer ordered that he be taken away, adding, in the same even tone
of voice: "And let him be shot forthwith!" The rest of the battalion
continued to defile with a sullen and dejected air, throwing down
their arms mechanically, as if in haste to have the ceremony ended.
But who could estimate the number of those who had disarmed themselves
voluntarily, those whose muskets lay scattered over the country, out
yonder on the field of battle? And how many, too, within the last
twenty-four hours had concealed themselves, flattering themselves with
the hope that they might escape in the confusion that reigned
everywhere! There was scarcely a house but had its crew of those
headstrong idiots who refused to respond when called on, hiding away
in corners and shamming death; the German patrols that were sent
through the city even discovered them stowed away under beds. And as
many, even after they were unearthed, stubbornly persisted in
remaining in the cellars whither they had fled for shelter, the
patrols were obliged to fire on them through the coal-holes. It was a
man-hunt, a brutal and cruel battue, during which the city resounded
with rifle-shots and outlandish oaths.

At the Pont du Meuse they found a throng which the donkey was unable
to penetrate and were brought to a stand-still. The officer commanding
the guard at the bridge, suspecting they were endeavoring to carry on
an illicit traffic in bread or meat, insisted on seeing with his own
eyes what was contained in the cart; drawing aside the covering, he
gazed for an instant on the corpse with a feeling expression, then
motioned them to go their way. Still, however, they were unable to get
forward, the crowd momentarily grew denser and denser; one of the
first detachments of French prisoners was being conducted to the
peninsula of Iges under escort of a Prussian guard. The sorry band
streamed on in long array, the men in their tattered, dirty uniforms
crowding one another, treading on one another's heels, with bowed
heads and sidelong, hang-dog looks, the dejected gait and bearing of
the vanquished to whom had been left not even so much as a knife with
which to cut their throat. The harsh, curt orders of the guard urging
them forward resounded like the cracking of a whip in the silence,
which was unbroken save for the plashing of their coarse shoes through
the semi-liquid mud. Another shower began to fall, and there could be
no more sorrowful sight than that band of disheartened soldiers,
shuffling along through the rain, like beggars and vagabonds on the
public highway.

All at once Prosper, whose heart was beating as if it would burst his
bosom with repressed sorrow and indignation, nudged Silvine and called
her attention to two soldiers who were passing at the moment. He had
recognized Maurice and Jean, trudging along with their companions,
like brothers, side by side. They were near the end of the line, and
as there was now no impediment in their way, he was enabled to keep
them in view as far as the Faubourg of Torcy, as they traversed the
level road which leads to Iges between gardens and truck farms.

"Ah!" murmured Silvine, distressed by what she had just seen, fixing
her eyes on Honore's body, "it may be that the dead have the better
part!"

Night descended while they were at Wadelincourt, and it was pitchy
dark long before they reached Remilly. Father Fouchard was greatly
surprised to behold the body of his son, for he had felt certain that
it would never be recovered. He had been attending to business during
the day, and had completed an excellent bargain; the market price for
officers' chargers was twenty francs, and he had bought three for
forty-five francs.



                                II.

The crush was so great as the column of prisoners was leaving Torcy
that Maurice, who had stopped a moment to buy some tobacco, was parted
from Jean, and with all his efforts was unable thereafter to catch up
with his regiment through the dense masses of men that filled the
road. When he at last reached the bridge that spans the canal which
intersects the peninsula of Iges at its base, he found himself in a
mixed company of chasseurs d'Afrique and troops of the infanterie de
marine.

There were two pieces of artillery stationed at the bridge, their
muzzles turned upon the interior of the peninsula; it was a place easy
of access, but from which exit would seem to be attended with some
difficulties. Immediately beyond the canal was a comfortable house,
where the Prussians had established a post, commanded by a captain,
upon which devolved the duty of receiving and guarding the prisoners.
The formalities observed were not excessive; they merely counted the
men, as if they had been sheep, as they came streaming in a huddle
across the bridge, without troubling themselves overmuch about
uniforms or organizations, after which the prisoners were free of the
fields and at liberty to select their dwelling-place wherever chance
and the road they were on might direct.

The first thing that Maurice did was to address a question to a
Bavarian officer, who was seated astride upon a chair, enjoying a
tranquil smoke.

"The 106th of the line, sir, can you tell me where I shall find it?"

Either the officer was unlike most German officers and did not
understand French, or thought it a good joke to mystify a poor devil
of a soldier. He smiled and raised his hand, indicating by his motion
that the other was to keep following the road he was pursuing.

Although Maurice had spent a good part of his life in the neighborhood
he had never before been on the peninsula; he proceeded to explore his
new surroundings, as a mariner might do when cast by a tempest on the
shore of a desolate island. He first skirted the Tour a Glaire, a very
handsome country-place, whose small park, situated as it was on the
bank of the Meuse, possessed a peculiarly attractive charm. After that
the road ran parallel with the river, of which the sluggish current
flowed on the right hand at the foot of high, steep banks. The way
from there was a gradually ascending one, until it wound around the
gentle eminence that occupied the central portion of the peninsula,
and there were abandoned quarries there and excavations in the ground,
in which a network of narrow paths had their termination. A little
further on was a mill, seated on the border of the stream. Then the
road curved and pursued a descending course until it entered the
village of Iges, which was built on the hillside and connected by
a ferry with the further shore, just opposite the rope-walk at
Saint-Albert. Last of all came meadows and cultivated fields, a broad
expanse of level, treeless country, around which the river swept in a
wide, circling bend. In vain had Maurice scrutinized every inch of
uneven ground on the hillside; all he could distinguish there was
cavalry and artillery, preparing their quarters for the night. He made
further inquiries, applying among others to a corporal of chasseurs
d'Afrique, who could give him no information. The prospect for finding
his regiment looked bad; night was coming down, and, leg-weary and
disheartened, he seated himself for a moment on a stone by the
wayside.

As he sat there, abandoning himself to the sensation of loneliness and
despair that crept over him, he beheld before him, across the Meuse,
the accursed fields where he had fought the day but one before. Bitter
memories rose to his mind, in the fading light of that day of gloom
and rain, as he surveyed the saturated, miry expanse of country that
rose from the river's bank and was lost on the horizon. The defile of
Saint-Albert, the narrow road by which the Prussians had gained their
rear, ran along the bend of the stream as far as the white cliffs of
the quarries of Montimont. The summits of the trees in the wood of la
Falizette rose in rounded, fleecy masses over the rising ground
of Seugnon. Directly before his eyes, a little to the left, was
Saint-Menges, the road from which descended by a gentle slope and
ended at the ferry; there, too, were the mamelon of Hattoy in the
center, and Illy, in the far distance, in the background, and
Fleigneux, almost hidden in its shallow vale, and Floing, less remote,
on the right. He recognized the plateau where he had spent
interminable hours among the cabbages, and the eminences that the
reserve artillery had struggled so gallantly to hold, where he had
seen Honore meet his death on his dismounted gun. And it was as if the
baleful scene were again before him with all its abominations,
steeping his mind in horror and disgust, until he was sick at heart.

The reflection that soon it would be quite dark and it would not do to
loiter there, however, caused him to resume his researches. He said to
himself that perhaps the regiment was encamped somewhere beyond the
village on the low ground, but the only ones he encountered there were
some prowlers, and he decided to make the circuit of the peninsula,
following the bend of the stream. As he was passing through a field of
potatoes he was sufficiently thoughtful to dig a few of the tubers and
put them in his pockets; they were not ripe, but he had nothing
better, for Jean, as luck would have it, had insisted on carrying both
the two loaves of bread that Delaherche had given them when they left
his house. He was somewhat surprised at the number of horses he met
with, roaming about the uncultivated lands, that fell off in an easy
descent from the central elevation to the Meuse, in the direction of
Donchery. Why should they have brought all those animals with them?
how were they to be fed? And now it was night in earnest, and quite
dark, when he came to a small piece of woods on the water's brink, in
which he was surprised to find the cent-gardes of the Emperor's
escort, providing for their creature comforts and drying themselves
before roaring fires. These gentlemen, who had a separate encampment
to themselves, had comfortable tents; their kettles were boiling
merrily, there was a milch cow tied to a tree. It did not take Maurice
long to see that he was not regarded with favor in that quarter, poor
devil of an infantryman that he was, with his ragged, mud-stained
uniform. They graciously accorded him permission to roast his potatoes
in the ashes of their fires, however, and he withdrew to the shelter
of a tree, some hundred yards away, to eat them. It was no longer
raining; the sky was clear, the stars were shining brilliantly in the
dark blue vault. He saw that he should have to spend the night in the
open air and defer his researches until the morrow. He was so utterly
used up that he could go no further; the trees would afford him some
protection in case it came on to rain again.

The strangeness of his situation, however, and the thought of his vast
prison house, open to the winds of heaven, would not let him sleep. It
had been an extremely clever move on the part of the Prussians to
select that place of confinement for the eighty thousand men who
constituted the remnant of the army of Chalons. The peninsula was
approximately three miles long by one wide, affording abundant space
for the broken fragments of the vanquished host, and Maurice could not
fail to observe that it was surrounded on every side by water, the
bend of the Meuse encircling it on the north, east and west, while on
the south, at the base, connecting the two arms of the loop at the
point where they drew together most closely, was the canal. Here alone
was an outlet, the bridge, that was defended by two guns; wherefore it
may be seen that the guarding of the camp was a comparatively easy
task, notwithstanding its great extent. He had already taken note of
the chain of sentries on the farther bank, a soldier being stationed
by the waterside at every fifty paces, with orders to fire on any man
who should attempt to escape by swimming. In the rear the different
posts were connected by patrols of uhlans, while further in the
distance, scattered over the broad fields, were the dark lines of the
Prussian regiments; a threefold living, moving wall, immuring the
captive army.

Maurice, in his sleeplessness, lay gazing with wide-open eyes into the
blackness of the night, illuminated here and there by the smoldering
watch-fires; the motionless forms of the sentinels were dimly visible
beyond the pale ribbon of the Meuse. Erect they stood, duskier spots
against the dusky shadows, beneath the faint light of the twinkling
stars, and at regular intervals their guttural call came to his ears,
a menacing watch-cry that was drowned in the hoarse murmur of the
river in the distance. At sound of those unmelodious phrases in a
foreign tongue, rising on the still air of a starlit night in the
sunny land of France, the vision of the past again rose before him:
all that he had beheld in memory an hour before, the plateau of Illy
cumbered still with dead, the accursed country round about Sedan that
had been the scene of such dire disaster; and resting on the ground in
that cool, damp corner of a wood, his head pillowed on a root, he
again yielded to the feeling of despair that had overwhelmed him the
day before while lying on Delaherche's sofa. And that which,
intensifying the suffering of his wounded pride, now harassed and
tortured him, was the question of the morrow, the feverish longing to
know how deep had been their fall, how great the wreck and ruin
sustained by their world of yesterday. The Emperor had surrendered his
sword to King William; was not, therefore, the abominable war ended?
But he recalled the remark he had heard made by two of the Bavarians
of the guard who had escorted the prisoners to Iges: "We're all in
France, we're all bound for Paris!" In his semi-somnolent, dreamy
state the vision of what was to be suddenly rose before his eyes: the
empire overturned and swept away amid a howl of universal execration,
the republic proclaimed with an outburst of patriotic fervor, while
the legend of '92 would incite men to emulate the glorious past, and,
flocking to the standards, drive from the country's soil the hated
foreigner with armies of brave volunteers. He reflected confusedly
upon all the aspects of the case, and speculations followed one
another in swift succession through his poor wearied brain: the harsh
terms imposed by the victors, the bitterness of defeat, the
determination of the vanquished to resist even to the last drop of
blood, the fate of those eighty thousand men, his companions, who were
to be captives for weeks, months, years, perhaps, first on the
peninsula and afterward in German fortresses. The foundations were
giving way, and everything was going down, down to the bottomless
depths of perdition.

The call of the sentinels, now loud, now low, seemed to sound more
faintly in his ears and to be receding in the distance, when suddenly,
as he turned on his hard couch, a shot rent the deep silence. A hollow
groan rose on the calm air of night, there was a splashing in the
water, the brief struggle of one who sinks to rise no more. It was
some poor wretch who had attempted to escape by swimming the Meuse and
had received a bullet in his brain.

The next morning Maurice was up and stirring with the sun. The sky was
cloudless; he was desirous to rejoin Jean and his other comrades of
the company with the least possible delay. For a moment he had an idea
of going to see what there was in the interior of the peninsula, then
resolved he would first complete its circuit. And on reaching the
canal his eyes were greeted with the sight of the 106th--or rather
what was left of it--a thousand men, encamped along the river bank
among some waste lands, with no protection save a row of slender
poplars. If he had only turned to the left the night before instead of
pursuing a straight course he could have been with his regiment at
once. And he noticed that almost all the line regiments were collected
along that part of the bank that extends from the Tour a Glaire to the
Chateau of Villette--another bourgeois country place, situated more in
the direction of Donchery and surrounded by a few hovels--all of them
having selected their bivouac near the bridge, sole issue from their
prison, as sheep will instinctively huddle together close to the door
of their fold, knowing that sooner or later it will be opened for
them.

Jean uttered a cry of pleasure. "Ah, so it's you, at last! I had begun
to think you were in the river."

He was there with what remained of the squad, Pache and Lapoulle,
Loubet and Chouteau. The last named had slept under doorways in Sedan
until the attention of the Prussian provost guard had finally restored
them to their regiment. The corporal, moreover, was the only surviving
officer of the company, death having taken away Sergeant Sapin,
Lieutenant Rochas and Captain Beaudoin, and although the victors had
abolished distinction of rank among the prisoners, deciding that
obedience was due to the German officers alone, the four men had,
nevertheless, rallied to him, knowing him to be a leader of prudence
and experience, upon whom they could rely in circumstances of
difficulty. Thus it was that peace and harmony reigned among them that
morning, notwithstanding the stupidity of some and the evil designs of
others. In the first place, the night before he had found them a place
to sleep in that was comparatively dry, where they had stretched
themselves on the ground, the only thing they had left in the way of
protection from the weather being the half of a shelter-tent. After
that he had managed to secure some wood and a kettle, in which Loubet
made coffee for them, the comforting warmth of which had fortified
their stomachs. The rain had ceased, the day gave promise of being
bright and warm, they had a small supply of biscuit and bacon left,
and then, as Chouteau said, it was a comfort to have no orders to
obey, to have their fill of loafing. They were prisoners, it was true,
but there was plenty of room to move about. Moreover, they would be
away from there in two or three days. Under these circumstances the
day, which was Sunday, the 4th, passed pleasantly enough.

Maurice, whose courage had returned to him now that he was with the
comrades once more, found nothing to annoy him except the Prussian
bands, which played all the afternoon beyond the canal. Toward evening
there was vocal music, and the men sang in chorus. They could be seen
outside the chain of sentries, walking to and fro in little groups and
singing solemn melodies in a loud, ringing voice in honor of the
Sabbath.

"Confound those bands!" Maurice at last impatiently exclaimed. "They
will drive me wild!"

Jean, whose nerves were less susceptible, shrugged his shoulders.

"_Dame_! they have reason to feel good; and then perhaps they think it
affords us pleasure. It hasn't been such a bad day; don't let's find
fault."

As night approached, however, the rain began to fall again. Some of
the men had taken possession of what few unoccupied houses there were
on the peninsula, others were provided with tents that they erected,
but by far the greater number, without shelter of any sort, destitute
of blankets even, were compelled to pass the night in the open air,
exposed to the pouring rain.

About one o'clock Maurice, who had been sleeping soundly as a result
of his fatigue, awoke and found himself in the middle of a miniature
lake. The trenches, swollen by the heavy downpour, had overflowed and
inundated the ground where he lay. Chouteau's and Loubet's wrath
vented itself in a volley of maledictions, while Pache shook Lapoulle,
who, unmindful of his ducking, slept through it all as if he was never
to wake again. Then Jean, remembering the row of poplars on the bank
of the canal, collected his little band and ran thither for shelter;
and there they passed the remainder of that wretched night, crouching
with their backs to the trees, their legs doubled under them, so as to
expose as little of their persons as might be to the big drops.

The next day, and the day succeeding it, the weather was truly
detestable, what with the continual showers, that came down so
copiously and at such frequent intervals that the men's clothing had
not time to dry on their backs. They were threatened with famine, too;
there was not a biscuit left in camp, and the coffee and bacon were
exhausted. During those two days, Monday and Tuesday, they existed on
potatoes that they dug in the adjacent fields, and even those
vegetables had become so scarce toward the end of the second day that
those soldiers who had money paid as high as five sous apiece for
them. It was true that the bugles sounded the call for "distribution";
the corporal had nearly run his legs off trying to be the first to
reach a great shed near the Tour a Glaire, where it was reported that
rations of bread were to be issued, but on the occasion of a first
visit he had waited there three hours and gone away empty-handed, and
on a second had become involved in a quarrel with a Bavarian. It was
well known that the French officers were themselves in deep distress
and powerless to assist their men; had the German staff driven the
vanquished army out there in the mud and rain with the intention of
letting them starve to death? Not the first step seemed to have been
taken, not an effort had been made, to provide for the subsistence of
those eighty thousand men in that hell on earth that the soldiers
subsequently christened Camp Misery, a name that the bravest of them
could never hear mentioned in later days without a shudder.

On his return from his wearisome and fruitless expedition to the shed,
Jean forgot his usual placidity and gave way to anger.

"What do they mean by calling us up when there's nothing for us? I'll
be hanged if I'll put myself out for them another time!"

And yet, whenever there was a call, he hurried off again. It was
inhuman to sound the bugles thus, merely because regulations
prescribed certain calls at certain hours, and it had another effect
that was near breaking Maurice's heart. Every time that the trumpets
sounded the French horses, that were running free on the other side of
the canal, came rushing up and dashed into the water to rejoin their
squadron, as excited at the well-known sound as they would be at the
touch of the spur; but in their exhausted condition they were swept
away by the current and few attained the shore. It was a cruel sight
to see their struggles; they were drowned in great numbers, and their
bodies, decomposing and swelling in the hot sunshine, drifted on the
bosom of the canal. As for those of them that got to land, they seemed
as if stricken with sudden madness, galloping wildly off and hiding
among the waste places of the peninsula.

"More bones for the crows to pick!" sorrowfully said Maurice,
remembering the great droves of horses that he had encountered on a
previous occasion. "If we remain here a few days we shall all be
devouring one another. Poor brutes!"

The night between Tuesday and Wednesday was most terrible of all, and
Jean, who was beginning to feel seriously alarmed for Maurice's
feverish state, made him wrap himself in an old blanket that they had
purchased from a zouave for ten francs, while he, with no protection
save his water-soaked capote, cheerfully took the drenching of the
deluge which that night pelted down without cessation. Their position
under the poplars had become untenable; it was a streaming river of
mud, the water rested in deep puddles on the surface of the saturated
ground. What was worst of all was that they had to suffer on an empty
stomach, the evening meal of the six men having consisted of two beets
which they had been compelled to eat raw, having no dry wood to make a
fire with, and the sweet taste and refreshing coolness of the
vegetables had quickly been succeeded by an intolerable burning
sensation. Some cases of dysentery had appeared among the men, caused
by fatigue, improper food and the persistent humidity of the
atmosphere. More than ten times that night did Jean stretch forth his
hand to see that Maurice had not uncovered himself in the movements of
his slumber, and thus he kept watch and ward over his friend--his back
supported by the same tree-trunk, his legs in a pool of water--with
tenderness unspeakable. Since the day that on the plateau of Illy his
comrade had carried him off in his arms and saved him from the
Prussians he had repaid the debt a hundred-fold. He stopped not to
reason on it; it was the free gift of all his being, the total
forgetfulness of self for love of the other, the finest, most
delicate, grandest exhibition of friendship possible, and that, too,
in a peasant, whose lot had always been the lowly one of a tiller of
the soil and who had never risen far above the earth, who could not
find words to express what he felt, acting purely from instinct, in
all simplicity of soul. Many a time already he had taken the food from
his mouth, as the men of the squad were wont to say; now he would have
divested himself of his skin if with it he might have covered the
other, to protect his shoulders, to warm his feet. And in the midst of
the savage egoism that surrounded them, among that aggregation of
suffering humanity whose worst appetites were inflamed and intensified
by hunger, he perhaps owed it to his complete abnegation of self that
he had preserved thus far his tranquillity of mind and his vigorous
health, for he among them all, his great strength unimpaired, alone
maintained his composure and something like a level head.

After that distressful night Jean determined to carry into execution a
plan that he had been reflecting over since the day previous.

"See here, little one, we can get nothing to eat, and everyone seems
to have forgotten us here in this beastly hole; now unless we want to
die the death of dogs, it behooves us to stir about a bit. How are
your legs?"

The sun had come out again, fortunately, and Maurice was warmed and
comforted.

"Oh, my legs are all right!"

"Then we'll start off on an exploring expedition. We've money in our
pockets, and the deuce is in it if we can't find something to buy. And
we won't bother our heads about the others; they don't deserve it. Let
them take care of themselves."

The truth was that Loubet and Chouteau had disgusted him by their
trickiness and low selfishness, stealing whatever they could lay hands
on and never dividing with their comrades, while no good was to be got
out of Lapoulle, the brute, and Pache, the sniveling devotee.

The pair, therefore, Maurice and Jean, started out by the road along
the Meuse which the former had traversed once before, on the night of
his arrival. At the Tour a Glaire the park and dwelling-house
presented a sorrowful spectacle of pillage and devastation, the trim
lawns cut up and destroyed, the trees felled, the mansion dismantled.
A ragged, dirty crew of soldiers, with hollow cheeks and eyes
preternaturally bright from fever, had taken possession of the place
and were living like beasts in the filthy chambers, not daring to
leave their quarters for a moment lest someone else might come along
and occupy them. A little further on they passed the cavalry and
artillery, encamped on the hillsides, once so conspicuous by reason of
the neatness and jauntiness of their appearance, now run to seed like
all the rest, their organization gone, demoralized by that terrible,
torturing hunger that drove the horses wild and sent the men
straggling through the fields in plundering bands. Below them, to the
right, they beheld an apparently interminable line of artillerymen and
chasseurs d'Afrique defiling slowly before the mill; the miller was
selling them flour, measuring out two handfuls into their
handkerchiefs for a franc. The prospect of the long wait that lay
before them, should they take their place at the end of the line,
determined them to pass on, in the hope that some better opportunity
would present itself at the village of Iges; but great was their
consternation when they reached it to find the little place as bare
and empty as an Algerian village through which has passed a swarm of
locusts; not a crumb, not a fragment of anything eatable, neither
bread, nor meat, nor vegetables, the wretched inhabitants utterly
destitute. General Lebrun was said to be there, closeted with the
mayor. He had been endeavoring, ineffectually, to arrange for an issue
of bonds, redeemable at the close of the war, in order to facilitate
the victualing of the troops. Money had ceased to have any value when
there was nothing that it could purchase. The day before two francs
had been paid for a biscuit, seven francs for a bottle of wine, a
small glass of brandy was twenty sous, a pipeful of tobacco ten sous.
And now officers, sword in hand, had to stand guard before the
general's house and the neighboring hovels, for bands of marauders
were constantly passing, breaking down doors and stealing even the oil
from the lamps and drinking it.

Three zouaves invited Maurice and Jean to join them. Five would do the
work more effectually than three.

"Come along. There are horses dying in plenty, and if we can but get
some dry wood--"

Then they fell to work on the miserable cabin of a poor peasant,
smashing the closet doors, tearing the thatch from the roof. Some
officers, who came up on a run, threatened them with their revolvers
and put them to flight.

Jean, who saw that the few villagers who had remained at Iges were no
better off than the soldiers, perceived he had made a mistake in
passing the mill without buying some flour.

"There may be some left; we had best go back."

But Maurice was so reduced from inanition and was beginning to suffer
so from fatigue that he left him behind in a sheltered nook among the
quarries, seated on a fragment of rock, his face turned upon the wide
horizon of Sedan. He, after waiting in line for two long hours,
finally returned with some flour wrapped in a piece of rag. And they
ate it uncooked, dipping it up in their hands, unable to devise any
other way. It was not so very bad; It had no particular flavor, only
the insipid taste of dough. Their breakfast, such as it was, did them
some good, however. They were even so fortunate as to discover a
little pool of rain-water, comparatively pure, in a hollow of a rock,
at which they quenched their thirst with great satisfaction.

But when Jean proposed that they should spend the remainder of the
afternoon there, Maurice negatived the motion with a great display of
violence.

"No, no; not here! I should be ill if I were to have that scene before
my eyes for any length of time--" With a hand that trembled he pointed
to the remote horizon, the hill of Hattoy, the plateaux of Floing and
Illy, the wood of la Garenne, those abhorred, detested fields of
slaughter and defeat. "While you were away just now I was obliged to
turn my back on it, else I should have broken out and howled with
rage. Yes, I should have howled like a dog tormented by boys--you
can't imagine how it hurts me; it drives me crazy!"

Jean looked at him in surprise; he could not understand that pride,
sensitive as a raw sore, that made defeat so bitter to him; he was
alarmed to behold in his eyes that wandering, flighty look that he had
seen there before. He affected to treat the matter lightly.

"Good! we'll seek another country; that's easy enough to do."

Then they wandered as long as daylight lasted, wherever the paths they
took conducted them. They visited the level portion of the peninsula
in the hope of finding more potatoes there, but the artillerymen had
obtained a plow and turned up the ground, and not a single potato had
escaped their sharp eyes. They retraced their steps, and again they
passed through throngs of listless, glassy-eyed, starving soldiers,
strewing the ground with their debilitated forms, falling by hundreds
in the bright sunshine from sheer exhaustion. They were themselves
many times overcome by fatigue and forced to sit down and rest; then
their deep-seated sensation of suffering would bring them to their
feet again and they would recommence their wandering, like animals
impelled by instinct to move on perpetually in quest of pasturage. It
seemed to them to last for years, and yet the moments sped by rapidly.
In the more inland region, over Donchery way, they received a fright
from the horses and sought the protection of a wall, where they
remained a long time, too exhausted to rise, watching with vague,
lack-luster eyes the wild course of the crazed beasts as they raced
athwart the red western sky where the sun was sinking.

As Maurice had foreseen, the thousands of horses that shared the
captivity of the army, and for which it was impossible to provide
forage, constituted a peril that grew greater day by day. At first
they had nibbled the vegetation and gnawed the bark off trees, then
had attacked the fences and whatever wooden structures they came
across, and now they seemed ready to devour one another. It was a
frequent occurrence to see one of them throw himself upon another and
tear out great tufts from his mane or tail, which he would grind
between his teeth, slavering meanwhile at the mouth profusely. But it
was at night that they became most terrible, as if they were visited
by visions of terror in the darkness. They collected in droves, and,
attracted by the straw, made furious rushes upon what few tents there
were, overturning and demolishing them. It was to no purpose that the
men built great fires to keep them away; the device only served to
madden them the more. Their shrill cries were so full of anguish, so
dreadful to the ear, that they might have been mistaken for the howls
of wild beasts. Were they driven away, they returned, more numerous
and fiercer than before. Scarce a moment passed but out in the
darkness could be heard the shriek of anguish of some unfortunate
soldier whom the crazed beasts had crushed in their wild stampede.

The sun was still above the horizon when Jean and Maurice, on their
way back to the camp, were astonished by meeting with the four men of
the squad, lurking in a ditch, apparently for no good purpose. Loubet
hailed them at once, and Chouteau constituted himself spokesman:

"We are considering ways and means for dining this evening. We shall
die if we go on this way; it is thirty-six hours since we have had
anything to put in our stomach--so, as there are horses plenty, and
horse-meat isn't such bad eating--"

"You'll join us, won't you, corporal?" said Loubet, interrupting,
"for, with such a big, strong animal to handle, the more of us there
are the better it will be. See, there is one, off yonder, that we've
been keeping an eye on for the last hour; that big bay that is in such
a bad way. He'll be all the easier to finish."

And he pointed to a horse that was dying of starvation, on the edge of
what had once been a field of beets. He had fallen on his flank, and
every now and then would raise his head and look about him pleadingly,
with a deep inhalation that sounded like a sigh.

"Ah, how long we have to wait!" grumbled Lapoulle, who was suffering
torment from his fierce appetite. "I'll go and kill him--shall I?"

But Loubet stopped him. Much obliged! and have the Prussians down on
them, who had given notice that death would be the penalty for killing
a horse, fearing that the carcass would breed a pestilence. They must
wait until it was dark. And that was the reason why the four men were
lurking in the ditch, waiting, with glistening, hungry eyes fixed on
the dying brute.

"Corporal," asked Pache, in a voice that faltered a little, "you have
lots of ideas in your head; couldn't you kill him painlessly?"

Jean refused the cruel task with a gesture of disgust. What, kill that
poor beast that was even then in its death agony! oh, no, no! His
first impulse had been to fly and take Maurice with him, that neither
of them might be concerned in the revolting butchery; but looking at
his companion and beholding him so pale and faint, he reproached
himself for such an excess of sensibility. What were animals created
for after all, _mon Dieu_, unless to afford sustenance to man! They
could not allow themselves to starve when there was food within reach.
And it rejoiced him to see Maurice cheer up a little at the prospect
of eating; he said in his easy, good-natured way:

"Faith, you're wrong there; I've no ideas in my head, and if he has
got to be killed without pain--"

"Oh! that's all one to me," interrupted Lapoulle. "I'll show you."

The two newcomers seated themselves in the ditch and joined the others
in their expectancy. Now and again one of the men would rise and make
certain that the horse was still there, its neck outstretched to catch
the cool exhalations of the Meuse and the last rays of the setting
sun, as if bidding farewell to life. And when at last twilight crept
slowly o'er the scene the six men were erect upon their feet,
impatient that night was so tardy in its coming, casting furtive,
frightened looks about them to see they were not observed.

"Ah, _zut_!" exclaimed Chouteau, "the time is come!"

Objects were still discernible in the fields by the uncertain,
mysterious light "between dog and wolf," and Lapoulle went forward
first, followed by the five others. He had taken from the ditch a
large, rounded boulder, and, with it in his two brawny hands, rushing
upon the horse, commenced to batter at his skull as with a club. At
the second blow, however, the horse, stung by the pain, attempted to
get on his feet. Chouteau and Loubet had thrown themselves across his
legs and were endeavoring to hold him down, shouting to the others to
help them. The poor brute's cries were almost human in their accent of
terror and distress; he struggled desperately to shake off his
assailants, and would have broken them like a reed had he not been
half dead with inanition. The movements of his head prevented the
blows from taking effect; Lapoulle was unable to despatch him.

"_Nom de Dieu!_ how hard his bones are! Hold him, somebody, until I
finish him."

Jean and Maurice stood looking at the scene in silent horror; they
heard not Chouteau's appeals for assistance; were powerless to raise a
hand. And Pache, in a sudden outburst of piety and pity, dropped on
his knees, joined his hands, and began to mumble the prayers that are
repeated at the bedside of the dying.

"Merciful God, have pity on him. Let him, good Lord, depart in
peace--"

Again Lapoulle struck ineffectually, with no other effect than to
destroy an ear of the wretched creature, that threw back its head and
gave utterance to a loud, shrill scream.

"Hold on!" growled Chouteau; "this won't do; he'll get us all in the
lockup. We must end the matter. Hold him fast, Loubet."

He took from his pocket a penknife, a small affair of which the blade
was scarcely longer than a man's finger, and casting himself prone on
the animal's body and passing an arm about its neck, began to hack
away at the live flesh, cutting away great morsels, until he found and
severed the artery. He leaped quickly to one side; the blood spurted
forth in a torrent, as when the plug is removed from a fountain, while
the feet stirred feebly and convulsive movements ran along the skin,
succeeding one another like waves of the sea. It was near five minutes
before the horse was dead. His great eyes, dilated wide and filled
with melancholy and affright, were fixed upon the wan-visaged men who
stood waiting for him to die; then they grew dim and the light died
from out them.

"Merciful God," muttered Pache, still on his knees, "keep him in thy
holy protection--succor him, Lord, and grant him eternal rest."

Afterward, when the creature's movements had ceased, they were at a
loss to know where the best cut lay and how they were to get at it.
Loubet, who was something of a Jack-of-all-trades, showed them what
was to be done in order to secure the loin, but as he was a tyro at
the butchering business and, moreover, had only his small penknife to
work with, he quickly lost his way amid the warm, quivering flesh. And
Lapoulle, in his impatience, having attempted to be of assistance by
making an incision in the belly, for which there was no necessity
whatever, the scene of bloodshed became truly sickening. They wallowed
in the gore and entrails that covered the ground about them, like a
pack of ravening wolves collected around the carcass of their prey,
fleshing their keen fangs in it.

"I don't know what cut that may be," Loubet said at last, rising to
his feet with a huge lump of meat in his hands, "but by the time we've
eaten it, I don't believe any of us will be hungry."

Jean and Maurice had averted their eyes in horror from the disgusting
spectacle; still, however, the pangs of hunger were gnawing at their
vitals, and when the band slunk rapidly away, so as not to be caught
in the vicinity of the incriminating carcass, they followed it.
Chouteau had discovered three large beets, that had somehow been
overlooked by previous visitors to the field, and carried them off
with him. Loubet had loaded the meat on Lapoulle's shoulders so as to
have his own arms free, while Pache carried the kettle that belonged
to the squad, which they had brought with them on the chance of
finding something to cook in it. And the six men ran as if their lives
were at stake, never stopping to take breath, as if they heard the
pursuers at their heels.

Suddenly Loubet brought the others to a halt.

"It's idiotic to run like this; let's decide where we shall go to cook
the stuff."

Jean, who was beginning to recover his self-possession, proposed the
quarries. They were only three hundred yards distant, and in them were
secret recesses in abundance where they could kindle a fire without
being seen. When they reached the spot, however, difficulties of every
description presented themselves. First, there was the question of
wood; fortunately a laborer, who had been repairing the road, had gone
home and left his wheelbarrow behind him; Lapoulle quickly reduced it
to fragments with the heel of his boot. Then there was no water to be
had that was fit to drink; the hot sunshine had dried up all the pools
of rain-water. True there was a pump at the Tour a Glaire, but that
was too far away, and besides it was never accessible before midnight;
the men forming in long lines with their bowls and porringers, only
too happy when, after waiting for hours, they could escape from the
jam with their supply of the precious fluid unspilled. As for the few
wells in the neighborhood, they had been dry for the last two days,
and the bucket brought up nothing save mud and slime. Their sole
resource appeared to be the water of the Meuse, which was parted from
them by the road.

"I'll take the kettle and go and fill it," said Jean.

The others objected.

"No, no! We don't want to be poisoned; it is full of dead bodies!"

They spoke the truth. The Meuse was constantly bringing down corpses
of men and horses; they could be seen floating with the current at any
moment of the day, swollen and of a greenish hue, in the early stages
of decomposition. Often they were caught in the weeds and bushes on
the bank, where they remained to poison the atmosphere, swinging to
the tide with a gentle, tremulous motion that imparted to them a
semblance of life. Nearly every soldier who had drunk that abominable
water had suffered from nausea and colic, often succeeded afterward by
dysentery. It seemed as if they must make up their mind to use it,
however, as there was no other; Maurice explained that there would be
no danger in drinking it after it was boiled.

"Very well, then; I'll go," said Jean. And he started, taking Lapoulle
with him to carry the kettle.

By the time they got the kettle filled and on the fire it was quite
dark. Loubet had peeled the beets and thrown them into the water to
cook--a feast fit for the gods, he declared it would be--and fed the
fire with fragments of the wheelbarrow, for they were all suffering so
from hunger that they could have eaten the meat before the pot began
to boil. Their huge shadows danced fantastically in the firelight on
the rocky walls of the quarry. Then they found it impossible longer to
restrain their appetite, and threw themselves upon the unclean mess,
tearing the flesh with eager, trembling fingers and dividing it among
them, too impatient even to make use of the knife. But, famishing as
they were, their stomachs revolted; they felt the want of salt, they
could not swallow that tasteless, sickening broth, those chunks of
half-cooked, viscid meat that had a taste like clay. Some among them
had a fit of vomiting. Pache was very ill. Chouteau and Loubet heaped
maledictions on that infernal old nag, that had caused them such
trouble to get him to the pot and then given them the colic. Lapoulle
was the only one among them who ate abundantly, but he was in a very
bad way that night when, with his three comrades, he returned to their
resting-place under the poplars by the canal.

On their way back to camp Maurice, without uttering a word, took
advantage of the darkness to seize Jean by the arm and drag him into a
by-path. Their comrades inspired him with unconquerable disgust; he
thought he should like to go and sleep in the little wood where he had
spent his first night on the peninsula. It was a good idea, and Jean
commended it highly when he had laid himself down on the warm, dry
ground, under the shelter of the dense foliage. They remained there
until the sun was high in the heavens, and enjoyed a sound, refreshing
slumber, which restored to them something of their strength.

The following day was Thursday, but they had ceased to note the days;
they were simply glad to observe that the weather seemed to be coming
off fine again. Jean overcame Maurice's repugnance and prevailed on
him to return to the canal, to see if their regiment was not to move
that day. Not a day passed now but detachments of prisoners, a
thousand to twelve hundred strong, were sent off to the fortresses in
Germany. The day but one before they had seen, drawn up in front of
the Prussian headquarters, a column of officers of various grades, who
were going to Pont-a-Mousson, there to take the railway. Everyone was
possessed with a wild, feverish longing to get away from that camp
where they had seen such suffering. Ah! if it but might be their turn!
And when they found the 106th still encamped on the bank of the canal,
in the inevitable disorder consequent upon such distress, their
courage failed them and they despaired.

Jean and Maurice that day thought they saw a prospect of obtaining
something to eat. All the morning a lively traffic had been going on
between the prisoners and the Bavarians on the other side of the
canal; the former would wrap their money in a handkerchief and toss it
across to the opposite shore, the latter would return the handkerchief
with a loaf of coarse brown bread, or a plug of their common, damp
tobacco. Even soldiers who had no money were not debarred from
participating in this commerce, employing, instead of currency, their
white uniform gloves, for which the Germans appeared to have a
weakness. For two hours packages were flying across the canal in its
entire length under this primitive system of exchanges. But when
Maurice dispatched his cravat with a five-franc piece tied in it to
the other bank, the Bavarian who was to return him a loaf of bread
gave it, whether from awkwardness or malice, such an ineffectual toss
that it fell in the water. The incident elicited shouts of laughter
from the Germans. Twice again Maurice repeated the experiment, and
twice his loaf went to feed the fishes. At last the Prussian officers,
attracted by the uproar, came running up and prohibited their men from
selling anything to the prisoners, threatening them with dire
penalties and punishments in case of disobedience. The traffic came to
a sudden end, and Jean had hard work to pacify Maurice, who shook his
fists at the scamps, shouting to them to give him back his five-franc
pieces.

This was another terrible day, notwithstanding the warm, bright
sunshine. Twice the bugle sounded and sent Jean hurrying off to the
shed whence rations were supposed to be issued, but on each occasion
he only got his toes trod on and his ribs racked in the crush. The
Prussians, whose organization was so wonderfully complete, continued
to manifest the same brutal inattention to the necessities of the
vanquished army. On the representations of Generals Douay and Lebrun,
they had indeed sent in a few sheep as well as some wagon-loads of
bread, but so little care was taken to guard them that the sheep were
carried off bodily and the wagons pillaged as soon as they reached the
bridge, the consequence of which was that the troops who were encamped
a hundred yards further on were no better off than before; it was only
the worst element, the plunderers and bummers, who benefited by the
provision trains. And thereon Jean, who, as he said, saw how the trick
was done, brought Maurice with him to the bridge to keep an eye on the
victuals.

It was four o'clock, and they had not had a morsel to eat all that
beautiful bright Thursday, when suddenly their eyes were gladdened by
the sight of Delaherche. A few among the citizens of Sedan had with
infinite difficulty obtained permission to visit the prisoners, to
whom they carried provisions, and Maurice had on several occasions
expressed his surprise at his failure to receive any tidings of his
sister. As soon as they recognized Delaherche in the distance,
carrying a large basket and with a loaf of bread under either arm,
they darted forward fast as their legs could carry them, but even thus
they were too late; a crowding, jostling mob closed in, and in the
confusion the dazed manufacturer was relieved of his basket and one of
his loaves, which vanished from his sight so expeditiously that he was
never able to tell the manner of their disappearance.

"Ah, my poor friends!" he stammered, utterly crestfallen in his
bewilderment and stupefaction, he who but a moment before had
come through the gate with a smile on his lips and an air of
good-fellowship, magnanimously forgetting his superior advantages in
his desire for popularity.

Jean had taken possession of the remaining loaf and saved it from the
hungry crew, and while he and Maurice, seated by the roadside, were
making great inroads in it, Delaherche opened his budget of news for
their benefit. His wife, the Lord be praised! was very well, but he
was greatly alarmed for the colonel, who had sunk into a condition of
deep prostration, although his mother continued to bear him company
from morning until night.

"And my sister?" Maurice inquired.

"Ah, yes! your sister; true. She insisted on coming with me; it was
she who brought the two loaves of bread. She had to remain over
yonder, though, on the other side of the canal; the sentries wouldn't
let her pass the gate. You know the Prussians have strictly prohibited
the presence of women in the peninsula."

Then he spoke of Henriette, and of her fruitless attempts to see her
brother and come to his assistance. Once in Sedan chance had brought
her face to face with Cousin Gunther, the man who was captain in the
Prussian Guards. He had passed her with his haughty, supercilious air,
pretending not to recognize her. She, also, with a sensation of
loathing, as if she were in the presence of one of her husband's
murderers, had hurried on with quickened steps; then, with a sudden
change of purpose for which she could not account, had turned back and
told him all the manner of Weiss's death, in harsh accents of
reproach. And he, thus learning how horribly a relative had met his
fate, had taken the matter coolly; it was the fortune of war; the same
thing might have happened to himself. His face, rendered stoically
impassive by the discipline of the soldier, had barely betrayed the
faintest evidence of interest. After that, when she informed him that
her brother was a prisoner and besought him to use his influence to
obtain for her an opportunity of seeing him, he had excused himself on
the ground that he was powerless in the matter; the instructions were
explicit and might not be disobeyed. He appeared to place the
regimental orderly book on a par with the Bible. She left him with the
clearly defined impression that he believed he was in the country for
the sole purpose of sitting in judgment on the French people, with all
the intolerance and arrogance of the hereditary enemy, swollen by his
personal hatred for the nation whom it had devolved on him to
chastise.

"And now," said Delaherche in conclusion, "you won't have to go to bed
supperless to-night; you have had a little something to eat. The worst
is that I am afraid I shall not be able to secure another pass."

He asked them if there was anything he could do for them outside, and
obligingly consented to take charge of some pencil-written letters
confided to him by other soldiers, for the Bavarians had more than
once been seen to laugh as they lighted their pipes with missives
which they had promised to forward. Then, when Jean and Maurice had
accompanied him to the gate, he exclaimed:

"Look! over yonder, there's Henriette! Don't you see her waving her
handkerchief?"

True enough, among the crowd beyond the line of sentinels they
distinguished a little, thin, pale face, a white dot that trembled in
the sunshine. Both were deeply affected, and, with moist eyes, raising
their hands above their head, answered her salutation by waving them
frantically in the air.

The following day was Friday, and it was then that Maurice felt that
his cup of horror was full to overflowing. After another night of
tranquil slumber in the little wood he was so fortunate as to secure
another meal, Jean having come across an old woman at the Chateau of
Villette who was selling bread at ten francs the pound. But that day
they witnessed a spectacle of which the horror remained imprinted on
their minds for many weeks and months.

The day before Chouteau had noticed that Pache had ceased complaining
and was going about with a careless, satisfied air, as a man might do
who had dined well. He immediately jumped at the conclusion that the
sly fox must have a concealed treasure somewhere, the more so that he
had seen him absent himself for near an hour that morning and come
back with a smile lurking on his face and his mouth filled with
unswallowed food. It must be that he had had a windfall, had probably
joined some marauding party and laid in a stock of provisions. And
Chouteau labored with Loubet and Lapoulle to stir up bad feeling
against the comrade, with the latter more particularly. _Hein!_ wasn't
he a dirty dog, if he had something to eat, not to go snacks with the
comrades! He ought to have a lesson that he would remember, for his
selfishness.

"To-night we'll keep a watch on him, don't you see. We'll learn
whether he dares to stuff himself on the sly, when so many poor devils
are starving all around him."

"Yes, yes, that's the talk! we'll follow him," Lapoulle angrily
declared. "We'll see about it!"

He doubled his fists; he was like a crazy man whenever the subject of
eating was mentioned in his presence. His enormous appetite caused him
to suffer more than the others; his torment at times was such that he
had been known to stuff his mouth with grass. For more than thirty-six
hours, since the night when they had supped on horseflesh and he had
contracted a terrible dysentery in consequence, he had been without
food, for he was so little able to look out for himself that,
notwithstanding his bovine strength, whenever he joined the others in
a marauding raid he never got his share of the booty. He would have
been willing to give his blood for a pound of bread.

As it was beginning to be dark Pache stealthily made his way to the
Tour a Glaire and slipped into the park, while the three others
cautiously followed him at a distance.

"It won't do to let him suspect anything," said Chouteau. "Be on your
guard in case he should look around."

But when he had advanced another hundred paces Pache evidently had no
idea there was anyone near, for he began to hurry forward at a swift
gait, not so much as casting a look behind. They had no difficulty in
tracking him to the adjacent quarries, where they fell on him as he
was in the act of removing two great flat stones, to take from the
cavity beneath part of a loaf of bread. It was the last of his store;
he had enough left for one more meal.

"You dirty, sniveling priest's whelp!" roared Lapoulle, "so that is
why you sneak away from us! Give me that; it's my share!"

Why should he give his bread? Weak and puny as he was, his slight form
dilated with anger, while he clutched the loaf against his bosom with
all the strength he could master. For he also was hungry.

"Let me alone. It's mine."

Then, at sight of Lapoulle's raised fist, he broke away and ran,
sliding down the steep banks of the quarries, making his way across
the bare fields in the direction of Donchery, the three others after
him in hot pursuit. He gained on them, however, being lighter than
they, and possessed by such overmastering fear, so determined to hold
on to what was his property, that his speed seemed to rival the wind.
He had already covered more than half a mile and was approaching the
little wood on the margin of the stream when he encountered Jean and
Maurice, who were on their way back to their resting-place for the
night. He addressed them an appealing, distressful cry as he passed;
while they, astounded by the wild hunt that went fleeting by, stood
motionless at the edge of a field, and thus it was that they beheld
the ensuing tragedy.

As luck would have it, Pache tripped over a stone and fell. In an
instant the others were on top of him--shouting, swearing, their
passion roused to such a pitch of frenzy that they were like wolves
that had run down their prey.

"Give me that," yelled Lapoulle, "or by G-d I'll kill you!"

And he had raised his fist again when Chouteau, taking from his pocket
the penknife with which he had slaughtered the horse and opening it,
placed it in his hand.

"Here, take it! the knife!"

But Jean meantime had come hurrying up, desirous to prevent the
mischief he saw brewing, losing his wits like the rest of them,
indiscreetly speaking of putting them all in the guardhouse; whereon
Loubet, with an ugly laugh, told him he must be a Prussian, since they
had no longer any commanders, and the Prussians were the only ones who
issued orders.

"_Nom de Dieu!_" Lapoulle repeated, "will you give me that?"

Despite the terror that blanched his cheeks Pache hugged the bread
more closely to his bosom, with the obstinacy of the peasant who never
cedes a jot or tittle of that which is his.

"No!"

Then in a second all was over; the brute drove the knife into the
other's throat with such violence that the wretched man did not even
utter a cry. His arms relaxed, the bread fell to the ground, into the
pool of blood that had spurted from the wound.

At sight of the imbecile, uncalled-for murder, Maurice, who had until
then been a silent spectator of the scene, appeared as if stricken by
a sudden fit of madness. He raved and gesticulated, shaking his fist
in the face of the three men and calling them murderers, assassins,
with a violence that shook his frame from head to foot. But Lapoulle
seemed not even to hear him. Squatted on the ground beside the corpse,
he was devouring the bloodstained bread, an expression of stupid
ferocity on his face, with a loud grinding of his great jaws, while
Chouteau and Loubet, seeing him thus terrible in the gratification of
his wild-beast appetite, did not even dare claim their portion.

By this time night had fallen, a pleasant night with a clear sky
thick-set with stars, and Maurice and Jean, who had regained the
shelter of their little wood, presently perceived Lapoulle wandering
up and down the river bank. The two others had vanished, had doubtless
returned to the encampment by the canal, their mind troubled by reason
of the corpse they left behind them. He, on the other hand, seemed to
dread going to rejoin the comrades. When he was more himself and his
brutish, sluggish intellect showed him the full extent of his crime,
he had evidently experienced a twinge of anguish that made motion a
necessity, and not daring to return to the interior of the peninsula,
where he would have to face the body of his victim, had sought the
bank of the stream, where he was now tramping to and fro with uneven,
faltering steps. What was going on within the recesses of that
darkened mind that guided the actions of that creature, so degraded as
to be scarce higher than the animal? Was it the awakening of remorse?
or only the fear lest his crime might be discovered? He could not
remain there; he paced his beat as a wild beast shambles up and down
its cage, with a sudden and ever-increasing longing to fly, a longing
that ached and pained like a physical hurt, from which he felt he
should die, could he do nothing to satisfy it. Quick, quick, he
must fly, must fly at once, from that prison where he had slain a
fellow-being. And yet, the coward in him, it may be, gaining the
supremacy, he threw himself on the ground, and for a long time lay
crouched among the herbage.

And Maurice said to Jean in his horror and disgust:

"See here, I cannot remain longer in this place; I tell you plainly I
should go mad. I am surprised that the physical part of me holds out
as it does; my bodily health is not so bad, but the mind is going;
yes! it is going, I am certain of it. If you leave me another day in
this hell I am lost. I beg you, let us go away, let us start at once!"

And he went on to propound the wildest schemes for getting away. They
would swim the Meuse, would cast themselves on the sentries and
strangle them with a cord he had in his pocket, or would beat out
their brains with rocks, or would buy them over with the money they
had left and don their uniform to pass through the Prussian lines.

"My dear boy, be silent!" Jean sadly answered; "it frightens me to
hear you talk so wildly. Is there any reason in what you say, are any
of your plans feasible? Wait; to-morrow we'll see about it. Be
silent!"

He, although his heart, no less than his friend's, was wrung by the
horrors that surrounded them on every side, had preserved his mental
balance amid the debilitating effects of famine, among the grisly
visions of that existence than which none could approach more nearly
the depth of human misery. And as his companion's frenzy continued to
increase and he talked of casting himself into the Meuse, he was
obliged to restrain him, even to the point of using violence, scolding
and supplicating, tears standing in his eyes. Then suddenly he said:

"See! look there!"

A splash was heard coming from the river, and they saw it was
Lapoulle, who had finally decided to attempt to escape by the stream,
first removing his capote in order that it might not hinder his
movements; and his white shirt made a spot of brightness that was
distinctly visible upon the dusky bosom of the moving water. He was
swimming up-stream with a leisurely movement, doubtless on the lookout
for a place where he might land with safety, while on the opposite
shore there was no difficulty in discerning the shadowy forms of the
sentries, erect and motionless in the semi-obscurity. There came a
sudden flash that tore the black veil of night, a report that went
with bellowing echoes and spent itself among the rocks of Montimont.
The water boiled and bubbled for an instant, as it does under the wild
efforts of an unpracticed oarsman. And that was all; Lapoulle's body,
the white spot on the dusky stream, floated away, lifeless, upon the
tide.

The next day, which was Saturday, Jean aroused Maurice as soon as it
was day and they returned to the camp of the 106th, with the hope that
they might move that day, but there were no orders; it seemed as
though the regiment's existence were forgotten. Many of the troops had
been sent away, the peninsula was being depopulated, and sickness was
terribly prevalent among those who were left behind. For eight long
days disease had been germinating in that hell on earth; the rains had
ceased, but the blazing, scorching sunlight had only wrought a change
of evils. The excessive heat completed the exhaustion of the men and
gave to the numerous cases of dysentery an alarmingly epidemic
character. The excreta of that army of sick poisoned the air with
their noxious emanations. No one could approach the Meuse or the
canal, owing to the overpowering stench that rose from the bodies of
drowned soldiers and horses that lay festering among the weeds. And
the horses, that dropped in the fields from inanition, were
decomposing so rapidly and forming such a fruitful source of
pestilence that the Prussians, commencing to be alarmed on their own
account, had provided picks and shovels and forced the prisoners to
bury them.

That day, however, was the last on which they suffered from famine. As
their numbers were so greatly reduced and provisions kept pouring in
from every quarter, they passed at a single bound from the extreme of
destitution to the most abundant plenty. Bread, meat, and wine, even,
were to be had without stint; eating went on from morning till night,
until they were ready to drop. Darkness descended, and they were
eating still; in some quarters the gorging was continued until the
next morning. To many it proved fatal.

That whole day Jean made it his sole business to keep watch over
Maurice, who he saw was ripe for some rash action. He had been
drinking; he spoke of his intention of cuffing a Prussian officer in
order that he might be sent away. And at night Jean, having discovered
an unoccupied corner in the cellar of one of the outbuildings at the
Tour a Glaire, thought it advisable to go and sleep there with his
companion, thinking that a good night's rest would do him good, but it
turned out to be the worst night in all their experience, a night of
terror during which neither of them closed an eye. The cellar was
inhabited by other soldiers; lying in the same corner were two who
were dying of dysentery, and as soon as it was fairly dark they
commenced to relieve their sufferings by moans and inarticulate cries,
a hideous death-rattle that went on uninterruptedly until morning.
These sounds finally became so horrific there in the intense darkness,
that the others who were resting there, wishing to sleep, allowed
their anger to get the better of them and shouted to the dying men to
be silent. They did not hear; the rattle went on, drowning all other
sounds, while from without came the drunken clamor of those who were
eating and drinking still, with insatiable appetite.

Then commenced for Maurice a period of agony unspeakable. He would
have fled from the awful sounds that brought the cold sweat of anguish
in great drops to his brow, but when he arose and attempted to grope
his way out he trod on the limbs of those extended there, and finally
fell to the ground, a living man immured there in the darkness with
the dying. He made no further effort to escape from this last trial.
The entire frightful disaster arose before his mind, from the time of
their departure from Rheims to the crushing defeat of Sedan. It seemed
to him that in that night, in the inky blackness of that cellar, where
the groans of two dying soldiers drove sleep from the eyelids of their
comrades, the ordeal of the army of Chalons had reached its climax. At
each of the stations of its passion the army of despair, the expiatory
band, driven forward to the sacrifice, had spent its life-blood in
atonement for the faults of others; and now, unhonored amid disaster,
covered with contumely, it was enduring martyrdom in that cruel
scourging, the severity of which it had done nothing to deserve. He
felt it was too much; he was heartsick with rage and grief, hungering
for justice, burning with a fierce desire to be avenged on destiny.

When daylight appeared one of the soldiers was dead, the other was
lingering on in protracted agony.

"Come along, little one," Jean gently said; "we'll go and get a breath
of fresh air; it will do us good."

But when the pair emerged into the pure, warm morning air and,
pursuing the river bank, were near the village of Iges, Maurice grew
flightier still, and extending his hand toward the vast expanse of
sunlit battlefield, the plateau of Illy in front of them, Saint-Menges
to the left, the wood of la Garenne to the right, he cried:

"No, I cannot, I cannot bear to look on it! The sight pierces my heart
and drives me mad. Take me away, oh! take me away, at once, at once!"

It was Sunday once more; the bells were pealing from the steeples of
Sedan, while the music of a German military band floated on the air in
the distance. There were still no orders for their regiment to move,
and Jean, alarmed to see Maurice's deliriousness increasing,
determined to attempt the execution of a plan that he had been
maturing in his mind for the last twenty-four hours. On the road
before the tents of the Prussians another regiment, the 5th of the
line, was drawn up in readiness for departure. Great confusion
prevailed in the column, and an officer, whose knowledge of the French
language was imperfect, had been unable to complete the roster of the
prisoners. Then the two friends, having first torn from their uniform
coat the collar and buttons in order that the number might not betray
their identity, quietly took their place in the ranks and soon had the
satisfaction of crossing the bridge and leaving the chain of sentries
behind them. The same idea must have presented itself to Loubet and
Chouteau, for they caught sight of them somewhat further to the rear,
peering anxiously about them with the guilty eyes of murderers.

Ah, what comfort there was for them in that first blissful moment!
Outside their prison the sunlight was brighter, the air more bracing;
it was like a resurrection, a bright renewal of all their hopes.
Whatever evil fortune might have in store for them, they dreaded it
not; they snapped their fingers at it in their delight at having seen
the last of the horrors of Camp Misery.



                                III.

That morning Maurice and Jean listened for the last time to the gay,
ringing notes of the French bugles, and now they were on their way to
Pont-a-Mousson, marching in the ranks of the convoy of prisoners,
which was guarded front and rear by platoons of Prussian infantry,
while a file of men with fixed bayonets flanked the column on either
side. Whenever they came to a German post they heard only the
lugubrious, ear-piercing strains of the Prussian trumpets.

Maurice was glad to observe that the column took the left-hand road
and would pass through Sedan; perhaps he would have an opportunity of
seeing his sister Henriette. All the pleasure, however, that he had
experienced at his release from that foul cesspool where he had spent
nine days of agony was dashed to the ground and destroyed during the
three-mile march from the peninsula of Iges to the city. It was but
another form of his old distress to behold that array of prisoners,
shuffling timorously through the dust of the road, like a flock of
sheep with the dog at their heels. There is no spectacle in all the
world more pitiful than that of a column of vanquished troops being
marched off into captivity under guard of their conquerors, without
arms, their empty hands hanging idly at their sides; and these men,
clad in rags and tatters, besmeared with the filth in which they had
lain for more than a week, gaunt and wasted after their long fast,
were more like vagabonds than soldiers; they resembled loathsome,
horribly dirty tramps, whom the gendarmes would have picked up along
the highways and consigned to the lockup. As they passed through the
Faubourg of Torcy, where men paused on the sidewalks and women came to
their doors to regard them with mournful, compassionate interest, the
blush of shame rose to Maurice's cheek, he hung his head and a bitter
taste came to his mouth.

Jean, whose epidermis was thicker and mind more practical, thought
only of their stupidity in not having brought off with them a loaf of
bread apiece. In the hurry of their abrupt departure they had even
gone off without breakfasting, and hunger soon made its presence felt
by the nerveless sensation in their legs. Others among the prisoners
appeared to be in the same boat, for they held out money, begging the
people of the place to sell them something to eat. There was one, an
extremely tall man, apparently very ill, who displayed a gold piece,
extending it above the heads of the soldiers of the escort; and he was
almost frantic that he could purchase nothing. Just at that time Jean,
who had been keeping his eyes open, perceived a bakery a short
distance ahead, before which were piled a dozen loaves of bread; he
immediately got his money ready and, as the column passed, tossed the
baker a five-franc piece and endeavored to secure two of the loaves;
then, when the Prussian who was marching at his side pushed him back
roughly into the ranks, he protested, demanding that he be allowed to
recover his money from the baker. But at that juncture the captain
commanding the detachment, a short, bald-headed man with a brutal
expression of face, came hastening up; he raised his revolver over
Jean's head as if about to strike him with the butt, declaring with an
oath that he would brain the first man that dared to lift a finger.
And the rest of the captives continued to shamble on, stirring up the
dust of the road with their shuffling feet, with eyes averted and
shoulders bowed, cowed and abjectly submissive as a drove of cattle.

"Oh! how good it would seem to slap the fellow's face just once!"
murmured Maurice, as if he meant it. "How I should like to let him
have just one from the shoulder, and drive his teeth down his dirty
throat!"

And during the remainder of their march he could not endure to look on
that captain, with his ugly, supercilious face.

They had entered Sedan and were crossing the Pont de Meuse, and the
scenes of violence and brutality became more numerous than ever. A
woman darted forward and would have embraced a boyish young sergeant
--likely she was his mother--and was repulsed with a blow from a
musket-butt that felled her to the ground. On the Place Turenne the
guards hustled and maltreated some citizens because they cast
provisions to the prisoners. In the Grande Rue one of the convoy fell
in endeavoring to secure a bottle that a lady extended to him, and was
assisted to his feet with kicks. For a week now Sedan had witnessed
the saddening spectacle of the defeated driven like cattle through its
streets, and seemed no more accustomed to it than at the beginning;
each time a fresh detachment passed the city was stirred to its very
depths by a movement of pity and indignation.

Jean had recovered his equanimity; his thoughts, like Maurice's,
reverted to Henriette, and the idea occurred to him that they might
see Delaherche somewhere among the throng. He gave his friend a nudge
of the elbow.

"Keep your eyes open if we pass through their street presently, will
you?"

They had scarce more than struck into the Rue Maqua, indeed, when they
became aware of several pairs of eyes turned on the column from one of
the tall windows of the factory, and as they drew nearer recognized
Delaherche and his wife Gilberte, their elbows resting on the railing
of the balcony, and behind them the tall, rigid form of old Madame
Delaherche. They had a supply of bread with them, and the manufacturer
was tossing the loaves down into the hands that were upstretched with
tremulous eagerness to receive them. Maurice saw at once that his
sister was not there, while Jean anxiously watched the flying loaves,
fearing there might none be left for them. They both had raised their
arms and were waving them frantically above their head, shouting
meanwhile with all the force of their lungs:

"Here we are! This way, this way!"

The Delaherches seemed delighted to see them in the midst of their
surprise. Their faces, pallid with emotion, suddenly brightened, and
they displayed by the warmth of their gestures the pleasure they
experienced in the encounter. There was one solitary loaf left, which
Gilberte insisted on throwing with her own hands, and pitched it into
Jean's extended arms in such a charmingly awkward way that she gave a
winsome laugh at her own expense. Maurice, unable to stop on account
of the pressure from the rear, turned his head and shouted, in a tone
of anxious inquiry:

"And Henriette? Henriette?"

Delaherche replied with a long farrago, but his voice was inaudible in
the shuffling tramp of so many feet. He seemed to understand that the
young man had failed to catch his meaning, for he gesticulated like a
semaphore; there was one gesture in particular that he repeated
several times, extending his arm with a sweeping motion toward the
south, apparently intending to convey the idea of some point in the
remote distance: Off there, away off there. Already the head of the
column was wheeling into the Rue du Minil, the facade of the factory
was lost to sight, together with the kindly faces of the three
Delaherches; the last the two friends saw of them was the fluttering
of the white handkerchief with which Gilberte waved them a farewell.

"What did he say?" asked Jean.

Maurice, in a fever of anxiety, was still looking to the rear where
there was nothing to be seen. "I don't know; I could not understand
him; I shall have no peace of mind until I hear from her."

And the trailing, shambling line crept slowly onward, the Prussians
urging on the weary men with the brutality of conquerors; the column
left the city by the Minil gate in straggling, long-drawn array,
hastening their steps, like sheep at whose heels the dogs are
snapping.

When they passed through Bazeilles Jean and Maurice thought of Weiss,
and cast their eyes about in an effort to distinguish the site of the
little house that had been defended with such bravery. While they were
at Camp Misery they had heard the woeful tale of slaughter and
conflagration that had blotted the pretty village from existence, and
the abominations that they now beheld exceeded all they had dreamed of
or imagined. At the expiration of twelve days the ruins were smoking
still; the tottering walls had fallen in, there were not ten houses
standing. It afforded them some small comfort, however, to meet a
procession of carts and wheelbarrows loaded with Bavarian helmets and
muskets that had been collected after the conflict. That evidence of
the chastisement that had been inflicted on those murderers and
incendiaries went far toward mitigating the affliction of defeat.

The column was to halt at Douzy to give the men an opportunity to eat
breakfast. It was not without much suffering that they reached that
place; already the prisoners' strength was giving out, exhausted as
they were by their ten days of fasting. Those who the day before had
availed of the abundant supplies to gorge themselves were seized with
vertigo, their enfeebled legs refused to support their weight, and
their gluttony, far from restoring their lost strength, was a further
source of weakness to them. The consequence was that, when the train
was halted in a meadow to the left of the village, these poor
creatures flung themselves upon the ground with no desire to eat. Wine
was wanting; some charitable women who came, bringing a few bottles,
were driven off by the sentries. One of them in her affright fell and
sprained her ankle, and there ensued a painful scene of tears and
hysterics, during which the Prussians confiscated the bottles and
drank their contents amid jeers and insulting laughter. This tender
compassion of the peasants for the poor soldiers who were being led
away into captivity was manifested constantly along the route, while
it was said the harshness they displayed toward the generals amounted
almost to cruelty. At that same Douzy, only a few days previously, the
villagers had hooted and reviled a number of paroled officers who were
on their way to Pont-a-Mousson. The roads were not safe for general
officers; men wearing the blouse--escaped soldiers, or deserters, it
may be--fell on them with pitch-forks and endeavored to take their
life as traitors, credulously pinning their faith to that legend of
bargain and sale which, even twenty years later, was to continue to
shed its opprobrium upon those leaders who had commanded armies in
that campaign.

Maurice and Jean ate half their bread, and were so fortunate as to
have a mouthful of brandy with which to wash it down, thanks to the
kindness of a worthy old farmer. When the order was given to resume
their advance, however, the distress throughout the convoy was
extreme. They were to halt for the night at Mouzon, and although the
march was a short one, it seemed as if it would tax the men's strength
more severely than they could bear; they could not get on their feet
without giving utterance to cries of pain, so stiff did their tired
legs become the moment they stopped to rest. Many removed their shoes
to relieve their galled and bleeding feet. Dysentery continued to
rage; a man fell before they had gone half a mile, and they had to
prop him against a wall and leave him. A little further on two others
sank at the foot of a hedge, and it was night before an old woman came
along and picked them up. All were stumbling, tottering, and dragging
themselves along, supporting their forms with canes, which the
Prussians, perhaps in derision, had suffered them to cut at the margin
of a wood. They were a straggling array of tramps and beggars, covered
with sores, haggard, emaciated, and footsore; a sight to bring tears
to the eyes of the most stony-hearted. And the guards continued to be
as brutally strict as ever; those who for any purpose attempted to
leave the ranks were driven back with blows, and the platoon that
brought up the rear had orders to prod with their bayonets those who
hung back. A sergeant having refused to go further, the captain
summoned two of his men and instructed them to seize him, one by
either arm, and in this manner the wretched man was dragged over the
ground until he agreed to walk. And what made the whole thing more
bitter and harder to endure was the utter insignificance of that
little pimply-faced, bald-headed officer, so insufferably
consequential in his brutality, who took advantage of his knowledge of
French to vituperate the prisoners in it in curt, incisive words that
cut and stung like the lash of a whip.

"Oh!" Maurice furiously exclaimed, "to get the puppy in my hands and
drain him of his blood, drop by drop!"

His powers of endurance were almost exhausted, but it was his rage
that he had to choke down, even more than his fatigue, that was cause
of his suffering. Everything exasperated him and set on edge his
tingling nerves; the harsh notes of the Prussian trumpets
particularly, which inspired him with a desire to scream each time he
heard them. He felt he should never reach the end of their cruel
journey without some outbreak that would bring down on him the utmost
severity of the guard. Even now, when traversing the smallest hamlets,
he suffered horribly and felt as if he should die with shame to behold
the eyes of the women fixed pityingly on him; what would it be when
they should enter Germany, and the populace of the great cities should
crowd the streets to laugh and jeer at them as they passed? And he
pictured to himself the cattle cars into which they would be crowded
for transportation, the discomforts and humiliations they would have
to suffer on the journey, the dismal life in German fortresses under
the leaden, wintry sky. No, no; he would have none of it; better to
take the risk of leaving his bones by the roadside on French soil than
go and rot off yonder, for months and months, perhaps, in the dark
depths of a casemate.

"Listen," he said below his breath to Jean, who was walking at his
side; "we will wait until we come to a wood; then we'll break through
the guards and run for it among the trees. The Belgian frontier is not
far away; we shall have no trouble in finding someone to guide us to
it."

Jean, accustomed as he was to look at things coolly and calculate
chances, put his veto on the mad scheme, although he, too, in his
revolt, was beginning to meditate the possibilities of an escape.

"Have you taken leave of your senses! the guard will fire on us, and
we shall both be killed."

But Maurice replied there was a chance the soldiers might not hit
them, and then, after all, if their aim should prove true, it would
not matter so very much.

"Very well!" rejoined Jean, "but what is going to become of us
afterward, dressed in uniform as we are? You know perfectly well that
the country is swarming in every direction with Prussian troops; we
could not go far unless we had other clothes to put on. No, no, my
lad, it's too risky; I'll not let you attempt such an insane project."

And he took the young man's arm and held it pressed against his side,
as if they were mutually sustaining each other, continuing meanwhile
to chide and soothe him in a tone that was at once rough and
affectionate.

Just then the sound of a whispered conversation close behind them
caused them to turn and look around. It was Chouteau and Loubet, who
had left the peninsula of Iges that morning at the same time as they,
and whom they had managed to steer clear of until the present moment.
Now the two worthies were close at their heels, and Chouteau must have
overheard Maurice's words, his plan for escaping through the mazes of
a forest, for he had adopted it on his own behalf. His breath was hot
upon their neck as he murmured:

"Say, comrades, count us in on that. That's a capital idea of yours,
to skip the ranch. Some of the boys have gone already, and sure we're
not going to be such fools as to let those bloody pigs drag us away
like dogs into their infernal country. What do you say, eh? Shall we
four make a break for liberty?"

Maurice's excitement was rising to fever-heat again; Jean turned and
said to the tempter:

"If you are so anxious to get away, why don't you go? there's nothing
to prevent you. What are you up to, any way?"

He flinched a little before the corporal's direct glance, and allowed
the true motive of his proposal to escape him.

"_Dame_! it would be better that four should share the undertaking.
One or two of us might have a chance of getting off."

Then Jean, with an emphatic shake of the head, refused to have
anything whatever to do with the matter; he distrusted the gentleman,
he said, as he was afraid he would play them some of his dirty tricks.
He had to exert all his authority with Maurice to retain him on his
side, for at that very moment an opportunity presented itself for
attempting the enterprise; they were passing the border of a small but
very dense wood, separated from the road only by the width of a field
that was covered by a thick growth of underbrush. Why should they not
dash across that field and vanish in the thicket? was there not safety
for them in that direction?

Loubet had so far said nothing. His mind was made up, however, that he
was not going to Germany to run to seed in one of their dungeons, and
his nose, mobile as a hound's, was sniffing the atmosphere, his shifty
eyes were watching for the favorable moment. He would trust to his
legs and his mother wit, which had always helped him out of his
scrapes thus far. His decision was quickly made.

"Ah, _zut_! I've had enough of it; I'm off!"

He broke through the line of the escort, and with a single bound was
in the field, Chouteau following his example and running at his side.
Two of the Prussian soldiers immediately started in pursuit, but the
others seemed dazed, and it did not occur to them to send a ball after
the fugitives. The entire episode was so soon over that it was not
easy to note its different phases. Loubet dodged and doubled among the
bushes and it appeared as if he would certainly succeed in getting
off, while Chouteau, less nimble, was on the point of being captured,
but the latter, summoning up all his energies in a supreme burst of
speed, caught up with his comrade and dexterously tripped him; and
while the two Prussians were lumbering up to secure the fallen man,
the other darted into the wood and vanished. The guard, finally
remembering that they had muskets, fired a few ineffectual shots, and
there was some attempt made to search the thicket, which resulted in
nothing.

Meantime the two soldiers were pummeling poor Loubet, who had not
regained his feet. The captain came running up, beside himself with
anger, and talked of making an example, and with this encouragement
kicks and cuffs and blows from musket-butts continued to rain down
upon the wretched man with such fury that when at last they stood him
on his feet he was found to have an arm broken and his skull
fractured. A peasant came along, driving a cart, in which he was
placed, but he died before reaching Mouzon.

"You see," was all that Jean said to Maurice.

The two friends cast a look in the direction of the wood that
sufficiently expressed their sentiments toward the scoundrel who had
gained his freedom by such base means, while their hearts were stirred
with feelings of deepest compassion for the poor devil whom he had
made his victim, a guzzler and a toper, who certainly did not amount
to much, but a merry, good-natured fellow all the same, and nobody's
fool. And that was always the way with those who kept bad company,
Jean moralizingly observed: they might be very fly, but sooner or
later a bigger rascal was sure to come along and make a meal of them.

Notwithstanding this terrible lesson Maurice, upon reaching Mouzon,
was still possessed by his unalterable determination to attempt an
escape. The prisoners were in such an exhausted condition when they
reached the place that the Prussians had to assist them to set up the
few tents that were placed at their disposal. The camp was formed near
the town, on low and marshy ground, and the worst of the business was
that another convoy having occupied the spot the day before, the field
was absolutely invisible under the superincumbent filth; it was no
better than a common cesspool, of unimaginable foulness. The sole
means the men had of self-protection was to scatter over the ground
some large flat stones, of which they were so fortunate as to find a
number in the vicinity. By way of compensation they had a somewhat
less hard time of it that evening; the strictness of their guardians
was relaxed a little once the captain had disappeared, doubtless to
seek the comforts of an inn. The sentries began by winking at the
irregularity of the proceeding when some children came along and
commenced to toss fruit, apples and pears, over their heads to the
prisoners; the next thing was they allowed the people of the
neighborhood to enter the lines, so that in a short time the camp was
swarming with impromptu merchants, men and women, offering for sale
bread, wine, cigars, even. Those who had money had no trouble in
supplying their needs so far as eating, drinking, and smoking were
concerned. A bustling animation prevailed in the dim twilight; it was
like a corner of the market place in a town where a fair is being
held.

But Maurice drew Jean behind their tent and again said to him in his
nervous, flighty way:

"I can't stand it; I shall make an effort to get away as soon as it is
dark. To-morrow our course will take us away from the frontier; it
will be too late."

"Very well, we'll try it," Jean replied, his powers of resistance
exhausted, his imagination, too, seduced by the pleasing idea of
freedom. "They can't do more than kill us."

After that he began to scrutinize more narrowly the venders who
surrounded him on every side. There were some among the comrades who
had succeeded in supplying themselves with blouse and trousers, and it
was reported that some of the charitable people of the place had
regular stocks of garments on hand, designed to assist prisoners in
escaping. And almost immediately