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Title: Robert Helmont - Diary of a Recluse 1870-1871
Author: Daudet, Alphonse
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Robert Helmont - Diary of a Recluse 1870-1871" ***

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                          [Picture: Book cover]

                             ALPHONSE DAUDET

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

                              Robert Helmont
                           _DIARY OF A RECLUSE_


                              TRANSLATED BY

                               LAURA ENSOR

                                * * * * *

                 [Picture: Civilians leaving their homes]


                          BROADWAY, LUDGATE HILL
                         MANCHESTER AND NEW YORK

                                * * * * *

                         [Picture: Country Scene]


“Read that, Mr. Robert, said the good man”                          18
“Seeing me so thoroughly determined, the Keeper pressed my          35
“Colaquet managed to take us tolerably straight”                    56
“Old Guillard brought out a large jug of sparkling wine”            68
“They began drinking out of their caps”                             74
“He lay sprawling at full length on the stone bench”                79
“At that instant a man rushed across the moonlit orchard”          111
The Watch                                                          128
“It was a balloon”                                                 140
“I found a pigeon”                                                 148
“We crossed a heavy punt”                                          160
“I seized hold of the chain with both hands and lowered            171
myself into the river”
“They blew out his brains with a revolver”                         186
“I heard the clinking of glasses, the uncorking of bottles”        191
“Forgetful of the lost harvest in preparing for that of the        199

                    [Picture: Invalid lying on a sofa]


While spending a day in the country on one of those pretty green islets
that are dotted about in clusters on the Seine between Champrosay and
Soisy, and wrestling with a friend, my foot slipped on the damp grass,
and I broke my leg.  My unfortunate love for athletic and violent
exercise has already played me so many ugly tricks, that I should
probably have forgotten this accident, as I have others, but for its
precise and memorable date: the 14th of July 1870! . . .  I still see
myself at the close of that sad day, lying on the sofa in the former
studio of Eugène Delacroix, whose small house on the borders of the
forest of Sénart we were then occupying.  When my leg was stretched out,
I hardly suffered, for already I felt the vague restlessness of
increasing fever, exaggerating the sensation and heat of the stormy
atmosphere, and enveloping all around me in a misty cloud, as it were, of
shimmering gauze.  To the accompaniment of the piano they were singing
the choruses of _Orphée_, and no one, not even I, suspected how serious
was my condition.  Through the wide-open bay window in the studio came
the sweet breath of the jasmine and roses, the beat of the night-moths,
and the quick flashes of lightning showing up, above the low garden
walls, the sloping vineyards, the Seine, and the rising ground opposite.
Suddenly the stillness was broken by the sound of a bell; the evening
papers are brought in and opened, and voices broken by emotion, anger, or
enthusiasm exclaim: “War is declared!”

From this moment nothing remains to me but the feverish recollection of a
state of languor lasting six weeks; of six weeks of bed, of splints, of
cradle and plaster case, in which my leg seemed imprisoned in company
with thousands of tormenting insects.  During that hot summer, so
exceptionally stormy and scorching, this inaction full of agitation was
dreadful, and my anxiety, increased by the accounts of the public
disasters which filled the papers that covered my bed, added to my
restlessness and sleeplessness.  At night the rumble of the distant
trains disturbed me like the tread of endless battalions, and by day,
pale and sad faces, scraps of conversations overheard in the road or at
the neighbour’s, through my open window: “The Prussians are at Châlons,
mother Jean,” and the vans at every moment raising clouds of dust in the
quiet little village, lent a mundane and sinister echo to my perusal of
“the news of the war.”  Soon we were the only Parisians left at
Champrosay, left alone with the peasants, obstinately attached to the
land, and still refusing to admit the idea of an invasion.  Directly I
could leave my couch and be moved, our departure was decided.

Never shall I forget my first outing in the little old-fashioned garden,
filled with the perfume of ripe peaches and fading roses.  Around me,
poor invalid that I was, seated on the steps of a ladder laid against the
fruited wall, they were hurrying on the departure, loading the vans,
gathering the fruit and flowers in the unconscious preoccupation of
leaving nothing for the enemy; even the child, with its arms full of
toys, picking up a little spade forgotten in the grass.

As for me, I inhaled the fresh air with delight; and with an emotion
caused by my weak state and my returning health, I gazed at the grey
house, and at the red flowers covering the Virginian jessamine interwoven
round the bay window of the studio.  I thought of the happy hours, so
soft and tranquil, spent there the last three years, the hearty laughter,
the æsthetic discussions so thoroughly in harmony with the little home,
full of the memories of a great artist.  Should we ever behold again the
sunny path so often slowly paced with short and chatty steps, the
verandah where we sat in the fine June evenings, in the brightness of a
flowery Spanish broom which, ball-shaped, seemed like an enormous lustre
lighted up in the fading twilight, the richness of its golden colour
deepening as the light decreased!

The family omnibus was filled up and loaded, all our cherished ones
tightly pressed against each other, the child’s toys side by side with
the parrokeet’s cage, the bird scared by the sharp-pointed ears of a
favourite greyhound: we started, passing first through the little village
with its closed and silent villas.  The peasants still held out, although
disturbed at the departures, watching them from their doorways with tears
rising in their eyes, and a certain uneasiness depicted in the stolid
cupidity of their countenances.  What a return to Paris!  The highway
crowded with men and beasts, the sheep running loose between the wheels,
the green of the market-gardeners’ carts mingling with the piled-up
furniture in the vans.  On the railway embankment, which lay on one side
of our road, trucks upon trucks extending in interminable rows, halting
and whistling calls, which were answered and re-echoed on the distant
line.  And then at last the _octroi_, where the belated droves of cattle
and people and vehicles are accumulated before the too narrow gateway,
and—for me a novel sight—men of the National Guard mixed with the customs
officers—a Parisian militia, full of zeal and good nature, whose bayonets
shine amidst the crowd and in the sunshine on the slopes of the
fortifications, now heightened by gabions and bristling with guns.

A few days later I again journeyed to Champrosay, but the road no longer
presented the same aspect.  The approach of the enemy, so long threatened
and now imminent, could be felt by the deserted state of the suburbs, and
the care displayed by our main-guards.  Endless formalities were required
in order to pass through.  Amongst the loitering peasants might be seen
the prowling figures of suspicious-looking spies, recalling the sinister
plunderers of the battlefields; and the solitude, the agonised
expectation of the districts I passed through—Villeneuve-Saint-Georges,
Draveil—abandoned and silent, imparted a mystery to the very windings of
the road, where one almost expected to see the shadow of an Uhlan vidette
on the watch.  Champrosay, with its solitary street bordered on each side
by villas, seemed to grow larger in the death-like stillness: “Vasta
silentio,” as Tacitus says.  Glimpses of parks, caught sight of through
the iron gates, a background of dark shrubberies in the distance,
flower-beds glowing in the brightness of a September day, here and there
a circle of garden chairs on a terrace, forgotten like the idle talk that
has melted into thin air, garden tools leaning against the palings, all
spoke of a rural existence hastily interrupted, a precipitate flight, the
sudden surprise, in the midst of its life, of a small Pompeï, whose last
hour has struck.  But Nature, ever the same, was nevertheless undergoing
a change; the broken bridge at Ris, that had been blown up, and whose
loosened chains dipped into the water, transformed the landscape,
isolating on each side of the river the two little districts hitherto
united by the traffic to and fro over the toll-bridge.  From all these
scenes uprose the agonising sensation of a great catastrophe, rendered
more striking by the magnificent sun of an exceptionally fine season.

At the same moment, as I closed behind me the door of our now deserted
dwelling, an aged peasant, old Casaquet, came out of a neighbouring
house.  When all the others had taken flight and run away, he alone
obstinately refused to take refuge in Paris, where his family had settled
themselves as best they could.  “I’m much too old!” he said; and he had
some potatoes, a little wine, a few hens, not to speak of the grunting
porker he kept under his roof.  I proposed bringing him away to rejoin
his people.  But he stubbornly stuck to his words: “I’m much too old!”

The recollection of this old Robinson Crusoe, the last living being I had
seen at Champrosay, often crossed my mind during the terrible cold and
famine of the siege.  What had become of him, and of the whole village,
which I pictured to myself burning and blazing; our house, our books, the
piano, everything tarnished, broken, and laid waste by the invasion, like
the suburban regions of Nogent, Champigny, Petit-Bry, and Courneuve,
among whose sad ruins, villas with broken stairways and half-hanging
shutters, I wandered every day? . . .

But no!  When the war was over, and when, towards the end of the Commune,
Paris becoming untenable, we came and took refuge at Champrosay, I had
the pleasant surprise of finding almost everything in its habitually
peaceful condition, with the exception of a few country-houses that the
marauders had searched, and where they had, from pure love of
destruction, destroyed the wainscoting and broken all the windows.  The
German army had passed through, but never made any lengthened stay.
Hidden behind a clump of acacias, Delacroix’s house had been even more
protected than others, and in the garden awakening in beauty to the smile
of spring, I could breathe freely for the twofold deliverance from the
siege and from the winter.  I was walking along the flower borders, when
old Casaquet’s face peered over the garden wall, and he beamed upon me
with his old wrinkled visage.  Over him, too, the invasion had passed
without leaving a trace.  “I didn’t suffer too much . . . ” he said,
twinkling his eyes, and standing on a ladder with his elbows resting on
the trellis; and then he related how he had borne this period of exile
and solitude.  It had been a real time of feasting.  There were no
keepers in the forest, he cut as much wood as he liked (a treasure much
coveted by the peasant); with a few poachers who had taken refuge at the
Hermitage he snared roedeer and pheasants; and whenever an isolated
Prussian, an orderly or straggler, was found in the vicinity of the
quarries, he was quietly and quickly despatched.  During four months he
lived without any other news from Paris but the sound of the distant
cannonading, and the occasional sight of an inflated balloon floating
beneath the dark sky.

[Picture: Meeting with Casaquet again] This quiet, ant-like existence on
the surface of the earth amidst the overthrow of a world was most
extraordinary.  I too could have lived there like the old peasant,
reduced to the same expedients of primitive life; and this different view
of war appeared to me an appropriate setting for a melancholy picture of
the invasion.  That very evening I began in the large studio taking notes
for “Robert Helmont’s Diary of a Recluse;” while the passing to and fro
under my windows of the German cavalry patrols, still encamped on the
edge of the country, the clashing of swords and jingling of curb-chains,
the rough Saxon voices harshly raised in command, mingled with the
thunder of the cannons.  All this indeed formed part of “my diary.”  My
feelings were still more excited on the following day by all the sad
details of the military occupation—the roads dark with troops, the
halting and the bivouacking by the side of the ditches.  To escape from
the humiliating sensations of the vanquished, I wandered into the woods,
lovely in this month of April: a tender green clothed the branches of the
trees, the grass was gemmed with the bloom of wild hyacinths, and the
warbling of the birds and the song of the nightingale were interrupted by
the distant tearing sound of the mitrailleuse.  Sometimes, at the turn of
a quiet path, I saw coming toward me under the arching boughs, a
sentimental Saxon colonel, slowly pacing on his charger the lanes and
trysting-places cherished by Louis XV. and Madame de Pompadour.  Then I
plunged into the recesses of the deepest thickets, for these encounters
gave me a revulsion of feeling which I can hardly explain.  It was thus
that I lived the diary of Robert Helmont at the same time that I wrote

This little book was published by Dentu in the _Musée Universal_ of 1873;
but it met with little success.  It told no story, and contained no
interesting or continued narrative; it was merely a succession of
landscapes, portraying the melancholy of our invaded summer haunts.  In
the new edition of my complete works published by Dentu-Charpentier,
“Robert Helmont” is placed at the end of the second volume of “Jack,” and
it finds there its proper place, describing as it does the same forest of
Sénart, the Hermitage, and the Pacôme Gate, where I knew the hero of my
novel “Jack,” and recalling to life a few of the same characters.

                    [Picture: Abandoned garden chairs]

                                * * * * *

                          [Picture: Rural scene]

                                         THE HERMITAGE, _September_ 3_rd_.

It is six weeks yesterday since I broke my leg.  It happened on the very
day war was declared.  While M. de Grammont was exciting so much tumult
and enthusiasm in the Senate, I myself, on returning from net-fishing in
the Seine, stumbled over a stake hidden in the grass at the edge of the
river, and was brought home to my Hermitage in the forest of Snart in a
woodcutter’s cart . . .

I went out this morning for the first time after fifty days of fever and
suffering, increased by the news of the war.  I had nightmares of distant
battles, and the sinister despatches from Forbach and Reischhoffen remain
mixed up in my mind with the pain of my wound, the heat of the plaster
casing, and that restless inactivity which is the most cruel of all
tortures.  At last it is over!  After having seen nothing for so long but
the tops of the trees, and those great stretches of blue sky of which the
monotony is only broken by passing wings, I felt quite happy at putting
my feet to the ground and getting down my stairs with faltering steps.
But how weak I was!  My head swam round.  From having remained so long in
the same position, my leg had forgotten its proper balance and functions.
It seemed no longer part of myself, as if I were no longer master of it.
However, with slow steps, and the extreme nervousness which augments
one’s weakness, I was able to get to the poultry-yard and push open its
little latticed door, half buried in the tall grass.  Even this gave me a
thrill of pleasure!  During my absence, my neighbour, the keeper’s wife,
has taken good care of all this little family, who watch me with an
astonished, bright, and familiar gaze.  The rabbits come tumbling over
each other to the edge of their hutches, with their ears pricked up and
quivering.  The hens go on with their ceaseless pecking in the grass,
making sharp sounds like those of little pickaxes.  The cock, more
demonstrative, flaps his large wings with a resounding

[Picture: Robert up and about again] Presently I returned and seated
myself on the old, worn, green-coloured stone bench, which, with the wall
full of gaps and two or three apple-trees covered with moss, date from
the time when my house and the orchards surrounding it were part of an
old monastery built in the middle of the forest . . .  Never had my
garden appeared so beautiful to me.  The fruit-trees against the wall,
rather stripped of their leaves, were laden with ripe peaches and golden
bunches.  The currant-bushes, spread out in thin clumps, were dotted here
and there with sparks of red; and under the autumn sun, that ripens each
berry, bursts each pod, and sheds each grain, the sparrows pursued one
another with unequal flights, while youthful twitterings among them show
how their numbers have been increased by the young broods.  From time to
time the heavy flight of a pheasant passed over the ruined wall,
alighting in a field of buckwheat.  At the top of a tall tree a squirrel
was playing and cracking nuts.  The gentle heat which pervaded the whole
scene threw a wonderful feeling of repose over this little rustic corner.
I had forgotten the Prussians and the invasion . . .  Suddenly the keeper
and his wife came in.  It was astonishing to see old Guillard at the
Hermitage in the daytime—he, the constant rover of the forest!  I
understood that there must be fresh news.

          [Picture: “Read that, Mr. Robert, said the good man”]

—Read that, Mr. Robert . . . said the good man.

And drawing from beneath his thick velveteen waistcoat a copy of the
_National_, crumpled and awkwardly folded by hands little accustomed to
deal with papers, he held it out to me with an air of dismay.  On the
first sheet, bordered in black, were the sinister words: “_The French
army has capitulated_.”  I could not read any farther . . .

. . . Dazed, with closed eyes, for the space of five minutes I seemed to
see nothing but those few words, surrounded by flashes of light and
colour, as if I had read them on a white wall in the full glare of the
sun.  Alas! there was therefore no hope.  The last barrier had broken
down.  It was the invasion, the mighty one . . .  The keeper thinks that
in eight days the Prussians will be here.

—Ah, my dear sir, you should see the block on the roads.  Between this
and Paris there is a mob of cattle and vehicles.  Every one is packing up
and flying.  Champrosay is empty; Farmer Goudeloup is the only person who
will not hear of leaving.  He has sent away his wife and children, loaded
his two guns, and is ready.

               [Picture: Civilians evacuating their homes]

—And you, Guillard, what do you intend doing?

—I, sir?  I shall do the same as Goudeloup.  Our chiefs have forgotten to
leave us any orders.  I shall take advantage of that to remain at my
post, and watch my woods up to the last moment.  When the Prussians come,
we will barricade ourselves in the Hermitage; for I suppose, with your
bad leg, you will not think of leaving.  And then, if we are
attacked—well, we will defend ourselves.  You will fire through the
windows; I shall guard the Pacôme Gate, and Mother Guillard will load the
guns . . .  Won’t you, mother? . . .

              [Picture: Robert, after hearing the bad news]

Good fellow!  It warmed my heart to hear him.  In spite of his sixty
years, the Indian, as they call him about here, with his high stature,
wide shoulders, and bright eyes full of mischief and life, is still a
fine-looking soldier.  I thought, as I looked at him, that with such a
companion there might indeed be something to do.  By lying in ambush on
the outskirts of the forest he knows so thoroughly, we could demolish a
few passing Prussians.  But then the sensation of my weakness, of my
useless condition, suddenly came back to me and overwhelmed me.

After the keeper and his wife had taken leave of me, I remained all
alone, seated on my bench, buried in thought.  What a state of misery is
mine!  To feel that craving for action and vital energy that comes on at
the approach of danger, and not to be able to take ten steps in my
garden.  How much longer will this last?  The doctor says I must expect
at least two months of it.  Two months!  Ah! how dreadful . . .  The air
was getting chilly, my leg was hurting me.  I went in and dined sadly.
After dinner the keeper came—as he has done every evening since my
accident—to smoke a pipe with me.  He is more than ever determined to
remain at the Hermitage.  While he was telling me all his plans and
schemes of defence, I heard in the distance, through the open window, the
usual sounds of twilight; the wheels creaking in the ruts, the rumbling
of the train, the rustling of the leaves in the thickets; and at moments
another sound, as of all these blended together and increasing in volume,
seemed to rise from the ground, following the course of the river and
little hills on the horizon, to grow gradually louder and louder.  It was
like the tramp of an army on the march, hurrying on in the fading light
to find their halting-place, while the first rays of moonlight fall on
the barrels of the guns and the gilded spikes of the helmets . . .

Suddenly a dull report on a level with the earth made us start.  Mother
Guillard, who was clearing away my modest repast, felt the pile of plates
she was carrying shake in her hands.

—They have blown up the bridge at Corbeil! . . . said the keeper.

The pretty country village, where I had so often breakfasted before a
day’s shooting, seemed to be sixty miles farther away . . .  For a moment
we all three looked blankly at each other.  At last old Guillard rose
from his seat, took up his gun and his lantern, muttering between his

—I am going to close the Pacôme gate, he said, with an heroic gesture.

Close the Pacôme gate!  It seemed easy to say; and yet I fancy the good
fellow will find some difficulty in doing it.  For the last century the
old door of the cloister has been ajar; the forest has taken advantage of
the aperture to slip through, and the indiscreet brambles have climbed in
by all the cracks of its disjointed planks.  If we have to undergo a
siege, I do not rely much on that gate.

                      [Picture: The Corbeil bridge]

                                * * * * *

                         [Picture: The Hermitage]

                                                        _September_ 5_th_.

. . . Long had I sought a solitary corner, not too far away from Paris,
and yet not much frequented by Parisians.  One day, while crossing the
forest of Sénart, I discovered the Hermitage, and for the last ten years
I have spent all my summers there.  It was a monastery of “Cordeliers,”
burnt down in ‘93.  The four principal walls remain standing, but
mouldering and crumbling at intervals, making on the turf, heaps of red
stone quickly re-clothed by a rich and luxuriant vegetation: poppies,
barley, stiff-growing plants with regular and pointed leaves, are divided
by the stones like inlaid metal-work.  One gateway looks on the road; the
other, that famous Pacôme gate, opens on to the wooded thickets and the
little hidden paths, full of balsam and wild mint, where, on a misty
morning, I have often fancied I saw disappear, the hood of some old monk
gathering wild herbs.  Here and there along the wall, low postern gates,
disused for many a century, send through the darkness of the forest long
rays of light, as if the cloister contained all the sunlight of the

                   [Picture: Gateway to the Hermitage]

Inside is waste land, with burnt-up grass, little gardens belonging to
the peasants, some orchards divided by trellis-work, and two or three
houses built of that red stone that is found in the quarries of the wood.

              [Picture: Robert’s workroom in the Hermitage]

The forester lives in one of these houses, the other is never let.  Mine,
a kind of irregular and curious turret, is chiefly remarkable for the
Virginian creeper that completely covers it.  I have cut away just enough
of it to be able to open my windows.  Leaving untouched the great
worm-eaten beams in the kitchen and the worn step on the threshold, I
contented myself with heightening a hayloft under the roof, replacing the
walls by glass, and thus making a beautiful studio, where my only
neighbours are the nests of the wood-pigeon and magpie swaying to and fro
on the top of the trees.

When I am there, the forest surrounds me like an ocean, with the swell of
the foliage, the ebb and flow of the breezes, the murmuring softness of a
calm.  On a summer’s afternoon, at the hour of silent and slumbering
heat, a bumble-bee comes by regularly, dashes against my half-open
window-pane, whose brightness attracts him, then like a rebounding ball
goes off, shaking the golden dust from his big wings, and disappears
amongst the honey-scented bushes of privet.  This bee is my clock.  When
he passes by I say: “Ah, it is two o’clock.”  And I am right . . .

It is, in fact, a wonderful nook for work, and where my best pictures
have been painted.  And how I love it, this old Hermitage!  For the last
ten years I have been adorning it to the best of my ability.  I have
brought there what I call my treasures—my books, my sketches, my
etchings, and some old armour . . .  And now I should have to leave all
this, abandon my home, to these robbers.  And what for?  To go and shut
myself up in Paris . . .  But as I cannot walk, of what use should I be
to them there?  They have too many useless mouths to feed already . . .

Well, no!  Decidedly the fellow is right.  We must not go away from here,
. . . _Pro aris et focis_! . . .

Not being able to defend my country, the least I can do is to defend my

                   [Picture: Fowl pecking in the yard]

                                * * * * *

              [Picture: . . the keeper came in to my room.]

                                                        _September_ 6_th_.

This morning the keeper came into my room.  He wore his full-dress
uniform, as on the 15th of August: green tunic, peaked cap, cross-belt,
hunting-knife, and he had an air of importance befitting the solemnity of
his appearance.

—There is bad news, he said, taking up a position by the side of my bed . . .
All the wood-rangers are recalled to Paris in order to be enrolled
with the customs officers.  We are starting almost immediately.

Honest old Guillard!  He appeared somewhat agitated while talking to me,
and I was myself rather disturbed by the sudden announcement of this
departure.  I hurriedly dressed, and we went downstairs.  On the road
below was the head-keeper, with about twenty foresters and keepers—the
whole of the staff on duty in the forest.  Then came the women, children,
and pointers, and two large carts laden with furniture, rabbit-hutches,
and chickens tied up by the legs.  The door of the house was wide open,
and Mother Guillard moved to and fro inside, seeking what she must leave
or take, as the conveyances were full, and the first-comers had taken up
all the available space.  The perplexity of the poor housewife was a
sight to see, as she ran from one piece of furniture to another, dragging
a heavy cupboard to the door, then leaving it there, forgetting the most
useful things, but lading herself with those of no value, except that
they were souvenirs: the old clock with its glass shade, some marvellous
portraits, a hunting-horn, a distaff, all of them covered with dust—that
excellent dust that clings to family relics, and of which each particle
speaks of youth and the happy days gone by.

—I trust you are not going to remain here, Mr. Robert, the good woman
called out as she crossed the orchard . . .  You shall be put on a cart.

And in order to convince me more thoroughly:

—In the first place, if you remain here, who will cook for you?

In reality the good creatures were rather ashamed of leaving me behind.
Their departure, although involuntary, seemed to them somewhat of a
betrayal on their part.  I tried to reassure them on my account, and to
reassure myself at the same time.  After all, who knows?  The Prussians
may not come so far.  Moreover, the Hermitage is in the heart of the
forest, and out of the line of march.  There was therefore not the
slightest danger to be apprehended.  At most a few days of solitude, and
that did not alarm me.

Seeing me so thoroughly determined, the keeper pressed my hand.

—Good luck, Mr. Robert . . .  My wife will leave you our keys.  You will
find wine and potatoes in the cellar.  Take what you choose.  We will
settle on our return home . . .  And now, good mother, let us start; and
above all, you know what I said to you; try not to cry.

She, however, nearly broke down.  On turning the key for the last time in
the lock, her hand shook.  She compressed her lips . . .  At that moment
a formidable _hee-haw_! echoed through the Hermitage.  The keeper and his
wife looked at each other in consternation.

—It is Colaquet! . . .  What is to become of him?

[Picture: Colaquet, the donkey] The unfortunate Colaquet, whom they had
forgotten in the hurry of departure, was their donkey, a pretty little
grey donkey, with a bright and artless look.  A few days before, it had
been bitten on the muzzle by a viper, and it had been turned out to graze
in a little field of after-grass; and there he was, looking at his
masters going away, leaning his swollen head, which gave him the
appearance of one of the beasts of the Apocalypse, over the hedge.

How could they take him?  He would die on the road, and yet the
veterinary surgeon had promised to cure him.  The fate of the poor
animal, rather resembling my own, touched my heart.

                [Picture: . . the keeper pressed my hand.]

I promised to take care of Colaquet, and to put him into the stable every
night.  The good people thanked me, and we parted.

[Picture: Mother Guillard leaving her home] A sad parting!  The carts,
heavy and overloaded, slowly followed the wide forest road, grinding on
the pebbles as they went along.  The children were running on each side,
excited by the unexpected journey.  The men, in single file, skirted the
edge of the wood, their guns on their shoulders, all of them old
soldiers, well trained and disciplined.  Behind them the dogs followed,
hanging their heads uneasily, hardly straying even to listen to the
flight of a hen-pheasant, or to sniff the trace of a rabbit.  Domestic
animals do not like changing their quarters, and these were following in
the track of the carts, now become their wandering homes.  Mother
Guillard came last, holding in her hand her magpie’s large cage, and from
time to time looking back.

Seated on the curbstone near the principal entrance, I watched them till
the whole party disappeared from my sight in the narrowing perspective of
the road.  I saw the last glance on the gun-barrels, I heard the grinding
of the last wheel, and the dust of the highway swallowed them up in a
cloud . . .

It was all over.  I was alone.  This thought has given me an
unaccountable sensation of uneasiness.

                 [Picture: Looking along the empty road]

                                * * * * *

             [Picture: Robert alone in the Hermitage garden]

                                     _September_ 7_th_, 8_th_ _and_ 9_th_.

This new kind of life would not be without its charm, were it not
disturbed by a sensation of anxiety, of uneasiness, of constant
expectation, suspending all thought, and rendering all artistic work an
impossibility.  I can only undertake those trivial occupations, those
necessary details of everyday life, of which I have always had such a
horror, and to which I must resign myself now that I am my own servant.
Shall I confess it?  These trifles do not really weary me very much, and
I understand recluses amusing themselves by carving roots or weaving
baskets.  Manual labour is a good means of regulating life for those who
have too much leisure and liberty.  Therefore every morning I begin by
paying a visit to the poultry-yard, and when I feel the warmth of an egg
in the straw, I am happy.  Then, walking slowly, and leaning on a stick,
I go round the garden, picking the ripe fruit; and from the long, dry,
sunburnt stalks I gather the beans, whose pods burst open and shed their
contents through my fingers.  It is laughable to see me seated in front
of my door, cutting up the bread for my soup, or washing my salad in a
bucket.  All these things give me rather a childish comfort; but is not
convalescence itself like childhood?—a fresh beginning of life.

In order to avoid going up and down the broken and irregular steps of the
staircase, I have placed my bed in the large room on the ground floor,
which therefore answers the purpose of drawing-room, bed-room, and
kitchen.  In this very mild weather, the door leading into the garden
remains wide open all day.  I hear the noise of the hens, always busy and
cackling, their little claws pattering on the sand and scratching up the
straw.  Next door, in the keeper’s small field, I see poor Colaquet
stretched out, shaking off the flies, and, with the idleness of an
invalid, lolling out his tongue in front of him on the meadow, all purple
with the thousand clusters of lucern.  When evening comes on, with some
difficulty he approaches the fence that divides us.  I also drag myself
there.  I bathe his wound, renew the water, throw a rug over his back for
the night, and he thanks me by shaking his long ears.

What really distresses me in my present state of suffering is having to
fetch water from the old convent well, just at the end of the enclosure.

When I reach it, I am obliged to sit down for a moment on the edge of the
cracked stonework, overgrown by rank weeds.  The ornamental wrought
ironwork, of an elegant and ancient style, appears, under the rust that
tarnishes it, like climbing tendrils laid bare by the autumn.  This
melancholy is in complete harmony with the deep silence of the Hermitage,
and the atmosphere of loneliness that surrounds me . . .  The bucket is
heavy.  On returning I stop two or three times.  Over there, at the far
end, there is an old door that the wind keeps slamming.  The noise of my
footsteps echoes, and troubles me . . .

Oh, solitude! . . .

             [Picture: Robert plodding back with the bucket]

                                * * * * *

                [Picture: Robert breakfasting on the lawn]

                                                       _September_ 10_th_.

. . . I had just finished breakfasting on the lawn—on my word, an
excellent breakfast too!—fresh eggs, and grapes gathered from my
beautiful purple vine.  I was sitting there, idly dreaming, basking in
the light, warmth, and silence, very busy looking at the smoke of my pipe
and at my painted plates, on which a stray wasp was furiously attacking
the emptied stalks.  Around me on that clear autumn day, under a deep and
pure blue sky, even more beautiful than the summer skies so often veiled
and dimmed by hot mists, I felt the same hush of Nature, the same
all-pervading sense of peace . . .  When suddenly a formidable explosion
in my immediate vicinity shook the house, rattled the windows, and
stirred the leaves, sending forth on all sides the sound of wild
flutterings, screams, alarms, and galloping . . .  This time it was not
the bridge at Corbeil that was blown up, but our own, our little bridge
at Champrosay.  It meant: “The Prussians are here!”  Immediately my heart
stood still, and a veil seemed to pass over the sunlight.  Then the
thought crossed my mind that to-morrow, this evening maybe, the forest
roads would be invaded, darkened by these wretches; that I should be
compelled to bury myself alive, and never stir out again.  And I longed
to see once more my beloved forest, of which I had been deprived for the
last two months.

The lanes in the woods were lovely, widened by freedom from the long
summer weeds, and showing at the top, through the young branches, a long
ray of light.  At the cross-roads, bathed in sunlight, the faded pink
heather was flowering in tufts; and in the thickets, among the black
stems, like a small forest beneath a large one, the ferns displayed their
microscopic trees with their peculiar foliage.  What a silence!
Generally a thousand vague sounds greeted me from afar: the trains
passing by and marking the distant horizon, the digging of the quarrymen,
the cart-wheels slowly turning in the ruts, the strident call-whistle of
the gang.  And to-day, not a sound—not even that perpetual murmur which
seems like the breathing of a slumbering forest—that stir of the leaves,
that humming of the insects, that pretty “_frrrt_!” like the unfolding of
a fan, made by birds among the foliage.  It seemed as if the loud report
just now had stupefied all Nature.

Slightly weary, I had seated myself under a thick oak-tree, when I heard
a rustling in the branches.  At last! . . .  I expected to see a hare or
a roedeer scamper across the path; but through the parted bushes, about
ten paces from me on the road, jumped a big fellow, dressed all in black,
with his gun on his shoulder, a revolver in his belt, and his head
covered by a large Tyrolese hat.  I was startled.  I thought it was some
Bavarian or Saxon rifleman.  It was, however, a Parisian _franc-tireur_.
At that time there were some twenty of them in the forest, retreating day
by day before the Prussians, lying in ambush to watch their line of
march, and to knock over from time to time an Uhlan of the advance-guard.
While the man was talking to me, his comrades, coming out of the coppice,
joined us.  They were nearly all old soldiers, working-men from the
faubourgs of Paris.  I took them back to the Hermitage, and made them
drink a few bottles of wine.

                [Picture: The blown bridge of Champrosay]

They told me the Prince of Saxony’s division had reached Montereau, one
stage distant from here.  I learnt also from them about the defensive
operations begun round Paris—the organisation of the troops; and to hear
them speak with such calm, such confidence, and especially hearing their
Parisian accent, warmed my heart.  Ah, brave fellows! if I could only
have gone off with them, stuck on my head their ridiculous headgear, and
fought in their ranks, under the walls of the good city! . . .  But,
alas! to have walked merely twenty steps in the woods had swollen my leg,
and I was in pain.  Ah, well!  I was grieved when they left me.  They are
probably the last Frenchmen that I shall see for some time . . .

They left at dusk, cheered by my sour wine.  I gave them a hen, . . .
they carried off four . . .

              [Picture: Robert meets the first franc-tireur]

                   [Picture: . . they carried off four]

                                * * * * *

                       [Picture: Colaquet grazing]

                                                       _September_ 11_th_.

No news.

                                                       _September_ 12_th_.

Still no news.  What can be going on?  Are they forced to retire?
Really, this suspense is unbearable.

                                                       _September_ 13_th_.

I have only bread enough for two days.  I found this out in the morning,
on opening the chest where Mother Guillard placed my week’s
provisions—six large floury and golden loaves, that she baked for me
every Sunday.  What shall I do?  I have, it is true, an oven and a
kneading-trough, but not an atom of flour.  Perhaps I should find some at
the farm at Champrosay, if Goudeloup has remained there as he intended.
But how can I get so far in my present weak condition?  Seated on my
garden bench in front of my door, I was absorbed in these melancholy
thoughts, when I heard the sound of an animal galloping in the keeper’s
field.  It was Colaquet.  Colaquet, generally so lazy, was gambolling
round the orchard, kicking up little tufts of grass with his hoofs and
rolling over on his back, with a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure in
living.  In two bounds he came at my call, and leant his head, no longer
swollen, but now of normal size, on the wooden trellis; the rapid motion
of his long ears, whose language I am beginning to understand, telling me
of his happiness at being free and delivered from his pain and infirmity.
Lucky Colaquet! he is cured before I am; and while I looked at him with
an envious eye, I remembered that there—over there, under the shed—was an
old conveyance that Guillard formerly used on fête-days to drive parties
of Parisians through the forest.  If I harnessed Colaquet, we might go
and fetch some flour . . .  So I set to work rummaging under the shed.
Amongst the rusty pickaxes, hay-rakes, and dilapidated harrows I finally
discovered a worm-eaten spring-cart, forgotten and unused, its two shafts
lying on the ground.  By means of some pieces of rope and a few nails I
put it into a tolerable state of repair.  It occupied me till the
evening; but what an interesting piece of work!  I was amused in turning
over those old nails, those worn-out pegs.  Once or twice I surprised
myself by whistling over my work.  Pretty cool, considering I was
expecting the Prussians . . .  Now everything is ready, the cart and the
team.  To-morrow morning, if in the meanwhile nothing happens, we shall
start for Champrosay!

                      [Picture: The old spring-cart]

                                * * * * *

                      [Picture: The farm work-shop]

                                * * * * *

                   [Picture: On the road to Champrosay]

                                                       _September_ 14_th_.

I have made a compact with myself to keep a very exact diary of the
strange and terrible life I have been drawn into; if I have many days as
exciting and tragic as this, I shall never be able to live through them.
My hand shakes, my brain is on fire.  However, I must make the attempt . . .

At first starting all went well.  The weather was beautiful.  I had
placed a bundle of hay in the cart, and although Colaquet’s eyelids were
still swollen from the bite, he managed to take us tolerably straight—he
had so often made this journey, carrying bundles of linen to the
riverside.  In spite of the slight jolting, I found the drive delightful.
Not the point of a helmet nor the glitter of a gun-barrel to be seen.
Only, on arriving at Champrosay, the deep silence that had so impressed
me in the woods appeared still more striking.  The peasants’ cottages
hardly seemed to me the same: no pigeons on the roofs, the doors closed,
and the courtyards deserted.  The silent belfry of the little church,
with its defaced dial, stood above like a faithful guardian.  Farther on,
all the villas along the road, their grounds extending to the forest,
were also carefully shut up.  Their summer wealth of flowers continued to
bloom, and, under the shade of the clipped trees, the yellow sandy paths
were but lightly strewn with a few dead leaves.  Nothing could give a
more vivid idea of sudden departure and flight than the sight of these
deserted houses, decked out as usual behind their high iron gates.  There
seemed still a kind of quiver and warmth of life; and at times, at the
turn of the path, visions rose up in my mind of straw hats, upraised
parasols, and of goats tethered on the grass-plots in their accustomed

        [Picture: Colaquet managed to take us tolerably straight]

What, however, really seemed deathlike was the road, the highroad to
Corbeil, that I had left so full of life, with a continual flow of vans,
mail-coaches, market-gardeners’ carts, perambulating poultry-yards full
of cackle and prattle; carriages borne along through the whirlwind of
their own speed, on which float, even in the calmest weather, the veils
and ribbons of the occupants; and the tall waggons laden with fresh hay
and scythes and pitchforks, casting long shadows across the road.  And
now nothing and no one.  In the filled-up ruts the dust has the still
look of fallen snow, and the two wheels of my spring-cart glide on
noiselessly.  At the end of the village the farm appears in the distance,
closed, and silent from the foot of its walls to the highest tile of its
tall dark roof.  Has Goudeloup also taken flight? . . .  Here I am before
the gateway.  I knock—I call.  A window above the dairy opens cautiously,
and I see the cunning, somewhat unkempt head of the farmer appear, with
his untrimmed beard, and his small round, suspicious eyes hidden under
bushy eyebrows.

—Ah! it is you, Mr. Robert . . .  Wait a moment.  I am coming down.

                 [Picture: Goudeloup appears at a window]

Together we enter the little, low room where the carters, harvesters, and
threshers usually come in the evening to receive their day’s pay.  In a
corner I perceive two loaded guns.

—You see, says Goudeloup, I am ready for them . . .  If they leave me
alone, I shall not stir . . .  But if they are imprudent enough to meddle
with the farm . . .  Let them beware!

                [Picture: The shattered Champrosay bridge]

We were talking in low tones, as if in an enemy’s country.  He let me
have a few loaves and a sack of flour; then having loaded my cart, we
parted, promising each other soon to meet again, . . .  Poor man!

Before returning home, no traces of Prussians being visible, I was
tempted to go down the lane which passes under the walls of the farm and
leads to the Seine.  It was the whim of an artist.  A river is the soul
of a landscape.  Animating the scene with its ceaseless movement, it
gives life to all the changes of the day, and imparts grandeur to Nature
by the reflection of its mirrored banks, and of glowing sunsets sinking
into tranquil depths of liquid fire.  Now its water faithfully reflects
the surrounding melancholy.  The shattered bridge, the crumbling piers
piled up on either side in white heaps of stone, the iron chains dangling
in the river, all this seems like a great rent in the landscape, the
cruel work of the invader.  No boats, no rafts—the river has returned to
its wild, natural state, its surface furrowed by unfettered currents and
swirling pools eddying round the ruins of the broken bridge, and bearing
on its way nothing but drifting tufts of grass and roots, on which the
water-wagtail, wearied out with its long flight, abandons itself to the
course of the stream.  On the slopes of each bank the corn and vines
still stand, and the newly-mown fields are yet overshadowed by the high
haycocks; a whole harvest lost and left to its fate . . .

I had stood there for a moment looking at this scene of disaster, when I
heard two shots, followed by shrieks and groans, which seemed to come
from the direction of the farm.  I hastened to see what was the matter,
and as I approached the cries of “Help—Help” were redoubled.  I
recognised the voice of the farmer amongst others raised in anger, a
hideous jargon of sound.  I whip up Colaquet, but the hill is steep and
Colaquet moves not.  One would almost say he was afraid.  He lays back
his ears and runs up against the wall; besides this, the road takes a
turn, and I cannot see what is taking place on the highroad above.
Suddenly, through a breach in the wall that the fall of the neighbouring
bridge has made, as if expressly for me, the whole interior of the farm
comes into view: the yard, the sheds, men, horses, helmets, long lances,
flour sacks burst open, an unhorsed cavalry soldier lying before the well
at full length in a pool of blood, and the unfortunate Goudeloup, pale,
scared, a hideous object, howling and struggling between two gigantic
Uhlans, who have tied a rope round his neck, and are about to swing him
up by the pulley outside his hayloft.  It is impossible to describe my
sensations.  I am filled with feelings of indignation, pity, horror, and
anger . . .  I forget that I am wounded and unarmed.  I prepare to spring
over the breach and throw myself on these wretches . . .  But my foot
slips . . .  I hear something like the snap of a stick in my leg,
followed by horrible pain.  Everything goes round with me, the yard, the
sheds, the pulley . . .

                   [Picture: Uhlans hanging Goudeloup]

When I recovered consciousness, I was lying stretched on the hay in my
cart before the gate of the Hermitage.  The sun was setting and the wood
was still.  Colaquet was quietly nibbling the grass from out of the
cracks in the wall.  How had I got home?  How had I been able to avoid
the Uhlans, who swarmed on the highway.  Perhaps Colaquet had the idea of
coming across country and reaching the forest by the quarry road? . . .
And, in truth, the good creature proudly tossed his head and moved his
ears, as if to say, “I have saved you from a dangerous pass!” . . .  I
was in great pain, and it really required some courage to step out of the
cart, unharness the donkey, and go into the house.  I thought I had for
the second time broken my leg.  However, after an hour’s rest, I was able
to rise, take a little food, and write these few pages.  The pain is
already less sharp, and nothing remains but a great weariness . . .
Nevertheless, I do not think I shall sleep much to-night.  I know they
are prowling around me, that they are still there, and I have seen them
at work . . .  Oh! that unfortunate peasant, murdered in his farmyard,
dragging himself, clutching at the walls! . . .

                     [Picture: Gate at the Hermitage]

                                * * * * *

                    [Picture: Prussians on the march]

                                                       _September_ 20_th_.

From the four corners of the horizon, in the murmur of the distant road,
which the passing wind quickly snatches up and bears to my ears, there is
a ceaseless and confused rumbling, a noise as of the heavy and monotonous
sound of waves, which, enveloping the whole forest, slowly flows on
towards Paris, to die away at the point where the wide roads are lost in
the immense encompassing zone.  Till now the inundating masses have
spared me, and here I remain cowering in the Hermitage, listening to the
advancing tide, like a shipwrecked man on a rock surrounded by the sea.

                   [Picture: Cavalry patrols close by]

Luckily for me, if the country is invaded, it is not yet regularly
occupied by the troops.  They pass through and do not make any stay.
Nevertheless, two or three times I have heard at night the cavalry
patrols skirt the walls of the Hermitage.  Often, when the shooting
season was near, the forest rangers would thus pass by, pausing for an
instant under the gateway to call out a loud “Good-night” to the keeper’s
little home.  The dogs would bark and sniff at the kennel railings, then
a door opened, and old Guillard brought out a large jug of sparkling
wine, in which a ray of moonlight danced, and without dismounting they
drank it down.  How different from these ghostly patrols, whose very
approach makes my heart beat!  They pass by in silence.  Only from time
to time the clink of a sword, the neigh of a horse, a few low-spoken
words in a harsh and barbarous language, jar on the stillness of the air.
This effectually drives away sleep for the rest of the night.

[Picture: “Old Guillard brought out a large jug of sparkling wine.”] In
the daytime the clear, shrill notes of the bugles come in gusts to the
little garden, with the beating of dull and discordant drums, marking the
tune in a jerky, singular rhythm, which seems to accompany a cannibal’s
war-dance.  It is to the sound of these barbarous drums that all the
northern races, the Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, are advancing over our
magnificent roads of the _Ile-de-France_, the glorious autumn weather
dazzling them by the unaccustomed brilliancy of its sun and sky.  During
this time I live as unobtrusively as possible.  I no longer light my
fire, in order to avoid the smoke which gives light and life to the roof.
I do not even go out into the orchard.  I am sure that already the grass
is growing across my threshold, and that the invading forest is hemming
me closely in.  Lastly, by way of precaution, I have killed my cock.
That was a cruel sacrifice.  I like that abrupt awakening at dawn, that
call to life and work, which the cock gives forth to the surrounding
country, drawing himself up for the battle with a great flapping of
wings.  But the Prussians might have heard him . . .  Now I have only
three or four quiet and silent hens in my poultry-yard, and a few
rabbits, who are not likely to betray me.

                   [Picture: . . I have killed my cock]

                                * * * * *

          [Picture: Robert writing by the light of a small fire]

                                   _September_ 21_st_, 22_d_, _and_ 23_d_.

I am writing this at night, by the glimmer of a small turf-fire—a sort of
brazier burning on the flags in a corner of the room.  I have neither oil
nor candles.  It is raining.  On all sides of the Hermitage I hear the
water streaming over miles of foliage.  The wind blows.  My revolver and
a gun loaded with buckshot are ready by my side, and I await the return
of the ruffians, for they have already been here.

Their first visit took place three days ago, in the afternoon of the
21st.  The sound of heavy steps on the pavement of the cloister made me
peep out of my attic window, and I saw five or six hulking fellows in
forage-caps, with ruddy faces and low, brutal countenances, like those of
Goudeloup’s murderers. They spoke in hushed voices, timidly advancing,
like cowardly plunderers.  If I had been able to fire at them, I should
have put them to flight, but once the alarm given, they would return in
greater numbers.  I waited.  Owing to the neglected look of the house,
and thanks to the vines and ivy, that gave it the aspect of a ruin, the
ruffians have passed by without stopping.  And yet the last of them bent
down for a moment to the keyhole.  Standing behind my door, revolver in
hand, I heard his breathing while I held my own breath.  Perhaps he had
caught sight of the glimmer of the dying cinders of my fire.  However
that may be, the wretch did not go away, and began to rummage in my
keyhole with his bayonet.  Fortunately his comrades called out to
him:—Hartmann . . . Hartman . . .

               [Picture: Enemy soldier trying the keyhole]

He went off to rejoin them, and I was able to look into the enclosure
through the attic window.

            [Picture: “They began drinking out of their caps.]

They had just broken open the door of the keeper’s house.  Poor mother
Guillard! it was indeed lost trouble to have given me her key.  Soon
after, shouts of joy told me that they had discovered the cellar.  They
brought out a barrel of wine into the orchard, so as to drink it more at
their ease, and hoisted it on to a wide stone bench.  Having staved in
the barrel, they began drinking out of their caps and hands, shouting and
jostling each other.  The bent heads disappeared in the cask, and came
out smeared with dregs, while others greedily took their place.  The thin
new wine, made of small, sour black grapes, soon intoxicated all these
beer-drinkers.  Some of them sang and danced round the barrel, while the
others re-entered the keeper’s house, and as they found nothing tempting
there to satisfy their craving for pillage, they threw the furniture out
of the window, and set fire to a walnut cupboard, whose dry and time-worn
shelves blazed up like a bundle of straw.  At last they went off, reeling
through the driving rain.  In front of the gateway there was a quarrel.
I saw the flash of bayonets, a man fall heavily into the mud and rise up
again covered with blood, his uniform all stained with the
yellow-coloured soil of the quarries.  And to think that France is at the
mercy of these brutes! . . .

The next day the same party returned.  I understood by that, they had not
mentioned their windfall, and I was a little reassured.  However, I am a
complete prisoner.  I dare not stir from the principal room.  Near at
hand, in a little wood-shed, I have fastened up Colaquet, whose galloping
might have betrayed me.  The poor animal patiently bears his captivity,
sleeps part of the day, and at times gives himself a good shake,
surprised at the loss of his freedom . . .  At dusk the Prussians depart,
more intoxicated than on the evening before.

To-day I have seen no one.  But the cask is not yet empty, and I expect
them again.

                    [Picture: Plundered wine-barrels]

                                * * * * *

                   [Picture: Prussians firing on Paris]

                                                       _September_ 24_th_.

. . . This morning a furious cannonading is taking place.  They are
fighting before Paris.  The siege is begun.  It has given me a feeling of
pain and anger impossible to describe.  They are firing on Paris, the
wretches!  It is the intellect of the whole world that they attack.  Oh,
why am I not there with the others? . . .

Instantaneously all yesterday’s apprehensions have vanished.  I became
ashamed of my mole-like existence.  For the last week I have drunk
nothing but the water from the cistern, but now, I hardly know wherefore,
I went out on purpose to fill my jug at the cloister well, and it seemed
to do me good to run some kind of risk.  I looked into the Guillards’
house as I passed by, and my anger increased at the sight of this humble
home ruthlessly pillaged, the furniture destroyed and burnt, the
window-panes broken.  I could not help thinking of the fate of Paris if
they enter it . . .

[Picture: Robert peering through his window] I had just closed my door
when I heard footsteps in the enclosure.  It was one of those rascals who
came the other day, the identical one who had so long rummaged at my
lock.  He looked if there was any wine left in the cask, and then, having
filled his flask, began drinking, sprawling at full length on the stone
bench, his head resting on his hands.  He sang while drinking; his young
fresh voice rang through the cloister with a song about the month of May,
in which the words—_Mein lieb_, _lieb Mai_—were constantly repeated.  He
was just opposite my attic window, within easy reach of my revolver.  I
looked at him for a long time, asking myself if I should kill him.  In
the direction of Paris the cannon still thundered, filling my heart with
terrible anguish . . .  After all, perhaps by killing this fellow I
should be saving some of my own people now fighting on the ramparts . . .

                 [Picture: Soldier drinking and singing]

I do not know whether my unseen glance and the intense hatred I was
feeling towards him, did not at last disturb him and put him on his
guard; but all of a sudden he raised his head, a head covered with thick
bristling hair, the eyes of an albino, and red moustaches, showing a
grinning set of cruel-looking teeth.  For one moment he threw a
suspicious glance around him, and having rebuckled his belt and refilled
his flask, he went off.  As he passed in front of my window, I had my
finger on the trigger.  Well, no; I could not do it.  To kill for the
sake of killing, with such certainty, and so little personal danger, was
beyond me.  It is not such an easy thing as one fancies, to take a
fellow-creature’s life in cold blood.

Once outside the precincts of the Hermitage, and having shaken off his
undefined sensation of fear, the rascal again took up his song, and I
heard him getting farther and farther away, giving forth to the forest
his “_Mein lieb_, _lieb Mai_ . . .”

Sing away, sing away, my lad! you have had a narrow escape of never
seeing again your sweet month of May . . .

                   [Picture: Soldier walks off singing]

                                * * * * *

                    [Picture: The approach of Autumn]

                                                           _October_ . . .

What day, what date can it be?  I have completely lost count.  My brain
is all confused.  Yet it seems to me that it must be October.  The
monotonous days get shorter and shorter, the wind colder, and the foliage
of the large trees around me becomes thinner at each gust of wind.  The
sound of incessant cannonading in the direction of Paris, makes a
lugubrious accompaniment to my everyday life, a deep, low bass, always
mingling in my thoughts.  I think the Prussians must have their hands
full over there, for my marauders have not reappeared.  I no longer even
hear the long, slow rumbling of the ammunition waggons, nor the rolling
of drums, which used to resound on the roads outside the forest.  So I
have again lighted the fire in the large room, and I walk openly about in
the orchard.

From day to day the difficulties of life increase.  I have nothing left,
neither bread, wine, nor lamp-oil.  A month ago, with the sunshine, the
house well aired, and the comfort of warmth, these privations were
bearable, but now they seem very hard.  In the poultry-yard there are
only two hens left; always hiding under the rafters to escape the
continual driving rain.  I make faggots with the branches of the
fruit-trees, which, brittle and no longer protected by their leaves, snap
off and fall to the ground.  The apple-trees have golden moss, the
plum-trees long streaks of light-coloured gum under their resinous bark,
and they make large, bright fires, throwing a sunshine into their warmth.
I have also gathered the last apples, all reddened by the breath of the
first frost, and I have made a poor kind of cider, which I drink instead
of wine.  With my bread I have been less successful.  I tried, with the
unfortunate Goudeloup’s flour, to knead some dough in the bottom of a
cupboard drawer which I used as a trough; and then, under the ashes on
the bricks, I made as well as I could, thick cakes, of which the outsides
were burnt, and the insides hardly done enough.  They reminded me of
those little round bits of dough that, as a child, I held in the tongs,
and made into rolls about the size of a lozenge.

From time to time I get a windfall.  For instance, the other day, as I
was rummaging in the keeper’s house, I found on a damp and mouldy
cupboard shelf a few bottles of walnut-spirit that had been overlooked by
the plunderers; and another time I found a large sack, which I opened
with a beating heart, thinking it contained potatoes.  I was quite
startled on pulling out from it magpies’ beaks, vipers’ heads, dry and
dust-coloured, squirrels’ tails, with their bushy red fur, and
field-mice’s tails, as delicate as silken twist.  These are the keeper’s
perquisites, as they are given so much for the head and tail of
destructive animals.  They therefore keep these trophies of the chase
very carefully, as they are paid for them by Government once a month.

—It always buys tobacco, as good old Guillard used to say.

[Picture: Robert exploring cupboards] I must confess that at this moment
I would willingly have given up all these old bones in exchange for a few
rolls of tobacco.  I have only enough to last me two or three days, and
that is really the only privation I dread.  To me the forest is an
inexhaustible larder.  When my poultry-yard is empty, I shall be able to
snare some of those fine cock-pheasants that come round the Hermitage to
pick up the grains of buckwheat hidden in the wet soil.  But tobacco!
tobacco! . . .

I read a little, and have even tried to paint.  It was a few mornings
ago, in the light of a beautiful red sun, shining through the air thick
with mist; under the shed was a heap of apples, tempting me by their
lovely colouring of all shades, from the tender green of young leaves to
the ardent glow of autumnal foliage.  But I was not able to work for
long.  In a few minutes the sky became overcast.  It was raining in
torrents.  And large flocks of wild geese, with outstretched necks and
beating against the wind, passed over the house, announcing a hard winter
and the approach of snow by the white down shaken from their wings.

                  [Picture: Robert working on a picture]

                                * * * * *

                   [Picture: Wild geese over the house]

                                * * * * *

                 [Picture: Deserted roads in Champrosay]

                                                    _The same month_ . . .

To-day I made a long expedition to Champrosay.  Reassured by the
stillness around me, I harnessed Colaquet in good time, and we started.
Failing the sight of a human face, I longed to gaze on roads and houses.

[Picture: Damaged door in house] I found the country as deserted and
silent, and far more dreary than before.  The Prussians have only passed
through, but they have left their mark everywhere.  It seemed the very
picture of an Algerian village after a swarm of locusts, a bare,
devastated, devoured, and riddled scene; the houses with doors and
windows all wide open, even to the little iron gates of the kennels and
the latticed shutters of the rabbit-hutches.  I went into some of the
houses . . .  Our peasants are rather like the Arabs.  They are seen in
the fields, in the courtyards, on their thresholds, but they do not often
admit a Parisian inside their doors.  Now I could thoroughly search into
these unknown lives, these forsaken homes.  Their habits still clung to
them, and could be traced in the mantelpieces dark with soot, the hanging
ropes in the courtyards where the washing is dried, the now empty nails
driven into the walls, and on the walnut table, by the marks idly cut
with a knife, and the notches made between each mouthful.  All those
village households were alike—I came upon one, however, that possessed
one luxury more than the others—a parlour, or at least what was intended
for a parlour.  In a small brick-floored room behind the kitchen, a green
paper had been put up, coloured glass had been let into the window, and a
pair of gilt fire-dogs, a round tea-table, and a large arm-chair covered
with worn chintz, had been placed in it.  The ambition of a peasant’s
lifetime could be felt there.  Certainly that man had said to himself,
“When I shall be old, when I shall have slaved and laboured hard, I will
become a _bourgeois_.  I will have a parlour like the mayor, and a
comfortable arm-chair to sit in.”  Poor devil!  They have made a fine
mess of his parlour!

                [Picture: A parlour in an abandoned house]

I left Champrosay sad at heart.  The desolation of those abandoned houses
had struck and chilled me like the cold damp falling from the walls of a
cellar.  Instead of going straight hack to the Hermitage, I went a long
way round by the woods.  I felt a craving for air and Nature.

Unluckily all this side of the forest bears an aspect of wildness and
neglect, which is not very inspiriting.  Old and now unused quarries have
left there piles of rocks, and a scattering of pebbles, which make the
soil both dry and barren.  Not a single blade of grass is to be seen on
the paths.  Wild stocks, brambles, and ivy alone spring up from out of
these large gaping holes, clinging by all their roots to the uneven edges
of the stones, and through the bare and interwoven branches, the quarries
appear still deeper.  For a short time we had been winding our way among
the rocks.  Suddenly Colaquet stopped short, and his ears began to
tremble with fear.  What is the matter with him?  I lean forward and look
. . .  It is the body of a Prussian soldier that has been pitched down
head-foremost into the quarry.  I must confess it gave me a shudder.  Had
it been on the highway or in the plain, this corpse would not have
horrified me so much.  Where there are so many soldiers and so many guns,
the probability of death seems ever present; but here in this hollow, in
this out-of-the-way part of the wood, it bore an appearance of murder and
mystery . . .  Looking more attentively, I thought I recognised my robber
of the other day, he who was singing so lustily about the month of May.
Has he been killed by a peasant?  But where could the peasant have come
from?  There is nobody left at Champrosay, Minville, or the Meillottes.
More probably it is the result of some drunken quarrel between comrades,
like the one I saw from the windows of the Hermitage . . .

I went home very quickly; and all through the evening I was haunted by
the idea that my only guest, my only companion in the whole of the dreary
forest, was that dead body stretched out on the red sand of the quarries
. . .

                       [Picture: Overgrown quarry]

                                * * * * *

                     [Picture: Robert gathering wood]

                                                      _Unknown date_ . . .

It is raining—it is cold.  The sky is dark.  I go to and fro in the
Hermitage, tying up faggots and making bread, while the cannon thunders
incessantly, and by a strange phenomenon disturbs the earth even more
than the air.  With my prison labour, my selfish and silent life in the
midst of such a terrible drama, I compare myself to an ant, busily
groping about on the surface of the soil, deaf to the sounds of humanity
around it, all too great for its insignificance, and which surround
without troubling it.  From time to time, to divert my thoughts, I take a
journey to Champrosay without any fear of meeting the Prussians, who have
decidedly abandoned the Corbeil road, and are making their descent on
Paris by way of Melun and Villeneuve-Saint-Georges.  Once or twice,
however, a horse’s gallop obliged me to take refuge in some shed, and I
saw a rapid and hurried bearer of despatches riding across the country as
if merely to unite it to headquarters, to take possession of the road,
and mark it with the hoofs of the Prussian horses.

This deserted village, with its wide-open houses, interests and charms me
like a sort of Pompeii.  I wander through and examine it.  I amuse myself
by reconstructing the lives of these absent ones . . .

                    [Picture: Prussian despatch rider]

                                * * * * *

                    [Picture: Champrosay washing-pond]

                                                       _Another day_ . . .

. . . Something strange is going on around me.  I am not alone in the
forest.  There is evidently some one hiding near here, and some one who
kills.  To-day, in the washing-pond of Champrosay, I found a second
corpse.  A Saxon was stretched out there, only his fair head visible
above the water, lying on the damp stone ledge.  Moreover, he was well
hidden away, thrust into oblivion in this small pond surrounded by
brushwood, as securely as that other one over there, in the quarry in the
wood.  I had by chance taken Colaquet to drink there.  The sight of that
long, motionless body startled me.  Were it not for the pool of blood
which stained the stones round his head, and mingled with the reflection
of the purple sunset in the water, it might have been supposed that he
was asleep, so quiet and peaceful were his features.  I have often
noticed that expression on the face of the dead.  For the space of a
brief moment there is something about them more beautiful than life: a
solemn peace, a breathless slumber, a renewal of youth in the whole
being, which seems like a pause between the agitations of life and the
surprises of the unknown world opening before them.

[Picture: Colaquet about to drink] While I was contemplating the
unfortunate creature, night began to close in.  In the clear and mellow
twilight a great softness reigned over everything.  The roads, already
lighter than the sky, stretched out straight and regular.  The forest
spread out in dark masses, and beneath me a small vineyard path was
faintly lighted up by a ray of moonlight.  Over all Nature, reposing
after the day’s labour—on the silent fields, the hushed river, the
peaceful landscape gently fading into night—there was the same calm, the
same grand peace that rested on the face of the dead soldier.

                   [Picture: Saxon corpse in the pond]

                                * * * * *

                    [Picture: River scene in the park]

                                                            _Another day_.

. . . Between Champrosay and the Meillottes, in the middle of a park
which skirts the Seine, there stands a mansion built in the style of
Louis XV. of the period of the Marquis d’Etiolles and Madame de
Pompadour.  Two thick straight rows of trees slope down to the river,
showing, in summer-time, at the end of the arch of green foliage, a
mirror of blue water blended with a blue sky.  All the darkness of the
old avenues seems to escape through these two vistas of light.  At the
entrance near the gates, a wide moat surrounding the lawns, a circle of
moss-covered lime-trees and curbstones grazed by carriage-wheels, all
combine to show the antiquity of this quiet old place.  A fancy took me,
and the other day I went in there.

By a winding path I reached the front of the steps.  The doors were open,
the shutters broken.  On the ground-floor, in the large drawing-rooms,
where the walls were all covered with white carved panels, not a single
piece of furniture was left.  Nothing but straw, and on the façade,
between the stone carving of the balconies, were fresh marks and
scratches, showing how the furniture had been thrown out through the
windows.  The billiard-room only was untouched.  The Prussian officers
are like our own, they are very fond of playing billiards.  Only these
gentlemen had amused themselves by making a target of a large mirror, and
with its scratches, its chipped fragments, its small round holes looking
black in the light, the mirror seemed like a frozen lake cut and furrowed
by sharp skates.  Inside, the wind rushed through the large windows
battered down by bayonets and butt-ends of rifles, scattering and
sweeping in the dead leaves on to the floors.  Outside, it dashed under
the green-leafed aisle, rocking a forgotten boat on the pond, full of
broken twigs and golden-coloured willow-leaves.

I walked to the end of the avenues.  There, at the end of the terrace, is
a summer-house of red bricks overlooking the river; it is buried in the
trees, and the Prussians have probably not seen it.  The door, however,
is ajar.  I found a little sitting-room inside, hung with a flowery
chintz, which seemed the continuation of the Virginian jasmine climbing
through the latticed shutters; a piano, some scattered music, a book
forgotten on a bamboo stool in front of the view over the Seine, and in
the mysterious light of the closed shutters, the elegant and refined
portrait of a woman looked out of a golden frame.  Wife or maiden, who
can tell?  Dark, tall, with an ingenuous look, an enigmatic smile, and
eyes the colour of thought—those Parisian eyes that change with each
passing emotion.  It is the first face I have seen for two months, and is
so living, so proud, so youthful in its seriousness!  The impression this
picture has caused me is singular . . .  I dreamt of the summer
afternoons that she had spent there, seeking the solitude and freshness
of this corner of the park.  The book, the music, spoke of a refined
nature; and there lingered in the twilight of this little nook a perfume
of the past summer, of the vanished woman, and of a tender grace left
only in the smile of the portrait.

                      [Picture: Mansion in the park]

[Picture: Portrait in summer-house] Who is she?  Where is she?  I have
never seen her.  I shall in all probability never meet her.  And yet,
without knowing wherefore, I feel less lonely as I gaze at her.  I read
the book which she was reading, made happy by its being marked.  And
since then, not a day passes without my thinking of her.  It seems to me
that if I had this portrait here, the Hermitage would be less desolate,
but to complete the charm of the face, one ought also to have the
climbing jasmine of the summer-house, the rushes at the water’s edge, and
the little wild plants of the moat, whose bitter aroma comes back to me
as I write these lines.

               [Picture: Sitting-room containing portrait]

                                * * * * *

                    [Picture: Dead Prussian in ditch]

                                       _One evening_, _on returning home_.

. . . Found another dead Prussian.  This one was lying in a ditch by the
side of the road.  That makes the third . . .  And always the same wound,
a horrible gash at the nape of the neck . . .  It is almost like a
signature of the same hand.

But who can it be? . . .

                          [Picture: River scene]

                                * * * * *

              [Picture: Robert spit-roasting a hen-pheasant]

                                                        _November_ 15_th_.

. . . This is the first time for many a day that I can put down a date in
my diary, and make out a little order in this bewilderment of monotonous
days.  My whole existence is changed.  The Hermitage no longer seems so
silent and sad; there are now long, low conversations by the ash-covered
fire with which we fill the chimney at night.  The Robinson Crusoe of the
forest of Sénart has found his man Friday, and under the following

One evening last week, between eight and nine o’clock, while I was
roasting a fine hen-pheasant on a turnspit of my own invention, I heard
the report of a gun in the direction of Champrosay.  This was so unusual
that I listened very attentively, ready to extinguish my fire and put out
the little glimmer which might betray me.  Almost immediately, hurried
footsteps sounding heavy on the gravelled road, approached the Hermitage,
followed by barking of dogs and furious galloping.  It gave me the idea
of a hunted man pursued by horsemen and chased by furious dogs.
Shivering, and seized by the living terror I felt drawing near, I half
opened my window.  At that instant a man rushed across the moonlit
orchard, and ran towards the keeper’s house with an unerring certainty
that struck me.  Apparently he was well acquainted with the place.  He
had passed so rapidly that I could not distinguish his features; I only
saw a peasant’s blue smock all gathered up in the agitation of a wild
flight.  He jumped through a shattered window into the Guillards’ house,
and disappeared in the darkness of the empty dwelling.  Immediately
behind him a large white dog appeared at the entrance of the cloister.
Thrown out for a minute, he remained there, slowly wagging his tail and
sniffing, and then stretched himself out at full length in front of the
old gateway, baying in order to call the attention of the pursuers.  I
knew the Prussians often had dogs with them, and I expected to see a
patrol of Uhlans . . .  Odious animal! with what pleasure would I have
strangled it, if it had been within reach of my grasp.  I already saw the
Hermitage invaded, searched, my retreat discovered; and I felt angry with
that unfortunate peasant for having sought refuge so near me, as if all
the forest were not large enough.  How selfish fear makes us! . . .

  [Picture: “At that instant a man rushed across the moonlit orchard.”]

Fortunately for me, the Prussians were probably not very numerous, and
the darkness and the unknown forest frightened them.  I heard them call
in their dog, who kept up in front of the gate, the continual howl and
whimpering of an animal on the track.  However, he at last went off, and
the sound of him bounding through the brushwood and over the dead leaves
died out in the distance.  The silence that followed appalled me.  A man
was there, opposite to me.  Through the round opening of my attic window,
I tried to peer into the darkness.  The keeper’s little  house was still
silent and gloomy, with the black apertures of its dreary windows in the
white wall.  I imagined the unhappy man hiding in a corner, benumbed with
cold and perhaps wounded.  Should I leave him without help? . . .  I did
not hesitate long . . .  But just at the moment when I was gently opening
my door, it was violently pushed from the outside, and some one burst
into the room.

[Picture: Dog waiting at doorway] —Don’t be afraid, Mr. Robert.  It is I
. . .  It is Goudeloup . . .

It was the farmer of Champrosay, he whom I had seen with the rope round
his neck, ready to be swung up in his farmyard.  I recognised him at once
in the firelight; and yet there was something different about him.  Pale
and emaciated, his face hidden by an unkempt beard, his sharp glance and
tightened lips made a very different being of the well-to-do, cheerful
farmer of former days.  With the end of his smock, he wiped the blood off
his hands.

—You are wounded, Goudeloup?

He laughed significantly.

—No—no . . .  I have just been bleeding one of them on the road.  Only
this time I had not a fair chance.  While I was at work, some others came
up.  Never mind!  He will never get up again.

And he added, with a short, fierce laugh which showed his wolfish-looking

—That makes the fifteenth that I have laid low in two months . . .  I
think that is pretty well for one man alone, and with no other weapon but

He drew forth from under his smock a pair of pruning-shears—those large
kind of scissors that gardeners use to cut rose-trees and shrubs.  I had
a shudder of horror at the sight of the assassin’s tool, held by that
bloody hand; but I had been so long silent, and deprived of all
intercourse with human beings, that, the first feeling of repulsion
overcome, I made the unfortunate creature welcome to a place at my table.
There, in the comfortable atmosphere of the room, by the heat of the
faggots, at the smell of the pheasant, which was becoming brown before
the flame, his wild-beast expression seemed to soften.  Accustomed to the
darkness of the long nights, he blinked his eyes a little while he
related his history to me in a quiet tone.

[Picture: Pruning shears] —You thought I was hanged, Mr. Robert; well, I
thought so myself.  You must know that when the Uhlans arrived at the
farm, I first tried to defend myself, but they did not even give me time
to fire my second gun.  No sooner was the first shot fired than the gates
were forced open, and thirty of these robbers threw themselves on to me.
They put the granary rope round my neck and up I went . . .  For the
space of a moment, giddy at no longer feeling the ground under my feet, I
saw everything reeling around me: the farm, the sheds, the kennels, those
big red faces which laughed at the sight of me; and you also, whom I
caught sight of through the gap in the wall, looking as white as a ghost.
It seemed like a nightmare! . . .  Suddenly, while I was struggling, the
idea flashed across my mind, I know not why, to make the Freemason’s
signal of distress.  I learned that in my youth, when I belonged to the
lodge of the _Grand Orient_.  Immediately the wretches loosened the rope,
and I found myself on the ground once more.  It was their officer—a stout
man with black whiskers—who had me taken down only on account of my sign.

                   [Picture: Robert meeting Goudeloup]

“—You are a Freemason,” said he, in a low tone, and in excellent French.
“I am also one . . . and I would not refuse to help a brother who
appealed to me . . .  Be off, and let me see you no more! . . .”

I left my own home hanging my head like a beggar.  Only I did not go far,
you may believe.  Hidden among the ruins of the bridge, living on raw
turnips and sloes, I was present at the pillage of my goods; the emptied
granaries, the pulley creaking all day long to lower the sacks, the wood
burning in the open yard in large fires, round which they drank my wine,
and my furniture and my flocks going of by degrees in every direction!
And when at last nothing remained, after setting fire to the house, they
went off, driving and whipping my last cow before them.  That evening,
when I had been round my ruins, when, thinking of my children, I realised
that in my whole life long I should never make enough to restore my
property, even if I killed myself with work, I became mad with rage.  The
very first Prussian I met on the road I sprang upon like a wild beast and
cut his throat with this . . .

From that moment I had but one idea—to hunt down the Prussians.  I
remained in ambush night and day, attacking the stragglers, the
marauders, the despatch-bearers, the sentinels.  All those I kill I carry
to the quarries or throw into the water.  That is the tedious part.
Otherwise they are as gentle as lambs.  You can do what you will with
them . . .  However, the one this evening was more tough than the others,
and then that fiendish dog gave the alarm.  And now I must remain quiet
for a time, and with your permission, Mr. Robert, I will remain a few
days with you . . .

While he was speaking, his countenance resumed the sinister expression
and peculiar intensity that these fearful night-watches had imparted to
it.  What a terrible companion I am going to have! . . .

                  [Picture: Goudeloup hunting his prey]

                                * * * * *

                        [Picture: Prussian patrol]

                                                        _November_ 20_th_.

We have just spent a most dreadful week.  During eight days, the Prussian
patrols have unceasingly passed backwards and forwards through the
forest.  They skirted the walls of the Hermitage, and even entered the
enclosure, but the state of the keeper’s little house, left wide open and
abandoned; the ivy and brambles giving such a dilapidated appearance to
my own, protected us.  My companion and myself carefully remained inside
the whole time, deadening our steps across the room, lowering our voices
by the hearth, and only making a small fire at night.

[Picture: Jug] This time, had we been discovered, it meant death, and I
felt rather annoyed with Goudeloup for having made me his accomplice by
coming to take refuge here.  He understood my feelings, and offered
several times to go and seek another shelter; but I would not consent to
this.  To show his gratitude for my hospitality, he renders me a lot of
little services.  Very obliging, very clever in all the practical details
of life, about which I am so ignorant, he has taught me to make bread
that is eatable, real cider, and candles.  It is a pleasure to see him
busy all day long, restricting his faculty for work and order, which he
formerly exercised on a wider scale in the management of his large
farmstead and seventy-five acres of land, and adapting himself to the
confined space of our only room.  Gloomy and silent, moreover, and
sitting motionless for hours in the evening, his head buried in his
hands, like all inveterate workers with whom overwrought physical life
absorbs the moral being, I could not help sometimes smiling when I
noticed that, notwithstanding the tragical circumstances surrounding us,
he kept up his habit of prolonged meals and pauses between each mouthful.
Such as he is, the fellow interests me.  He is the true peasant in all
his native brutality.  His land, his goods, are far more precious to him
than his country or his family.  He unconsciously utters the most
monstrous sentiments.  If he is so bent on revenge, it is only because
the Prussians have burnt down his farm, and the horrors of the invasion
only rouse him when he thinks of his lost harvest, and his fields left
untilled and unsown.

                 [Picture: Goudeloup sitting despondent]

                                * * * * *

                   [Picture: Goudeloup’s derelict farm]

                                * * * * *

                   [Picture: Discussion with Goudeloup]

                                                   _November_ 22_nd_ . . .

We had a long conversation to-day.  We were in the shed seated across a
ladder, and, in spite of the coldness of the damp air which came to us
from the forest all laden with the smell of moist wood and damp earth, we
felt as much pleasure in breathing it as two dormice coming forth from
their holes.  Goudeloup was smoking a curiously-shaped pipe he has made
out of a snail’s shell, and he did so with an exaggerated appearance of
satisfaction and content not devoid of mischief.  In spite of my longing
to smoke, I have already several times refused to use his tobacco, well
knowing how it has been procured, and always expecting to see some shreds
of the blue cloth of which the Prussian uniforms are made.  As he caught
me sniffing the delightful fragrance of tobacco, which tantalised me, he
said, with that cunning smile of the peasant which puckers up their eyes,
leaving their lips thin and crafty:

—Well! come! you won’t smoke? . . .


No, thank you.  I have already told you I do not wish for any of your


Because I have taken it out of their pockets?  Yet I had every right to
do so.  They have robbed me enough, for me to be able to rob them also,
and a few handfuls of bad tobacco won’t pay for all my corn and oats . . .


With this difference, that these people have given you your life, whereas
you . . .


Yes, it is true they have given me my life, but they have burnt down my
farm—my poor farm!  I built it myself . . . and my beasts and my harvest,
fifteen acres of crops!  It was all insured against hail, fire, and
lightning; but who would have thought that, so near Paris, with all the
taxes we pay to have good soldiers, I ought to have insured myself
against the Prussians?  Now I have nothing left.  Are not such
catastrophes worse than death? . . .  Ah yes, the wretches; they gave me
my life!  They gave it me to beg from door to door with my wife and
children.  Don’t you see that when I think of all this, a furious passion
seizes me, and a thirst for blood, for . . .

                [Picture: Goudeloup waiting and watching]


What, you have not killed enough? . . .


No, not enough yet . . .  I must even make a confession, Mr. Robert.  You
are an easy-going man; you have received me kindly, and a chimney-corner
like yours is not to be despised in this weather.  And yet, all the same,
there are moments when I am weary of being here.  I want to escape, to
begin lying in wait by the roadside again.  It is such fun waiting for
one of those thieves to pass; to watch for him, dog his footsteps, and
say to oneself, “Not yet . . .” and then, quick, you jump on him and
finish him . . .  Another one who will not eat up my corn!


You, whom I have known so quiet and gentle, how can you talk like that
without showing the least feeling?


One would think there was an evil spirit within me that the war has
called forth . . .  But I must say that the first time it happened, I was
startled myself.  It was that transport soldier I met the evening of my
misfortune.  I struck with all my might at the uniform, hardly realising
there was a man inside it; then, when I felt that huge form give way and
the warm stream of blood inundate me, then I was afraid.  But remembering
directly the torn and ripped-up sacks of flour lying in my yard, I again
became desperate.


As you bear them such a grudge, why do you not try to get back into
Paris, or to rejoin the armies in the provinces?  You could then fight
openly, and kill the Prussians without treachery in the battles.


Join the army, Mr. Robert? . . .  But I am not a soldier!  My parents
paid dearly enough to prevent my being one . . .  I am a peasant, an
unhappy peasant, who revenges himself, and requires no one to help him.

                 [Picture: Goudeloup killing a Prussian]

While he spoke I saw reappear in him the wild beast I had admitted the
other evening.  The mad glare seemed to return to his eyes.  His lips
were compressed.  His fingers convulsively sought a weapon . . .

                         [Picture: Unknown image]

                                * * * * *

                       [Picture: Goudeloup leaves]

                                                        _November_ 28_th_.

He is gone.  I ought not to be astonished.  The wretch was tired of
having nothing to kill.  After promising to come sometimes at night and
knock at my door, he plunged into the shadows, less black than himself.
Well, brutal as he was, I regret him.  Solitude brings with it, after a
time, a feeling of torpor, a numbness of the whole being, which is really
unwholesome.  Words seem to start fresh thoughts.  By dint of talking to
this peasant of patriotism and self-sacrifice, I have re-awakened in
myself all that I was desirous of inspiring in him.  I feel quite
differently now.  And then my recovery, the sensation of returning
strength, which increases from day to day . . .  I long for action and
battle . . .

                         [Picture: Unknown image]

                                * * * * *

                     [Picture: The forest under snow]

                         _November_ 30_th_.  _December_ 1_st_ _and_ 2_nd_.

It is bitterly cold.  Through the dryness of the earth and atmosphere the
cannonading round Paris re-echoes still louder.  I have never heard
anything to equal it.  It must be a real battle.  At moments I fancy the
sounds draw nearer, for I can make out the platoon-firing and the
horrible rending noise of the mitrailleuse.  All around here there seems
a general commotion, as it were the rebounding sound of the battle.  On
the road to Melun troops are continually moving.  On the road to Corbeil
scared despatch-bearers gallop by furiously . . .  What can be taking
place? . . .  In spite of the cold, I go and wander about, seeking the
forest paths, where the cannonading is more distinctly heard . . .

At times I have a dream of Paris leaving its imprisoning ramparts, of the
French troops arriving here, of the forest of Sénart full of French
uniforms, and of I myself joining their ranks to drive out the Prussians
and reconquer France . . .

                        [Picture: Prussian lancer]

                                * * * * *

                   [Picture: Bavarian troops drilling]

                                                         _December_ 5_th_.

The incessant cannonading of the last few days has been succeeded by a
deathlike stillness.  What is going on?  I am fearfully anxious.  If
Paris had sallied forth from her walls and were now marching on the
roads, the disbanded and repulsed Prussians would fill the country and
constantly change their bivouacs.  But no.  Ever since yesterday I have
scoured the twelve miles of forest which hem me in like a wall on all
sides; in vain I scrutinise the lanes around, they are as silent and
lonely as usual.  Through the trees, in the distance, I saw near
Montgeron a company of Bavarians drilling in the open part of a wide
plain.  Mournfully drawn up in line under the lowering and lurid sky,
they trod with resigned melancholy through the mud of this uncultivated
and barren land . . .  Evidently Paris has not yet made a successful
sortie, but it has not capitulated either, for these soldiers presented
too pitiful an appearance to be conquerors.

Overhead, circling clouds of rooks fly by towards the great city, cawing
and alighting on the rising ground.  Never had I seen so many, even in
the peaceful winter, when all France is sown with wheat.  This year it is
another kind of seed which attracts them.

                      [Picture: Image of baron land]

                                * * * * *

                     [Picture: “—it was a balloon.”]

                                * * * * *

                       [Picture: Balloon overhead]

                                                         _December_ 6_th_.

Thank Heaven!  Paris still holds out, and is likely to do so.  I had a
delightful proof of this.  This morning I was by the cloister well when I
heard quick firing in the direction of Draveil.  Almost immediately a
peculiar sound, like the flapping of a sail at sea and the straining of
the stretched rigging, passed through the air above me.  It was a
balloon, a fine yellow balloon, very apparent against the darkness of the
clouds.  From where I stood it seemed to float over the tree-tops,
although in reality it was far above.  I cannot describe how the slender
texture of this silken balloon, whose netting I could distinctly see,
stirred and filled me with enthusiasm.  I remembered that above all this
conquered France, the soul of Paris still soared, a living strength more
powerful than all the Krupp cannons together, and I, a Parisian, felt
proud of it.  I felt inclined to cry, to shout, to call out.  I threw my
arms out towards the black, motionless specks at the edge of the car, two
human lives, tossed about by all the currents of heaven, far above the
rivers that may drown them, the precipices where they may be dashed to
pieces, and the Prussian armies, which must look from that height like
immense overrunning ant-heaps on the surface of the earth . . .  A light
powdery line became visible under the balloon.  I heard the sound of
scattered sand among the branches, and the vision was lost among the

                        [Picture: Man looking up]

                                * * * * *

                       [Picture: A roadside cross]

                                                         _December_ 9_th_.

What am I doing here?  I am really becoming ashamed of my useless life . . .
I had to bake some bread to-day, and could not summon up courage to
do it.  All the little details in which I used to take pleasure, like
those egotists in disguise—recluses and hermits—I now find despicable.  I
am completely cured, only an occasional pain on very cold days.  My duty
is on the ramparts with the others . . .  But how can I manage to rejoin
them?  It appears that the investment is very close, and the sentinels
are placed within rifle-shot of each other.  If I had only a companion,
some countryman who knows the roads well.  My thoughts fly to Goudeloup.
I ought not to have allowed him to leave me.  Who knows where he may be
now?  Perhaps strung up to some roadside cross, or dead from cold at the
bottom of a quarry.  However, the other evening, towards the Meillottes,
I heard a cry—nothing but a cry, but a terrible cry, long and despairing,
like a wail; and it flashed across me, “Goudeloup is there!” . . .  Ah,
yes! that man is a murderer; but at any rate he acts; he satisfies
brutally the thirst for vengeance and justice which is in him.  As for
me, I warm myself and sleep.  Which of us two is the most contemptible?

                       [Picture: Body in the snow]

                                * * * * *

                 [Picture: Deserted street in Champrosay]

                                                        _December_ 10_th_.

Returned to Champrosay in bitter cold weather.  The houses along the
roadside, with all their dark, empty windows, looked like sad and blind
beggars.  I visited again the park, the summer-house at the waterside,
and the smiling portrait which inhabits it.  The cold air had not dimmed
the peaceful face, nor the soft shades of the summer dress.  Only the
glance seemed to me more stern and severe, as if it contained a reproach.
On the very threshold I understood I was no longer welcome.  Cautiously I
closed the door again, and went down the frozen, moss-covered steps . . .
And all through the night the clear gaze of that fair Parisian
remorselessly haunted me.

             [Picture: Robert investigating Champrosay house]

                                * * * * *

                      [Picture: “I found a pigeon.”]

                                * * * * *

                      [Picture: Across the rooftops]

                                                        _December_ 11_th_.

This morning, on going to take up the snares at the end of my garden, I
found a pigeon.  It astonished me.  Tame pigeons do not remain on
deserted roofs, and till now I had only caught wood-pigeons.  This one
was really a tame pigeon, plump, with pink claws and back, and brown and
white wings.  The wire had not maimed it; it was merely numbed with cold.
I brought it in to the fire, and there, as I held it in both hands—for,
like a tame creature, it made not the slightest struggle—I discovered
some printed numbers on one of its wings, 523, and lower down, _Société
de l’Espérance_.  Then under the feathers I found a quill rather thicker
than the others, and rolled up, fastened to it, a tiny sheet of very thin
paper.  I had caught a carrier-pigeon!  Did it come from Paris or the
provinces?  Was it the messenger of victory or defeat, good or bad news?
. . .  For a long time I gazed at it with almost superstitious awe.  Let
loose in the room, he quietly went about pecking between the tiles.  By
degrees his feathers puffed out in the warmth and his strength returned.
Then I opened the window wide, and placed him on the sill.  He remained
there a moment looking up at the sky, stretching out his neck, trying to
find his bearings.  At last he rose straight into the air, and having
reached a certain height, white against the surrounding gloom, he sharply
turned towards Paris.  Ah! if I could only take the same road . . .

                             [Picture: Bird]

                                * * * * *

                  [Picture: Preparations for travelling]

                                                        _December_ 15_th_.

It is all settled.  We leave to-morrow.  I say “we,” because Goudeloup
has returned.  He came back yesterday in the dusk, more emaciated, more
terrible than before.  The wretched man is now at his twenty-first! . . .
Nevertheless the thirst for blood is beginning to be satiated; moreover,
he is closely pursued, and the nightly ambush has become most difficult.
I therefore had little trouble in deciding him to attempt an expedition
to Paris with me.  We shall start to-morrow in my boat, which is lying
out on the Seine, moored under the willows on the banks.  It is
Goudeloup’s idea.  He thinks that on a very dark night we shall be able
to get by to the _Port-à-l’Anglais_, and then, by creeping along the
towing-path, reach the first French barricade.  We shall see . . .  I
have prepared my revolver, some rugs, two or three loaves, and a large
flask of brandy.

The enterprise is certainly full of danger; but since I have made up my
mind to attempt it, I feel calmer.  Instead of making me anxious, the
sound of the cannon round Paris electrifies me.  I feel as if it were
calling me; and each time it thunders, I am inclined to answer, “We are
coming.”  I fancy the portrait in the summer-house smiles at me from its
gilt frame, and wears again its calm and placid aspect . . .  I have but
one regret in quitting the Hermitage: what will become of my poor
Colaquet?  I leave the stable-door open for him to seek his subsistence
in the forest.  I pile up near him my last bundles of straw, and while I
make these preparations I avoid meeting his astonished, kind eyes, which
seem to say reproachfully, “Where are you going?”

. . . And now, on my table, opened at this unfinished page, I abandon my
diary with these last words, which will probably end it: We are off to

                       [Picture: The moonlit river]

                                * * * * *

                 [Picture: Creeping through the forest.]

                                * * * * *

                      [Picture: The return journey.]

                                            _Written groping in the dark_.

I have returned . . .  Goudeloup is dead . . .  Our journey has failed.

                                                        _December_ 26_th_.

Ten days!  I have only been absent ten days.  It seems to me that the
multitude of scenes and shadows, the confused and terrible sensations I
have brought back from my short journey, are enough to fill several
existences.  Now that I have returned to the confined space of my
Hermitage, all these memories haunt and torment me,—I must try and write
them down merely to rid myself of them.

                [Picture: Commencing the outward journey]

We started on the night of the sixteenth.  A very cold night, without
stars, lighted up only by a white sprinkling of hoar-frost.  The frosted
trees looked like hawthorn bushes flowering before their leaves break
forth.  We passed through Champrosay, as dismal and silent as the
hoar-frost which was falling and lying on its cold roofs, instead of
gently melting round the water-spouts by the warmth of the lighted fires.
Not a Prussian was to be seen on the horizon, and this was fortunate, as
our two outlines stood out distinctly in the great bare plain.  I found
my boat in a little creek hidden between the banks.  It was a very
lightly-built Norwegian boat.  Having wrapped some rags round the oars,
we pushed off noiselessly on the lonely river, knocking now and then
against the icicles which float on the surface of the water like blocks
of crystal.  Many a time, in preceding years, I had embarked on nights as
dark and cold to set or visit my night-lines.  But what life there was on
the river around me!  A somewhat mysterious, dreamy sort of life, full of
the silence of universal slumber.  Long wood rafts, with their fires
lighted fore and aft, and shadows standing near the helm, slowly go down
towards Paris, gliding by through all the forest shade, and entering
Bercy at break of day, in the full glare of a noisy and crowded
thoroughfare.  On the banks, waggons passed along, the night express
train gliding along through the windings of the railway track, like a
serpent with eyes of fire.  And I pondered over all the sad or joyful
motives that set all these people in motion . . .  At intervals, by the
side of the river, which nearly bathed their walls, the lock-keeper’s
house, the ferrymen’s hut, the boatmen’s public-houses, threw the glimmer
from their dimmed windows over the still water.

                  [Picture: Wood rafts of former times]

To-day there is nothing of all this.  We have a new river before us,
black and solitary, disturbed by all those broken bridges, which change
the currents.  However, by a few strokes of the oar I was able to direct
our little bark, and keep it near enough to the middle of the stream to
avoid the submerged islands marked out by the dipping willows . . .

                  [Picture: “We crossed a heavy punt.”]

—All goes well . . . said Goudeloup in a low voice.

At that moment the noise of an oar thrown into a boat, came from the
bank, and a powerful southern voice called through the night:

—Come, ferryman, make haste! . . .

—It is the Draveil doctor, whispered my companion.

I too had recognised the kindly voice, that is heard day and night on
highroads and byeways, always encouraging and always hurried.  How did he
come there?  Had he therefore stayed at Draveil? . . .  I should have
liked to have called out to him: “Good-night, Doctor!”  But a moment’s
reflection stopped me.  A lucky thought, in truth; for directly after we
crossed a heavy punt, with a lantern in the bow, passing over from one
side of the river to the other; and I saw by the side of dear Doctor R—
in his old felt hat, weather-beaten by all the storms of Seine and Oise,
some shining helmets.

                [Picture: Approaching the railway bridge]

By rare good fortune we were beyond the rays of their lantern, which
deepened the shadow through which our boat was gliding, and we passed by
unseen.  No less danger awaited us a little farther on—the railway
bridge, of which three arches were blown up, blocking the river with its
gigantic remains.  I really hardly know how we were able to get through
this fearful barrier in the dark, without being swamped or dashed to
pieces.  At Port-Courcelles we had the same fear.  The enormous gnarled
willows of the two islets became in the night so many shoals, that we
narrowly escaped.  At last we reach Ablon and its lock.  Here the cannon
round Paris resounds clear and terrible, sending forth at each instant
the red flash of its thunder . . .  We ought to have expected it: the
lock is closed.  Fortunately our boat is light, and together we shall be
able, as I have so often done, to hoist it on to the bank, and carry it
over to the other side of the barrier.  We land at the little steps where
the innkeeper of Ablon skins his eels on summer days, and where the
fishermen sit patiently with their rods, bathed in sunshine from the top
of their boating-hats down to their shoes of untanned leather.  It is
astonishing how a feeling of danger changes the whole aspect of things!
. . .  When nearly at the top of the steps, I perceived against the
darkness, ten paces from me, a sentry on his beat, pacing up and down the
quay.  Lower down, the lock-keeper’s house, turned into a Prussian
outpost, has all its windows lighted up.  I wish to go down quickly,
re-embark, and gain the other bank; but Goudeloup will not listen to me.
His eyes remain obstinately fixed on that shadow which looms through the
fog, and whistles while trampling above us.  I try to drag him away.  He
escapes, makes one bound . . .  I hear a dull sound, a smothered cry, the
rattle of arms, and the heavy fall of a man.

[Picture: The wrecked railway bridge] —Twenty-two! . . . says Goudeloup,
slipping, quite out of breath, down the slope.

But the unfortunate soldier, that he has left stretched out by the
river-side, has found strength before dying to fire his gun.  The sharp
report rouses both banks of the river.  Impossible to land.  We quickly
push out into the middle of the stream, and row hard up the river.  It is
all like a bad dream.  The wind and current, everything is against us.  A
boat pushes off from the lock, coming straight at us, lighted by a torch
which dips up and down as it watches for us, while another boat
approaches us in a contrary direction.

—To the dredger . . . whispers Goudeloup in my ear.

                   [Picture: On the steps by the lock]

Near us, moored some fifty or sixty feet from the shore, a dredging-boat
reared its black mass above the water, with its barrels and bucket-chain
to clear away the sand.  The Seine was very high, and the water half
covered it, dashing against its bows with vehemence.

We board her, but in our haste to take refuge on this wreck we forget to
fasten our boat, which floats off with the rugs and provision it
contains.  This saves us.  Five minutes later a formidable “hurrah” tells
us the Prussians have just found our boat.  Seeing it empty, they must
have thought we were drowned, engulfed; for a few moments after, the
torches returned to the shore, and the whole river resumed its silence
and darkness . . .

                    [Picture: Swimming to the dredger]

The dredger on which we found ourselves was a complete wreck—a curious
shelter, crackling and creaking all over, and furiously lashed by the
waters.  On the deck, covered with splinters of wood and pieces of cast
iron, the cold was intolerable.  We were obliged to take refuge in the
engine-room, to which the water happily had not yet penetrated.  It would
soon, however, reach it, for in several places the sides of the room were
cracked almost down to the level of the waves, and we found ourselves
lighted by the leaden reflection of the darkness on the water.  What
gloomy hours we spent there!  Hunger, fear, and the terrible cold numbing
our limbs with a feeling of drowsiness against which we were obliged to
struggle . . .  All around, the water seethed, the wood groaned, the
bucket-chain creaked in its rustiness, and aloft, above our heads,
something like the rag of a drenched flag flapped in the wind.  We
impatiently waited for daybreak, not knowing exactly what distance
separated us from the land, nor how we should be able to reach it.  In
our fitful slumbers, broken as they were by anxious thoughts of escape,
the shaking of the dredging-boat and the sound of the water surrounding
us, gave me at times the impression of a long voyage and a stormy night
at sea . . .

When through the holes in the room, which were blackened and torn as if
by a bombardment, we saw the river catch the first light of a sullen
winter’s morning, we tried to make out our position.  The slopes of
Juvisy commanded the farther bank, rising above the fog, which its tall
trees pierced with their bare tops.  On the opposite shore, eighty or a
hundred feet beyond the dredger, lay the flat, bare plains of Draveil,
stretching away into the far distance, without trace of a soldier on
them.  Evidently that was the side we could escape by.  The anticipation
of a cold bath, in the month of December, in that deep, foaming, and
swift-running water, was rather terrifying.  However, the iron chain that
moored the dredger to the bank was happily still fastened to its ring,
and we had the resource left of clinging to it and being guided by it.
While we were discussing this, a cannon was fired off rather close at
hand, from the heights of Juvisy, followed up immediately by the whistle
of a shell and its splash in the water near us.  A few seconds later,
before we had recovered from our astonishment, a second shell fell near
the dredger.  Then I understood the flag, the splinters of wood, the
pieces of cast iron, and the smell of burnt powder we had noticed in the
cabin.  The Prussians were using the old dredger as a target for their
cannons.  It was absolutely necessary to quit at once.  The cold and the
dangers of the river sank into insignificance.  Forward we must go.  I
seized hold of the chain with both hands and lowered myself rapidly into
the river, Goudeloup following me.  Our fingers were skinned by the
chafing iron: we advanced but slowly, numbed by the current and the icy
water.  A fresh cannon-shot redoubles our energy.  Look out!  Here comes
the shell.  This time it falls full on the iron-plated front of the
dredger, bursts, and covers us with the wreckage.  I hear behind me a
deep sigh . . .  No, never shall I forget the last agonising motion of
that chain, which I felt move, struggle for a second, and then rise up
quickly in the water, loose, free, and light in my hands . . .

[Picture: They get into the river again] I turned round; no one to be
seen.  Nothing but a mass of blood floating away on the stream.  The
unfortunate fellow must have been struck on the head and killed on the
spot . . .  A feeling of intense despair overcame me.  My companion
slaughtered beside me, and I helpless to succour him . . .  A little more
and I too must have let go the chain; but the instinct of life won the
day, and a few minutes later I landed on the bank, but to get no farther.
After a dozen steps, overcome by the anxiety, fatigue, and terrible cold
which penetrated through all my wet clothes, I dropped down by the
roadside on the dry grass of a ditch.  The well-known trot of a horse,
the roll of an old cabriolet, and the kind voice of Doctor R— drew me
from my lethargy.

—What! it is you? . . .  What are you doing there?

Quick as lightning, he wrapped me up in his cloak, hid me in the straw
under the apron of the carriage, and set off in the direction of Draveil,
where the excellent man has turned his house into a hospital.  From the
cabriolet I passed into the coach-house.  There, dry clothes and a few
glasses of hot grog soon revived me.  I remained there till nightfall,
without daring to move, understanding very well, although the Doctor had
never told me, the risk he was incurring by receiving me.  The house was
full of soldiers and hospital attendants.  Military boots resounded on
the pavement of the small courtyard.  And all around, the loud laughter,
the swords clashing, and the harsh German speech, still more accentuated
by its insolent tone.  I heard all this with my eyes shut, stupefied by
the sensation of comfort, with a vague recollection of past danger and of
the cold river, and poor Goudeloup’s heart-rending groan ringing in my

At night the Doctor came to set me free, and took me to the room
generally occupied by his grandchildren, whom he had sent away on the
approach of the Prussians.  It was there that I awoke the next morning.
After the horrible scenes of the previous day, those three little cribs,
with white muslin curtains round them, the children’s toys lying
scattered on the floor with their lesson-books, even the faint medicinal
smell that came from a cupboard in which the Doctor kept some drugs,
everything calmed and soothed my over-excited nerves.  In a neighbouring
yard a cock crowed and a donkey began braying.  The village seemed to
awaken.  Suddenly a bugle-call, rudely jarring on these peaceful sounds,
recalled the sad reality.  Then there was coming and going to and fro;
doors banged . . .  I drew near the window.  The Doctor’s house looked
into the street, over the flower-beds of a narrow strip of garden in
front of it.  Every one knew his house, with its round brass bell-knob
standing out brightly on the freshly white-washed wall; and the furniture
in the little parlour, which could be seen on the ground-floor, gave it
an appearance of homely comfort.  Hidden behind the closed blinds, I saw
the street full of men in forage-caps falling into line, calling,
numbering each other, ready to start.  Among the caps, several Bavarian
helmets appeared.  These were quartermasters running from house to house,
chalking down the numbers on the doors, preparing quarters for the
advancing forces.  Soon the departing regiment moved off to the sound of
their drums, while opposite, at the entrance to the village, the Bavarian
buglers noisily entered.  During the last three months the unhappy
village had been in this condition.  The straw of the encampments had not
time to grow cold between the departure of one regiment and the arrival
of another . . .

                 [Picture: Being picked up by the Doctor]

The Doctor, who just then came into the room, made me leave the window.

—Take care, Mr. Robert; do not show yourself.  There is at the
_Commandatur_ a list of the inhabitants who have remained in the country,
and we are all closely watched.  After eight o’clock in the evening,
nobody except myself is allowed to go outside their house . . .  So many
Prussians have been murdered in the neighbourhood!  Draveil pays the
penalty.  Their requisitions are three times heavier here than elsewhere.
The least word, and they imprison; the slightest show of rebellion, and
they shoot.  Our unhappy peasants are terrified.  They spy and inform
about each other; and if one of them perceived that I was hiding some one
in my house, he would be capable—to spare himself a requisition—of
warning the _Commandatur_.  What would be the fate of both of us, I can
easily imagine . . .

He was so afraid of any imprudence on my part, poor dear Doctor, that all
the time I stayed in his house he kept the key of my room in his pocket.
The latticed shutters and closed windows threw a prison gloom over my
room, that only gave me light enough to read by.  I had medical works, a
few odd volumes translated from the Panckoucke series, and from time to
time a copy of a French paper published by the Prussians at Versailles.
That also was written in a foreign kind of French, and our real or
imaginary defeats were sneeringly described with coarse and stupid jokes.

When I could no longer read, I looked out through the blinds into the
street—the real old-fashioned street of a country town.  Straight rows of
houses with little gardens and a pavement in front, the spaces between
them filled with a trellis-work of branches, or the trunk of a great elm,
and a background of plain and vineyard scarcely hidden by the low roofs.
Then sheds and stables, a fountain spouting out of an old wall, the large
gateway of a farm, side by side with the notary’s white and clean little
house, ornamented with escutcheons.  And over all the cruel blight of the
invasion.  Knitted jerseys drying on the iron gates and on the shutters.
Large pipes protruding from every window, and military boots.  Never had
I heard the sound of so many boots . . .  Opposite my window was the
_Commandatur_.  Every day peasants were brought in, urged along by
butt-ends of rifles or the scabbards of swords.  The women and children
followed weeping, and while the man was dragged inside, they remained at
the door explaining their case to the soldiers, who, with closed lips,
listened disdainfully or else laughed with a stupid brutal laughter.  No
hope of pity or justice.  All depended on the caprice of the conqueror.
They were so well aware of it, these unfortunate peasants, that they
hardly dared stir out or show themselves, and when they did venture into
the street, it was heart-rending to see them creeping under the walls,
glancing out of the corner of their eyes, bowed down, obsequious and
servile, like Eastern Jews.

It was a cruel sight to see the ambulances stop at our door in the wind,
cold, rain, and snow; to hear the groans of the sick and wounded being
removed from the carts and borne in helpless.  When evening came, to end
the long melancholy days, the Prussian bugles sounded the retreat under
the leafless elm trees, with its slowly marked time, and its last three
notes thrown out like the weird screech of a night-bird at the approach
of night.  This was the moment when the Doctor, muddy and tired, entered
my room.  He himself brought my food, and, with his usual good nature,
told me all he had done—about his visits, the hearsays from Paris and
from the provinces, about the sick people brought to him, and his
disputes with the Prussian major, who was his colleague in command of the
hospital, and whose German pedantry annoyed and exasperated him.  We
talked in sad low tones, and then the kind man bade me good-night.  Once
more alone, I softly opened my window to breathe the fresh air for a few
minutes.  In spite of the bitter cold, it did me good.  In its peaceful
slumbers the country seemed to return to its former condition and resumed
the aspect of its happier days.  But soon the step of a patrol, the groan
of a wounded man, the sound of the cannon thundering on the horizon,
brought me back to the reality, and I retired into my prison, full of
hatred and anger.  At the end of a short time this cellular kind of
existence in the midst of the army of occupation became intolerable.
Having lost all hope of entering Paris, I regretted my Hermitage.  There,
at least, I had solitude and Nature.  I was not tempted there, as I was
here, to interfere in the injustices, brutalities, and constant vexations
going on in the street, thereby running the risk of compromising my kind
host.  Therefore I resolved upon leaving.

                [Picture: Robert, peering from his window]

To my great surprise, the Doctor did not even try to dissuade me from my

—You are quite right, he said quietly; you will be safer over there.

Since, on reflection, I have always fancied that some neighbour may have
seen me behind the lattice, and that my host, although he would not admit
it, feared they would betray me.  We therefore decided that I should
leave Draveil the next day, in the same manner in which I arrived.  When
it was quite dark, I went down into the stable.  I hid myself in the
straw of the cabriolet, the Doctor’s cloak was thrown over me, and we
started off.  The journey was accomplished without accident.  Every
hundred and fifty or two hundred yards was a sentry-box erected by the
roadside at the expense of the district.

—_Wer da_? challenged the sentry, cocking his rifle.

The Doctor answered:


And the little gig continued its jingling rattle over the stones.  At the
edge of the forest he stopped.  The road was clear.  I hastily jumped

—Take this, said the kind man, holding out a basket full of food and
bottles . . .  Shut yourself up, and do not stir out . . .  I will come
and see you soon.

Thereupon he whipped up his horse, and I threw myself into the thicket.
A quarter of an hour later, I was at the Hermitage.

                 [Picture: Being challenged by a sentry]

                                * * * * *

                  [Picture: Hungry birds come for food]

                                                          _January_ 3_rd_.

. . . A fine drifting snow has been falling for the last few days.  The
forest is completely covered.  Around me the silence was so deep that I
could even hear the fall of the thickening flakes.  It is impossible to
go out.  I watch the snow falling from the murky sky and whitening all
things.  The famished birds come to my very doorstep.  The roedeer have
taken refuge in the stable in place of my poor Colaquet, of whom I have
heard nothing…

                 [Picture: Deer sheltering in the stable]

                                * * * * *

          [Picture: “They blew out his brains with a revolver.”]

                                * * * * *

             [Picture: Robert hears bad news from the Doctor]

                                                         _January_ 10_th_.

. . . The Doctor came to see me.  Bad news: Paris still shut up,
disasters in the provinces!  The conquerors, worn out by such a tardy
victory, redouble the humiliations and brutalities . . .  At Draveil, on
Christmas night, five or six Bavarians, after sitting up late drinking
with old Rabot, the forester, in a public-house, blew out his brains with
a revolver.  The unhappy man’s brother, who lived opposite, ran in on
hearing the report of the shot, and in his turn fell mortally wounded.
Another man of the same family was seriously wounded.  The wretches would
have massacred all comers!  The affair created a great sensation: a
fictitious inquiry was made, and concluded by the district of Draveil
being condemned to pay an indemnity of _sixteen hundred pounds_ to the
Bavarians! . . .

               [Picture: Bavarian preparing for the party]

                                * * * * *

               [Picture: Game-shooting party in the forest]

                                                         _January_ 15_th_.

. . . This morning the Prince of Saxony’s staff had a large
shooting-party in the forest.  On hearing the firing so near me, I was
seized with a terrible anxiety.  I thought it was the arrival of some
French advanced-guard; but from the windows of the studio overlooking the
woods, I saw between the leafless branches, crowds of beaters wearing the
Saxon forage-caps running and shouting through the thickets, while plumed
and gilded sportsmen watched at every turn of the drives.  In the circle
round the _Great Oak_ an enormous bivouac-fire blazed in front of a tent.
Here, called by a flourish of trumpets, the shooters came to breakfast.
I heard the clinking of glasses, the uncorking of bottles, and the
cheering of the revellers.  Then the slaughter of deer and pheasants
recommenced.  Ah! if old Guillard had been there! he who kept such an
account of his game, watched over his coveys and his rabbit-holes, knew
the favourite haunts of the deer.  How he would have grieved to see this
sacrilege!  The bewildered birds knew not where to seek safety from the
cruel guns.  The startled hares and rabbits ran under the legs of the
sportsmen, and in the midst of all the confusion a wounded deer took
refuge in the courtyard of the Hermitage.  The eyes of hunted animals
have a look of piteous astonishment which is truly heart-rending.  This
one excited my compassion, pressing against the low wall round the well,
sniffing the air, and pawing the ground with its little bleeding feet.
My indignation redoubled against the plundering race that swarmed over
vanquished France with the voracity of locusts, destroying its vineyards,
its houses, its cornfields, its forests, and, when the country was laid
bare, exterminating even the game, leaving nothing alive.

              [Picture: “I heard the clinking of glasses.”]

I shall never forget that day’s sport in the midst of the war, under that
dark, lowering sky, with the landscape whitened with hoar-frost, and the
glitter of the gold on the helmets and the hunting-horns passing beneath
the branches; while the galloping of the horses, the who-hoops of the
men, reminded me of the Black Huntsman in the German ballads.  At dusk,
lines of carts came to gather up from the edge of the roads all the
wounded and dying game.  It was like the evening after a battle.

                 [Picture: Taking home the day’s spoils]

                                * * * * *

           [Picture: Depressed troops after the capitulation.]

                                                         _January_ 19_th_.

…They have fought all day under the walls of Paris.  But the noise of the
mitrailleuses was not so distinct as on the 2nd of December.  There was
something in the sound of that distant battle which gave me the
impression of lassitude and discouragement.

                                                         _January_ 30_th_.

…All is over.  Paris has capitulated.  The armistice is signed.

                      [Picture: Abandoned equipment]

                                * * * * *


                  [Picture: Robert finishing his Diary]

I end here my diary, in which I have tried to give the experiences of my
five months of solitude.  To-day I returned to Draveil in the Doctor’s
carriage, but without hiding this time.  The roads were full of peasants
returning home.  Many are already at work again on the land.  All faces
are sad, but no complaints are heard.  Is it fatalism or resignation?

The Prussians still occupy the village, enforcing their triumph with cool
insolence.  They, however, appear less brutal with the inhabitants.  I
saw some walking about hand-in-hand with little children.  It was like
the beginning of a return to their forsaken hearths, to their sedentary
lives, so long disturbed by this war . . .  When I came home in the
evening, I saw on the doorstep of the keeper’s house, old Guillard’s
widow, dressed in deep mourning and hardly recognisable.  Poor woman! her
husband dead and her home a wreck.  Her misfortunes are complete.  I
heard her weeping as she tried to put in order the remains of her
household goods.

[Picture: Papers] Silence reigns at the Hermitage.  It is a clear night
and the air is balmy.  Already the presence of spring is beginning to be
felt under the fast melting snow.  The forest will soon bud forth, and I
shall watch to see the grass blades pushing aside the dead leaves.  From
the distant quiet plains rises a misty vapour like the smoke of an
inhabited village; and if anything can impart consolation after a cruel
war, it is this repose of all Nature and mankind, this universal calm
which rests upon a shattered country—a country recruiting its strength by
sleep, forgetful of the lost harvest in preparing for that of the future!

                 [Picture: Commencing tilling the fields]

                                * * * * *

                       [Picture: Publisher’s Logo]

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