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Title: The Downfall
Author: Zola, Émile
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Downfall" ***

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THE DOWNFALL

(La Debacle)(The Smash-up)

By Emile Zola


Translated By E. P. Robins



THE DOWNFALL



PART FIRST



I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Quit that! You are stifling the whole camp.”

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

“It will burn, corporal; I assure you it will--why don’t you blow, you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Honore! look there. If one wouldn’t swear he was the Prussian--you
know, Goliah!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He has the colonel’s pass, Lieutenant,” explained Jean, who had heard
the question.

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

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

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

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

Maurice was just then saying to Weiss:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that you, Beaudoin?”

“Yes, Colonel.”

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

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

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

“Good God!” he stammeringly exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

“Beaten! How beaten? Why beaten?”

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



II.

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

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

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

“Hurrah for the commissary!” shouted Chouteau.

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

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

“Go and look after the champagne--Go out and buy some truffles--”

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

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

“The chicken! what chicken, where?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pack everything! Get yourselves ready to march!”

“But the soup?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Silence in the ranks!”

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

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

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

“There’s a man who knows what he is about,” muttered Chouteau.

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

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

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

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

“Will you take up your knapsacks! if you don’t I will report you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Peasant!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Scum! Robbers! Cowards! Cowards!”

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

“Cowards! Cowards! Cowards!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To the slaughter! to the slaughter! to the slaughter!”

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

“Not very cheerful companions, those fellows!”

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

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

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

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

[*] Napoleon III.

“Of course, let ‘em fight it out, and take a drink together afterward.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will monsieur have breakfast?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hallo there, comrades, this way! You are 7th corps men, aren’t you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Prosper! Why, I supposed you were at Metz!”

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

“Hallo! it’s Monsieur Maurice! I’m glad to see you!”

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

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

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

“Can’t say. An errand of some sort--papers to be delivered.”

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

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

“At Medeah, Lieutenant.”

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

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

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

“And what of Bazaine?” asked Rochas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Emperor!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



IV.

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

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

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

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

“Corporal, will you allow me--”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hallo, there! what’s the matter with you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come to supper!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“See here, Lieutenant, I hope you won’t be offended, but if it is
agreeable to you--”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“_Tonnerre de Dieu!_ Goliah!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My poor Honore.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thou art a good fellow, thou! Thanks, good friend.”

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

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



V.

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

Jean said as soon as he set eyes on him:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’s your foot, Maurice?” asked Jean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have a sore foot, monsieur the doctor--”

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

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

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

“Address me as major, do you hear, you great oaf!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean addressed him in amazement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



VI.

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

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

Loubet stretched himself and plaintively replied:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Here! don’t let the others see it; I have not enough to go round.”

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

“Oh, don’t be alarmed about me--I have two left.”

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

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

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

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

And Loubet chimed in:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is your sister young?”

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

“Is she like you?”

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

“You love her very dearly!”

“Yes, yes--”

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

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

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

“There’s where we shall rest, for certain.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

They all looked surprised, and Chouteau exclaimed:

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

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

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

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

“For God’s sake, don’t shoot!”

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

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

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

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

“Tell me, are you not Guillaume Sambuc, of Remilly?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The woods of Dieulet--where’s that?”

“Between Stenay and Mouzon, General.”

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

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

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

“What, yesterday? There was fighting yesterday?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Either at Varniforet or Beaumont,” Ducat observed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“_Nom de Dieu!_ _Nom de Dieu!_”

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

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

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

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

“Come, get up, and let’s be going. We must be getting back to the
comrades, little one.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We are betrayed! we are betrayed!” the men wildly repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Look! over that way--that is Sedan!”



VII.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh! I am hungry!”

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

“Oh! I am hungry; I am so hungry that I could eat dirt!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The soldiers came forward again, one by one.

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice rushed in in affright, followed by Jean.

“Comrades, comrades--”

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

“Come, be reasonable. Don’t you know me? It is I.”

“Who, I?”

“Maurice Levasseur, your nephew.”

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

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

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

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

“But not on me, father?”

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

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

“It’s you--All right, I’ll come down.”

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

“Come in, _thou_! and no one besides!”

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

“Well, thou too!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you seen my sister Henriette lately?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you beginning to feel better, _hein_?”

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

“Just beginning, thank you!”

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

“Is not Silvine with you any longer?”

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

“Yes, yes.”

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

“She has gone to bed, then?”

“No, no.”

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

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

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

“Little Charlot is asleep there in his room; she surely won’t be long
away, now.”

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

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

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

“Ah well!” said Maurice with a gesture of disappointment, “‘twill be
to-morrow morning.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is abed and asleep.”

“That is well! Thanks.”

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

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

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

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

“Good-evening, Silvine.”

“Good-evening, Honore.”

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

Honore continued, dropping the friendly _thou_ of other days:

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

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

“The Prussians--Oh! yes, yes, I saw them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what did the Prussians do then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are unhappy?”

“Oh! yes; so unhappy!”

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

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

But she could not find words to answer him.

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

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

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

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

“My father has kept you here, it seems?”

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

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

“But why do you stay with him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is a promise. Wait for me.”

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

“Good-by, father!”

“Good-by, my boy!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



VIII.

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, is it you, corporal? Where are your men?”

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

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

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

“D----n the luck!” he grumbled, “we’ll have to tighten up our belts
another hole!”

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

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

“Corporal, you will--you will--”

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

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

“Can you tell me where M. Delaherche lives?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hallo, is that you?” exclaimed Delaherche. “Good Heavens, what a state
you’re in!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You know I saw the Emperor at Baybel.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He wants Weiss’s address! that’s odd. Bring the soldier in here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is he.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the young man broke out more furiously than ever: “I have had enough
of it, I tell you! Our imbecile leaders, our continual defeats, our
brave soldiers led like sheep to the slaughter--is it not enough, seeing
all these things, to make one weep tears of blood? We are here now in
Sedan, caught in a trap from which there is no escape; you can see the
Prussians closing in on us from every quarter, and certain destruction
is staring us in the face; there is no hope, the end is come. No! I
shall remain where I am; I may as well be shot as a deserter. Jean, do
you go, and leave me here. No! I won’t go back there; I will stay here.”

He sank upon the pillow in a renewed outpour of tears. It was an utter
breakdown of the nervous system, sweeping everything before it, one of
those sudden lapses into hopelessness to which he was so subject, in
which he despised himself and all the world. His sister, knowing as she
did the best way of treating such crises, kept an unruffled face.

“That would not be a nice thing to do, dear Maurice--desert your post in
the hour of danger.”

He rose impetuously to a sitting posture: “Then give me my musket! I
will go and blow my brains out; that will be the shortest way of ending
it.” Then, pointing with outstretched arm to Weiss, where he sat silent
and motionless, he said: “There! that is the only sensible man I have
seen; yes, he is the only one who saw things as they were. You remember
what he said to me, Jean, at Mulhausen, a month ago?”

“It is true,” the corporal assented; “the gentleman said we should be
beaten.”

And the scene rose again before their mind’s eye, that night of
anxious vigil, the agonized suspense, the prescience of the disaster at
Froeschwiller hanging in the sultry heavy air, while the Alsatian told
his prophetic fears; Germany in readiness, with the best of arms and
the best of leaders, rising to a man in a grand outburst of patriotism;
France dazed, a century behind the age, debauched, and a prey to
intestine disorder, having neither commanders, men, nor arms to enable
her to cope with her powerful adversary. How quickly the horrible
prediction had proved itself true!

Weiss raised his trembling hands. Profound sorrow was depicted on his
kind, honest face, with its red hair and beard and its great prominent
blue eyes.

“Ah!” he murmured, “I take no credit to myself for being right. I don’t
claim to be wiser than others, but it was all so clear, when one only
knew the true condition of affairs! But if we are to be beaten we shall
first have the pleasure of killing some of those Prussians of perdition.
There is that comfort for us; I believe that many of us are to leave
their bones there, and I hope there will be plenty of Prussians to keep
them company; I would like to see the ground down there in the valley
heaped with dead Prussians!” He arose and pointed down the valley of the
Meuse. Fire flashed from his myopic eyes, which had exempted him from
service with the army. “A thousand thunders! I would fight, yes, I
would, if they would have me. I don’t know whether it is seeing them
assume the airs of masters in my country--in this country where once the
Cossacks did such mischief; but whenever I think of their being here, of
their entering our houses, I am seized with an uncontrollable desire to
cut a dozen of their throats. Ah! if it were not for my eyes, if
they would take me, I would go!” Then, after a moment’s silence: “And
besides; who can tell?”

It was the hope that sprang eternal, even in the breast of the least
confident, of the possibility of victory, and Maurice, ashamed by this
time of his tears, listened and caught at the pleasing speculation. Was
it not true that only the day before there had been a rumor that Bazaine
was at Verdun? Truly, it was time that Fortune should work a miracle for
that France whose glories she had so long protected. Henriette, with an
imperceptible smile on her lips, silently left the room, and was not
the least bit surprised when she returned to find her brother up and
dressed, and ready to go back to his duty. She insisted, however, that
he and Jean should take some nourishment first. They seated themselves
at the table, but the morsels choked them; their stomachs, weakened by
their heavy slumber, revolted at the food. Like a prudent old campaigner
Jean cut a loaf in two halves and placed one in Maurice’s sack, the
other in his own. It was growing dark, it behooved them to be going.
Henriette, who was standing at the window watching the Prussian troops
incessantly defiling on distant la Marfee, the swarming legions of black
ants that were gradually being swallowed up in the gathering shadows,
involuntarily murmured:

“Oh, war! what a dreadful thing it is!”

Maurice, seeing an opportunity to retort her sermon to him, immediately
took her up:

“How is this, little sister? you are anxious to have people fight, and
you speak disrespectfully of war!”

She turned and faced him, valiantly as ever: “It is true; I abhor it,
because it is an abomination and an injustice. It may be simply because
I am a woman, but the thought of such butchery sickens me. Why cannot
nations adjust their differences without shedding blood?”

Jean, the good fellow, seconded her with a nod of the head, and nothing
to him, too, seemed easier--to him, the unlettered man--than to come
together and settle matters after a fair, honest talk; but Maurice,
mindful of his scientific theories, reflected on the necessity of
war--war, which is itself existence, the universal law. Was it not poor,
pitiful man who conceived the idea of justice and peace, while impassive
nature revels in continual slaughter?

“That is all very fine!” he cried. “Yes, centuries hence, if it shall
come to pass that then all the nations shall be merged in one; centuries
hence man may look forward to the coming of that golden age; and even in
that case would not the end of war be the end of humanity? I was a fool
but now; we must go and fight, since it is nature’s law.” He smiled and
repeated his brother-in-law’s expression: “And besides, who can tell?”

He saw things now through the mirage of his vivid self-delusion, they
came to his vision distorted through the lens of his diseased nervous
sensibility.

“By the way,” he continued cheerfully, “what do you hear of our cousin
Gunther? You know we have not seen a German yet, so you can’t look to me
to give you any foreign news.”

The question was addressed to his brother-in-law, who had relapsed into
a thoughtful silence and answered by a motion of his hand, expressive of
his ignorance.

“Cousin Gunther?” said Henriette, “Why, he belongs to the Vth corps and
is with the Crown Prince’s army; I read it in one of the newspapers, I
don’t remember which. Is that army in this neighborhood?”

Weiss repeated his gesture, which was imitated by the two soldiers, who
could not be supposed to know what enemies were in front of them when
their generals did not know. Rising to his feet, the master of the house
at last made use of articulate speech.

“Come along; I will go with you. I learned this afternoon where the
106th’s camp is situated.” He told his wife that she need not expect to
see him again that night, as he would sleep at Bazeilles, where they
had recently bought and furnished a little place to serve them as a
residence during the hot months. It was near a dyehouse that belonged
to M. Delaherche. The accountant’s mind was ill at ease in relation to
certain stores that he had placed in the cellar--a cask of wine and a
couple of sacks of potatoes; the house would certainly be visited by
marauders if it was left unprotected, he said, while by occupying it
that night he would doubtless save it from pillage. His wife watched him
closely while he was speaking.

“You need not be alarmed,” he added, with a smile; “I harbor no darker
design than the protection of our property, and I pledge my word that if
the village is attacked, or if there is any appearance of danger, I will
come home at once.”

“Well, then, go,” she said. “But remember, if you are not back in good
season you will see me out there looking for you.”

Henriette went with them to the door, where she embraced Maurice
tenderly and gave Jean a warm clasp of the hand.

“I intrust my brother to your care once more. He has told me of your
kindness to him, and I love you for it.”

He was too flustered to do more than return the pressure of the small,
firm hand. His first impression returned to him again, and he beheld
Henriette in the light in which she had first appeared to him, with
her bright hair of the hue of ripe golden grain, so alert, so sunny, so
unselfish, that her presence seemed to pervade the air like a caress.

Once they were outside they found the same gloomy and forbidding Sedan
that had greeted their eyes that morning. Twilight with its shadows had
invaded the narrow streets, sidewalk and carriage-way alike were filled
with a confused, surging throng. Most of the shops were closed, the
houses seemed to be dead or sleeping, while out of doors the crowd was
so dense that men trod on one another. With some little difficulty,
however, they succeeded in reaching the Place de l’Hotel de Ville, where
they encountered M. Delaherche, intent on picking up the latest news
and seeing what was to be seen. He at once came up and greeted them,
apparently delighted to meet Maurice, to whom he said that he had just
returned from accompanying Captain Beaudoin over to Floing, where the
regiment was posted, and he became, if that were possible, even more
gracious than ever upon learning that Weiss proposed to pass the night
at Bazeilles, where he himself, he declared, had just been telling the
captain that he intended to take a bed, in order to see how things were
looking at the dyehouse.

“We’ll go together and be company for each other, Weiss. But first let’s
go as far as the Sous-Prefecture; we may be able to catch a glimpse of
the Emperor.”

Ever since he had been so near having the famous conversation with him
at Baybel his mind had been full of Napoleon III.; he was not satisfied
until he had induced the two soldiers to accompany him. The Place de la
Sous-Prefecture was comparatively empty; a few men were standing about
in groups, engaged in whispered conversation, while occasionally an
officer hurried by, haggard and careworn. The bright hues of the foliage
were beginning to fade and grow dim in the melancholy, thick-gathering
shades of night; the hoarse murmur of the Meuse was heard as its current
poured onward beneath the houses to the right. Among the whisperers it
was related how the Emperor--who with the greatest difficulty had
been prevailed on to leave Carignan the night before about eleven
o’clock--when entreated to push on to Mezieres had refused point-blank
to abandon the post of danger and take a step that would prove so
demoralizing to the troops. Others asserted that he was no longer in the
city, that he had fled, leaving behind him a dummy emperor, one of his
officers dressed in his uniform, a man whose startling resemblance to
his imperial master had often puzzled the army. Others again declared,
and called upon their honor to substantiate their story, that they
had seen the army wagons containing the imperial treasure, one hundred
millions, all in brand-new twenty-franc pieces, drive into the courtyard
of the Prefecture. This convoy was, in fact, neither more nor less than
the vehicles for the personal use of the Emperor and his suite, the
_char a banc_, the two _caleches_, the twelve baggage and supply wagons,
which had almost excited a riot in the villages through which they had
passed--Courcelles, le Chene, Raucourt; assuming in men’s imagination
the dimensions of a huge train that had blocked the road and arrested
the march of armies, and which now, shorn of their glory, execrated
by all, had come in shame and disgrace to hide themselves among the
sous-prefect’s lilac bushes.

While Delaherche was raising himself on tiptoe and trying to peer
through the windows of the _rez-de-chaussee_, an old woman at his side,
some poor day-worker of the neighborhood, with shapeless form and hands
calloused and distorted by many years of toil, was mumbling between her
teeth:

“An emperor--I should like to see one once--just once--so I could say I
had seen him.”

Suddenly Delaherche exclaimed, seizing Maurice by the arm:

“See, there he is! at the window, to the left. I had a good view of him
yesterday; I can’t be mistaken. There, he has just raised the curtain;
see, that pale face, close to the glass.”

The old woman had overheard him and stood staring with wide-open
mouth and eyes, for there, full in the window, was an apparition that
resembled a corpse more than a living being; its eyes were lifeless, its
features distorted; even the mustache had assumed a ghastly whiteness in
that final agony. The old woman was dumfounded; forthwith she turned her
back and marched off with a look of supreme contempt.

“That thing an emperor! a likely story.”

A zouave was standing near, one of those fugitive soldiers who were
in no haste to rejoin their commands. Brandishing his chassepot and
expectorating threats and maledictions, he said to his companion:

“Wait! see me put a bullet in his head!”

Delaherche remonstrated angrily, but by that time the Emperor had
disappeared. The hoarse murmur of the Meuse continued uninterruptedly;
a wailing lament, inexpressibly mournful, seemed to pass above them
through the air, where the darkness was gathering intensity. Other
sounds rose in the distance, like the hollow muttering of the rising
storm; were they the “March! march!” that terrible order from Paris that
had driven that ill-starred man onward day by day, dragging behind him
along the roads of his defeat the irony of his imperial escort, until
now he was brought face to face with the ruin he had foreseen and come
forth to meet? What multitudes of brave men were to lay down their lives
for his mistakes, and how complete the wreck, in all his being, of
that sick man, that sentimental dreamer, awaiting in gloomy silence the
fulfillment of his destiny!

Weiss and Delaherche accompanied the two soldiers to the plateau of
Floing, where the 7th corps camps were.

“Adieu!” said Maurice as he embraced his brother-in-law.

“No, no; not adieu, the deuce! Au _revoir_!” the manufacturer gayly
cried.

Jean’s instinct led him at once to their regiment, the tents of which
were pitched behind the cemetery, where the ground of the plateau begins
to fall away. It was nearly dark, but there was sufficient light yet
remaining in the sky to enable them to distinguish the black huddle of
roofs above the city, and further in the distance Balan and Bazeilles,
lying in the broad meadows that stretch away to the range of hills
between Remilly and Frenois, while to the right was the dusky wood of la
Garenne, and to the left the broad bosom of the Meuse had the dull gleam
of frosted silver in the dying daylight. Maurice surveyed the broad
landscape that was momentarily fading in the descending shadows.

“Ah, here is the corporal!” said Chouteau. “I wonder if he has been
looking after our rations!”

The camp was astir with life and bustle. All day the men had been coming
in, singly and in little groups, and the crowd and confusion were such
that the officers made no pretense of punishing or even reprimanding
them; they accepted thankfully those who were so kind as to return and
asked no questions. Captain Beaudoin had made his appearance only a
short time before, and it was about two o’clock when Lieutenant Rochas
had brought in his collection of stragglers, about one-third of the
company strength. Now the ranks were nearly full once more. Some of
the men were drunk, others had not been able to secure even a morsel
of bread and were sinking from inanition; again there had been no
distribution of rations. Loubet, however, had discovered some cabbages
in a neighboring garden, and cooked them after a fashion, but there was
no salt or lard; the empty stomachs continued to assert their claims.

“Come, now, corporal, you are a knowing old file,” Chouteau tauntingly
continued, “what have you got for us? Oh, it’s not for myself I care;
Loubet and I had a good breakfast; a lady gave it us. You were not at
distribution, then?”

Jean beheld a circle of expectant eyes bent on him; the squad had been
waiting for him with anxiety, Pache and Lapoulle in particular, luckless
dogs, who had found nothing they could appropriate; they all relied on
him, who, as they expressed it, could get bread out of a stone. And the
corporal’s conscience smote him for having abandoned his men; he took
pity on them and divided among them half the bread that he had in his
sack.

“Name o’ God! Name o’ God!” grunted Lapoulle as he contentedly munched
the dry bread; it was all he could find to say; while Pache repeated a
_Pater_ and an _Ave_ under his breath to make sure that Heaven should
not forget to send him his breakfast in the morning.

Gaude, the bugler, with his darkly mysterious air, as of a man who has
had troubles of which he does not care to speak, sounded the call for
evening muster with a glorious fanfare; but there was no necessity for
sounding taps that night, the camp was immediately enveloped in profound
silence. And when he had verified the names and seen that none of his
half-section were missing, Sergeant Sapin, with his thin, sickly face
and his pinched nose, softly said:

“There will be one less to-morrow night.”

Then, as he saw Jean looking at him inquiringly, he added with calm
conviction, his eyes bent upon the blackness of the night, as if reading
there the destiny that he predicted:

“It will be mine; I shall be killed to-morrow.”

It was nine o’clock, with promise of a chilly, uncomfortable night, for
a dense mist had risen from the surface of the river, so that the stars
were no longer visible. Maurice shivered, where he lay with Jean beneath
a hedge, and said they would do better to go and seek the shelter of
the tent; the rest they had taken that day had left them wakeful, their
joints seemed stiffer and their bones sorer than before; neither could
sleep. They envied Lieutenant Rochas, who, stretched on the damp ground
and wrapped in his blanket, was snoring like a trooper, not far away.
For a long time after that they watched with interest the feeble light
of a candle that was burning in a large tent where the colonel and
some officers were in consultation. All that evening M. de Vineuil had
manifested great uneasiness that he had received no instructions to
guide him in the morning. He felt that his regiment was too much “in the
air,” too much advanced, although it had already fallen back from the
exposed position that it had occupied earlier in the day. Nothing had
been seen of General Bourgain-Desfeuilles, who was said to be ill in bed
at the Hotel of the Golden Cross, and the colonel decided to send one
of his officers to advise him of the danger of their new position in the
too extended line of the 7th corps, which had to cover the long stretch
from the bend in the Meuse to the wood of la Garenne. There could be no
doubt that the enemy would attack with the first glimpse of daylight;
only for seven or eight hours now would that deep tranquillity remain
unbroken. And shortly after the dim light in the colonel’s tent was
extinguished Maurice was amazed to see Captain Beaudoin glide by,
keeping close to the hedge, with furtive steps, and vanish in the
direction of Sedan.

The darkness settled down on them, denser and denser; the chill mists
rose from the stream and enshrouded everything in a dank, noisome fog.

“Are you asleep, Jean?”

Jean was asleep, and Maurice was alone. He could not endure the
thought of going to the tent where Lapoulle and the rest of them were
slumbering; he heard their snoring, responsive to Rochas’ strains, and
envied them. If our great captains sleep soundly the night before a
battle, it is like enough for the reason that their fatigue will not
let them do otherwise. He was conscious of no sound save the equal,
deep-drawn breathing of that slumbering multitude, rising from the
darkening camp like the gentle respiration of some huge monster; beyond
that all was void. He only knew that the 5th corps was close at hand,
encamped beneath the rampart, that the 1st’s line extended from the wood
of la Garenne to la Moncelle, while the 12th was posted on the other
side of the city, at Bazeilles; and all were sleeping; the whole length
of that long line, from the nearest tent to the most remote, for miles
and miles, that low, faint murmur ascended in rhythmic unison from
the dark, mysterious bosom of the night. Then outside this circle
lay another region, the realm of the unknown, whence also sounds came
intermittently to his ears, so vague, so distant, that he scarcely knew
whether they were not the throbbings of his own excited pulses; the
indistinct trot of cavalry plashing over the low ground, the dull rumble
of gun and caisson along the roads, and, still more marked, the heavy
tramp of marching men; the gathering on the heights above of that black
swarm, engaged in strengthening the meshes of their net, from which
night itself had not served to divert them. And below, there by the
river’s side, was there not the flash of lights suddenly extinguished,
was not that the sound of hoarse voices shouting orders, adding to the
dread suspense of that long night of terror while waiting for the coming
of the dawn?

Maurice put forth his hand and felt for Jean’s; at last he slumbered,
comforted by the sense of human companionship. From a steeple in Sedan
came the deep tones of a bell, slowly, mournfully, tolling the hour;
then all was blank and void.



PART SECOND



I.

Weiss, in the obscurity of his little room at Bazeilles, was aroused
by a commotion that caused him to leap from his bed. It was the roar of
artillery. Groping about in the darkness he found and lit a candle to
enable him to consult his watch: it was four o’clock, just beginning to
be light. He adjusted his double eyeglass upon his nose and looked out
into the main street of the village, the road that leads to Douzy, but
it was filled with a thick cloud of something that resembled dust, which
made it impossible to distinguish anything. He passed into the other
room, the windows of which commanded a view of the Meuse and the
intervening meadows, and saw that the cause of his obstructed vision
was the morning mist arising from the river. In the distance, behind the
veil of fog, the guns were barking more fiercely across the stream. All
at once a French battery, close at hand, opened in reply, with such a
tremendous crash that the walls of the little house were shaken.

Weiss’s house was situated near the middle of the village, on the right
of the road and not far from the Place de l’Eglise. Its front, standing
back a little from the street, displayed a single story with three
windows, surmounted by an attic; in the rear was a garden of some extent
that sloped gently downward toward the meadows and commanded a wide
panoramic view of the encircling hills, from Remilly to Frenois. Weiss,
with the sense of responsibility of his new proprietorship strong upon
him, had spent the night in burying his provisions in the cellar and
protecting his furniture, as far as possible, against shot and shell by
applying mattresses to the windows, so that it was nearly two o’clock
before he got to bed. His blood boiled at the idea that the Prussians
might come and plunder the house, for which he had toiled so long and
which had as yet afforded him so little enjoyment.

He heard a voice summoning him from the street.

“I say, Weiss, are you awake?”

He descended and found it was Delaherche, who had passed the night at
his dyehouse, a large brick structure, next door to the accountant’s
abode. The operatives had all fled, taking to the woods and making for
the Belgian frontier, and there was no one left to guard the property
but the woman concierge, Francoise Quittard by name, the widow of a
mason; and she also, beside herself with terror, would have gone with
the others had it not been for her ten-year-old boy Charles, who was so
ill with typhoid fever that he could not be moved.

“I say,” Delaherche continued, “do you hear that? It is a promising
beginning. Our best course is to get back to Sedan as soon as possible.”

Weiss’s promise to his wife, that he would leave Bazeilles at the first
sign of danger, had been given in perfect good faith, and he had fully
intended to keep it; but as yet there was only an artillery duel at long
range, and the aim could not be accurate enough to do much damage in the
uncertain, misty light of early morning.

“Wait a bit, confound it!” he replied. “There is no hurry.”

Delaherche, too, was curious to see what would happen; his curiosity
made him valiant. He had been so interested in the preparations for
defending the place that he had not slept a wink. General Lebrun,
commanding the 12th corps, had received notice that he would be
attacked at daybreak, and had kept his men occupied during the night in
strengthening the defenses of Bazeilles, which he had instructions to
hold in spite of everything. Barricades had been thrown up across the
Douzy road, and all the smaller streets; small parties of soldiers had
been thrown into the houses by way of garrison; every narrow lane,
every garden had become a fortress, and since three o’clock the troops,
awakened from their slumbers without beat of drum or call of bugle in
the inky blackness, had been at their posts, their chassepots freshly
greased and cartridge boxes filled with the obligatory ninety rounds of
ammunition. It followed that when the enemy opened their fire no one was
taken unprepared, and the French batteries, posted to the rear between
Balan and Bazeilles, immediately commenced to answer, rather with the
idea of showing they were awake than for any other purpose, for in the
dense fog that enveloped everything the practice was of the wildest.

“The dyehouse will be well defended,” said Delaherche. “I have a whole
section in it. Come and see.”

It was true; forty and odd men of the infanterie de marine had been
posted there under the command of a lieutenant, a tall, light-haired
young fellow, scarcely more than a boy, but with an expression of energy
and determination on his face. His men had already taken full possession
of the building, some of them being engaged in loopholing the shutters
of the ground-floor windows that commanded the street, while others, in
the courtyard that overlooked the meadows in the rear, were breaching
the wall for musketry. It was in this courtyard that Delaherche and
Weiss found the young officer, straining his eyes to discover what was
hidden behind the impenetrable mist.

“Confound this fog!” he murmured. “We can’t fight when we don’t know
where the enemy is.” Presently he asked, with no apparent change of
voice or manner: “What day of the week is this?”

“Thursday,” Weiss replied.

“Thursday, that’s so. Hanged if I don’t think the world might come to an
end and we not know it!”

But just at that moment the uninterrupted roar of the artillery was
diversified by a brisk rattle of musketry proceeding from the edge of
the meadows, at a distance of two or three hundred yards. And at the
same time there was a transformation, as rapid and startling, almost, as
the stage effect in a fairy spectacle: the sun rose, the exhalations of
the Meuse were whirled away like bits of finest, filmiest gauze, and the
blue sky was revealed, in serene limpidity, undimmed by a single cloud.
It was the exquisite morning of a faultless summer day.

“Ah!” exclaimed Delaherche, “they are crossing the railway bridge. See,
they are making their way along the track. How stupid of us not to have
blown up the bridge!”

The officer’s face bore an expression of dumb rage. The mines had been
prepared and charged, he averred, but they had fought four hours the day
before to regain possession of the bridge and then had forgot to touch
them off.

“It is just our luck,” he curtly said.

Weiss was silent, watching the course of events and endeavoring to form
some idea of the true state of affairs. The position of the French in
Bazeilles was a very strong one. The village commanded the meadows, and
was bisected by the Douzy road, which, turning sharp to the left, passed
under the walls of the Chateau, while another road, the one that led to
the railway bridge, bent around to the right and forked at the Place
de l’Eglise. There was no cover for any force advancing by these two
approaches; the Germans would be obliged to traverse the meadows and the
wide, bare level that lay between the outskirts of the village and the
Meuse and the railway. Their prudence in avoiding unnecessary risks was
notorious, hence it seemed improbable that the real attack would come
from that quarter. They kept coming across the bridge, however, in
deep masses, and that notwithstanding the slaughter that a battery of
mitrailleuses, posted at the edge of the village, effected in their
ranks, and all at once those who had crossed rushed forward in open
order, under cover of the straggling willows, the columns were re-formed
and began to advance. It was from there that the musketry fire, which
was growing hotter, had proceeded.

“Oh, those are Bavarians,” Weiss remarked. “I recognize them by the
braid on their helmets.”

But there were other columns, moving to the right and partially
concealed by the railway embankment, whose object, it seemed to him,
was to gain the cover of some trees in the distance, whence they might
descend and take Bazeilles in flank and rear. Should they succeed in
effecting a lodgment in the park of Montivilliers, the village might
become untenable. This was no more than a vague, half-formed idea, that
flitted through his mind for a moment and faded as rapidly as it had
come; the attack in front was becoming more determined, and his every
faculty was concentrated on the struggle that was assuming, with every
moment, larger dimensions.

Suddenly he turned his head and looked away to the north, over the city
of Sedan, where the heights of Floing were visible in the distance. A
battery had just commenced firing from that quarter; the smoke rose in
the bright sunshine in little curls and wreaths, and the reports came to
his ears very distinctly. It was in the neighborhood of five o’clock.

“Well, well,” he murmured, “they are all going to have a hand in the
business, it seems.”

The lieutenant of marines, who had turned his eyes in the same
direction, spoke up confidently:

“Oh! Bazeilles is the key of the position. This is the spot where the
battle will be won or lost.”

“Do you think so?” Weiss exclaimed.

“There is not the slightest doubt of it. It is certainly the marshal’s
opinion, for he was here last night and told us that we must hold the
village if it cost the life of every man of us.”

Weiss slowly shook his head, and swept the horizon with a glance; then
in a low, faltering voice, as if speaking to himself, he said:

“No--no! I am sure that is a mistake. I fear the danger lies in another
quarter--where, or what it is, I dare not say--”

He said no more. He simply opened wide his arms, like the jaws of a
vise, then, turning to the north, brought his hands together, as if the
vise had closed suddenly upon some object there.

This was the fear that had filled his mind for the last twenty-four
hours, for he was thoroughly acquainted with the country and had watched
narrowly every movement of the troops during the previous day, and now,
again, while the broad valley before him lay basking in the radiant
sunlight, his gaze reverted to the hills of the left bank, where, for
the space of all one day and all one night, his eyes had beheld the
black swarm of the Prussian hosts moving steadily onward to some
appointed end. A battery had opened fire from Remilly, over to the left,
but the one from which the shells were now beginning to reach the French
position was posted at Pont-Maugis, on the river bank. He adjusted his
binocle by folding the glasses over, the one upon the other, to lengthen
its range and enable him to discern what was hidden among the recesses
of the wooded slopes, but could distinguish nothing save the white
smoke-wreaths that rose momentarily on the tranquil air and floated
lazily away over the crests. That human torrent that he had seen so
lately streaming over those hills, where was it now--where were massed
those innumerable hosts? At last, at the corner of a pine wood, above
Noyers and Frenois, he succeeded in making out a little cluster of
mounted men in uniform--some general, doubtless, and his staff. And
off there to the west the Meuse curved in a great loop, and in that
direction lay their sole line of retreat on Mezieres, a narrow road
that traversed the pass of Saint-Albert, between that loop and the dark
forest of Ardennes. While reconnoitering the day before he had met a
general officer who, he afterward learned, was Ducrot, commanding the
1st corps, on a by-road in the valley of Givonne, and had made bold
to call his attention to the importance of that, their only line of
retreat. If the army did not retire at once by that road while it was
still open to them, if it waited until the Prussians should have crossed
the Meuse at Donchery and come up in force to occupy the pass, it would
be hemmed in and driven back on the Belgian frontier. As early even as
the evening of that day the movement would have been too late. It was
asserted that the uhlans had possession of the bridge, another bridge
that had not been destroyed, for the reason, this time, that some one
had neglected to provide the necessary powder. And Weiss sorrowfully
acknowledged to himself that the human torrent, the invading horde,
could now be nowhere else than on the plain of Donchery, invisible to
him, pressing onward to occupy Saint-Albert pass, pushing forward its
advanced guards to Saint-Menges and Floing, whither, the day previous,
he had conducted Jean and Maurice. In the brilliant sunshine the steeple
of Floing church appeared like a slender needle of dazzling whiteness.

And off to the eastward the other arm of the powerful vise was slowly
closing in on them. Casting his eyes to the north, where there was a
stretch of level ground between the plateaus of Illy and of Floing, he
could make out the line of battle of the 7th corps, feebly supported by
the 5th, which was posted in reserve under the ramparts of the city; but
he could not discern what was occurring to the east, along the valley of
the Givonne, where the 1st corps was stationed, its line stretching from
the wood of la Garenne to Daigny village. Now, however, the guns were
beginning to thunder in that direction also; the conflict seemed to be
raging in Chevalier’s wood, in front of Daigny. His uneasiness was owing
to reports that had been brought in by peasants the day previous, that
the Prussian advance had reached Francheval, so that the movement which
was being conducted at the west, by way of Donchery, was also in process
of execution at the east, by way of Francheval, and the two jaws of
the vise would come together up there at the north, near the Calvary of
Illy, unless the two-fold flanking movement could be promptly checked.
He knew nothing of tactics or strategy, had nothing but his common
sense to guide him; but he looked with fear and trembling on that great
triangle that had the Meuse for one of its sides, and for the other
two the 7th and 1st corps on the north and east respectively, while the
extreme angle at the south was occupied by the 12th at Bazeilles--all
the three corps facing outward on the periphery of a semicircle,
awaiting the appearance of an enemy who was to deliver his attack at
some one point, where or when no one could say, but who, instead, fell
on them from every direction at once. And at the very center of all, as
at the bottom of a pit, lay the city of Sedan, her ramparts furnished
with antiquated guns, destitute of ammunition and provisions.

“Understand,” said Weiss, with a repetition of his previous gesture,
extending his arms and bringing his hands slowly together, “that is how
it will be unless your generals keep their eyes open. The movement at
Bazeilles is only a feint--”

But his explanation was confused and unintelligible to the lieutenant,
who knew nothing of the country, and the young man shrugged his
shoulders with an expression of impatience and disdain for the bourgeois
in spectacles and frock coat who presumed to set his opinion against the
marshal’s. Irritated to hear Weiss reiterate his view that the attack on
Bazeilles was intended only to mask other and more important movements,
he finally shouted:

“Hold your tongue, will you! We shall drive them all into the Meuse,
those Bavarian friends of yours, and that is all they will get by their
precious feint.”

While they were talking the enemy’s skirmishers seemed to have come up
closer; every now and then their bullets were heard thudding against
the dyehouse wall, and our men, kneeling behind the low parapet of
the courtyard, were beginning to reply. Every second the report of a
chassepot rang out, sharp and clear, upon the air.

“Oh, of course! drive them into the Meuse, by all means,” muttered
Weiss, “and while we are about it we might as well ride them down and
regain possession of the Carignan road.” Then addressing himself to
Delaherche, who had stationed himself behind the pump where he might be
out of the way of the bullets: “All the same, it would have been their
wisest course to make tracks last night for Mezieres, and if I were in
their place I would much rather be there than here. As it is, however,
they have got to show fight, since retreat is out of the question now.”

“Are you coming?” asked Delaherche, who, notwithstanding his eager
curiosity, was beginning to look pale in the face. “We shall be unable
to get into the city if we remain here longer.”

“Yes, in one minute I will be with you.”

In spite of the danger that attended the movement he raised himself
on tiptoe, possessed by an irresistible desire to see how things were
shaping. On the right lay the meadows that had been flooded by order of
the governor for the protection of the city, now a broad lake stretching
from Torcy to Balan, its unruffled bosom glimmering in the morning
sunlight with a delicate azure luster. The water did not extend as far
as Bazeilles, however, and the Prussians had worked their way forward
across the fields, availing themselves of the shelter of every ditch,
of every little shrub and tree. They were now distant some five hundred
yards, and Weiss was impressed by the caution with which they moved, the
dogged resolution and patience with which they advanced, gaining ground
inch by inch and exposing themselves as little as possible. They had a
powerful artillery fire, moreover, to sustain them; the pure, cool air
was vocal with the shrieking of shells. Raising his eyes he saw that the
Pont-Maugis battery was not the only one that was playing on Bazeilles;
two others, posted half way up the hill of Liry, had opened fire, and
their projectiles not only reached the village, but swept the naked
plain of la Moncelle beyond, where the reserves of the 12th corps were,
and even the wooded slopes of Daigny, held by a division of the 1st
corps, were not beyond their range. There was not a summit, moreover,
on the left bank of the stream that was not tipped with flame. The guns
seemed to spring spontaneously from the soil, like some noxious growth;
it was a zone of fire that grew hotter and fiercer every moment; there
were batteries at Noyers shelling Balan, batteries at Wadelincourt
shelling Sedan, and at Frenois, down under la Marfee, there was a
battery whose guns, heavier than the rest, sent their missiles hurtling
over the city to burst among the troops of the 7th corps on the plateau
of Floing. Those hills that he had always loved so well, that he had
supposed were planted there solely to delight the eye, encircling with
their verdurous slopes the pretty, peaceful valley that lay beneath,
were now become a gigantic, frowning fortress, vomiting ruin and
destruction on the feeble defenses of Sedan, and Weiss looked on them
with terror and detestation. Why had steps not been taken to defend them
the day before, if their leaders had suspected this, or why, rather, had
they insisted on holding the position?

A sound of falling plaster caused him to raise his head; a shot had
grazed his house, the front of which was visible to him above the party
wall. It angered him excessively, and he growled:

“Are they going to knock it about my ears, the brigands!”

Then close behind him there was a little dull, strange sound that he had
never heard before, and turning quickly he saw a soldier, shot through
the heart, in the act of falling backward. There was a brief convulsive
movement of the legs; the youthful, tranquil expression of the face
remained, stamped there unalterably by the hand of death. It was the
first casualty, and the accountant was startled by the crash of the
musket falling and rebounding from the stone pavement of the courtyard.

“Ah, I have seen enough, I am going,” stammered Delaherche. “Come, if
you are coming; if not, I shall go without you.”

The lieutenant, whom their presence made uneasy, spoke up:

“It will certainly be best for you to go, gentlemen. The enemy may
attempt to carry the place at any moment.”

Then at last, casting a parting glance at the meadows, where the
Bavarians were still gaining ground, Weiss gave in and followed
Delaherche, but when they had gained the street he insisted upon going
to see if the fastening of his door was secure, and when he came back to
his companion there was a fresh spectacle, which brought them both to a
halt.

At the end of the street, some three hundred yards from where they
stood, a strong Bavarian column had debouched from the Douzy road and
was charging up the Place de l’Eglise. The square was held by a regiment
of sailor-boys, who appeared to slacken their fire for a moment as
if with the intention of drawing their assailants on; then, when the
close-massed column was directly opposite their front, a most surprising
maneuver was swiftly executed: the men abandoned their formation, some
of them stepping from the ranks and flattening themselves against the
house fronts, others casting themselves prone upon the ground, and down
the vacant space thus suddenly formed the mitrailleuses that had been
placed in battery at the farther end poured a perfect hailstorm of
bullets. The column disappeared as if it had been swept bodily from off
the face of the earth. The recumbent men sprang to their feet with a
bound and charged the scattered Bavarians with the bayonet, driving them
and making the rout complete. Twice the maneuver was repeated, each time
with the same success. Two women, unwilling to abandon their home, a
small house at the corner of an intersecting lane, were sitting at their
window; they laughed approvingly and clapped their hands, apparently
glad to have an opportunity to behold such a spectacle.

“There, confound it!” Weiss suddenly said, “I forgot to lock the cellar
door! I must go back. Wait for me; I won’t be a minute.”

There was no indication that the enemy contemplated a renewal of their
attack, and Delaherche, whose curiosity was reviving after the shock it
had sustained, was less eager to get away. He had halted in front of
his dyehouse and was conversing with the concierge, who had come for a
moment to the door of the room she occupied in the _rez-de-chaussee_.

“My poor Francoise, you had better come along with us. A lone woman
among such dreadful sights--I can’t bear to think of it!”

She raised her trembling hands. “Ah, sir, I would have gone when the
others went, indeed I would, if it had not been for my poor sick boy.
Come in, sir, and look at him.”

He did not enter, but glanced into the apartment from the threshold, and
shook his head sorrowfully at sight of the little fellow in his clean,
white bed, his face exhibiting the scarlet hue of the disease, and his
glassy, burning eyes bent wistfully on his mother.

“But why can’t you take him with you?” he urged. “I will find quarters
for you in Sedan. Wrap him up warmly in a blanket, and come along with
us.”

“Oh, no, sir, I cannot. The doctor told me it would kill him. If only
his poor father were alive! but we two are all that are left, and
we must live for each other. And then, perhaps the Prussians will be
merciful; perhaps they won’t harm a lone woman and a sick boy.”

Just then Weiss reappeared, having secured his premises to his
satisfaction. “There, I think it will trouble them some to get in now.
Come on! And it is not going to be a very pleasant journey, either; keep
close to the houses, unless you want to come to grief.”

There were indications, indeed, that the enemy were making ready for
another assault. The infantry fire was spluttering away more furiously
than ever, and the screaming of the shells was incessant. Two had
already fallen in the street a hundred yards away, and a third had
imbedded itself, without bursting, in the soft ground of the adjacent
garden.

“Ah, here is Francoise,” continued the accountant. “I must have a look
at your little Charles. Come, come, you have no cause for alarm; he will
be all right in a couple of days. Keep your courage up, and the first
thing you do go inside, and don’t put your nose outside the door.” And
the two men at last started to go.

“_Au revoir_, Francoise.”

“_Au revoir_, sirs.”

And as they spoke, there came an appalling crash. It was a shell,
which, having first wrecked the chimney of Weiss’s house, fell upon the
sidewalk, where it exploded with such terrific force as to break every
window in the vicinity. At first it was impossible to distinguish
anything in the dense cloud of dust and smoke that rose in the air,
but presently this drifted away, disclosing the ruined facade of the
dyehouse, and there, stretched across the threshold, Francoise, a
corpse, horribly torn and mangled, her skull crushed in, a fearful
spectacle.

Weiss sprang to her side. Language failed him; he could only express his
feelings by oaths and imprecations.

“_Nom de Dieu!_ _Nom de Dieu!_”

Yes, she was dead. He had stooped to feel her pulse, and as he arose
he saw before him the scarlet face of little Charles, who had raised
himself in bed to look at his mother. He spoke no word, he uttered no
cry; he gazed with blazing, tearless eyes, distended as if they would
start from their sockets, upon the shapeless mass that was strange,
unknown to him; and nothing more.

Weiss found words at last: “_Nom de Dieu!_ they have taken to killing
women!”

He had risen to his feet; he shook his fist at the Bavarians, whose
braid-trimmed helmets were commencing to appear again in the direction
of the church. The chimney, in falling, had crushed a great hole in the
roof of his house, and the sight of the havoc made him furious.

“Dirty loafers! You murder women, you have destroyed my house. No, no! I
will not go now, I cannot; I shall stay here.”

He darted away and came running back with the dead soldier’s rifle
and ammunition. He was accustomed to carry a pair of spectacles on his
person for use on occasions of emergency, when he wished to see with
great distinctness, but did not wear them habitually out of respect for
the wishes of his young wife. He now impatiently tore off his double
eyeglass and substituted the spectacles, and the big, burly bourgeois,
his overcoat flapping about his legs, his honest, kindly, round face
ablaze with wrath, who would have been ridiculous had he not been so
superbly heroic, proceeded to open fire, peppering away at the Bavarians
at the bottom of the street. It was in his blood, he said; he had been
hankering for something of the kind ever since the days of his boyhood,
down there in Alsace, when he had been told all those tales of 1814.
“Ah! you dirty loafers! you dirty loafers!” And he kept firing away with
such eagerness that, finally, the barrel of his musket became so hot it
burned his fingers.

The assault was made with great vigor and determination. There was
no longer any sound of musketry in the direction of the meadows. The
Bavarians had gained possession of a narrow stream, fringed with willows
and poplars, and were making preparations for storming the houses,
or rather fortresses, in the Place de l’Eglise. Their skirmishers had
fallen back with the same caution that characterized their advance, and
the wide grassy plain, dotted here and there with a black form where
some poor fellow had laid down his life, lay spread in the mellow,
slumbrous sunshine like a great cloth of gold. The lieutenant, knowing
that the street was now to be the scene of action, had evacuated the
courtyard of the dyehouse, leaving there only one man as guard. He
rapidly posted his men along the sidewalk with instructions, should the
enemy carry the position, to withdraw into the building, barricade the
first floor, and defend themselves there as long as they had a cartridge
left. The men fired at will, lying prone upon the ground, and sheltering
themselves as best they might behind posts and every little projection
of the walls, and the storm of lead, interspersed with tongues of flame
and puffs of smoke, that tore through that broad, deserted, sunny avenue
was like a downpour of hail beaten level by the fierce blast of winter.
A woman was seen to cross the roadway, running with wild, uncertain
steps, and she escaped uninjured. Next, an old man, a peasant, in
his blouse, who would not be satisfied until he saw his worthless nag
stabled, received a bullet square in his forehead, and the violence of
the impact was such that it hurled him into the middle of the street. A
shell had gone crashing through the roof of the church; two others fell
and set fire to houses, which burned with a pale flame in the intense
daylight, with a loud snapping and crackling of their timbers. And that
poor woman, who lay crushed and bleeding in the doorway of the house
where her sick boy was, that old man with a bullet in his brain, all
that work of ruin and devastation, maddened the few inhabitants who had
chosen to end their days in their native village rather than seek safety
in Belgium. Other bourgeois, and workingmen as well, the neatly attired
citizen alongside the man in overalls, had possessed themselves of
the weapons of dead soldiers, and were in the street defending their
firesides or firing vengefully from the windows.

“Ah!” suddenly said Weiss, “the scoundrels have got around to our rear.
I saw them sneaking along the railroad track. Hark! don’t you hear them
off there to the left?”

The heavy fire of musketry that was now audible behind the park of
Montivilliers, the trees of which overhung the road, made it evident
that something of importance was occurring in that direction. Should the
enemy gain possession of the park Bazeilles would be at their mercy,
but the briskness of the firing was in itself proof that the general
commanding the 12th corps had anticipated the movement and that the
position was adequately defended.

“Look out, there, you blockhead!” exclaimed the lieutenant, violently
forcing Weiss up against the wall; “do you want to get yourself blown to
pieces?”

He could not help laughing a little at the queer figure of the big
gentleman in spectacles, but his bravery had inspired him with a very
genuine feeling of respect, so, when his practiced ear detected a shell
coming their way, he had acted the part of a friend and placed the
civilian in a safer position. The missile landed some ten paces from
where they were and exploded, covering them both with earth and debris.
The citizen kept his feet and received not so much as a scratch, while
the officer had both legs broken.

“It is well!” was all he said; “they have sent me my reckoning!”

He caused his men to take him across the sidewalk and place him with his
back to the wall, near where the dead woman lay, stretched across
her doorstep. His boyish face had lost nothing of its energy and
determination.

“It don’t matter, my children; listen to what I say. Don’t fire too
hurriedly; take your time. When the time comes for you to charge, I will
tell you.”

And he continued to command them still, with head erect, watchful of
the movements of the distant enemy. Another house was burning, directly
across the street. The crash and rattle of musketry, the roar of
bursting shells, rent the air, thick with dust and sulphurous smoke. Men
dropped at the corner of every lane and alley; corpses scattered here
and there upon the pavement, singly or in little groups, made splotches
of dark color, hideously splashed with red. And over the doomed village
a frightful uproar rose and swelled, the vindictive shouts of thousands,
devoting to destruction a few hundred brave men, resolute to die.

Then Delaherche, who all this time had been frantically shouting to
Weiss without intermission, addressed him one last appeal:

“You won’t come? Very well! then I shall leave you to your fate. Adieu!”

It was seven o’clock, and he had delayed his departure too long. So
long as the houses were there to afford him shelter he took advantage
of every doorway, of every bit of projecting wall, shrinking at every
volley into cavities that were ridiculously small in comparison with his
bulk. He turned and twisted in and out with the sinuous dexterity of
the serpent; he would never have supposed that there was so much of his
youthful agility left in him. When he reached the end of the village,
however, and had to make his way for a space of some three hundred yards
along the deserted, empty road, swept by the batteries on Liry hill,
although the perspiration was streaming from his face and body, he
shivered and his teeth chattered. For a minute or so he advanced
cautiously along the bed of a dry ditch, bent almost double, then,
suddenly forsaking the protecting shelter, burst into the open and ran
for it with might and main, wildly, aimlessly, his ears ringing with
detonations that sounded to him like thunder-claps. His eyes burned like
coals of fire; it seemed to him that he was wrapt in flame. It was an
eternity of torture. Then he suddenly caught sight of a little house
to his left, and he rushed for the friendly refuge, gained it, with a
sensation as if an immense load had been lifted from his breast. The
place was tenanted, there were men and horses there. At first he
could distinguish nothing. What he beheld subsequently filled him with
amazement.

Was not that the Emperor, attended by his brilliant staff? He hesitated,
although for the last two days he had been boasting of his acquaintance
with him, then stood staring, open-mouthed. It was indeed Napoleon III.;
he appeared larger, somehow, and more imposing on horseback, and his
mustache was so stiffly waxed, there was such a brilliant color on his
cheeks, that Delaherche saw at once he had been “made up” and painted
like an actor. He had had recourse to cosmetics to conceal from his army
the ravages that anxiety and illness had wrought in his countenance, the
ghastly pallor of his face, his pinched nose, his dull, sunken eyes,
and having been notified at five o’clock that there was fighting at
Bazeilles, had come forth to see, sadly and silently, like a phantom
with rouged cheeks.

There was a brick-kiln near by, behind which there was safety from the
rain of bullets that kept pattering incessantly on its other front and
the shells that burst at every second on the road. The mounted group had
halted.

“Sire,” someone murmured, “you are in danger--”

But the Emperor turned and motioned to his staff to take refuge in
the narrow road that skirted the kiln, where men and horses would be
sheltered from the fire.

“Really, Sire, this is madness. Sire, we entreat you--”

His only answer was to repeat his gesture; probably he thought that the
appearance of a group of brilliant uniforms on that deserted road would
draw the fire of the batteries on the left bank. Entirely unattended
he rode forward into the midst of the storm of shot and shell, calmly,
unhurriedly, with his unvarying air of resigned indifference, the air
of one who goes to meet his appointed fate. Could it be that he heard
behind him the implacable voice that was urging him onward, that voice
from Paris: “March! march! die the hero’s death on the piled corpses of
thy countrymen, let the whole world look on in awe-struck admiration, so
that thy son may reign!”--could that be what he heard? He rode forward,
controlling his charger to a slow walk. For the space of a hundred yards
he thus rode forward, then halted, awaiting the death he had come
there to seek. The bullets sang in concert with a music like the fierce
autumnal blast; a shell burst in front of him and covered him with
earth. He maintained his attitude of patient waiting. His steed, with
distended eyes and quivering frame, instinctively recoiled before the
grim presence who was so close at hand and yet refused to smite horse
or rider. At last the trying experience came to an end, and the Emperor,
with his stoic fatalism, understanding that his time was not yet
come, tranquilly retraced his steps, as if his only object had been to
reconnoiter the position of the German batteries.

“What courage, Sire! We beseech you, do not expose yourself further--”

But, unmindful of their solicitations, he beckoned to his staff to
follow him, not offering at present to consult their safety more than
he did his own, and turned his horse’s head toward la Moncelle, quitting
the road and taking the abandoned fields of la Ripaille. A captain was
mortally wounded, two horses were killed. As he passed along the line of
the 12th corps, appearing and vanishing like a specter, the men eyed him
with curiosity, but did not cheer.

To all these events had Delaherche been witness, and now he trembled
at the thought that he, too, as soon as he should have left the brick
works, would have to run the gauntlet of those terrible projectiles. He
lingered, listening to the conversation of some dismounted officers who
had remained there.

“I tell you he was killed on the spot; cut in two by a shell.”

“You are wrong, I saw him carried off the field. His wound was not
severe; a splinter struck him on the hip.”

“What time was it?”

“Why, about an hour ago--say half-past six. It was up there around la
Moncelle, in a sunken road.”

“I know he is dead.”

“But I tell you he is not! He even sat his horse for a moment after he
was hit, then he fainted and they carried him into a cottage to attend
to his wound.”

“And then returned to Sedan?”

“Certainly; he is in Sedan now.”

Of whom could they be speaking? Delaherche quickly learned that it
was of Marshal MacMahon, who had been wounded while paying a visit of
inspection to his advanced posts. The marshal wounded! it was “just our
luck,” as the lieutenant of marines had put it. He was reflecting
on what the consequences of the mishap were likely to be when an
_estafette_ dashed by at top speed, shouting to a comrade, whom he
recognized:

“General Ducrot is made commander-in-chief! The army is ordered to
concentrate at Illy in order to retreat on Mezieres!”

The courier was already far away, galloping into Bazeilles under the
constantly increasing fire, when Delaherche, startled by the strange
tidings that came to him in such quick succession and not relishing the
prospect of being involved in the confusion of the retreating troops,
plucked up courage and started on a run for Balan, whence he regained
Sedan without much difficulty.

The _estafette_ tore through Bazeilles on a gallop, disseminating the
news, hunting up the commanders to give them their instructions, and
as he sped swiftly on the intelligence spread among the troops: Marshal
MacMahon wounded, General Ducrot in command, the army falling back on
Illy!

“What is that they are saying?” cried Weiss, whose face by this time
was grimy with powder. “Retreat on Mezieres at this late hour! but it is
absurd, they will never get through!”

And his conscience pricked him, he repented bitterly having given that
counsel the day before to that very general who was now invested with
the supreme command. Yes, certainly, that was yesterday the best,
the only plan, to retreat, without loss of a minute’s time, by the
Saint-Albert pass, but now the way could be no longer open to them, the
black swarms of Prussians had certainly anticipated them and were on the
plain of Donchery. There were two courses left for them to pursue, both
desperate; and the most promising, as well as the bravest, of them was
to drive the Bavarians into the Meuse, and cut their way through and
regain possession of the Carignan road.

Weiss, whose spectacles were constantly slipping down upon his nose,
adjusted them nervously and proceeded to explain matters to the
lieutenant, who was still seated against the wall with his two stumps of
legs, very pale and slowly bleeding to death.

“Lieutenant, I assure you I am right. Tell your men to stand their
ground. You can see for yourself that we are doing well. One more effort
like the last, and we shall drive them into the river.”

It was true that the Bavarians’ second attack had been repulsed. The
mitrailleuses had again swept the Place de l’Eglise, the heaps of
corpses in the square resembled barricades, and our troops, emerging
from every cross street, had driven the enemy at the point of the
bayonet through the meadows toward the river in headlong flight, which
might easily have been converted into a general rout had there been
fresh troops to support the sailor-boys, who had suffered severely and
were by this time much distressed. And in Montivilliers Park, again, the
firing did not seem to advance, which was a sign that in that quarter,
also, reinforcements, could they have been had, would have cleared the
wood.

“Order your men to charge them with the bayonet, lieutenant.”

The waxen pallor of death was on the poor boy-officer’s face; yet he had
strength to murmur in feeble accents:

“You hear, my children; give them the bayonet!”

It was his last utterance; his spirit passed, his ingenuous, resolute
face and his wide open eyes still turned on the battle. The flies
already were beginning to buzz about Francoise’s head and settle there,
while lying on his bed little Charles, in an access of delirium, was
calling on his mother in pitiful, beseeching tones to give him something
to quench his thirst.

“Mother, mother, awake; get up--I am thirsty, I am so thirsty.”

But the instructions of the new chief were imperative, and the officers,
vexed and grieved to see the successes they had achieved thus rendered
nugatory, had nothing for it but to give orders for the retreat. It was
plain that the commander-in-chief, possessed by a haunting dread of
the enemy’s turning movement, was determined to sacrifice everything in
order to escape from the toils. The Place de l’Eglise was evacuated,
the troops fell back from street to street; soon the broad avenue was
emptied of its defenders. Women shrieked and sobbed, men swore and shook
their fists at the retiring troops, furious to see themselves abandoned
thus. Many shut themselves in their houses, resolved to die in their
defense.

“Well, _I_ am not going to give up the ship!” shouted Weiss, beside
himself with rage. “No! I will leave my skin here first. Let them come
on! let them come and smash my furniture and drink my wine!”

Wrath filled his mind to the exclusion of all else, a wild, fierce
desire to fight, to kill, at the thought that the hated foreigner should
enter his house, sit in his chair, drink from his glass. It wrought
a change in all his nature; everything that went to make up his
daily life--wife, business, the methodical prudence of the small
bourgeois--seemed suddenly to become unstable and drift away from him.
And he shut himself up in his house and barricaded it, he paced the
empty apartments with the restless impatience of a caged wild beast,
going from room to room to make sure that all the doors and windows
were securely fastened. He counted his cartridges and found he had forty
left, then, as he was about to give a final look to the meadows to see
whether any attack was to be apprehended from that quarter, the sight
of the hills on the left bank arrested his attention for a moment.
The smoke-wreaths indicated distinctly the position of the Prussian
batteries, and at the corner of a little wood on la Marfee, over the
powerful battery at Frenois, he again beheld the group of uniforms, more
numerous than before, and so distinct in the bright sunlight that by
supplementing his spectacles with his binocle he could make out the gold
of their epaulettes and helmets.

“You dirty scoundrels, you dirty scoundrels!” he twice repeated,
extending his clenched fist in impotent menace.

Those who were up there on la Marfee were King William and his staff. As
early as seven o’clock he had ridden up from Vendresse, where he had
had quarters for the night, and now was up there on the heights, out of
reach of danger, while at his feet lay the valley of the Meuse and the
vast panorama of the field of battle. Far as the eye could reach, from
north to south, the bird’s-eye view extended, and standing on the summit
of the hill, as from his throne in some colossal opera box, the monarch
surveyed the scene.

In the central foreground of the picture, and standing out in bold
relief against the venerable forests of the Ardennes, that stretched
away on either hand from right to left, filling the northern horizon
like a curtain of dark verdure, was the city of Sedan, with the
geometrical lines and angles of its fortifications, protected on the
south and west by the flooded meadows and the river. In Bazeilles houses
were already burning, and the dark cloud of war hung heavy over the
pretty village. Turning his eyes eastward he might discover, holding the
line between la Moncelle and Givonne, some regiments of the 12th and
1st corps, looking like diminutive insects at that distance and lost to
sight at intervals in the dip of the narrow valley in which the hamlets
lay concealed; and beyond that valley rose the further slope, an
uninhabited, uncultivated heath, of which the pale tints made the dark
green of Chevalier’s Wood look black by contrast. To the north the 7th
corps was more distinctly visible in its position on the plateau of
Floing, a broad belt of sere, dun fields, that sloped downward from the
little wood of la Garenne to the verdant border of the stream. Further
still were Floing, Saint-Menges, Fleigneux, Illy, small villages that
lay nestled in the hollows of that billowing region where the landscape
was a succession of hill and dale. And there, too, to the left was the
great bend of the Meuse, where the sluggish stream, shimmering like
molten silver in the bright sunlight, swept lazily in a great horseshoe
around the peninsula of Iges and barred the road to Mezieres, leaving
between its further bank and the impassable forest but one single
gateway, the defile of Saint-Albert.

It was in that triangular space that the hundred thousand men and five
hundred guns of the French army had now been crowded and brought to
bay, and when His Prussian Majesty condescended to turn his gaze still
further to the westward he might perceive another plain, the plain of
Donchery, a succession of bare fields stretching away toward Briancourt,
Marancourt, and Vrigne-aux-Bois, a desolate expanse of gray waste
beneath the clear blue sky; and did he turn him to the east, he again
had before his eyes, facing the lines in which the French were so
closely hemmed, a vast level stretch of country in which were numerous
villages, first Douzy and Carignan, then more to the north Rubecourt,
Pourru-aux-Bois, Francheval, Villers-Cernay, and last of all, near the
frontier, Chapelle. All about him, far as he could see, the land was
his; he could direct the movements of the quarter of a million of men
and the eight hundred guns that constituted his army, could master at
a glance every detail of the operations of his invading host. Even then
the XIth corps was pressing forward toward Saint-Menges, while the Vth
was at Vrigne-aux-Bois, and the Wurtemburg division was near Donchery,
awaiting orders. This was what he beheld to the west, and if, turning
to the east, he found his view obstructed in that quarter by tree-clad
hills, he could picture to himself what was passing, for he had seen the
XIIth corps entering the wood of Chevalier, he knew that by that time
the Guards were at Villers-Cernay. There were the two arms of the
gigantic vise, the army of the Crown Prince of Prussia on the left, the
Saxon Prince’s army on the right, slowly, irresistibly closing on each
other, while the two Bavarian corps were hammering away at Bazeilles.

Underneath the King’s position the long line of batteries, stretching
with hardly an interval from Remilly to Frenois, kept up an
unintermittent fire, pouring their shells into Daigny and la Moncelle,
sending them hurtling over Sedan city to sweep the northern plateaus. It
was barely eight o’clock, and with eyes fixed on the gigantic board he
directed the movements of the game, awaiting the inevitable end, calmly
controlling the black cloud of men that beneath him swept, an array of
pigmies, athwart the smiling landscape.



II.

In the dense fog up on the plateau of Floing Gaude, the bugler, sounded
reveille at peep of day with all the lung-power he was possessed of, but
the inspiring strain died away and was lost in the damp, heavy air,
and the men, who had not had courage even to erect their tents and had
thrown themselves, wrapped in their blankets, upon the muddy ground, did
not awake or stir, but lay like corpses, their ashen features set and
rigid in the slumber of utter exhaustion. To arouse them from their
trance-like sleep they had to be shaken, one by one, and, with ghastly
faces and haggard eyes, they rose to their feet, like beings summoned,
against their will, back from another world. It was Jean who awoke
Maurice.

“What is it? Where are we!” asked the younger man. He looked
affrightedly around him, and beheld only that gray waste, in which were
floating the unsubstantial forms of his comrades. Objects twenty yards
away were undistinguishable; his knowledge of the country availed him
not; he could not even have indicated in which direction lay Sedan. Just
then, however, the boom of cannon, somewhere in the distance, fell upon
his ear. “Ah! I remember; the battle is for to-day; they are fighting.
So much the better; there will be an end to our suspense!”

He heard other voices around him expressing the same idea. There was a
feeling of stern satisfaction that at last their long nightmare was to
be dispelled, that at last they were to have a sight of those Prussians
whom they had come out to look for, and before whom they had been
retreating so many weary days; that they were to be given a chance to
try a shot at them, and lighten the load of cartridges that had been
tugging at their belts so long, with never an opportunity to burn a
single one of them. Everyone felt that, this time, the battle would not,
could not be avoided.

But the guns began to thunder more loudly down at Bazeilles, and Jean
bent his ear to listen.

“Where is the firing?”

“Faith,” replied Maurice, “it seems to me to be over toward the Meuse;
but I’ll be hanged if I know where we are.”

“Look here, youngster,” said the corporal, “you are going to stick close
by me to-day, for unless a man has his wits about him, don’t you see, he
is likely to get in trouble. Now, I have been there before, and can keep
an eye out for both of us.”

The others of the squad, meantime, were growling angrily because they
had nothing with which to warm their stomachs. There was no possibility
of kindling fires without dry wood in such weather as prevailed then,
and so, at the very moment when they were about to go into battle, the
inner man put in his claim for recognition, and would not be denied.
Hunger is not conducive to heroism; to those poor fellows eating was
the great, the momentous question of life; how lovingly they watched the
boiling pot on those red-letter days when the soup was rich and thick;
how like children or savages they were in their wrath when rations were
not forthcoming!

“No eat, no fight!” declared Chouteau. “I’ll be blowed if I am going to
risk my skin to-day!”

The radical was cropping out again in the great hulking house-painter,
the orator of Belleville, the pothouse politician, who drowned what
few correct ideas he picked up here and there in a nauseous mixture of
ineffable folly and falsehood.

“Besides,” he went on, “what good was there in making fools of us as
they have been doing all along, telling us that the Prussians were dying
of hunger and disease, that they had not so much as a shirt to their
back, and were tramping along the highways like ragged, filthy paupers!”

Loubet laughed the laugh of the Parisian gamin, who has experienced the
various vicissitudes of life in the Halles.

“Oh, that’s all in my eye! it is we fellows who have been catching it
right along; we are the poor devils whose leaky brogans and tattered
toggery would make folks throw us a copper. And then those great
victories about which they made such a fuss! What precious liars they
must be, to tell us that old Bismarck had been made prisoner and that a
German army had been driven over a quarry and dashed to pieces! Oh yes,
they fooled us in great shape.”

Pache and Lapoulle, who were standing near, shook their heads and
clenched their fists ominously. There were others, also, who made no
attempt to conceal their anger, for the course of the newspapers in
constantly printing bogus news had had most disastrous results; all
confidence was destroyed, men had ceased to believe anything or anybody.
And so it was that in the soldiers, children of a larger growth, their
bright dreams of other days had now been supplanted by exaggerated
anticipations of misfortune.

“_Pardi_!” continued Chouteau, “the thing is accounted for easily
enough, since our rulers have been selling us to the enemy right from
the beginning. You all know that it is so.”

Lapoulle’s rustic simplicity revolted at the idea.

“For shame! what wicked people they must be!”

“Yes, sold, as Judas sold his master,” murmured Pache, mindful of his
studies in sacred history.

It was Chouteau’s hour of triumph. “_Mon Dieu!_ it is as plain as the
nose on your face. MacMahon got three millions and each of the other
generals got a million, as the price of bringing us up here. The bargain
was made at Paris last spring, and last night they sent up a rocket as a
signal to let Bismarck know that everything was fixed and he might come
and take us.”

The story was so inanely stupid that Maurice was disgusted. There had
been a time when Chouteau, thanks to his facundity of the faubourg, had
interested and almost convinced him, but now he had come to detest that
apostle of falsehood, that snake in the grass, who calumniated honest
effort of every kind in order to sicken others of it.

“Why do you talk such nonsense?” he exclaimed. “You know very well there
is no truth in it.”

“What, not true? Do you mean to say it is not true that we are betrayed?
Ah, come, my aristocratic friend, perhaps you are one of them, perhaps
you belong to the d--d band of dirty traitors?” He came forward
threateningly. “If you are you have only to say so, my fine gentleman,
for we will attend to your case right here, and won’t wait for your
friend Bismarck, either.”

The others were also beginning to growl and show their teeth, and Jean
thought it time that he should interfere.

“Silence there! I will report the first man who says another word!”

But Chouteau sneered and jeered at him; what did he care whether he
reported him or not! He was not going to fight unless he chose, and they
need not try to ride him rough-shod, because he had cartridges in his
box for other people beside the Prussians. They were going into action
now, and what discipline had been maintained by fear would be at an
end: what could they do to him, anyway? he would just skip as soon as he
thought he had enough of it. And he was profane and obscene, egging the
men on against the corporal, who had been allowing them to starve. Yes,
it was his fault that the squad had had nothing to eat in the last
three days, while their neighbors had soup and fresh meat in plenty,
but “monsieur” had to go off to town with the “aristo” and enjoy himself
with the girls. People had spotted ‘em, over in Sedan.

“You stole the money belonging to the squad; deny it if you dare, you
_bougre_ of a belly-god!”

Things were beginning to assume an ugly complexion; Lapoulle was
doubling his big fists in a way that looked like business, and Pache,
with the pangs of hunger gnawing at his vitals, laid aside his natural
douceness and insisted on an explanation. The only reasonable one among
them was Loubet, who gave one of his pawky laughs and suggested that,
being Frenchmen, they might as well dine off the Prussians as eat one
another. For his part, he took no stock in fighting, either with fists
or firearms, and alluding to the few hundred francs that he had earned
as substitute, added:

“And so, that was all they thought my hide was worth! Well, I am not
going to give them more than their money’s worth.”

Maurice and Jean were in a towering rage at the idotic onslaught,
talking loudly and repelling Chouteau’s insinuations, when out from the
fog came a stentorian voice, bellowing:

“What’s this? what’s this? Show me the rascals who dare quarrel in the
company street!”

And Lieutenant Rochas appeared upon the scene, in his old _kepi_, whence
the rain had washed all the color, and his great coat, minus many of
its buttons, evincing in all his lean, shambling person the extreme of
poverty and distress. Notwithstanding his forlorn aspect, however, his
sparkling eye and bristling mustache showed that his old time confidence
had suffered no impairment.

Jean spoke up, scarce able to restrain himself. “Lieutenant, it is
these men, who persist in saying that we are betrayed. Yes, they dare to
assert that our generals have sold us--”

The idea of treason did not appear so extremely unnatural to Rochas’s
thick understanding, for it served to explain those reverses that he
could not account for otherwise.

“Well, suppose they are sold, is it any of their business? What concern
is it of theirs? The Prussians are there all the same, aren’t they? and
we are going to give them one of the old-fashioned hidings, such as they
won’t forget in one while.” Down below them in the thick sea of fog the
guns at Bazeilles were still pounding away, and he extended his arms
with a broad, sweeping gesture: “_Hein_! this is the time that we’ve got
them! We’ll see them back home, and kick them every step of the way!”

All the trials and troubles of the past were to him as if they had not
been, now that his ears were gladdened by the roar of the guns: the
delays and conflicting orders of the chiefs, the demoralization of the
troops, the stampede at Beaumont, the distress of the recent forced
retreat on Sedan--all were forgotten. Now that they were about to fight
at last, was not victory certain? He had learned nothing and forgotten
nothing; his blustering, boastful contempt of the enemy, his entire
ignorance of the new arts and appliances of war, his rooted conviction
that an old soldier of Africa, Italy, and the Crimea could by no
possibility be beaten, had suffered no change. It was really a little
too comical that a man at his age should take the back track and begin
at the beginning again!

All at once his lantern jaws parted and gave utterance to a loud laugh.
He was visited by one of those impulses of good-fellowship that made
his men swear by him, despite the roughness of the jobations that he
frequently bestowed on them.

“Look here, my children, in place of quarreling it will be a great deal
better to take a good nip all around. Come, I’m going to treat, and you
shall drink my health.”

From the capacious pocket of his capote he extracted a bottle of brandy,
adding, with his all-conquering air, that it was the gift of a lady. (He
had been seen the day before, seated at the table of a tavern in Floing
and holding the waitress on his lap, evidently on the best of terms with
her.) The soldiers laughed and winked at one another, holding out their
porringers, into which he gayly poured the golden liquor.

“Drink to your sweethearts, my children, if you have any and don’t
forget to drink to the glory of France. Them’s my sentiments, so _vive
la joie_!”

“That’s right, Lieutenant. Here’s to your health, and everybody else’s!”

They all drank, and their hearts were warmed and peace reigned once
more. The “nip” had much of comfort in it, in the chill morning, just as
they were going into action, and Maurice felt it tingling in his veins,
giving him cheer and a sort of what is known colloquially as “Dutch
courage.” Why should they not whip the Prussians? Have not battles their
surprises? has not history embalmed many an instance of the fickleness
of fortune? That mighty man of war, the lieutenant, added that Bazaine
was on the way to join them, would be with them before the day was over:
oh, the information was positive; he had it from an aid to one of the
generals; and although, in speaking of the route the marshal was to come
by, he pointed to the frontier of Belgium, Maurice yielded to one of
those spasmodic attacks of hopefulness of his, without which life to
him would not have been worth living. Might it not be that the day of
reckoning was at hand?

“Why don’t we move, Lieutenant?” he made bold to ask. “What are we
waiting for?”

Rochas made a gesture, which the other interpreted to mean that no
orders had been received. Presently he asked:

“Has anybody seen the captain?”

No one answered. Jean remembered perfectly having seen him making for
Sedan the night before, but to the soldier who knows what is good for
himself, his officers are always invisible when they are not on duty. He
held his tongue, therefore, until happening to turn his head, he caught
sight of a shadowy form flitting along the hedge.

“Here he is,” said he.

It was Captain Beaudoin in the flesh. They were all surprised by the
nattiness of his appearance, his resplendent shoes, his well-brushed
uniform, affording such a striking contrast to the lieutenant’s pitiful
state. And there was a finicking completeness, moreover, about his
toilet, greater than the male being is accustomed to bestow upon
himself, in his scrupulously white hands and his carefully curled
mustache, and a faint perfume of Persian lilac, which had the effect of
reminding one in some mysterious way of the dressing room of a young and
pretty woman.

“Hallo!” said Loubet, with a sneer, “the captain has recovered his
baggage!”

But no one laughed, for they all knew him to be a man with whom it was
not well to joke. He was stiff and consequential with his men, and was
detested accordingly; a _pete sec_, to use Rochas’s expression. He
had seemed to regard the early reverses of the campaign as personal
affronts, and the disaster that all had prognosticated was to him an
unpardonable crime. He was a strong Bonapartist by conviction; his
prospects for promotion were of the brightest; he had several important
salons looking after his interests; naturally, he did not take kindly to
the changed condition of affairs that promised to make his cake dough.
He was said to have a remarkably fine tenor voice, which had helped him
no little in his advancement. He was not devoid of intelligence, though
perfectly ignorant as regarded everything connected with his profession;
eager to please, and very brave, when there was occasion for being so,
without superfluous rashness.

“What a nasty fog!” was all he said, pleased to have found his company
at last, for which he had been searching for more than half an hour.

At the same time their orders came, and the battalion moved forward.
They had to proceed with caution, feeling their way, for the exhalations
continued to rise from the stream and were now so dense that they were
precipitated in a fine, drizzling rain. A vision rose before Maurice’s
eyes that impressed him deeply; it was Colonel de Vineuil, who loomed
suddenly from out the mist, sitting his horse, erect and motionless, at
the intersection of two roads--the man appearing of preternatural size,
and so pale and rigid that he might have served a sculptor as a study
for a statue of despair; the steed shivering in the raw, chill air of
morning, his dilated nostrils turned in the direction of the distant
firing. Some ten paces to their rear were the regimental colors, which
the sous-lieutenant whose duty it was to bear them had thus early taken
from their case and proudly raised aloft, and as the driving, vaporous
rack eddied and swirled about them, they shone like a radiant vision of
glory emblazoned on the heavens, soon to fade and vanish from the sight.
Water was dripping from the gilded eagle, and the tattered, shot-riddled
tri-color, on which were embroidered the names of former victories, was
stained and its bright hues dimmed by the smoke of many a battlefield;
the sole bit of brilliant color in all the faded splendor was the
enameled cross of honor that was attached to the _cravate_.

Another billow of vapor came scurrying up from the river, enshrouding in
its fleecy depths colonel, standard, and all, and the battalion passed
on, whitherward no one could tell. First their route had conducted them
over descending ground, now they were climbing a hill. On reaching the
summit the command, halt! started at the front and ran down the column;
the men were cautioned not to leave the ranks, arms were ordered, and
there they remained, the heavy knapsacks forming a grievous burden to
weary shoulders. It was evident that they were on a plateau, but to
discern localities was out of the question; twenty paces was the extreme
range of vision. It was now seven o’clock; the sound of firing reached
them more distinctly, other batteries were apparently opening on Sedan
from the opposite bank.

“Oh! I,” said Sergeant Sapin with a start, addressing Jean and Maurice,
“I shall be killed to-day.”

It was the first time he had opened his lips that morning; an expression
of dreamy melancholy had rested on his thin face, with its big, handsome
eyes and thin, pinched nose.

“What an idea!” Jean exclaimed; “who can tell what is going to happen
him? Every bullet has its billet, they say, but you stand no worse
chance than the rest of us.”

“Oh, but me--I am as good as dead now. I tell you I shall be killed
to-day.”

The near files turned and looked at him curiously, asking him if he had
had a dream. No, he had dreamed nothing, but he felt it; it was there.

“And it is a pity, all the same, because I was to be married when I got
my discharge.”

A vague expression came into his eyes again; his past life rose before
him. He was the son of a small retail grocer at Lyons, and had been
petted and spoiled by his mother up to the time of her death; then
rejecting the proffer of his father, with whom he did not hit it off
well, to assist in purchasing his discharge, he had remained with the
army, weary and disgusted with life and with his surroundings. Coming
home on furlough, however, he fell in love with a cousin and they became
engaged; their intention was to open a little shop on the small
capital which she would bring him, and then existence once more became
desirable. He had received an elementary education; could read, write,
and cipher. For the past year he had lived only in anticipation of this
happy future.

He shivered, and gave himself a shake to dispel his revery, repeating
with his tranquil air:

“Yes, it is too bad; I shall be killed to-day.”

No one spoke; the uncertainty and suspense continued. They knew not
whether the enemy was on their front or in their rear. Strange sounds
came to their ears from time to time from out the depths of the
mysterious fog: the rumble of wheels, the deadened tramp of moving
masses, the distant clatter of horses’ hoofs; it was the evolutions
of troops, hidden from view behind the misty curtain, the batteries,
battalions, and squadrons of the 7th corps taking up their positions in
line of battle. Now, however, it began to look as if the fog was about
to lift; it parted here and there and fragments floated lightly off,
like strips of gauze torn from a veil, and bits of sky appeared, not
transparently blue, as on a bright summer’s day, but opaque and of the
hue of burnished steel, like the cheerless bosom of some deep, sullen
mountain tarn. It was in one of those brighter moments when the sun was
endeavoring to struggle forth that the regiments of chasseurs d’Afrique,
constituting part of Margueritte’s division, came riding by, giving the
impression of a band of spectral horsemen. They sat very stiff and erect
in the saddle, with their short cavalry jackets, broad red sashes and
smart little _kepis_, accurate in distance and alignment and managing
admirably their lean, wiry mounts, which were almost invisible under
the heterogeneous collection of tools and camp equipage that they had
to carry. Squadron after squadron they swept by in long array, to be
swallowed in the gloom from which they had just emerged, vanishing as if
dissolved by the fine rain. The truth was, probably, that they were in
the way, and their leaders, not knowing what use to put them to, had
packed them off the field, as had often been the case since the opening
of the campaign. They had scarcely ever been employed on scouting or
reconnoitering duty, and as soon as there was prospect of a fight were
trotted about for shelter from valley to valley, useless objects, but
too costly to be endangered.

Maurice thought of Prosper as he watched them. “That fellow, yonder,
looks like him,” he said, under his breath. “I wonder if it is he?”

“Of whom are you speaking?” asked Jean.

“Of that young man of Remilly, whose brother we met at Osches, you
remember.”

Behind the chasseurs, when they had all passed, came a general officer
and his staff dashing down the descending road, and Maurice recognized
the general of their brigade, Bourgain-Desfeuilles, shouting and
gesticulating wildly. He had torn himself reluctantly from his
comfortable quarters at the Hotel of the Golden Cross, and it was
evident from the horrible temper he was in that the condition of affairs
that morning was not satisfactory to him. In a tone of voice so loud
that everyone could hear he roared:

“In the devil’s name, what stream is that off yonder, the Meuse or the
Moselle?”

The fog dispersed at last, this time in earnest. As at Bazeilles the
effect was theatrical; the curtain rolled slowly upward to the flies,
disclosing the setting of the stage. From a sky of transparent blue
the sun poured down a flood of bright, golden light, and Maurice was no
longer at a loss to recognize their position.

“Ah!” he said to Jean, “we are on the plateau de l’Algerie. That village
that you see across the valley, directly in our front, is Floing, and
that more distant one is Saint-Menges, and that one, more distant still,
a little to the right, is Fleigneux. Then those scrubby trees on the
horizon, away in the background, are the forest of the Ardennes, and
there lies the frontier--”

He went on to explain their position, naming each locality and pointing
to it with outstretched hand. The plateau de l’Algerie was a belt of
reddish ground, something less than two miles in length, sloping gently
downward from the wood of la Garenne toward the Meuse, from which it
was separated by the meadows. On it the line of the 7th corps had
been established by General Douay, who felt that his numbers were not
sufficient to defend so extended a position and properly maintain his
touch with the 1st corps, which was posted at right angles with his
line, occupying the valley of la Givonne, from the wood of la Garenne to
Daigny.

“Oh, isn’t it grand, isn’t it magnificent!”

And Maurice, revolving on his heel, made with his hand a sweeping
gesture that embraced the entire horizon. From their position on the
plateau the whole wide field of battle lay stretched before them to the
south and west: Sedan, almost at their feet, whose citadel they could
see overtopping the roofs, then Balan and Bazeilles, dimly seen through
the dun smoke-clouds that hung heavily in the motionless air, and
further in the distance the hills of the left bank, Liry, la Marfee, la
Croix-Piau. It was away toward the west, however, in the direction of
Donchery, that the prospect was most extensive. There the Meuse curved
horseshoe-wise, encircling the peninsula of Iges with a ribbon of pale
silver, and at the northern extremity of the loop was distinctly visible
the narrow road of the Saint-Albert pass, winding between the river bank
and a beetling, overhanging hill that was crowned with the little wood
of Seugnon, an offshoot of the forest of la Falizette. At the summit of
the hill, at the _carrefour_ of la Maison-Rouge, the road from Donchery
to Vrigne-aux-Bois debouched into the Mezieres pike.

“See, that is the road by which we might retreat on Mezieres.”

Even as he spoke the first gun was fired from Saint-Menges. The fog
still hung over the bottom-lands in shreds and patches, and through
it they dimly descried a shadowy body of men moving through the
Saint-Albert defile.

“Ah, they are there,” continued Maurice, instinctively lowering his
voice. “Too late, too late; they have intercepted us!”

It was not eight o’clock. The guns, which were thundering more fiercely
than ever in the direction of Bazeilles, now also began to make
themselves heard at the eastward, in the valley of la Givonne, which was
hid from view; it was the army of the Crown Prince of Saxony, debouching
from the Chevalier wood and attacking the 1st corps, in front of Daigny
village; and now that the XIth Prussian corps, moving on Floing, had
opened fire on General Douay’s troops, the investment was complete at
every point of the great periphery of several leagues’ extent, and the
action was general all along the line.

Maurice suddenly perceived the enormity of their blunder in not
retreating on Mezieres during the night; but as yet the consequences
were not clear to him; he could not foresee all the disaster that was
to result from that fatal error of judgment. Moved by some indefinable
instinct of danger, he looked with apprehension on the adjacent heights
that commanded the plateau de l’Algerie. If time had not been allowed
them to make good their retreat, why had they not backed up against the
frontier and occupied those heights of Illy and Saint-Menges, whence,
if they could not maintain their position, they would at least have been
free to cross over into Belgium? There were two points that appeared
to him especially threatening, the _mamelon_ of Hattoy, to the north of
Floing on the left, and the Calvary of Illy, a stone cross with a
linden tree on either side, the highest bit of ground in the surrounding
country, to the right. General Douay was keenly alive to the importance
of these eminences, and the day before had sent two battalions to occupy
Hattoy; but the men, feeling that they were “in the air” and too remote
from support, had fallen back early that morning. It was understood that
the left wing of the 1st corps was to take care of the Calvary of Illy.
The wide expanse of naked country between Sedan and the Ardennes
forest was intersected by deep ravines, and the key of the position
was manifestly there, in the shadow of that cross and the two lindens,
whence their guns might sweep the fields in every direction for a long
distance.

Two more cannon shots rang out, quickly succeeded by a salvo; they
detected the bluish smoke rising from the underbrush of a low hill to
the left of Saint-Menges.

“Our turn is coming now,” said Jean.

Nothing more startling occurred just then, however. The men, still
preserving their formation and standing at ordered arms, found something
to occupy their attention in the fine appearance made by the 2d
division, posted in front of Floing, with their left refused and facing
the Meuse, so as to guard against a possible attack from that quarter.
The ground to the east, as far as the wood of la Garenne, beneath Illy
village, was held by the 3d division, while the 1st, which had lost
heavily at Beaumont, formed a second line. All night long the engineers
had been busy with pick and shovel, and even after the Prussians had
opened fire they were still digging away at their shelter trenches and
throwing up epaulments.

Then a sharp rattle of musketry, quickly silenced, however, was heard
proceeding from a point beneath Floing, and Captain Beaudoin received
orders to move his company three hundred yards to the rear. Their new
position was in a great field of cabbages, upon reaching which the
captain made his men lie down. The sun had not yet drunk up the moisture
that had descended on the vegetables in the darkness, and every fold
and crease of the thick, golden-green leaves was filled with trembling
drops, as pellucid and luminous as brilliants of the fairest water.

“Sight for four hundred yards,” the captain ordered.

Maurice rested the barrel of his musket on a cabbage that reared its
head conveniently before him, but it was impossible to see anything in
his recumbent position: only the blurred surface of the fields traversed
by his level glance, diversified by an occasional tree or shrub. Giving
Jean, who was beside him, a nudge with his elbow, he asked what they
were to do there. The corporal, whose experience in such matters was
greater, pointed to an elevation not far away, where a battery was just
taking its position; it was evident that they had been placed there to
support that battery, should there be need of their services. Maurice,
wondering whether Honore and his guns were not of the party, raised his
head to look, but the reserve artillery was at the rear, in the shelter
of a little grove of trees.

“_Nom de Dieu!_” yelled Rochas, “will you lie down!”

And Maurice had barely more than complied with this intimation when a
shell passed screaming over him. From that time forth there seemed to
be no end to them. The enemy’s gunners were slow in obtaining the range,
their first projectiles passing over and landing well to the rear of the
battery, which was now opening in reply. Many of their shells, too, fell
upon the soft ground, in which they buried themselves without exploding,
and for a time there was a great display of rather heavy wit at the
expense of those bloody sauerkraut eaters.

“Well, well!” said Loubet, “their fireworks are a fizzle!”

“They ought to take them in out of the rain,” sneered Chouteau.

Even Rochas thought it necessary to say something. “Didn’t I tell you
that the dunderheads don’t know enough even to point a gun?”

But they were less inclined to laugh when a shell burst only ten yards
from them and sent a shower of earth flying over the company; Loubet
affected to make light of it by ordering his comrades to get out their
brushes from the knapsacks, but Chouteau suddenly became very pale and
had not a word to say. He had never been under fire, nor had Pache and
Lapoulle, nor any member of the squad, in fact, except Jean. Over eyes
that had suddenly lost their brightness lids flickered tremulously;
voices had an unnatural, muffled sound, as if arrested by some
obstruction in the throat. Maurice, who was sufficiently master of
himself as yet, endeavored to diagnose his symptoms; he could not be
afraid, for he was not conscious that he was in danger; he only felt a
slight sensation of discomfort in the epigastric region, and his
head seemed strangely light and empty; ideas and images came and went
independent of his will. His recollection of the brave show made by the
troops of the 2d division made him hopeful, almost to buoyancy; victory
appeared certain to him if only they might be allowed to go at the enemy
with the bayonet.

“Listen!” he murmured, “how the flies buzz; the place is full of them.”
 Thrice he had heard something that sounded like the humming of a swarm
of bees.

“That was not a fly,” Jean said, with a laugh. “It was a bullet.”

Again and again the hum of those invisible wings made itself heard. The
men craned their necks and looked about them with eager interest; their
curiosity was uncontrollable--would not allow them to remain quiet.

“See here,” Loubet said mysteriously to Lapoulle, with a view to raise
a laugh at the expense of his simple-minded comrade, “when you see a
bullet coming toward you you must raise your forefinger before your
nose--like that; it divides the air, and the bullet will go by to the
right or left.”

“But I can’t see them,” said Lapoulle.

A loud guffaw burst from those near.

“Oh, crickey! he says he can’t see them! Open your garret windows,
stupid! See! there’s one--see! there’s another. Didn’t you see that one?
It was of the most beautiful green.”

And Lapoulle rolled his eyes and stared, placing his finger before his
nose, while Pache fingered the scapular he wore and wished it was large
enough to shield his entire person.

Rochas, who had remained on his feet, spoke up and said jocosely:

“Children, there is no objection to your ducking to the shells when
you see them coming. As for the bullets, it is useless; they are too
numerous!”

At that very instant a soldier in the front rank was struck on the head
by a fragment of an exploding shell. There was no outcry; simply a spurt
of blood and brain, and all was over.

“Poor devil!” tranquilly said Sergeant Sapin, who was quite cool and
exceedingly pale. “Next!”

But the uproar had by this time become so deafening that the men could
no longer hear one another’s voice; Maurice’s nerves, in particular,
suffered from the infernal _charivari_. The neighboring battery
was banging away as fast as the gunners could load the pieces; the
continuous roar seemed to shake the ground, and the mitrailleuses were
even more intolerable with their rasping, grating, grunting noise. Were
they to remain forever reclining there among the cabbages? There was
nothing to be seen, nothing to be learned; no one had any idea how the
battle was going. And _was_ it a battle, after all--a genuine affair?
All that Maurice could make out, projecting his eyes along the level
surface of the fields, was the rounded, wood-clad summit of Hattoy in
the remote distance, and still unoccupied. Neither was there a Prussian
to be seen anywhere on the horizon; the only evidence of life were
the faint, blue smoke-wreaths that rose and floated an instant in the
sunlight. Chancing to turn his head, he was greatly surprised to behold
at the bottom of a deep, sheltered valley, surrounded by precipitous
heights, a peasant calmly tilling his little field, driving the plow
through the furrow with the assistance of a big white horse. Why should
he lose a day? The corn would keep growing, let them fight as they
would, and folks must live.

Unable longer to control his impatience, the young man jumped to his
feet. He had a fleeting vision of the batteries of Saint-Menges, crowned
with tawny vapors and spewing shot and shell upon them; he had also time
to see, what he had seen before and had not forgotten, the road from
Saint-Albert’s pass black with minute moving objects--the swarming
hordes of the invader. Then Jean seized him by the legs and pulled him
violently to his place again.

“Are you crazy? Do you want to leave your bones here?”

And Rochas chimed in:

“Lie down, will you! What am I to do with such d----d rascals, who get
themselves killed without orders!”

“But you don’t lie down, lieutenant,” said Maurice.

“That’s a different thing. I have to know what is going on.”

Captain Beaudoin, too, kept his legs like a man, but never opened his
lips to say an encouraging word to his men, having nothing in common
with them. He appeared nervous and unable to remain long in one place,
striding up and down the field, impatiently awaiting orders.

No orders came, nothing occurred to relieve their suspense. Maurice’s
knapsack was causing him horrible suffering; it seemed to be crushing
his back and chest in that recumbent position, so painful when
maintained for any length of time. The men had been cautioned against
throwing away their sacks unless in case of actual necessity, and he
kept turning over, first on his right side, then on the left, to ease
himself a moment of his burden by resting it on the ground. The shells
continued to fall around them, but the German gunners did not succeed in
getting the exact range; no one was killed after the poor fellow who lay
there on his stomach with his skull fractured.

“Say, is this thing to last all day?” Maurice finally asked Jean, in
sheer desperation.

“Like enough. At Solferino they put us in a field of carrots, and there
we stayed five mortal hours with our noses to the ground.” Then he
added, like the sensible fellow he was: “Why do you grumble? we are not
so badly off here. You will have an opportunity to distinguish yourself
before the day is over. Let everyone have his chance, don’t you see; if
we should all be killed at the beginning there would be none left for
the end.”

“Look,” Maurice abruptly broke in, “look at that smoke over Hattoy. They
have taken Hattoy; we shall have plenty of music to dance to now!”

For a moment his burning curiosity, which he was conscious was now for
the first time beginning to be dashed with personal fear, had sufficient
to occupy it; his gaze was riveted on the rounded summit of the
_mamelon_, the only elevation that was within his range of vision,
dominating the broad expanse of plain that lay level with his eye.
Hattoy was too far distant to permit him to distinguish the gunners of
the batteries that the Prussians had posted there; he could see nothing
at all, in fact, save the smoke that at each discharge rose above a thin
belt of woods that served to mask the guns. The enemy’s occupation of
the position, of which General Douay had been forced to abandon the
defense, was, as Maurice had instinctively felt, an event of the gravest
importance and destined to result in the most disastrous consequences;
its possessors would have entire command of all the surrounding plateau.
This was quickly seen to be the case, for the batteries that opened on
the second division of the 7th corps did fearful execution. They had
now perfected their range, and the French battery, near which Beaudoin’s
company was stationed, had two men killed in quick succession. A
quartermaster’s man in the company had his left heel carried away by
a splinter and began to howl most dismally, as if visited by a sudden
attack of madness.

“Shut up, you great calf!” said Rochas. “What do you mean by yelling
like that for a little scratch!”

The man suddenly ceased his outcries and subsided into a stupid silence,
nursing his foot in his hand.

And still the tremendous artillery duel raged, and the death-dealing
missiles went screaming over the recumbent ranks of the regiments that
lay there on the sullen, sweltering plain, where no thing of life was
to be seen beneath the blazing sun. The crashing thunder, the destroying
hurricane, were masters in that solitude, and many long hours would
pass before the end. But even thus early in the day the Germans had
demonstrated the superiority of their artillery; their percussion
shells had an enormous range, and exploded, with hardly an exception,
on reaching their destination, while the French time-fuse shells, with a
much shorter range, burst for the most part in the air and were
wasted. And there was nothing left for the poor fellows exposed to that
murderous fire save to hug the ground and make themselves as small as
possible; they were even denied the privilege of firing in reply, which
would have kept their mind occupied and given them a measure of relief;
but upon whom or what were they to direct their rifles? since there was
not a living soul to be seen upon the entire horizon!

“Are we never to have a shot at them? I would give a dollar for just one
chance!” said Maurice, in a frenzy of impatience. “It is disgusting to
have them blazing away at us like this and not be allowed to answer.”

“Be patient; the time will come,” Jean imperturbably replied.

Their attention was attracted by the sound of mounted men approaching
on their left, and turning their heads they beheld General Douay, who,
accompanied by his staff, had come galloping up to see how his troops
were behaving under the terrible fire from Hattoy. He appeared well
pleased with what he saw and was in the act of making some suggestions
to the officers grouped around him, when, emerging from a sunken road,
General Bourgain-Desfeuilles also rode up. This officer, though he owed
his advancement to “influence” was wedded to the antiquated African
routine and had learned nothing by experience, sat his horse with great
composure under the storm of projectiles. He was shouting to the men and
gesticulating wildly, after the manner of Rochas: “They are coming, they
will be here right away, and then we’ll let them have the bayonet!” when
he caught sight of General Douay and drew up to his side.

“Is it true that the marshal is wounded, general?” he asked.

“It is but too true, unfortunately. I received a note from Ducrot only
a few minutes ago, in which he advises me of the fact, and also notifies
me that, by the marshal’s appointment, he is in command of the army.”

“Ah! so it is Ducrot who is to have his place! And what are the orders
now?”

The general shook his head sorrowfully. He had felt that the army
was doomed, and for the last twenty-four hours had been strenuously
recommending the occupation of Illy and Saint-Menges in order to keep a
way of retreat open on Mezieres.

“Ducrot will carry out the plan we talked of yesterday: the whole army
is to be concentrated on the plateau of Illy.”

And he repeated his previous gesture, as if to say it was too late.

His words were partly inaudible in the roar of the artillery, but
Maurice caught their significance clearly enough, and it left him
dumfounded by astonishment and alarm. What! Marshal MacMahon wounded
since early that morning, General Ducrot commanding in his place for
the last two hours, the entire army retreating to the northward of
Sedan--and all these important events kept from the poor devils
of soldiers who were squandering their life’s blood! and all their
destinies, dependent on the life of a single man, were to be intrusted
to the direction of fresh and untried hands! He had a distinct
consciousness of the fate that was in reserve for the army of Chalons,
deprived of its commander, destitute of any guiding principle of action,
dragged purposelessly in this direction and in that, while the Germans
went straight and swift to their preconcerted end with mechanical
precision and directness.

Bourgain-Desfeuilles had wheeled his horse and was moving away, when
General Douay, to whom a grimy, dust-stained hussar had galloped up with
another dispatch, excitedly summoned him back.

“General! General!”

His voice rang out so loud and clear, with such an accent of surprise,
that it drowned the uproar of the guns.

“General, Ducrot is no longer in command; de Wimpffen is chief. You know
he reached here yesterday, just in the very thick of the disaster at
Beaumont, to relieve de Failly at the head of the 5th corps--and he
writes me that he has written instructions from the Minister of War
assigning him to the command of the army in case the post should become
vacant. And there is to be no more retreating; the orders now are to
reoccupy our old positions, and defend them to the last.”

General Bourgain-Desfeuilles drank in the tidings, his eyes bulging with
astonishment. “_Nom de Dieu!_” he at last succeeded in ejaculating, “one
would like to know--But it is no business of mine, anyhow.” And off he
galloped, not allowing himself to be greatly agitated by this unexpected
turn of affairs, for he had gone into the war solely in the hope of
seeing his name raised a grade higher in the army list, and it was
his great desire to behold the end of the beastly campaign as soon as
possible, since it was productive of so little satisfaction to anyone.

Then there was an explosion of derision and contempt among the men of
Beaudoin’s company. Maurice said nothing, but he shared the opinion
of Chouteau and Loubet, who chaffed and blackguarded everyone without
mercy. “See-saw, up and down, move as I pull the string! A fine gang
they were, those generals! they understood one another; they were not
going to pull all the blankets off the bed! What was a poor devil of a
soldier to do when he had such leaders put over him? Three commanders in
two hours’ time, three great numskulls, none of whom knew what was the
right thing to do, and all of them giving different orders! Demoralized,
were they? Good Heavens, it was enough to demoralize God Almighty
himself, and all His angels!” And the inevitable accusation of treason
was again made to do duty; Ducrot and de Wimpffen wanted to get three
millions apiece out of Bismarck, as MacMahon had done.

Alone in advance of his staff General Douay sat on his horse a long
time, his gaze bent on the distant positions of the enemy and in
his eyes an expression of infinite melancholy. He made a minute and
protracted observation of Hattoy, the shells from which came tumbling
almost at his very feet; then, giving a glance at the plateau of Illy,
called up an officer to carry an order to the brigade of the 5th corps
that he had borrowed the day previous from General de Wimpffen, and
which served to connect his right with the left of General Ducrot. He
was distinctly heard to say these words:

“If the Prussians should once get possession of the Calvary it would
be impossible for us to hold this position an hour; we should be driven
into Sedan.”

He rode off and was lost to view, together with his escort, at the
entrance of the sunken road, and the German fire became hotter than
before. They had doubtless observed the presence of the group of mounted
officers; but now the shells, which hitherto had come from the front,
began to fall upon them laterally, from the left; the batteries at
Frenois, together with one which the enemy had carried across the river
and posted on the peninsula of Iges, had established, in connection
with the guns on Hattoy, an enfilading fire which swept the plateau de
l’Algerie in its entire length and breadth. The position of the company
now became most lamentable; the men, with death in front of them and on
their flank, knew not which way to turn or which of the menacing perils
to guard themselves against. In rapid succession three men were killed
outright and two severely wounded.

It was then that Sergeant Sapin met the death that he had predicted for
himself. He had turned his head, and caught sight of the approaching
missile when it was too late for him to avoid it.

“Ah, here it is!” was all he said.

There was no terror in the thin face, with its big handsome eyes; it was
only pale; very pale and inexpressibly mournful. The wound was in the
abdomen.

“Oh! do not leave me here,” he pleaded; “take me to the ambulance, I
beseech you. Take me to the rear.”

Rochas endeavored to silence him, and it was on his brutal lips to say
that it was useless to imperil two comrades’ lives for one whose wound
was so evidently mortal, when his better nature made its influence felt
and he murmured:

“Be patient for a little, my poor boy, and the litter-bearers will come
and get you.”

But the wretched man, whose tears were now flowing, kept crying, as one
distraught that his dream of happiness was vanishing with his trickling
life-blood:

“Take me away, take me away--”

Finally Captain Beaudoin, whose already unstrung nerves were further
irritated by his pitiful cries, called for two volunteers to carry him
to a little piece of woods a short way off where a flying ambulance
had been established. Chouteau and Loubet jumped to their feet
simultaneously, anticipating the others, seized the sergeant, one of
them by the shoulders, the other by the legs, and bore him away on a
run. They had gone but a little way, however, when they felt the body
becoming rigid in the final convulsion; he was dying.

“I say, he’s dead,” exclaimed Loubet. “Let’s leave him here.”

But Chouteau, without relaxing his speed, angrily replied:

“Go ahead, you booby, will you! Do you take me for a fool, to leave him
here and have them call us back!”

They pursued their course with the corpse until they came to the little
wood, threw it down at the foot of a tree, and went their way. That was
the last that was seen of them until nightfall.

The battery beside them had been strengthened by three additional guns;
the cannonade on either side went on with increased fury, and in the
hideous uproar terror--a wild, unreasoning terror--filled Maurice’s
soul. It was his first experience of the sensation; he had not until now
felt that cold sweat trickling down his back, that terrible sinking at
the pit of the stomach, that unconquerable desire to get on his feet and
run, yelling and screaming, from the field. It was nothing more than
the strain from which his nervous, high-strung temperament was suffering
from reflex action; but Jean, who was observing him narrowly, detected
the incipient crisis in the wandering, vacant eyes, and seizing him with
his strong hand, held him down firmly at his side. The corporal lectured
him paternally in a whisper, not mincing his words, but employing good,
vigorous language to restore him to a sense of self-respect, for he
knew by experience that a man in panic is not to be coaxed out of his
cowardice. There were others also who were showing the white feather,
among them Pache, who was whimpering involuntarily, in the low, soft
voice of a little baby, his eyes suffused with tears. Lapoulle’s stomach
betrayed him and he was very ill; and there were many others who also
found relief in vomiting, amid their comrade’s loud jeers and laughter,
which helped to restore their courage to them all.

“My God!” ejaculated Maurice, ghastly pale, his teeth chattering. “My
God!”

Jean shook him roughly. “You infernal coward, are you going to be sick
like those fellows over yonder? Behave yourself, or I’ll box your ears.”

He was trying to put heart into his friend by gruff but friendly
speeches like the above, when they suddenly beheld a dozen dark forms
emerging from a little wood upon their front and about four hundred
yards away. Their spiked helmets announced them to be Prussians; the
first Prussians they had had within reach of their rifles since the
opening of the campaign. This first squad was succeeded by others, and
in front of their position the little dust clouds that rose where the
French shells struck were distinctly visible. It was all very vivid
and clear-cut in the transparent air of morning; the Germans, outlined
against the dark forest, presented the toy-like appearance of those
miniature soldiers of lead that are the delight of children; then, as
the enemy’s shells began to drop in their vicinity with uncomfortable
frequency, they withdrew and were lost to sight within the wood whence
they had come.

But Beaudoin’s company had seen them there once, and to their eyes they
were there still; the chassepots seemed to go off of their own accord.
Maurice was the first man to discharge his piece; Jean, Pache, Lapoulle
and the others all followed suit. There had been no order given to
commence firing, and the captain made an attempt to check it, but
desisted upon Rochas’s representation that it was absolutely necessary
as a measure of relief for the men’s pent-up feelings. So, then, they
were at liberty to shoot at last, they could use up those cartridges
that they had been lugging around with them for the last month, without
ever burning a single one! The effect on Maurice in particular was
electrical; the noise he made had the effect of dispelling his fear and
blunting the keenness of his sensations. The little wood had resumed
its former deserted aspect; not a leaf stirred, no more Prussians showed
themselves; and still they kept on blazing away as madly as ever at the
immovable trees.

Raising his eyes presently Maurice was startled to see Colonel de
Vineuil sitting his big horse at no great distance, man and steed
impassive and motionless as if carved from stone, patient were they
under the leaden hail, with face turned toward the enemy. The entire
regiment was now collected in that vicinity, the other companies being
posted in the adjacent fields; the musketry fire seemed to be drawing
nearer. The young man also beheld the regimental colors a little to the
rear, borne aloft by the sturdy arm of the standard-bearer, but it was
no longer the phantom flag that he had seen that morning, shrouded
in mist and fog; the golden eagle flashed and blazed in the fierce
sunlight, and the tri-colored silk, despite the rents and stains of many
a battle, flaunted its bright hues defiantly to the breeze. Waving in
the breath of the cannon, floating proudly against the blue of heaven,
it shone like an emblem of victory.

And why, now that the day of battle had arrived, should not victory
perch upon that banner? With that reflection Maurice and his companions
kept on industriously wasting their powder on the distant wood,
producing havoc there among the leaves and twigs.



III.

Sleep did not visit Henriette’s eyes that night. She knew her husband to
be a prudent man, but the thought that he was in Bazeilles, so near the
German lines, was cause to her of deep anxiety. She tried to soothe her
apprehensions by reminding herself that she had his solemn promise to
return at the first appearance of danger; it availed not, and at
every instant she detected herself listening to catch the sound of his
footstep on the stair. At ten o’clock, as she was about to go to bed,
she opened her window, and resting her elbows on the sill, gazed out
into the night.

The darkness was intense; looking downward, she could scarce discern the
pavement of the Rue des Voyards, a narrow, obscure passage, overhung by
old frowning mansions. Further on, in the direction of the college,
a smoky street lamp burned dimly. A nitrous exhalation rose from
the street; the squall of a vagrant cat; the heavy step of a belated
soldier. From the city at her back came strange and alarming sounds:
the patter of hurrying feet, an ominous, incessant rumbling, a muffled
murmur without a name that chilled her blood. Her heart beat loudly in
her bosom as she bent her ear to listen, and still she heard not the
familiar echo of her husband’s step at the turning of the street below.

Hours passed, and now distant lights that began to twinkle in the open
fields beyond the ramparts excited afresh her apprehensions. It was so
dark that it cost her an effort of memory to recall localities. She knew
that the broad expanse that lay beneath her, reflecting a dim light,
was the flooded meadows, and that flame that blazed up and was suddenly
extinguished, surely it must be on la Marfee. But never, to her certain
knowledge, had there been farmer’s house or peasant’s cottage on those
heights; what, then, was the meaning of that light? And then on every
hand, at Pont-Maugis, Noyers, Frenois, other fires arose, coruscating
fitfully for an instant and giving mysterious indication of the presence
of the swarming host that lay hidden in the bosom of the night.
Yet more: there were strange sounds and voices in the air, subdued
murmurings such as she had never heard before, and that made her start
in terror; the stifled hum of marching men, the neighing and snorting
of steeds, the clash of arms, hoarse words of command, given in guttural
accents; an evil dream of a demoniac crew, a witch’s sabbat, in the
depths of those unholy shades. Suddenly a single cannon-shot rang out,
ear-rending, adding fresh terror to the dead silence that succeeded
it. It froze her very marrow; what could it mean? A signal, doubtless,
telling of the successful completion of some movement, announcing that
everything was ready, down there, and that now the sun might rise.

It was about two o’clock when Henriette, forgetting even to close her
window, at last threw herself, fully dressed, upon her bed. Her anxiety
and fatigue had stupefied her and benumbed her faculties. What could ail
her, thus to shiver and burn alternately, she who was always so calm
and self-reliant, moving with so light a step that those about her were
unconscious of her existence? Finally she sank into a fitful, broken
slumber that brought with it no repose, in which was present still that
persistent sensation of impending evil that filled the dusky heavens.
All at once, arousing her from her unrefreshing stupor, the firing
commenced again, faint and muffled in the distance, not a single
shot this time, but peal after peal following one another in quick
succession. Trembling, she sat upright in bed. The firing continued.
Where was she? The place seemed strange to her; she could not
distinguish the objects in her chamber, which appeared to be filled with
dense clouds of smoke. Then she remembered: the fog must have rolled in
from the near-by river and entered the room through the window. Without,
the distant firing was growing fiercer. She leaped from her bed and ran
to the casement to listen.

Four o’clock was striking from a steeple in Sedan, and day was breaking,
tingeing the purplish mists with a sickly, sinister light. It was
impossible to discern objects; even the college buildings, distant but
a few yards, were undistinguishable. Where could the firing be, _mon
Dieu_! Her first thought was for her brother Maurice; for the reports
were so indistinct that they seemed to her to come from the north, above
the city; then, listening more attentively, her doubt became certainty;
the cannonading was there, before her, and she trembled for her husband.
It was surely at Bazeilles. For a little time, however, she suffered
herself to be cheered by a ray of hope, for there were moments when
the reports seemed to come from the right. Perhaps the fighting was at
Donchery, where she knew that the French had not succeeded in blowing
up the bridge. Then she lapsed into a condition of most horrible
uncertainty; it seemed to be now at Donchery, now at Bazeilles; which,
it was impossible to decide, there was such a ringing, buzzing sensation
in her head. At last the feeling of suspense became so acute that she
felt she could not endure it longer; she _must_ know; every nerve in her
body was quivering with the ungovernable desire, so she threw a shawl
over her shoulders and left the house in quest of news.

When she had descended and was in the street Henriette hesitated a brief
moment, for the little light that was in the east had not yet crept
downward along the weather-blackened house-fronts to the roadway, and
in the old city, shrouded in opaque fog, the darkness still reigned
impenetrable. In the tap-room of a low pot-house in the Rue au Beurre,
dimly lighted by a tallow candle, she saw two drunken Turcos and
a woman. It was not until she turned into the Rue Maqua that she
encountered any signs of life: soldiers slinking furtively along the
sidewalk and hugging the walls, deserters probably, on the lookout for
a place in which to hide; a stalwart trooper with despatches, searching
for his captain and knocking thunderously at every door; a group of fat
burghers, trembling with fear lest they had tarried there too long,
and preparing to crowd themselves into one small carriole if so be they
might yet reach Bouillon, in Belgium, whither half the population of
Sedan had emigrated within the last two days. She instinctively
turned her steps toward the Sous-Prefecture, where she might depend on
receiving information, and her desire to avoid meeting acquaintances
determined her to take a short cut through lanes and by-ways. On
reaching the Rue du Four and the Rue des Laboureurs, however, she found
an obstacle in her way; the place had been pre-empted by the ordnance
department, and guns, caissons, forges were there in interminable array,
having apparently been parked away in that remote corner the day before
and then forgotten there. There was not so much as a sentry to guard
them. It sent a chill to her heart to see all that artillery lying there
silent and ineffective, sleeping its neglected sleep in the concealment
of those deserted alleys. She was compelled to retrace her steps,
therefore, which she did by passing through the Place du College to the
Grande-Rue, where in front of the Hotel de l’Europe she saw a group
of orderlies holding the chargers of some general officers, whose
high-pitched voices were audible from the brilliantly lighted dining
room. On the Place du Rivage and the Place Turenne the crowd was even
greater still, composed of anxious groups of citizens, with women and
children interspersed among the struggling, terror-stricken throng,
hurrying in every direction; and there she saw a general emerge from the
Hotel of the Golden Cross, swearing like a pirate, and spur his horse
off up the street at a mad gallop, careless whom he might overturn. For
a moment she seemed about to enter the Hotel de Ville, then changed
her mind, and taking the Rue du Pont-de-Meuse, pushed on to the
Sous-Prefecture.

Never had Sedan appeared to her in a light so tragically sinister as
now, when she beheld it in the livid, forbidding light of early dawn,
enveloped in its shroud of fog. The houses were lifeless and silent as
tombs; many of them had been empty and abandoned for the last two days,
others the terrified owners had closely locked and barred. Shuddering,
the city awoke to the cares and occupations of the new day; the morning
was fraught with chill misery in those streets, still half deserted,
peopled only by a few frightened pedestrians and those hurrying
fugitives, the remnant of the exodus of previous days. Soon the sun
would rise and send down its cheerful light upon the scene; soon the
city, overwhelmed in the swift-rising tide of disaster, would be crowded
as it had never been before. It was half-past five o’clock; the roar
of the cannon, caught and deadened among the tall dingy houses, sounded
more faintly in her ears.

At the Sous-Prefecture Henriette had some acquaintance with the
concierge’s daughter, Rose by name, a pretty little blonde of refined
appearance who was employed in Delaherche’s factory. She made her way at
once to the lodge; the mother was not there, but Rose received her with
her usual amiability.

“Oh! dear lady, we are so tired we can scarcely stand; mamma has gone to
lie down and rest a while. Just think! all night long people have been
coming and going, and we have not been able to get a wink of sleep.”

And burning to tell all the wonderful sights that she had been witness
to since the preceding day, she did not wait to be questioned, but ran
on volubly with her narrative.

“As for the marshal, he slept very well, but that poor Emperor! you
can’t think what suffering he has to endure! Yesterday evening, do you
know, I had gone upstairs to help give out the linen, and as I entered
the apartment that adjoins his dressing-room I heard groans, oh, _such_
groans! just like someone dying. I thought a moment and knew it must be
the Emperor, and I was so frightened I couldn’t move; I just stood and
trembled. It seems he has some terrible complaint that makes him cry out
that way. When there are people around he holds in, but as soon as he is
alone it is too much for him, and he groans and shrieks in a way to make
your hair stand on end.”

“Do you know where the fighting is this morning?” asked Henriette,
desiring to check her loquacity.

Rose dismissed the question with a wave of her little hand and went on
with her narrative.

“That made me curious to know more, you see, and I went upstairs four or
five times during the night and listened, and every time it was just the
same; I don’t believe he was quiet an instant all night long, or got a
minute’s sleep. Oh! what a terrible thing it is to suffer like that with
all he has to worry him! for everything is upside down; it is all a most
dreadful mess. Upon my word, I believe those generals are out of their
senses; such ghostly faces and frightened eyes! And people coming all
the time, and doors banging and some men scolding and others crying, and
the whole place like a sailor’s boarding-house; officers drinking from
bottles and going to bed in their boots! The Emperor is the best of the
whole lot, and the one who gives least trouble, in the corner where
he conceals himself and his suffering!” Then, in reply to Henriette’s
reiterated question: “The fighting? there has been fighting at Bazeilles
this morning. A mounted officer brought word of it to the marshal, who
went immediately to notify the Emperor. The marshal has been gone ten
minutes, and I shouldn’t wonder if the Emperor intends to follow him,
for they are dressing him upstairs. I just now saw them combing him and
plastering his face with all sorts of cosmetics.”

But Henriette, having finally learned what she desired to know, rose to
go.

“Thank you, Rose. I am in somewhat of a hurry this morning.”

The young girl went with her to the street door, and took leave of her
with a courteous:

“Glad to have been of service to you, Madame Weiss. I know that anything
said to you will go no further.”

Henriette hurried back to her house in the Rue des Voyards. She felt
quite certain that her husband would have returned, and even reflected
that he would be alarmed at not finding her there, and hastened her
steps in consequence. As she drew near the house she raised her eyes in
the expectation of seeing him at the window watching for her, but the
window, wide open as she had left it when she went out, was vacant,
and when she had run up the stairs and given a rapid glance through
her three rooms, it was with a sinking heart that she saw they were
untenanted save for the chill fog and continuous roar of the cannonade.
The distant firing was still going on. She went and stood for a moment
at the window; although the encircling wall of vapor was not less dense
than it had been before, she seemed to have a clearer apprehension, now
that she had received oral information, of the details of the conflict
raging at Bazeilles, the grinding sound of the mitrailleuses, the
crashing volleys of the French batteries answering the German batteries
in the distance. The reports seemed to be drawing nearer to the city,
the battle to be waxing fiercer and fiercer with every moment.

Why did not Weiss return? He had pledged himself so faithfully not to
outstay the first attack! And Henriette began to be seriously alarmed,
depicting to herself the various obstacles that might have detained him:
perhaps he had not been able to leave the village, perhaps the roads
were blocked or rendered impassable by the projectiles. It might even be
that something had happened him, but she put the thought aside and would
not dwell on it, preferring to view things on their brighter side and
finding in hope her safest mainstay and reliance. For an instant she
harbored the design of starting out and trying to find her husband, but
there were considerations that seemed to render that course inadvisable:
supposing him to have started on his return, what would become of her
should she miss him on the way? and what would be his anxiety should he
come in and find her absent? Her guiding principle in all her thoughts
and actions was her gentle, affectionate devotedness, and she saw
nothing strange or out of the way in a visit to Bazeilles under such
extraordinary circumstances, accustomed as she was, like an affectionate
little woman, to perform her duty in silence and do the thing that she
deemed best for their common interest. Where her husband was, there was
her place; that was all there was about it.

She gave a sudden start and left the window, saying:

“Monsieur Delaherche, how could I forget--”

It had just come to her recollection that the cloth manufacturer had
also passed the night at Bazeilles, and if he had returned would be able
to give her the intelligence she wanted. She ran swiftly down the
stairs again. In place of taking the more roundabout way by the Rue des
Voyards, she crossed the little courtyard of her house and entered the
passage that conducted to the huge structure that fronted on the
Rue Maqua. As she came out into the great central garden, paved
with flagstones now and retaining of its pristine glories only a few
venerable trees, magnificent century-old elms, she was astonished to
see a sentry mounting guard at the door of a carriage-house; then it
occurred to her that she had been told the day before that the camp
chests of the 7th corps had been deposited there for safe keeping,
and it produced a strange impression on her mind that all the gold,
millions, it was said to amount to, should be lying in that shed while
the men for whom it was destined were being killed not far away. As she
was about to ascend the private staircase, however, that conducted to
the apartment of Gilberte, young Madame Delaherche, she experienced
another surprise in an encounter that startled her so that she retraced
her steps a little way, doubtful whether it would not be better to
abandon her intention, and go home again. An officer, a captain, had
crossed her path, as noiselessly as a phantom and vanishing as swiftly,
and yet she had had time to recognize him, having seen him in the past
at Gilberte’s house in Charleville, in the days when she was still
Madame Maginot. She stepped back a few steps in the courtyard and raised
her eyes to the two tall windows of the bedroom, the blinds of which
were closed, then dismissed her scruples and entered.

Upon reaching the first floor, availing herself of that privilege of
old acquaintanceship by virtue of which one woman often drops in upon
another for an unceremonious early morning chat, she was about to knock
at the door of the dressing-room, but apparently someone had left the
room hastily and failed to secure the door, so that it was standing
ajar, and all she had to do was give it a push to find herself in
the dressing room, whence she passed into the bedroom. From the lofty
ceiling of the latter apartment depended voluminous curtains of red
velvet, protecting the large double bed. The warm, moist air was
fragrant with a faint perfume of Persian lilac, and there was no sound
to break the silence save a gentle, regular respiration, scarcely
audible.

“Gilberte!” said Henriette, very softly.

The young woman was sleeping peacefully, and the dim light that entered
the room between the red curtains of the high windows displayed her
exquisitely rounded head resting upon a naked arm and her profusion
of beautiful hair straying in disorder over the pillow. Her lips were
parted in a smile.

“Gilberte!”

She slightly moved and stretched her arms, without opening her eyes.

“Yes, yes; good-by. Oh! please--” Then, raising her head and recognizing
Henriette: “What, is it you! How late is it?”

When she learned that it had not yet struck six she seemed disconcerted,
assuming a sportive air to hide her embarrassment, saying it was
unfair to come waking people up at such an hour. Then, to her friend,
questioning her about her husband, she made answer:

“Why, he has not returned; I don’t look for him much before nine
o’clock. What makes you so eager to see him at this hour of the
morning?”

Henriette’s voice had a trace of sternness in it as she answered, seeing
the other so smiling, so dull of comprehension in her happy waking.

“I tell you there has been fighting all the morning at Bazeilles, and I
am anxious about my husband.”

“Oh, my dear,” exclaimed Gilberte, “I assure you there is not the
slightest reason for your feeling so. My husband is so prudent that he
would have been home long ago had there been any danger. Until you see
him back here you may rest easy, take my word for it.”

Henriette was struck by the justness of the argument; Delaherche, it
was true, was distinctly not a man to expose himself uselessly. She was
reassured, and went and drew the curtains and threw back the blinds; the
tawny light from without, where the sun was beginning to pierce the fog
with his golden javelins, streamed in a bright flood into the apartment.
One of the windows was part way open, and in the soft air of the
spacious bedroom, but now so close and stuffy, the two women could hear
the sound of the guns. Gilberte, half recumbent, her elbow resting on
the pillow, gazed out upon the sky with her lustrous, vacant eyes.

“So, then, they are fighting,” she murmured. Her chemise had slipped
downward, exposing a rosy, rounded shoulder, half hidden beneath the
wandering raven tresses, and her person exhaled a subtle, penetrating
odor, the odor of love. “They are fighting, so early in the morning,
_mon Dieu!_ It would be ridiculous if it were not for the horror of it.”

But Henriette, in looking about the room, had caught sight of a pair of
gauntlets, the gloves of a man, lying forgotten on a small table, and
she started perceptibly. Gilberte blushed deeply, and extending her arms
with a conscious, caressing movement, drew her friend to her and rested
her head upon her bosom.

“Yes,” she almost whispered, “I saw that you noticed it. Darling, you
must not judge me too severely. He is an old friend; I told you all
about it at Charleville, long ago, you remember.” Her voice sank
lower still; there was something that sounded very like a laugh of
satisfaction in her tender tones. “He pleaded so with me yesterday
that I would see him just once more. Just think, this morning he is in
action; he may be dead by this. How could I refuse him?” It was all
so heroic and so charming, the contrast was so delicious between war’s
stern reality and tender sentiment; thoughtless as a linnet, she smiled
again, notwithstanding her confusion. Never could she have found it
in her heart to drive him from her door, when circumstances all were
propitious for the interview. “Do you condemn me?”

Henriette had listened to her confidences with a very grave face. Such
things surprised her, for she could not understand them; it must be that
she was constituted differently from other women. Her heart that morning
was with her husband, her brother, down there where the battle was
raging. How was it possible that anyone could sleep so peacefully and be
so gay and cheerful when the loved ones were in peril?

“But think of your husband, my dear, and of that poor young man as well.
Does not your heart yearn to be with them? You do not reflect that
their lifeless forms may be brought in and laid before your eyes at any
moment.”

Gilberte raised her adorable bare arm before her face to shield her
vision from the frightful picture.

“O Heaven! what is that you say? It is cruel of you to destroy all
the pleasure of my morning in this way. No, no; I won’t think of such
things. They are too mournful.”

Henriette could not refrain from smiling in spite of her anxiety. She
was thinking of the days of their girlhood, and how Gilberte’s father,
Captain de Vineuil, an old naval officer who had been made collector of
customs at Charleville when his wounds had incapacitated him for active
service, hearing his daughter cough and fearing for her the fate of
his young wife, who had been snatched from his arms by that terrible
disease, consumption, had sent her to live at a farm-house near
Chene-Populeux. The little maid was not nine years old, and already
she was a consummate actress--a perfect type of the village coquette,
queening it over her playmates, tricked out in what old finery she could
lay hands on, adorning herself with bracelets and tiaras made from the
silver paper wrappings of the chocolate. She had not changed a bit when,
later, at the age of twenty, she married Maginot, the inspector of woods
and forests. Mezieres, a dark, gloomy town, surrounded by ramparts, was
not to her taste, and she continued to live at Charleville, where the
gay, generous life, enlivened by many festivities, suited her better.
Her father was dead, and with a husband whom, by reason of his inferior
social position, her friends and acquaintances treated with scant
courtesy, she was absolutely mistress of her own actions. She did not
escape the censure of the stern moralists who inhabit our provincial
cities, and in those days was credited with many lovers; but of the gay
throng of officers who, thanks to her father’s old connection and her
kinship to Colonel de Vineuil, disported themselves in her drawing-room,
Captain Beaudoin was the only one who had really produced an impression.
She was light and frivolous--nothing more--adoring pleasure and
living entirely in the present, without the least trace of perverse
inclination; and if she accepted the captain’s attentions, it is pretty
certain that she did it out of good-nature and love of admiration.

“You did very wrong to see him again,” Henriette finally said, in her
matter-of-fact way.

“Oh! my dear, since I could not possibly do otherwise, and it was only
for just that once. You know very well I would die rather than deceive
my new husband.”

She spoke with much feeling, and seemed distressed to see her friend
shake her head disapprovingly. They dropped the subject, and
clasped each other in an affectionate embrace, notwithstanding their
diametrically different natures. Each could hear the beating of the
other’s heart, and they might have understood the tongues those organs
spoke--one, the slave of pleasure, wasting and squandering all that
was best in herself; the other, with the mute heroism of a lofty soul,
devoting herself to a single ennobling affection.

“But hark! how the cannon are roaring,” Gilberte presently exclaimed. “I
must make haste and dress.”

The reports sounded more distinctly in the silent room now that their
conversation had ceased. Leaving her bed, the young woman accepted the
assistance of her friend, not caring to summon her maid, and rapidly
made her toilet for the day, in order that she might be ready to
go downstairs should she be needed there. As she was completing the
arrangement of her hair there was a knock at the door, and, recognizing
the voice of the elder Madame Delaherche, she hastened to admit her.

“Certainly, dear mother, you may come in.”

With the thoughtlessness that was part of her nature, she allowed the
old lady to enter without having first removed the gauntlets from the
table. It was in vain that Henriette darted forward to seize them and
throw them behind a chair. Madame Delaherche stood glaring for some
seconds at the spot where they had been with an expression on her
face as if she were slowly suffocating. Then her glance wandered
involuntarily from object to object in the room, stopping finally at the
great red-curtained bed, the coverings thrown back in disorder.

“I see that Madame Weiss has disturbed your slumbers. Then you were able
to sleep, daughter?”

It was plain that she had had another purpose in coming there than
to make that speech. Ah, that marriage that her son had insisted on
contracting, contrary to her wish, at the mature age of fifty, after
twenty years of joyless married life with a shrewish, bony wife; he, who
had always until then deferred so to her will, now swayed only by his
passion for this gay young widow, lighter than thistle-down! She had
promised herself to keep watch over the present, and there was the
past coming back to plague her. But ought she to speak? Her life in
the household was one of silent reproach and protest; she kept herself
almost constantly imprisoned in her chamber, devoting herself rigidly to
the observances of her austere religion. Now, however, the wrong was so
flagrant that she resolved to speak to her son.

Gilberte blushingly replied, without an excessive manifestation of
embarrassment, however:

“Oh, yes, I had a few hours of refreshing sleep. You know that Jules has
not returned--”

Madame Delaherche interrupted her with a grave nod of her head. Ever
since the artillery had commenced to roar she had been watching eagerly
for her son’s return, but she was a Spartan mother, and concealed her
gnawing anxiety under a cloak of brave silence. And then she remembered
what was the object of her visit there.

“Your uncle, the colonel, has sent the regimental surgeon with a note
in pencil, to ask if we will allow them to establish a hospital here. He
knows that we have abundance of space in the factory, and I have already
authorized the gentlemen to make use of the courtyard and the big
drying-room. But you should go down in person--”

“Oh, at once, at once!” exclaimed Henriette, hastening toward the door.
“We will do what we can to help.”

Gilberte also displayed much enthusiasm for her new occupation as nurse;
she barely took the time to throw a lace scarf over her head, and the
three women went downstairs. When they reached the bottom and stood in
the spacious vestibule, looking out through the main entrance, of which
the leaves had been thrown wide back, they beheld a crowd collected in
the street before the house. A low-hung carriage was advancing slowly
along the roadway, a sort of carriole, drawn by a single horse, which
a lieutenant of zouaves was leading by the bridle. They took it to be
a wounded man that they were bringing to them, the first of their
patients.

“Yes, yes! This is the place; this way!”

But they were quickly undeceived. The sufferer recumbent in the carriole
was Marshal MacMahon, severely wounded in the hip, who, his hurt having
been provisionally cared for in the cottage of a gardener, was now being
taken to the Sous-Prefecture. He was bareheaded and partially divested
of his clothing, and the gold embroidery on his uniform was tarnished
with dust and blood. He spoke no word, but had raised his head from
the pillow where it lay and was looking about him with a sorrowful
expression, and perceiving the three women where they stood, wide eyed
with horror, their joined hands resting on their bosom, in presence of
that great calamity, the whole army stricken in the person of its chief
at the very beginning of the conflict, he slightly bowed his head, with
a faint, paternal smile. A few of those about him removed their hats;
others, who had no time for such idle ceremony, were circulating the
report of General Ducrot’s appointment to the command of the army. It
was half-past seven o’clock.

“And what of the Emperor?” Henriette inquired of a bookseller, who was
standing at his door.

“He left the city near an hour ago,” replied the neighbor. “I was
standing by and saw him pass out at the Balan gate. There is a rumor
that his head was taken off by a cannon ball.”

But this made the grocer across the street furious. “Hold your tongue,”
 he shouted, “it is an infernal lie! None but the brave will leave their
bones there to-day!”

When near the Place du College the marshal’s carriole was lost to
sight in the gathering crowd, among whose numbers the most strange and
contradictory reports from the field of battle were now beginning to
circulate. The fog was clearing; the streets were bright with sunshine.

A hail, in no gentle terms, was heard proceeding from the courtyard:
“Now then, ladies, here is where you are wanted, not outside!”

They all three hastened inside and found themselves in presence of Major
Bouroche, who had thrown his uniform coat upon the floor, in a corner of
the room, and donned a great white apron. Above the broad expanse of, as
yet, unspotted white, his blazing, leonine eyes and enormous head,
with shock of harsh, bristling hair, seemed to exhale energy and
determination. So terrible did he appear to them that the women were his
most humble servants from the very start, obedient to his every sign,
treading on one another to anticipate his wishes.

“There is nothing here that is needed. Get me some linen; try and see if
you can’t find some more mattresses; show my men where the pump is--”

And they ran as if their life was at stake to do his bidding; were so
active that they seemed to be ubiquitous.

The factory was admirably adapted for a hospital. The drying-room was
a particularly noticeable feature, a vast apartment with numerous and
lofty windows for light and ventilation, where they could put in a
hundred beds and yet have room to spare, and at one side was a shed that
seemed to have been built there especially for the convenience of the
operators: three long tables had been brought in, the pump was close at
hand, and a small grass-plot adjacent might serve as ante-chamber for
the patients while awaiting their turn. And the handsome old elms, with
their deliciously cool shade, roofed the spot in most agreeably.

Bouroche had considered it would be best to establish himself in
Sedan at the commencement, foreseeing the dreadful slaughter and the
inevitable panic that would sooner or later drive the troops to the
shelter of the ramparts. All that he had deemed it necessary to leave
with the regiment was two flying ambulances and some “first aids,” that
were to send him in the casualties as rapidly as possible after applying
the primary dressings. The details of litter-bearers were all out there,
whose duty it was to pick up the wounded under fire, and with them
were the ambulance wagons and _fourgons_ of the medical train. The two
assistant-surgeons and three hospital stewards whom he had retained,
leaving two assistants on the field, would doubtless be sufficient to
perform what operations were necessary. He had also a corps of dressers
under him. But he was not gentle in manner and language, for all he did
was done impulsively, zealously, with all his heart and soul.

“_Tonnerre de Dieu!_ how do you suppose we are going to distinguish
the cases from one another when they begin to come in presently? Take
a piece of charcoal and number each bed with a big figure on the wall
overhead, and place those mattresses closer together, do you hear?
We can strew some straw on the floor in that corner if it becomes
necessary.”

The guns were barking, preparing his work for him; he knew that at any
moment now the first carriage might drive up and discharge its load of
maimed and bleeding flesh, and he hastened to get all in readiness
in the great, bare room. Outside in the shed the preparations were of
another nature: the chests were opened and their contents arranged
in order on a table, packages of lint, bandages, compresses, rollers,
splints for fractured limbs, while on another table, alongside a great
jar of cerate and a bottle of chloroform, were the surgical cases with
their blood-curdling array of glittering instruments, probes, forceps,
bistouries, scalpels, scissors, saws, an arsenal of implements of every
imaginable shape adapted to pierce, cut, slice, rend, crush. But there
was a deficient supply of basins.

“You must have pails, pots, jars about the house--something that will
hold water. We can’t work besmeared with blood all day, that’s certain.
And sponges, try to get me some sponges.”

Madame Delaherche hurried away and returned, followed by three women
bearing a supply of the desired vessels. Gilberte, standing by the table
where the instruments were laid out, summoned Henriette to her side by
a look and pointed to them with a little shudder. They grasped each
other’s hand and stood for a moment without speaking, but their mute
clasp was eloquent of the solemn feeling of terror and pity that filled
both their souls. And yet there was a difference, for one retained, even
in her distress, the involuntary smile of her bright youth, while in the
eyes of the other, pale as death, was the grave earnestness of the heart
which, one love lost, can never love again.

“How terrible it must be, dear, to have an arm or leg cut off!”

“Poor fellows!”

Bouroche had just finished placing a mattress on each of the three
tables, covering them carefully with oil-cloth, when the sound of
horses’ hoofs was heard outside and the first ambulance wagon rolled
into the court. There were ten men in it, seated on the lateral benches,
only slightly wounded; two or three of them carrying their arm in a
sling, but the majority hurt about the head. They alighted with
but little assistance, and the inspection of their cases commenced
forthwith.

One of them, scarcely more than a boy, had been shot through the
shoulder, and as Henriette was tenderly assisting him to draw off his
greatcoat, an operation that elicited cries of pain, she took notice of
the number of his regiment.

“Why, you belong to the 106th! Are you in Captain Beaudoin’s company?”

No, he belonged to Captain Bonnaud’s company, but for all that he was
well acquainted with Corporal Macquart and felt pretty certain that his
squad had not been under fire as yet. The tidings, meager as they
were, sufficed to remove a great load from the young woman’s heart: her
brother was alive and well; if now her husband would only return, as she
was expecting every moment he would do, her mind would be quite at rest.

At that moment, just as Henriette raised her head to listen to the
cannonade, which was then roaring with increased viciousness, she was
thunderstruck to see Delaherche standing only a few steps away in
the middle of a group of men, to whom he was telling the story of the
frightful dangers he had encountered in getting from Bazeilles to Sedan.
How did he happen to be there? She had not seen him come in. She darted
toward him.

“Is not my husband with you?”

But Delaherche, who was just then replying to the fond questions of his
wife and mother, was in no haste to answer.

“Wait, wait a moment.” And resuming his narrative: “Twenty times between
Bazeilles and Balan I just missed being killed. It was a storm, a
regular hurricane, of shot and shell! And I saw the Emperor, too. Oh!
but he is a brave man!--And after leaving Balan I ran--”

Henriette shook him by the arm.

“My husband?”

“Weiss? why, he stayed behind there, Weiss did.”

“What do you mean, behind there?”

“Why, yes; he picked up the musket of a dead soldier, and is fighting
away with the best of them.”

“He is fighting, you say?--and why?”

“He must be out of his head, I think. He would not come with me, and of
course I had to leave him.”

Henriette gazed at him fixedly, with wide-dilated eyes. For a moment no
one spoke; then in a calm voice she declared her resolution.

“It is well; I will go to him.”

What, she, go to him? But it was impossible, it was preposterous!
Delaherche had more to say of his hurricane of shot and shell. Gilberte
seized her by the wrists to detain her, while Madame Delaherche used
all her persuasive powers to convince her of the folly of the mad
undertaking. In the same gentle, determined tone she repeated:

“It is useless; I will go to him.”

She would only wait to adjust upon her head the lace scarf that Gilberte
had been wearing and which the latter insisted she should accept. In the
hope that his offer might cause her to abandon her resolve Delaherche
declared that he would go with her at least as far as the Balan gate,
but just then he caught sight of the sentry, who, in all the turmoil
and confusion of the time, had been pacing uninterruptedly up and down
before the building that contained the treasure chests of the 7th corps,
and suddenly he remembered, was alarmed, went to give a look and assure
himself that the millions were there still. In the meantime Henriette
had reached the portico and was about to pass out into the street.

“Wait for me, won’t you? Upon my word, you are as mad as your husband!”

Another ambulance had driven up, moreover, and they had to wait to let
it pass in. It was smaller than the other, having but two wheels,
and the two men whom it contained, both severely wounded, rested on
stretchers placed upon the floor. The first one whom the attendants took
out, using the most tender precaution, had one hand broken and his side
torn by a splinter of shell; he was a mass of bleeding flesh. The second
had his left leg shattered; and Bouroche, giving orders to extend the
latter on one of the oil-cloth-covered mattresses, proceeded forthwith
to operate on him, surrounded by the staring, pushing crowd of dressers
and assistants. Madame Delaherche and Gilberte were seated near the
grass-plot, employed in rolling bandages.

In the street outside Delaherche had caught up with Henriette.

“Come, my dear Madame Weiss, abandon this foolhardy undertaking. How
can you expect to find Weiss in all that confusion? Most likely he is
no longer there by this time; he is probably making his way home through
the fields. I assure you that Bazeilles is inaccessible.”

But she did not even listen to him, only increasing her speed, and had
now entered the Rue de Menil, her shortest way to the Balan gate. It was
nearly nine o’clock, and Sedan no longer wore the forbidding, funereal
aspect of the morning, when it awoke to grope and shudder amid the
despair and gloom of its black fog. The shadows of the houses were
sharply defined upon the pavement in the bright sunlight, the streets
were filled with an excited, anxious throng, through which orderlies and
staff officers were constantly pushing their way at a gallop. The chief
centers of attraction were the straggling soldiers who, even at this
early hour of the day, had begun to stream into the city, minus arms
and equipments, some of them slightly wounded, others in an extreme
condition of nervous excitation, shouting and gesticulating like
lunatics. And yet the place would have had very much its every-day
aspect, had it not been for the tight-closed shutters of the shops, the
lifeless house-fronts, where not a blind was open. Then there was the
cannonade, that never-ceasing cannonade, beneath which earth and rocks,
walls and foundations, even to the very slates upon the roofs, shook and
trembled.

What between the damage that his reputation as a man of bravery and
politeness would inevitably suffer should he desert Henriette in her
time of trouble, and his disinclination to again face the iron hail
on the Bazeilles road, Delaherche was certainly in a very unpleasant
predicament. Just as they reached the Balan gate a bevy of mounted
officers, returning to the city, suddenly came riding up, and they were
parted. There was a dense crowd of people around the gate, waiting for
news. It was all in vain that he ran this way and that, looking for the
young woman in the throng; she must have been beyond the walls by that
time, speeding along the road, and pocketing his gallantry for use on
some future occasion, he said to himself aloud:

“Very well, so much the worse for her; it was too idiotic.”

Then the manufacturer strolled about the city, bourgeois-like desirous
to lose no portion of the spectacle, and at the same time tormented by
a constantly increasing feeling of anxiety. How was it all to end?
and would not the city suffer heavily should the army be defeated? The
questions were hard ones to answer; he could not give a satisfactory
solution to the conundrum when so much depended on circumstances, but
none the less he was beginning to feel very uneasy for his factory and
house in the Rue Maqua, whence he had already taken the precaution to
remove his securities and valuables and bury them in a place of safety.
He dropped in at the Hotel de Ville, found the Municipal Council sitting
in permanent session, and loitered away a couple of hours there without
hearing any fresh news, unless that affairs outside the walls were
beginning to look very threatening. The army, under the pushing and
hauling process, pushed back to the rear by General Ducrot during the
hour and a half while the command was in his hands, hauled forward to
the front again by de Wimpffen, his successor, knew not where to yield
obedience, and the entire lack of plan and competent leadership, the
incomprehensible vacillation, the abandonment of positions only to
retake them again at terrible cost of life, all these things could not
fail to end in ruin and disaster.

From there Delaherche pushed forward to the Sous-Prefecture to ascertain
whether the Emperor had returned yet from the field of battle. The only
tidings he gleaned here were of Marshal MacMahon, who was said to be
resting comfortably, his wound, which was not dangerous, having been
dressed by a surgeon. About eleven o’clock, however, as he was again
going the rounds, his progress was arrested for a moment in the
Grande-Rue, opposite the Hotel de l’Europe, by a sorry cavalcade of
dust-stained horsemen, whose jaded nags were moving at a walk, and at
their head he recognized the Emperor, who was returning after having
spent four hours on the battle-field. It was plain that death would have
nothing to do with him. The big drops of anguish had washed the rouge
from off those painted cheeks, the waxed mustache had lost its stiffness
and drooped over the mouth, and in that ashen face, in those dim eyes,
was the stupor of one in his last agony. One of the officers alighted
in front of the hotel and proceeded to give some friends, who were
collected there, an account of their route, from la Moncelle to Givonne,
up the entire length of the little valley among the soldiers of the 1st
corps, who had already been pressed back by the Saxons across the little
stream to the right bank; and they had returned by the sunken road of
the Fond de Givonne, which was even then in such an encumbered condition
that had the Emperor desired to make his way to the front again he would
have found the greatest difficulty in doing so. Besides, what would it
have availed?

As Delaherche was drinking in these particulars with greedy ears a loud
explosion shook the quarter. It was a shell, which had demolished a
chimney in the Rue Sainte-Barbe, near the citadel. There was a general
rush and scramble; men swore and women shrieked. He had flattened
himself against the wall, when another explosion broke the windows in
a house not far away. The consequences would be dreadful if they should
shell Sedan; he made his way back to the Rue Maqua on a keen run, and
was seized by such an imperious desire to learn the truth that he did
not pause below stairs, but hurried to the roof, where there was a
terrace that commanded a view of the city and its environs.

A glance of the situation served to reassure him; the German fire was
not directed against the city; the batteries at Frenois and la Marfee
were shelling the Plateau de l’Algerie over the roofs of the houses,
and now that his alarm had subsided he could even watch with a certain
degree of admiration the flight of the projectiles as they sailed over
Sedan in a wide, majestic curve, leaving behind them a faint trail of
smoke upon the air, like gigantic birds, invisible to mortal eye and to
be traced only by the gray plumage shed by their pinions. At first it
seemed to him quite evident that what damage had been done so far was
the result of random practice by the Prussian gunners: they were not
bombarding the city yet; then, upon further consideration, he was of
opinion that their firing was intended as a response to the ineffectual
fire of the few guns mounted on the fortifications of the place. Turning
to the north he looked down from his position upon the extended and
complex system of defenses of the citadel, the frowning curtains black
with age, the green expanses of the turfed glacis, the stern bastions
that reared their heads at geometrically accurate angles, prominent
among them the three cyclopean salients, the Ecossais, the Grand Jardin,
and la Rochette, while further to the west, in extension of the line,
were Fort Nassau and Fort Palatinat, above the faubourg of Menil. The
sight produced in him a melancholy impression of immensity and futility.
Of what avail were they now against the powerful modern guns with their
immense range? Besides, the works were not manned; cannon, ammunition,
men were wanting. Some three weeks previously the governor had invited
the citizens to organize and form a National Guard, and these volunteers
were now doing duty as gunners; and thus it was that there were three
guns in service at Palatinat, while at the Porte de Paris there may have
been a half dozen. As they had only seven or eight rounds to each gun,
however, the men husbanded their ammunition, limiting themselves to
a shot every half hour, and that only as a sort of salve to their
self-respect, for none of their missiles reached the enemy; all
were lost in the meadows opposite them. Hence the enemy’s batteries,
disdainful of such small game, contemptuously pitched a shell at them
from time to time, out of charity, as it were.

Those batteries over across the river were objects of great interest to
Delaherche. He was eagerly scanning the heights of la Marfee with his
naked eye, when all at once he thought of the spy-glass with which he
sometimes amused himself by watching the doings of his neighbors from
the terrace. He ran downstairs and got it, returned and placed it in
position, and as he was slowly sweeping the horizon and trees, fields,
houses came within his range of vision, he lighted on that group of
uniforms, at the angle of a pine wood, over the main battery at Frenois,
of which Weiss had caught a glimpse from Bazeilles. To him, however,
thanks to the excellence of his glass, it would have been no difficult
matter to count the number of officers of the staff, so distinctly he
made them out. Some of them were reclining carelessly on the grass,
others were conversing in little groups, and in front of them all stood
a solitary figure, a spare, well-proportioned man to appearances, in
an unostentatious uniform, who yet asserted in some indefinable way his
masterhood. It was the Prussian King, scarce half finger high, one of
those miniature leaden toys that afford children such delight. Although
he was not certain of this identity until later on the manufacturer
found himself, by reason of some inexplicable attraction, constantly
returning to that diminutive puppet, whose face, scarce larger than a
pin’s head, was but a pale point against the immense blue sky.

It was not midday yet, and since nine o’clock the master had been
watching the movements, inexorable as fate, of his armies. Onward, ever
onward, they swept, by roads traced for them in advance, completing
the circle, slowly but surely closing in and enveloping Sedan in their
living wall of men and guns. The army on his left, that had come up
across the level plain of Donchery, was debouching still from the pass
of Saint-Albert and, leaving Saint-Menges in its rear, was beginning
to show its heads of columns at Fleigneux; and, in the rear of the XIth
corps, then sharply engaged with General Douay’s force, he could discern
the Vth corps, availing itself of the shelter of the woods and advancing
stealthily on Illy, while battery upon battery came wheeling into
position, an ever-lengthening line of thundering guns, until the
horizon was an unbroken ring of fire. On the right the army was now in
undisputed possession of the valley of the Givonne; the XIIth corps had
taken la Moncelle, the Guards had forced the passage of the stream at
Daigny, compelling General Ducrot to seek the protection of the wood of
la Garenne, and were pushing up the right bank, likewise in full march
upon the plateau of Illy. Their task was almost done; one effort more,
and up there at the north, among those barren fields, on the very verge
of the dark forests of the Ardennes, the Crown Prince of Prussia would
join hands with the Crown Prince of Saxony. To the south of Sedan the
village of Bazeilles was lost to sight in the dense smoke of its burning
houses, in the clouds of dun vapor that rose above the furious conflict.

And tranquilly, ever since the morning, the King had been watching and
waiting. An hour yet, two hours, it might be three, it mattered not;
it was only a question of time. Wheel and pinion, cog and lever, were
working in harmony, the great engine of destruction was in motion, and
soon would have run its course. In the center of the immense horizon,
beneath the deep vault of sunlit sky, the bounds of the battlefield were
ever becoming narrower, the black swarms were converging, closing in on
doomed Sedan. There were fiery reflexions in the windows of the city; to
the left, in the direction of the Faubourg de la Cassine, it seemed as
if a house was burning. And outside the circle of flame and smoke, in
the fields no longer trodden by armed men, over by Donchery, over by
Carignan, peace, warm and luminous, lay upon the land; the bright waters
of the Meuse, the lusty trees rejoicing in their strength, the broad,
verdant meadows, the fertile, well-kept farms, all rested peacefully
beneath the fervid noonday sun.

Turning to his staff, the King briefly called for information upon
some point. It was the royal will to direct each move on the gigantic
chessboard; to hold in the hollow of his hand the hosts who looked to
him for guidance. At his left, a flock of swallows, affrighted by the
noise of the cannonade, rose high in air, wheeled, and vanished in the
south.



IV.

Between the city and Balan, Henriette got over the ground at a good,
round pace. It was not yet nine o’clock; the broad footpath, bordered by
gardens and pretty cottages, was as yet comparatively free, although as
she approached the village it began to be more and more obstructed by
flying citizens and moving troops. When she saw a great surge of the
human tide advancing on her she hugged the walls and house-fronts, and
by dint of address and perseverance slipped through, somehow. The fold
of black lace that half concealed her fair hair and small, pale face,
the sober gown that enveloped her slight form, made her an inconspicuous
object among the throng; she went her way unnoticed by the by-passers,
and nothing retarded her light, silent steps.

At Balan, however, she found the road blocked by a regiment of
infanterie de marine. It was a compact mass of men, drawn up under the
tall trees that concealed them from the enemy’s observation, awaiting
orders. She raised herself on tiptoe, and could not see the end; still,
she made herself as small as she could and attempted to worm her way
through. The men shoved her with their elbows, and the butts of their
muskets made acquaintance with her ribs; when she had advanced a dozen
paces there was a chorus of shouts and angry protests. A captain turned
on her and roughly cried:

“Hi, there, you woman! are you crazy? Where are you going?”

“I am going to Bazeilles.”

“What, to Bazeilles?”

There was a shout of laughter. The soldiers pointed at her with their
fingers; she was the object of their witticisms. The captain, also,
greatly amused by the incident, had to have his joke.

“You should take us along with you, my little dear, if you are going
to Bazeilles. We were there a short while ago, and I am in hope that
we shall go back there, but I can tell you that the temperature of the
place is none too cool.”

“I am going to Bazeilles to look for my husband,” Henriette declared,
in her gentle voice, while her blue eyes shone with undiminished
resolution.

The laughter ceased; an old sergeant extricated her from the crowd that
had collected around her, and forced her to retrace her steps.

“My poor child, you see it is impossible to get through. Bazeilles is
no place for you. You will find your husband by and by. Come, listen to
reason!”

She had to obey, and stood aside beneath the trees, raising herself
on her toes at every moment to peer before her, firm in her resolve
to continue her journey as soon as she should be allowed to pass. She
learned the condition of affairs from the conversation that went on
around her. Some officers were criticising with great acerbity the order
for the abandonment of Bazeilles, which had occurred at a quarter-past
eight, at the time when General Ducrot, taking over the command from the
marshal, had considered it best to concentrate the troops on the plateau
of Illy. What made matters worse was, that the valley of the Givonne
having fallen into the hands of the Germans through the premature
retirement of the 1st corps, the 12th corps, which was even then
sustaining a vigorous attack in front, was overlapped on its left flank.
Now that General de Wimpffen had relieved General Ducrot, it seemed that
the original plan was to be carried out. Orders had been received to
retake Bazeilles at every cost, and drive the Bavarians into the Meuse.
And so, in the ranks of that regiment that had been halted there in
full retreat at the entrance of the village and ordered to resume the
offensive, there was much bitter feeling, and angry words were rife.
Was ever such stupidity heard of? to make them abandon a position, and
immediately tell them to turn round and retake it from the enemy! They
were willing enough to risk their life in the cause, but no one cared to
throw it away for nothing!

A body of mounted men dashed up the street and General de Wimpffen
appeared among them, and raising himself erect on his stirrups, with
flashing eyes, he shouted, in ringing tones:

“Friends, we cannot retreat; it would be ruin to us all. And if we do
have to retreat, it shall be on Carignan, and not on Mezieres. But we
shall be victorious! You beat the enemy this morning; you will beat them
again!”

He galloped off on a road that conducted to la Moncelle. It was said
that there had been a violent altercation between him and General
Ducrot, each upholding his own plan, and decrying the plan of
the other--one asserting that retreat by way of Mezieres had been
impracticable all that morning; the other predicting that, unless they
fell back on Illy, the army would be surrounded before night. And there
was a great deal of bitter recrimination, each taxing the other with
ignorance of the country and of the situation of the troops. The pity of
it was that both were right.

But Henriette, meantime, had made an encounter that caused her to
forget her project for a moment. In some poor outcasts; stranded by the
wayside, she had recognized a family of honest weavers from Bazeilles,
father, mother, and three little girls, of whom the largest was only
nine years old. They were utterly disheartened and forlorn, and so weary
and footsore that they could go no further, and had thrown themselves
down at the foot of a wall.

“Alas! dear lady,” the wife and mother said to Henriette, “we have
lost our all. Our house--you know where our house stood on the Place de
l’Eglise--well, a shell came and burned it. Why we and the children did
not stay and share its fate I do not know--”

At these words the three little ones began to cry and sob afresh,
while the mother, in distracted language, gave further details of the
catastrophe.

“The loom, I saw it burn like seasoned kindling wood, and the bed,
the chairs and tables, they blazed like so much straw. And even the
clock--yes, the poor old clock that I tried to save and could not.”

“My God! my God!” the man exclaimed, his eyes swimming with tears, “what
is to become of us?”

Henriette endeavored to comfort them, but it was in a voice that
quavered strangely.

“You have been preserved to each other, you are safe and unharmed; your
three little girls are left you. What reason have you to complain?”

Then she proceeded to question them to learn how matters stood in
Bazeilles, whether they had seen her husband, in what state they had
left her house, but in their half-dazed condition they gave conflicting
answers. No, they had not seen M. Weiss. One of the little girls,
however, declared that she had seen him, and that he was lying on the
ground with a great hole in his head, whereon the father gave her a box
on the ear, bidding her hold her tongue and not tell such lies to the
lady. As for the house, they could say with certainty that it was intact
at the time of their flight; they even remembered to have observed, as
they passed it, that the doors and windows were tightly secured, as if
it was quite deserted. At that time, moreover, the only foothold that
the Bavarians had secured for themselves was in the Place de l’Eglise,
and to carry the village they would have to fight for it, street by
street, house by house. They must have been gaining ground since then,
though; all Bazeilles was in flames by that time, like enough, and not
a wall left standing, thanks to the fierceness of the assailants and
the resolution of the defenders. And so the poor creatures went on, with
trembling, affrighted gestures, evoking the horrid sights their eyes had
seen and telling their dreadful tale of slaughter and conflagration and
corpses lying in heaps upon the ground.

“But my husband?” Henriette asked again.

They made no answer, only continued to cover their face with their hands
and sob. Her cruel anxiety, as she stood there erect, with no outward
sign of weakness, was only evinced by a slight quivering of the lips.
What was she to believe? Vainly she told herself the child was mistaken;
her mental vision pictured her husband lying there dead before her
in the street with a bullet wound in the head. Again, that house, so
securely locked and bolted, was another source of alarm; why was it
so? was he no longer in it? The conviction that he was dead sent an
icy chill to her heart; but perhaps he was only wounded, perhaps he was
breathing still; and so sudden and imperious was the need she felt of
flying to his side that she would again have attempted to force her
passage through the troops had not the bugles just then sounded the
order for them to advance.

The regiment was largely composed of raw, half-drilled recruits from
Toulon, Brest, and Rochefort, men who had never fired a shot, but all
that morning they had fought with a bravery and firmness that would
not have disgraced veteran troops. They had not shown much aptitude for
marching on the road from Rheims to Mouzon, weighted as they were with
their unaccustomed burdens, but when they came to face the enemy their
discipline and sense of duty made themselves felt, and notwithstanding
the righteous anger that was in their hearts, the bugle had but to sound
and they returned to brave the fire and encounter the foe. Three several
times they had been promised a division to support them; it never came.
They felt that they were deserted, sacrificed; it was the offering of
their life that was demanded of them by those who, having first made
them evacuate the place, were now sending them back into the fiery
furnace of Bazeilles. And they knew it, and they gave their life,
freely, without a murmur, closing up their ranks and leaving the shelter
of the trees to meet afresh the storm of shell and bullets.

Henriette gave a deep sigh of relief; at last they were about to move!
She followed them, with the hope that she might enter the village
unperceived in their rear, prepared to run with them should they take
the double-quick. But they had scarcely begun to move when they came to
a halt again. The projectiles were now falling thick and fast; to regain
possession of Bazeilles it would be necessary to dispute every inch of
the road, occupying the cross-streets, the houses and gardens on either
side of the way. A brisk fire of musketry proceeded from the head of
the column, the advance was irregular, by fits and starts, every petty
obstacle entailed a delay of many minutes. She felt that she would never
attain her end by remaining there at the rear of the column, waiting
for it to fight its way through, and with prompt decision she bent her
course to the right and took a path that led downward between two hedges
to the meadows.

Henriette’s plan now was to reach Bazeilles by those broad levels that
border the Meuse. She was not very clear about it in her mind, however,
and continued to hasten onward in obedience to that blind instinct which
had originally imparted to her its impulse. She had not gone far before
she found herself standing and gazing in dismay at a miniature ocean
which barred her further progress in that direction. It was the
inundated fields, the low-lying lands that a measure of defense had
converted into a lake, which had escaped her memory. For a single moment
she thought of turning back; then, at the risk of leaving her shoes
behind, she pushed on, hugging the bank, through the water that covered
the grass and rose above her ankles. For a hundred yards her way, though
difficult, was not impracticable; then she encountered a garden-wall
directly in her front; the ground fell off sharply, and where the wall
terminated the water was six feet deep. Her path was closed effectually;
she clenched her little fists and had to summon up all her resolution
to keep from bursting into tears. When the first shock of disappointment
had passed over she made her way along the enclosure and found a narrow
lane that pursued a tortuous course among the scattered houses. She
believed that now her troubles were at an end, for she was acquainted
with that labyrinth, that tangled maze of passages, which, to one who
had the key to them, ended at the village.

But the missiles seemed to be falling there even more thickly than
elsewhere. Henriette stopped short in her tracks and all the blood in
her body seemed to flow back upon her heart at a frightful detonation,
so close that she could feel the wind upon her cheek. A shell had
exploded directly before her and only a few yards away. She turned her
head and scrutinized for a moment the heights of the left bank, above
which the smoke from the German batteries was curling upward; she saw
what she must do, and when she started on her way again it was with eyes
fixed on the horizon, watching for the shells in order to avoid them.
There was method in the rash daring of her proceeding, and all the brave
tranquillity that the prudent little housewife had at her command. She
was not going to be killed if she could help it; she wished to find her
husband and bring him back with her, that they might yet have many days
of happy life together. The projectiles still came tumbling frequently
as ever; she sped along behind walls, made a cover of boundary stones,
availed herself of every slight depression. But presently she came to an
open space, a bit of unprotected road where splinters and fragments
of exploded shells lay thick, and she was watching behind a shed for a
chance to make a dash when she perceived, emerging from a sort of cleft
in the ground in front of her, a human head and two bright eyes that
peered about inquisitively. It was a little, bare-footed, ten-year-old
boy, dressed in a shirt and ragged trousers, an embryonic tramp, who was
watching the battle with huge delight. At every report his small black
beady eyes would snap and sparkle, and he jubilantly shouted:

“Oh my! aint it bully!--Look out, there comes another one! don’t stir!
Boom! that was a rouser!--Don’t stir! don’t stir!”

And each time there came a shell he dived to the bottom of his hole,
then reappeared, showing his dirty, elfish face, until it was time to
duck again.

Henriette now noticed that the projectiles all came from Liry, while the
batteries at Pont-Maugis and Noyers were confining their attention to
Balan. At each discharge she could see the smoke distinctly, immediately
afterward she heard the scream of the shell, succeeded by the explosion.
Just then the gunners afforded them a brief respite; the bluish haze
above the heights drifted slowly away upon the wind.

“They’ve stopped to take a drink, you can go your money on it,” said the
urchin. “Quick, quick, give me your hand! Now’s the time to skip!”

He took her by the hand and dragged her along with him, and in this way
they crossed the open together, side by side, running for dear life,
with head and shoulders down. When they were safely ensconced behind a
stack that opportunely offered its protection at the end of their course
and turned to look behind them, they beheld another shell come rushing
through the air and alight upon the shed at the very spot they had
occupied so lately. The crash was fearful; the shed was knocked to
splinters. The little ragamuffin considered that a capital joke, and
fairly danced with glee.

“Bravo, hit ‘em agin! that’s the way to do it!--But it was time for us
to skip, though, wasn’t it?”

But again Henriette struck up against insurmountable obstacles in the
shape of hedges and garden-walls, that offered absolutely no outlet. Her
irrepressible companion, still wearing his broad grin and remarking that
where there was a will there was a way, climbed to the coping of a wall
and assisted her to scale it. On reaching the further side they found
themselves in a kitchen garden among beds of peas and string-beans and
surrounded by fences on every side; their sole exit was through the
little cottage of the gardener. The boy led the way, swinging his arms
and whistling unconcernedly, with an expression on his face of most
profound indifference. He pushed open a door that admitted him to a
bedroom, from which he passed on into another room, where there was an
old woman, apparently the only living being upon the premises. She was
standing by a table, in a sort of dazed stupor; she looked at the two
strangers who thus unceremoniously made a highway of her dwelling, but
addressed them no word, nor did they speak a word to her. They vanished
as quickly as they had appeared, emerging by the exit opposite their
entrance upon an alley that they followed for a moment. After that there
were other difficulties to be surmounted, and thus they went on for more
than half a mile, scaling walls, struggling through hedges, availing
themselves of every short cut that offered, it might be the door of
a stable or the window of a cottage, as the exigencies of the case
demanded. Dogs howled mournfully; they had a narrow escape from being
run down by a cow that was plunging along, wild with terror. It seemed
as if they must be approaching the village, however; there was an odor
of burning wood in the air, and momentarily volumes of reddish smoke,
like veils of finest gauze floating in the wind, passed athwart the sun
and obscured his light.

All at once the urchin came to a halt and planted himself in front of
Henriette.

“I say, lady, tell us where you’re going, will you?”

“You can see very well where I am going; to Bazeilles.”

He gave a low whistle of astonishment, following it up with the shrill
laugh of the careless vagabond to whom nothing is sacred, who is not
particular upon whom or what he launches his irreverent gibes.

“To Bazeilles--oh, no, I guess not; I don’t think my business lies that
way--I have another engagement. Bye-bye, ta-ta!”

He turned on his heel and was off like a shot, and she was none the
wiser as to whence he came or whither he went. She had found him in a
hole, she had lost sight of him at the corner of a wall, and never was
she to set eyes on him again.

When she was alone again Henriette experienced a strange sensation of
fear. He had been no protection to her, that scrubby urchin, but his
chatter had been a distraction; he had kept her spirits up by his way of
making game of everything, as if it was all one huge raree show. Now
she was beginning to tremble, her strength was failing her, she, who
by nature was so courageous. The shells no longer fell around her: the
Germans had ceased firing on Bazeilles, probably to avoid killing their
own men, who were now masters of the village; but within the last few
minutes she had heard the whistling of bullets, that peculiar sound like
the buzzing of a bluebottle fly, that she recognized by having heard it
described. There was such a raging, roaring clamor rising to the heavens
in the distance, the confused uproar of other sounds was so violent,
that in it she failed to distinguish the report of musketry. As she was
turning the corner of a house there was a deadened thud close at her
ear, succeeded by the sound of falling plaster, which brought her to a
sudden halt; it was a bullet that had struck the facade. She was pale as
death, and asked herself if her courage would be sufficient to carry
her through to the end; and before she had time to frame an answer, she
received what seemed to her a blow from a hammer upon her forehead, and
sank, stunned, upon her knees. It was a spent ball that had ricocheted
and struck her a little above the left eyebrow with sufficient force
to raise an ugly contusion. When she came to, raising her hands to her
forehead, she withdrew them covered with blood. But the pressure of her
fingers had assured her that the bone beneath was uninjured, and she
said aloud, encouraging herself by the sound of her own voice:

“It is nothing, it is nothing. Come, I am not afraid; no, no! I am not
afraid.”

And it was the truth; she arose, and from that time walked amid the
storm of bullets with absolute indifference, like one whose soul is
parted from his body, who reasons not, who gives his life. She marched
straight onward, with head erect, no longer seeking to shelter herself,
and if she struck out at a swifter pace it was only that she might reach
her appointed end more quickly. The death-dealing missiles pattered on
the road before and behind her; twenty times they were near taking her
life; she never noticed them. At last she was at Bazeilles, and struck
diagonally across a field of lucerne in order to regain the road, the
main street that traversed the village. Just as she turned into it she
cast her eyes to the right, and there, some two hundred paces from
her, beheld her house in a blaze. The flames were invisible against the
bright sunlight; the roof had already fallen in in part, the windows
were belching dense clouds of black smoke. She could restrain herself no
longer, and ran with all her strength.

Ever since eight o’clock Weiss, abandoned by the retiring troops, had
been a self-made prisoner there. His return to Sedan had become an
impossibility, for the Bavarians, immediately upon the withdrawal of the
French, had swarmed down from the park of Montivilliers and occupied
the road. He was alone and defenseless, save for his musket and what few
cartridges were left him, when he beheld before his door a little band
of soldiers, ten in number, abandoned, like himself, and parted from
their comrades, looking about them for a place where they might defend
themselves and sell their lives dearly. He ran downstairs to admit them,
and thenceforth the house had a garrison, a lieutenant, corporal and
eight men, all bitterly inflamed against the enemy, and resolved never
to surrender.

“What, Laurent, you here!” he exclaimed, surprised to recognize among
the soldiers a tall, lean young man, who held in his hand a musket,
doubtless taken from some corpse.

Laurent was dressed in jacket and trousers of blue cloth; he was helper
to a gardener of the neighborhood, and had lately lost his mother and
his wife, both of whom had been carried off by the same insidious fever.

“And why shouldn’t I be?” he replied. “All I have is my skin, and I’m
willing to give that. And then I am not such a bad shot, you know, and
it will be just fun for me to blaze away at those rascals and knock one
of ‘em over every time.”

The lieutenant and the corporal had already begun to make an inspection
of the premises. There was nothing to be done on the ground floor; all
they did was to push the furniture against the door and windows in such
a way as to form as secure a barricade as possible. After attending to
that they proceeded to arrange a plan for the defense of the three small
rooms of the first floor and the open attic, making no change, however,
in the measures that had been already taken by Weiss, the protection of
the windows by mattresses, the loopholes cut here and there in the slats
of the blinds. As the lieutenant was leaning from the window to take a
survey of their surroundings, he heard the wailing cry of a child.

“What is that?” he asked.

Weiss looked from the window, and, in the adjoining dyehouse, beheld the
little sick boy, Charles, his scarlet face resting on the white pillow,
imploringly begging his mother to bring him a drink: his mother, who lay
dead across the threshold, beyond hearing or answering. With a sorrowful
expression he replied:

“It is a poor little child next door, there, crying for his mother, who
was killed by a Prussian shell.”

“_Tonnerre de Dieu!_” muttered Laurent, “how are they ever going to pay
for all these things!”

As yet only a few random shots had struck the front of the house.
Weiss and the lieutenant, accompanied by the corporal and two men, had
ascended to the attic, where they were in better position to observe the
road, of which they had an oblique view as far as the Place de l’Eglise.
The square was now occupied by the Bavarians, but any further advance
was attended by difficulties that made them very circumspect. A handful
of French soldiers, posted at the mouth of a narrow lane, held them
in check for nearly a quarter of an hour, with a fire so rapid and
continuous that the dead bodies lay in piles. The next obstacle they
encountered was a house on the opposite corner, which also detained them
some time before they could get possession of it. At one time a woman,
with a musket in her hands, was seen through the smoke, firing from one
of the windows. It was the abode of a baker, and a few soldiers were
there in addition to the regular occupants; and when the house was
finally carried there was a hoarse shout: “No quarter!” a surging,
struggling, vociferating throng poured from the door and rolled across
the street to the dead-wall opposite, and in the raging torrent were
seen the woman’s skirt, the jacket of a man, the white hairs of the
grandfather; then came the crash of a volley of musketry, and the wall
was splashed with blood from base to coping. This was a point on which
the Germans were inexorable; everyone caught with arms in his hands
and not belonging to some uniformed organization was shot without the
formality of a trial, as having violated the law of nations. They were
enraged at the obstinate resistance offered them by the village, and
the frightful loss they had sustained during the five hours’ conflict
provoked them to the most atrocious reprisals. The gutters ran red with
blood, the piled dead in the streets formed barricades, some of the more
open places were charnel-houses, from whose depths rose the death-rattle
of men in their last agony. And in every house that they had to carry by
assault in this way men were seen distributing wisps of lighted straw,
others ran to and fro with blazing torches, others smeared the walls and
furniture with petroleum; soon whole streets were burning, Bazeilles was
in flames.

And now Weiss’s was the only house in the central portion of the village
that still continued to hold out, preserving its air of menace, like
some stern citadel determined not to yield.

“Look out! here they come!” shouted the lieutenant.

A simultaneous discharge from the attic and the first floor laid low
three of the Bavarians, who had come forward hugging the walls. The
remainder of the body fell back and posted themselves under cover
wherever the street offered facilities, and the siege of the house
began; the bullets pelted on the front like rattling hail. For nearly
ten minutes the fusillade continued without cessation, damaging the
stucco, but not doing much mischief otherwise, until one of the men whom
the lieutenant had taken with him to the garret was so imprudent as
to show himself at a window, when a bullet struck him square in the
forehead, killing him instantly. It was plain that whoever exposed
himself would do so at peril of his life.

“Doggone it! there’s one gone!” growled the lieutenant. “Be careful,
will you; there’s not enough of us that we can afford to let ourselves
be killed for the fun of it!”

He had taken a musket and was firing away like the rest of them from
behind the protection of a shutter, at the same time watching and
encouraging his men. It was Laurent, the gardener’s helper, however, who
more than all the others excited his wonder and admiration. Kneeling on
the floor, with his chassepot peering out of the narrow aperture of a
loophole, he never fired until absolutely certain of his aim; he even
told in advance where he intended hitting his living target.

“That little officer in blue that you see down there, in the
heart.--That other fellow, the tall, lean one, between the eyes.--I
don’t like the looks of that fat man with the red beard; I think I’ll
let him have it in the stomach.”

And each time his man went down as if struck by lightning, hit in the
very spot he had mentioned, and he continued to fire at intervals,
coolly, without haste, there being no necessity for hurrying himself, as
he remarked, since it would require too long a time to kill them all in
that way.

“Oh! if I had but my eyes!” Weiss impatiently exclaimed. He had broken
his spectacles a while before, to his great sorrow. He had his double
eye-glass still, but the perspiration was rolling down his face in such
streams that it was impossible to keep it on his nose. His usual calm
collectedness was entirely lost in his over-mastering passion; and thus,
between his defective vision and his agitated nerves, many of his shots
were wasted.

“Don’t hurry so, it is only throwing away powder,” said Laurent. “Do you
see that man who has lost his helmet, over yonder by the grocer’s
shop? Well, now draw a bead on him,--carefully, don’t hurry. That’s
first-rate! you have broken his paw for him and made him dance a jig in
his own blood.”

Weiss, rather pale in the face, gave a look at the result of his
marksmanship.

“Put him out of his misery,” he said.

“What, waste a cartridge! Not, much. Better save it for another of ‘em.”

The besiegers could not have failed to notice the remarkable practice of
the invisible sharpshooter in the attic. Whoever of them showed himself
in the open was certain to remain there. They therefore brought up
re-enforcements and placed them in position, with instructions to
maintain an unremitting fire upon the roof of the building. It was not
long before the attic became untenable; the slates were perforated as
if they had been tissue paper, the bullets found their way to every nook
and corner, buzzing and humming as if the room had been invaded by a
swarm of angry bees. Death stared them all in the face if they remained
there longer.

“We will go downstairs,” said the lieutenant. “We can hold the first
floor for awhile yet.” But as he was making for the ladder a bullet
struck him in the groin and he fell. “Too late, doggone it!”

Weiss and Laurent, aided by the remaining soldiers, carried him below,
notwithstanding his vehement protests; he told them not to waste their
time on him, his time had come; he might as well die upstairs as down.
He was still able to be of service to them, however, when they had laid
him on a bed in a room of the first floor, by advising them what was
best to do.

“Fire into the mass,” he said; “don’t stop to take aim. They are too
cowardly to risk an advance unless they see your fire begin to slacken.”

And so the siege of the little house went on as if it was to last for
eternity. Twenty times it seemed as if it must be swept away bodily by
the storm of iron that beat upon it, and each time, as the smoke drifted
away, it was seen amid the sulphurous blasts, torn, pierced, mangled,
but erect and menacing, spitting fire and lead with undiminished venom
from each one of its orifices. The assailants, furious that they should
be detained for such length of time and lose so many men before such a
hovel, yelled and fired wildly in the distance, but had not courage to
attempt to carry the lower floor by a rush.

“Look out!” shouted the corporal, “there is a shutter about to fall!”

The concentrated fire had torn one of the inside blinds from its hinges,
but Weiss darted forward and pushed a wardrobe before the window, and
Laurent was enabled to continue his operations under cover. One of the
soldiers was lying at his feet with his jaw broken, losing blood freely.
Another received a bullet in his chest, and dragged himself over to
the wall, where he lay gasping in protracted agony, while convulsive
movements shook his frame at intervals. They were but eight, now, all
told, not counting the lieutenant, who, too weak to speak, his back
supported by the headboard of the bed, continued to give his directions
by signs. As had been the case with the attic, the three rooms of the
first floor were beginning to be untenable, for the mangled mattresses
no longer afforded protection against the missiles; at every instant the
plaster fell in sheets from the walls and ceiling, and the furniture was
in process of demolition: the sides of the wardrobe yawned as if they
had been cloven by an ax. And worse still, the ammunition was nearly
exhausted.

“It’s too bad!” grumbled Laurent; “just when everything was going so
beautifully!”

But suddenly Weiss was struck with an idea.

“Wait!”

He had thought of the dead soldier up in the garret above, and climbed
up the ladder to search for the cartridges he must have about him. A
wide space of the roof had been crushed in; he saw the blue sky, a
patch of bright, wholesome light that made him start. Not wishing to be
killed, he crawled over the floor on his hands and knees, then, when he
had the cartridges in his possession, some thirty of them, he made haste
down again as fast his legs could carry him.

Downstairs, as he was sharing his newly acquired treasure with the
gardener’s lad, a soldier uttered a piercing cry and sank to his knees.
They were but seven; and presently they were but six, a bullet having
entered the corporal’s head at the eye and lodged in the brain.

From that time on, Weiss had no distinct consciousness of what was
going on around him; he and the five others continued to blaze away
like lunatics, expending their cartridges, with not the faintest idea in
their heads that there could be such a thing as surrender. In the three
small rooms the floor was strewn with fragments of the broken furniture.
Ingress and egress were barred by the corpses that lay before the doors;
in one corner a wounded man kept up a pitiful wail that was frightful to
hear. Every inch of the floor was slippery with blood; a thin stream of
blood from the attic was crawling lazily down the stairs. And the air
was scarce respirable, an air thick and hot with sulphurous fumes, heavy
with smoke, filled with an acrid, nauseating dust; a darkness dense
as that of night, through which darted the red flame-tongues of the
musketry.

“By God’s thunder!” cried Weiss, “they are bringing up artillery!”

It was true. Despairing of ever reducing that handful of madmen, who had
consumed so much of their time, the Bavarians had run up a gun to the
corner of the Place de l’Eglise, and were putting it into position;
perhaps they would be allowed to pass when they should have knocked the
house to pieces with their solid shot. And the honor there was to them
in the proceeding, the gun trained on them down there in the square,
excited the bitter merriment of the besieged; the utmost intensity
of scorn was in their gibes. Ah! the cowardly _bougres_, with their
artillery! Kneeling in his old place still, Laurent carefully adjusted
his aim and each time picked off a gunner, so that the service of the
piece became impossible, and it was five or six minutes before they
fired their first shot. It ranged high, moreover, and only clipped away
a bit of the roof.

But the end was now at hand. It was all in vain that they searched
the dead men’s belts; there was not a single cartridge left. With
vacillating steps and haggard faces the six groped around the room,
seeking what heavy objects they might find to hurl from the windows upon
their enemies. One of them showed himself at the casement, vociferating
insults, and shaking his fist; instantly he was pierced by a dozen
bullets; and there remained but five. What were they to do? go down and
endeavor to make their escape by way of the garden and the meadows? The
question was never answered, for at that moment a tumult arose below, a
furious mob came tumbling up the stairs: it was the Bavarians, who had
at last thought of turning the position by breaking down the back
door and entering the house by that way. For a brief moment a terrible
hand-to-hand conflict raged in the small rooms among the dead bodies
and the debris of the furniture. One of the soldiers had his chest
transfixed by a bayonet thrust, the two others were made prisoners,
while the attitude of the lieutenant, who had given up the ghost, was
that of one about to give an order, his mouth open, his arm raised
aloft.

While these things were occurring an officer, a big, flaxen-haired man,
carrying a revolver in his hand, whose bloodshot eyes seemed bursting
from their sockets, had caught sight of Weiss and Laurent, both in their
civilian attire; he roared at them in French:

“Who are you, you fellows? and what are you doing here?”

Then, glancing at their faces, black with powder-stains, he saw how
matters stood, he heaped insult and abuse on them in guttural German,
in a voice that shook with anger. Already he had raised his revolver and
was about to send a bullet into their heads, when the soldiers of his
command rushed in, seized Laurent and Weiss, and hustled them out to
the staircase. The two men were borne along like straws upon a mill-race
amidst that seething human torrent, under whose pressure they were
hurled from out the door and sent staggering, stumbling across the
street to the opposite wall amid a chorus of execration that drowned
the sound of their officers’ voices. Then, for a space of two or three
minutes, while the big fair-haired officer was endeavoring to extricate
them in order to proceed with their execution, an opportunity was
afforded them to raise themselves erect and look about them.

Other houses had taken fire; Bazeilles was now a roaring, blazing
furnace. Flames had begun to appear at the tall windows of the church
and were creeping upward toward the roof. Some soldiers who were driving
a venerable lady from her home had compelled her to furnish the matches
with which to fire her own beds and curtains. Lighted by blazing brands
and fed by petroleum in floods, fires were rising and spreading in every
quarter; it was no longer civilized warfare, but a conflict of savages,
maddened by the long protracted strife, wreaking vengeance for their
dead, their heaps of dead, upon whom they trod at every step they took.
Yelling, shouting bands traversed the streets amid the scurrying smoke
and falling cinders, swelling the hideous uproar into which entered
sounds of every kind: shrieks, groans, the rattle of musketry, the crash
of falling walls. Men could scarce see one another; great livid clouds
drifted athwart the sun and obscured his light, bearing with them an
intolerable stench of soot and blood, heavy with the abominations of the
slaughter. In every quarter the work of death and destruction still went
on: the human brute unchained, the imbecile wrath, the mad fury, of man
devouring his brother man.

And Weiss beheld his house burn before his eyes. Some soldiers had
applied the torch, others fed the flame by throwing upon it the
fragments of the wrecked furniture. The _rez-de-chaussee_ was quickly in
a blaze, the smoke poured in dense black volumes from the wounds in the
front and roof. But now the dyehouse adjoining was also on fire, and
horrible to relate, the voice of little Charles, lying on his bed
delirious with fever, could be heard through the crackling of the
flames, beseeching his mother to bring him a draught of water, while the
skirts of the wretched woman who, with her disfigured face, lay across
the door-sill, were even then beginning to kindle.

“Mamma, mamma, I am thirsty! Mamma, bring me a drink of water--”

The weak, faint voice was drowned in the roar of the conflagration; the
cheering of the victors rose on the air in the distance.

But rising above all other sounds, dominating the universal clamor, a
terrible cry was heard. It was Henriette, who had reached the place at
last, and now beheld her husband, backed up against the wall, facing a
platoon of men who were loading their muskets.

She flew to him and threw her arms about his neck.

“My God! what is it! They cannot be going to kill you!”

Weiss looked at her with stupid, unseeing eyes. She! his wife, so long
the object of his desire, so fondly idolized! A great shudder passed
through his frame and he awoke to consciousness of his situation. What
had he done? why had he remained there, firing at the enemy, instead of
returning to her side, as he had promised he would do? It all flashed
upon him now, as the darkness is illuminated by the lightning’s glare:
he had wrecked their happiness, they were to be parted, forever parted.
Then he noticed the blood upon her forehead.

“Are you hurt?” he asked. “You were mad to come--”

She interrupted him with an impatient gesture.

“Never mind me; it is a mere scratch. But you, you! why are you here?
They shall not kill you; I will not suffer it!”

The officer, who was endeavoring to clear the road in order to give the
firing party the requisite room, came up on hearing the sound of
voices, and beholding a woman with her arms about the neck of one of his
prisoners, exclaimed loudly in French:

“Come, come, none of this nonsense here! Whence come you? What is your
business here?”

“Give me my husband.”

“What, is he your husband, that man? His sentence is pronounced; the law
must take its course.”

“Give me my husband.”

“Come, be rational. Stand aside; we do not wish to harm you.”

“Give me my husband.”

Perceiving the futility of arguing with her, the officer was about
to give orders to remove her forcibly from the doomed man’s arms when
Laurent, who until then had maintained an impassive silence, ventured to
interfere.

“See here, Captain, I am the man who killed so many of your men; go
ahead and shoot me--that will be all right, especially as I have
neither chick nor child in all the world. But this gentleman’s case is
different; he is a married man, don’t you see. Come, now, let him go;
then you can settle my business as soon as you choose.”

Beside himself with anger, the captain screamed:

“What is all this lingo? Are you trying to make game of me? Come, step
out here, some one of you fellows, and take away this woman!”

He had to repeat his order in German, whereon a soldier came forward
from the ranks, a short stocky Bavarian, with an enormous head
surrounded by a bristling forest of red hair and beard, beneath which
all that was to be seen were a pair of big blue eyes and a massive nose.
He was besmeared with blood, a hideous spectacle, like nothing so much
as some fierce, hairy denizen of the woods, emerging from his cavern and
licking his chops, still red with the gore of the victims whose bones he
has been crunching.

With a heart-rending cry Henriette repeated:

“Give me my husband, or let me die with him.”

This seemed to cause the cup of the officer’s exasperation to overrun;
he thumped himself violently on the chest, declaring that he was no
executioner, that he would rather die than harm a hair of an innocent
head. There was nothing against her; he would cut off his right hand
rather than do her an injury. And then he repeated his order that she be
taken away.

As the Bavarian came up to carry out his instructions Henriette
tightened her clasp on Weiss’s neck, throwing all her strength into her
frantic embrace.

“Oh, my love! Keep me with you, I beseech you; let me die with you--”

Big tears were rolling down his cheeks as, without answering, he
endeavored to loosen the convulsive clasp of the fingers of the poor
creature he loved so dearly.

“You love me no longer, then, that you wish to die without me. Hold me,
keep me, do not let them take me. They will weary at last, and will kill
us together.”

He had loosened one of the little hands, and carried it to his lips and
kissed it, working all the while to make the other release its hold.

“No, no, it shall not be! I will not leave thy bosom; they shall pierce
my heart before reaching thine. I will not survive--”

But at last, after a long struggle, he held both the hands in his. Then
he broke the silence that he had maintained until then, uttering one
single word:

“Farewell, dear wife.”

And with his own hands he placed her in the arms of the Bavarian,
who carried her away. She shrieked and struggled, while the soldier,
probably with intent to soothe her, kept pouring in her ear an
uninterrupted stream of words in unmelodious German. And, having freed
her head, looking over the shoulder of the man, she beheld the end.

It lasted not five seconds. Weiss, whose eye-glass had slipped from its
position in the agitation of their parting, quickly replaced it upon
his nose, as if desirous to look death in the face. He stepped back and
placed himself against the wall, and the face of the self-contained,
strong young man, as he stood there in his tattered coat, was sublimely
beautiful in its expression of tranquil courage. Laurent, who stood
beside him, had thrust his hands deep down into his pockets. The cold
cruelty of the proceeding disgusted him; it seemed to him that they
could not be far removed from savagery who could thus slaughter men
before the eyes of their wives. He drew himself up, looked them square
in the face, and in a tone of deepest contempt expectorated:

“Dirty pigs!”

The officer raised his sword; the signal was succeeded by a crashing
volley, and the two men sank to the ground, an inert mass, the
gardener’s lad upon his face, the other, the accountant, upon his side,
lengthwise of the wall. The frame of the latter, before he expired,
contracted in a supreme convulsion, the eyelids quivered, the mouth
opened as if he was about to speak. The officer came up and stirred him
with his foot, to make sure that he was really dead.

Henriette had seen the whole: the fading eyes that sought her in death,
the last struggle of the strong man in agony, the brutal boot spurning
the corpse. And while the Bavarian still held her in his arms, conveying
her further and further from the object of her love, she uttered no cry;
she set her teeth, in silent fury, into what was nearest: a human hand,
it chanced to be. The soldier gave vent to a howl of anguish and dashed
her to the ground; raising his uninjured fist above her head he was on
the point of braining her. And for a moment their faces were in contact;
she experienced a feeling of intensest loathing for the monster, and
that blood-stained hair and beard, those blue eyes, dilated and brimming
with hate and rage, were destined to remain forever indelibly imprinted
on her memory.

In after days Henriette could never account distinctly to herself for
the time immediately succeeding these events. She had but one desire: to
return to the spot where her loved one had died, take possession of
his remains, and watch and weep over them; but, as in an evil dream,
obstacles of every sort arose before her and barred the way. First a
heavy infantry fire broke out afresh, and there was great activity among
the German troops who were holding Bazeilles; it was due to the arrival
of the infanterie de marine and other regiments that had been despatched
from Balan to regain possession of the village, and the battle commenced
to rage again with the utmost fury. The young woman, in company with
a band of terrified citizens, was swept away to the left into a dark
alley. The result of the conflict could not remain long doubtful,
however; it was too late to reconquer the abandoned positions. For near
half an hour the infantry struggled against superior numbers and faced
death with splendid bravery, but the enemy’s strength was constantly
increasing, their re-enforcements were pouring in from every direction,
the roads, the meadows, the park of Montivilliers; no force at our
command could have dislodged them from the position, so dearly bought,
where they had left thousands of their bravest. Destruction and
devastation now had done their work; the place was a shambles,
disgraceful to humanity, where mangled forms lay scattered among smoking
ruins, and poor Bazeilles, having drained the bitter cup, went up at
last in smoke and flame.

Henriette turned and gave one last look at her little house, whose
floors fell in even as she gazed, sending myriads of little sparks
whirling gayly upward on the air. And there, before her, prone at the
wall’s foot, she saw her husband’s corpse, and in her despair and grief
would fain have returned to him, but just then another crowd came up and
surged around her, the bugles were sounding the signal to retire, she
was borne away, she knew not how, among the retreating troops. Her
faculty of self-guidance left her; she was as a bit of flotsam swept
onward by the eddying human tide that streamed along the way. And that
was all she could remember until she became herself again and found
she was at Balan, among strangers, her head reclined upon a table in a
kitchen, weeping.



V.

It was nearly ten o’clock up on the Plateau de l’Algerie, and still the
men of Beaudoin’s company were resting supine, among the cabbages, in
the field whence they had not budged since early morning. The cross fire
from the batteries on Hattoy and the peninsula of Iges was hotter than
ever; it had just killed two more of their number, and there were no
orders for them to advance. Were they to stay there and be shelled all
day, without a chance to see anything of the fighting?

They were even denied the relief of discharging their chassepots.
Captain Beaudoin had at last put his foot down and stopped the firing,
that senseless fusillade against the little wood in front of them, which
seemed entirely deserted by the Prussians. The heat was stifling; it
seemed to them that they should roast, stretched there on the ground
under the blazing sky.

Jean was alarmed, on turning to look at Maurice, to see that he had
declined his head and was lying, with closed eyes, apparently inanimate,
his cheek against the bare earth. He was very pale, there was no sign of
life in his face.

“Hallo there! what’s the matter?”

But Maurice was only sleeping. The mental strain, conjointly with his
fatigue, had been too much for him, in spite of the dangers that menaced
them at every moment. He awoke with a start and stared about him, and
the peace that slumber had left in his wide-dilated eyes was immediately
supplanted by a look of startled affright as it dawned on him where he
was. He had not the remotest idea how long he had slept; all he knew
was that the state from which he had been recalled to the horrors of the
battlefield was one of blessed oblivion and tranquillity.

“Hallo! that’s funny; I must have been asleep!” he murmured. “Ah! it has
done me good.”

It was true that he suffered less from that pressure about his temples
and at his heart, that horrible constriction that seems as if it
would crush one’s bones. He chaffed Lapoulle, who had manifested much
uneasiness since the disappearance of Chouteau and Loubet and spoke of
going to look for them. A capital idea! so he might get away and hide
behind a tree, and smoke a pipe! Pache thought that the surgeons
had detained them at the ambulance, where there was a scarcity of
sick-bearers. That was a job that he had no great fancy for, to go
around under fire and collect the wounded! And haunted by a lingering
superstition of the country where he was born, he added that it was
unlucky to touch a corpse; it brought death.

“Shut up, confound you!” roared Lieutenant Rochas. “Who is going to
die?”

Colonel de Vineuil, sitting his tall horse, turned his head and gave a
smile, the first that had been seen on his face that morning. Then he
resumed his statue-like attitude, waiting for orders as impassively as
ever under the tumbling shells.

Maurice’s attention was attracted to the sick-bearers, whose movements
he watched with interest as they searched for wounded men among the
depressions of the ground. At the end of a sunken road, and protected by
a low ridge not far from their position, a flying ambulance of first
aid had been established, and its emissaries had begun to explore the
plateau. A tent was quickly erected, while from the hospital van the
attendants extracted the necessary supplies; compresses, bandages,
linen, and the few indispensable instruments required for the hasty
dressings they gave before dispatching the patients to Sedan, which
they did as rapidly as they could secure wagons, the supply of which was
limited. There was an assistant surgeon in charge, with two subordinates
of inferior rank under him. In all the army none showed more gallantry
and received less acknowledgment than the litter-bearers. They could be
seen all over the field in their gray uniform, with the distinctive red
badge on their cap and on their arm, courageously risking their lives
and unhurriedly pushing forward through the thickest of the fire to
the spots where men had been seen to fall. At times they would creep on
hands and knees: would always take advantage of a hedge or ditch, or
any shelter that was afforded by the conformation of the ground, never
exposing themselves unnecessarily out of bravado. When at last they
reached the fallen men their painful task commenced, which was made
more difficult and protracted by the fact that many of the subjects had
fainted, and it was hard to tell whether they were alive or dead. Some
lay face downward with their mouths in a pool of blood, in danger of
suffocating, others had bitten the ground until their throats were
choked with dry earth, others, where a shell had fallen among a group,
were a confused, intertwined heap of mangled limbs and crushed trunks.
With infinite care and patience the bearers would go through the tangled
mass, separating the living from the dead, arranging their limbs and
raising the head to give them air, cleansing the face as well as they
could with the means at their command. Each of them carried a bucket
of cool water, which he had to use very savingly. And Maurice could see
them thus engaged, often for minutes at a time, kneeling by some man
whom they were trying to resuscitate, waiting for him to show some sign
of life.

He watched one of them, some fifty yards away to the left, working over
the wound of a little soldier from the sleeve of whose tunic a thin
stream of blood was trickling, drop by drop. The man of the red cross
discovered the source of the hemorrhage and finally checked it by
compressing the artery. In urgent cases, like that of the little
soldier, they rendered these partial attentions, locating fractures,
bandaging and immobilizing the limbs so as to reduce the danger of
transportation. And the transportation, even, was an affair that called
for a great deal of judgment and ingenuity; they assisted those who
could walk, and carried others, either in their arms, like little
children, or pickaback when the nature of the hurt allowed it; at other
times they united in groups of two, three, or four, according to the
requirements of the case, and made a chair by joining their hands,
or carried the patient off by his legs and shoulders in a recumbent
posture. In addition to the stretchers provided by the medical
department there were all sorts of temporary makeshifts, such as the
stretchers improvised from knapsack straps and a couple of muskets. And
in every direction on the unsheltered, shell-swept plain they could
be seen, singly or in groups, hastening with their dismal loads to the
rear, their heads bowed and picking their steps, an admirable spectacle
of prudent heroism.

Maurice saw a pair on his right, a thin, puny little fellow lugging
a burly sergeant, with both legs broken, suspended from his neck; the
sight reminded the young man of an ant, toiling under a burden many
times larger than itself; and even as he watched them a shell burst
directly in their path and they were lost to view. When the smoke
cleared away the sergeant was seen lying on his back, having received
no further injury, while the bearer lay beside him, disemboweled. And
another came up, another toiling ant, who, when he had turned his dead
comrade on his back and examined him, took the sergeant up and made off
with his load.

It gave Maurice a chance to read Lapoulle a lesson.

“I say, if you like the business, why don’t you go and give that man a
lift!”

For some little time the batteries at Saint-Menges had been thundering
as if determined to surpass all previous efforts, and Captain Beaudoin,
who was still tramping nervously up and down before his company line,
at last stepped up to the colonel. It was a pity, he said, to waste the
men’s morale in that way and keep their minds on the stretch for hours
and hours.

“I can’t help it; I have no orders,” the colonel stoically replied.

They had another glimpse of General Douay as he flew by at a gallop,
followed by his staff. He had just had an interview with General de
Wimpffen, who had ridden up to entreat him to hold his ground, which he
thought he could promise to do, but only so long as the Calvary of Illy,
on his right, held out; Illy once taken, he would be responsible for
nothing; their defeat would be inevitable. General de Wimpffen averred
that the 1st corps would look out for the position at Illy, and indeed
a regiment of zouaves was presently seen to occupy the Calvary, so that
General Douay, his anxiety being relieved on that score, sent Dumont’s
division to the assistance of the 12th corps, which was then being hard
pushed. Scarcely fifteen minutes later, however, as he was returning
from the left, whither he had ridden to see how affairs were looking,
he was surprised, raising his eyes to the Calvary, to see it was
unoccupied; there was not a zouave to be seen there, they had abandoned
the plateau that was no longer tenable by reason of the terrific fire
from the batteries at Fleigneux. With a despairing presentiment of
impending disaster he was spurring as fast as he could to the right,
when he encountered Dumont’s division, flying in disorder, broken and
tangled in inextricable confusion with the debris of the 1st corps. The
latter, which, after its retrograde movement, had never been able to
regain possession of the posts it had occupied in the morning, leaving
Daigny in the hands of the XIIth Saxon corps and Givonne to the Prussian
Guards, had been compelled to retreat in a northerly direction across
the wood of Garenne, harassed by the batteries that the enemy had posted
on every summit from one end of the valley to the other. The terrible
circle of fire and flame was contracting; a portion of the Guards had
continued their march on Illy, moving from east to west and turning the
eminences, while from west to east, in the rear of the XIth corps, now
masters of Saint-Menges, the Vth, moving steadily onward, had passed
Fleigneux and with insolent temerity was constantly pushing its
batteries more and more to the front, and so contemptuous were they of
the ignorance and impotence of the French that they did not even wait
for the infantry to come up to support their guns. It was midday; the
entire horizon was aflame, concentrating its destructive fire on the 7th
and 1st corps.

Then General Douay, while the German artillery was thus preparing the
way for the decisive movement that should make them masters of
the Calvary, resolved to make one last desperate attempt to regain
possession of the hill. He dispatched his orders, and throwing himself
in person among the fugitives of Dumont’s division, succeeded in forming
a column which he sent forward to the plateau. It held its ground for
a few minutes, but the bullets whistled so thick, the naked, treeless
fields were swept by such a tornado of shot and shell, that it was
not long before the panic broke out afresh, sweeping the men adown the
slopes, rolling them up as straws are whirled before the wind. And the
general, unwilling to abandon his project, ordered up other regiments.

A staff officer galloped by, shouting to Colonel de Vineuil as he passed
an order that was lost in the universal uproar. Hearing, the colonel was
erect in his stirrups in an instant, his face aglow with the gladness of
battle, and pointing to the Calvary with a grand movement of his sword:

“Our turn has come at last, boys!” he shouted. “Forward!”

A thrill of enthusiasm ran through the ranks at the brief address, and
the regiment put itself in motion. Beaudoin’s company was among the
first to get on its feet, which it did to the accompaniment of much
good-natured chaff, the men declaring they were so rusty they could not
move; the gravel must have penetrated their joints. The fire was so hot,
however, that by the time they had advanced a few feet they were glad to
avail themselves of the protection of a shelter trench that lay in their
path, along which they crept in an undignified posture, bent almost
double.

“Now, young fellow, look out for yourself!” Jean said to Maurice; “we’re
in for it. Don’t let ‘em see so much as the end of your nose, for if you
do they will surely snip it off, and keep a sharp lookout for your legs
and arms unless you have more than you care to keep. Those who come out
of this with a whole skin will be lucky.”

Maurice did not hear him very distinctly; the words were lost in the
all-pervading clamor that buzzed and hummed in the young man’s ears. He
could not have told now whether he was afraid or not; he went forward
because the others did, borne along with them in their headlong rush,
without distinct volition of his own; his sole desire was to have the
affair ended as soon as possible. So true was it that he was a mere drop
in the on-pouring torrent that when the leading files came to the end
of the trench and began to waver at the prospect of climbing the exposed
slope that lay before them, he immediately felt himself seized by a
sensation of panic, and was ready to turn and fly. It was simply an
uncontrollable instinct, a revolt of the muscles, obedient to every
passing breath.

Some of the men had already faced about when the colonel came hurrying
up.

“Steady there, my children. You won’t cause me this great sorrow; you
won’t behave like cowards. Remember, the 106th has never turned its back
upon the enemy; will you be the first to disgrace our flag?”

And he spurred his charger across the path of the fugitives, addressing
them individually, speaking to them, of their country, in a voice that
trembled with emotion.

Lieutenant Rochas was so moved by his words that he gave way to an
ungovernable fit of anger, raising his sword and belaboring the men with
the flat as if it had been a club.

“You dirty loafers, I’ll see whether you will go up there or not! I’ll
kick you up! About face! and I’ll break the jaw of the first man that
refuses to obey!”

But such an extreme measure as kicking a regiment into action was
repugnant to the colonel.

“No, no, lieutenant; they will follow me. Won’t you, my children? You
won’t let your old colonel fight it out alone with the Prussians! Up
there lies the way; forward!”

He turned his horse and left the trench, and they did all follow, to a
man, for he would have been considered the lowest of the low who could
have abandoned their leader after that brave, kind speech. He was the
only one, however, who, while crossing the open fields, erect on his
tall horse, was cool and unconcerned; the men scattered, advancing in
open order and availing themselves of every shelter afforded by the
ground. The land sloped upward; there were fully five hundred yards of
stubble and beet fields between them and the Calvary, and in place of
the correctly aligned columns that the spectator sees advancing when
a charge is ordered in field maneuvers, all that was to be seen was
a loose array of men with rounded backs, singly or in small groups,
hugging the ground, now crawling warily a little way on hands and knees,
now dashing forward for the next cover, like huge insects fighting their
way upward to the crest by dint of agility and address. The enemy’s
batteries seemed to have become aware of the movement; their fire was so
rapid that the reports of the guns were blended in one continuous roar.
Five men were killed, a lieutenant was cut in two.

Maurice and Jean had considered themselves fortunate that their way led
along a hedge behind which they could push forward unseen, but the man
immediately in front of them was shot through the temples and fell back
dead in their arms; they had to cast him down at one side. By this time,
however, the casualties had ceased to excite attention; they were too
numerous. A man went by, uttering frightful shrieks and pressing his
hands upon his protruding entrails; they beheld a horse dragging himself
along with both thighs broken, and these anguishing sights, these
horrors of the battlefield, affected them no longer. They were suffering
from the intolerable heat, the noonday sun that beat upon their backs
and burned like hot coals.

“How thirsty I am!” Maurice murmured. “My throat is like an ash barrel.
Don’t you notice that smell of something scorching, a smell like burning
woolen?”

Jean nodded. “It was just the same at Solferino; perhaps it is the smell
that always goes with war. But hold, I have a little brandy left; we’ll
have a sup.”

And they paused behind the hedge a moment and raised the flask to their
lips, but the brandy, instead of relieving their thirst, burned their
stomach. It irritated them, that nasty taste of burnt rags in their
mouths. Moreover they perceived that their strength was commencing to
fail for want of sustenance and would have liked to take a bite from the
half loaf that Maurice had in his knapsack, but it would not do to stop
and breakfast there under fire, and then they had to keep up with their
comrades. There was a steady stream of men coming up behind them along
the hedge who pressed them forward, and so, doggedly bending their backs
to the task before them, they resumed their course. Presently they made
their final rush and reached the crest. They were on the plateau, at
the very foot of the Calvary, the old weather-beaten cross that stood
between two stunted lindens.

“Good for our side!” exclaimed Jean; “here we are! But the next thing is
to remain here!”

He was right; it was not the pleasantest place in the world to be in,
as Lapoulle remarked in a doleful tone that excited the laughter of the
company. They all lay down again, in a field of stubble, and for all
that three men were killed in quick succession. It was pandemonium
let loose up there on the heights; the projectiles from Saint-Menges,
Fleigneux, and Givonne fell in such numbers that the ground fairly
seemed to smoke, as it does at times under a heavy shower of rain. It
was clear that the position could not be maintained unless artillery
was dispatched at once to the support of the troops who had been sent
on such a hopeless undertaking. General Douay, it was said, had given
instructions to bring up two batteries of the reserve artillery, and the
men were every moment turning their heads, watching anxiously for the
guns that did not come.

“It is absurd, ridiculous!” declared Beaudoin, who was again fidgeting
up and down before the company. “Who ever heard of placing a regiment
in the air like this and giving it no support!” Then, observing a
slight depression on their left, he turned to Rochas: “Don’t you think,
Lieutenant, that the company would be safer there?”

Rochas stood stock still and shrugged his shoulders. “It is six of one
and half a dozen of the other, Captain. My opinion is that we will do
better to stay where we are.”

Then the captain, whose principles were opposed to swearing, forgot
himself.

“But, good God! there won’t a man of us escape! We can’t allow the men
to be murdered like this!”

And he determined to investigate for himself the advantages of the
position he had mentioned, but had scarcely taken ten steps when he
was lost to sight in the smoke of an exploding shell; a splinter of the
projectile had fractured his right leg. He fell upon his back, emitting
a shrill cry of alarm, like a woman’s.

“He might have known as much,” Rochas muttered. “There’s no use his
making such a fuss over it; when the dose is fixed for one, he has to
take it.”

Some members of the company had risen to their feet on seeing their
captain fall, and as he continued to call lustily for assistance, Jean
finally ran to him, immediately followed by Maurice.

“Friends, friends, for Heaven’s sake do not leave me here; carry me to
the ambulance!”

“_Dame_, Captain, I don’t know that we shall be able to get so far, but
we can try.”

As they were discussing how they could best take hold to raise him they
perceived, behind the hedge that had sheltered them on their way up,
two stretcher-bearers who seemed to be waiting for something to do,
and finally, after protracted signaling, induced them to draw near. All
would be well if they could only get the wounded man to the ambulance
without accident, but the way was long and the iron hail more pitiless
than ever.

The bearers had tightly bandaged the injured limb in order to keep the
bones in position and were about to bear the captain off the field on
what children call a “chair,” formed by joining their hands and slipping
an arm of the patient over each of their necks, when Colonel de
Vineuil, who had heard of the accident, came up, spurring his horse. He
manifested much emotion, for he had known the young man ever since his
graduation from Saint-Cyr.

“Cheer up, my poor boy; have courage. You are in no danger; the doctors
will save your leg.”

The captain’s face wore an expression of resignation, as if he had
summoned up all his courage to bear his misfortune manfully.

“No, my dear Colonel; I feel it is all up with me, and I would rather
have it so. The only thing that distresses me is the waiting for the
inevitable end.”

The bearers carried him away, and were fortunate enough to reach the
hedge in safety, behind which they trotted swiftly away with their
burden. The colonel’s eyes followed them anxiously, and when he saw them
reach the clump of trees where the ambulance was stationed a look of
deep relief rose to his face.

“But you, Colonel,” Maurice suddenly exclaimed, “you are wounded too!”

He had perceived blood dripping from the colonel’s left boot. A
projectile of some description had carried away the heel of the
foot-covering and forced the steel shank into the flesh.

M. de Vineuil bent over his saddle and glanced unconcernedly at the
member, in which the sensation at that time must have been far from
pleasurable.

“Yes, yes,” he replied, “it is a little remembrance that I received
a while ago. A mere scratch, that don’t prevent me from sitting my
horse--” And he added, as he turned to resume his position to the rear
of his regiment: “As long as a man can stick on his horse he’s all
right.”

At last the two batteries of reserve artillery came up. Their arrival
was an immense relief to the anxiously expectant men, as if the guns
were to be a rampart of protection to them and at the same time demolish
the hostile batteries that were thundering against them from every side.
And then, too, it was in itself an exhilarating spectacle to see the
magnificent order they preserved as they came dashing up, each gun
followed by its caisson, the drivers seated on the near horse and
holding the off horse by the bridle, the cannoneers bolt upright on the
chests, the chiefs of detachment riding in their proper position on the
flank. Distances were preserved as accurately as if they were on parade,
and all the time they were tearing across the fields at headlong speed,
with the roar and crash of a hurricane.

Maurice, who had lain down again, arose and said to Jean in great
excitement:

“Look! over there on the left, that is Honore’s battery. I can recognize
the men.”

Jean gave him a back-handed blow that brought him down to his recumbent
position.

“Lie down, will you! and make believe dead!”

But they were both deeply interested in watching the maneuvers of the
battery, and never once removed their eyes from it; it cheered their
heart to witness the cool and intrepid activity of those men, who, they
hoped, might yet bring victory to them.

The battery had wheeled into position on a bare summit to the left,
where it brought up all standing; then, quick as a flash, the cannoneers
leaped from the chests and unhooked the limbers, and the drivers,
leaving the gun in position, drove fifteen yards to the rear, where they
wheeled again so as to bring team and limber face to the enemy and there
remained, motionless as statues. In less time than it takes to tell
it the guns were in place, with the proper intervals between them,
distributed into three sections of two guns each, each section commanded
by a lieutenant, and over the whole a captain, a long maypole of a
man, who made a terribly conspicuous landmark on the plateau. And this
captain, having first made a brief calculation, was heard to shout:

“Sight for sixteen hundred yards!”

Their fire was to be directed upon a Prussian battery, screened by some
bushes, to the left of Fleigneux, the shells from which were rendering
the position of the Calvary untenable.

“Honore’s piece, you see,” Maurice began again, whose excitement was
such that he could not keep still, “Honore’s piece is in the center
section. There he is now, bending over to speak to the gunner; you
remember Louis, the gunner, don’t you? the little fellow with whom
we had a drink at Vouziers? And that fellow in the rear, who sits so
straight on his handsome chestnut, is Adolphe, the driver--”

First came the gun with its chief and six cannoneers, then the limber
with its four horses ridden by two men, beyond that the caisson with
its six horses and three drivers, still further to the rear were the
_prolonge_, forge, and battery wagon; and this array of men, horses and
_materiel_ extended to the rear in a straight unbroken line of more than
a hundred yards in length; to say nothing of the spare caisson and
the men and beasts who were to fill the places of those removed by
casualties, who were stationed at one side, as much as possible out of
the enemy’s line of fire.

And now Honore was attending to the loading of his gun. The two men
whose duty it was to fetch the cartridge and the projectile returned
from the caisson, where the corporal and the artificer were stationed;
two other cannoneers, standing at the muzzle of the piece, slipped into
the bore the cartridge, a charge of powder in an envelope of serge, and
gently drove it home with the rammer, then in like manner introduced the
shell, the studs of which creaked faintly in the spirals of the rifling.
When the primer was inserted in the vent and all was in readiness,
Honore thought he would like to point the gun himself for the first
shot, and throwing himself in a semi-recumbent posture on the trail,
working with one hand the screw that regulated the elevation, with the
other he signaled continually to the gunner, who, standing behind him,
moved the piece by imperceptible degrees to right or left with the
assistance of the lever.

“That ought to be about right,” he said as he arose.

The captain came up, and stooping until his long body was bent almost
double, verified the elevation. At each gun stood the assistant gunner,
waiting to pull the lanyard that should ignite the fulminate by means of
a serrated wire. And the orders were given in succession, deliberately,
by number:

“Number one, Fire! Number two, Fire!”

Six reports were heard, the guns recoiled, and while they were being
brought back to position the chiefs of detachment observed the effect
of the shots and found that the range was short. They made the necessary
correction and the evolution was repeated, in exactly the same manner as
before; and it was that cool precision, that mechanical routine of duty,
without agitation and without haste, that did so much to maintain the
_morale_ of the men. They were a little family, united by the tie of
a common occupation, grouped around the gun, which they loved and
reverenced as if it had been a living thing; it was the object of all
their care and attention, to it all else was subservient, men, horses,
caisson, everything. Thence also arose the spirit of unity and cohesion
that animated the battery at large, making all its members work
together for the common glory and the common good, like a well-regulated
household.

The 106th had cheered lustily at the completion of the first round; they
were going to make those bloody Prussian guns shut their mouths at last!
but their elation was succeeded by dismay when it was seen that the
projectiles fell short, many of them bursting in the air and never
reaching the bushes that served to mask the enemy’s artillery.

“Honore,” Maurice continued, “says that all the other pieces are popguns
and that his old girl is the only one that is good for anything. Ah, his
old girl! He talks as if she were his wife and there were not another
like her in the world! Just notice how jealously he watches her and
makes the men clean her off! I suppose he is afraid she will overheat
herself and take cold!”

He continued rattling on in this pleasant vein to Jean, both of them
cheered and encouraged by the cool bravery with which the artillerymen
served their guns; but the Prussian batteries, after firing three
rounds, had now got the range, which, too long at the beginning, they
had at last ciphered down to such a fine point that their shells
were landed invariably among the French pieces, while the latter,
notwithstanding the efforts that were made to increase their range,
still continued to place their projectiles short of the enemy’s
position. One of Honore’s cannoneers was killed while loading the piece;
the others pushed the body out of their way, and the service went on
with the same methodical precision, with neither more nor less haste.
In the midst of the projectiles that fell and burst continually the same
unvarying rhythmical movements went on uninterruptedly about the gun;
the cartridge and shell were introduced, the gun was pointed, the
lanyard pulled, the carriage brought back to place; and all with
such undeviating regularity that the men might have been taken for
automatons, devoid of sight and hearing.

What impressed Maurice, however, more than anything else, was the
attitude of the drivers, sitting straight and stiff in their saddles
fifteen yards to the rear, face to the enemy. There was Adolphe, the
broad-chested, with his big blond mustache across his rubicund face; and
who shall tell the amount of courage a man must have to enable him to
sit without winking and watch the shells coming toward him, and he not
allowed even to twirl his thumbs by way of diversion! The men who
served the guns had something to occupy their minds, while the drivers,
condemned to immobility, had death constantly before their eyes, and
plenty of leisure to speculate on probabilities. They were made to face
the battlefield because, had they turned their backs to it, the coward
that so often lurks at the bottom of man’s nature might have got the
better of them and swept away man and beast. It is the unseen danger
that makes dastards of us; that which we can see we brave. The army
has no more gallant set of men in its ranks than the drivers in their
obscure position.

Another man had been killed, two horses of a caisson had been
disemboweled, and the enemy kept up such a murderous fire that there
was a prospect of the entire battery being knocked to pieces should they
persist in holding that position longer. It was time to take some step
to baffle that tremendous fire, notwithstanding the danger there was
in moving, and the captain unhesitatingly gave orders to bring up the
limbers.

The risky maneuver was executed with lightning speed; the drivers came
up at a gallop, wheeled their limber into position in rear of the gun,
when the cannoneers raised the trail of the piece and hooked on. The
movement, however, collecting as it did, momentarily, men and horses on
the battery front in something of a huddle, created a certain degree of
confusion, of which the enemy took advantage by increasing the rapidity
of their fire; three more men dropped. The teams darted away at
breakneck speed, describing an arc of a circle among the fields, and the
battery took up its new position some fifty or sixty yards more to the
right, on a gentle eminence that was situated on the other flank of the
106th. The pieces were unlimbered, the drivers resumed their station at
the rear, face to the enemy, and the firing was reopened; and so little
time was lost between leaving their old post and taking up the new that
the earth had barely ceased to tremble under the concussion.

Maurice uttered a cry of dismay, when, after three attempts, the
Prussians had again got their range; the first shell landed squarely on
Honore’s gun. The artilleryman rushed forward, and with a trembling hand
felt to ascertain what damage had been done his pet; a great wedge had
been chipped from the bronze muzzle. But it was not disabled, and the
work went on as before, after they had removed from beneath the wheels
the body of another cannoneer, with whose blood the entire carriage was
besplashed.

“It was not little Louis; I am glad of that,” said Maurice, continuing
to think aloud. “There he is now, pointing his gun; he must be wounded,
though, for he is only using his left arm. Ah, he is a brave lad, is
little Louis; and how well he and Adolphe get on together, in spite
of their little tiffs, only provided the gunner, the man who serves on
foot, shows a proper amount of respect for the driver, the man who rides
a horse, notwithstanding that the latter is by far the more ignorant of
the two. Now that they are under fire, though, Louis is as good a man as
Adolphe--”

Jean, who had been watching events in silence, gave utterance to a
distressful cry:

“They will have to give it up! No troops in the world could stand such a
fire.”

Within the space of five minutes the second position had become as
untenable as was the first; the projectiles kept falling with the
same persistency, the same deadly precision. A shell dismounted a gun,
fracturing the chase, killing a lieutenant and two men. Not one of the
enemy’s shots failed to reach, and at each discharge they secured a
still greater accuracy of range, so that if the battery should remain
there another five minutes they would not have a gun or a man left. The
crushing fire threatened to wipe them all out of existence.

Again the captain’s ringing voice was heard ordering up the limbers.
The drivers dashed up at a gallop and wheeled their teams into place to
allow the cannoneers to hook on the guns, but before Adolphe had time to
get up Louis was struck by a fragment of shell that tore open his throat
and broke his jaw; he fell across the trail of the carriage just as
he was on the point of raising it. Adolphe was there instantly, and
beholding his prostrate comrade weltering in his blood, jumped from his
horse and was about to raise him to his saddle and bear him away. And at
that moment, just as the battery was exposed flank to the enemy in the
act of wheeling, offering a fair target, a crashing discharge came, and
Adolphe reeled and fell to the ground, his chest crushed in, with arms
wide extended. In his supreme convulsion he seized his comrade about the
body, and thus they lay, locked in each other’s arms in a last embrace,
“married” even in death.

Notwithstanding the slaughtered horses and the confusion that that
death-dealing discharge had caused among the men, the battery had
rattled up the slope of a hillock and taken post a few yards from the
spot where Jean and Maurice were lying. For the third time the guns were
unlimbered, the drivers retired to the rear and faced the enemy, and the
cannoneers, with a gallantry that nothing could daunt, at once reopened
fire.

“It is as if the end of all things were at hand!” said Maurice, the
sound of whose voice was lost in the uproar.

It seemed indeed as if heaven and earth were confounded in that hideous
din. Great rocks were cleft asunder, the sun was hid from sight at times
in clouds of sulphurous vapor. When the cataclysm was at its height
the horses stood with drooping heads, trembling, dazed with terror. The
captain’s tall form was everywhere upon the eminence; suddenly he was
seen no more; a shell had cut him clean in two, and he sank, as a ship’s
mast that is snapped off at the base.

But it was about Honore’s gun, even more than the others, that the
conflict raged, with cool efficiency and obstinate determination. The
non-commissioned officer found it necessary to forget his chevrons for
the time being and lend a hand in working the piece, for he had now but
three cannoneers left; he pointed the gun and pulled the lanyard, while
the others brought ammunition from the caisson, loaded, and handled the
rammer and the sponge. He had sent for men and horses from the battery
reserves that were kept to supply the places of those removed by
casualties, but they were slow in coming, and in the meantime the
survivors must do the work of the dead. It was a great discouragement
to all that their projectiles ranged short and burst almost without
exception in the air, inflicting no injury on the powerful batteries
of the foe, the fire of which was so efficient. And suddenly Honore let
slip an oath that was heard above the thunder of the battle; ill-luck,
ill-luck, nothing but ill-luck! the right wheel of his piece was
smashed! _Tonnerre de Dieu!_ what a state she was in, the poor darling!
stretched on her side with a broken paw, her nose buried in the ground,
crippled and good for nothing! The sight brought big tears to his eyes,
he laid his trembling hand upon the breech, as if the ardor of his love
might avail to warm his dear mistress back to life. And the best gun of
them all, the only one that had been able to drop a few shells among the
enemy! Then suddenly he conceived a daring project, nothing less than to
repair the injury there and then, under that terrible fire. Assisted by
one of his men he ran back to the caisson and secured the spare
wheel that was attached to the rear axle, and then commenced the most
dangerous operation that can be executed on a battlefield. Fortunately
the extra men and horses that he had sent for came up just then, and he
had two cannoneers to lend him a hand.

For the third time, however, the strength of the battery was so reduced
as practically to disable it. To push their heroic daring further would
be madness; the order was given to abandon the position definitely.

“Make haste, comrades!” Honore exclaimed. “Even if she is fit for no
further service we’ll carry her off; those fellows shan’t have her!”

To save the gun, even as men risk their life to save the flag; that was
his idea. And he had not ceased to speak when he was stricken down as by
a thunderbolt, his right arm torn from its socket, his left flank laid
open. He had fallen upon his gun he loved so well, and lay there as
if stretched on a bed of honor, with head erect, his unmutilated face
turned toward the enemy, and bearing an expression of proud defiance
that made him beautiful in death. From his torn jacket a letter had
fallen to the ground and lay in the pool of blood that dribbled slowly
from above.

The only lieutenant left alive shouted the order: “Bring up the
limbers!”

A caisson had exploded with a roar that rent the skies. They were
obliged to take the horses from another caisson in order to save a gun
of which the team had been killed. And when, for the last time, the
drivers had brought up their smoking horses and the guns had been
limbered up, the whole battery flew away at a gallop and never stopped
until they reached the edge of the wood of la Garenne, nearly twelve
hundred yards away.

Maurice had seen the whole. He shivered with horror, and murmured
mechanically, in a faint voice:

“Oh! poor fellow, poor fellow!”

In addition to this feeling of mental distress he had a horrible
sensation of physical suffering, as if something was gnawing at his
vitals. It was the animal portion of his nature asserting itself; he
was at the end of his endurance, was ready to sink with hunger. His
perceptions were dimmed, he was not even conscious of the dangerous
position the regiment was in now it no longer was protected by the
battery. It was more than likely that the enemy would not long delay to
attack the plateau in force.

“Look here,” he said to Jean, “I _must_ eat--if I am to be killed for it
the next minute, I must eat.”

He opened his knapsack and, taking out the bread with shaking hands,
set his teeth in it voraciously. The bullets were whistling above their
heads, two shells exploded only a few yards away, but all was as naught
to him in comparison with his craving hunger.

“Will you have some, Jean?”

The corporal was watching him with hungry eyes and a stupid expression
on his face; his stomach was also twinging him.

“Yes, I don’t care if I do; this suffering is more than I can stand.”

They divided the loaf between them and each devoured his portion
gluttonously, unmindful of what was going on about them so long as a
crumb remained. And it was at that time that they saw their colonel for
the last time, sitting his big horse, with his blood-stained boot. The
regiment was surrounded on every side; already some of the companies had
left the field. Then, unable longer to restrain their flight, with tears
standing in his eyes and raising his sword above his head:

“My children,” cried M. de Vineuil, “I commend you to the protection of
God, who thus far has spared us all!”

He rode off down the hill, surrounded by a swarm of fugitives, and
vanished from their sight.

Then, they knew not how, Maurice and Jean found themselves once more
behind the hedge, with the remnant of their company. Some forty men
at the outside were all that remained, with Lieutenant Rochas as their
commander, and the regimental standard was with them; the subaltern who
carried it had furled the silk about the staff in order to try to save
it. They made their way along the hedge, as far as it extended, to a
cluster of small trees upon a hillside, where Rochas made them halt and
reopen fire. The men, dispersed in skirmishing order and sufficiently
protected, could hold their ground, the more that an important calvary
movement was in preparation on their right and regiments of infantry
were being brought up to support it.

It was at that moment that Maurice comprehended the full scope of
that mighty, irresistible turning movement that was now drawing near
completion. That morning he had watched the Prussians debouching by
the Saint-Albert pass and had seen their advanced guard pushed forward,
first to Saint-Menges, then to Fleigneux, and now, behind the wood of la
Garenne, he could hear the thunder of the artillery of the Guard, could
behold other German uniforms arriving on the scene over the hills
of Givonne. Yet a few moments, it might be, and the circle would be
complete; the Guard would join hands with the Vth corps, surrounding
the French army with a living wall, girdling them about with a belt
of flaming artillery. It was with the resolve to make one supreme,
desperate effort, to try to hew a passage through that advancing wall,
that General Margueritte’s division of the reserve cavalry was massing
behind a protecting crest preparatory to charging. They were about to
charge into the jaws of death, with no possibility of achieving any
useful result, solely for the glory of France and the French army. And
Maurice, whose thoughts turned to Prosper, was a witness of the terrible
spectacle.

What between the messages that were given him to carry and their
answers, Prosper had been kept busy since daybreak spurring up and down
the plateau of Illy. The cavalrymen had been awakened at peep of dawn,
man by man, without sound of trumpet, and to make their morning coffee
had devised the ingenious expedient of screening their fires with a
greatcoat so as not to attract the attention of the enemy. Then there
came a period when they were left entirely to themselves, with nothing
to occupy them; they seemed to be forgotten by their commanders. They
could hear the sound of the cannonading, could descry the puffs of
smoke, could see the distant movements of the infantry, but were utterly
ignorant of the battle, its importance, and its results. Prosper, as far
as he was concerned, was suffering from want of sleep. The cumulative
fatigue induced by many nights of broken rest, the invincible somnolency
caused by the easy gait of his mount, made life a burden. He dreamed
dreams and saw visions; now he was sleeping comfortably in a bed between
clean sheets, now snoring on the bare ground among sharpened flints.
For minutes at a time he would actually be sound asleep in his saddle,
a lifeless clod, his steed’s intelligence answering for both. Under such
circumstances comrades had often tumbled from their seats upon the road.
They were so fagged that when they slept the trumpets no longer awakened
them; the only way to rouse them from their lethargy and get them on
their feet was to kick them soundly.

“But what are they going to do, what are they going to do with us?”
 Prosper kept saying to himself. It was the only thing he could think of
to keep himself awake.

For six hours the cannon had been thundering. As they climbed a hill two
comrades, riding at his side, had been struck down by a shell, and as
they rode onward seven or eight others had bit the dust, pierced by
rifle-balls that came no one could say whence. It was becoming tiresome,
that slow parade, as useless as it was dangerous, up and down the
battlefield. At last--it was about one o’clock--he learned that it
had been decided they were to be killed off in a somewhat more decent
manner. Margueritte’s entire division, comprising three regiments of
chasseurs d’Afrique, one of chasseurs de France, and one of hussars, had
been drawn in and posted in a shallow valley a little to the south of
the Calvary of Illy. The trumpets had sounded: “Dismount!” and then the
officers’ command ran down the line to tighten girths and look to packs.

Prosper alighted, stretched his cramped limbs, and gave Zephyr a
friendly pat upon the neck. Poor Zephyr! he felt the degradation of
the ignominious, heartbreaking service they were subjected to almost
as keenly as his master; and not only that, but he had to carry a small
arsenal of stores and implements of various kinds: the holsters stuffed
with his master’s linen and underclothing and the greatcoat rolled
above, the stable suit, blouse, and overalls, and the sack containing
brushes, currycomb, and other articles of equine toilet behind the
saddle, the haversack with rations slung at his side, to say nothing of
such trifles as side-lines and picket-pins, the watering bucket and the
wooden basin. The cavalryman’s tender heart was stirred by a feeling
of compassion, as he tightened up the girth and looked to see that
everything was secure in its place.

It was a trying moment. Prosper was no more a coward than the next man,
but his mouth was intolerably dry and hot; he lit a cigarette in the
hope that it would relieve the unpleasant sensation. When about to
charge no man can assert with any degree of certainty that he will ride
back again. The suspense lasted some five or six minutes; it was said
that General Margueritte had ridden forward to reconnoiter the ground
over which they were to charge; they were awaiting his return. The five
regiments had been formed in three columns, each column having a depth
of seven squadrons; enough to afford an ample meal to the hostile guns.

Presently the trumpets rang out: “To horse!” and this was succeeded
almost immediately by the shrill summons: “Draw sabers!”

The colonel of each regiment had previously ridden out and taken his
proper position, twenty-five yards to the front, the captains were all
at their posts at the head of their squadrons. Then there was another
period of anxious waiting, amid a silence heavy as that of death. Not a
sound, not a breath, there, beneath the blazing sun; nothing, save the
beating of those brave hearts. One order more, the supreme, the
decisive one, and that mass, now so inert and motionless, would become a
resistless tornado, sweeping all before it.

At that juncture, however, an officer appeared coming over the crest of
the hill in front, wounded, and preserving his seat in the saddle only
by the assistance of a man on either side. No one recognized him at
first, but presently a deep, ominous murmur began to run from squadron
to squadron, which quickly swelled into a furious uproar. It was General
Margueritte, who had received a wound from which he died a few days
later; a musket-ball had passed through both cheeks, carrying away a
portion of the tongue and palate. He was incapable of speech, but waved
his arm in the direction of the enemy. The fury of his men knew no
bounds; their cries rose louder still upon the air.

“It is our general! Avenge him, avenge him!”

Then the colonel of the first regiment, raising aloft his saber, shouted
in a voice of thunder:

“Charge!”

The trumpets sounded, the column broke into a trot and was away. Prosper
was in the leading squadron, but almost at the extreme right of the
right wing, a position of less danger than the center, upon which the
enemy always naturally concentrate their hottest fire. When they had
topped the summit of the Calvary and began to descend the slope beyond
that led downward into the broad plain he had a distinct view, some
two-thirds of a mile away, of the Prussian squares that were to be the
object of their attack. Beside that vision all the rest was dim and
confused before his eyes; he moved onward as one in a dream, with a
strange ringing in his ears, a sensation of voidness in his mind that
left him incapable of framing an idea. He was a part of the great engine
that tore along, controlled by a superior will. The command ran along
the line: “Keep touch of knees! Keep touch of knees!” in order to keep
the men closed up and give their ranks the resistance and rigidity of
a wall of granite, and as their trot became swifter and swifter and
finally broke into a mad gallop, the chasseurs d’Afrique gave their wild
Arab cry that excited their wiry steeds to the verge of frenzy. Onward
they tore, faster and faster still, until their gallop was a race of
unchained demons, their shouts the shrieks of souls in mortal agony;
onward they plunged amid a storm of bullets that rattled on casque and
breastplate, on buckle and scabbard, with a sound like hail; into the
bosom of that hailstorm flashed that thunderbolt beneath which the earth
shook and trembled, leaving behind it, as it passed, an odor of burned
woolen and the exhalations of wild beasts.

At five hundred yards the line wavered an instant, then swirled and
broke in a frightful eddy that brought Prosper to the ground. He
clutched Zephyr by the mane and succeeded in recovering his seat. The
center had given way, riddled, almost annihilated as it was by the
musketry fire, while the two wings had wheeled and ridden back a
little way to renew their formation. It was the foreseen, foredoomed
destruction of the leading squadron. Disabled horses covered the ground,
some quiet in death, but many struggling violently in their strong
agony; and everywhere dismounted riders could be seen, running as fast
as their short legs would let them, to capture themselves another
mount. Many horses that had lost their master came galloping back to the
squadron and took their place in line of their own accord, to rush with
their comrades back into the fire again, as if there was some strange
attraction for them in the smell of gunpowder. The charge was resumed;
the second squadron went forward, like the first, at a constantly
accelerated rate of speed, the men bending upon their horses’ neck,
holding the saber along the thigh, ready for use upon the enemy. Two
hundred yards more were gained this time, amid the thunderous, deafening
uproar, but again the center broke under the storm of bullets; men and
horses went down in heaps, and the piled corpses made an insurmountable
barrier for those who followed. Thus was the second squadron in its turn
mown down, annihilated, leaving its task to be accomplished by those who
came after.

When for the third time the men were called upon to charge and responded
with invincible heroism, Prosper found that his companions were
principally hussars and chasseurs de France. Regiments and squadrons,
as organizations, had ceased to exist; their constituent elements were
drops in the mighty wave that alternately broke and reared its crest
again, to swallow up all that lay in its destructive path. He had long
since lost distinct consciousness of what was going on around him, and
suffered his movements to be guided by his mount, faithful Zephyr, who
had received a wound in the ear that seemed to madden him. He was now in
the center, where all about him horses were rearing, pawing the air, and
falling backward; men were dismounted as if torn from their saddle by
the blast of a tornado, while others, shot through some vital part,
retained their seat and rode onward in the ranks with vacant, sightless
eyes. And looking back over the additional two hundred yards that this
effort had won for them, they could see the field of yellow stubble
strewn thick with dead and dying. Some there were who had fallen
headlong from their saddle and buried their face in the soft earth.
Others had alighted on their back and were staring up into the sun with
terror-stricken eyes that seemed bursting from their sockets. There
was a handsome black horse, an officer’s charger, that had been
disemboweled, and was making frantic efforts to rise, his fore feet
entangled in his entrails. Beneath the fire, that became constantly more
murderous as they drew nearer, the survivors in the wings wheeled their
horses and fell back to concentrate their strength for a fresh onset.

Finally it was the fourth squadron, which, on the fourth attempt,
reached the Prussian lines. Prosper made play with his saber, hacking
away at helmets and dark uniforms as well as he could distinguish
them, for all was dim before him, as in a dense mist. Blood flowed in
torrents; Zephyr’s mouth was smeared with it, and to account for it he
said to himself that the good horse must have been using his teeth on
the Prussians. The clamor around him became so great that he could not
hear his own voice, although his throat seemed splitting from the
yells that issued from it. But behind the first Prussian line there was
another, and then another, and then another still. Their gallant efforts
went for nothing; those dense masses of men were like a tangled jungle
that closed around the horses and riders who entered it and buried them
in its rank growths. They might hew down those who were within reach of
their sabers; others stood ready to take their place, the last squadrons
were lost and swallowed up in their vast numbers. The firing, at
point-blank range, was so furious that the men’s clothing was ignited.
Nothing could stand before it, all went down; and the work that it left
unfinished was completed by bayonet and musket butt. Of the brave men
who rode into action that day two-thirds remained upon the battlefield,
and the sole end achieved by that mad charge was to add another glorious
page to history. And then Zephyr, struck by a musket-ball full in the
chest, dropped in a heap, crushing beneath him Prosper’s right thigh;
and the pain was so acute that the young man fainted.

Maurice and Jean, who had watched the gallant effort with burning
interest, uttered an exclamation of rage.

“_Tonnerre de Dieu!_ what bravery wasted!”

And they resumed their firing from among the trees of the low hill where
they were deployed in skirmishing order. Rochas himself had picked up an
abandoned musket and was blazing away with the rest. But the plateau
of Illy was lost to them by this time beyond hope of recovery; the
Prussians were pouring in upon it from every quarter. It was somewhere
in the neighborhood of two o’clock, and their great movement was
accomplished; the Vth corps and the Guards had effected their junction,
the investment of the French army was complete.

Jean was suddenly brought to the ground.

“I am done for,” he murmured.

He had received what seemed to him like a smart blow of a hammer on the
crown of his head, and his _kepi_ lay behind him with a great furrow
plowed through its top. At first he thought that the bullet had
certainly penetrated the skull and laid bare the brain; his dread of
finding a yawning orifice there was so great that for some seconds
he dared not raise his hand to ascertain the truth. When finally he
ventured, his fingers, on withdrawing them, were red with an abundant
flow of blood, and the pain was so intense that he fainted.

Just then Rochas gave the order to fall back. The Prussians had crept
up on them and were only two or three hundred yards away; they were in
danger of being captured.

“Be cool, don’t hurry; face about and give ‘em another shot. Rally
behind that low wall that you see down there.”

Maurice was in despair; he knew not what to do.

“We are not going to leave our corporal behind, are we, lieutenant?”

“What are we to do? he has turned up his toes.”

“No, no! he is breathing still. Take him along!”

Rochas shrugged his shoulders as if to say they could not bother
themselves for every man that dropped. A wounded man is esteemed
of little value on the battlefield. Then Maurice addressed his
supplications to Lapoulle and Pache.

“Come, give me a helping hand. I am not strong enough to carry him
unassisted.”

They were deaf to his entreaties; all they could hear was the voice that
urged them to seek safety for themselves. The Prussians were now not
more than a hundred yards from them; already they were on their hands
and knees, crawling as fast as they could go toward the wall.

And Maurice, weeping tears of rage, thus left alone with his unconscious
companion, raised him in his arms and endeavored to lug him away, but
he found his puny strength unequal to the task, exhausted as he was by
fatigue and the emotions of the day. At the first step he took he
reeled and fell with his burden. If only he could catch sight of a
stretcher-bearer! He strained his eyes, thought he had discovered one
among the crowd of fugitives, and made frantic gestures of appeal; no
one came, they were left behind, alone. Summoning up his strength with a
determined effort of the will he seized Jean once more and succeeded in
advancing some thirty paces, when a shell burst near them and he thought
that all was ended, that he, too, was to die on the body of his comrade.

Slowly, cautiously, Maurice picked himself up. He felt his body, arms,
and legs; nothing, not a scratch. Why should he not look out for himself
and fly, alone? There was time left still; a few bounds would take
him to the wall and he would be saved. His horrible sensation of fear
returned and made him frantic. He was collecting his energies to
break away and run, when a feeling stronger than death intervened and
vanquished the base impulse. What, abandon Jean! he could not do it. It
would be like mutilating his own being; the brotherly affection that had
bourgeoned and grown between him and that rustic had struck its roots
down into his life, too deep to be slain like that. The feeling went
back to the earliest days, was perhaps as old as the world itself; it
was as if there were but they two upon earth, of whom one could
not forsake the other without forsaking himself, and being doomed
thenceforth to an eternity of solitude. Molded of the same clay,
quickened by the same spirit, duty imperiously commanded to save himself
in saving his brother.

Had it not been for the crust of bread he ate an hour before under the
Prussian shells Maurice could never have done what he did; _how_ he did
it he could never in subsequent days remember. He must have hoisted Jean
upon his shoulders and crawled through the brush and brambles, falling a
dozen times only to pick himself up and go on again, stumbling at every
rut, at every pebble. His indomitable will sustained him, his dogged
resolution would have enabled him to bear a mountain on his back. Behind
the low wall he found Rochas and the few men that were left of the
squad, firing away as stoutly as ever and defending the flag, which
the subaltern held beneath his arm. It had not occurred to anyone to
designate lines of retreat for the several army corps in case the day
should go against them; owing to this want of foresight every general
was at liberty to act as seemed to him best, and at this stage of the
conflict they all found themselves being crowded back upon Sedan
under the steady, unrelaxing pressure of the German armies. The second
division of the 7th corps fell back in comparatively good order, while
the remnants of the other divisions, mingled with the debris of the
1st corps, were already streaming into the city in terrible disorder, a
roaring torrent of rage and fright that bore all, men and beasts, before
it.

But to Maurice, at that moment, was granted the satisfaction of seeing
Jean unclose his eyes, and as he was running to a stream that flowed
near by, for water with which to bathe his friend’s face, he was
surprised, looking down on his right into a sheltered valley that lay
between rugged slopes, to behold the same peasant whom he had seen that
morning, still leisurely driving the plow through the furrow with the
assistance of his big white horse. Why should he lose a day? Men might
fight, but none the less the corn would keep on growing; and folks must
live.



VI.

Up on his lofty terrace, whither he had betaken himself to watch how
affairs were shaping, Delaherche at last became impatient and was seized
with an uncontrollable desire for news. He could see that the enemy’s
shells were passing over the city and that the few projectiles which had
fallen on the houses in the vicinity were only responses, made at long
intervals, to the irregular and harmless fire from Fort Palatinat, but
he could discern nothing of the battle, and his agitation was rising to
fever heat; he experienced an imperious longing for intelligence, which
was constantly stimulated by the reflection that his life and fortune
would be in danger should the army be defeated. He found it impossible
to remain there longer, and went downstairs, leaving behind him the
telescope on its tripod, turned on the German batteries.

When he had descended, however, he lingered a moment, detained by the
aspect of the central garden of the factory. It was near one o’clock,
and the ambulance was crowded with wounded men; the wagons kept driving
up to the entrance in an unbroken stream. The regular ambulance wagons
of the medical department, two-wheeled and four-wheeled, were too few
in number to meet the demand, and vehicles of every description from the
artillery and other trains, _prolonges_, provision vans, everything on
wheels that could be picked up on the battlefield, came rolling up
with their ghastly loads; and later in the day even carrioles and
market-gardeners’ carts were pressed into the service and harnessed
to horses that were found straying along the roads. Into these motley
conveyances were huddled the men collected from the flying ambulances,
where their hurts had received such hasty attention as could be
afforded. It was a sight to move the most callous to behold the
unloading of those poor wretches, some with a greenish pallor on their
face, others suffused with the purple hue that denotes congestion; many
were in a state of coma, others uttered piercing cries of anguish; some
there were who, in their semi-conscious condition, yielded themselves to
the arms of the attendants with a look of deepest terror in their eyes,
while a few, the minute a hand was laid on them, died of the consequent
shock. They continued to arrive in such numbers that soon every bed in
the vast apartment would have its occupant, and Major Bouroche had given
orders to make use of the straw that had been spread thickly upon the
floor at one end. He and his assistants had thus far been able to attend
to all the cases with reasonable promptness; he had requested Mme.
Delaherche to furnish him with another table, with mattress and oilcloth
cover, for the shed where he had established his operating room.
The assistant would thrust a napkin saturated with chloroform to the
patient’s nostrils, the keen knife flashed in the air, there was the
faint rasping of the saw, barely audible, the blood spurted in short,
sharp jets that were checked immediately. As soon as one subject had
been operated on another was brought in, and they followed one another
in such quick succession that there was barely time to pass a sponge
over the protecting oilcloth. At the extremity of the grass plot,
screened from sight by a clump of lilac bushes, they had set up a
kind of morgue whither they carried the bodies of the dead, which were
removed from the beds without a moment’s delay in order to make room
for the living, and this receptacle also served to receive the amputated
legs, and arms, whatever debris of flesh and bone remained upon the
table.

Mme. Delaherche and Gilberte, seated at the foot of one of the great
trees, found it hard work to keep pace with the demand for bandages.
Bouroche, who happened to be passing, his face very red, his apron white
no longer, threw a bundle of linen to Delaherche and shouted:

“Here! be doing something; make yourself useful!”

But the manufacturer objected. “Oh! excuse me; I must go and try to pick
up some news. One can’t tell whether his neck is safe or not.” Then,
touching his lips to his wife’s hair: “My poor Gilberte, to think that a
shell may burn us out of house and home at any moment! It is horrible.”

She was very pale; she raised her head and glanced about her, shuddering
as she did so. Then, involuntarily, her unextinguishable smile returned
to her lips.

“Oh, horrible, indeed! and all those poor men that they are cutting and
carving. I don’t see how it is that I stay here without fainting.”

Mme. Delaherche had watched her son as he kissed the young woman’s hair.
She made a movement as if to part them, thinking of that other man who
must have kissed those tresses so short a time ago; then her old hands
trembled, she murmured beneath her breath:

“What suffering all about us, _mon Dieu!_ It makes one forget his own.”

Delaherche left them, with the assurance that he would be away no longer
than was necessary to ascertain the true condition of affairs. In the
Rue Maqua he was surprised to observe the crowds of soldiers that
were streaming into the city, without arms and in torn, dust-stained
uniforms. It was in vain, however, that he endeavored to slake his
thirst for news by questioning them; some answered with vacant, stupid
looks that they knew nothing, while others told long rambling stories,
with the maniacal gestures and whirling words of one bereft of reason.
He therefore mechanically turned his steps again toward the Sous
Prefecture as the likeliest quarter in which to look for information.
As he was passing along the Place du College two guns, probably all that
remained of some battery, came dashing up to the curb on a gallop, and
were abandoned there. When at last he turned into the Grande Rue he
had further evidence that the advanced guards of the fugitives were
beginning to take possession, of the city; three dismounted hussars had
seated themselves in a doorway and were sharing a loaf of bread; two
others were walking their mounts up and down, leading them by the
bridle, not knowing where to look for stabling for them; officers
were hurrying to and fro distractedly, seemingly without any distinct
purpose. On the Place Turenne a lieutenant counseled him not to loiter
unnecessarily, for the shells had an unpleasant way of dropping there
every now and then; indeed, a splinter had just demolished the railing
about the statue of the great commander who overran the Palatinate. And
as if to emphasize the officer’s advice, while he was making fast time
down the Rue de la Sous Prefecture he saw two projectiles explode, with
a terrible crash, on the Pont de Meuse.

He was standing in front of the janitor’s lodge, debating with himself
whether it would be best to send in his card and try to interview one of
the aides-de-camp, when he heard a girlish voice calling him by name.

“M. Delaherche! Come in here, quick; it is not safe out there.”

It was Rose, his little operative, whose existence he had quite
forgotten. She might be a useful ally in assisting him to gain access
to headquarters; he entered the lodge and accepted her invitation to be
seated.

“Just think, mamma is down sick with the worry and confusion; she can’t
leave her bed, so, you see, I have to attend to everything, for papa
is with the National Guards up in the citadel. A little while ago the
Emperor left the building--I suppose he wanted to let people see he is
not a coward--and succeeded in getting as far as the bridge down at the
end of the street. A shell alighted right in front of him; one of his
equerries had his horse killed under him. And then he came back--he
couldn’t do anything else, could he, now?”

“You must have heard some talk of how the battle is going. What do they
say, those gentlemen upstairs?”

She looked at him in surprise. Her pretty face was bright and smiling,
with its fluffy golden hair and the clear, childish eyes of one who
bestirred herself among her multifarious duties, in the midst of all
those horrors, which she did not well understand.

“No, I know nothing. About midday I sent up a letter for Marshal
MacMahon, but it could not be given him right away, because the Emperor
was in the room. They were together nearly an hour, the Marshal lying
on his bed, the Emperor close beside him seated on a chair. That much I
know for certain, because I saw them when the door was opened.”

“And then, what did they say to each other?”

She looked at him again, and could not help laughing.

“Why, I don’t know; how could you expect me to? There’s not a living
soul knows what they said to each other.”

She was right; he made an apologetic gesture in recognition of the
stupidity of his question. But the thought of that fateful conversation
haunted him; the interest there was in it for him who could have heard
it! What decision had they arrived at?

“And now,” Rose added, “the Emperor is back in his cabinet again, where
he is having a conference with two generals who have just come in from
the battlefield.” She checked herself, casting a glance at the main
entrance of the building. “See! there is one of them, now--and there
comes the other.”

He hurried from the room, and in the two generals recognized Ducrot and
Douay, whose horses were standing before the door. He watched them climb
into their saddles and gallop away. They had hastened into the city,
each independently of the other, after the plateau of Illy had been
captured by the enemy, to notify the Emperor that the battle was lost.
They placed the entire situation distinctly before him; the army and
Sedan were even then surrounded on every side; the result could not help
but be disastrous.

For some minutes the Emperor continued silently to pace the floor of his
cabinet, with the feeble, uncertain step of an invalid. There was none
with him save an aide-de-camp, who stood by the door, erect and mute.
And ever, to and fro, from the window to the fireplace, from the
fireplace to the window, the sovereign tramped wearily, the inscrutable
face now drawn and twitching spasmodically with a nervous tic. The back
was bent, the shoulders bowed, as if the weight of his falling empire
pressed on them more heavily, and the lifeless eyes, veiled by their
heavy lids, told of the anguish of the fatalist who has played his last
card against destiny and lost. Each time, however, that his walk brought
him to the half-open window he gave a start and lingered there a second.
And during one of those brief stoppages he faltered with trembling lips:

“Oh! those guns, those guns, that have been going since the morning!”

The thunder of the batteries on la Marfee and at Frenois seemed, indeed,
to resound with more terrific violence there than elsewhere. It was one
continuous, uninterrupted crash, that shook the windows, nay, the very
walls themselves; an incessant uproar that exasperated the nerves by its
persistency. And he could not banish the reflection from his mind that,
as the struggle was now hopeless, further resistance would be criminal.
What would avail more bloodshed, more maiming and mangling; why add more
corpses to the dead that were already piled high upon that bloody field?
They were vanquished, it was all ended; then why not stop the slaughter?
The abomination of desolation raised its voice to heaven: let it cease.

The Emperor, again before the window, trembled and raised his hands to
his ears, as if to shut out those reproachful voices.

“Oh, those guns, those guns! Will they never be silent!”

Perhaps the dreadful thought of his responsibilities arose before him,
with the vision of all those thousands of bleeding forms with which
his errors had cumbered the earth; perhaps, again, it was but the
compassionate impulse of the tender-hearted dreamer, of the well-meaning
man whose mind was stocked with humanitarian theories. At the moment
when he beheld utter ruin staring him in the face, in that frightful
whirlwind of destruction that broke him like a reed and scattered his
fortunes in the dust, he could yet find tears for others. Almost crazed
at the thought of the slaughter that was mercilessly going on so near
him, he felt he had not strength to endure it longer; each report of
that accursed cannonade seemed to pierce his heart and intensified a
thousandfold his own private suffering.

“Oh, those guns, those guns! they must be silenced at once, at once!”

And that monarch who no longer had a throne, for he had delegated all
his functions to the Empress regent, that chief without an army, since
he had turned over the supreme command to Marshal Bazaine, now felt that
he must once more take the reins in his hand and be the master. Since
they left Chalons he had kept himself in the background, had issued no
orders, content to be a nameless nullity without recognized position, a
cumbrous burden carried about from place to place among the baggage of
his troops, and it was only in their hour of defeat that the Emperor
reasserted itself in him; the one order that he was yet to give, out
of the pity of his sorrowing heart, was to raise the white flag on the
citadel to request an armistice.

“Those guns, oh! those guns! Take a sheet, someone, a tablecloth, it
matters not what! only hasten, hasten, and see that it is done!”

The aide-de-camp hurried from the room, and with unsteady steps the
Emperor continued to pace his beat, back and forth, between the window
and the fireplace, while still the batteries kept thundering, shaking
the house from garret to foundation.

Delaherche was still chatting with Rose in the room below when a
non-commissioned officer of the guard came running in and interrupted
them.

“Mademoiselle, the house is in confusion, I cannot find a servant. Can
you let me have something from your linen closet, a white cloth of some
kind?”

“Will a napkin answer?”

“No, no, it would not be large enough. Half of a sheet, say.”

Rose, eager to oblige, was already fumbling in her closet.

“I don’t think I have any half-sheets. No, I don’t see anything that
looks as if it would serve your purpose. Oh, here is something; could
you use a tablecloth?”

“A tablecloth! just the thing. Nothing could be better.” And he added as
he left the room: “It is to be used as a flag of truce, and hoisted on
the citadel to let the enemy know we want to stop the fighting. Much
obliged, mademoiselle.”

Delaherche gave a little involuntary start of delight; they were to have
a respite at last, then! Then he thought it might be unpatriotic to be
joyful at such a time, and put on a long face again; but none the less
his heart was very glad and he contemplated with much interest a colonel
and captain, followed by the sergeant, as they hurriedly left the
Sous-Prefecture. The colonel had the tablecloth, rolled in a bundle,
beneath his arm. He thought he should like to follow them, and took
leave of Rose, who was very proud that her napery was to be put to such
use. It was then just striking two o’clock.

In front of the Hotel de Ville Delaherche was jostled by a disorderly
mob of half-crazed soldiers who were pushing their way down from the
Faubourg de la Cassine; he lost sight of the colonel, and abandoned his
design of going to witness the raising of the white flag. He certainly
would not be allowed to enter the citadel, and then again he had heard
it reported that shells were falling on the college, and a new terror
filled his mind; his factory might have been burned since he left it.
All his feverish agitation returned to him and he started off on a run;
the rapid motion was a relief to him. But the streets were blocked by
groups of men, at every crossing he was delayed by some new obstacle. It
was only when he reached the Rue Maqua and beheld the monumental facade
of his house intact, no smoke or sign of fire about it, that his anxiety
was allayed, and he heaved a deep sigh of satisfaction. He entered, and
from the doorway shouted to his mother and wife:

“It is all right! they are hoisting the white flag; the cannonade won’t
last much longer.”

He said nothing more, for the appearance presented by the ambulance was
truly horrifying.

In the vast drying-room, the wide door of which was standing open, not
only was every bed occupied, but there was no more room upon the litter
that had been shaken down on the floor at the end of the apartment.
They were commencing to strew straw in the spaces between the beds,
the wounded were crowded together so closely that they were in contact.
Already there were more than two hundred patients there, and more
were arriving constantly; through the lofty windows the pitiless white
daylight streamed in upon that aggregation of suffering humanity. Now
and then an unguarded movement elicited an involuntary cry of anguish.
The death-rattle rose on the warm, damp air. Down the room a low,
mournful wail, almost a lullaby, went on and ceased not. And all about
was silence, intense, profound, the stolid resignation of despair, the
solemn stillness of the death-chamber, broken only by the tread and
whispers of the attendants. Rents in tattered, shell-torn uniforms
disclosed gaping wounds, some of which had received a hasty dressing on
the battlefield, while others were still raw and bleeding. There were
feet, still incased in their coarse shoes, crushed into a mass like
jelly; from knees and elbows, that were as if they had been smashed by
a hammer, depended inert limbs. There were broken hands, and fingers
almost severed, ready to drop, retained only by a strip of skin. Most
numerous among the casualties were the fractures; the poor arms and
legs, red and swollen, throbbed intolerably and were heavy as lead. But
the most dangerous hurts were those in the abdomen, chest, and head.
There were yawning fissures that laid open the entire flank, the knotted
viscera were drawn into great hard lumps beneath the tight-drawn skin,
while as the effect of certain wounds the patient frothed at the mouth
and writhed like an epileptic. Here and there were cases where the lungs
had been penetrated, the puncture now so minute as to permit no escape
of blood, again a wide, deep orifice through which the red tide of life
escaped in torrents; and the internal hemorrhages, those that were hid
from sight, were the most terrible in their effects, prostrating their
victim like a flash, making him black in the face and delirious.
And finally the head, more than any other portion of the frame, gave
evidence of hard treatment; a broken jaw, the mouth a pulp of teeth and
bleeding tongue, an eye torn from its socket and exposed upon the cheek,
a cloven skull that showed the palpitating brain beneath. Those in whose
case the bullet had touched the brain or spinal marrow were already as
dead men, sunk in the lethargy of coma, while the fractures and other
less serious cases tossed restlessly on their pallets and beseechingly
called for water to quench their thirst.

Leaving the large room and passing out into the courtyard, the shed
where the operations were going on presented another scene of horror.
In the rush and hurry that had continued unabated since morning it
was impossible to operate on every case that was brought in, so their
attention had been confined to those urgent cases that imperatively
demanded it. Whenever Bouroche’s rapid judgment told him that amputation
was necessary, he proceeded at once to perform it. In the same way
he lost not a moment’s time in probing the wound and extracting the
projectile whenever it had lodged in some locality where it might do
further mischief, as in the muscles of the neck, the region of the
arm pit, the thigh joint, the ligaments of the knee and elbow. Severed
arteries, too, had to be tied without delay. Other wounds were merely
dressed by one of the hospital stewards under his direction and left
to await developments. He had already with his own hand performed four
amputations, the only rest that he allowed himself being to attend to
some minor cases in the intervals between them, and was beginning to
feel fatigue. There were but two tables, his own and another, presided
over by one of his assistants; a sheet had been hung between them,
to isolate the patients from each other. Although the sponge was kept
constantly at work the tables were always red, and the buckets that were
emptied over a bed of daisies a few steps away, the clear water in which
a single tumbler of blood sufficed to redden, seemed to be buckets of
unmixed blood, torrents of blood, inundating the gentle flowers of the
parterre. Although the room was thoroughly ventilated a nauseating smell
arose from the tables and their horrid burdens, mingled with the sweetly
insipid odor of chloroform.

Delaherche, naturally a soft-hearted man, was in a quiver of
compassionate emotion at the spectacle that lay before his eyes, when
his attention was attracted by a landau that drove up to the door. It
was a private carriage, but doubtless the ambulance attendants had found
none other ready to their hand and had crowded their patients into it.
There were eight of them, sitting on one another’s knees, and as the
last man alighted the manufacturer recognized Captain Beaudoin, and gave
utterance to a cry of terror and surprise.

“Ah, my poor friend! Wait, I will call my mother and my wife.”

They came running up, leaving the bandages to be rolled by servants. The
attendants had already raised the captain and brought him into the room,
and were about to lay him down upon a pile of straw when Delaherche
noticed, lying on a bed, a soldier whose ashy face and staring eyes
exhibited no sign of life.

“Look, is he not dead, that man?”

“That’s so!” replied the attendant. “He may as well make room for
someone else!”

He and one of his mates took the body by the arms and legs and carried
it off to the morgue that had been extemporized behind the lilac bushes.
A dozen corpses were already there in a row, stiff and stark, some drawn
out to their full length as if in an attempt to rid themselves of the
agony that racked them, others curled and twisted in every attitude
of suffering. Some seemed to have left the world with a sneer on their
faces, their eyes retroverted till naught was visible but the whites,
the grinning lips parted over the glistening teeth, while in others,
with faces unspeakably sorrowful, big tears still stood on the cheeks.
One, a mere boy, short and slight, half whose face had been shot away by
a cannon-ball, had his two hands clasped convulsively above his heart,
and in them a woman’s photograph, one of those pale, blurred pictures
that are made in the quarters of the poor, bedabbled with his blood.
And at the feet of the dead had been thrown in a promiscuous pile
the amputated arms and legs, the refuse of the knife and saw of the
operating table, just as the butcher sweeps into a corner of his shop
the offal, the worthless odds and ends of flesh and bone.

Gilberte shuddered as she looked on Captain Beaudoin. Good God! how pale
he was, stretched out on his mattress, his face so white beneath the
encrusting grime! And the thought that but a few short hours before he
had held her in his arms, radiant in all his manly strength and beauty,
sent a chill of terror to her heart. She kneeled beside him.

“What a terrible misfortune, my friend! But it won’t amount to anything,
will it?” And she drew her handkerchief from her pocket and began
mechanically to wipe his face, for she could not bear to look at it thus
soiled with powder, sweat, and clay. It seemed to her, too, that she
would be helping him by cleansing him a little. “Will it? it is only
your leg that is hurt; it won’t amount to anything.”

The captain made an effort to rouse himself from his semi-conscious
state, and opened his eyes. He recognized his friends and greeted them
with a faint smile.

“Yes, it is only the leg. I was not even aware of being hit; I thought I
had made a misstep and fallen--” He spoke with great difficulty. “Oh! I
am so thirsty!”

Mme. Delaherche, who was standing at the other side of the mattress,
looking down compassionately on the young man, hastily left the room.
She returned with a glass and a carafe of water into which a little
cognac had been poured, and when the captain had greedily swallowed the
contents of the glass, she distributed what remained in the carafe
among the occupants of the adjacent beds, who begged with trembling
outstretched hands and tearful voices for a drop. A zouave, for whom
there was none left, sobbed like a child in his disappointment.

Delaherche was meantime trying to gain the major’s ear to see if he
could not prevail on him to take up the captain’s case out of
its regular turn. Bouroche came into the room just then, with his
blood-stained apron and lion’s mane hanging in confusion about his
perspiring face, and the men raised their heads as he passed and
endeavored to stop him, all clamoring at once for recognition and
immediate attention: “This way, major! It’s my turn, major!” Faltering
words of entreaty went up to him, trembling hands clutched at his
garments, but he, wrapped up in the work that lay before him and puffing
with his laborious exertions, continued to plan and calculate and
listened to none of them. He communed with himself aloud, counting them
over with his finger and classifying them, assigning them their numbers;
this one first, then that one, then that other fellow; one, two, three;
the jaw, the arm, then the thigh; while the assistant who accompanied
him on his round made himself all ears in his effort to memorize his
directions.

“Major,” said Delaherche, plucking him by the sleeve, “there is an
officer over here, Captain Beaudoin--”

Bouroche interrupted him. “What, Beaudoin here! Ah, the poor devil!” And
he crossed over at once to the side of the wounded man. A single glance,
however, must have sufficed to show him that the case was a bad one,
for he added in the same breath, without even stooping to examine the
injured member: “Good! I will have them bring him to me at once, just as
soon as I am through with the operation that is now in hand.”

And he went back to the shed, followed by Delaherche, who would not lose
sight of him for fear lest he might forget his promise.

The business that lay before him now was the rescision of a
shoulder-joint in accordance with Lisfranc’s method, which surgeons
never fail to speak of as a “very pretty” operation, something neat
and expeditious, barely occupying forty seconds in the performance. The
patient was subjected to the influence of chloroform, while an assistant
grasped the shoulder with both hands, the fingers under the armpit, the
thumbs on top. Bouroche, brandishing the long, keen knife, cried: “Raise
him!” seized the deltoid with his left hand and with a swift movement of
the right cut through the flesh of the arm and severed the muscle;
then, with a deft rearward cut, he disarticulated the joint at a single
stroke, and presto! the arm fell on the table, taken off in three
motions. The assistant slipped his thumbs over the brachial artery in
such manner as to close it. “Let him down!” Bouroche could not restrain
a little pleased laugh as he proceeded to secure the artery, for he had
done it in thirty-five seconds. All that was left to do now was to
bring a flap of skin down over the wound and stitch it, in appearance
something like a flat epaulette. It was not only “pretty,” but exciting,
on account of the danger, for a man will pump all the blood out of his
body in two minutes through the brachial, to say nothing of the risk
there is in bringing a patient to a sitting posture when under the
influence of anaesthetics.

Delaherche was white as a ghost; a thrill of horror ran down his back.
He would have turned and fled, but time was not given him; the arm was
already off. The soldier was a new recruit, a sturdy peasant lad; on
emerging from his state of coma he beheld a hospital attendant carrying
away the amputated limb to conceal it behind the lilacs. Giving a quick
downward glance at his shoulder, he saw the bleeding stump and knew what
had been done, whereon he became furiously angry.

“Ah, _nom de Dieu!_ what have you been doing to me? It is a shame!”

Bouroche was too done up to make him an immediate answer, but presently,
in his fatherly way:

“I acted for the best; I didn’t want to see you kick the bucket, my boy.
Besides, I asked you, and you told me to go ahead.”

“I told you to go ahead! I did? How could I know what I was saying!” His
anger subsided and he began to weep scalding tears. “What is going to
become of me now?”

They carried him away and laid him on the straw, and gave the table and
its covering a thorough cleansing; and the buckets of blood-red water
that they threw out across the grass plot gave to the pale daisies a
still deeper hue of crimson.

When Delaherche had in some degree recovered his equanimity he was
astonished to notice that the bombardment was still going on. Why had
it not been silenced? Rose’s tablecloth must have been hoisted over the
citadel by that time, and yet it seemed as if the fire of the Prussian
batteries was more rapid and furious than ever. The uproar was such
that one could not hear his own voice; the sustained vibration tried the
stoutest nerves. On both operators and patients the effect could not
but be most unfavorable of those incessant detonations that seemed to
penetrate the inmost recesses of one’s being. The entire hospital was in
a state of feverish alarm and apprehension.

“I supposed it was all over; what can they mean by keeping it up?”
 exclaimed Delaherche, who was nervously listening, expecting each shot
would be the last.

Returning to Bouroche to remind him of his promise and conduct him to
the captain, he was astonished to find him seated on a bundle of straw
before two pails of iced water, into which he had plunged both his arms,
bared to the shoulder. The major, weary and disheartened, overwhelmed
by a sensation of deepest melancholy and dejection, had reached one of
those terrible moments when the practitioner becomes conscious of his
own impotency; he had exhausted his strength, physical and moral, and
taken this means to restore it. And yet he was not a weakling; he
was steady of hand and firm of heart; but the inexorable question had
presented itself to him: “What is the use?” The feeling that he could
accomplish so little, that so much must be left undone, had suddenly
paralyzed him. What was the use? since Death, in spite of his utmost
effort, would always be victorious. Two attendants came in, bearing
Captain Beaudoin on a stretcher.

“Major,” Delaherche ventured to say, “here is the captain.”

Bouroche opened his eyes, withdrew his arms from their cold bath, shook
and dried them on the straw. Then, rising to his feet:

“Ah, yes; the next one--Well, well, the day’s work is not yet done.”
 And he shook the tawny locks upon his lion’s head, rejuvenated and
refreshed, restored to himself once more by the invincible habit of duty
and the stern discipline of his profession.

“Good! just above the right ankle,” said Bouroche, with unusual
garrulity, intended to quiet the nerves of the patient. “You displayed
wisdom in selecting the location of your wound; one is not much the
worse for a hurt in that quarter. Now we’ll just take a little look at
it.”

But Beaudoin’s persistently lethargic condition evidently alarmed
him. He inspected the contrivance that had been applied by the field
attendant to check the flow of blood, which was simply a cord passed
around the leg outside the trousers and twisted tight with the
assistance of a bayonet sheath, with a growling request to be informed
what infernal ignoramus had done that. Then suddenly he saw how matters
were and was silent; while they were bringing him in from the field in
the overcrowded landau the improvised tourniquet had become loosened and
slipped down, thus giving rise to an extensive hemorrhage. He relieved
his feelings by storming at the hospital steward who was assisting him.

“You confounded snail, cut! Are you going to keep me here all day?”

The attendant cut away the trousers and drawers, then the shoe and sock,
disclosing to view the leg and foot in their pale nudity, stained with
blood. Just over the ankle was a frightful laceration, into which the
splinter of the bursting shell had driven a piece of the red cloth of
the trousers. The muscle protruded from the lips of the gaping orifice,
a roll of whitish, mangled tissue.

Gilberte had to support herself against one of the uprights of the shed.
Ah! that flesh, that poor flesh that was so white; now all torn and
maimed and bleeding! Despite the horror and terror of the sight she
could not turn away her eyes.

“Confound it!” Bouroche exclaimed, “they have made a nice mess here!”

He felt the foot and found it cold; the pulse, if any, was so feeble as
to be undistinguishable. His face was very grave, and he pursed his
lips in a way that was habitual with him when he had a more than usually
serious case to deal with.

“Confound it,” he repeated, “I don’t like the looks of that foot!”

The captain, whom his anxiety had finally aroused from his
semi-somnolent state, asked:

“What were you saying, major?”

Bouroche’s tactics, whenever an amputation became necessary, were never
to appeal directly to the patient for the customary authorization. He
preferred to have the patient accede to it voluntarily.

“I was saying that I don’t like the looks of that foot,” he murmured, as
if thinking aloud. “I am afraid we shan’t be able to save it.”

In a tone of alarm Beaudoin rejoined: “Come, major, there is no use
beating about the bush. What is your opinion?”

“My opinion is that you are a brave man, captain, and that you are going
to let me do what the necessity of the case demands.”

To Captain Beaudoin it seemed as if a sort of reddish vapor arose before
his eyes through which he saw things obscurely. He understood. But
notwithstanding the intolerable fear that appeared to be clutching at
his throat, he replied, unaffectedly and bravely:

“Do as you think best, major.”

The preparations did not consume much time. The assistant had saturated
a cloth with chloroform and was holding it in readiness; it was at once
applied to the patient’s nostrils. Then, just at the moment that the
brief struggle set in that precedes anaesthesia, two attendants raised
the captain and placed him on the mattress upon his back, in such a
position that the legs should be free; one of them retained his grasp on
the left limb, holding it flexed, while an assistant, seizing the right,
clasped it tightly with both his hands in the region of the groin in
order to compress the arteries.

Gilberte, when she saw Bouroche approach the victim with the glittering
steel, could endure no more.

“Oh, don’t! oh, don’t! it is too horrible!”

And she would have fallen had it not been that Mme. Delaherche put forth
her arm to sustain her.

“But why do you stay here?”

Both the women remained, however. They averted their eyes, not wishing
to see the rest; motionless and trembling they stood locked in each
other’s arms, notwithstanding the little love there was between them.

At no time during the day had the artillery thundered more loudly than
now. It was three o’clock, and Delaherche declared angrily that he gave
it up--he could not understand it. There could be no doubt about it now,
the Prussian batteries, instead of slackening their fire, were extending
it. Why? What had happened? It was as if all the forces of the nether
regions had been unchained; the earth shook, the heavens were on fire.
The ring of flame-belching mouths of bronze that encircled Sedan, the
eight hundred guns of the German armies, that were served with such
activity and raised such an uproar, were expending their thunders on the
adjacent fields; had that concentric fire been focused upon the city,
had the batteries on those commanding heights once begun to play upon
Sedan, it would have been reduced to ashes and pulverized into dust in
less than fifteen minutes. But now the projectiles were again commencing
to fall upon the houses, the crash that told of ruin and destruction
was heard more frequently. One exploded in the Rue des Voyards, another
grazed the tall chimney of the factory, and the bricks and mortar came
tumbling to the ground directly in front of the shed where the surgeons
were at work. Bouroche looked up and grumbled:

“Are they trying to finish our wounded for us? Really, this racket is
intolerable.”

In the meantime an attendant had seized the captain’s leg, and the
major, with a swift circular motion of his hand, made an incision in the
skin below the knee and some two inches below the spot where he intended
to saw the bone; then, still employing the same thin-bladed knife, that
he did not change in order to get on more rapidly, he loosened the skin
on the superior side of the incision and turned it back, much as one
would peel an orange. But just as he was on the point of dividing the
muscles a hospital steward came up and whispered in his ear:

“Number two has just slipped his cable.”

The major did not hear, owing to the fearful uproar.

“Speak up, can’t you! My ear drums are broken with their d-----d
cannon.”

“Number two has just slipped his cable.”

“Who is that, number two?”

“The arm, you know.”

“Ah, very good! Well, then, you can bring me number three, the jaw.”

And with wonderful dexterity, never changing his position, he cut
through the muscles clean down to the bone with a single motion of his
wrist. He laid bare the tibia and fibula, introduced between them an
implement to keep them in position, drew the saw across them once, and
they were sundered. And the foot remained in the hands of the attendant
who was holding it.

The flow of blood had been small, thanks to the pressure maintained by
the assistant higher up the leg, at the thigh. The ligature of the three
arteries was quickly accomplished, but the major shook his head, and
when the assistant had removed his fingers he examined the stump,
murmuring, certain that the patient could not hear as yet:

“It looks bad; there’s no blood coming from the arterioles.”

And he completed his diagnosis of the case by an expressive gesture:
Another poor fellow who was soon to answer the great roll-call! while
on his perspiring face was again seen that expression of weariness and
utter dejection, that hopeless, unanswerable: “What is the use?” since
out of every ten cases that they assumed the terrible responsibility of
operating on they did not succeed in saving four. He wiped his forehead,
and set to work to draw down the flap of skin and put in the three
sutures that were to hold it in place.

Delaherche having told Gilberte that the operation was completed, she
turned her gaze once more upon the table; she caught a glimpse of the
captain’s foot, however, as the attendant was carrying it away to the
place behind the lilacs. The charnel house there continued to receive
fresh occupants; two more corpses had recently been brought in and added
to the ghastly array, one with blackened lips still parted wide as
if rending the air with shrieks of anguish, the other, his form so
contorted and contracted in the convulsions of the last agony that he
was like a stunted, malformed boy. Unfortunately, there was beginning
to be a scarcity of room in the little secluded corner, and the human
debris had commenced to overflow and invade the adjacent alley. The
attendant hesitated a moment, in doubt what to do with the captain’s
foot, then finally concluded to throw it on the general pile.

“Well, captain, that’s over with,” the major said to Beaudoin when he
regained consciousness. “You’ll be all right now.”

But the captain did not show the cheeriness that follows a successful
operation. He opened his eyes and made an attempt to raise himself, then
fell back on his pillow, murmuring wearily, in a faint voice:

“Thanks, major. I’m glad it’s over.”

He was conscious of the pain, however, when the alcohol of the dressing
touched the raw flesh. He flinched a little, complaining that they were
burning him. And just as they were bringing up the stretcher preparatory
to carrying him back into the other room the factory was shaken to its
foundations by a most terrific explosion; a shell had burst directly
in the rear of the shed, in the small courtyard where the pump was
situated. The glass in the windows was shattered into fragments, and a
dense cloud of smoke came pouring into the ambulance. The wounded men,
stricken with panic terror, arose from their bed of straw; all were
clamoring with affright; all wished to fly at once.

Delaherche rushed from the building in consternation to see what damage
had been done. Did they mean to burn his house down over his head?
What did it all mean? Why did they open fire again when the Emperor had
ordered that it should cease?

“Thunder and lightning! Stir yourselves, will you!” Bouroche shouted
to his staff, who were standing about with pallid faces, transfixed by
terror. “Wash off the table; go and bring me in number three!”

They cleansed the table; and once more the crimson contents of the
buckets were hurled across the grass plot upon the bed of daisies, which
was now a sodden, blood-soaked mat of flowers and verdure. And Bouroche,
to relieve the tedium until the attendants should bring him “number
three,” applied himself to probing for a musket-ball, which, having
first broken the patient’s lower jaw, had lodged in the root of
the tongue. The blood flowed freely and collected on his fingers in
glutinous masses.

Captain Beaudoin was again resting on his mattress in the large room.
Gilberte and Mme. Delaherche had followed the stretcher when he was
carried from the operating table, and even Delaherche, notwithstanding
his anxiety, came in for a moment’s chat.

“Lie here and rest a few minutes, Captain. We will have a room prepared
for you, and you shall be our guest.”

But the wounded man shook off his lethargy and for a moment had command
of his faculties.

“No, it is not worth while; I feel that I am going to die.”

And he looked at them with wide eyes, filled with the horror of death.

“Oh, Captain! why do you talk like that?” murmured Gilberte, with a
shiver, while she forced a smile to her lips. “You will be quite well a
month hence.”

He shook his head mournfully, and in the room was conscious of no
presence save hers; on all his face was expressed his unutterable
yearning for life, his bitter, almost craven regret that he was to be
snatched away so young, leaving so many joys behind untasted.

“I am going to die, I am going to die. Oh! ‘tis horrible--”

Then suddenly he became conscious of his torn, soiled uniform and the
grime upon his hands, and it made him feel uncomfortable to be in the
company of women in such a state. It shamed him to show such weakness,
and his desire to look and be the gentleman to the last restored to
him his manhood. When he spoke again it was in a tone almost of
cheerfulness.

“If I have got to die, though, I would rather it should be with clean
hands. I should count it a great kindness, madame, if you would moisten
a napkin and let me have it.”

Gilberte sped away and quickly returned with the napkin, with which she
herself cleansed the hands of the dying man. Thenceforth, desirous of
quitting the scene with dignity, he displayed much firmness. Delaherche
did what he could to cheer him, and assisted his wife in the small
attentions she offered for his comfort. Old Mme. Delaherche, too,
in presence of the man whose hours were numbered, felt her enmity
subsiding. She would be silent, she who knew all and had sworn to impart
her knowledge to her son. What would it avail to excite discord in the
household, since death would soon obliterate all trace of the wrong?

The end came very soon. Captain Beaudoin, whose strength was ebbing
rapidly, relapsed into his comatose condition, and a cold sweat broke
out and stood in beads upon his neck and forehead. He opened his eyes
again, and began to feebly grope about him with his stiffening fingers,
as if feeling for a covering that was not there, pulling at it with a
gentle, continuous movement, as if to draw it up around his shoulders.

“It is cold--Oh! it is so cold.”

And so he passed from life, peacefully, without a struggle; and on his
wasted, tranquil face rested an expression of unspeakable melancholy.

Delaherche saw to it that the remains, instead of being borne away and
placed among the common dead, were deposited in one of the outbuildings
of the factory. He endeavored to prevail on Gilberte, who was tearful
and disconsolate, to retire to her apartment, but she declared that to
be alone now would be more than her nerves could stand, and begged to
be allowed to remain with her mother-in-law in the ambulance, where the
noise and movement would be a distraction to her. She was seen presently
running to carry a drink of water to a chasseur d’Afrique whom his fever
had made delirious, and she assisted a hospital steward to dress the
hand of a little recruit, a lad of twenty, who had had his thumb shot
away and come in on foot from the battlefield; and as he was jolly and
amusing, treating his wound with all the levity and nonchalance of the
Parisian rollicker, she was soon laughing and joking as merrily as he.

While the captain lay dying the cannonade seemed, if that were possible,
to have increased in violence; another shell had landed in the garden,
shattering one of the old elms. Terror-stricken men came running in to
say that all Sedan was in danger of destruction; a great fire had broken
out in the Faubourg de la Cassine. If the bombardment should continue
with such fury for any length of time there would be nothing left of the
city.

“It can’t be; I am going to see about it!” Delaherche exclaimed,
violently excited.

“Where are you going, pray?” asked Bouroche.

“Why, to the Sous-Prefecture, to see what the Emperor means by fooling
us in this way, with his talk of hoisting the white flag.”

For some few seconds the major stood as if petrified at the idea of
defeat and capitulation, which presented itself to him then for the
first time in the midst of his impotent efforts to save the lives of the
poor maimed creatures they were bringing in to him from the field. Rage
and grief were in his voice as he shouted:

“Go to the devil, if you will! All you can do won’t keep us from being
soundly whipped!”

On leaving the factory Delaherche found it no easy task to squeeze
his way through the throng; at every instant the crowd of straggling
soldiers that filled the streets received fresh accessions. He
questioned several of the officers whom he encountered; not one of them
had seen the white flag on the citadel. Finally he met a colonel, who
declared that he had caught a momentary glimpse of it: that it had been
run up and then immediately hauled down. That explained matters; either
the Germans had not seen it, or seeing it appear and disappear so
quickly, had inferred the distressed condition of the French and
redoubled their fire in consequence. There was a story in circulation
how a general officer, enraged beyond control at the sight of the flag,
had wrested it from its bearer, broken the staff, and trampled it in the
mud. And still the Prussian batteries continued to play upon the city,
shells were falling upon the roofs and in the streets, houses were in
flames; a woman had just been killed at the corner of the Rue Pont de
Meuse and the Place Turenne.

At the Sous-Prefecture Delaherche failed to find Rose at her usual
station in the janitor’s lodge. Everywhere were evidences of disorder;
all the doors were standing open; the reign of terror had commenced. As
there was no sentry or anyone to prevent, he went upstairs, encountering
on the way only a few scared-looking men, none of whom made any offer to
stop him. He had reached the first story and was hesitating what to do
next when he saw the young girl approaching him.

“Oh, M. Delaherche! isn’t this dreadful! Here, quick! this way, if you
would like to see the Emperor.”

On the left of the corridor a door stood ajar, and through the narrow
opening a glimpse could be had of the sovereign, who had resumed his
weary, anguished tramp between the fireplace and the window. Back and
forth he shuffled with heavy, dragging steps, and ceased not, despite
his unendurable suffering. An aide-de-camp had just entered the room--it
was he who had failed to close the door behind him--and Delaherche heard
the Emperor ask him in a sorrowfully reproachful voice:

“What is the reason of this continued firing, sir, after I gave orders
to hoist the white flag?”

The torture to him had become greater than he could bear, that
never-ceasing cannonade, that seemed to grow more furious with every
minute. Every time he approached the window it pierced him to the heart.
More spilling of blood, more useless squandering of human life! At every
moment the piles of corpses were rising higher on the battlefield, and
his was the responsibility. The compassionate instincts that entered so
largely into his nature revolted at it, and more than ten times already
he had asked that question of those who approached him.

“I gave orders to raise the white flag; tell me, why do they continue
firing?”

The aide-de-camp made answer in a voice so low that Delaherche failed to
catch its purport. The Emperor, moreover, seemed not to pause to listen,
drawn by some irresistible attraction to that window at which, each time
he approached it, he was greeted by that terrible salvo of artillery
that rent and tore his being. His pallor was greater even than it had
been before; his poor, pinched, wan face, on which were still visible
traces of the rouge that had been applied that morning, bore witness to
his anguish.

At that moment a short, quick-motioned man in dust-soiled uniform, whom
Delaherche recognized as General Lebrun, hurriedly crossed the corridor
and pushed open the door, without waiting to be announced. And scarcely
was he in the room when again was heard the Emperor’s so oft repeated
question.

“Why do they continue to fire, General, when I have given orders to
hoist the white flag?”

The aide-de-camp left the apartment, shutting the door behind him, and
Delaherche never knew what was the general’s answer. The vision had
faded from his sight.

“Ah!” said Rose, “things are going badly; I can see that clearly enough
by all those gentlemen’s faces. It is bad for my tablecloth, too; I am
afraid I shall never see it again; somebody told me it had been torn
in pieces. But it is for the Emperor that I feel most sorry in all this
business, for he is in a great deal worse condition than the marshal;
he would be much better off in his bed than in that room, where he is
wearing himself out with his everlasting walking.”

She spoke with much feeling, and on her pretty pink and white face there
was an expression of sincere pity, but Delaherche, whose Bonapartist
ardor had somehow cooled considerably during the last two days, said to
himself that she was a little fool. He nevertheless remained chatting
with her a moment in the hall below while waiting for General Lebrun to
take his departure, and when that officer appeared and left the building
he followed him.

General Lebrun had explained to the Emperor that if it was thought best
to apply for an armistice, etiquette demanded that a letter to that
effect, signed by the commander-in-chief of the French forces, should
be dispatched to the German commander-in-chief. He had also offered to
write the letter, go in search of General de Wimpffen, and obtain his
signature to it. He left the Sous-Prefecture with the letter in his
pocket, but apprehensive he might not succeed in finding de Wimpffen,
entirely ignorant as he was of the general’s whereabouts on the field of
battle. Within the ramparts of Sedan, moreover, the crowd was so dense
that he was compelled to walk his horse, which enabled Delaherche to
keep him in sight until he reached the Minil gate.

Once outside upon the road, however, General Lebrun struck into a
gallop, and when near Balan had the good fortune to fall in with the
chief. Only a few minutes previous to this the latter had written to the
Emperor: “Sire, come and put yourself at the head of your troops; they
will force a passage through the enemy’s lines for you, or perish in the
attempt;” therefore he flew into a furious passion at the mere mention
of the word armistice. No, no! he would sign nothing, he would fight
it out! This was about half-past three o’clock, and it was shortly
afterward that occurred the gallant, but mad attempt, the last serious
effort of the day, to pierce the Bavarian lines and regain possession of
Bazeilles. In order to put heart into the troops a ruse was resorted to:
in the streets of Sedan and in the fields outside the walls the shout
was raised: “Bazaine is coming up! Bazaine is at hand!” Ever since
morning many had allowed themselves to be deluded by that hope;
each time that the Germans opened fire with a fresh battery it was
confidently asserted to be the guns of the army of Metz. In the
neighborhood of twelve hundred men were collected, soldiers of all arms,
from every corps, and the little column bravely advanced into the storm
of missiles that swept the road, at double time. It was a splendid
spectacle of heroism and endurance while it lasted; the numerous
casualties did not check the ardor of the survivors, nearly five hundred
yards were traversed with a courage and nerve that seemed almost like
madness; but soon there were great gaps in the ranks, the bravest began
to fall back. What could they do against overwhelming numbers? It was a
mad attempt, anyway; the desperate effort of a commander who could
not bring himself to acknowledge that he was defeated. And it ended by
General de Wimpffen finding himself and General Lebrun alone together on
the Bazeilles road, which they had to make up their mind to abandon to
the enemy, for good and all. All that remained for them to do was to
retreat and seek security under the walls of Sedan.

Upon losing sight of the general at the Minil gate Delaherche had
hurried back to the factory at the best speed he was capable of,
impelled by an irresistible longing to have another look from his
observatory at what was going on in the distance. Just as he reached
his door, however, his progress was arrested a moment by encountering
Colonel de Vineuil, who, with his blood-stained boot, was being brought
in for treatment in a condition of semi-consciousness, upon a bed of
straw that had been prepared for him on the floor of a market-gardener’s
wagon. The colonel had persisted in his efforts to collect the scattered
fragments of his regiment until he dropped from his horse. He was
immediately carried upstairs and put to bed in a room on the first
floor, and Bouroche, who was summoned at once, finding the injury not
of a serious character, had only to apply a dressing to the wound,
from which he first extracted some bits of the leather of the boot.
The worthy doctor was wrought up to a high pitch of excitement; he
exclaimed, as he went downstairs, that he would rather cut off one of
his own legs than continue working in that unsatisfactory, slovenly way,
without a tithe of either the assistants or the appliances that he ought
to have. Below in the ambulance, indeed, they no longer knew where to
bestow the cases that were brought them, and had been obliged to have
recourse to the lawn, where they laid them on the grass. There were
already two long rows of them, exposed beneath the shrieking shells,
filling the air with their dismal plaints while waiting for his
ministrations. The number of cases brought in since noon exceeded four
hundred, and in response to Bouroche’s repeated appeals for assistance
he had been sent one young doctor from the city. Good as was his will,
he was unequal to the task; he probed, sliced, sawed, sewed like a
man frantic, and was reduced to despair to see his work continually
accumulating before him. Gilberte, satiated with sights of horror,
unable longer to endure the sad spectacle of blood and tears, remained
upstairs with her uncle, the colonel, leaving to Mme. Delaherche the
care of moistening fevered lips and wiping the cold sweat from the brow
of the dying.

Rapidly climbing the stairs to his terrace, Delaherche endeavored to
form some idea for himself of how matters stood. The city had
suffered less injury than was generally supposed; there was one great
conflagration, however, over in the Faubourg de la Cassine, from which
dense volumes of smoke were rising. Fort Palatinat had discontinued
its fire, doubtless because the ammunition was all expended; the guns
mounted on the Porte de Paris alone continued to make themselves heard
at infrequent intervals. But something that he beheld presently had
greater interest for his eyes than all beside; they had run up the white
flag on the citadel again, but it must be that it was invisible from the
battlefield, for there was no perceptible slackening of the fire. The
Balan road was concealed from his vision by the neighboring roofs; he
was unable to make out what the troops were doing in that direction.
Applying his eye to the telescope, however, which remained as he had
left it, directed on la Marfee, he again beheld the cluster of officers
that he had seen in that same place about midday. The master of them
all, that miniature toy-soldier in lead, half finger high, in whom he
had thought to recognize the King of Prussia, was there still, erect in
his plain, dark uniform before the other officers, who, in their showy
trappings, were for the most part reclining carelessly on the grass.
Among them were officers from foreign lands, aides-de-camp, generals,
high officials, princes; all of them with field glasses in their hands,
with which, since early morning, they had been watching every phase of
the death-struggle of the army of Chalons, as if they were at the play.
And the direful drama was drawing to its end.

From among the trees that clothed the summit of la Marfee King William
had just witnessed the junction of his armies. It was an accomplished
fact; the third army, under the leadership of his son, the Crown
Prince, advancing by the way of Saint-Menges and Fleigneux, had secured
possession of the plateau of Illy, while the fourth, commanded by the
Crown Prince of Saxony, turning the wood of la Garenne and, coming up
through Givonne and Daigny, had also reached its appointed rendezvous.
There, too, the XIth and Vth corps had joined hands with the XIIth corps
and the Guards. The gallant but ineffectual charge of Margueritte’s
division in its supreme effort to break through the hostile lines at the
very moment when the circle was being rounded out had elicited from the
king the exclamation: “Ah, the brave fellows!” Now the great movement,
inexorable as fate, the details of which had been arranged with such
mathematical precision, was complete, the jaws of the vise had closed,
and stretching on his either hand far in the distance, a mighty wall of
adamant surrounding the army of the French, were the countless men
and guns that called him master. At the north the contracting lines
maintained a constantly increasing pressure on the vanquished, forcing
them back upon Sedan under the merciless fire of the batteries that
lined the horizon in an array without a break. Toward the south, at
Bazeilles, where the conflict had ceased to rage and the scene was one
of mournful desolation, great clouds of smoke were rising from the ruins
of what had once been happy homes, while the Bavarians, now masters of
Balan, had advanced their batteries to within three hundred yards of the
city gates. And the other batteries, those posted on the left bank at
Pont Maugis, Noyers, Frenois, Wadelincourt, completing the impenetrable
rampart of flame and bringing it around to the sovereign’s feet on his
right, that had been spouting fire uninterruptedly for nearly twelve
hours, now thundered more loudly still.

But King William, to give his tired eyes a moment’s rest, dropped his
glass to his side and continued his observations with unassisted vision.
The sun was slanting downward to the woods on his left, about to set in
a sky where there was not a cloud, and the golden light that lay upon
the landscape was so transcendently clear and limpid that the most
insignificant objects stood out with startling distinctness. He could
almost count the houses in Sedan, whose windows flashed back the level
rays of the departing day-star, and the ramparts and fortifications,
outlined in black against the eastern sky, had an unwonted aspect of
frowning massiveness. Then, scattered among the fields to right and
left, were the pretty, smiling villages, reminding one of the toy
villages that come packed in boxes for the little ones; to the west
Donchery, seated at the border of her broad plain; Douzy and Carignan
to the east, among the meadows. Shutting in the picture to the north was
the forest of the Ardennes, an ocean of sunlit verdure, while the Meuse,
loitering with sluggish current through the plain with many a bend and
curve, was like a stream of purest molten gold in that caressing light.
And seen from that height, with the sun’s parting kiss resting on it,
the horrible battlefield, with its blood and smoke, became an exquisite
and highly finished miniature; the dead horsemen and disemboweled steeds
on the plateau of Floing were so many splashes of bright color; on
the right, in the direction of Givonne, those minute black specks that
whirled and eddied with such apparent lack of aim, like motes dancing in
the sunshine, were the retreating fragments of the beaten army; while on
the left a Bavarian battery on the peninsula of Iges, its guns the
size of matches, might have been taken for some mechanical toy as it
performed its evolutions with clockwork regularity. The victory was
crushing, exceeding all that the victor could have desired or hoped,
and the King felt no remorse in presence of all those corpses, of those
thousands of men that were as the dust upon the roads of that broad
valley where, notwithstanding the burning of Bazeilles, the slaughter
of Illy, the anguish of Sedan, impassive nature yet could don her gayest
robe and put on her brightest smile as the perfect day faded into the
tranquil evening.

But suddenly Delaherche descried a French officer climbing the steep
path up the flank of la Marfee; he was a general, wearing a blue tunic,
mounted on a black horse, and preceded by a hussar bearing a white
flag. It was General Reille, whom the Emperor had entrusted with this
communication for the King of Prussia: “My brother, as it has been
denied me to die at the head of my army, all that is left me is to
surrender my sword to Your Majesty. I am Your Majesty’s affectionate
brother, Napoleon.” Desiring to arrest the butchery and being no longer
master, the Emperor yielded himself a prisoner, in the hope to placate
the conqueror by the sacrifice. And Delaherche saw General Reille rein
up his charger and dismount at ten paces from the King, then advance and
deliver his letter; he was unarmed and merely carried a riding whip. The
sun was setting in a flood of rosy light; the King seated himself on a
chair in the midst of a grassy open space, and resting his hand on the
back of another chair that was held in place by a secretary, replied
that he accepted the sword and would await the appearance of an officer
empowered to settle the terms of the capitulation.



VII.

As when the ice breaks up and the great cakes come crashing, grinding
down upon the bosom of the swollen stream, carrying away all before
them, so now, from every position about Sedan that had been wrested from
the French, from Floing and the plateau of Illy, from the wood of la
Garenne, the valley of la Givonne and the Bazeilles road, the stampede
commenced; a mad torrent of horses, guns, and affrighted men came
pouring toward the city. It was a most unfortunate inspiration that
brought the army under the walls of that fortified place. There was too
much in the way of temptation there; the shelter that it afforded the
skulker and the deserter, the assurance of safety that even the
bravest beheld behind its ramparts, entailed widespread panic and
demoralization. Down there behind those protecting walls, so everyone
imagined, was safety from that terrible artillery that had been blazing
without intermission for near twelve hours; duty, manhood, reason were
all lost sight of; the man disappeared and was succeeded by the brute,
and their fierce instinct sent them racing wildly for shelter, seeking a
place where they might hide their head and lie down and sleep.

When Maurice, bathing Jean’s face with cool water behind the shelter of
their bit of wall, saw his friend open his eyes once more, he uttered an
exclamation of delight.

“Ah, poor old chap, I was beginning to fear you were done for! And don’t
think I say it to find fault, but really you are not so light as you
were when you were a boy.”

It seemed to Jean, in his still dazed condition, that he was awaking
from some unpleasant dream. Then his recollection returned to him
slowly, and two big tears rolled down his cheeks. To think that little
Maurice, so frail and slender, whom he had loved and petted like a
child, should have found strength to lug him all that distance!

“Let’s see what damage your knowledge-box has sustained.”

The wound was not serious; the bullet had plowed its way through the
scalp and considerable blood had flowed. The hair, which was now matted
with the coagulated gore, had served to stanch the current, therefore
Maurice refrained from applying water to the hurt, so as not to cause it
to bleed afresh.

“There, you look a little more like a civilized being, now that you have
a clean face on you. Let’s see if I can find something for you to wear
on your head.” And picking up the _kepi_ of a soldier who lay dead not
far away, he tenderly adjusted it on his comrade. “It fits you to a T.
Now if you can only walk everyone will say we are a very good-looking
couple.”

Jean got on his legs and gave his head a shake to assure himself it was
secure. It seemed a little heavier than usual, that was all; he thought
he should get along well enough. A great wave of tenderness swept
through his simple soul; he caught Maurice in his arms and hugged him to
his bosom, while all he could find to say was:

“Ah! dear boy, dear boy!”

But the Prussians were drawing near: it would not answer to loiter
behind the wall. Already Lieutenant Rochas, with what few men were left
him, was retreating, guarding the flag, which the sous-lieutenant still
carried under his arm, rolled around the staff. Lapoulle’s great height
enabled him to fire an occasional shot at the advancing enemy over
the coping of the wall, while Pache had slung his chassepot across his
shoulder by the strap, doubtless considering that he had done a fair
day’s work and it was time to eat and sleep. Maurice and Jean, stooping
until they were bent almost double, hastened to rejoin them. There was
no scarcity of muskets and ammunition; all they had to do was stoop and
pick them up. They equipped themselves afresh, having left everything
behind, knapsacks included, when one lugged the other out of danger
on his shoulders. The wall extended to the wood of la Garenne, and the
little band, believing that now their safety was assured, made a rush
for the protection afforded by some farm buildings, whence they readily
gained the shelter of the trees.

“Ah!” said Rochas, drawing a long breath, “we will remain here a moment
and get our wind before we resume the offensive.” No adversity could
shake his unwavering faith.

They had not advanced many steps before all felt that they were entering
the valley of death, but it was useless to think of retracing their
steps; their only line of retreat lay through the wood, and cross it
they must, at every hazard. At that time, instead of la Garenne, its
more fitting name would have been the wood of despair and death;
the Prussians, knowing that the French troops were retiring in that
direction, were riddling it with artillery and musketry. Its shattered
branches tossed and groaned as if enduring the scourging of a mighty
tempest. The shells hewed down the stalwart trees, the bullets brought
the leaves fluttering to the earth in showers; wailing voices seemed to
issue from the cleft trunks, sobs accompanied the little twigs as they
fell bleeding from the parent stem. It might have been taken for the
agony of some vast multitude, held there in chains and unable to flee
under the pelting of that pitiless iron hail; the shrieks, the terror
of thousands of creatures rooted to the ground. Never was anguish so
poignant as of that bombarded forest.

Maurice and Jean, who by this time had caught up with their companions,
were greatly alarmed. The wood where they then were was a growth of
large trees, and there was no obstacle to their running, but the
bullets came whistling about their ears from every direction, making it
impossible for them to avail themselves of the shelter of the trunks.
Two men were killed, one of them struck in the back, the other in front.
A venerable oak, directly in Maurice’s path, had its trunk shattered by
a shell, and sank, with the stately grace of a mailed paladin, carrying
down all before it, and even as the young man was leaping back the top
of a gigantic ash on his left, struck by another shell, came crashing to
the ground like some tall cathedral spire. Where could they fly? whither
bend their steps? Everywhere the branches were falling; it was as
one who should endeavor to fly from some vast edifice menaced with
destruction, only to find himself in each room he enters in succession
confronted with crumbling walls and ceilings. And when, in order to
escape being crushed by the big trees, they took refuge in a thicket of
bushes, Jean came near being killed by a projectile, only it fortunately
failed to explode. They could no longer make any progress now on account
of the dense growth of the shrubbery; the supple branches caught them
around the shoulders, the rank, tough grass held them by the ankles,
impenetrable walls of brambles rose before them and blocked their way,
while all the time the foliage was fluttering down about them, clipped
by the gigantic scythe that was mowing down the wood. Another man was
struck dead beside them by a bullet in the forehead, and he retained
his erect position, caught in some vines between two small birch trees.
Twenty times, while they were prisoners in that thicket, did they feel
death hovering over them.

“Holy Virgin!” said Maurice, “we shall never get out of this alive.”

His face was ashy pale, he was shivering again with terror; and Jean,
always so brave, who had cheered and comforted him that morning, he,
also, was very white and felt a strange, chill sensation creeping down
his spine. It was fear, horrible, contagious, irresistible fear. Again
they were conscious of a consuming thirst, an intolerable dryness of the
mouth, a contraction of the throat, painful as if someone were choking
them. These symptoms were accompanied by nausea and qualms at the pit
of the stomach, while maleficent goblins kept puncturing their aguish,
trembling legs with needles. Another of the physical effects of their
fear was that in the congested condition of the blood vessels of the
retina they beheld thousands upon thousands of small black specks
flitting past them, as if it had been possible to distinguish the flying
bullets.

“Confound the luck!” Jean stammered. “It is not worth speaking of, but
it’s vexatious all the same, to be here getting one’s head broken for
other folks, when those other folks are at home, smoking their pipe in
comfort.”

“Yes, that’s so,” Maurice replied, with a wild look. “Why should it be I
rather than someone else?”

It was the revolt of the individual Ego, the unaltruistic refusal of the
one to make himself a sacrifice for the benefit of the species.

“And then again,” Jean continued, “if a fellow could but know the rights
of the matter; if he could be sure that any good was to come from it
all.” Then turning his head and glancing at the western sky: “Anyway,
I wish that blamed sun would hurry up and go to roost. Perhaps they’ll
stop fighting when it’s dark.”

With no distinct idea of what o’clock it was and no means of measuring
the flight of time, he had long been watching the tardy declination
of the fiery disk, which seemed to him to have ceased to move, hanging
there in the heavens over the woods of the left bank. And this was
not owing to any lack of courage on his part; it was simply the
overmastering, ever increasing desire, amounting to an imperious
necessity, to be relieved from the screaming and whistling of those
projectiles, to run away somewhere and find a hole where he might hide
his head and lose himself in oblivion. Were it not for the feeling of
shame that is implanted in men’s breasts and keeps them from showing the
white feather before their comrades, every one of them would lose his
head and run, in spite of himself, like the veriest poltroon.

Maurice and Jean, meanwhile, were becoming somewhat more accustomed to
their surroundings, and even when their terror was at its highest there
came to them a sort of exalted self-unconsciousness that had in it
something of bravery. They finally reached a point when they did not
even hasten their steps as they made their way through the accursed
wood. The horror of the bombardment was even greater than it had been
previously among that race of sylvan denizens, killed at their post,
struck down on every hand, like gigantic, faithful sentries. In the
delicious twilight that reigned, golden-green, beneath their umbrageous
branches, among the mysterious recesses of romantic, moss-carpeted
retreats, Death showed his ill-favored, grinning face. The solitary
fountains were contaminated; men fell dead in distant nooks whose depths
had hitherto been trod by none save wandering lovers. A bullet pierced a
man’s chest; he had time to utter the one word: “hit!” and fell forward
on his face, stone dead. Upon the lips of another, who had both legs
broken by a shell, the gay laugh remained; unconscious of his hurt, he
supposed he had tripped over a root. Others, injured mortally, would run
on for some yards, jesting and conversing, until suddenly they went down
like a log in the supreme convulsion. The severest wounds were hardly
felt at the moment they were received; it was only at a later period
that the terrible suffering commenced, venting itself in shrieks and hot
tears.

Ah, that accursed wood, that wood of slaughter and despair, where, amid
the sobbing of the expiring trees, arose by degrees and swelled the
agonized clamor of wounded men. Maurice and Jean saw a zouave, nearly
disemboweled, propped against the trunk of an oak, who kept up a most
terrific howling, without a moment’s intermission. A little way beyond
another man was actually being slowly roasted; his clothing had taken
fire and the flames had run up and caught his beard, while he, paralyzed
by a shot that had broken his back, was silently weeping scalding tears.
Then there was a captain, who, one arm torn from its socket and his
flank laid open to the thigh, was writhing on the ground in agony
unspeakable, beseeching, in heartrending accents, the by-passers to end
his suffering. There were others, and others, and others still, whose
torments may not be described, strewing the grass-grown paths in such
numbers that the utmost caution was required to avoid treading them
under foot. But the dead and wounded had ceased to count; the comrade
who fell by the way was abandoned to his fate, forgotten as if he had
never been. No one turned to look behind. It was his destiny, poor
devil! Next it would be someone else, themselves, perhaps.

They were approaching the edge of the wood when a cry of distress was
heard behind them.

“Help! help!”

It was the subaltern standard-bearer, who had been shot through the left
lung. He had fallen, the blood pouring in a stream from his mouth, and
as no one heeded his appeal he collected his fast ebbing strength for
another effort:

“To the colors!”

Rochas turned and in a single bound was at his side. He took the flag,
the staff of which had been broken in the fall, while the young officer
murmured in words that were choked by the bubbling tide of blood and
froth:

“Never mind me; I am a goner. Save the flag!”

And they left him to himself in that charming woodland glade to writhe
in protracted agony upon the ground, tearing up the grass with his
stiffening fingers and praying for death, which would be hours yet ere
it came to end his misery.

At last they had left the wood and its horrors behind them. Beside
Maurice and Jean all that were left of the little band were Lieutenant
Rochas, Lapoulle and Pache. Gaude, who had strayed away from his
companions, presently came running from a thicket to rejoin them, his
bugle hanging from his neck and thumping against his back with every
step he took. It was a great comfort to them all to find themselves once
again in the open country, where they could draw their breath; and then,
too, there were no longer any whistling bullets and crashing shells to
harass them; the firing had ceased on this side of the valley.

The first object they set eyes on was an officer who had reined in his
smoking, steaming charger before a farm-yard gate and was venting
his towering rage in a volley of Billingsgate. It was General
Bourgain-Desfeuilles, the commander of their brigade, covered with dust
and looking as if he was about to tumble from his horse with fatigue.
The chagrin on his gross, high-colored, animal face told how deeply he
took to heart the disaster that he regarded in the light of a personal
misfortune. His command had seen nothing of him since morning. Doubtless
he was somewhere on the battlefield, striving to rally the remnants of
his brigade, for he was not the man to look closely to his own safety
in his rage against those Prussian batteries that had at the same time
destroyed the empire and the fortunes of a rising officer, the favorite
of the Tuileries.

“_Tonnerre de Dieu!_” he shouted, “is there no one of whom one can ask a
question in this d-----d country?”

The farmer’s people had apparently taken to the woods. At last a very
old woman appeared at the door, some servant who had been forgotten, or
whose feeble legs had compelled her to remain behind.

“Hallo, old lady, come here! Which way from here is Belgium?”

She looked at him stupidly, as one who failed to catch his meaning. Then
he lost all control of himself and effervesced, forgetful that the woman
was only a poor peasant, bellowing that he had no idea of going back to
Sedan to be caught like a rat in a trap; not he! he was going to make
tracks for foreign parts, he was, and d-----d quick, too! Some soldiers
had come up and stood listening.

“But you won’t get through, General,” spoke up a sergeant; “the
Prussians are everywhere. This morning was the time for you to cut
stick.”

There were stories even then in circulation of companies that had become
separated from their regiments and crossed the frontier without any
intention of doing so, and of others that, later in the day, had
succeeded in breaking through the enemy’s lines before the armies had
effected their final junction.

The general shrugged his shoulders impatiently. “What, with a few daring
fellows of your stripe, do you mean to say we couldn’t go where we
please? I think I can find fifty daredevils to risk their skin in the
attempt.” Then, turning again to the old peasant: “_Eh!_ you old mummy,
answer, will you, in the devil’s name! where is the frontier?”

She understood him this time. She extended her skinny arm in the
direction of the forest.

“That way, that way!”

“Eh? What’s that you say? Those houses that we see down there, at the
end of the field?”

“Oh! farther, much farther. Down yonder, away down yonder!”

The general seemed as if his anger must suffocate him. “It is too
disgusting, an infernal country like this! one can make neither top nor
tail of it. There was Belgium, right under our nose; we were all afraid
we should put our foot in it without knowing it; and now that one wants
to go there it is somewhere else. No, no! it is too much; I’ve had
enough of it; let them take me prisoner if they will, let them do what
they choose with me; I am going to bed!” And clapping spurs to his
horse, bobbing up and down on his saddle like an inflated wine skin, he
galloped off toward Sedan.

A winding path conducted the party down into the Fond de Givonne, an
outskirt of the city lying between two hills, where the single village
street, running north and south and sloping gently upward toward the
forest, was lined with gardens and modest houses. This street was just
then so obstructed by flying soldiers that Lieutenant Rochas, with
Pache, Lapoulle, and Gaude, found himself caught in the throng and
unable for the moment to move in either direction. Maurice and Jean
had some difficulty in rejoining them; and all were surprised to hear
themselves hailed by a husky, drunken voice, proceeding from the tavern
on the corner, near which they were blockaded.

“My stars, if here ain’t the gang! Hallo, boys, how are you? My stars,
I’m glad to see you!”

They turned, and recognized Chouteau, leaning from a window of the
ground floor of the inn. He seemed to be very drunk, and went on,
interspersing his speech with hiccoughs:

“Say, fellows, don’t stand on ceremony if you’re thirsty. There’s enough
left for the comrades.” He turned unsteadily and called to someone who
was invisible within the room: “Come here, you lazybones. Give these
gentlemen something to drink--”

Loubet appeared in turn, advancing with a flourish and holding aloft in
either hand a full bottle, which he waved above his head triumphantly.
He was not so far gone as his companion; with his Parisian _blague_,
imitating the nasal drawl of the coco-venders of the boulevards on a
public holiday, he cried:

“Here you are, nice and cool, nice and cool! Who’ll have a drink?”

Nothing had been seen of the precious pair since they had vanished
under pretense of taking Sergeant Sapin into the ambulance. It was
sufficiently evident that since then they had been strolling and seeing
the sights, taking care to keep out of the way of the shells, until
finally they had brought up at this inn that was given over to pillage.

Lieutenant Rochas was very angry. “Wait a bit, you scoundrels, just
wait, and I’ll attend to your case! deserting and getting drunk while
the rest of your company were under fire!”

But Chouteau would have none of his reprimand. “See here, you old
lunatic, I want you to understand that the grade of lieutenant is
abolished; we are all free and equal now. Aren’t you satisfied with the
basting the Prussians gave you to-day, or do you want some more?”

The others had to restrain the lieutenant to keep him from assaulting
the socialist. Loubet himself, dandling his bottles affectionately in
his arms, did what he could to pour oil upon the troubled waters.

“Quit that, now! what’s the use quarreling, when all men are brothers!”
 And catching sight of Lapoulle and Pache, his companions in the squad:
“Don’t stand there like great gawks, you fellows! Come in here and take
something to wash the dust out of your throats.”

Lapoulle hesitated a moment, dimly conscious of the impropriety there
was in the indulgence when so many poor devils were in such sore
distress, but he was so knocked up with fatigue, so terribly hungry and
thirsty! He said not a word, but suddenly making up his mind, gave one
bound and landed in the room, pushing before him Pache, who, equally
silent, yielded to the temptation he had not strength to resist. And
they were seen no more.

“The infernal scoundrels!” muttered Rochas. “They deserve to be shot,
every mother’s son of them!”

He had now remaining with him of his party only Jean, Maurice, and
Gaude, and all four of them, notwithstanding their resistance, were
gradually involved and swallowed up in the torrent of stragglers and
fugitives that streamed along the road, filling its whole width from
ditch to ditch. Soon they were at a distance from the inn. It was the
routed army rolling down upon the ramparts of Sedan, a roily, roaring
flood, such as the disintegrated mass of earth and boulders that the
storm, scouring the mountainside, sweeps down into the valley. From all
the surrounding plateaus, down every slope, up every narrow gorge, by
the Floing road, by Pierremont, by the cemetery, by the Champ de Mars,
as well as through the Fond de Givonne, the same sorry rabble was
streaming cityward in panic haste, and every instant brought fresh
accessions to its numbers. And who could reproach those wretched men,
who, for twelve long, mortal hours, had stood in motionless array under
the murderous artillery of an invisible enemy, against whom they could
do nothing? The batteries now were playing on them from front, flank,
and rear; as they drew nearer the city they presented a fairer mark
for the convergent fire; the guns dealt death and destruction out by
wholesale on that dense, struggling mass of men in that accursed hole,
where there was no escape from the bursting shells. Some regiments of
the 7th corps, more particularly those that had been stationed about
Floing, had left the field in tolerably good order, but in the Fond de
Givonne there was no longer either organization or command; the troops
were a pushing, struggling mob, composed of debris from regiments of
every description, zouaves, turcos, chasseurs, infantry of the line,
most of them without arms, their uniforms soiled and torn, with grimy
hands, blackened faces, bloodshot eyes starting from their sockets and
lips swollen and distorted from their yells of fear or rage. At times
a riderless horse would dash through the throng, overturning those who
were in his path and leaving behind him a long wake of consternation.
Then some guns went thundering by at breakneck speed, a retreating
battery abandoned by its officers, and the drivers, as if drunk, rode
down everything and everyone, giving no word of warning. And still the
shuffling tramp of many feet along the dusty road went on and ceased
not, the close-compacted column pressed on, breast to back, side to
side; a retreat _en masse_, where vacancies in the ranks were filled as
soon as made, all moved by one common impulse, to reach the shelter that
lay before them and be behind a wall.

Again Jean raised his head and gave an anxious glance toward the west;
through the dense clouds of dust raised by the tramp of that great
multitude the luminary still poured his scorching rays down upon the
exhausted men. The sunset was magnificent, the heavens transparently,
beautifully blue.

“It’s a nuisance, all the same,” he muttered, “that plaguey sun that
stays up there and won’t go to roost!”

Suddenly Maurice became aware of the presence of a young woman whom the
movement of the resistless throng had jammed against a wall and who
was in danger of being injured, and on looking more attentively was
astounded to recognize in her his sister Henriette. For near a minute
he stood gazing at her in open-mouthed amazement, and finally it was
she who spoke, without any appearance of surprise, as if she found the
meeting entirely natural.

“They shot him at Bazeilles--and I was there. Then, in the hope that
they might at least let me have his body, I had an idea--”

She did not mention either Weiss or the Prussians by name; it seemed to
her that everyone must understand. Maurice did understand. It made his
heart bleed; he gave a great sob.

“My poor darling!”

When, about two o’clock, Henriette recovered consciousness, she found
herself at Balan, in the kitchen of some people who were strangers to
her, her head resting on a table, weeping. Almost immediately, however,
she dried her tears; already the heroic element was reasserting
itself in that silent woman, so frail, so gentle, yet of a spirit so
indomitable that she could suffer martyrdom for the faith, or the love,
that was in her. She knew not fear; her quiet, undemonstrative courage
was lofty and invincible. When her distress was deepest she had summoned
up her resolution, devoting her reflections to how she might recover her
husband’s body, so as to give it decent burial. Her first project
was neither more nor less than to make her way back to Bazeilles, but
everyone advised her against this course, assuring her that it would
be absolutely impossible to get through the German lines. She therefore
abandoned the idea, and tried to think of someone among her acquaintance
who would afford her the protection of his company, or at least assist
her in the necessary preliminaries. The person to whom she determined
she would apply was a M. Dubreuil, a cousin of hers, who had been
assistant superintendent of the refinery at Chene at the time her
husband was employed there; Weiss had been a favorite of his; he would
not refuse her his assistance. Since the time, now two years ago, when
his wife had inherited a handsome fortune, he had been occupying a
pretty villa, called the Hermitage, the terraces of which could be seen
skirting the hillside of a suburb of Sedan, on the further side of the
Fond de Givonne. And thus it was toward the Hermitage that she was now
bending her steps, compelled at every moment to pause before some fresh
obstacle, continually menaced with being knocked down and trampled to
death.

Maurice, to whom she briefly explained her project, gave it his
approval.

“Cousin Dubreuil has always been a good friend to us. He will be of
service to you.”

Then an idea of another nature occurred to him. Lieutenant Rochas was
greatly embarrassed as to what disposition he should make of the flag.
They all were firmly resolved to save it--to do anything rather than
allow it to fall into the hands of the Prussians. It had been suggested
to cut it into pieces, of which each should carry one off under his
shirt, or else to bury it at the foot of a tree, so noting the locality
in memory that they might be able to come and disinter it at some future
day; but the idea of mutilating the flag, or burying it like a corpse,
affected them too painfully, and they were considering if they might not
preserve it in some other manner. When Maurice, therefore, proposed to
entrust the standard to a reliable person who would conceal it and, in
case of necessity, defend it, until such day as he should restore it to
them intact, they all gave their assent.

“Come,” said the young man, addressing his sister, “we will go with you
to the Hermitage and see if Dubreuil is there. Besides, I do not wish to
leave you without protection.”

It was no easy matter to extricate themselves from the press, but they
succeeded finally and entered a path that led upward on their left. They
soon found themselves in a region intersected by a perfect labyrinth
of lanes and narrow passages, a district where truck farms and gardens
predominated, interspersed with an occasional villa and small holdings
of extremely irregular outline, and these lanes and passages wound
circuitously between blank walls, turning sharp corners at every few
steps and bringing up abruptly in the cul-de-sac of some courtyard,
affording admirable facilities for carrying on a guerilla warfare; there
were spots where ten men might defend themselves for hours against a
regiment. Desultory firing was already beginning to be heard, for the
suburb commanded Balan, and the Bavarians were already coming up on the
other side of the valley.

When Maurice and Henriette, who were in the rear of the others, had
turned once to the left, then to the right and then to the left again,
following the course of two interminable walls, they suddenly came out
before the Hermitage, the door of which stood wide open. The grounds,
at the top of which was a small park, were terraced off in three broad
terraces, on one of which stood the residence, a roomy, rectangular
structure, approached by an avenue of venerable elms. Facing it, and
separated from it by the deep, narrow valley, with its steeply sloping
banks, were other similar country seats, backed by a wood.

Henriette’s anxiety was aroused at sight of the open door, “They are not
at home,” she said; “they must have gone away.”

The truth was that Dubreuil had decided the day before to take his
wife and children to Bouillon, where they would be in safety from the
disaster he felt was impending. And yet the house was not unoccupied;
even at a distance and through the intervening trees the approaching
party were conscious of movements going on within its walls. As the
young woman advanced into the avenue she recoiled before the dead body
of a Prussian soldier.

“The devil!” exclaimed Rochas; “so they have already been exchanging
civilities in this quarter!”

Then all hands, desiring to ascertain what was going on, hurried forward
to the house, and there their curiosity was quickly gratified; the
doors and windows of the _rez-de-chaussee_ had been smashed in with
musket-butts and the yawning apertures disclosed the destruction that
the marauders had wrought in the rooms within, while on the graveled
terrace lay various articles of furniture that had been hurled from
the stoop. Particularly noticeable was a drawing-room suite in
sky-blue satin, its sofa and twelve fauteuils piled in dire confusion,
helter-skelter, on and around a great center table, the marble top of
which was broken in twain. And there were zouaves, chasseurs, liners,
and men of the infanterie de marine running to and fro excitedly behind
the buildings and in the alleys, discharging their pieces into the
little wood that faced them across the valley.

“Lieutenant,” a zouave said to Rochas, by way of explanation, “we found
a pack of those dirty Prussian hounds here, smashing things and raising
Cain generally. We settled their hash for them, as you can see for
yourself; only they will be coming back here presently, ten to our one,
and that won’t be so pleasant.”

Three other corpses of Prussian soldiers were stretched upon the
terrace. As Henriette was looking at them absently, her thoughts
doubtless far away with her husband, who, amid the blood and ashes of
Bazeilles, was also sleeping his last sleep, a bullet whistled close to
her head and struck a tree that stood behind her. Jean sprang forward.

“Madame, don’t stay there. Go inside the house, quick, quick!”

His heart overflowed with pity as he beheld the change her terrible
affliction had wrought in her, and he recalled her image as she had
appeared to him only the day before, her face bright with the kindly
smile of the happy, loving wife. At first he had found no word to say
to her, hardly knowing even if she would recognize him. He felt that he
could gladly give his life, if that would serve to restore her peace of
mind.

“Go inside, and don’t come out. At the first sign of danger we will come
for you, and we will all escape together by way of the wood up yonder.”

But she apathetically replied:

“Ah, M. Jean, what is the use?”

Her brother, however, was also urging her, and finally she ascended
the stoop and took her position within the vestibule, whence her vision
commanded a view of the avenue in its entire length. She was a spectator
of the ensuing combat.

Maurice and Jean had posted themselves behind one of the elms near
the house. The gigantic trunks of the centenarian monarchs were amply
sufficient to afford shelter to two men. A little way from them Gaude,
the bugler, had joined forces with Lieutenant Rochas, who, unwilling to
confide the flag to other hands, had rested it against the tree at his
side while he handled his musket. And every trunk had its defenders;
from end to end the avenue was lined with men covered, Indian fashion,
by the trees, who only exposed their head when ready to fire.

In the wood across the valley the Prussians appeared to be receiving
re-enforcements, for their fire gradually grew warmer. There was no one
to be seen; at most, the swiftly vanishing form now and then of a man
changing his position. A villa, with green shutters, was occupied
by their sharpshooters, who fired from the half-open windows of the
_rez-de-chaussee_. It was about four o’clock, and the noise of the
cannonade in the distance was diminishing, the guns were being
silenced one by one; and there they were, French and Prussians, in that
out-of-the-way-corner whence they could not see the white flag floating
over the citadel, still engaged in the work of mutual slaughter, as if
their quarrel had been a personal one. Notwithstanding the armistice
there were many such points where the battle continued to rage until it
was too dark to see; the rattle of musketry was heard in the faubourg of
the Fond de Givonne and in the gardens of Petit-Pont long after it had
ceased elsewhere.

For a quarter of an hour the bullets flew thick and fast from one side
of the valley to the other. Now and again someone who was so incautious
as to expose himself went down with a ball in his head or chest. There
were three men lying dead in the avenue. The rattling in the throat of
another man who had fallen prone upon his face was something horrible to
listen to, and no one thought to go and turn him on his back to ease
his dying agony. Jean, who happened to look around just at that moment,
beheld Henriette glide tranquilly down the steps, approach the wounded
man and turn him over, then slip a knapsack beneath his head by way of
pillow. He ran and seized her and forcibly brought her back behind the
tree where he and Maurice were posted.

“Do you wish to be killed?”

She appeared to be entirely unconscious of the danger to which she had
exposed herself.

“Why, no--but I am afraid to remain in that house, all alone. I would
rather be outside.”

And so she stayed with them. They seated her on the ground at their
feet, against the trunk of the tree, and went on expending the few
cartridges that were left them, blazing away to right and left, with
such fury that they quite forgot their sensations of fear and fatigue.
They were utterly unconscious of what was going on around them,
acting mechanically, with but one end in view; even the instinct of
self-preservation had deserted them.

“Look, Maurice,” suddenly said Henriette; “that dead soldier there
before us, does he not belong to the Prussian Guard?”

She had been eying attentively for the past minute or two one of the
dead bodies that the enemy had left behind them when they retreated, a
short, thick-set young man, with big mustaches, lying upon his side on
the gravel of the terrace.

The chin-strap had broken, releasing the spiked helmet, which had rolled
away a few steps. And it was indisputable that the body was attired in
the uniform of the Guard; the dark gray trousers, the blue tunic with
white facings, the greatcoat rolled and worn, belt-wise, across the
shoulder.

“It is the Guard uniform,” she said; “I am quite certain of it. It is
exactly like the colored plate I have at home, and then the photograph
that Cousin Gunther sent us--” She stopped suddenly, and with her
unconcerned, fearless air, before anyone could make a motion to detain
her, walked up to the corpse, bent down and read the number of the
regiment. “Ah, the Forty-third!” she exclaimed. “I knew it.”

And she returned to her position, while a storm of bullets
whistled around her ears. “Yes, the Forty-third; Cousin Gunther’s
regiment--something told me it must be so. Ah! if my poor husband were
only here!”

After that all Jean’s and Maurice’s entreaties were ineffectual to make
her keep quiet. She was feverishly restless, constantly protruding her
head to peer into the opposite wood, evidently harassed by some anxiety
that preyed upon her mind. Her companions continued to load and fire
with the same blind fury, pushing her back with their knee whenever she
exposed herself too rashly. It looked as if the Prussians were beginning
to consider that their numbers would warrant them in attacking, for
they showed themselves more frequently and there were evidences of
preparations going on behind the trees. They were suffering severely,
however, from the fire of the French, whose bullets at that short range
rarely failed to bring down their man.

“That may be your cousin,” said Jean. “Look, that officer over there,
who has just come out of the house with the green shutters.”

He was a captain, as could be seen by the gold braid on the collar of
his tunic and the golden eagle on his helmet that flashed back the level
ray of the setting sun. He had discarded his epaulettes, and carrying
his saber in his right hand, was shouting an order in a sharp,
imperative voice; and the distance between them was so small, a scant
two hundred yards, that every detail of his trim, slender figure was
plainly discernible, as well as the pinkish, stern face and slight blond
mustache.

Henriette scrutinized him with attentive eyes. “It is he,” she replied,
apparently unsurprised. “I recognize him perfectly.”

With a look of concentrated rage Maurice drew his piece to his shoulder
and covered him. “The cousin--Ah! sure as there is a God in heaven he
shall pay for Weiss.”

But, quivering with excitement, she jumped to her feet and knocked up
the weapon, whose charge was wasted on the air.

“Stop, stop! we must not kill acquaintances, relatives! It is too
barbarous.”

And, all her womanly instincts coming back to her, she sank down behind
the tree and gave way to a fit of violent weeping. The horror of it all
was too much for her; in her great dread and sorrow she was forgetful of
all beside.

Rochas, meantime, was in his element. He had excited the few zouaves and
other troops around him to such a pitch of frenzy, their fire had become
so murderously effective at sight of the Prussians, that the latter
first wavered and then retreated to the shelter of their wood.

“Stand your ground, my boys! don’t give way an inch! Aha, see ‘em run,
the cowards! we’ll fix their flint for ‘em!”

He was in high spirits and seemed to have recovered all his unbounded
confidence, certain that victory was yet to crown their efforts. There
had been no defeat. The handful of men before him stood in his eyes for
the united armies of Germany, and he was going to destroy them at his
leisure. All his long, lean form, all his thin, bony face, where the
huge nose curved down upon the self-willed, sensual mouth, exhaled a
laughing, vain-glorious satisfaction, the joy of the conquering trooper
who goes through the world with his sweetheart on his arm and a bottle
of good wine in his hand.

“_Parbleu_, my children, what are we here for, I’d like to know, if not
to lick ‘em out of their boots? and that’s the way this affair is going
to end, just mark my words. We shouldn’t know ourselves any longer if
we should let ourselves be beaten. Beaten! come, come, that is too good!
When the neighbors tread on our toes, or when we feel we are beginning
to grow rusty for want of something to do, we just turn to and give ‘em
a thrashing; that’s all there is to it. Come, boys, let ‘em have it once
more, and you’ll see ‘em run like so many jackrabbits!”

He bellowed and gesticulated like a lunatic, and was such a good fellow
withal in the comforting illusion of his ignorance that the men were
inoculated with his confidence. He suddenly broke out again:

“And we’ll kick ‘em, we’ll kick ‘em, we’ll kick ‘em to the frontier!
Victory, victory!”

But at that juncture, just as the enemy across the valley seemed really
to be falling back, a hot fire of musketry came pouring in on them from
the left. It was a repetition of the everlasting flanking movement that
had done the Prussians such good service; a strong detachment of the
Guards had crept around toward the French rear through the Fond de
Givonne. It was useless to think of holding the position longer; the
little band of men who were defending the terraces were caught between
two fires and menaced with being cut off from Sedan. Men fell on every
side, and for a moment the confusion was extreme; the Prussians were
already scaling the wall of the park, and advancing along the pathways.
Some zouaves rushed forward to repel them, and there was a fierce
hand-to-hand struggle with the bayonet. There was one zouave, a big,
handsome, brown-bearded man, bare-headed and with his jacket hanging
in tatters from his shoulders, who did his work with appalling
thoroughness, driving his reeking bayonet home through splintering bones
and yielding tissues, cleansing it of the gore that it had contracted
from one man by plunging it into the flesh of another; and when it broke
he laid about him, smashing many a skull, with the butt of his musket;
and when finally he made a misstep and lost his weapon he sprung,
bare-handed, for the throat of a burly Prussian, with such tigerish
fierceness that both men rolled over and over on the gravel to the
shattered kitchen door, clasped in a mortal embrace. The trees of the
park looked down on many such scenes of slaughter, and the green lawn
was piled with corpses. But it was before the stoop, around the sky-blue
sofa and fauteuils, that the conflict raged with greatest fury; a
maddened mob of savages, firing at one another at point-blank range, so
that hair and beards were set on fire, tearing one another with teeth
and nails when a knife was wanting to slash the adversary’s throat.

Then Gaude, with his sorrowful face, the face of a man who has had his
troubles of which he does not care to speak, was seized with a sort of
sudden heroic madness. At that moment of irretrievable defeat, when he
must have known that the company was annihilated and that there was not
a man left to answer his summons, he grasped his bugle, carried it
to his lips and sounded the general, in so tempestuous, ear-splitting
strains that one would have said he wished to wake the dead. Nearer and
nearer came the Prussians, but he never stirred, only sounding the call
the louder, with all the strength of his lungs. He fell, pierced with
many bullets, and his spirit passed in one long-drawn, parting wail that
died away and was lost upon the shuddering air.

Rochas made no attempt to fly; he seemed unable to comprehend. Even more
erect than usual, he waited the end, stammering:

“Well, what’s the matter? what’s the matter?”

Such a possibility had never entered his head as that they could be
defeated. They were changing everything in these degenerate days, even
to the manner of fighting; had not those fellows a right to remain on
their own side of the valley and wait for the French to go and attack
them? There was no use killing them; as fast as they were killed more
kept popping up. What kind of a d-----d war was it, anyway, where they
were able to collect ten men against their opponent’s one, where they
never showed their face until evening, after blazing away at you all
day with their artillery until you didn’t know on which end you were
standing? Aghast and confounded, having failed so far to acquire the
first idea of the rationale of the campaign, he was dimly conscious of
the existence of some mysterious, superior method which he could not
comprehend, against which he ceased to struggle, although in his dogged
stubbornness he kept repeating mechanically:

“Courage, my children! victory is before us!”

Meanwhile he had stooped and clutched the flag. That was his last, his
only thought, to save the flag, retreating again, if necessary, so that
it might not be defiled by contact with Prussian hands. But the staff,
although it was broken, became entangled in his legs; he narrowly
escaped falling. The bullets whistled past him, he felt that death
was near; he stripped the silk from the staff and tore it into shreds,
striving to destroy it utterly. And then it was that, stricken at
once in the neck, chest, and legs, he sank to earth amid the bright
tri-colored rags, as if they had been his pall. He survived a moment
yet, gazing before him with fixed, dilated eyes, reading, perhaps, in
the vision he beheld on the horizon the stern lesson that War conveys,
the cruel, vital struggle that is to be accepted not otherwise than
gravely, reverently, as immutable law. Then a slight tremor ran through
his frame, and darkness succeeded to his infantine bewilderment; he
passed away, like some poor dumb, lowly creature of a day, a joyous
insect that mighty, impassive Nature, in her relentless fatality, has
caught and crushed. In him died all a legend.

When the Prussians began to draw near Jean and Maurice had retreated,
retiring from tree to tree, face to the enemy, and always, as far as
possible, keeping Henriette behind them. They did not give over firing,
discharging their pieces and then falling back to seek a fresh cover.
Maurice knew where there was a little wicket in the wall at the upper
part of the park, and they were so fortunate as to find it unfastened.
With lighter hearts when they had left it behind them, they found
themselves in a narrow by-road that wound between two high walls, but
after following it for some distance the sound of firing in front caused
them to turn into a path on their left. As luck would have it, it ended
in an _impasse_; they had to retrace their steps, running the gauntlet
of the bullets, and take the turning to the right. When they came to
exchange reminiscences in later days they could never agree on which
road they had taken. In that tangled network of suburban lanes and
passages there was firing still going on from every corner that
afforded a shelter, protracted battles raged at the gates of farmyards,
everything that could be converted into a barricade had its defenders,
from whom the assailants tried to wrest it; all with the utmost fury and
vindictiveness. And all at once they came out upon the Fond de Givonne
road, not far from Sedan.

For the third time Jean raised his eyes toward the western sky, that
was all aflame with a bright, rosy light; and he heaved a sigh of
unspeakable relief.

“Ah, that pig of a sun! at last he is going to bed!”

And they ran with might and main, all three of them, never once stopping
to draw breath. About them, filling the road in all its breadth, was the
rear-guard of fugitives from the battlefield, still flowing onward with
the irresistible momentum of an unchained mountain torrent. When they
came to the Balan gate they had a long period of waiting in the midst
of the impatient, ungovernable throng. The chains of the drawbridge had
given way, and the only path across the fosse was by the foot-bridge,
so that the guns and horses had to turn back and seek admission by the
bridge of the chateau, where the jam was said to be even still more
fearful. At the gate of la Cassine, too, people were trampled to death
in their eagerness to gain admittance. From all the adjacent heights the
terror-stricken fragments of the army came tumbling into the city, as
into a cesspool, with the hollow roar of pent-up water that has burst
its dam. The fatal attraction of those walls had ended by making cowards
of the bravest; men trod one another down in their blind haste to be
under cover.

Maurice had caught Henriette in his arms, and in a voice that trembled
with suspense:

“It cannot be,” he said, “that they will have the cruelty to close the
gate and shut us out.”

That was what the crowd feared would be done. To right and left,
however, upon the glacis soldiers were already arranging their bivouacs,
while entire batteries, guns, caissons, and horses, in confusion worse
confounded, had thrown themselves pell-mell into the fosse for safety.

But now shrill, impatient bugle calls rose on the evening air, followed
soon by the long-drawn strains of retreat. They were summoning the
belated soldiers back to their comrades, who came running in, singly and
in groups. A dropping fire of musketry still continued in the faubourgs,
but it was gradually dying out. Heavy guards were stationed on the
banquette behind the parapet to protect the approaches, and at last
the gate was closed. The Prussians were within a hundred yards of the
sally-port; they could be seen moving on the Balan road, tranquilly
establishing themselves in the houses and gardens.

Maurice and Jean, pushing Henriette before them to protect her from the
jostling of the throng, were among the last to enter Sedan. Six o’clock
was striking. The artillery fire had ceased nearly an hour ago. Soon the
distant musketry fire, too, was silenced. Then, to the deafening uproar,
to the vengeful thunder that had been roaring since morning, there
succeeded a stillness as of death. Night came, and with it came a boding
silence, fraught with terror.



VIII.

At half-past five o’clock, after the closing of the gates, Delaherche,
in his eager thirst for news, now that he knew the battle lost, had
again returned to the Sous-Prefecture. He hung persistently about
the approaches of the janitor’s lodge, tramping up and down the paved
courtyard with feverish impatience, for more than three hours, watching
for every officer who came up and interviewing him, and thus it was that
he had become acquainted, piecemeal, with the rapid series of events;
how General de Wimpffen had tendered his resignation and then withdrawn
it upon the peremptory refusal of Generals Ducrot and Douay to append
their names to the articles of capitulation, how the Emperor had
thereupon invested the General with full authority to proceed to the
Prussian headquarters and treat for the surrender of the vanquished army
on the most advantageous terms obtainable; how, finally, a council of
war had been convened with the object of deciding what possibilities
there were of further protracting the struggle successfully by the
defense of the fortress. During the deliberations of this council, which
consisted of some twenty officers of the highest rank and seemed to him
as if it would never end, the cloth manufacturer climbed the steps
of the huge public building at least twenty times, and at last his
curiosity was gratified by beholding General de Wimpffen emerge, very
red in the face and his eyelids puffed and swollen with tears, behind
whom came two other generals and a colonel. They leaped into the saddle
and rode away over the Pont de Meuse. The bells had struck eight some
time before; the inevitable capitulation was now to be accomplished,
from which there was no escape.

Delaherche, somewhat relieved in mind by what he had heard and seen,
remembered that it was a long time since he had tasted food and resolved
to turn his steps homeward, but the terrific crowd that had collected
since he first came made him pause in dismay. It is no exaggeration
to say that the streets and squares were so congested, so thronged, so
densely packed with horses, men, and guns, that one would have declared
the closely compacted mass could only have been squeezed and wedged in
there thus by the effort of some gigantic mechanism. While the ramparts
were occupied by the bivouacs of such regiments as had fallen back
in good order, the city had been invaded and submerged by an angry,
surging, desperate flood, the broken remnants of the various corps,
stragglers and fugitives from all arms of the service, and the dammed-up
tide made it impossible for one to stir foot or hand. The wheels of
the guns, of the caissons, and the innumerable vehicles of every
description, had interlocked and were tangled in confusion worse
confounded, while the poor horses, flogged unmercifully by their drivers
and pulled, now in this direction, now in that, could only dance in
their bewilderment, unable to move a step either forward or back. And
the men, deaf to reproaches and threats alike, forced their way into the
houses, devoured whatever they could lay hands on, flung themselves down
to sleep wherever they could find a vacant space, it might be in the
best bedroom or in the cellar. Many of them had fallen in doorways,
where they blocked the vestibule; others, without strength to go
farther, lay extended on the sidewalks and slept the sleep of death, not
even rising when some by-passer trod on them and bruised an arm or leg,
preferring the risk of death to the fatigue of changing their location.

These things all helped to make Delaherche still more keenly conscious
of the necessity of immediate capitulation. There were some quarters in
which numerous caissons were packed so close together that they were
in contact, and a single Prussian shell alighting on one of them must
inevitably have exploded them all, entailing the immediate destruction
of the city by conflagration. Then, too, what could be accomplished with
such an assemblage of miserable wretches, deprived of all their powers,
mental and physical, by reason of their long-endured privations, and
destitute of either ammunition or subsistence? Merely to clear the
streets and reduce them to a condition of something like order would
require a whole day. The place was entirely incapable of defense, having
neither guns nor provisions.

These were the considerations that had prevailed at the council among
those more reasonable officers who, in the midst of their grief
and sorrow for their country and the army, had retained a clear and
undistorted view of the situation as it was; and the more hot-headed
among them, those who cried with emotion that it was impossible for an
army to surrender thus, had been compelled to bow their head upon their
breast in silence and admit that they had no practicable scheme to offer
whereby the conflict might be recommenced on the morrow.

In the Place Turenne and Place du Rivage, Delaherche succeeded with the
greatest difficulty in working his way through the press. As he passed
the Hotel of the Golden Cross a sorrowful vision greeted his eyes, that
of the generals seated in the dining room, gloomily silent, around the
empty board; there was nothing left to eat in the house, not even
bread. General Bourgain-Desfeuilles, however, who had been storming and
vociferating in the kitchen, appeared to have found something, for he
suddenly held his peace and ran away swiftly up the stairs, holding in
his hands a large paper parcel of a greasy aspect. Such was the crowd
assembled there, to stare through the lighted windows upon the
guests assembled around that famine-stricken _table d’hote_, that the
manufacturer was obliged to make vigorous play with his elbows, and was
frequently driven back by some wild rush of the mob and lost all the
distance, and more, that he had just gained. In the Grande Rue, however,
the obstacles became actually impassable, and there was a moment when
he was inclined to give up in despair; a complete battery seemed to have
been driven in there and the guns and _materiel_ piled, pell-mell, on
top of one another. Deciding finally to take the bull by the horns, he
leaped to the axle of a piece and so pursued his way, jumping from wheel
to wheel, straddling the guns, at the imminent risk of breaking his
legs, if not his neck. Afterward it was some horses that blocked his
way, and he made himself lowly and stooped, creeping among the feet
and underneath the bellies of the sorry jades, who were ready to die of
inanition, like their masters. Then, when after a quarter of an hour’s
laborious effort he reached the junction of the Rue Saint-Michel, he was
terrified at the prospect of the dangers and obstacles that he had still
to face, and which, instead of diminishing, seemed to be increasing, and
made up his mind to turn down the street above mentioned, which would
take him into the Rue des Laboureurs; he hoped that by taking these
usually quiet and deserted passages he should escape the crowd and reach
his home in safety. As luck would have it he almost directly came upon a
house of ill-fame to which a band of drunken soldiers were in process of
laying siege, and considering that a stray shot, should one reach him in
the fracas, would be equally as unpleasant as one intended for him,
he made haste to retrace his steps. Resolving to have done with it
he pushed on to the end of the Grande Rue, now gaining a few feet by
balancing himself, rope-walker fashion, along the pole of some vehicle,
now climbing over an army wagon that barred his way. At the Place du
College he was carried along--bodily on the shoulders of the throng for
a space of thirty paces; he fell to the ground, narrowly escaped a set
of fractured ribs, and saved himself only by the proximity of a friendly
iron railing, by the bars of which he pulled himself to his feet. And
when at last he reached the Rue Maqua, inundated with perspiration, his
clothing almost torn from his back, he found that he had been more than
an hour in coming from the Sous-Prefecture, a distance which in ordinary
times he was accustomed to accomplish in less than five minutes.

Major Bouroche, with the intention of keeping the ambulance and garden
from being overrun with intruders, had caused two sentries to be mounted
at the door. This measure was a source of great comfort to Delaherche,
who had begun to contemplate the possibilities of his house being
subjected to pillage. The sight of the ambulance in the garden, dimly
lighted by a few candles and exhaling its fetid, feverish emanations,
caused him a fresh constriction of the heart; then, stumbling over the
body of a soldier who was stretched in slumber on the stone pavement of
the walk, he supposed him to be one of the fugitives who had managed to
find his way in there from outside, until, calling to mind the 7th corps
treasure that had been deposited there and the sentry who had been set
over it, he saw how matters stood: the poor fellow, stationed there
since early morning, had been overlooked by his superiors and had
succumbed to his fatigue. Besides, the house seemed quite deserted;
the ground floor was black as Egypt, and the doors stood wide open. The
servants were doubtless all at the ambulance, for there was no one in
the kitchen, which was faintly illuminated by the light of a wretched
little smoky lamp. He lit a candle and ascended the main staircase very
softly, in order not to awaken his wife and mother, whom he had begged
to go to bed early after a day where the stress, both mental and
physical, had been so intense.

On entering his study, however, he beheld a sight that caused his eyes
to dilate with astonishment. Upon the sofa on which Captain Beaudoin had
snatched a few hours’ repose the day before a soldier lay outstretched;
and he could not understand the reason of it until he had looked and
recognized young Maurice Levasseur, Henriette’s brother. He was still
more surprised when, on turning his head, he perceived, stretched on the
floor and wrapped in a bed quilt, another soldier, that Jean, whom he
had seen for a moment just before the battle. It was plain that the poor
fellows, in their distress and fatigue after the conflict, not knowing
where else to bestow themselves, had sought refuge there; they were
crushed, annihilated, like dead men. He did not linger there, but pushed
on to his wife’s chamber, which was the next room on the corridor. A
lamp was burning on a table in a corner; the profound silence seemed
to shudder. Gilberte had thrown herself crosswise on the bed, fully
dressed, doubtless in order to be prepared for any catastrophe, and was
sleeping peacefully, while, seated on a chair at her side with her head
declined and resting lightly on the very edge of the mattress, Henriette
was also slumbering, with a fitful, agitated sleep, while big tears
welled up beneath her swollen eyelids. He contemplated them silently
for a moment, strongly tempted to awake and question the young woman
in order to ascertain what she knew. Had she succeeded in reaching
Bazeilles? and why was it that she was back there? Perhaps she would
be able to give him some tidings of his dyehouse were he to ask her? A
feeling of compassion stayed him, however, and he was about to leave the
room when his mother, ghost-like, appeared at the threshold of the open
door and beckoned him to follow her.

As they were passing through the dining room he expressed his surprise.

“What, have you not been abed to-night?”

She shook her head, then said below her breath:

“I cannot sleep; I have been sitting in an easy-chair beside the
colonel. He is very feverish; he awakes at every instant, almost, and
then plies me with questions. I don’t know how to answer them. Come in
and see him, you.”

M. de Vineuil had fallen asleep again. His long face, now brightly
red, barred by the sweeping mustache that fell across it like a snowy
avalanche, was scarce distinguishable on the pillow. Mme. Delaherche had
placed a newspaper before the lamp and that corner of the room was lost
in semi-darkness, while all the intensity of the bright lamplight
was concentrated on her where she sat, uncompromisingly erect, in her
fauteuil, her hands crossed before her in her lap, her vague eyes bent
on space, in sorrowful reverie.

“I think he must have heard you,” she murmured; “he is awaking again.”

It was so; the colonel, without moving his head, had reopened his eyes
and bent them on Delaherche. He recognized him, and immediately asked in
a voice that his exhausted condition made tremulous:

“It is all over, is it not? We have capitulated.”

The manufacturer, who encountered the look his mother cast on him at
that moment, was on the point of equivocating. But what good would it
do? A look of discouragement passed across his face.

“What else remained to do? A single glance at the streets of the city
would convince you. General de Wimpffen has just set out for Prussian
general headquarters to discuss conditions.”

M. de Vineuil’s eyes closed again, his long frame was shaken with a
protracted shiver of supremely bitter grief, and this deep, long-drawn
moan escaped his lips:

“Ah! merciful God, merciful God!” And without opening his eyes he
went on in faltering, broken accents: “Ah! the plan I spoke of
yesterday--they should have adopted it. Yes, I knew the country; I spoke
of my apprehensions to the general, but even him they would not listen
to. Occupy all the heights up there to the north, from Saint-Menges to
Fleigneux, with your army looking down on and commanding Sedan, able
at any time to move on Vrigne-aux-Bois, mistress of Saint-Albert’s
pass--and there we are; our positions are impregnable, the Mezieres road
is under our control--”

His speech became more confused as he proceeded; he stammered a few more
unintelligible words, while the vision of the battle that had been
born of his fever little by little grew blurred and dim and at last
was effaced by slumber. He slept, and in his sleep perhaps the honest
officer’s dreams were dreams of victory.

“Does the major speak favorably of his case?” Delaherche inquired in a
whisper.

Madame Delaherche nodded affirmatively.

“Those wounds in the foot are dreadful things, though,” he went on. “I
suppose he is likely to be laid up for a long time, isn’t he?”

She made him no answer this time, as if all her being, all her faculties
were concentrated on contemplating the great calamity of their defeat.
She was of another age; she was a survivor of that strong old race of
frontier burghers who defended their towns so valiantly in the good days
gone by. The clean-cut lines of her stern, set face, with its fleshless,
uncompromising nose and thin lips, which the brilliant light of the lamp
brought out in high relief against the darkness of the room, told the
full extent of her stifled rage and grief and the wound sustained by her
antique patriotism, the revolt of which refused even to let her sleep.

About that time Delaherche became conscious of a sensation of isolation,
accompanied by a most uncomfortable feeling of physical distress. His
hunger was asserting itself again, a griping, intolerable hunger, and he
persuaded himself that it was debility alone that was thus robbing him
of courage and resolution. He tiptoed softly from the room and, with
his candle, again made his way down to the kitchen, but the spectacle
he witnessed there was even still more cheerless; the range cold and
fireless, the closets empty, the floor strewn with a disorderly litter
of towels, napkins, dish-clouts and women’s aprons; as if the hurricane
of disaster had swept through that place as well, bearing away on its
wings all the charm and cheer that appertain naturally to the things we
eat and drink. At first he thought he was not going to discover so much
as a crust, what was left over of the bread having all found its way to
the ambulance in the form of soup. At last, however, in the dark corner
of a cupboard he came across the remainder of the beans from yesterday’s
dinner, where they had been forgotten, and ate them. He accomplished
his luxurious repast without the formality of sitting down, without the
accompaniment of salt and butter, for which he did not care to trouble
himself to ascend to the floor above, desirous only to get away as
speedily as possible from that dismal kitchen, where the blinking,
smoking little lamp perfumed the air with fumes of petroleum.

It was not much more than ten o’clock, and Delaherche had no other
occupation than to speculate on the various probabilities connected with
the signing of the capitulation. A persistent apprehension haunted him;
a dread lest the conflict might be renewed, and the horrible thought of
what the consequences must be in such an event, of which he could
not speak, but which rested on his bosom like an incubus. When he had
reascended to his study, where he found Maurice and Jean in exactly the
same position he had left them in, it was all in vain that he settled
himself comfortably in his favorite easy-chair; sleep would not come to
him; just as he was on the point of losing himself the crash of a shell
would arouse him with a great start. It was the frightful cannonade
of the day, the echoes of which were still ringing in his ears; and
he would listen breathlessly for a moment, then sit and shudder at the
equally appalling silence by which he was now surrounded. As he could
not sleep he preferred to move about; he wandered aimlessly among the
rooms, taking care to avoid that in which his mother was sitting by the
colonel’s bedside, for the steady gaze with which she watched him as
he tramped nervously up and down had finally had the effect of
disconcerting him. Twice he returned to see if Henriette had not
awakened, and he paused an instant to glance at his wife’s pretty face,
so calmly peaceful, on which seemed to be flitting something like
the faint shadow of a smile. Then, knowing not what to do, he went
downstairs again, came back, moved about from room to room, until it
was nearly two in the morning, wearying his ears with trying to decipher
some meaning in the sounds that came to him from without.

This condition of affairs could not last. Delaherche resolved to return
once more to the Sous-Prefecture, feeling assured that all rest would be
quite out of the question for him so long as his ignorance continued.
A feeling of despair seized him, however, when he went downstairs and
looked out upon the densely crowded street, where the confusion seemed
to be worse than ever; never would he have the strength to fight his way
to the Place Turenne and back again through obstacles the mere memory of
which caused every bone in his body to ache again. And he was mentally
discussing matters, when who should come up but Major Bouroche, panting,
perspiring, and swearing.

“_Tonnerre de Dieu!_ I wonder if my head’s on my shoulders or not!”

He had been obliged to visit the Hotel de Ville to see the mayor about
his supply of chloroform, and urge him to issue a requisition for a
quantity, for he had many operations to perform, his stock of the drug
was exhausted, and he was afraid, he said, that he should be compelled
to carve up the poor devils without putting them to sleep.

“Well?” inquired Delaherche.

“Well, they can’t even tell whether the apothecaries have any or not!”

But the manufacturer was thinking of other things than chloroform. “No,
no,” he continued. “Have they brought matters to a conclusion yet? Have
they signed the agreement with the Prussians?”

The major made a gesture of impatience. “There is nothing concluded,” he
cried. “It appears that those scoundrels are making demands out of all
reason. Ah, well; let ‘em commence afresh, then, and we’ll all leave our
bones here. That will be best!”

Delaherche’s face grew very pale as he listened. “But are you quite sure
these things are so?”

“I was told them by those fellows of the municipal council, who are in
permanent session at the city hall. An officer had been dispatched from
the Sous-Prefecture to lay the whole affair before them.”

And he went on to furnish additional details. The interview had taken
place at the Chateau de Bellevue, near Donchery, and the participants
were General de Wimpffen, General von Moltke, and Bismarck. A stern
and inflexible man was that von Moltke, a terrible man to deal with!
He began by demonstrating that he was perfectly acquainted with the
hopeless situation of the French army; it was destitute of ammunition
and subsistence, demoralization and disorder pervaded its ranks, it was
utterly powerless to break the iron circle by which it was girt about;
while on the other hand the German armies occupied commanding positions
from which they could lay the city in ashes in two hours. Coldly,
unimpassionedly, he stated his terms: the entire French army to
surrender arms and baggage and be treated as prisoners of war. Bismarck
took no part in the discussion beyond giving the general his support,
occasionally showing his teeth, like a big mastiff, inclined to be
pacific on the whole, but quite ready to rend and tear should there be
occasion for it. General de Wimpffen in reply protested with all the
force he had at his command against these conditions, the most severe
that ever were imposed on a vanquished army. He spoke of his personal
grief and ill-fortune, the bravery of the troops, the danger there was
in driving a proud nation to extremity; for three hours he spoke with
all the energy and eloquence of despair, alternately threatening and
entreating, demanding that they should content themselves with interning
their prisoners in France, or even in Algeria; and in the end the only
concession granted was, that the officers might retain their swords, and
those among them who should enter into a solemn arrangement, attested by
a written parole, to serve no more during the war, might return to their
homes. Finally, the armistice to be prolonged until the next morning
at ten o’clock; if at that time the terms had not been accepted, the
Prussian batteries would reopen fire and the city would be burned.

“That’s stupid!” exclaimed Delaherche; “they have no right to burn a
city that has done nothing to deserve it!”

The major gave him still further food for anxiety by adding that some
officers whom he had met at the Hotel de l’Europe were talking of making
a sortie _en masse_ just before daylight. An extremely excited state of
feeling had prevailed since the tenor of the German demands had become
known, and measures the most extravagant were proposed and discussed.
No one seemed to be deterred by the consideration that it would be
dishonorable to break the truce, taking advantage of the darkness
and giving the enemy no notification, and the wildest, most visionary
schemes were offered; they would resume the march on Carignan, hewing
their way through the Bavarians, which they could do in the black night;
they would recapture the plateau of Illy by a surprise; they would raise
the blockade of the Mezieres road, or, by a determined, simultaneous
rush, would force the German lines and throw themselves into Belgium.
Others there were, indeed, who, feeling the hopelessness of their
position, said nothing; they would have accepted any terms, signed any
paper, with a glad cry of relief, simply to have the affair ended and
done with.

“Good-night!” Bouroche said in conclusion. “I am going to try to sleep a
couple of hours; I need it badly.”

When left by himself Delaherche could hardly breathe. What, could it be
true that they were going to fight again, were going to burn and raze
Sedan! It was certainly to be, soon as the morrow’s sun should be high
enough upon the hills to light the horror of the sacrifice. And once
again he almost unconsciously climbed the steep ladder that led to the
roofs and found himself standing among the chimneys, at the edge of the
narrow terrace that overlooked the city; but at that hour of the night
the darkness was intense and he could distinguish absolutely nothing
amid the swirling waves of the Cimmerian sea that lay beneath him. Then
the buildings of the factory below were the first objects which, one by
one, disentangled themselves from the shadows and stood out before his
vision in indistinct masses, which he had no difficulty in recognizing:
the engine-house, the shops, the drying rooms, the storehouses, and when
he reflected that within twenty-four hours there would remain of that
imposing block of buildings, his fortune and his pride, naught save
charred timbers and crumbling walls, he overflowed with pity for
himself. He raised his glance thence once more to the horizon, and
sent it traveling in a circuit around that profound, mysterious veil of
blackness behind which lay slumbering the menace of the morrow. To the
south, in the direction of Bazeilles, a few quivering little flames that
rose fitfully on the air told where had been the site of the unhappy
village, while toward the north the farmhouse in the wood of la Garenne,
that had been fired late in the afternoon, was burning still, and the
trees about were dyed of a deep red with the ruddy blaze. Beyond the
intermittent flashing of those two baleful fires no light to be seen;
the brooding silence unbroken by any sound save those half-heard
mutterings that pass through the air like harbingers of evil; about
them, everywhere, the unfathomable abyss, dead and lifeless. Off there
in the distance, very far away, perhaps, perhaps upon the ramparts, was
a sound of someone weeping. It was all in vain that he strained his eyes
to pierce the veil, to see something of Liry, la Marfee, the batteries
of Frenois, and Wadelincourt, that encircling belt of bronze monsters
of which he could instinctively feel the presence there, with their
outstretched necks and yawning, ravenous muzzles. And as he recalled his
glance and let it fall upon the city that lay around and beneath him, he
heard its frightened breathing. It was not alone the unquiet slumbers of
the soldiers who had fallen in the streets, the blending of inarticulate
sounds produced by that gathering of guns, men, and horses; what he
fancied he could distinguish was the insomnia, the alarmed watchfulness
of his bourgeois neighbors, who, no more than he, could sleep, quivering
with feverish terrors, awaiting anxiously the coming of the day. They
all must be aware that the capitulation had not been signed, and were
all counting the hours, quaking at the thought that should it not
be signed the sole resource left them would be to go down into their
cellars and wait for their own walls to tumble in on them and crush the
life from their bodies. The voice of one in sore straits came up, it
seemed to him, from the Rue des Voyards, shouting: “Help! murder!” amid
the clash of arms. He bent over the terrace to look, then remained aloft
there in the murky thickness of the night where there was not a star to
cheer him, wrapped in such an ecstasy of terror that the hairs of his
body stood erect.

Below-stairs, at early daybreak, Maurice awoke upon his sofa. He was
sore and stiff as if he had been racked; he did not stir, but lay
looking listlessly at the windows, which gradually grew white under the
light of a cloudy dawn. The hateful memories of the day before all came
back to him with that distinctness that characterizes the impressions
of our first waking, how they had fought, fled, surrendered. It all rose
before his vision, down to the very least detail, and he brooded with
horrible anguish on the defeat, whose reproachful echoes seemed to
penetrate to the inmost fibers of his being, as if he felt that all the
responsibility of it was his. And he went on to reason on the cause of
the evil, analyzing himself, reverting to his old habit of bitter and
unavailing self-reproach. He would have felt so brave, so glorious had
victory remained with them! And now, in defeat, weak and nervous as
a woman, he once again gave way to one of those overwhelming fits of
despair in which the entire world, seemed to him to be foundering.
Nothing was left them; the end of France was come. His frame was shaken
by a storm of sobs, he wept hot tears, and joining his hands, the
prayers of his childhood rose to his lips in stammering accents.

“O God! take me unto Thee! O God! take unto Thyself all those who are
weary and heavy-laden!”

Jean, lying on the floor wrapped in his bed-quilt, began to show some
signs of life. Finally, astonished at what he heard, he arose to a
sitting posture.

“What is the matter, youngster? Are you ill?” Then, with a glimmering
perception of how matters stood, he adopted a more paternal tone. “Come,
tell me what the matter is. You must not let yourself be worried by such
a little thing as this, you know.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Maurice, “it is all up with us, _va_! we are Prussians
now, and we may as well make up our mind to it.”

As the peasant, with the hard-headedness of the uneducated, expressed
surprise to hear him talk thus, he endeavored to make it clear to him
that, the race being degenerate and exhausted, it must disappear and
make room for a newer and more vigorous strain. But the other, with an
obstinate shake of the head, would not listen to the explanation.

“What! would you try to make me believe that my bit of land is no longer
mine? that I would permit the Prussians to take it from me while I am
alive and my two arms are left to me? Come, come!”

Then painfully, in such terms as he could command, he went on to tell
how affairs looked to him. They had received an all-fired good basting,
that was sure as sure could be! but they were not all dead yet, he
didn’t believe; there were some left, and those would suffice to rebuild
the house if they only behaved themselves, working hard and not drinking
up what they earned. When a family has trouble, if its members work and
put by a little something, they will pull through, in spite of all the
bad luck in the world. And further, it is not such a bad thing to get a
good cuffing once in a way; it sets one thinking. And, great heavens! if
a man has something rotten about him, if he has gangrene in his arms or
legs that is spreading all the time, isn’t it better to take a hatchet
and lop them off rather than die as he would from cholera?

“All up, all up! Ah, no, no! no, no!” he repeated several times. “It is
not all up with me, I know very well it is not.”

And notwithstanding his seedy condition and demoralized appearance, his
hair all matted and pasted to his head by the blood that had flowed from
his wound, he drew himself up defiantly, animated by a keen desire to
live, to take up the tools of his trade or put his hand to the plow, in
order, to use his own expression, to “rebuild the house.” He was of the
old soil where reason and obstinacy grow side by side, of the land of
toil and thrift.

“All the same, though,” he continued, “I am sorry for the Emperor.
Affairs seemed to be going on well; the farmers were getting a good
price for their grain. But surely it was bad judgment on his part to
allow himself to become involved in this business!”

Maurice, who was still in “the blues,” spoke regretfully: “Ah, the
Emperor! I always liked him in my heart, in spite of my republican
ideas. Yes, I had it in the blood, on account of my grandfather, I
suppose. And now that that limb is rotten and we shall have to lop it
off, what is going to become of us?”

His eyes began to wander, and his voice and manner evinced such distress
that Jean became alarmed and was about to rise and go to him, when
Henriette came into the room. She had just awakened on hearing the sound
of voices in the room adjoining hers. The pale light of a cloudy morning
now illuminated the apartment.

“You come just in time to give him a scolding,” he said, with an
affectation of liveliness. “He is not a good boy this morning.”

But the sight of his sister’s pale, sad face and the recollection of her
affliction had had a salutary effect on Maurice by determining a sudden
crisis of tenderness. He opened his arms and took her to his bosom, and
when she rested her head upon his shoulder, when he held her locked in
a close embrace, a feeling of great gentleness pervaded him and they
mingled their tears.

“Ah, my poor, poor darling, why have I not more strength and courage
to console you! for my sorrows are as nothing compared with yours. That
good, faithful Weiss, the husband who loved you so fondly! What will
become of you? You have always been the victim; always, and never a
murmur from your lips. Think of the sorrow I have already caused you,
and who can say that I shall not cause you still more in the future!”

She was silencing him, placing her hand upon his mouth, when Delaherche
came into the room, beside himself with indignation. While still on the
terrace he had been seized by one of those uncontrollable nervous fits
of hunger that are aggravated by fatigue, and had descended to the
kitchen in quest of something warm to drink, where he had found, keeping
company with his cook, a relative of hers, a carpenter of Bazeilles,
whom she was in the act of treating to a bowl of hot wine. This person,
who had been one of the last to leave the place while the conflagrations
were at their height, had told him that his dyehouse was utterly
destroyed, nothing left of it but a heap of ruins.

“The robbers, the thieves! Would you have believed it, _hein_?” he
stammered, addressing Jean and Maurice. “There is no hope left; they
mean to burn Sedan this morning as they burned Bazeilles yesterday.
I’m ruined, I’m ruined!” The scar that Henriette bore on her forehead
attracted his attention, and he remembered that he had not spoken to
her yet. “It is true, you went there, after all; you got that wound--Ah!
poor Weiss!”

And seeing by the young woman’s tears that she was acquainted with her
husband’s fate, he abruptly blurted out the horrible bit of news that
the carpenter had communicated to him among the rest.

“Poor Weiss! it seems they burned him. Yes, after shooting all the
civilians who were caught with arms in their hands, they threw their
bodies into the flames of a burning house and poured petroleum over
them.”

Henriette was horror-stricken as she listened. Her tears burst forth,
her frame was shaken by her sobs. My God, my God, not even the poor
comfort of going to claim her dear dead and give him decent sepulture;
his ashes were to be scattered by the winds of heaven! Maurice had again
clasped her in his arms and spoke to her endearingly, calling her his
poor Cinderella, beseeching her not to take the matter so to heart, a
brave woman as she was.

After a time, during which no word was spoken, Delaherche, who had been
standing at the window watching the growing day, suddenly turned and
addressed the two soldiers:

“By the way, I was near forgetting. What I came up here to tell you is
this: down in the courtyard, in the shed where the treasure chests were
deposited, there is an officer who is about to distribute the money
among the men, so as to keep the Prussians from getting it. You had
better go down, for a little money may be useful to you, that is,
provided we are all alive a few hours hence.”

The advice was good, and Maurice and Jean acted on it, having first
prevailed on Henriette to take her brother’s place on the sofa. If she
could not go to sleep again, she would at least be securing some repose.
As for Delaherche, he passed through the adjoining chamber, where
Gilberte with her tranquil, pretty face was slumbering still as soundly
as a child, neither the sound of conversation nor even Henriette’s sobs
having availed to make her change her position. From there he went to
the apartment where his mother was watching at Colonel de Vineuil’s
bedside, and thrust his head through the door; the old lady was asleep
in her fauteuil, while the colonel, his eyes closed, was like a corpse.
He opened them to their full extent and asked:

“Well, it’s all over, isn’t it?”

Irritated by the question, which detained him at the very moment when
he thought he should be able to slip away unobserved, Delaherche gave a
wrathful look and murmured, sinking his voice:

“Oh, yes, all over! until it begins again! There is nothing signed.”

The colonel went on in a voice scarcely higher than a whisper; delirium
was setting in.

“Merciful God, let me die before the end! I do not hear the guns. Why
have they ceased firing? Up there at Saint-Menges, at Fleigneux, we
have command of all the roads; should the Prussians dare turn Sedan
and attack us, we will drive them into the Meuse. The city is there, an
insurmountable obstacle between us and them; our positions, too, are the
stronger. Forward! the 7th corps will lead, the 12th will protect the
retreat--”

And his fingers kept drumming on the counterpane with a measured
movement, as if keeping time with the trot of the charger he was riding
in his vision. Gradually the motion became slower and slower as his
words became more indistinct and he sank off into slumber. It ceased,
and he lay motionless and still, as if the breath had left his body.

“Lie still and rest,” Delaherche whispered; “when I have news I will
return.”

Then, having first assured himself that he had not disturbed his
mother’s slumber, he slipped away and disappeared.

Jean and Maurice, on descending to the shed in the courtyard, had found
there an officer of the pay department, seated on a common kitchen chair
behind a little unpainted pine table, who, without pen, ink, or paper,
without taking receipts or indulging in formalities of any kind, was
dispensing fortunes. He simply stuck his hand into the open mouth of
the bags filled with bright gold pieces, and as the sergeants of the 7th
corps passed in line before him he filled their _kepis_, never counting
what he bestowed with such rapid liberality. The understanding was that
the sergeants were subsequently to divide what they received with the
surviving men of their half-sections. Each of them received his portion
awkwardly, as if it had been a ration of meat or coffee, then stalked
off in an embarrassed, self-conscious sort of way, transferring the
contents of the _kepi_ to his trousers’ pockets so as not to display his
wealth to the world at large. And not a word was spoken; there was not a
sound to be heard but the crystalline chink and rattle of the coin as it
was received by those poor devils, dumfounded to see the responsibility
of such riches thrust on them when there was not a place in the city
where they could purchase a loaf of bread or a quart of wine.

When Jean and Maurice appeared before him the officer, who was holding
outstretched his hand filled, as usual, with louis, drew it back.

“Neither of you fellows is a sergeant. No one except sergeants is
entitled to receive the money.” Then, in haste to be done with his task,
he changed his mind: “Never mind, though; here, you corporal, take this.
Step lively, now. Next man!”

And he dropped the gold coins into the _kepi_ that Jean held out to him.
The latter, oppressed by the magnitude of the amount, nearly six hundred
francs, insisted that Maurice should take one-half. No one could say
what might happen; they might be parted from each other.

They made the division in the garden, before the ambulance, and when
they had concluded their financial business they entered, having
recognized on the straw near the entrance the drummer-boy of their
company, Bastian, a fat, good-natured little fellow, who had had the
ill-luck to receive a spent ball in the groin about five o’clock the day
before, when the battle was ended. He had been dying by inches for the
last twelve hours.

In the dim, white light of morning, at that hour of awakening, the
sight of the ambulance sent a chill of horror through them. Three more
patients had died during the night, without anyone being aware of it,
and the attendants were hurriedly bearing away the corpses in order
to make room for others. Those who had been operated on the day before
opened wide their eyes in their somnolent, semi-conscious state, and
looked with dazed astonishment on that vast dormitory of suffering,
where the victims of the knife, only half-slaughtered, rested on their
straw. It was in vain that some attempts had been made the night before
to clean up the room after the bloody work of the operations; there were
great splotches of blood on the ill-swept floor; in a bucket of water
a great sponge was floating, stained with red, for all the world like a
human brain; a hand, its fingers crushed and broken, had been overlooked
and lay on the floor of the shed. It was the parings and trimmings of
the human butcher shop, the horrible waste and refuse that ensues upon a
day of slaughter, viewed in the cold, raw light of dawn.

Bouroche, who, after a few hours of repose, had already resumed his
duties, stopped in front of the wounded drummer-boy, Bastian, then
passed on with an imperceptible shrug of his shoulders. A hopeless case;
nothing to be done. The lad had opened his eyes, however, and emerging
from the comatose state in which he had been lying, was eagerly watching
a sergeant who, his _kepi_ filled with gold in his hand, had come into
the room to see if there were any of his men among those poor wretches.
He found two, and to each of them gave twenty francs. Other sergeants
came in, and the gold began to fall in showers upon the straw, among the
dying men. Bastian, who had managed to raise himself, stretched out his
two hands, even then shaking in the final agony.

“Don’t forget me! don’t forget me!”

The sergeant would have passed on and gone his way, as Bouroche had
done. What good could money do there? Then yielding to a kindly impulse,
he threw some coins, never stopping to count them, into the poor hands
that were already cold.

“Don’t forget me! don’t forget me!”

Bastian fell backward on his straw. For a long time he groped with
stiffening fingers for the elusive gold, which seemed to avoid him. And
thus he died.

“The gentleman has blown his candle out; good-night!” said a little,
black, wizened zouave, who occupied the next bed. “It’s vexatious, when
one has the wherewithal to pay for wetting his whistle!”

He had his left foot done up in splints. Nevertheless he managed to
raise himself on his knees and elbows and in this posture crawl over to
the dead man, whom he relieved of all his money, forcing open his hands,
rummaging among his clothing and the folds of his capote. When he got
back to his place, noticing that he was observed, he simply said:

“There’s no use letting the stuff be wasted, is there?”

Maurice, sick at heart in that atmosphere of human distress and
suffering, had long since dragged Jean away. As they passed out through
the shed where the operations were performed they saw Bouroche preparing
to amputate the leg of a poor little man of twenty, without chloroform,
he having been unable to obtain a further supply of the anaesthetic. And
they fled, running, so as not to hear the poor boy’s shrieks.

Delaherche, who came in from the street just then, beckoned to them and
shouted:

“Come upstairs, come, quick! we are going to have breakfast. The cook
has succeeded in procuring some milk, and it is well she did, for we
are all in great need of something to warm our stomachs.” And
notwithstanding his efforts to do so, he could not entirely repress his
delight and exultation. With a radiant countenance he added, lowering
his voice: “It is all right this time. General de Wimpffen has set out
again for the German headquarters to sign the capitulation.”

Ah, how much those words meant to him, what comfort there was in them,
what relief! his horrid nightmare dispelled, his property saved from
destruction, his daily life to be resumed, under changed conditions, it
is true, but still it was to go on, it was not to cease! It was
little Rose who had told him of the occurrences of the morning at the
Sous-Prefecture; the girl had come hastening through the streets, now
somewhat less choked than they had been, to obtain a supply of bread
from an aunt of hers who kept a baker’s shop in the quarter; it was
striking nine o’clock. As early as eight General de Wimpffen had
convened another council of war, consisting of more than thirty
generals, to whom he related the results that had been reached so far,
the hard conditions imposed by the victorious foe, and his own fruitless
efforts to secure a mitigation of them. His emotion was such that his
hands shook like a leaf, his eyes were suffused with tears. He was still
addressing the assemblage when a colonel of the German staff presented
himself, on behalf of General von Moltke, to remind them that, unless a
decision were arrived at by ten o’clock, their guns would open fire
on the city of Sedan. With this horrible alternative before them the
council could do nothing save authorize the general to proceed once more
to the Chateau of Bellevue and accept the terms of the victors. He must
have accomplished his mission by that time, and the entire French army
were prisoners of war.

When she had concluded her narrative Rose launched out into a detailed
account of the tremendous excitement the tidings had produced in the
city. At the Sous-Prefecture she had seen officers tear the epaulettes
from their shoulders, weeping meanwhile like children. Cavalrymen had
thrown their sabers from the Pont de Meuse into the river; an entire
regiment of cuirassiers had passed, each man tossing his blade over the
parapet and sorrowfully watching the water close over it. In the streets
many soldiers grasped their muskets by the barrel and smashed them
against a wall, while there were artillerymen who removed the mechanism
from the mitrailleuses and flung it into the sewer. Some there were who
buried or burned the regimental standards. In the Place Turenne an old
sergeant climbed upon a gate-post and harangued the throng as if he had
suddenly taken leave of his senses, reviling the leaders, stigmatizing
them as poltroons and cowards. Others seemed as if dazed, shedding
big tears in silence, and others also, it must be confessed (and it is
probable that they were in the majority), betrayed by their laughing
eyes and pleased expression the satisfaction they felt at the change
in affairs. There was an end to their suffering at last; they were
prisoners of war, they could not be obliged to fight any more! For so
many days they had been distressed by those long, weary marches, with
never food enough to satisfy their appetite! And then, too, they were
the weaker; what use was there in fighting? If their chiefs had betrayed
them, had sold them to the enemy, so much the better; it would be the
sooner ended! It was such a delicious thing to think of, that they were
to have white bread to eat, were to sleep between sheets!

As Delaherche was about to enter the dining room in company with Maurice
and Jean, his mother called to him from above.

“Come up here, please; I am anxious about the colonel.”

M. de Vineuil, with wide-open eyes, was talking rapidly and excitedly of
the subject that filled his bewildered brain.

“The Prussians have cut us off from Mezieres, but what matters it! See,
they have outmarched us and got possession of the plain of Donchery;
soon they will be up with the wood of la Falizette and flank us there,
while more of them are coming up along the valley of the Givonne. The
frontier is behind us; let us kill as many of them as we can and cross
it at a bound. Yesterday, yes, that is what I would have advised--”

At that moment his burning eyes lighted on Delaherche. He recognized
him; the sight seemed to sober him and dispel the hallucination under
which he was laboring, and coming back to the terrible reality, he asked
for the third time:

“It is all over, is it not?”

The manufacturer explosively blurted out the expression of his
satisfaction; he could not restrain it.

“Ah, yes, God be praised! it is all over, completely over. The
capitulation must be signed by this time.”

The colonel raised himself at a bound to a sitting posture,
notwithstanding his bandaged foot; he took his sword from the chair by
the bedside where it lay and made an attempt to break it, but his hands
trembled too violently, and the blade slipped from his fingers.

“Look out! he will cut himself!” Delaherche cried in alarm. “Take that
thing away from him; it is dangerous!”

Mme. Delaherche took possession of the sword. With a feeling of
compassionate respect for the poor colonel’s grief and despair she
did not conceal it, as her son bade her do, but with a single vigorous
effort snapped it across her knee, with a strength of which she herself
would never have supposed her poor old hands capable. The colonel laid
himself down again, casting a look of extreme gentleness upon his old
friend, who went back to her chair and seated herself in her usual rigid
attitude.

In the dining room the cook had meantime served bowls of hot coffee
and milk for the entire party. Henriette and Gilberte had awakened, the
latter, completely restored by her long and refreshing slumber, with
bright eyes and smiling face; she embraced most tenderly her friend,
whom she pitied, she said, from the bottom of her heart. Maurice seated
himself beside his sister, while Jean, who was unused to polite society,
but could not decline the invitation that was extended to him, was
Delaherche’s right-hand neighbor. It was Mme. Delaherche’s custom not to
come to the table with the family; a servant carried her a bowl, which
she drank while sitting by the colonel. The party of five, however, who
sat down together, although they commenced their meal in silence, soon
became cheerful and talkative. Why should they not rejoice and be glad
to find themselves there, safe and sound, with food before them to
satisfy their hunger, when the country round about was covered with
thousands upon thousands of poor starving wretches? In the cool,
spacious dining room the snow-white tablecloth was a delight to the eye
and the steaming _cafe au lait_ seemed delicious.

They conversed, Delaherche, who had recovered his assurance and was
again the wealthy manufacturer, the condescending patron courting
popularity, severe only toward those who failed to succeed, spoke of
Napoleon III., whose face as he saw it last continued to haunt his
memory. He addressed himself to Jean, having that simple-minded young
man as his neighbor. “Yes, sir, the Emperor has deceived me, and I
don’t hesitate to say so. His henchmen may put in the plea of mitigating
circumstances, but it won’t go down, sir; he is evidently the first, the
only cause of our misfortunes.”

He had quite forgotten that only a few months before he had been
an ardent Bonapartist and had labored to ensure the success of the
plebiscite, and now he who was henceforth to be known as the Man of
Sedan was not even worthy to be pitied; he ascribed to him every known
iniquity.

“A man of no capacity, as everyone is now compelled to admit; but let
that pass, I say nothing of that. A visionary, a theorist, an unbalanced
mind, with whom affairs seemed to succeed as long as he had luck on his
side. And there’s no use, don’t you see, sir, in attempting to work on
our sympathies and excite our commiseration by telling us that he was
deceived, that the opposition refused him the necessary grants of men
and money. It is he who has deceived us, he whose crimes and blunders
have landed us in the horrible muddle where we are.”

Maurice, who preferred to say nothing on the subject, could not help
smiling, while Jean, embarrassed by the political turn the conversation
had taken and fearful lest he might make some ill-timed remark, simply
replied:

“They say he is a brave man, though.”

But those few words, modestly expressed, fairly made Delaherche jump.
All his past fear and alarm, all the mental anguish he had suffered,
burst from his lips in a cry of concentrated passion, closely allied to
hatred.

“A brave man, forsooth; and what does that amount to! Are you aware,
sir, that my factory was struck three times by Prussian shells, and that
it is no fault of the Emperor’s that it was not burned! Are you aware
that I, I shall lose a hundred thousand francs by this idiotic business!
No, no; France invaded, pillaged, and laid waste, our industries
compelled to shut down, our commerce ruined; it is a little too much,
I tell you! One brave man like that is quite sufficient; may the Lord
preserve us from any more of them! He is down in the blood and mire, and
there let him remain!”

And he made a forcible gesture with his closed fist as if thrusting down
and holding under the water some poor wretch who was struggling to
save himself, then finished his coffee, smacking his lips like a true
gourmand. Gilberte waited on Henriette as if she had been a child,
laughing a little involuntary laugh when the latter made some exhibition
of absent-mindedness. And when at last the coffee had all been drunk
they still lingered on in the peaceful quiet of the great cool dining
room.

And at that same hour Napoleon III. was in the weaver’s lowly cottage
on the Donchery road. As early as five o’clock in the morning he had
insisted on leaving the Sous-Prefecture; he felt ill at ease in Sedan,
which was at once a menace and a reproach to him, and moreover he
thought he might, in some measure, alleviate the sufferings of his
tender heart by obtaining more favorable terms for his unfortunate army.
His object was to have a personal interview with the King of Prussia. He
had taken his place in a hired caleche and been driven along the broad
highway, with its row of lofty poplars on either side, and this first
stage of his journey into exile, accomplished in the chill air of early
dawn, must have reminded him forcibly of the grandeur that had been his
and that he was putting behind him forever. It was on this road that he
had his encounter with Bismarck, who came hurrying to meet him in an
old cap and coarse, greased boots, with the sole object of keeping him
occupied and preventing him from seeing the King until the capitulation
should have been signed. The King was still at Vendresse, some nine
miles away. Where was he to go? What roof would afford him shelter while
he waited? In his own country, so far away, the Palace of the Tuileries
had disappeared from his sight, swallowed up in the bosom of a
storm-cloud, and he was never to see it more. Sedan seemed already to
have receded into the distance, leagues and leagues, and to be parted
from him by a river of blood. In France there were no longer imperial
chateaus, nor official residences, nor even a chimney-nook in the house
of the humblest functionary, where he would have dared to enter and
claim hospitality. And it was in the house of the weaver that he
determined to seek shelter, the squalid cottage that stood close to the
roadside, with its scanty kitchen-garden inclosed by a hedge and
its front of a single story with little forbidding windows. The room
above-stairs was simply whitewashed and had a tiled floor; the only
furniture was a common pine table and two straw-bottomed chairs. He
spent two hours there, at first in company with Bismarck, who smiled
to hear him speak of generosity, after that alone in silent misery,
flattening his ashy face against the panes, taking his last look at
French soil and at the Meuse, winding in and out, so beautiful, among
the broad fertile fields.

Then the next day and the days that came after were other wretched
stages of that journey; the Chateau of Bellevue, a pretty bourgeois
retreat overlooking the river, where he rested that night, where he shed
tears after his interview with King William; the sorrowful departure,
that most miserable flight in a hired caleche over remote roads to the
north of the city, which he avoided, not caring to face the wrath of the
vanquished troops and the starving citizens, making a wide circuit over
cross-roads by Floing, Fleigneux, and Illy and crossing the stream on
a bridge of boats, laid down by the Prussians at Iges; the tragic
encounter, the story of which has been so often told, that occurred on
the corpse-cumbered plateau of Illy: the miserable Emperor, whose state
was such that his horse could not be allowed to trot, had sunk under
some more than usually violent attack of his complaint, mechanically
smoking, perhaps, his everlasting cigarette, when a band of haggard,
dusty, blood-stained prisoners, who were being conducted from Fleigneux
to Sedan, were forced to leave the road to let the carriage pass and
stood watching it from the ditch; those who were at the head of the line
merely eyed him in silence; presently a hoarse, sullen murmur began to
make itself heard, and finally, as the caleche proceeded down the line,
the men burst out with a storm of yells and cat-calls, shaking their
fists and calling down maledictions on the head of him who had been
their ruler. After that came the interminable journey across the
battlefield, as far as Givonne, amid scenes of havoc and devastation,
amid the dead, who lay with staring eyes upturned that seemed to be full
of menace; came, too, the bare, dreary fields, the great silent forest,
then the frontier, running along the summit of a ridge, marked only by
a stone, facing a wooden post that seemed ready to fall, and beyond
the soil of Belgium, the end of all, with its road bordered with gloomy
hemlocks descending sharply into the narrow valley.

And that first night of exile, that he spent at a common inn, the Hotel
de la Poste at Bouillon, what a night it was! When the Emperor showed
himself at his window in deference to the throng of French refugees and
sight-seers that filled the place, he was greeted with a storm of hisses
and hostile murmurs. The apartment assigned him, the three windows of
which opened on the public square and on the Semoy, was the typical
tawdry bedroom of the provincial inn with its conventional furnishings:
the chairs covered with crimson damask, the mahogany _armoire a glace_,
and on the mantel the imitation bronze clock, flanked by a pair of conch
shells and vases of artificial flowers under glass covers. On either
side of the door was a little single bed, to one of which the wearied
aide-de-camp betook himself at nine o’clock and was immediately wrapped
in soundest slumber. On the other the Emperor, to whom the god of sleep
was less benignant, tossed almost the whole night through, and if
he arose to try to quiet his excited nerves by walking, the sole
distraction that his eyes encountered was a pair of engravings that were
hung to right and left of the chimney, one depicting Rouget de Lisle
singing the Marseillaise, the other a crude representation of the
Last Judgment, the dead rising from their graves at the sound of the
Archangel’s trump, the resurrection of the victims of the battlefield,
about to appear before their God to bear witness against their rulers.

The imperial baggage train, cause in its day of so much scandal, had
been left behind at Sedan, where it rested in ignominious hiding behind
the Sous-Prefet’s lilac bushes. It puzzled the authorities somewhat to
devise means for ridding themselves of what was to them a _bete noire_,
for getting it away from the city unseen by the famishing multitude,
upon whom the sight of its flaunting splendor would have produced much
the same effect that a red rag does on a maddened bull. They waited
until there came an unusually dark night, when horses, carriages, and
baggage-wagons, with their silver stew-pans, plate, linen, and baskets
of fine wines, all trooped out of Sedan in deepest mystery and shaped
their course for Belgium, noiselessly, without beat of drum, over the
least frequented roads like a thief stealing away in the night.



PART THIRD



I.

All the long, long day of the battle Silvine, up on Remilly hill, where
Father Fouchard’s little farm was situated, but her heart and soul
absent with Honore amid the dangers of the conflict, never once took
her eyes from off Sedan, where the guns were roaring. The following day,
moreover, her anxiety was even greater still, being increased by her
inability to obtain any definite tidings, for the Prussians who were
guarding the roads in the vicinity refused to answer questions, as much
from reasons of policy as because they knew but very little themselves.
The bright sun of the day before was no longer visible, and showers
had fallen, making the valley look less cheerful than usual in the wan
light.

Toward evening Father Fouchard, who was also haunted by a sensation of
uneasiness in the midst of his studied taciturnity, was standing on his
doorstep reflecting on the probable outcome of events. His son had no
place in his thoughts, but he was speculating how he best might convert
the misfortunes of others into fortune for himself, and as he revolved
these considerations in his mind he noticed a tall, strapping young
fellow, dressed in the peasant’s blouse, who had been strolling up and
down the road for the last minute or so, looking as if he did not know
what to do with himself. His astonishment on recognizing him was so
great that he called him aloud by name, notwithstanding that three
Prussians happened to be passing at the time.

“Why, Prosper! Is that you?”

The chasseur d’Afrique imposed silence on him with an emphatic gesture;
then, coming closer, he said in an undertone:

“Yes, it is I. I have had enough of fighting for nothing, and I cut my
lucky. Say, Father Fouchard, you don’t happen to be in need of a laborer
on your farm, do you?”

All the old man’s prudence came back to him in a twinkling. He _was_
looking for someone to help him, but it would be better not to say so at
once.

“A lad on the farm? faith, no--not just now. Come in, though, all the
same, and have a glass. I shan’t leave you out on the road when you’re
in trouble, that’s sure.”

Silvine, in the kitchen, was setting the pot of soup on the fire, while
little Charlot was hanging by her skirts, frolicking and laughing. She
did not recognize Prosper at first, although they had formerly served
together in the same household, and it was not until she came in,
bringing a bottle of wine and two glasses, that she looked him squarely
in the face. She uttered a cry of joy and surprise; her sole thought was
of Honore.

“Ah, you were there, weren’t you? Is Honore all right?”

Prosper’s answer was ready to slip from his tongue; he hesitated.
For the last two days he had been living in a dream, among a rapid
succession of strange, ill-defined events which left behind them no
precise memory, as a man starts, half-awakened, from a slumber peopled
with fantastic visions. It was true, doubtless, he believed he had seen
Honore lying upon a cannon, dead, but he would not have cared to swear
to it; what use is there in afflicting people when one is not certain?

“Honore,” he murmured, “I don’t know, I couldn’t say.”

She continued to press him with her questions, looking at him steadily.

“You did not see him, then?”

He waved his hands before him with a slow, uncertain motion and an
expressive shake of the head.

“How can you expect one to remember! There were such lots of things,
such lots of things. Look you, of all that d-----d battle, if I was to
die for it this minute, I could not tell you that much--no, not even the
place where I was. I believe men get to be no better than idiots, ‘pon
my word I do!” And tossing off a glass of wine, he sat gloomily silent,
his vacant eyes turned inward on the dark recesses of his memory. “All
that I remember is that it was beginning to be dark when I recovered
consciousness. I went down while we were charging, and then the sun was
very high. I must have been lying there for hours, my right leg caught
under poor old Zephyr, who had received a piece of shell in the middle
of his chest. There was nothing to laugh at in my position, I can tell
you; the dead comrades lying around me in piles, not a living soul
in sight, and the certainty that I should have to kick the bucket too
unless someone came to put me on my legs again. Gently, gently, I tried
to free my leg, but it was no use; Zephyr’s weight must have been fully
up to that of the five hundred thousand devils. He was warm still. I
patted him, I spoke to him, saying all the pretty things I could think
of, and here’s a thing, do you see, that I shall never forget as long
as I live: he opened his eyes and made an effort to raise his poor old
head, which was resting on the ground beside my own. Then we had a talk
together: ‘Poor old fellow,’ says I, ‘I don’t want to say a word to hurt
your feelings, but you must want to see me croak with you, you hold me
down so hard.’ Of course he didn’t say he did; he couldn’t, but for all
that I could read in his great sorrowful eyes how bad he felt to have
to part with me. And I can’t say how the thing happened, whether he
intended it or whether it was part of the death struggle, but all at
once he gave himself a great shake that sent him rolling away to one
side. I was enabled to get on my feet once more, but ah! in what a
pickle; my leg was swollen and heavy as a leg of lead. Never mind, I
took Zephyr’s head in my arms and kept on talking to him, telling him
all the kind thoughts I had in my heart, that he was a good horse, that
I loved him dearly, that I should never forget him. He listened to me,
he seemed to be so pleased! Then he had another long convulsion, and so
he died, with his big vacant eyes fixed on me till the last. It is very
strange, though, and I don’t suppose anyone will believe me; still, it
is the simple truth that great, big tears were standing in his eyes.
Poor old Zephyr, he cried just like a man--”

At this point Prosper’s emotion got the better of him; tears choked his
utterance and he was obliged to break off. He gulped down another
glass of wine and went on with his narrative in disjointed, incomplete
sentences. It kept growing darker and darker, until there was only
a narrow streak of red light on the horizon at the verge of the
battlefield; the shadows of the dead horses seemed to be projected
across the plain to an infinite distance. The pain and stiffness in his
leg kept him from moving; he must have remained for a long time beside
Zephyr. Then, with his fears as an incentive, he had managed to get on
his feet and hobble away; it was an imperative necessity to him not to
be alone, to find comrades who would share his fears with him and make
them less. Thus from every nook and corner of the battlefield, from
hedges and ditches and clumps of bushes, the wounded who had been left
behind dragged themselves painfully in search of companionship, forming
when possible little bands of four or five, finding it less hard to
agonize and die in the company of their fellow-beings. In the wood of la
Garenne Prosper fell in with two men of the 43d regiment; they were not
wounded, but had burrowed in the underbrush like rabbits, waiting for
the coming of the night. When they learned that he was familiar with
the roads they communicated to him their plan, which was to traverse the
woods under cover of the darkness and make their escape into Belgium.
At first he declined to share their undertaking, for he would have
preferred to proceed direct to Remilly, where he was certain to find
a refuge, but where was he to obtain the blouse and trousers that
he required as a disguise? to say nothing of the impracticability of
getting past the numerous Prussian pickets and outposts that filled the
valley all the way from la Garenne to Remilly. He therefore ended by
consenting to act as guide to the two comrades. His leg was less stiff
than it had been, and they were so fortunate as to secure a loaf of
bread at a farmhouse. Nine o’clock was striking from the church of a
village in the distance as they resumed their way. The only point where
they encountered any danger worth mentioning was at la Chapelle, where
they fell directly into the midst of a Prussian advanced post before
they were aware of it; the enemy flew to arms and blazed away into the
darkness, while they, throwing themselves on the ground and alternately
crawling and running until the fire slackened, ultimately regained the
shelter of the trees. After that they kept to the woods, observing
the utmost vigilance. At a bend in the road, they crept up behind an
out-lying picket and, leaping on his back, buried a knife in his throat.
Then the road was free before them and they no longer had to observe
precaution; they went ahead, laughing and whistling. It was about three
in the morning when they reached a little Belgian village, where they
knocked up a worthy farmer, who at once opened his barn to them; they
snuggled among the hay and slept soundly until morning.

The sun was high in the heavens when Prosper awoke. As he opened his
eyes and looked about him, while the two comrades were still snoring, he
beheld their entertainer engaged in hitching a horse to a great carriole
loaded with bread, rice, coffee, sugar, and all sorts of eatables,
the whole concealed under sacks of charcoal, and a little questioning
elicited from the good man the fact that he had two married daughters
living at Raucourt, in France, whom the passage of the Bavarian troops
had left entirely destitute, and that the provisions in the carriole
were intended for them. He had procured that very morning the
safe-conduct that was required for the journey. Prosper was immediately
seized by an uncontrollable desire to take a seat in that carriole
and return to the country that he loved so and for which his heart was
yearning with such a violent nostalgia. It was perfectly simple; the
farmer would have to pass through Remilly to reach Raucourt; he would
alight there. The matter was arranged in three minutes; he obtained a
loan of the longed-for blouse and trousers, and the farmer gave out,
wherever they stopped, that he was his servant; so that about six
o’clock he got down in front of the church, not having been stopped more
than two or three times by the German outposts.

They were all silent for a while, then: “No, I had enough of it!” said
Prosper. “If they had but set us at work that amounted to something, as
out there in Africa! but this going up the hill only to come down again,
the feeling that one is of no earthly use to anyone, that is no kind
of a life at all. And then I should be lonely, now that poor Zephyr is
dead; all that is left me to do is to go to work on a farm. That will
be better than living among the Prussians as a prisoner, don’t you think
so? You have horses, Father Fouchard; try me, and see whether or not I
will love them and take good care of them.”

The old fellow’s eyes gleamed, but he touched glasses once more with the
other and concluded the arrangement without any evidence of eagerness.

“Very well; I wish to be of service to you as far as lies in my power;
I will take you. As regards the question of wages, though, you must not
speak of it until the war is over, for really I am not in need of anyone
and the times are too hard.”

Silvine, who had remained seated with Charlot on her lap, had never
once taken her eyes from Prosper’s face. When she saw him rise with the
intention of going to the stable and making immediate acquaintance with
its four-footed inhabitants, she again asked:

“Then you say you did not see Honore?”

The question repeated thus abruptly made him start, as if it had
suddenly cast a flood of light in upon an obscure corner of his memory.
He hesitated for a little, but finally came to a decision and spoke.

“See here, I did not wish to grieve you just now, but I don’t believe
Honore will ever come back.”

“Never come back--what do you mean?”

“Yes, I believe that the Prussians did his business for him. I saw him
lying across his gun, his head erect, with a great wound just beneath
the heart.”

There was silence in the room. Silvine’s pallor was frightful to
behold, while Father Fouchard displayed his interest in the narrative by
replacing upon the table his glass, into which he had just poured what
wine remained in the bottle.

“Are you quite certain?” she asked in a choking voice.

“_Dame_! as certain as one can be of a thing he has seen with his own
two eyes. It was on a little hillock, with three trees in a group right
beside it; it seems to me I could go to the spot blindfolded.”

If it was true she had nothing left to live for. That lad who had been
so good to her, who had forgiven her her fault, had plighted his troth
and was to marry her when he came home at the end of the campaign! and
they had robbed her of him, they had murdered him, and he was lying out
there on the battlefield with a wound under the heart! She had never
known how strong her love for him had been, and now the thought that she
was to see him no more, that he who was hers was hers no longer, aroused
her almost to a pitch of madness and made her forget her usual tranquil
resignation. She set Charlot roughly down upon the floor, exclaiming:

“Good! I shall not believe that story until I see the evidence of it,
until I see it with my own eyes. Since you know the spot you shall
conduct me to it. And if it is true, if we find him, we will bring him
home with us.”

Her tears allowed her to say no more; she bowed her head upon the table,
her frame convulsed by long-drawn, tumultuous sobs that shook her from
head to foot, while the child, not knowing what to make of such unusual
treatment at his mother’s hands, also commenced to weep violently. She
caught him up and pressed him to her heart, with distracted, stammering
words:

“My poor child! my poor child!”

Consternation was depicted on old Fouchard’s face. Appearances
notwithstanding, he did love his son, after a fashion of his own.
Memories of the past came back to him, of days long vanished, when his
wife was still living and Honore was a boy at school, and two big
tears appeared in his small red eyes and trickled down his old leathery
cheeks. He had not wept before in more than ten years. In the end he
grew angry at the thought of that son who was his and upon whom he was
never to set eyes again; he rapped out an oath or two.

“_Nom de Dieu!_ it is provoking all the same, to have only one boy, and
that he should be taken from you!”

When their agitation had in a measure subsided, however, Fouchard was
annoyed that Silvine still continued to talk of going to search for
Honore’s body out there on the battlefield. She made no further noisy
demonstration, but harbored her purpose with the dogged silence of
despair, and he failed to recognize in her the docile, obedient servant
who was wont to perform her daily tasks without a murmur; her great,
submissive eyes, in which lay the chief beauty of her face, had assumed
an expression of stern determination, while beneath her thick brown hair
her cheeks and brow wore a pallor that was like death. She had torn off
the red kerchief that was knotted about her neck, and was entirely in
black, like a widow in her weeds. It was all in vain that he tried to
impress on her the difficulties of the undertaking, the dangers she
would be subjected to, the little hope there was of recovering the
corpse; she did not even take the trouble to answer him, and he saw
clearly that unless he seconded her in her plan she would start out
alone and do some unwise thing, and this aspect of the case worried him
on account of the complications that might arise between him and the
Prussian authorities. He therefore finally decided to go and lay the
matter before the mayor of Remilly, who was a kind of distant cousin of
his, and they two between them concocted a story: Silvine was to pass
as the actual widow of Honore, Prosper became her brother, so that the
Bavarian colonel, who had his quarters in the Hotel of the Maltese Cross
down in the lower part of the village, made no difficulty about granting
a pass which authorized the brother and sister to bring home the body of
the husband, provided they could find it. By this time it was night; the
only concession that could be obtained from the young woman was that she
would delay starting on her expedition until morning.

When morning came old Fouchard could not be prevailed on to allow one
of his horses to be taken, fearing he might never set eyes on it again.
What assurance had he that the Prussians would not confiscate the entire
equipage? At last he consented, though with very bad grace, to loan her
the donkey, a little gray animal, and his cart, which, though small,
would be large enough to hold a dead man. He gave minute instructions
to Prosper, who had had a good night’s sleep, but was anxious and
thoughtful at the prospect of the expedition now that, being rested and
refreshed, he attempted to remember something of the battle. At the last
moment Silvine went and took the counterpane from her own bed, folding
and spreading it on the floor of the cart. Just as she was about to
start she came running back to embrace Charlot.

“I entrust him to your care, Father Fouchard; keep an eye on him and see
that he doesn’t get hold of the matches.”

“Yes, yes; never fear!”

They were late in getting off; it was near seven o’clock when the little
procession, the donkey, hanging his head and drawing the narrow cart,
leading, descended the steep hill of Remilly. It had rained heavily
during the night, and the roads were become rivers of mud; great
lowering clouds hung in the heavens, imparting an air of cheerless
desolation to the scene.

Prosper, wishing to save all the distance he could, had determined on
taking the route that lay through the city of Sedan, but before they
reached Pont-Maugis a Prussian outpost halted the cart and held it for
over an hour, and finally, after their pass had been referred, one after
another, to four or five officials, they were told they might resume
their journey, but only on condition of taking the longer, roundabout
route by way of Bazeilles, to do which they would have to turn into
a cross-road on their left. No reason was assigned; their object was
probably to avoid adding to the crowd that encumbered the streets of
the city. When Silvine crossed the Meuse by the railroad bridge, that
ill-starred bridge that the French had failed to destroy and which,
moreover, had been the cause of such slaughter among the Bavarians,
she beheld the corpse of an artilleryman floating lazily down with the
sluggish current. It caught among some rushes near the bank, hung there
a moment, then swung clear and started afresh on its downward way.

Bazeilles, through which they passed from end to end at a slow walk,
afforded a spectacle of ruin and desolation, the worst that war can
perpetrate when it sweeps with devastating force, like a cyclone,
through a land. The dead had been removed; there was not a single corpse
to be seen in the village streets, and the rain had washed away the
blood; pools of reddish water were to be seen here and there in the
roadway, with repulsive, frowzy-looking debris, matted masses that one
could not help associating in his mind with human hair. But what shocked
and saddened one more than all the rest was the ruin that was visible
everywhere; that charming village, only three days before so bright and
smiling, with its pretty houses standing in their well-kept gardens, now
razed, demolished, annihilated, nothing left of all its beauties save
a few smoke-stained walls. The church was burning still, a huge pyre
of smoldering beams and girders, whence streamed continually upward a
column of dense black smoke that, spreading in the heavens, overshadowed
the city like a gigantic funeral pall. Entire streets had been swept
away, not a house left on either side, nor any trace that houses had
ever been there, save the calcined stone-work lying in the gutter in a
pasty mess of soot and ashes, the whole lost in the viscid, ink-black
mud of the thoroughfare. Where streets intersected the corner houses
were razed down to their foundations, as if they had been carried away
bodily by the fiery blast that blew there. Others had suffered less; one
in particular, owing to some chance, had escaped almost without injury,
while its neighbors on either hand, literally torn to pieces by the iron
hail, were like gaunt skeletons. An unbearable stench was everywhere,
noticeable, the nauseating odor that follows a great fire, aggravated
by the penetrating smell of petroleum, that had been used without stint
upon floors and walls. Then, too, there was the pitiful, mute spectacle
of the household goods that the people had endeavored to save, the
poor furniture that had been thrown from windows and smashed upon the
sidewalk, crazy tables with broken legs, presses with cloven sides and
split doors, linen, also, torn and soiled, that was trodden under foot;
all the sorry crumbs, the unconsidered trifles of the pillage, of which
the destruction was being completed by the dissolving rain. Through the
breach in a shattered house-front a clock was visible, securely fastened
high up on the wall above the mantel-shelf, that had miraculously
escaped intact.

“The beasts! the pigs!” growled Prosper, whose blood, though he was no
longer a soldier, ran hot at the sight of such atrocities.

He doubled his fists, and Silvine, who was white as a ghost, had
to exert the influence of her glance to calm him every time they
encountered a sentry on their way. The Bavarians had posted sentinels
near all the houses that were still burning, and it seemed as if those
men, with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets, were guarding the fires in
order that the flames might finish their work. They drove away the mere
sightseers who strolled about in the vicinity, and the persons who had
an interest there as well, employing first a menacing gesture, and in
case that was not sufficient, uttering a single brief, guttural word of
command. A young woman, her hair streaming about her shoulders, her gown
plastered with mud, persisted in hanging about the smoking ruins of
a little house, of which she desired to search the hot ashes,
notwithstanding the prohibition of the sentry. The report ran that the
woman’s little baby had been burned with the house. And all at once, as
the Bavarian was roughly thrusting her aside with his heavy hand, she
turned on him, vomiting in his face all her despair and rage, lashing
him with taunts and insults that were redolent of the gutter, with
obscene words which likely afforded her some consolation in her grief
and distress. He could not have understood her, for he drew back a pace
or two, eying her with apprehension. Three comrades came running up and
relieved him of the fury, whom they led away screaming at the top of her
voice. Before the ruins of another house a man and two little girls, all
three so weary and miserable that they could not stand, lay on the bare
ground, sobbing as if their hearts would break; they had seen their
little all go up in smoke and flame, and had no place to go, no place to
lay their head. But just then a patrol went by, dispersing the knots of
idlers, and the street again assumed its deserted aspect, peopled only
by the stern, sullen sentries, vigilant to see that their iniquitous
instructions were enforced.

“The beasts! the pigs!” Prosper repeated in a stifled voice. “How I
should like, oh! how I should like to kill a few of them!”

Silvine again made him be silent. She shuddered. A dog, shut up in a
carriage-house that the flames had spared and forgotten there for the
last two days, kept up an incessant, continuous howling, in a key so
inexpressibly mournful that a brooding horror seemed to pervade the low,
leaden sky, from which a drizzling rain had now begun to fall. They were
then just abreast of the park of Montivilliers, and there they witnessed
a most horrible sight. Three great covered carts, those carts that pass
along the streets in the early morning before it is light and collect
the city’s filth and garbage, stood there in a row, loaded with corpses;
and now, instead of refuse, they were being filled with dead, stopping
wherever there was a body to be loaded, then going on again with
the heavy rumbling of their wheels to make another stop further on,
threading Bazeilles in its every nook and corner until their hideous
cargo overflowed. They were waiting now upon the public road to be
driven to the place of their discharge, the neighboring potter’s
field. Feet were seen projecting from the mass into the air. A head,
half-severed from its trunk, hung over the side of the vehicle. When
the three lumbering vans started again, swaying and jolting over the
inequalities of the road, a long, white hand was hanging outward from
one of them; the hand caught upon the wheel, and little by little the
iron tire destroyed it, eating through skin and flesh clean down to the
bones.

By the time they reached Balan the rain had ceased, and Prosper
prevailed on Silvine to eat a bit of the bread he had had the foresight
to bring with them. When they were near Sedan, however, they were
brought to a halt by another Prussian post, and this time the
consequences threatened to be serious; the officer stormed at them,
and even refused to restore their pass, which he declared, in excellent
French, to be a forgery. Acting on his orders some soldiers had run the
donkey and the little cart under a shed. What were they to do? were they
to be forced to abandon their undertaking? Silvine was in despair, when
all at once she thought of M. Dubreuil, Father Fouchard’s relative, with
whom she had some slight acquaintance and whose place, the Hermitage,
was only a few hundred yards distant, on the summit of the eminence that
overlooked the faubourg. Perhaps he might have some influence with
the military, seeing that he was a citizen of the place. As they were
allowed their freedom, conditionally upon abandoning their equipage, she
left the donkey and cart under the shed and bade Prosper accompany
her. They ascended the hill on a run, found the gate of the Hermitage
standing wide open, and on turning into the avenue of secular elms
beheld a spectacle that filled them with amazement.

“The devil!” said Prosper; “there are a lot of fellows who seem to be
taking things easy!”

On the fine-crushed gravel of the terrace, at the bottom of the steps
that led to the house, was a merry company. Arranged in order around a
marble-topped table were a sofa and some easy-chairs in sky-blue satin,
forming a sort of fantastic open-air drawing-room, which must have been
thoroughly soaked by the rain of the preceding day. Two zouaves, seated
in a lounging attitude at either end of the sofa, seemed to be laughing
boisterously. A little infantryman, who occupied one of the fauteuils,
his head bent forward, was apparently holding his sides to keep them
from splitting. Three others were seated in a negligent pose, their
elbows resting on the arms of their chairs, while a chasseur had his
hand extended as if in the act of taking a glass from the table. They
had evidently discovered the location of the cellar, and were enjoying
themselves.

“But how in the world do they happen to be here?” murmured Prosper,
whose stupefaction increased as he drew nearer to them. “Have the
rascals forgotten there are Prussians about?”

But Silvine, whose eyes had dilated far beyond their natural size,
suddenly uttered an exclamation of horror. The soldiers never moved hand
or foot; they were stone dead. The two zouaves were stiff and cold; they
both had had the face shot away, the nose was gone, the eyes were torn
from their sockets. If there appeared to be a laugh on the face of
him who was holding his sides, it was because a bullet had cut a great
furrow through the lower portion of his countenance, smashing all
his teeth. The spectacle was an unimaginably horrible one, those poor
wretches laughing and conversing in their attitude of manikins, with
glassy eyes and open mouths, when Death had laid his icy hand on them
and they were never more to know the warmth and motion of life. Had they
dragged themselves, still living, to that place, so as to die in
one another’s company? or was it not rather a ghastly prank of the
Prussians, who had collected the bodies and placed them in a circle
about the table, out of derision for the traditional gayety of the
French nation?

“It’s a queer start, though, all the same,” muttered Prosper, whose face
was very pale. And casting a look at the other dead who lay scattered
about the avenue, under the trees and on the turf, some thirty
brave fellows, among them Lieutenant Rochas, riddled with wounds and
surrounded still by the shreds of the flag, he added seriously and with
great respect: “There must have been some very pretty fighting about
here! I don’t much believe we shall find the bourgeois for whom you are
looking.”

Silvine entered the house, the doors and windows of which had been
battered in and afforded admission to the damp, cold air from without.
It was clear enough that there was no one there; the masters must have
taken their departure before the battle. She continued to prosecute her
search, however, and had entered the kitchen, when she gave utterance to
another cry of terror. Beneath the sink were two bodies, fast locked in
each other’s arms in mortal embrace, one of them a zouave, a handsome,
brown-bearded man, the other a huge Prussian with red hair. The teeth of
the former were set in the latter’s cheek, their arms, stiff in death,
had not relaxed their terrible hug, binding the pair with such a bond of
everlasting hate and fury that ultimately it was found necessary to bury
them in a common grave.

Then Prosper made haste to lead Silvine away, since they could
accomplish nothing in that house where Death had taken up his abode, and
upon their return, despairing, to the post where the donkey and cart
had been detained, it so chanced that they found, in company with the
officer who had treated them so harshly, a general on his way to visit
the battlefield. This gentleman requested to be allowed to see the pass,
which he examined attentively and restored to Silvine; then, with an
expression of compassion on his face, he gave directions that the poor
woman should have her donkey returned to her and be allowed to go in
quest of her husband’s body. Stopping only long enough to thank her
benefactor, she and her companion, with the cart trundling after them,
set out for the Fond de Givonne, obedient to the instructions that were
again given them not to pass through Sedan.

After that they bent their course to the left in order to reach the
plateau of Illy by the road that crosses the wood of la Garenne, but
here again they were delayed; twenty times they nearly abandoned all
hope of getting through the wood, so numerous were the obstacles they
encountered. At every step their way was barred by huge trees that had
been laid low by the artillery fire, stretched on the ground like
mighty giants fallen. It was the part of the forest that had suffered so
severely from the cannonade, where the projectiles had plowed their way
through the secular growths as they might have done through a square
of the Old Guard, meeting in either case with the sturdy resistance
of veterans. Everywhere the earth was cumbered with gigantic trunks,
stripped of their leaves and branches, pierced and mangled, even as
mortals might have been, and this wholesale destruction, the sight of
the poor limbs, maimed, slaughtered and weeping tears of sap, inspired
the beholder with the sickening horror of a human battlefield. There
were corpses of men there, too; soldiers, who had stood fraternally by
the trees and fallen with them. A lieutenant, from whose mouth exuded
a bloody froth, had been tearing up the grass by handfuls in his agony,
and his stiffened fingers were still buried in the ground. A little
farther on a captain, prone on his stomach, had raised his head to vent
his anguish in yells and screams, and death had caught and fixed him in
that strange attitude. Others seemed to be slumbering among the herbage,
while a zouave; whose blue sash had taken fire, had had his hair and
beard burned completely from his head. And several times it happened,
as they traversed those woodland glades, that they had to remove a body
from the path before the donkey could proceed on his way. Presently they
came to a little valley, where the sights of horror abruptly ended.
The battle had evidently turned at this point and expended its force in
another direction, leaving this peaceful nook of nature untouched. The
trees were all uninjured; the carpet of velvety moss was undefiled by
blood. A little brook coursed merrily among the duckweed, the path that
ran along its bank was shaded by tall beeches. A penetrating charm, a
tender peacefulness pervaded the solitude of the lovely spot, where the
living waters gave up their coolness to the air and the leaves whispered
softly in the silence.

Prosper had stopped to let the donkey drink from the stream.

“Ah, how pleasant it is here!” he involuntarily exclaimed in his
delight.

Silvine cast an astonished look about her, as if wondering how it was
that she, too, could feel the influence of the peaceful scene.
Why should there be repose and happiness in that hidden nook, when
surrounding it on every side were sorrow and affliction? She made a
gesture of impatience.

“Quick, quick, let us be gone. Where is the spot? Where did you tell me
you saw Honore?”

And when, at some fifty paces from there, they at last came out on the
plateau of Illy, the level plain unrolled itself in its full extent
before their vision. It was the real, the true battlefield that they
beheld now, the bare fields stretching away to the horizon under the
wan, cheerless sky, whence showers were streaming down continually.
There were no piles of dead visible; all the Prussians must have been
buried by this time, for there was not a single one to be seen among
the corpses of the French that were scattered here and there, along the
roads and in the fields, as the conflict had swayed in one direction or
another. The first that they encountered was a sergeant, propped against
a hedge, a superb man, in the bloom of his youthful vigor; his face was
tranquil and a smile seemed to rest on his parted lips. A hundred paces
further on, however, they beheld another, lying across the road, who had
been mutilated most frightfully, his head almost entirely shot away, his
shoulders covered with great splotches of brain matter. Then, as they
advanced further into the field, after the single bodies, distributed
here and there, they came across little groups; they saw seven men
aligned in single rank, kneeling and with their muskets at the shoulder
in the position of aim, who had been hit as they were about to fire,
while close beside them a subaltern had also fallen as he was in the act
of giving the word of command. After that the road led along the brink
of a little ravine, and there they beheld a spectacle that aroused their
horror to the highest pitch as they looked down into the chasm, into
which an entire company seemed to have been blown by the fiery blast;
it was choked with corpses, a landslide, an avalanche of maimed and
mutilated men, bent and twisted in an inextricable tangle, who with
convulsed fingers had caught at the yellow clay of the bank to save
themselves in their descent, fruitlessly. And a dusky flock of ravens
flew away, croaking noisily, and swarms of flies, thousands upon
thousands of them, attracted by the odor of fresh blood, were buzzing
over the bodies and returning incessantly.

“Where is the spot?” Silvine asked again.

They were then passing a plowed field that was completely covered with
knapsacks. It was manifest that some regiment had been roughly handled
there, and the men, in a moment of panic, had relieved themselves
of their burdens. The debris of every sort with which the ground was
thickly strewn served to explain the episodes of the conflict. There was
a stubble field where the scattered _kepis_, resembling huge poppies,
shreds of uniforms, epaulettes, and sword-belts told the story of one of
those infrequent hand-to-hand contests in the fierce artillery duel
that had lasted twelve hours. But the objects that were encountered
most frequently, at every step, in fact, were abandoned weapons, sabers,
bayonets, and, more particularly, chassepots; and so numerous were they
that they seemed to have sprouted from the earth, a harvest that had
matured in a single ill-omened day. Porringers and buckets, also, were
scattered along the roads, together with the heterogeneous contents of
knapsacks, rice, brushes, clothing, cartridges. The fields everywhere
presented an uniform scene of devastation: fences destroyed, trees
blighted as if they had been struck by lightning, the very soil itself
torn by shells, compacted and hardened by the tramp of countless feet,
and so maltreated that it seemed as if seasons must elapse before it
could again become productive. Everything had been drenched and soaked
by the rain of the preceding day; an odor arose and hung in the air
persistently, that odor of the battlefield that smells like fermenting
straw and burning cloth, a mixture of rottenness and gunpowder.

Silvine, who was beginning to weary of those fields of death over which
she had tramped so many long miles, looked about her with increasing
distrust and uneasiness.

“Where is the spot? where is it?”

But Prosper made no answer; he also was becoming uneasy. What distressed
him even more than the sights of suffering among his fellow-soldiers was
the dead horses, the poor brutes that lay outstretched upon their side,
that were met with in great numbers. Many of them presented a most
pitiful spectacle, in all sorts of harrowing attitudes, with heads torn
from the body, with lacerated flanks from which the entrails protruded.
Many were resting on their back, with their four feet elevated in the
air like signals of distress. The entire extent of the broad plain was
dotted with them. There were some that death had not released after
their two days’ agony; at the faintest sound they would raise their
head, turning it eagerly from right to left, then let it fall again upon
the ground, while others lay motionless and momentarily gave utterance
to that shrill scream which one who has heard it can never forget, the
lament of the dying horse, so piercingly mournful that earth and heaven
seemed to shudder in unison with it. And Prosper, with a bleeding heart,
thought of poor Zephyr, and told himself that perhaps he might see him
once again.

Suddenly he became aware that the ground was trembling under the
thundering hoof-beats of a headlong charge. He turned to look, and had
barely time to shout to his companion:

“The horses, the horses! Get behind that wall!”

From the summit of a neighboring eminence a hundred riderless horses,
some of them still bearing the saddle and master’s kit, were plunging
down upon them at break-neck speed. They were cavalry mounts that had
lost their masters and remained on the battlefield, and instinct had
counseled them to associate together in a band. They had had neither
hay nor oats for two days, and had cropped the scanty grass from off the
plain, shorn the hedge-rows of leaves and twigs, gnawed the bark from
the trees, and when they felt the pangs of hunger pricking at their
vitals like a keen spur, they started all together at a mad gallop and
charged across the deserted, silent fields, crushing the dead out of all
human shape, extinguishing the last spark of life in the wounded.

The band came on like a whirlwind; Silvine had only time to pull the
donkey and cart to one side where they would be protected by the wall.

“_Mon Dieu!_ we shall be killed!”

But the horses had taken the obstacle in their stride and were already
scouring away in the distance on the other side with a rumble like that
of a receding thunder-storm; striking into a sunken road they pursued
it as far as the corner of a little wood, behind which they were lost to
sight.

Silvine, when she had brought the cart back into the road, insisted that
Prosper should answer her question before they proceeded further.

“Come, where is it? You told me you could find the spot with your eyes
bandaged; where is it? We have reached the ground.”

He, drawing himself up and anxiously scanning the horizon in every
direction, seemed to become more and more perplexed.

“There were three trees, I must find those three trees in the first
place. Ah, _dame_! see here, one’s sight is not of the clearest when
he is fighting, and it is no such easy matter to remember afterward the
roads one has passed over!”

Then perceiving people to his left, two men and a woman, it occurred to
him to question them, but the woman ran away at his approach and the men
repulsed him with threatening gestures; and he saw others of the same
stripe, clad in sordid rags, unspeakably filthy, with the ill-favored
faces of thieves and murderers, and they all shunned him, slinking away
among the corpses like jackals or other unclean, creeping beasts. Then
he noticed that wherever these villainous gentry passed the dead behind
them were shoeless, their bare, white feet exposed, devoid of covering,
and he saw how it was: they were the tramps and thugs who followed the
German armies for the sake of plundering the dead, the detestable crew
who followed in the wake of the invasion in order that they might reap
their harvest from the field of blood. A tall, lean fellow arose
in front of him and scurried away on a run, a sack slung across his
shoulder, the watches and small coins, proceeds of his robberies,
jingling in his pockets.

A boy about fourteen or fifteen years old, however, allowed Prosper to
approach him, and when the latter, seeing him to be French, rated him
soundly, the boy spoke up in his defense. What, was it wrong for a poor
fellow to earn his living? He was collecting chassepots, and received
five sous for every chassepot he brought in. He had run away from his
village that morning, having eaten nothing since the day before, and
engaged himself to a contractor from Luxembourg, who had an arrangement
with the Prussians by virtue of which he was to gather the muskets from
the field of battle, the Germans fearing that should the scattered arms
be collected by the peasants of the frontier, they might be conveyed
into Belgium and thence find their way back to France. And so it was
that there was quite a flock of poor devils hunting for muskets and
earning their five sous, rummaging among the herbage, like the women who
may be seen in the meadows, bent nearly double, gathering dandelions.

“It’s a dirty business,” Prosper growled.

“What would you have! A chap must eat,” the boy replied. “I am not
robbing anyone.”

Then, as he did not belong to that neighborhood and could not give the
information that Prosper wanted, he pointed out a little farmhouse not
far away where he had seen some people stirring.

Prosper thanked him and was moving away to rejoin Silvine when he caught
sight of a chassepot, partially buried in a furrow. His first thought
was to say nothing of his discovery; then he turned about suddenly and
shouted, as if he could not help it:

“Hallo! here’s one; that will make five sous more for you.”

As they approached the farmhouse Silvine noticed other peasants engaged
with spades and picks in digging long trenches; but these men were
under the direct command of Prussian officers, who, with nothing more
formidable than a light walking-stick in their hands, stood by, stiff
and silent, and superintended the work. They had requisitioned the
inhabitants of all the villages of the vicinity in this manner, fearing
that decomposition might be hastened, owing to the rainy weather. Two
cart-loads of dead bodies were standing near, and a gang of men was
unloading them, laying the corpses side by side in close contiguity to
one another, not searching them, not even looking at their faces, while
two men followed after, equipped with great shovels, and covered the
row with a layer of earth, so thin that the ground had already begun to
crack beneath the showers. The work was so badly and hastily done that
before two weeks should have elapsed each of those fissures would be
breathing forth pestilence. Silvine could not resist the impulse to
pause at the brink of the trench and look at those pitiful corpses as
they were brought forward, one after another. She was possessed by a
horrible fear that in each fresh body the men brought from the cart she
might recognize Honore. Was not that he, that poor wretch whose left eye
had been destroyed? No! Perhaps that one with the fractured jaw was he?
The one thing certain to her mind was that if she did not make haste to
find him, wherever he might be on that boundless, indeterminate plateau,
they would pick him up and bury him in a common grave with the others.
She therefore hurried to rejoin Prosper, who had gone on to the
farmhouse with the cart.

“_Mon Dieu!_ how is it that you are not better informed? Where is the
place? Ask the people, question them.”

There were none but Prussians at the farm, however, together with a
woman servant and her child, just come in from the woods, where they
had been near perishing of thirst and hunger. The scene was one of
patriarchal simplicity and well-earned repose after the fatigues of
the last few days. Some of the soldiers had hung their uniforms from
a clothes-line and were giving them a thorough brushing, another was
putting a patch on his trousers, with great neatness and dexterity,
while the cook of the detachment had built a great fire in the middle
of the courtyard on which the soup was boiling in a huge pot from
which ascended a most appetizing odor of cabbage and bacon. There is no
denying that the Prussians generally displayed great moderation toward
the inhabitants of the country after the conquest, which was made the
easier to them by the spirit of discipline that prevailed among the
troops. These men might have been taken for peaceable citizens just come
in from their daily avocations, smoking their long pipes. On a bench
beside the door sat a stout, red-bearded man, who had taken up the
servant’s child, a little urchin five or six years old, and was dandling
it and talking baby-talk to it in German, delighted to see the little
one laugh at the harsh syllables which it could not understand.

Prosper, fearing there might be more trouble in store for them, had
turned his back on the soldiers immediately on entering, but those
Prussians were really good fellows; they smiled at the little donkey,
and did not even trouble themselves to ask for a sight of the pass.

Then ensued a wild, aimless scamper across the bosom of the great,
sinister plain. The sun, now sinking rapidly toward the horizon, showed
its face for a moment from between two clouds. Was night to descend and
surprise them in the midst of that vast charnel-house? Another
shower came down; the sun was obscured, the rain and mist formed an
impenetrable barrier about them, so that the country around, roads,
fields, trees, was shut out from their vision. Prosper knew not where
they were; he was lost, and admitted it: his memory was all astray, he
could recall nothing precise of the occurrences of that terrible day
but one before. Behind them, his head lowered almost to the ground,
the little donkey trotted along resignedly, dragging the cart, with
his customary docility. First they took a northerly course, then they
returned toward Sedan. They had lost their bearings and could not tell
in which direction they were going; twice they noticed that they were
passing localities that they had passed before and retraced their steps.
They had doubtless been traveling in a circle, and there came a moment
when in their exhaustion and despair they stopped at a place where three
roads met, without courage to pursue their search further, the rain
pelting down on them, lost and utterly miserable in the midst of a sea
of mud.

But they heard the sound of groans, and hastening to a lonely little
house on their left, found there, in one of the bedrooms, two wounded
men. All the doors were standing open; the two unfortunates had
succeeded in dragging themselves thus far and had thrown themselves on
the beds, and for the two days that they had been alternately shivering
and burning, their wounds having received no attention, they had seen
no one, not a living soul. They were tortured by a consuming thirst, and
the beating of the rain against the window-panes added to their torment,
but they could not move hand or foot. Hence, when they heard Silvine
approaching, the first word that escaped their lips was: “Drink! Give
us to drink!” that longing, pathetic cry, with which the wounded always
pursue the by-passer whenever the sound of footsteps arouses them from
their lethargy. There were many cases similar to this, where men were
overlooked in remote corners, whither they had fled for refuge. Some
were picked up even five and six days later, when their sores were
filled with maggots and their sufferings had rendered them delirious.

When Silvine had given the wretched men a drink Prosper, who, in the
more sorely injured of the twain, had recognized a comrade of his
regiment, a chasseur d’Afrique, saw that they could not be far from the
ground over which Margueritte’s division had charged, inasmuch as
the poor devil had been able to drag himself to that house. All the
information he could get from him, however, was of the vaguest; yes, it
was over that way; you turned to the left, after passing a big field of
potatoes.

Immediately she was in possession of this slender clue Silvine insisted
on starting out again. An inferior officer of the medical department
chanced to pass with a cart just then, collecting the dead; she hailed
him and notified him of the presence of the wounded men, then, throwing
the donkey’s bridle across her arm, urged him along over the muddy road,
eager to reach the designated spot, beyond the big potato field. When
they had gone some distance she stopped, yielding to her despair.

“My God, where is the place! Where can it be?”

Prosper looked about him, taxing his recollection fruitlessly.

“I told you, it is close beside the place where we made our charge. If
only I could find my poor Zephyr--”

And he cast a wistful look on the dead horses that lay around them. It
had been his secret hope, his dearest wish, during the entire time they
had been wandering over the plateau, to see his mount once more, to bid
him a last farewell.

“It ought to be somewhere in this vicinity,” he suddenly said.
“See! over there to the left, there are the three trees. You see the
wheel-tracks? And, look, over yonder is a broken-down caisson. We have
found the spot; we are here at last!”

Quivering with emotion, Silvine darted forward and eagerly scanned the
faces of two corpses, two artillerymen who had fallen by the roadside.

“He is not here! He is not here! You cannot have seen aright. Yes, that
is it; some delusion must have cheated your eyes.” And little by little
an air-drawn hope, a wild delight crept into her mind. “If you were
mistaken, if he should be alive! And be sure he is alive, since he is
not here!”

Suddenly she gave utterance to a low, smothered cry. She had turned,
and was standing on the very position that the battery had occupied.
The scene was most frightful, the ground torn and fissured as by an
earthquake and covered with wreckage of every description, the dead
lying as they had fallen in every imaginable attitude of horror, arms
bent and twisted, legs doubled under them, heads thrown back, the lips
parted over the white teeth as if their last breath had been expended in
shouting defiance to the foe. A corporal had died with his hands pressed
convulsively to his eyes, unable longer to endure the dread spectacle.
Some gold coins that a lieutenant carried in a belt about his body had
been spilled at the same time as his life-blood, and lay scattered among
his entrails. There were Adolphe, the driver, and the gunner, Louis,
clasped in each other’s arms in a fierce embrace, their sightless orbs
starting from their sockets, mated even in death. And there, at last,
was Honore, recumbent on his disabled gun as on a bed of honor, with
the great rent in his side that had let out his young life, his face,
unmutilated and beautiful in its stern anger, still turned defiantly
toward the Prussian batteries.

“Oh! my friend,” sobbed Silvine, “my friend, my friend--”

She had fallen to her knees on the damp, cold ground, her hands joined
as if in prayer, in an outburst of frantic grief. The word friend, the
only name by which it occurred to her to address him, told the story of
the tender affection she had lost in that man, so good, so loving, who
had forgiven her, had meant to make her his wife, despite the ugly past.
And now all hope was dead within her bosom, there was nothing left to
make life desirable. She had never loved another; she would put away her
love for him at the bottom of her heart and hold it sacred there. The
rain had ceased; a flock of crows that circled above the three trees,
croaking dismally, affected her like a menace of evil. Was he to be
taken from her again, her cherished dead, whom she had recovered with
such difficulty? She dragged herself along upon her knees, and with a
trembling hand brushed away the hungry flies that were buzzing about her
friend’s wide-open eyes.

She caught sight of a bit of blood-stained paper between Honore’s
stiffened fingers. It troubled her; she tried to gain possession of the
paper, pulling at it gently, but the dead man would not surrender it,
seemingly tightening his hold on it, guarding it so jealously that it
could not have been taken from him without tearing it in bits. It was
the letter she had written him, that he had always carried next his
heart, and that he had taken from its hiding place in the moment of his
supreme agony, as if to bid her a last farewell. It seemed so strange,
was such a revelation, that he should have died thinking of her; when
she saw what it was a profound delight filled her soul in the midst of
her affliction. Yes, surely, she would leave it with him, the letter
that was so dear to him! she would not take it from him, since he was so
bent on carrying it with him to the grave. Her tears flowed afresh, but
they were beneficent tears this time, and brought healing and comfort
with them. She arose and kissed his hands, kissed him on the forehead,
uttering meanwhile but that one word, which was in itself a prolonged
caress:

“My friend! my friend--”

Meantime the sun was declining; Prosper had gone and taken the
counterpane from the cart, and between them they raised Honore’s body,
slowly, reverently, and laid it on the bed-covering, which they had
stretched upon the ground; then, first wrapping him in its folds, they
bore him to the cart. It was threatening to rain again, and they had
started on their return, forming, with the donkey, a sorrowful little
cortege on the broad bosom of the accursed plain, when a deep rumbling
as of thunder was heard in the distance. Prosper turned his head and had
only time to shout:

“The horses! the horses!”

It was the starving, abandoned cavalry mounts making another charge.
They came up this time in a deep mass across a wide, smooth field, manes
and tails streaming in the wind, froth flying from their nostrils,
and the level rays of the fiery setting sun sent the shadow of the
infuriated herd clean across the plateau. Silvine rushed forward and
planted herself before the cart, raising her arms above her head as if
her puny form might have power to check them. Fortunately the ground
fell off just at that point, causing them to swerve to the left;
otherwise they would have crushed donkey, cart, and all to powder. The
earth trembled, and their hoofs sent a volley of clods and small stones
flying through the air, one of which struck the donkey on the head and
wounded him. The last that was seen of them they were tearing down a
ravine.

“It’s hunger that starts them off like that,” said Prosper. “Poor
beasts!”

Silvine, having bandaged the donkey’s ear with her handkerchief, took
him again by the bridle, and the mournful little procession began to
retrace its steps across the plateau, to cover the two leagues that lay
between it and Remilly. Prosper had turned and cast a look on the dead
horses, his heart heavy within him to leave the field without having
seen Zephyr.

A little below the wood of la Garenne, as they were about to turn off
to the left to take the road that they had traversed that morning, they
encountered another German post and were again obliged to exhibit their
pass. And the officer in command, instead of telling them to avoid
Sedan, ordered them to keep straight on their course and pass through
the city; otherwise they would be arrested. This was the most recent
order; it was not for them to question it. Moreover, their journey would
be shortened by a mile and a quarter, which they did not regret, weary
and foot-sore as they were.

When they were within Sedan, however, they found their progress retarded
owing to a singular cause. As soon as they had passed the fortifications
their nostrils were saluted by such a stench, they were obliged to wade
through such a mass of abominable filth, reaching almost to their
knees, as fairly turned their stomachs. The city, where for three days
a hundred thousand men had lived without the slightest provision being
made for decency or cleanliness, had become a cesspool, a foul sewer,
and this devil’s broth was thickened by all sorts of solid matter,
rotting hay and straw, stable litter, and the excreta of animals. The
carcasses of the horses, too, that were knocked on the head, skinned,
and cut up in the public squares, in full view of everyone, had their
full share in contaminating the atmosphere; the entrails lay decaying in
the hot sunshine, the bones and heads were left lying on the pavement,
where they attracted swarms of flies. Pestilence would surely break
out in the city unless they made haste to rid themselves of all that
carrion, of that stratum of impurity, which, in the Rue de Minil, the
Rue Maqua, and even on the Place Turenne, reached a depth of twelve
inches. The Prussian authorities had taken the matter up, and their
placards were to be seen posted about the city, requisitioning the
inhabitants, irrespective of rank, laborers, merchants, bourgeois,
magistrates, for the morrow; they were ordered to assemble, armed with
brooms and shovels, and apply themselves to the task, and were warned
that they would be subjected to heavy penalties if the city was not
clean by night. The President of the Tribunal had taken time by the
forelock, and might even then be seen scraping away at the pavement
before his door and loading the results of his labors upon a wheelbarrow
with a fire-shovel.

Silvine and Prosper, who had selected the Grande Rue as their route for
traversing the city, advanced but slowly through that lake of malodorous
slime. In addition to that the place was in a state of ferment and
agitation that made it necessary for them to pull up almost at every
moment. It was the time that the Prussians had selected for searching
the houses in order to unearth those soldiers, who, determined that they
would not give themselves up, had hidden themselves away. When, at about
two o’clock of the preceding day, General de Wimpffen had returned
from the chateau of Bellevue after signing the capitulation, the report
immediately began to circulate that the surrendered troops were to
be held under guard in the peninsula of Iges until such time as
arrangements could be perfected for sending them off to Germany. Some
few officers had expressed their intention of taking advantage of that
stipulation which accorded them their liberty conditionally on their
signing an agreement not to serve again during the campaign. Only one
general, so it was said, Bourgain-Desfeuilles, alleging his rheumatism
as a reason, had bound himself by that pledge, and when, that very
morning, his carriage had driven up to the door of the Hotel of the
Golden Cross and he had taken his seat in it to leave the city,
the people had hooted and hissed him unmercifully. The operation of
disarming had been going on since break of day; the manner of its
performance was, the troops defiled by battalions on the Place Turenne,
where each man deposited his musket and bayonet on the pile, like a
mountain of old iron, which kept rising higher and higher, in a corner
of the place. There was a Prussian detachment there under the command of
a young officer, a tall, pale youth, wearing a sky-blue tunic and a cap
adorned with a cock’s feather, who superintended operations with a lofty
but soldier-like air, his hands encased in white gloves. A zouave, in
a fit of insubordination, having refused to give up his chassepot, the
officer ordered that he be taken away, adding, in the same even tone
of voice: “And let him be shot forthwith!” The rest of the battalion
continued to defile with a sullen and dejected air, throwing down their
arms mechanically, as if in haste to have the ceremony ended. But
who could estimate the number of those who had disarmed themselves
voluntarily, those whose muskets lay scattered over the country, out
yonder on the field of battle? And how many, too, within the last
twenty-four hours had concealed themselves, flattering themselves
with the hope that they might escape in the confusion that reigned
everywhere! There was scarcely a house but had its crew of those
headstrong idiots who refused to respond when called on, hiding away in
corners and shamming death; the German patrols that were sent through
the city even discovered them stowed away under beds. And as many, even
after they were unearthed, stubbornly persisted in remaining in the
cellars whither they had fled for shelter, the patrols were obliged to
fire on them through the coal-holes. It was a man-hunt, a brutal and
cruel battue, during which the city resounded with rifle-shots and
outlandish oaths.

At the Pont du Meuse they found a throng which the donkey was unable to
penetrate and were brought to a stand-still. The officer commanding the
guard at the bridge, suspecting they were endeavoring to carry on an
illicit traffic in bread or meat, insisted on seeing with his own eyes
what was contained in the cart; drawing aside the covering, he gazed for
an instant on the corpse with a feeling expression, then motioned them
to go their way. Still, however, they were unable to get forward, the
crowd momentarily grew denser and denser; one of the first detachments
of French prisoners was being conducted to the peninsula of Iges under
escort of a Prussian guard. The sorry band streamed on in long array,
the men in their tattered, dirty uniforms crowding one another, treading
on one another’s heels, with bowed heads and sidelong, hang-dog looks,
the dejected gait and bearing of the vanquished to whom had been left
not even so much as a knife with which to cut their throat. The harsh,
curt orders of the guard urging them forward resounded like the cracking
of a whip in the silence, which was unbroken save for the plashing of
their coarse shoes through the semi-liquid mud. Another shower began
to fall, and there could be no more sorrowful sight than that band of
disheartened soldiers, shuffling along through the rain, like beggars
and vagabonds on the public highway.

All at once Prosper, whose heart was beating as if it would burst his
bosom with repressed sorrow and indignation, nudged Silvine and called
her attention to two soldiers who were passing at the moment. He had
recognized Maurice and Jean, trudging along with their companions, like
brothers, side by side. They were near the end of the line, and as there
was now no impediment in their way, he was enabled to keep them in view
as far as the Faubourg of Torcy, as they traversed the level road which
leads to Iges between gardens and truck farms.

“Ah!” murmured Silvine, distressed by what she had just seen, fixing her
eyes on Honore’s body, “it may be that the dead have the better part!”

Night descended while they were at Wadelincourt, and it was pitchy dark
long before they reached Remilly. Father Fouchard was greatly surprised
to behold the body of his son, for he had felt certain that it would
never be recovered. He had been attending to business during the day,
and had completed an excellent bargain; the market price for officers’
chargers was twenty francs, and he had bought three for forty-five
francs.



II.

The crush was so great as the column of prisoners was leaving Torcy that
Maurice, who had stopped a moment to buy some tobacco, was parted from
Jean, and with all his efforts was unable thereafter to catch up with
his regiment through the dense masses of men that filled the road. When
he at last reached the bridge that spans the canal which intersects the
peninsula of Iges at its base, he found himself in a mixed company of
chasseurs d’Afrique and troops of the infanterie de marine.

There were two pieces of artillery stationed at the bridge, their
muzzles turned upon the interior of the peninsula; it was a place easy
of access, but from which exit would seem to be attended with some
difficulties. Immediately beyond the canal was a comfortable house,
where the Prussians had established a post, commanded by a captain, upon
which devolved the duty of receiving and guarding the prisoners. The
formalities observed were not excessive; they merely counted the men,
as if they had been sheep, as they came streaming in a huddle across
the bridge, without troubling themselves overmuch about uniforms or
organizations, after which the prisoners were free of the fields and at
liberty to select their dwelling-place wherever chance and the road they
were on might direct.

The first thing that Maurice did was to address a question to a Bavarian
officer, who was seated astride upon a chair, enjoying a tranquil smoke.

“The 106th of the line, sir, can you tell me where I shall find it?”

Either the officer was unlike most German officers and did not
understand French, or thought it a good joke to mystify a poor devil of
a soldier. He smiled and raised his hand, indicating by his motion that
the other was to keep following the road he was pursuing.

Although Maurice had spent a good part of his life in the neighborhood
he had never before been on the peninsula; he proceeded to explore his
new surroundings, as a mariner might do when cast by a tempest on the
shore of a desolate island. He first skirted the Tour a Glaire, a very
handsome country-place, whose small park, situated as it was on the bank
of the Meuse, possessed a peculiarly attractive charm. After that the
road ran parallel with the river, of which the sluggish current flowed
on the right hand at the foot of high, steep banks. The way from there
was a gradually ascending one, until it wound around the gentle eminence
that occupied the central portion of the peninsula, and there were
abandoned quarries there and excavations in the ground, in which a
network of narrow paths had their termination. A little further on was
a mill, seated on the border of the stream. Then the road curved and
pursued a descending course until it entered the village of Iges, which
was built on the hillside and connected by a ferry with the further
shore, just opposite the rope-walk at Saint-Albert. Last of all came
meadows and cultivated fields, a broad expanse of level, treeless
country, around which the river swept in a wide, circling bend. In vain
had Maurice scrutinized every inch of uneven ground on the hillside; all
he could distinguish there was cavalry and artillery, preparing their
quarters for the night. He made further inquiries, applying among others
to a corporal of chasseurs d’Afrique, who could give him no information.
The prospect for finding his regiment looked bad; night was coming down,
and, leg-weary and disheartened, he seated himself for a moment on a
stone by the wayside.

As he sat there, abandoning himself to the sensation of loneliness and
despair that crept over him, he beheld before him, across the Meuse,
the accursed fields where he had fought the day but one before. Bitter
memories rose to his mind, in the fading light of that day of gloom and
rain, as he surveyed the saturated, miry expanse of country that
rose from the river’s bank and was lost on the horizon. The defile of
Saint-Albert, the narrow road by which the Prussians had gained their
rear, ran along the bend of the stream as far as the white cliffs of
the quarries of Montimont. The summits of the trees in the wood of
la Falizette rose in rounded, fleecy masses over the rising ground
of Seugnon. Directly before his eyes, a little to the left, was
Saint-Menges, the road from which descended by a gentle slope and ended
at the ferry; there, too, were the mamelon of Hattoy in the center,
and Illy, in the far distance, in the background, and Fleigneux, almost
hidden in its shallow vale, and Floing, less remote, on the right. He
recognized the plateau where he had spent interminable hours among the
cabbages, and the eminences that the reserve artillery had struggled
so gallantly to hold, where he had seen Honore meet his death on his
dismounted gun. And it was as if the baleful scene were again before
him with all its abominations, steeping his mind in horror and disgust,
until he was sick at heart.

The reflection that soon it would be quite dark and it would not do to
loiter there, however, caused him to resume his researches. He said
to himself that perhaps the regiment was encamped somewhere beyond the
village on the low ground, but the only ones he encountered there were
some prowlers, and he decided to make the circuit of the peninsula,
following the bend of the stream. As he was passing through a field of
potatoes he was sufficiently thoughtful to dig a few of the tubers and
put them in his pockets; they were not ripe, but he had nothing better,
for Jean, as luck would have it, had insisted on carrying both the two
loaves of bread that Delaherche had given them when they left his house.
He was somewhat surprised at the number of horses he met with, roaming
about the uncultivated lands, that fell off in an easy descent from the
central elevation to the Meuse, in the direction of Donchery. Why should
they have brought all those animals with them? how were they to be fed?
And now it was night in earnest, and quite dark, when he came to a small
piece of woods on the water’s brink, in which he was surprised to find
the cent-gardes of the Emperor’s escort, providing for their creature
comforts and drying themselves before roaring fires. These gentlemen,
who had a separate encampment to themselves, had comfortable tents;
their kettles were boiling merrily, there was a milch cow tied to a
tree. It did not take Maurice long to see that he was not regarded with
favor in that quarter, poor devil of an infantryman that he was, with
his ragged, mud-stained uniform. They graciously accorded him permission
to roast his potatoes in the ashes of their fires, however, and he
withdrew to the shelter of a tree, some hundred yards away, to eat them.
It was no longer raining; the sky was clear, the stars were shining
brilliantly in the dark blue vault. He saw that he should have to spend
the night in the open air and defer his researches until the morrow.
He was so utterly used up that he could go no further; the trees would
afford him some protection in case it came on to rain again.

The strangeness of his situation, however, and the thought of his vast
prison house, open to the winds of heaven, would not let him sleep. It
had been an extremely clever move on the part of the Prussians to select
that place of confinement for the eighty thousand men who constituted
the remnant of the army of Chalons. The peninsula was approximately
three miles long by one wide, affording abundant space for the broken
fragments of the vanquished host, and Maurice could not fail to observe
that it was surrounded on every side by water, the bend of the Meuse
encircling it on the north, east and west, while on the south, at the
base, connecting the two arms of the loop at the point where they drew
together most closely, was the canal. Here alone was an outlet, the
bridge, that was defended by two guns; wherefore it may be seen that the
guarding of the camp was a comparatively easy task, notwithstanding its
great extent. He had already taken note of the chain of sentries on the
farther bank, a soldier being stationed by the waterside at every fifty
paces, with orders to fire on any man who should attempt to escape by
swimming. In the rear the different posts were connected by patrols of
uhlans, while further in the distance, scattered over the broad fields,
were the dark lines of the Prussian regiments; a threefold living,
moving wall, immuring the captive army.

Maurice, in his sleeplessness, lay gazing with wide-open eyes into the
blackness of the night, illuminated here and there by the smoldering
watch-fires; the motionless forms of the sentinels were dimly visible
beyond the pale ribbon of the Meuse. Erect they stood, duskier spots
against the dusky shadows, beneath the faint light of the twinkling
stars, and at regular intervals their guttural call came to his ears, a
menacing watch-cry that was drowned in the hoarse murmur of the river in
the distance. At sound of those unmelodious phrases in a foreign tongue,
rising on the still air of a starlit night in the sunny land of France,
the vision of the past again rose before him: all that he had beheld in
memory an hour before, the plateau of Illy cumbered still with dead, the
accursed country round about Sedan that had been the scene of such dire
disaster; and resting on the ground in that cool, damp corner of a wood,
his head pillowed on a root, he again yielded to the feeling of despair
that had overwhelmed him the day before while lying on Delaherche’s
sofa. And that which, intensifying the suffering of his wounded pride,
now harassed and tortured him, was the question of the morrow, the
feverish longing to know how deep had been their fall, how great the
wreck and ruin sustained by their world of yesterday. The Emperor
had surrendered his sword to King William; was not, therefore, the
abominable war ended? But he recalled the remark he had heard made by
two of the Bavarians of the guard who had escorted the prisoners
to Iges: “We’re all in France, we’re all bound for Paris!” In his
semi-somnolent, dreamy state the vision of what was to be suddenly rose
before his eyes: the empire overturned and swept away amid a howl
of universal execration, the republic proclaimed with an outburst of
patriotic fervor, while the legend of ‘92 would incite men to emulate
the glorious past, and, flocking to the standards, drive from the
country’s soil the hated foreigner with armies of brave volunteers. He
reflected confusedly upon all the aspects of the case, and speculations
followed one another in swift succession through his poor wearied brain:
the harsh terms imposed by the victors, the bitterness of defeat, the
determination of the vanquished to resist even to the last drop of
blood, the fate of those eighty thousand men, his companions, who were
to be captives for weeks, months, years, perhaps, first on the peninsula
and afterward in German fortresses. The foundations were giving way, and
everything was going down, down to the bottomless depths of perdition.

The call of the sentinels, now loud, now low, seemed to sound more
faintly in his ears and to be receding in the distance, when suddenly,
as he turned on his hard couch, a shot rent the deep silence. A hollow
groan rose on the calm air of night, there was a splashing in the water,
the brief struggle of one who sinks to rise no more. It was some
poor wretch who had attempted to escape by swimming the Meuse and had
received a bullet in his brain.

The next morning Maurice was up and stirring with the sun. The sky was
cloudless; he was desirous to rejoin Jean and his other comrades of the
company with the least possible delay. For a moment he had an idea
of going to see what there was in the interior of the peninsula, then
resolved he would first complete its circuit. And on reaching the canal
his eyes were greeted with the sight of the 106th--or rather what was
left of it--a thousand men, encamped along the river bank among some
waste lands, with no protection save a row of slender poplars. If he had
only turned to the left the night before instead of pursuing a straight
course he could have been with his regiment at once. And he noticed that
almost all the line regiments were collected along that part of the bank
that extends from the Tour a Glaire to the Chateau of Villette--another
bourgeois country place, situated more in the direction of Donchery and
surrounded by a few hovels--all of them having selected their
bivouac near the bridge, sole issue from their prison, as sheep will
instinctively huddle together close to the door of their fold, knowing
that sooner or later it will be opened for them.

Jean uttered a cry of pleasure. “Ah, so it’s you, at last! I had begun
to think you were in the river.”

He was there with what remained of the squad, Pache and Lapoulle, Loubet
and Chouteau. The last named had slept under doorways in Sedan until
the attention of the Prussian provost guard had finally restored them to
their regiment. The corporal, moreover, was the only surviving officer
of the company, death having taken away Sergeant Sapin, Lieutenant
Rochas and Captain Beaudoin, and although the victors had abolished
distinction of rank among the prisoners, deciding that obedience was due
to the German officers alone, the four men had, nevertheless, rallied
to him, knowing him to be a leader of prudence and experience, upon whom
they could rely in circumstances of difficulty. Thus it was that
peace and harmony reigned among them that morning, notwithstanding the
stupidity of some and the evil designs of others. In the first place,
the night before he had found them a place to sleep in that was
comparatively dry, where they had stretched themselves on the ground,
the only thing they had left in the way of protection from the weather
being the half of a shelter-tent. After that he had managed to secure
some wood and a kettle, in which Loubet made coffee for them, the
comforting warmth of which had fortified their stomachs. The rain had
ceased, the day gave promise of being bright and warm, they had a small
supply of biscuit and bacon left, and then, as Chouteau said, it was a
comfort to have no orders to obey, to have their fill of loafing. They
were prisoners, it was true, but there was plenty of room to move about.
Moreover, they would be away from there in two or three days. Under
these circumstances the day, which was Sunday, the 4th, passed
pleasantly enough.

Maurice, whose courage had returned to him now that he was with the
comrades once more, found nothing to annoy him except the Prussian
bands, which played all the afternoon beyond the canal. Toward evening
there was vocal music, and the men sang in chorus. They could be seen
outside the chain of sentries, walking to and fro in little groups
and singing solemn melodies in a loud, ringing voice in honor of the
Sabbath.

“Confound those bands!” Maurice at last impatiently exclaimed. “They
will drive me wild!”

Jean, whose nerves were less susceptible, shrugged his shoulders.

“_Dame_! they have reason to feel good; and then perhaps they think it
affords us pleasure. It hasn’t been such a bad day; don’t let’s find
fault.”

As night approached, however, the rain began to fall again. Some of the
men had taken possession of what few unoccupied houses there were on the
peninsula, others were provided with tents that they erected, but by far
the greater number, without shelter of any sort, destitute of blankets
even, were compelled to pass the night in the open air, exposed to the
pouring rain.

About one o’clock Maurice, who had been sleeping soundly as a result of
his fatigue, awoke and found himself in the middle of a miniature
lake. The trenches, swollen by the heavy downpour, had overflowed and
inundated the ground where he lay. Chouteau’s and Loubet’s wrath vented
itself in a volley of maledictions, while Pache shook Lapoulle, who,
unmindful of his ducking, slept through it all as if he was never to
wake again. Then Jean, remembering the row of poplars on the bank of the
canal, collected his little band and ran thither for shelter; and there
they passed the remainder of that wretched night, crouching with their
backs to the trees, their legs doubled under them, so as to expose as
little of their persons as might be to the big drops.

The next day, and the day succeeding it, the weather was truly
detestable, what with the continual showers, that came down so copiously
and at such frequent intervals that the men’s clothing had not time to
dry on their backs. They were threatened with famine, too; there was not
a biscuit left in camp, and the coffee and bacon were exhausted. During
those two days, Monday and Tuesday, they existed on potatoes that they
dug in the adjacent fields, and even those vegetables had become so
scarce toward the end of the second day that those soldiers who had
money paid as high as five sous apiece for them. It was true that the
bugles sounded the call for “distribution”; the corporal had nearly run
his legs off trying to be the first to reach a great shed near the Tour
a Glaire, where it was reported that rations of bread were to be issued,
but on the occasion of a first visit he had waited there three hours and
gone away empty-handed, and on a second had become involved in a
quarrel with a Bavarian. It was well known that the French officers were
themselves in deep distress and powerless to assist their men; had the
German staff driven the vanquished army out there in the mud and rain
with the intention of letting them starve to death? Not the first step
seemed to have been taken, not an effort had been made, to provide for
the subsistence of those eighty thousand men in that hell on earth
that the soldiers subsequently christened Camp Misery, a name that
the bravest of them could never hear mentioned in later days without a
shudder.

On his return from his wearisome and fruitless expedition to the shed,
Jean forgot his usual placidity and gave way to anger.

“What do they mean by calling us up when there’s nothing for us? I’ll be
hanged if I’ll put myself out for them another time!”

And yet, whenever there was a call, he hurried off again. It was inhuman
to sound the bugles thus, merely because regulations prescribed certain
calls at certain hours, and it had another effect that was near breaking
Maurice’s heart. Every time that the trumpets sounded the French horses,
that were running free on the other side of the canal, came rushing up
and dashed into the water to rejoin their squadron, as excited at the
well-known sound as they would be at the touch of the spur; but in their
exhausted condition they were swept away by the current and few attained
the shore. It was a cruel sight to see their struggles; they were
drowned in great numbers, and their bodies, decomposing and swelling
in the hot sunshine, drifted on the bosom of the canal. As for those of
them that got to land, they seemed as if stricken with sudden madness,
galloping wildly off and hiding among the waste places of the peninsula.

“More bones for the crows to pick!” sorrowfully said Maurice,
remembering the great droves of horses that he had encountered on
a previous occasion. “If we remain here a few days we shall all be
devouring one another. Poor brutes!”

The night between Tuesday and Wednesday was most terrible of all, and
Jean, who was beginning to feel seriously alarmed for Maurice’s feverish
state, made him wrap himself in an old blanket that they had purchased
from a zouave for ten francs, while he, with no protection save his
water-soaked capote, cheerfully took the drenching of the deluge which
that night pelted down without cessation. Their position under the
poplars had become untenable; it was a streaming river of mud, the water
rested in deep puddles on the surface of the saturated ground. What
was worst of all was that they had to suffer on an empty stomach, the
evening meal of the six men having consisted of two beets which they had
been compelled to eat raw, having no dry wood to make a fire with, and
the sweet taste and refreshing coolness of the vegetables had quickly
been succeeded by an intolerable burning sensation. Some cases of
dysentery had appeared among the men, caused by fatigue, improper food
and the persistent humidity of the atmosphere. More than ten times
that night did Jean stretch forth his hand to see that Maurice had not
uncovered himself in the movements of his slumber, and thus he
kept watch and ward over his friend--his back supported by the same
tree-trunk, his legs in a pool of water--with tenderness unspeakable.
Since the day that on the plateau of Illy his comrade had carried him
off in his arms and saved him from the Prussians he had repaid the debt
a hundred-fold. He stopped not to reason on it; it was the free gift of
all his being, the total forgetfulness of self for love of the other,
the finest, most delicate, grandest exhibition of friendship possible,
and that, too, in a peasant, whose lot had always been the lowly one of
a tiller of the soil and who had never risen far above the earth,
who could not find words to express what he felt, acting purely from
instinct, in all simplicity of soul. Many a time already he had taken
the food from his mouth, as the men of the squad were wont to say; now
he would have divested himself of his skin if with it he might have
covered the other, to protect his shoulders, to warm his feet. And
in the midst of the savage egoism that surrounded them, among that
aggregation of suffering humanity whose worst appetites were inflamed
and intensified by hunger, he perhaps owed it to his complete abnegation
of self that he had preserved thus far his tranquillity of mind and his
vigorous health, for he among them all, his great strength unimpaired,
alone maintained his composure and something like a level head.

After that distressful night Jean determined to carry into execution a
plan that he had been reflecting over since the day previous.

“See here, little one, we can get nothing to eat, and everyone seems to
have forgotten us here in this beastly hole; now unless we want to die
the death of dogs, it behooves us to stir about a bit. How are your
legs?”

The sun had come out again, fortunately, and Maurice was warmed and
comforted.

“Oh, my legs are all right!”

“Then we’ll start off on an exploring expedition. We’ve money in our
pockets, and the deuce is in it if we can’t find something to buy. And
we won’t bother our heads about the others; they don’t deserve it. Let
them take care of themselves.”

The truth was that Loubet and Chouteau had disgusted him by their
trickiness and low selfishness, stealing whatever they could lay hands
on and never dividing with their comrades, while no good was to be got
out of Lapoulle, the brute, and Pache, the sniveling devotee.

The pair, therefore, Maurice and Jean, started out by the road along the
Meuse which the former had traversed once before, on the night of his
arrival. At the Tour a Glaire the park and dwelling-house presented a
sorrowful spectacle of pillage and devastation, the trim lawns cut up
and destroyed, the trees felled, the mansion dismantled. A ragged, dirty
crew of soldiers, with hollow cheeks and eyes preternaturally bright
from fever, had taken possession of the place and were living like
beasts in the filthy chambers, not daring to leave their quarters for
a moment lest someone else might come along and occupy them. A little
further on they passed the cavalry and artillery, encamped on the
hillsides, once so conspicuous by reason of the neatness and jauntiness
of their appearance, now run to seed like all the rest, their
organization gone, demoralized by that terrible, torturing hunger that
drove the horses wild and sent the men straggling through the fields in
plundering bands. Below them, to the right, they beheld an apparently
interminable line of artillerymen and chasseurs d’Afrique defiling
slowly before the mill; the miller was selling them flour, measuring out
two handfuls into their handkerchiefs for a franc. The prospect of the
long wait that lay before them, should they take their place at the end
of the line, determined them to pass on, in the hope that some better
opportunity would present itself at the village of Iges; but great was
their consternation when they reached it to find the little place as
bare and empty as an Algerian village through which has passed a swarm
of locusts; not a crumb, not a fragment of anything eatable, neither
bread, nor meat, nor vegetables, the wretched inhabitants utterly
destitute. General Lebrun was said to be there, closeted with the mayor.
He had been endeavoring, ineffectually, to arrange for an issue of
bonds, redeemable at the close of the war, in order to facilitate the
victualing of the troops. Money had ceased to have any value when there
was nothing that it could purchase. The day before two francs had been
paid for a biscuit, seven francs for a bottle of wine, a small glass of
brandy was twenty sous, a pipeful of tobacco ten sous. And now officers,
sword in hand, had to stand guard before the general’s house and the
neighboring hovels, for bands of marauders were constantly passing,
breaking down doors and stealing even the oil from the lamps and
drinking it.

Three zouaves invited Maurice and Jean to join them. Five would do the
work more effectually than three.

“Come along. There are horses dying in plenty, and if we can but get
some dry wood--”

Then they fell to work on the miserable cabin of a poor peasant,
smashing the closet doors, tearing the thatch from the roof. Some
officers, who came up on a run, threatened them with their revolvers and
put them to flight.

Jean, who saw that the few villagers who had remained at Iges were no
better off than the soldiers, perceived he had made a mistake in passing
the mill without buying some flour.

“There may be some left; we had best go back.”

But Maurice was so reduced from inanition and was beginning to suffer
so from fatigue that he left him behind in a sheltered nook among the
quarries, seated on a fragment of rock, his face turned upon the wide
horizon of Sedan. He, after waiting in line for two long hours, finally
returned with some flour wrapped in a piece of rag. And they ate it
uncooked, dipping it up in their hands, unable to devise any other way.
It was not so very bad; It had no particular flavor, only the insipid
taste of dough. Their breakfast, such as it was, did them some good,
however. They were even so fortunate as to discover a little pool of
rain-water, comparatively pure, in a hollow of a rock, at which they
quenched their thirst with great satisfaction.

But when Jean proposed that they should spend the remainder of the
afternoon there, Maurice negatived the motion with a great display of
violence.

“No, no; not here! I should be ill if I were to have that scene before
my eyes for any length of time--” With a hand that trembled he pointed
to the remote horizon, the hill of Hattoy, the plateaux of Floing
and Illy, the wood of la Garenne, those abhorred, detested fields of
slaughter and defeat. “While you were away just now I was obliged to
turn my back on it, else I should have broken out and howled with
rage. Yes, I should have howled like a dog tormented by boys--you can’t
imagine how it hurts me; it drives me crazy!”

Jean looked at him in surprise; he could not understand that pride,
sensitive as a raw sore, that made defeat so bitter to him; he was
alarmed to behold in his eyes that wandering, flighty look that he had
seen there before. He affected to treat the matter lightly.

“Good! we’ll seek another country; that’s easy enough to do.”

Then they wandered as long as daylight lasted, wherever the paths they
took conducted them. They visited the level portion of the peninsula
in the hope of finding more potatoes there, but the artillerymen had
obtained a plow and turned up the ground, and not a single potato had
escaped their sharp eyes. They retraced their steps, and again they
passed through throngs of listless, glassy-eyed, starving soldiers,
strewing the ground with their debilitated forms, falling by hundreds
in the bright sunshine from sheer exhaustion. They were themselves many
times overcome by fatigue and forced to sit down and rest; then their
deep-seated sensation of suffering would bring them to their feet again
and they would recommence their wandering, like animals impelled by
instinct to move on perpetually in quest of pasturage. It seemed to
them to last for years, and yet the moments sped by rapidly. In the more
inland region, over Donchery way, they received a fright from the horses
and sought the protection of a wall, where they remained a long time,
too exhausted to rise, watching with vague, lack-luster eyes the wild
course of the crazed beasts as they raced athwart the red western sky
where the sun was sinking.

As Maurice had foreseen, the thousands of horses that shared the
captivity of the army, and for which it was impossible to provide
forage, constituted a peril that grew greater day by day. At first
they had nibbled the vegetation and gnawed the bark off trees, then had
attacked the fences and whatever wooden structures they came across,
and now they seemed ready to devour one another. It was a frequent
occurrence to see one of them throw himself upon another and tear out
great tufts from his mane or tail, which he would grind between his
teeth, slavering meanwhile at the mouth profusely. But it was at night
that they became most terrible, as if they were visited by visions of
terror in the darkness. They collected in droves, and, attracted by the
straw, made furious rushes upon what few tents there were, overturning
and demolishing them. It was to no purpose that the men built great
fires to keep them away; the device only served to madden them the more.
Their shrill cries were so full of anguish, so dreadful to the ear, that
they might have been mistaken for the howls of wild beasts. Were they
driven away, they returned, more numerous and fiercer than before.
Scarce a moment passed but out in the darkness could be heard the
shriek of anguish of some unfortunate soldier whom the crazed beasts had
crushed in their wild stampede.

The sun was still above the horizon when Jean and Maurice, on their way
back to the camp, were astonished by meeting with the four men of the
squad, lurking in a ditch, apparently for no good purpose. Loubet hailed
them at once, and Chouteau constituted himself spokesman:

“We are considering ways and means for dining this evening. We shall die
if we go on this way; it is thirty-six hours since we have had anything
to put in our stomach--so, as there are horses plenty, and horse-meat
isn’t such bad eating--”

“You’ll join us, won’t you, corporal?” said Loubet, interrupting, “for,
with such a big, strong animal to handle, the more of us there are
the better it will be. See, there is one, off yonder, that we’ve been
keeping an eye on for the last hour; that big bay that is in such a bad
way. He’ll be all the easier to finish.”

And he pointed to a horse that was dying of starvation, on the edge of
what had once been a field of beets. He had fallen on his flank, and
every now and then would raise his head and look about him pleadingly,
with a deep inhalation that sounded like a sigh.

“Ah, how long we have to wait!” grumbled Lapoulle, who was suffering
torment from his fierce appetite. “I’ll go and kill him--shall I?”

But Loubet stopped him. Much obliged! and have the Prussians down on
them, who had given notice that death would be the penalty for killing a
horse, fearing that the carcass would breed a pestilence. They must wait
until it was dark. And that was the reason why the four men were lurking
in the ditch, waiting, with glistening, hungry eyes fixed on the dying
brute.

“Corporal,” asked Pache, in a voice that faltered a little, “you have
lots of ideas in your head; couldn’t you kill him painlessly?”

Jean refused the cruel task with a gesture of disgust. What, kill that
poor beast that was even then in its death agony! oh, no, no! His first
impulse had been to fly and take Maurice with him, that neither of
them might be concerned in the revolting butchery; but looking at his
companion and beholding him so pale and faint, he reproached himself for
such an excess of sensibility. What were animals created for after all,
_mon Dieu_, unless to afford sustenance to man! They could not allow
themselves to starve when there was food within reach. And it rejoiced
him to see Maurice cheer up a little at the prospect of eating; he said
in his easy, good-natured way:

“Faith, you’re wrong there; I’ve no ideas in my head, and if he has got
to be killed without pain--”

“Oh! that’s all one to me,” interrupted Lapoulle. “I’ll show you.”

The two newcomers seated themselves in the ditch and joined the others
in their expectancy. Now and again one of the men would rise and make
certain that the horse was still there, its neck outstretched to catch
the cool exhalations of the Meuse and the last rays of the setting sun,
as if bidding farewell to life. And when at last twilight crept slowly
o’er the scene the six men were erect upon their feet, impatient that
night was so tardy in its coming, casting furtive, frightened looks
about them to see they were not observed.

“Ah, _zut_!” exclaimed Chouteau, “the time is come!”

Objects were still discernible in the fields by the uncertain,
mysterious light “between dog and wolf,” and Lapoulle went forward
first, followed by the five others. He had taken from the ditch a large,
rounded boulder, and, with it in his two brawny hands, rushing upon the
horse, commenced to batter at his skull as with a club. At the second
blow, however, the horse, stung by the pain, attempted to get on his
feet. Chouteau and Loubet had thrown themselves across his legs and were
endeavoring to hold him down, shouting to the others to help them.
The poor brute’s cries were almost human in their accent of terror and
distress; he struggled desperately to shake off his assailants, and
would have broken them like a reed had he not been half dead with
inanition. The movements of his head prevented the blows from taking
effect; Lapoulle was unable to despatch him.

“_Nom de Dieu!_ how hard his bones are! Hold him, somebody, until I
finish him.”

Jean and Maurice stood looking at the scene in silent horror; they heard
not Chouteau’s appeals for assistance; were powerless to raise a hand.
And Pache, in a sudden outburst of piety and pity, dropped on his knees,
joined his hands, and began to mumble the prayers that are repeated at
the bedside of the dying.

“Merciful God, have pity on him. Let him, good Lord, depart in peace--”

Again Lapoulle struck ineffectually, with no other effect than to
destroy an ear of the wretched creature, that threw back its head and
gave utterance to a loud, shrill scream.

“Hold on!” growled Chouteau; “this won’t do; he’ll get us all in the
lockup. We must end the matter. Hold him fast, Loubet.”

He took from his pocket a penknife, a small affair of which the blade
was scarcely longer than a man’s finger, and casting himself prone on
the animal’s body and passing an arm about its neck, began to hack
away at the live flesh, cutting away great morsels, until he found and
severed the artery. He leaped quickly to one side; the blood spurted
forth in a torrent, as when the plug is removed from a fountain, while
the feet stirred feebly and convulsive movements ran along the skin,
succeeding one another like waves of the sea. It was near five minutes
before the horse was dead. His great eyes, dilated wide and filled with
melancholy and affright, were fixed upon the wan-visaged men who stood
waiting for him to die; then they grew dim and the light died from out
them.

“Merciful God,” muttered Pache, still on his knees, “keep him in thy
holy protection--succor him, Lord, and grant him eternal rest.”

Afterward, when the creature’s movements had ceased, they were at a loss
to know where the best cut lay and how they were to get at it. Loubet,
who was something of a Jack-of-all-trades, showed them what was to be
done in order to secure the loin, but as he was a tyro at the butchering
business and, moreover, had only his small penknife to work with, he
quickly lost his way amid the warm, quivering flesh. And Lapoulle,
in his impatience, having attempted to be of assistance by making an
incision in the belly, for which there was no necessity whatever, the
scene of bloodshed became truly sickening. They wallowed in the gore
and entrails that covered the ground about them, like a pack of ravening
wolves collected around the carcass of their prey, fleshing their keen
fangs in it.

“I don’t know what cut that may be,” Loubet said at last, rising to his
feet with a huge lump of meat in his hands, “but by the time we’ve eaten
it, I don’t believe any of us will be hungry.”

Jean and Maurice had averted their eyes in horror from the disgusting
spectacle; still, however, the pangs of hunger were gnawing at their
vitals, and when the band slunk rapidly away, so as not to be caught in
the vicinity of the incriminating carcass, they followed it. Chouteau
had discovered three large beets, that had somehow been overlooked by
previous visitors to the field, and carried them off with him. Loubet
had loaded the meat on Lapoulle’s shoulders so as to have his own arms
free, while Pache carried the kettle that belonged to the squad, which
they had brought with them on the chance of finding something to cook in
it. And the six men ran as if their lives were at stake, never stopping
to take breath, as if they heard the pursuers at their heels.

Suddenly Loubet brought the others to a halt.

“It’s idiotic to run like this; let’s decide where we shall go to cook
the stuff.”

Jean, who was beginning to recover his self-possession, proposed the
quarries. They were only three hundred yards distant, and in them were
secret recesses in abundance where they could kindle a fire without
being seen. When they reached the spot, however, difficulties of every
description presented themselves. First, there was the question of wood;
fortunately a laborer, who had been repairing the road, had gone home
and left his wheelbarrow behind him; Lapoulle quickly reduced it to
fragments with the heel of his boot. Then there was no water to be had
that was fit to drink; the hot sunshine had dried up all the pools of
rain-water. True there was a pump at the Tour a Glaire, but that was too
far away, and besides it was never accessible before midnight; the men
forming in long lines with their bowls and porringers, only too happy
when, after waiting for hours, they could escape from the jam with their
supply of the precious fluid unspilled. As for the few wells in the
neighborhood, they had been dry for the last two days, and the bucket
brought up nothing save mud and slime. Their sole resource appeared to
be the water of the Meuse, which was parted from them by the road.

“I’ll take the kettle and go and fill it,” said Jean.

The others objected.

“No, no! We don’t want to be poisoned; it is full of dead bodies!”

They spoke the truth. The Meuse was constantly bringing down corpses
of men and horses; they could be seen floating with the current at any
moment of the day, swollen and of a greenish hue, in the early stages
of decomposition. Often they were caught in the weeds and bushes on the
bank, where they remained to poison the atmosphere, swinging to the tide
with a gentle, tremulous motion that imparted to them a semblance of
life. Nearly every soldier who had drunk that abominable water had
suffered from nausea and colic, often succeeded afterward by dysentery.
It seemed as if they must make up their mind to use it, however, as
there was no other; Maurice explained that there would be no danger in
drinking it after it was boiled.

“Very well, then; I’ll go,” said Jean. And he started, taking Lapoulle
with him to carry the kettle.

By the time they got the kettle filled and on the fire it was quite
dark. Loubet had peeled the beets and thrown them into the water to
cook--a feast fit for the gods, he declared it would be--and fed the
fire with fragments of the wheelbarrow, for they were all suffering so
from hunger that they could have eaten the meat before the pot began to
boil. Their huge shadows danced fantastically in the firelight on the
rocky walls of the quarry. Then they found it impossible longer to
restrain their appetite, and threw themselves upon the unclean mess,
tearing the flesh with eager, trembling fingers and dividing it among
them, too impatient even to make use of the knife. But, famishing as
they were, their stomachs revolted; they felt the want of salt, they
could not swallow that tasteless, sickening broth, those chunks of
half-cooked, viscid meat that had a taste like clay. Some among them
had a fit of vomiting. Pache was very ill. Chouteau and Loubet heaped
maledictions on that infernal old nag, that had caused them such trouble
to get him to the pot and then given them the colic. Lapoulle was the
only one among them who ate abundantly, but he was in a very bad
way that night when, with his three comrades, he returned to their
resting-place under the poplars by the canal.

On their way back to camp Maurice, without uttering a word, took
advantage of the darkness to seize Jean by the arm and drag him into
a by-path. Their comrades inspired him with unconquerable disgust; he
thought he should like to go and sleep in the little wood where he had
spent his first night on the peninsula. It was a good idea, and Jean
commended it highly when he had laid himself down on the warm, dry
ground, under the shelter of the dense foliage. They remained there
until the sun was high in the heavens, and enjoyed a sound, refreshing
slumber, which restored to them something of their strength.

The following day was Thursday, but they had ceased to note the days;
they were simply glad to observe that the weather seemed to be coming
off fine again. Jean overcame Maurice’s repugnance and prevailed on him
to return to the canal, to see if their regiment was not to move that
day. Not a day passed now but detachments of prisoners, a thousand to
twelve hundred strong, were sent off to the fortresses in Germany. The
day but one before they had seen, drawn up in front of the Prussian
headquarters, a column of officers of various grades, who were going to
Pont-a-Mousson, there to take the railway. Everyone was possessed with
a wild, feverish longing to get away from that camp where they had seen
such suffering. Ah! if it but might be their turn! And when they found
the 106th still encamped on the bank of the canal, in the inevitable
disorder consequent upon such distress, their courage failed them and
they despaired.

Jean and Maurice that day thought they saw a prospect of obtaining
something to eat. All the morning a lively traffic had been going on
between the prisoners and the Bavarians on the other side of the canal;
the former would wrap their money in a handkerchief and toss it across
to the opposite shore, the latter would return the handkerchief with
a loaf of coarse brown bread, or a plug of their common, damp tobacco.
Even soldiers who had no money were not debarred from participating
in this commerce, employing, instead of currency, their white uniform
gloves, for which the Germans appeared to have a weakness. For two hours
packages were flying across the canal in its entire length under this
primitive system of exchanges. But when Maurice dispatched his cravat
with a five-franc piece tied in it to the other bank, the Bavarian who
was to return him a loaf of bread gave it, whether from awkwardness or
malice, such an ineffectual toss that it fell in the water. The incident
elicited shouts of laughter from the Germans. Twice again Maurice
repeated the experiment, and twice his loaf went to feed the fishes. At
last the Prussian officers, attracted by the uproar, came running up and
prohibited their men from selling anything to the prisoners, threatening
them with dire penalties and punishments in case of disobedience. The
traffic came to a sudden end, and Jean had hard work to pacify Maurice,
who shook his fists at the scamps, shouting to them to give him back his
five-franc pieces.

This was another terrible day, notwithstanding the warm, bright
sunshine. Twice the bugle sounded and sent Jean hurrying off to the shed
whence rations were supposed to be issued, but on each occasion he only
got his toes trod on and his ribs racked in the crush. The Prussians,
whose organization was so wonderfully complete, continued to manifest
the same brutal inattention to the necessities of the vanquished army.
On the representations of Generals Douay and Lebrun, they had indeed
sent in a few sheep as well as some wagon-loads of bread, but so little
care was taken to guard them that the sheep were carried off bodily and
the wagons pillaged as soon as they reached the bridge, the consequence
of which was that the troops who were encamped a hundred yards further
on were no better off than before; it was only the worst element, the
plunderers and bummers, who benefited by the provision trains. And
thereon Jean, who, as he said, saw how the trick was done, brought
Maurice with him to the bridge to keep an eye on the victuals.

It was four o’clock, and they had not had a morsel to eat all that
beautiful bright Thursday, when suddenly their eyes were gladdened by
the sight of Delaherche. A few among the citizens of Sedan had with
infinite difficulty obtained permission to visit the prisoners, to whom
they carried provisions, and Maurice had on several occasions expressed
his surprise at his failure to receive any tidings of his sister. As
soon as they recognized Delaherche in the distance, carrying a large
basket and with a loaf of bread under either arm, they darted forward
fast as their legs could carry them, but even thus they were too late;
a crowding, jostling mob closed in, and in the confusion the dazed
manufacturer was relieved of his basket and one of his loaves, which
vanished from his sight so expeditiously that he was never able to tell
the manner of their disappearance.

“Ah, my poor friends!” he stammered, utterly crestfallen in his
bewilderment and stupefaction, he who but a moment before had come
through the gate with a smile on his lips and an air of good-fellowship,
magnanimously forgetting his superior advantages in his desire for
popularity.

Jean had taken possession of the remaining loaf and saved it from the
hungry crew, and while he and Maurice, seated by the roadside, were
making great inroads in it, Delaherche opened his budget of news for
their benefit. His wife, the Lord be praised! was very well, but he was
greatly alarmed for the colonel, who had sunk into a condition of deep
prostration, although his mother continued to bear him company from
morning until night.

“And my sister?” Maurice inquired.

“Ah, yes! your sister; true. She insisted on coming with me; it was
she who brought the two loaves of bread. She had to remain over yonder,
though, on the other side of the canal; the sentries wouldn’t let her
pass the gate. You know the Prussians have strictly prohibited the
presence of women in the peninsula.”

Then he spoke of Henriette, and of her fruitless attempts to see her
brother and come to his assistance. Once in Sedan chance had brought
her face to face with Cousin Gunther, the man who was captain in the
Prussian Guards. He had passed her with his haughty, supercilious
air, pretending not to recognize her. She, also, with a sensation
of loathing, as if she were in the presence of one of her husband’s
murderers, had hurried on with quickened steps; then, with a sudden
change of purpose for which she could not account, had turned back and
told him all the manner of Weiss’s death, in harsh accents of reproach.
And he, thus learning how horribly a relative had met his fate, had
taken the matter coolly; it was the fortune of war; the same thing might
have happened to himself. His face, rendered stoically impassive by the
discipline of the soldier, had barely betrayed the faintest evidence
of interest. After that, when she informed him that her brother was
a prisoner and besought him to use his influence to obtain for her an
opportunity of seeing him, he had excused himself on the ground that he
was powerless in the matter; the instructions were explicit and might
not be disobeyed. He appeared to place the regimental orderly book on
a par with the Bible. She left him with the clearly defined impression
that he believed he was in the country for the sole purpose of sitting
in judgment on the French people, with all the intolerance and arrogance
of the hereditary enemy, swollen by his personal hatred for the nation
whom it had devolved on him to chastise.

“And now,” said Delaherche in conclusion, “you won’t have to go to bed
supperless to-night; you have had a little something to eat. The worst
is that I am afraid I shall not be able to secure another pass.”

He asked them if there was anything he could do for them outside, and
obligingly consented to take charge of some pencil-written letters
confided to him by other soldiers, for the Bavarians had more than once
been seen to laugh as they lighted their pipes with missives which they
had promised to forward. Then, when Jean and Maurice had accompanied him
to the gate, he exclaimed:

“Look! over yonder, there’s Henriette! Don’t you see her waving her
handkerchief?”

True enough, among the crowd beyond the line of sentinels they
distinguished a little, thin, pale face, a white dot that trembled in
the sunshine. Both were deeply affected, and, with moist eyes, raising
their hands above their head, answered her salutation by waving them
frantically in the air.

The following day was Friday, and it was then that Maurice felt that his
cup of horror was full to overflowing. After another night of tranquil
slumber in the little wood he was so fortunate as to secure another
meal, Jean having come across an old woman at the Chateau of Villette
who was selling bread at ten francs the pound. But that day they
witnessed a spectacle of which the horror remained imprinted on their
minds for many weeks and months.

The day before Chouteau had noticed that Pache had ceased complaining
and was going about with a careless, satisfied air, as a man might do
who had dined well. He immediately jumped at the conclusion that the sly
fox must have a concealed treasure somewhere, the more so that he had
seen him absent himself for near an hour that morning and come back with
a smile lurking on his face and his mouth filled with unswallowed
food. It must be that he had had a windfall, had probably joined some
marauding party and laid in a stock of provisions. And Chouteau labored
with Loubet and Lapoulle to stir up bad feeling against the comrade,
with the latter more particularly. _Hein!_ wasn’t he a dirty dog, if he
had something to eat, not to go snacks with the comrades! He ought to
have a lesson that he would remember, for his selfishness.

“To-night we’ll keep a watch on him, don’t you see. We’ll learn whether
he dares to stuff himself on the sly, when so many poor devils are
starving all around him.”

“Yes, yes, that’s the talk! we’ll follow him,” Lapoulle angrily
declared. “We’ll see about it!”

He doubled his fists; he was like a crazy man whenever the subject of
eating was mentioned in his presence. His enormous appetite caused him
to suffer more than the others; his torment at times was such that he
had been known to stuff his mouth with grass. For more than thirty-six
hours, since the night when they had supped on horseflesh and he had
contracted a terrible dysentery in consequence, he had been without
food, for he was so little able to look out for himself that,
notwithstanding his bovine strength, whenever he joined the others in a
marauding raid he never got his share of the booty. He would have been
willing to give his blood for a pound of bread.

As it was beginning to be dark Pache stealthily made his way to the Tour
a Glaire and slipped into the park, while the three others cautiously
followed him at a distance.

“It won’t do to let him suspect anything,” said Chouteau. “Be on your
guard in case he should look around.”

But when he had advanced another hundred paces Pache evidently had no
idea there was anyone near, for he began to hurry forward at a swift
gait, not so much as casting a look behind. They had no difficulty in
tracking him to the adjacent quarries, where they fell on him as he was
in the act of removing two great flat stones, to take from the cavity
beneath part of a loaf of bread. It was the last of his store; he had
enough left for one more meal.

“You dirty, sniveling priest’s whelp!” roared Lapoulle, “so that is why
you sneak away from us! Give me that; it’s my share!”

Why should he give his bread? Weak and puny as he was, his slight form
dilated with anger, while he clutched the loaf against his bosom with
all the strength he could master. For he also was hungry.

“Let me alone. It’s mine.”

Then, at sight of Lapoulle’s raised fist, he broke away and ran, sliding
down the steep banks of the quarries, making his way across the bare
fields in the direction of Donchery, the three others after him in
hot pursuit. He gained on them, however, being lighter than they, and
possessed by such overmastering fear, so determined to hold on to
what was his property, that his speed seemed to rival the wind. He had
already covered more than half a mile and was approaching the little
wood on the margin of the stream when he encountered Jean and Maurice,
who were on their way back to their resting-place for the night. He
addressed them an appealing, distressful cry as he passed; while they,
astounded by the wild hunt that went fleeting by, stood motionless
at the edge of a field, and thus it was that they beheld the ensuing
tragedy.

As luck would have it, Pache tripped over a stone and fell. In an
instant the others were on top of him--shouting, swearing, their passion
roused to such a pitch of frenzy that they were like wolves that had run
down their prey.

“Give me that,” yelled Lapoulle, “or by G-d I’ll kill you!”

And he had raised his fist again when Chouteau, taking from his pocket
the penknife with which he had slaughtered the horse and opening it,
placed it in his hand.

“Here, take it! the knife!”

But Jean meantime had come hurrying up, desirous to prevent the mischief
he saw brewing, losing his wits like the rest of them, indiscreetly
speaking of putting them all in the guardhouse; whereon Loubet, with an
ugly laugh, told him he must be a Prussian, since they had no longer any
commanders, and the Prussians were the only ones who issued orders.

“_Nom de Dieu!_” Lapoulle repeated, “will you give me that?”

Despite the terror that blanched his cheeks Pache hugged the bread more
closely to his bosom, with the obstinacy of the peasant who never cedes
a jot or tittle of that which is his.

“No!”

Then in a second all was over; the brute drove the knife into the
other’s throat with such violence that the wretched man did not even
utter a cry. His arms relaxed, the bread fell to the ground, into the
pool of blood that had spurted from the wound.

At sight of the imbecile, uncalled-for murder, Maurice, who had until
then been a silent spectator of the scene, appeared as if stricken by
a sudden fit of madness. He raved and gesticulated, shaking his fist in
the face of the three men and calling them murderers, assassins, with a
violence that shook his frame from head to foot. But Lapoulle seemed
not even to hear him. Squatted on the ground beside the corpse, he was
devouring the bloodstained bread, an expression of stupid ferocity on
his face, with a loud grinding of his great jaws, while Chouteau and
Loubet, seeing him thus terrible in the gratification of his wild-beast
appetite, did not even dare claim their portion.

By this time night had fallen, a pleasant night with a clear sky
thick-set with stars, and Maurice and Jean, who had regained the shelter
of their little wood, presently perceived Lapoulle wandering up and down
the river bank. The two others had vanished, had doubtless returned to
the encampment by the canal, their mind troubled by reason of the corpse
they left behind them. He, on the other hand, seemed to dread going to
rejoin the comrades. When he was more himself and his brutish, sluggish
intellect showed him the full extent of his crime, he had evidently
experienced a twinge of anguish that made motion a necessity, and not
daring to return to the interior of the peninsula, where he would have
to face the body of his victim, had sought the bank of the stream, where
he was now tramping to and fro with uneven, faltering steps. What was
going on within the recesses of that darkened mind that guided the
actions of that creature, so degraded as to be scarce higher than the
animal? Was it the awakening of remorse? or only the fear lest his crime
might be discovered? He could not remain there; he paced his beat as
a wild beast shambles up and down its cage, with a sudden and
ever-increasing longing to fly, a longing that ached and pained like a
physical hurt, from which he felt he should die, could he do nothing
to satisfy it. Quick, quick, he must fly, must fly at once, from that
prison where he had slain a fellow-being. And yet, the coward in him, it
may be, gaining the supremacy, he threw himself on the ground, and for a
long time lay crouched among the herbage.

And Maurice said to Jean in his horror and disgust:

“See here, I cannot remain longer in this place; I tell you plainly I
should go mad. I am surprised that the physical part of me holds out as
it does; my bodily health is not so bad, but the mind is going; yes! it
is going, I am certain of it. If you leave me another day in this hell I
am lost. I beg you, let us go away, let us start at once!”

And he went on to propound the wildest schemes for getting away. They
would swim the Meuse, would cast themselves on the sentries and strangle
them with a cord he had in his pocket, or would beat out their brains
with rocks, or would buy them over with the money they had left and don
their uniform to pass through the Prussian lines.

“My dear boy, be silent!” Jean sadly answered; “it frightens me to hear
you talk so wildly. Is there any reason in what you say, are any of your
plans feasible? Wait; to-morrow we’ll see about it. Be silent!”

He, although his heart, no less than his friend’s, was wrung by the
horrors that surrounded them on every side, had preserved his mental
balance amid the debilitating effects of famine, among the grisly
visions of that existence than which none could approach more nearly
the depth of human misery. And as his companion’s frenzy continued to
increase and he talked of casting himself into the Meuse, he was obliged
to restrain him, even to the point of using violence, scolding and
supplicating, tears standing in his eyes. Then suddenly he said:

“See! look there!”

A splash was heard coming from the river, and they saw it was Lapoulle,
who had finally decided to attempt to escape by the stream, first
removing his capote in order that it might not hinder his movements; and
his white shirt made a spot of brightness that was distinctly visible
upon the dusky bosom of the moving water. He was swimming up-stream
with a leisurely movement, doubtless on the lookout for a place where
he might land with safety, while on the opposite shore there was no
difficulty in discerning the shadowy forms of the sentries, erect and
motionless in the semi-obscurity. There came a sudden flash that tore
the black veil of night, a report that went with bellowing echoes and
spent itself among the rocks of Montimont. The water boiled and bubbled
for an instant, as it does under the wild efforts of an unpracticed
oarsman. And that was all; Lapoulle’s body, the white spot on the dusky
stream, floated away, lifeless, upon the tide.

The next day, which was Saturday, Jean aroused Maurice as soon as it was
day and they returned to the camp of the 106th, with the hope that they
might move that day, but there were no orders; it seemed as though the
regiment’s existence were forgotten. Many of the troops had been sent
away, the peninsula was being depopulated, and sickness was terribly
prevalent among those who were left behind. For eight long days disease
had been germinating in that hell on earth; the rains had ceased, but
the blazing, scorching sunlight had only wrought a change of evils.
The excessive heat completed the exhaustion of the men and gave to
the numerous cases of dysentery an alarmingly epidemic character.
The excreta of that army of sick poisoned the air with their noxious
emanations. No one could approach the Meuse or the canal, owing to the
overpowering stench that rose from the bodies of drowned soldiers and
horses that lay festering among the weeds. And the horses, that dropped
in the fields from inanition, were decomposing so rapidly and forming
such a fruitful source of pestilence that the Prussians, commencing
to be alarmed on their own account, had provided picks and shovels and
forced the prisoners to bury them.

That day, however, was the last on which they suffered from famine. As
their numbers were so greatly reduced and provisions kept pouring in
from every quarter, they passed at a single bound from the extreme of
destitution to the most abundant plenty. Bread, meat, and wine, even,
were to be had without stint; eating went on from morning till night,
until they were ready to drop. Darkness descended, and they were
eating still; in some quarters the gorging was continued until the next
morning. To many it proved fatal.

That whole day Jean made it his sole business to keep watch over
Maurice, who he saw was ripe for some rash action. He had been drinking;
he spoke of his intention of cuffing a Prussian officer in order that he
might be sent away. And at night Jean, having discovered an unoccupied
corner in the cellar of one of the outbuildings at the Tour a Glaire,
thought it advisable to go and sleep there with his companion, thinking
that a good night’s rest would do him good, but it turned out to be
the worst night in all their experience, a night of terror during
which neither of them closed an eye. The cellar was inhabited by other
soldiers; lying in the same corner were two who were dying of dysentery,
and as soon as it was fairly dark they commenced to relieve their
sufferings by moans and inarticulate cries, a hideous death-rattle that
went on uninterruptedly until morning. These sounds finally became so
horrific there in the intense darkness, that the others who were resting
there, wishing to sleep, allowed their anger to get the better of them
and shouted to the dying men to be silent. They did not hear; the rattle
went on, drowning all other sounds, while from without came the drunken
clamor of those who were eating and drinking still, with insatiable
appetite.

Then commenced for Maurice a period of agony unspeakable. He would have
fled from the awful sounds that brought the cold sweat of anguish in
great drops to his brow, but when he arose and attempted to grope his
way out he trod on the limbs of those extended there, and finally fell
to the ground, a living man immured there in the darkness with the
dying. He made no further effort to escape from this last trial. The
entire frightful disaster arose before his mind, from the time of their
departure from Rheims to the crushing defeat of Sedan. It seemed to
him that in that night, in the inky blackness of that cellar, where
the groans of two dying soldiers drove sleep from the eyelids of their
comrades, the ordeal of the army of Chalons had reached its climax. At
each of the stations of its passion the army of despair, the expiatory
band, driven forward to the sacrifice, had spent its life-blood in
atonement for the faults of others; and now, unhonored amid disaster,
covered with contumely, it was enduring martyrdom in that cruel
scourging, the severity of which it had done nothing to deserve. He felt
it was too much; he was heartsick with rage and grief, hungering for
justice, burning with a fierce desire to be avenged on destiny.

When daylight appeared one of the soldiers was dead, the other was
lingering on in protracted agony.

“Come along, little one,” Jean gently said; “we’ll go and get a breath
of fresh air; it will do us good.”

But when the pair emerged into the pure, warm morning air and, pursuing
the river bank, were near the village of Iges, Maurice grew flightier
still, and extending his hand toward the vast expanse of sunlit
battlefield, the plateau of Illy in front of them, Saint-Menges to the
left, the wood of la Garenne to the right, he cried:

“No, I cannot, I cannot bear to look on it! The sight pierces my heart
and drives me mad. Take me away, oh! take me away, at once, at once!”

It was Sunday once more; the bells were pealing from the steeples of
Sedan, while the music of a German military band floated on the air in
the distance. There were still no orders for their regiment to move, and
Jean, alarmed to see Maurice’s deliriousness increasing, determined to
attempt the execution of a plan that he had been maturing in his mind
for the last twenty-four hours. On the road before the tents of the
Prussians another regiment, the 5th of the line, was drawn up in
readiness for departure. Great confusion prevailed in the column, and an
officer, whose knowledge of the French language was imperfect, had been
unable to complete the roster of the prisoners. Then the two friends,
having first torn from their uniform coat the collar and buttons in
order that the number might not betray their identity, quietly took
their place in the ranks and soon had the satisfaction of crossing the
bridge and leaving the chain of sentries behind them. The same idea must
have presented itself to Loubet and Chouteau, for they caught sight of
them somewhat further to the rear, peering anxiously about them with the
guilty eyes of murderers.

Ah, what comfort there was for them in that first blissful moment!
Outside their prison the sunlight was brighter, the air more bracing; it
was like a resurrection, a bright renewal of all their hopes. Whatever
evil fortune might have in store for them, they dreaded it not; they
snapped their fingers at it in their delight at having seen the last of
the horrors of Camp Misery.



III.

That morning Maurice and Jean listened for the last time to the gay,
ringing notes of the French bugles, and now they were on their way to
Pont-a-Mousson, marching in the ranks of the convoy of prisoners, which
was guarded front and rear by platoons of Prussian infantry, while
a file of men with fixed bayonets flanked the column on either side.
Whenever they came to a German post they heard only the lugubrious,
ear-piercing strains of the Prussian trumpets.

Maurice was glad to observe that the column took the left-hand road and
would pass through Sedan; perhaps he would have an opportunity of seeing
his sister Henriette. All the pleasure, however, that he had experienced
at his release from that foul cesspool where he had spent nine days of
agony was dashed to the ground and destroyed during the three-mile march
from the peninsula of Iges to the city. It was but another form of his
old distress to behold that array of prisoners, shuffling timorously
through the dust of the road, like a flock of sheep with the dog at
their heels. There is no spectacle in all the world more pitiful than
that of a column of vanquished troops being marched off into captivity
under guard of their conquerors, without arms, their empty hands hanging
idly at their sides; and these men, clad in rags and tatters, besmeared
with the filth in which they had lain for more than a week, gaunt and
wasted after their long fast, were more like vagabonds than soldiers;
they resembled loathsome, horribly dirty tramps, whom the gendarmes
would have picked up along the highways and consigned to the lockup.
As they passed through the Faubourg of Torcy, where men paused on the
sidewalks and women came to their doors to regard them with mournful,
compassionate interest, the blush of shame rose to Maurice’s cheek, he
hung his head and a bitter taste came to his mouth.

Jean, whose epidermis was thicker and mind more practical, thought only
of their stupidity in not having brought off with them a loaf of bread
apiece. In the hurry of their abrupt departure they had even gone off
without breakfasting, and hunger soon made its presence felt by the
nerveless sensation in their legs. Others among the prisoners appeared
to be in the same boat, for they held out money, begging the people of
the place to sell them something to eat. There was one, an extremely
tall man, apparently very ill, who displayed a gold piece, extending it
above the heads of the soldiers of the escort; and he was almost frantic
that he could purchase nothing. Just at that time Jean, who had been
keeping his eyes open, perceived a bakery a short distance ahead, before
which were piled a dozen loaves of bread; he immediately got his money
ready and, as the column passed, tossed the baker a five-franc piece and
endeavored to secure two of the loaves; then, when the Prussian who
was marching at his side pushed him back roughly into the ranks, he
protested, demanding that he be allowed to recover his money from the
baker. But at that juncture the captain commanding the detachment, a
short, bald-headed man with a brutal expression of face, came hastening
up; he raised his revolver over Jean’s head as if about to strike him
with the butt, declaring with an oath that he would brain the first man
that dared to lift a finger. And the rest of the captives continued to
shamble on, stirring up the dust of the road with their shuffling feet,
with eyes averted and shoulders bowed, cowed and abjectly submissive as
a drove of cattle.

“Oh! how good it would seem to slap the fellow’s face just once!”
 murmured Maurice, as if he meant it. “How I should like to let him have
just one from the shoulder, and drive his teeth down his dirty throat!”

And during the remainder of their march he could not endure to look on
that captain, with his ugly, supercilious face.

They had entered Sedan and were crossing the Pont de Meuse, and the
scenes of violence and brutality became more numerous than ever. A woman
darted forward and would have embraced a boyish young sergeant--likely
she was his mother--and was repulsed with a blow from a musket-butt that
felled her to the ground. On the Place Turenne the guards hustled and
maltreated some citizens because they cast provisions to the prisoners.
In the Grande Rue one of the convoy fell in endeavoring to secure a
bottle that a lady extended to him, and was assisted to his feet with
kicks. For a week now Sedan had witnessed the saddening spectacle of
the defeated driven like cattle through its streets, and seemed no more
accustomed to it than at the beginning; each time a fresh detachment
passed the city was stirred to its very depths by a movement of pity and
indignation.

Jean had recovered his equanimity; his thoughts, like Maurice’s,
reverted to Henriette, and the idea occurred to him that they might see
Delaherche somewhere among the throng. He gave his friend a nudge of the
elbow.

“Keep your eyes open if we pass through their street presently, will
you?”

They had scarce more than struck into the Rue Maqua, indeed, when they
became aware of several pairs of eyes turned on the column from one
of the tall windows of the factory, and as they drew nearer recognized
Delaherche and his wife Gilberte, their elbows resting on the railing
of the balcony, and behind them the tall, rigid form of old Madame
Delaherche. They had a supply of bread with them, and the manufacturer
was tossing the loaves down into the hands that were upstretched with
tremulous eagerness to receive them. Maurice saw at once that his sister
was not there, while Jean anxiously watched the flying loaves, fearing
there might none be left for them. They both had raised their arms and
were waving them frantically above their head, shouting meanwhile with
all the force of their lungs:

“Here we are! This way, this way!”

The Delaherches seemed delighted to see them in the midst of their
surprise. Their faces, pallid with emotion, suddenly brightened,
and they displayed by the warmth of their gestures the pleasure they
experienced in the encounter. There was one solitary loaf left, which
Gilberte insisted on throwing with her own hands, and pitched it into
Jean’s extended arms in such a charmingly awkward way that she gave a
winsome laugh at her own expense. Maurice, unable to stop on account of
the pressure from the rear, turned his head and shouted, in a tone of
anxious inquiry:

“And Henriette? Henriette?”

Delaherche replied with a long farrago, but his voice was inaudible in
the shuffling tramp of so many feet. He seemed to understand that the
young man had failed to catch his meaning, for he gesticulated like a
semaphore; there was one gesture in particular that he repeated several
times, extending his arm with a sweeping motion toward the south,
apparently intending to convey the idea of some point in the remote
distance: Off there, away off there. Already the head of the column was
wheeling into the Rue du Minil, the facade of the factory was lost to
sight, together with the kindly faces of the three Delaherches; the last
the two friends saw of them was the fluttering of the white handkerchief
with which Gilberte waved them a farewell.

“What did he say?” asked Jean.

Maurice, in a fever of anxiety, was still looking to the rear where
there was nothing to be seen. “I don’t know; I could not understand him;
I shall have no peace of mind until I hear from her.”

And the trailing, shambling line crept slowly onward, the Prussians
urging on the weary men with the brutality of conquerors; the column
left the city by the Minil gate in straggling, long-drawn array,
hastening their steps, like sheep at whose heels the dogs are snapping.

When they passed through Bazeilles Jean and Maurice thought of Weiss,
and cast their eyes about in an effort to distinguish the site of the
little house that had been defended with such bravery. While they
were at Camp Misery they had heard the woeful tale of slaughter and
conflagration that had blotted the pretty village from existence, and
the abominations that they now beheld exceeded all they had dreamed of
or imagined. At the expiration of twelve days the ruins were smoking
still; the tottering walls had fallen in, there were not ten houses
standing. It afforded them some small comfort, however, to meet a
procession of carts and wheelbarrows loaded with Bavarian helmets and
muskets that had been collected after the conflict. That evidence of the
chastisement that had been inflicted on those murderers and incendiaries
went far toward mitigating the affliction of defeat.

The column was to halt at Douzy to give the men an opportunity to eat
breakfast. It was not without much suffering that they reached that
place; already the prisoners’ strength was giving out, exhausted as they
were by their ten days of fasting. Those who the day before had availed
of the abundant supplies to gorge themselves were seized with vertigo,
their enfeebled legs refused to support their weight, and their
gluttony, far from restoring their lost strength, was a further source
of weakness to them. The consequence was that, when the train was halted
in a meadow to the left of the village, these poor creatures flung
themselves upon the ground with no desire to eat. Wine was wanting; some
charitable women who came, bringing a few bottles, were driven off by
the sentries. One of them in her affright fell and sprained her ankle,
and there ensued a painful scene of tears and hysterics, during which
the Prussians confiscated the bottles and drank their contents amid
jeers and insulting laughter. This tender compassion of the peasants for
the poor soldiers who were being led away into captivity was manifested
constantly along the route, while it was said the harshness they
displayed toward the generals amounted almost to cruelty. At that same
Douzy, only a few days previously, the villagers had hooted and reviled
a number of paroled officers who were on their way to Pont-a-Mousson.
The roads were not safe for general officers; men wearing the
blouse--escaped soldiers, or deserters, it may be--fell on them with
pitch-forks and endeavored to take their life as traitors, credulously
pinning their faith to that legend of bargain and sale which, even
twenty years later, was to continue to shed its opprobrium upon those
leaders who had commanded armies in that campaign.

Maurice and Jean ate half their bread, and were so fortunate as to have
a mouthful of brandy with which to wash it down, thanks to the kindness
of a worthy old farmer. When the order was given to resume their
advance, however, the distress throughout the convoy was extreme. They
were to halt for the night at Mouzon, and although the march was a short
one, it seemed as if it would tax the men’s strength more severely
than they could bear; they could not get on their feet without giving
utterance to cries of pain, so stiff did their tired legs become the
moment they stopped to rest. Many removed their shoes to relieve their
galled and bleeding feet. Dysentery continued to rage; a man fell before
they had gone half a mile, and they had to prop him against a wall and
leave him. A little further on two others sank at the foot of a hedge,
and it was night before an old woman came along and picked them up. All
were stumbling, tottering, and dragging themselves along, supporting
their forms with canes, which the Prussians, perhaps in derision, had
suffered them to cut at the margin of a wood. They were a straggling
array of tramps and beggars, covered with sores, haggard, emaciated, and
footsore; a sight to bring tears to the eyes of the most stony-hearted.
And the guards continued to be as brutally strict as ever; those who for
any purpose attempted to leave the ranks were driven back with blows,
and the platoon that brought up the rear had orders to prod with their
bayonets those who hung back. A sergeant having refused to go further,
the captain summoned two of his men and instructed them to seize him,
one by either arm, and in this manner the wretched man was dragged over
the ground until he agreed to walk. And what made the whole thing more
bitter and harder to endure was the utter insignificance of that little
pimply-faced, bald-headed officer, so insufferably consequential in his
brutality, who took advantage of his knowledge of French to vituperate
the prisoners in it in curt, incisive words that cut and stung like the
lash of a whip.

“Oh!” Maurice furiously exclaimed, “to get the puppy in my hands and
drain him of his blood, drop by drop!”

His powers of endurance were almost exhausted, but it was his rage that
he had to choke down, even more than his fatigue, that was cause of
his suffering. Everything exasperated him and set on edge his tingling
nerves; the harsh notes of the Prussian trumpets particularly, which
inspired him with a desire to scream each time he heard them. He felt he
should never reach the end of their cruel journey without some outbreak
that would bring down on him the utmost severity of the guard. Even now,
when traversing the smallest hamlets, he suffered horribly and felt
as if he should die with shame to behold the eyes of the women fixed
pityingly on him; what would it be when they should enter Germany, and
the populace of the great cities should crowd the streets to laugh and
jeer at them as they passed? And he pictured to himself the cattle cars
into which they would be crowded for transportation, the discomforts and
humiliations they would have to suffer on the journey, the dismal life
in German fortresses under the leaden, wintry sky. No, no; he would have
none of it; better to take the risk of leaving his bones by the roadside
on French soil than go and rot off yonder, for months and months,
perhaps, in the dark depths of a casemate.

“Listen,” he said below his breath to Jean, who was walking at his side;
“we will wait until we come to a wood; then we’ll break through the
guards and run for it among the trees. The Belgian frontier is not far
away; we shall have no trouble in finding someone to guide us to it.”

Jean, accustomed as he was to look at things coolly and calculate
chances, put his veto on the mad scheme, although he, too, in his
revolt, was beginning to meditate the possibilities of an escape.

“Have you taken leave of your senses! the guard will fire on us, and we
shall both be killed.”

But Maurice replied there was a chance the soldiers might not hit them,
and then, after all, if their aim should prove true, it would not matter
so very much.

“Very well!” rejoined Jean, “but what is going to become of us
afterward, dressed in uniform as we are? You know perfectly well that
the country is swarming in every direction with Prussian troops; we
could not go far unless we had other clothes to put on. No, no, my lad,
it’s too risky; I’ll not let you attempt such an insane project.”

And he took the young man’s arm and held it pressed against his side,
as if they were mutually sustaining each other, continuing meanwhile to
chide and soothe him in a tone that was at once rough and affectionate.

Just then the sound of a whispered conversation close behind them caused
them to turn and look around. It was Chouteau and Loubet, who had left
the peninsula of Iges that morning at the same time as they, and whom
they had managed to steer clear of until the present moment. Now the
two worthies were close at their heels, and Chouteau must have overheard
Maurice’s words, his plan for escaping through the mazes of a forest,
for he had adopted it on his own behalf. His breath was hot upon their
neck