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Title: The Downfall - [La Débâcle]
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.

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THE DOWNFALL

(LA DÉBÂCLE)

_A STORY OF THE HORRORS OF WAR_


BY

ÉMILE ZOLA


TRANSLATED BY ERNEST A. VIZETELLY

WAR CORRESPONDENT 1870-1


_NEW AND REVISED EDITION_


CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY

1893



PREFACE


Before the present translation of M. Zola's novel, 'La Débâcle,'
appeared in 'The Weekly Times and Echo,' in which it was originally
issued, the author was interviewed for that journal by Mr. Robert H.
Sherard, whom he favoured with some interesting particulars concerning
the scope and purport of his narrative. By the courtesy both of Mr.
Sherard and of the proprietor of 'The Weekly Times,' the translator
is here able to republish the remarks made by M. Zola on the occasion
referred to. They will be found to supply an appropriate preface to the
story:--

'"La Débâcle" has given me infinitely more trouble than any of my
previous works. When I began writing it, I had no conception of the
immensity of the task which I had imposed on myself. The labour of
reading up all that has been written on my subject in general, and on
the battle of Sedan in particular, has been enormous, and the work
of condensation of all that I have had to read has been all the more
laborious that on no subject has more divergence of opinion been
expressed ... I have read all that has been written about the battle
of Sedan, as well as about the unhappy adventures of the luckless
Seventh Army Corps, in which is placed the fictitious regiment which
plays the leading _rôle_ in my novel. And the digestion has not been
an easy task. Each general, for instance, has a different version to
give of the why and the wherefore of the defeat. Each claims to have
had a plan, which, if it had been followed, would have averted the
disaster. Another difficulty has been that I took no part in that
campaign, not having been a soldier, and that for my information on the
life and experience of those who went through the campaign in general,
and the battle of Sedan in particular, I have had to depend on outside
testimony, often of a conflicting nature. I may say, however, that
in this matter I have been greatly helped by the kindness of persons
who are good enough to be interested in my work, and as soon as it
became known that I was writing a book about the war and about Sedan,
I received from all parts of France manuscript relations written by
people of all classes who had been present at the battle, and who sent
me their recollections. That was most excellent material--indeed, the
best, because not to be found anywhere else. An "Anecdotal Account of
the Battle of Sedan" was sent me by a gentleman who is now professor at
one of the Universities in the South. A long, ill-spelt letter came to
me from a gamekeeper in the North, in which he gave me a full account
of the battle as it impressed him, who was a private soldier in the
Seventh Army Corps at the time. I have masses of such documents, and it
was my duty to go through everything that could throw any light on my
subject.

'The subject was to be War. I had to consider War in its relation
to various classes of society--War _vis-à-vis_ the bourgeois, War
_vis-à-vis_ the peasant, War _vis-à-vis_ the workman. How the war
was brought about--that is to say, the state of mind of men in
France at the time--was a consideration which also supplied me with
a number of characters. I had to show, in a series of types, France
who had lost the use of liberty, France drunk with pleasure, France
fated irrevocably to disaster. I had to have types to show France so
prompt to enthusiasm, so prompt to despair. And then there were to be
shown the immense faults committed, and to show by character how the
commission of such faults was possible, a natural sequence of a certain
psychological state of mind of a certain preponderating class, which
existed in the last days of the Empire. Then each phase of action had
to be typified. The question of the Emperor and his surroundings--I
had to have characters to explain "the sick man" and his state at the
time. I had to show how it was with the peasants of the period, and
hence to equip a character or two for that purpose. The Francs-tireurs
played an important part in the epoch; it therefore became necessary
for me to incarnate these, to create a typical Franc-tireur. The spies
and spying had their influence on the whole; I had to have a spy. By
the way, the spy in my book is one of the few German characters that
I have created--four or five--this spy and an officer or two. Then,
having thus, with a stroke of the rake, dragged together all that I
could find as likely to illustrate my period, both historically and
psychologically considered, I wrote out rapidly--the work of one
feverish morning--a _maquette_, or rough draft of all I wanted to do,
some fifteen or twenty pages.

'It then became necessary to see the places, to study the geography
of my book, for at that period I did not know where my scenes were to
be laid, whether on the banks of the Rhine, or elsewhere. So, with my
rough draft in my pocket, and my head teeming with the shadows of my
marionettes, and of the things that they were to do and to explain, I
set off for Rheims and went carefully over the whole ground, driving
from Rheims to Sedan, and following foot by foot the road by which the
Seventh Corps--already then decided upon as the _milieu_ in which my
novel was to develop--marched to their disaster. During that drive I
picked up an immense quantity of material, halting in farmhouses and
peasants' cottages, and taking copious notes. Then came Sedan, and
after a careful study of the place and the people, I saw that my novel
must deal largely, for the full comprehension of my story, not only
with the locality, but with the people of the town. This gave me the
_bourgeois_ of Sedan, who play an important part in my tale. Little
by little, the geography gave me also the physiology of my book. Each
new place that it became necessary to describe supplied its type, its
characters.

'So, on my return to Paris, I was in an immense workshop or yard
surrounded with huge mountains of hewn stones, mortar and bricks, and
all that remained then to do was to build the best structure that I
could build of these materials. But before that, the architect's plan
was necessary, and that I next carefully evolved. My plan of work is
most rigorous. Each chapter is marked out in advance, but it is only
as I am writing that the various incidents which I have collected fall
into place.... My labour has been one of reconciliation of divergent
statements in the first place, and of condensation in the second. I
had to reduce to one page what I could easily, and without prolixity,
have treated in a dozen pages; so that with each page, nay with each
sentence, I have been confronted with the question what to leave out
and what to say. Then, when each page was written, I began to torture
myself with the doubt whether I had left unsaid things I ought to have
said, whether I had sacrificed good to inferior material.

'"La Débâcle" is divided into three parts. The first part treats of the
action of the luckless Seventh Army Corps, in which is the fictitious
regiment in which my hero or heroes are placed. I say heroes, because
I have really two heroes in this story. One is Jean, of my novel
'La Terre,' who is a corporal in this regiment; the other is a new
character named Maurice, who goes through Sedan as a private soldier.
Between these two men a great friendship exists, and, indeed, it is
from this friendship in the face of death and danger, this comradeship
of arms _malgré tout_, that I draw the chief effects of sentiment with
which my novel is seasoned. For "La Débâcle" is not a love story.
The female characters in it play only secondary _rôles_; there is no
love-making worth speaking about, at the most, only the "intention" of
love, the indication of courtship. Jean and Maurice, my two heroes,
moreover, present types of the France of the day. Maurice, who is
represented as a young man who has recently been admitted to the bar,
is the man of the world--light, cynical, sceptical, the type of the
France of the Empire, embodying her grace and her faults. He is the
type of the France that, sated with pleasure, rushed to disaster. Jean
represents the new social _couche_, a new stratum, and is in some way
emblematic of the France of the future. Now, I will confess that when I
began writing my book, and had this idea of this friendship, I expected
to be able to produce by its means a much greater effect than I think
I have done. This friendship has not yielded all that I had hoped for
from it.

'The first section of eight chapters opens with allusion to the
trifling defeats on the frontier, it shows the Seventh Corps crowded
back on to Rheims; but the principal subject of these chapters is the
terrible march from Rheims to Sedan. It is an epic event, pregnant with
the irony of fate, and, to my thinking, one of the most tragic military
episodes that history records. There is no fighting described in this
part; indeed, the only battle that I describe is Sedan. The tragedy
lies in the exposition of the faults that gradually led up to the
terrible disaster. The reader follows the movements of this ill-fated
corps, knowing what a terrible shadow of defeat, disaster, and death
overhangs it. It was a wonderful corps, and the way it was managed was
wonderful in its crass stupidity.

'My second part is entirely devoted to a description of the battle of
Sedan in all its phases, seen from all sides. I have omitted nothing
which can help to a comprehension of that enormous episode in the
histories of France and of the world. Now we are with Napoleon, now
with the Emperor of Germany, now with the _bourgeois_ of Sedan, now
with the Francs-tireurs in the woods. Each movement of troops that
contributed to the final _dénouement_ is exposed. I have endeavoured to
be complete, but as I have said, I had too little space for the immense
amount of material in my hands. I have also endeavoured to speak the
plain truth without either fear or favour. The reader will be aroused
to compassion with the sufferings, bodily and mental, of the heroic
and martyred army, just as he will be aroused to indignation at the
conduct of its chiefs, which fell little short of downright dementia.
It has been my duty to be severely critical, and I have not shrunk from
the responsibility of wounding, where it was right and just to do so,
susceptibilities which I see no reason for respecting. I dare say there
will be some outcry at my blame, but I am indifferent, having spoken
the truth.

'The last part of my novel is played out in Sedan, after the battle.
From thence the reader follows the rest of the history of the war as
it develops itself in other parts of France, until it culminates in
the outbreak of the Commune and the final collapse of Paris in a sea
of fire and an ocean of blood. The last chapter of the book is an
account of Paris in flames, of Paris with its gutters running with
blood. I hope by this means to produce a gradation of effect--the
catastrophe of Sedan, which ends the second part, followed up by the
still greater catastrophe of the last chapter. To resume: The first
part of my novel is the march from Rheims to Sedan; the second is the
catastrophe of Sedan, from inception to _dénouement_; and the third the
collapse not of Paris alone, but of the whole of old-time France, with
the _dénouement_ of the burning of Paris, the flames of which clear
away not only an old _régime_, but a whole psychological state, and
prepare a fresh field for a new and regenerated people. For observe,
that my book, as far as outward construction goes, divided into three
parts, may also be divided into a novel of historical and a novel of
psychological interest. It tells a tale of many adventures, but it also
aims to give a full list of psychological studies of French society as
it was at the outbreak of the war.

'My novels have always been written with a higher aim than merely
to amuse. I have so high an opinion of the novel as a means of
expression--I consider it parallel with lyrical poetry, as the highest
form of literary expression, just as in the last century the drama was
the highest form of expression--that it is on this account that I have
chosen it as the form in which to present to the world what I wish to
say on the social, scientific, and psychological problems that occupy
the minds of thinking men. But for this I might have said what I wanted
to say to the world in another form. But the novel has to-day risen
from the place which it held in the last century at the table of the
banquet of letters. It was then the idle pastime of the hour, and sat
low down between the fable and the idyll. To-day it contains, or may be
made to contain, everything; and it is because that is my creed that I
am a novelist. I have, to my thinking, certain contributions to make
to the thought of the world on certain subjects, and I have chosen
the novel as the best way of communicating these contributions to the
world. Thus "La Débâcle," in the form of a very precise and accurate
relation of a series of historical facts--in other words, in the form
of a realistic historical novel--is a document on the psychology of
France in 1870. This will explain the enormous number of characters
which figure in the book. Each character represents one _état d'âme
psychologique_ of the France of the day. If my work be well done, the
reader will be able to understand what was in men's minds and what was
the bent of men's minds--what they thought, and how they thought, at
that period.'

 * * * * *

As might have been expected with a work dealing with such a question as
the last Franco-German War, 'La Débâcle' has given rise to considerable
controversy in France. Some ultra-bellicose Frenchmen, and among them
M. de Vogue of the Academy, have taunted the author with a lack of
patriotism, their notion being apparently that they ought never to be
told the truth concerning themselves. Other persons have impeached
M. Zola's accuracy with regard to various matters of detail, and a
few have gone so far as to accuse him of having written that which he
must have known to be untrue. It may be as well to notice some of the
charges here.

It is said that there are no hop-gardens on the road from Mulhausen
to Altkirch, as will be found stated in Chapter II. (Part I.), and
in this instance it would really appear that M. Zola has fallen into
error. Viewing the road from a distance, and being very short-sighted,
he doubtless mistook vineyards for hop-grounds. The error is in some
degree excusable, however, when it is remembered that in this part of
Alsace the vines are trained to poles ten and eleven feet high. It
is also denied that vast sums of money were distributed among the men
of the Seventh Army Corps without any written acknowledgment at the
close of the battle of Sedan, as will be found stated in Chapter VII.
(Part II.). I have reason to believe that it was the money of another
army corps which was thus distributed, and that M. Zola transposed the
incident for the purposes of his story. A little license of this kind
is surely allowable in a work of fiction. M. Paul de Cassagnac, the
well-known Bonapartist politician and journalist, denies that Napoleon
III. had his face rouged and powdered on the morning of the battle
of Sedan (Sept. 1), in proof of which he mentions that he was with
Napoleon during the whole of the battle of Mouzon (Aug. 30), and also
frequently ate at the Imperial table during the campaign. M. Zola does
not state that Napoleon habitually painted his face. He says (Chapters
I. and III., Part II.) that he did so on one occasion only, early on
the morning of Sept. 1, and that the rouge, &c, was entirely washed
away by perspiration at 11 a.m., when he returned into the town from
the front. The battle of Mouzon and what occurred at other times during
the campaign have nothing to do with the matter, and M. de Cassagnac's
so-called denial is beside the question. The same may be said of the
denials of M. Robert Mitchell, another Bonapartist politician and
journalist, and of the Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, daughter of King
Jerôme. The princess was not even at Sedan, and can know nothing of
the matter. Moreover, is it likely that she would admit the accuracy
of any statement at all disparaging to the memory of Napoleon III.?
Is it likely that M. de Cassagnac would do so? Or M. Robert Mitchell
either? These gentlemen upheld the Imperial _régime_ through thick and
thin, and the former, at any rate, was most liberally rewarded for his
services. He has, therefore, good reason to be prejudiced. M. Zola
declares that he had the information in dispute in part from 'a certain
lady,' and in part from various people of Sedan, and so far there is
nothing to prove that it is inaccurate.

I may, perhaps, be allowed to add that I have given considerable time
and care to the translation of 'La Débâcle.' I have always tried to
give the sense and substance of M. Zola's narrative, though at times
I have found myself unable to use his actual words. In matters of
translation, however, I am of the opinion of Thackeray, which was also
that expressed by James Howell in one of his often-quoted 'Familiar
Letters.' Here and there I have appended to the text some notes which
may assist the reader, for whose benefit the publishers have provided
two sketch-maps of the battle of Sedan.

 E. A. V.

 _November_ 1892.


(See Translator's Note at the end.)



CONTENTS



PREFACE


MAPS


_PART I_

FROM THE RHINE TO THE MEUSE

CHAP.

I.     IN CAMP--A GREAT DISASTER

II.    THE PANIC--FROM BELFORT TO RHEIMS

III.   TALES OF TWO BATTLES--THE EMPEROR

IV.    ON THE MARCH--THE SPY

V.     IN BATTLE ARRAY--THE NIGHT OF THE CRIME

VI.    AN ARMY'S CALVARY--CHASED BY THE FOE

VII.   IN VIEW OF SEDAN--SILVINE'S STORY

VIII.  SEDAN AT LAST!--THE EVE OF BATTLE



_PART II_

THE BATTLE OF SEDAN

CHAP.

I.     THE ATTACK ON BAZEILLES--THE EMPEROR UNDER FIRE

II.    MAURICE RECEIVES THE BAPTISM OF FIRE

III.   INSIDE SEDAN: NAPOLEON'S MIDNIGHT AGONY--TWO WOMEN

IV.    A WOMAN'S HEROISM--THE HORRORS OF BAZEILLES

V.     THE STRUGGLE FOR THE CALVARY--THE GREAT CHARGE

VI.    THE WHITE FLAG--AN AMBULANCE

VII.   THROUGH THE ROUT--THE FIGHT AT THE HERMITAGE

VIII.  TRUCE AND SURRENDER


_PART III_

WOE TO THE VANQUISHED!

CHAP.

I.     SILVINE'S QUEST--AMONG THE SLAIN

II.    THE HORRORS OF CAPTIVITY--STARVATION, MURDER, AND DISEASE

III.   THE SLAVE-DRIVERS--A BID FOR FREEDOM

IV.    DARK DAYS--BAZAINE THE TRAITOR--THE TIDE OF WAR

V.     GOLIATH THE SPY--AN AWFUL VENGEANCE

VI.    THE CONQUEROR'S SWAY--GIDDY GILBERTE

VII.   INSIDE PARIS: SIEGE AND COMMUNE--THE BARRICADES

VIII.  THE BURNING OF BABYLON--THE BITTER END


NOTES



[Illustration: BATTLE OF SEDAN AT 7 A.M.]



[Illustration: map]



THE DOWNFALL

PART I

_FROM THE RHINE TO THE MEUSE_

CHAPTER I

IN CAMP--A GREAT DISASTER


The camp was pitched in the centre of a fertile plain at a mile or so
from Mulhausen, in the direction of the Rhine. In the twilight of a
sultry day in August, under the dull sky, across which heavy clouds
were drifting, the rows of shelter-tents could be seen stretching out
amid a broad expanse of ploughed land. At regular intervals along the
front gleamed the piles of arms, guarded by sentinels with loaded
rifles, who stood there stock-still, their eyes fixed dreamily on the
violet-tinted mist which was rising from the great river on the far
horizon.

The men had arrived from Belfort at about five o' clock. It was now
eight, and they had only just received their rations. The firewood,
however, had apparently gone astray, for none had been distributed, so
that there was neither fire nor _soupe_. The men had been obliged to
munch their hard, dry biscuit, washing it down with copious draughts
of brandy, which had dealt the last blow, as it were, to their failing
legs, already nerveless through fatigue. Near the canteen, however,
beyond the stacks of arms, two men were stubbornly endeavouring to
light some green wood--a pile of young tree trunks, which they had cut
down with their sword-bayonets, and which obstinately refused to blaze.
Merely a coil of thick black smoke of lugubrious aspect ascended from
the heap into the evening air.

There were here only 12,000 men, all that General Félix Douay had
with him of the Seventh Army Corps. The first division, summoned by
MacMahon the day before, had started for Frœschweiler; the third was
still at Lyons; and the general had resolved to leave Belfort and
advance to the front with merely the second division, supported by
the reserve artillery and an incomplete division of horse. Camp fires
had been signalled at Lorrach, and the Sub-Prefect of Schelestadt
had telegraphed that the Prussians were about to cross the Rhine at
Margolsheim. The general, who realised how dangerous was his isolated
position at the extreme right of the other army corps, with none of
which he was in communication, had hastened his advance to the frontier
the more rapidly, as news had reached him, the day before, of the
disastrous surprise of Weissenburg. Even supposing he did not have to
resist an attack on his own lines, it was now to be feared that he
might at any moment be called upon to support the First Army Corps.[1]
That very day--that disquieting, stormy Saturday, August 6--there must
have been fighting somewhere, most probably near Frœschweiler. There
were signs of it in the air, in the heavy, restless sky across which
there now and again swept a chilly shudder--a sudden gust of wind which
passed by moaning, as if with anguish. For the past two days the troops
had been convinced that they were advancing to battle. They one and all
expected to find the Prussians in front of them at the end of their
forced march from Belfort to Mulhausen.

The daylight was waning, when, from a distant corner of the camp, the
tattoo sounded--a roll of the drums followed by a bugle call, faint
as yet, wafted away, as it was, through the open air. It was heard,
however, by Jean Macquart,[2] who had been endeavouring to strengthen
his tent by driving the pickets deeper into the ground, and who now
rapidly rose to his feet. Still bleeding from the grievous tragedy in
which he had lost Françoise, his wife, and the land she had brought
him in marriage, he had left Rognes, and, although nine-and-thirty
years of age, had re-enlisted at the first rumour of war. Immediately
enrolled, with his old rank of corporal, in the 106th Regiment of the
Infantry of the Line, then being brought up to its full strength, Jean
sometimes felt astonished to find himself again in uniform--he who had
been so delighted to leave the service after the battle of Solferino,
so pleased to cease playing the swashbuckler, the part of the man who
kills. But what is a fellow to do when he has no trade or profession
left him, neither wife nor even a scrap of property that he can call
his own in all the wide world, and when grief and rage bring his heart
with a leap into his very throat? Surely he has a right to trounce
his country's enemies, especially if they plague him. Besides, Jean
remembered the cry he had raised: 'Ah! dash it all, he would defend the
old soil of France, since he no longer had courage enough to till it!'

On rising up he glanced at the camp, where a final stir was being
occasioned by the passage of the tattoo party. Some men were running to
their quarters; others, already drowsy, sat up or stretched themselves
out with an air of irritated weariness; whilst Jean, the patient
fellow, awaited the roll-call with that well-balanced tranquillity of
mind which made him such a capital soldier. His comrades said he would
probably have risen rapidly in rank had he been more of a scholar, but
it happened that he only just knew how to read and write, and he did
not even covet a sergeant's stripes. He who has been a peasant always
remains one.

Jean was concerned at the sight of the green logs which were still
smoking, and called to the two men--Loubet and Lapoulle, both belonging
to his squad--who were desperately endeavouring to kindle the fire:
'Just let that be. You're poisoning us with that smoke.'

Loubet, who was lithe and active, with the look of a wag, sneeringly
replied, 'It's catching alight, corporal; I assure you it is.' And
giving his comrade Lapoulle a push, he added, 'Here, _you_, why don't
you blow?'

In point of fact, Lapoulle, a perfect colossus, was exhausting himself
in his efforts to raise a tempest, with his cheeks puffed out like
goat-skins full of liquor, his whole face suffused by a rush of blood,
and his eyes red and full of tears. Two other men of the squad,
Chouteau and Pache--the former of whom lay on his back like a lazybones
fond of his ease, whilst the other had assumed a crouching posture that
he might carefully repair a rent in his trousers--were greatly amused
by the fearful grimace which that brute Lapoulle was making, and burst
at last into a roar of laughter.

Jean let them laugh. There would, perhaps, not be many more
opportunities for gaiety; and despite the serious expression which
sat on his full, round, regular-featured face, he was by no means a
partisan of melancholy. Indeed, he closed his eyes readily enough
whenever his men wished to amuse themselves. However, another group
now attracted his attention. For nearly an hour one of the privates
of his squad, Maurice Levasseur, had been chatting with a civilian, a
red-haired individual, looking some six-and-thirty years of age, with a
good-dog-Tray sort of face, and large blue goggle eyes--short-sighted
eyes, which had led to his being exempted from military service. A
quartermaster of the reserve artillery, who with his dark moustache and
imperial had a bold confident air, had joined the couple; and the three
of them tarried there, making themselves at home.

To spare them a reprimand, Jean, in his obliging way, thought it his
duty to intervene. 'You would do well to leave, sir,' he said to the
civilian. 'Here comes the tattoo, and if the lieutenant saw you----'

Maurice did not let him finish. 'Don't go, Weiss,' said he; and,
addressing the corporal, he dryly added, 'This gentleman is my
brother-in-law. The colonel knows him, and has given him permission to
remain in camp.'

Why did this peasant, Jean Macquart, whose hands still smelt of the
dungheap, interfere in a matter that did not concern him? thought
Maurice. He, who had been called to the bar during the previous autumn,
and who, on joining the army as a volunteer, had been forthwith
enrolled in the 106th of the Line, thanks to the colonel's protection,
and without having to undergo the usual probation at the depôt--carried
his knapsack willingly enough; but, at the very outset, a feeling of
repugnance, of covert revolt, had turned him against this illiterate
corporal, the clodhopper who commanded him.

'All right,' retorted Jean, in his quiet way. 'Get yourselves caught. I
don't care a rap.'

Then he abruptly faced about on finding that Maurice had not told him
a fib; for at that very moment the colonel, M. de Vineuil, whose long
yellow face was intersected by bushy white moustaches, passed by with
that grand aristocratic air of his, and acknowledged the salute of
Weiss and Maurice with a smile. The colonel was walking rapidly towards
a farmhouse which peeped out from among some plum trees on the right
hand, a few hundred paces away. The staff was installed there for the
night, but no one knew whether the commander of the Army Corps--struck
down by the grievous tidings that his brother had been killed at
Weissenburg[3]--was there or not. Major-General Bourgain-Desfeuilles,
to whose brigade the 106th Regiment belonged, was, however, assuredly
at the farm, brawling no doubt according to his wont, with his huge
belly swaying to and fro atop of his diminutive legs, and with his face
highly coloured, like the face of one fond of the table, who is not
troubled with any excess of brains. There was an increasing stir around
the farmhouse; every minute or so estafettes were galloping off and
returning; and feverish, indeed, were the long hours of waiting for the
belated telegrams that were expected to bring news of the great battle,
which since daybreak everyone had deemed inevitable and proximate.
Where had it been fought, and how had it resulted? By degrees, as the
night fell, it seemed as though the spirit of anxiety were brooding
over the orchards, over the scattered stacks, and around the cow-sheds,
spreading itself out on all sides like a shadowy sea. The men told one
another that a Prussian spy had been caught prowling about the camp,
and had been conducted to the farm to be questioned by the general. If
Colonel de Vineuil ran there so fast it was, perhaps, because he had
received a telegram.

Meanwhile, Maurice Levasseur had begun to chat again with his
brother-in-law Weiss, and his cousin Honoré Fouchard, the
quartermaster. The tattoo party, coming from afar off with its numbers
gradually strengthened, passed near them, drumming and trumpeting
in the melancholy twilight peacefulness; and yet they did not seem
to hear it even. Grandson of a hero of the First Napoleon's armies,
Maurice was born at Le Chêne Populeux, in the Argonne. His father,
being turned away from the paths of glory, had sunk down to a meagre
tax-collectorship; and his mother, a peasant woman, had expired in
bringing him and his twin sister, Henriette, into the world. If Maurice
had enlisted in the army, it was because of grave offences, the outcome
of a course of dissipation in which his weak, excitable nature had
embarked at the time when he had repaired to Paris to read for the
bar, and when his relatives had pinched and stinted themselves to
make a gentleman of him. But he had squandered their money in gaming,
on women, and on the thousand and one follies of the all-devouring
city, and his conduct had hastened his father's death. His sister,
after parting with her all to pay his debts, had been lucky enough to
secure a husband, that honest fellow Weiss, an Alsatian of Mulhausen,
who had long been an accountant at the refinery of Le Chêne Populeux,
and was now an overseer in the employ of M. Delaherche, owner of one
of the principal cloth-weaving establishments of Sedan. Maurice, who
with his nervous nature was seized as promptly with hope as with
despair, who was both generous and enthusiastic, but utterly devoid of
stability--the slave indeed of each shifting, passing breeze--imagined
that he was now quite cured of his follies. Fair and short, with an
unusually large forehead, a small nose and chin, and generally refined
features, he had grey, caressing eyes, in which there gleamed at times
a spark of madness.

Weiss had hastened to Mulhausen on the eve of hostilities, having
suddenly become desirous of settling some family affair; and if he had
availed himself of Colonel de Vineuil's kindness, in order to shake
hands with his brother-in-law, Maurice, it was because the colonel
happened to be the uncle of young Madame Delaherche, a pretty widow,
whom the cloth merchant of Sedan had married the year before, and whom
both Maurice and Henriette had known when she was a child, her parents
then being neighbours of their own. Besides the colonel, Maurice had
come across another of Madame Delaherche's connections in the person
of Captain Beaudoin, who commanded his company, and who had been this
lady's most intimate friend, it was insinuated, at the time when she
was Madame Maginot of Mézières, wife of M. Maginot, inspector of the
State forest.

'Mind you kiss Henriette for me,' said Maurice, again and again--he
was, indeed, passionately fond of his sister--'tell her she will have
every reason to be pleased, and that I want to make her proud of me.'

Tears filled his eyes as he thought of his foolish conduct in Paris;
but his brother-in-law, touched in his turn, changed the conversation
by saying to Honoré Fouchard, the artilleryman: 'The first time I pass
by Remilly I shall run up and tell uncle Fouchard that I saw you and
found you well.'

Uncle Fouchard, a peasant with a little land of his own, who plied
the calling of itinerant village butcher, was a brother of Maurice's
mother. He lived at Remilly, right at the top of the hill, at four
miles or so from Sedan.

'All right,' said Honoré, quietly; 'the old man doesn't care a rap
about me, but, if it pleases you, you can go to see him.'

Just at that moment there was a stir in front of the farmhouse, and
they saw the prowler--the man accused of being a Prussian spy--come
out, accompanied by an officer. He had no doubt produced some papers,
related some plausible tale or other, for he was no longer under
arrest--the officer was simply turning him out of the camp. At that
distance, in the impending darkness, one could only vaguely distinguish
his huge, square-built figure and tawny head. Maurice, however,
impetuously exclaimed: 'Look there, Honoré. Isn't that fellow like the
Prussian--you know the man I mean--Goliath?'

The quartermaster started on hearing this name, and fixed his ardent
eyes upon the supposed spy. This mention of Goliath Steinberg, the
slaughterman, the rascal who had made bad blood between himself and
his father, who had robbed him of his sweetheart Silvine, had revived
all the horrible story--the filthy abomination that still caused him
so much suffering--and he felt a sudden impulse to run after the man
and strangle him. But the spy, if such he was, had already passed
beyond the camp lines, and, walking rapidly away, soon vanished in the
darkness of the night.

'Oh! Goliath,' muttered Honoré; 'it isn't possible. He must be over
there with the others. Ah! if ever I meet him----'

And with a threatening gesture he pointed to the darkening horizon, the
violet-tinted eastern sky which to him meant Prussia.

They all relapsed into silence, and the tattoo was again heard afar
off, at the other end of the camp. 'Blazes!' resumed Honoré, 'I shall
get into trouble if I'm not back for the roll call. Good night.
Good-bye to all!' Then having once more pressed Weiss's hands he
hastily strode away towards the hillock where the reserve artillery was
massed; he had not again mentioned his father, nor had he even sent any
message to Silvine, whose name burnt his lips.

A few minutes had elapsed, when a bugle call was heard on the left,
near the quarters of the second brigade. Another bugle nearer at hand
replied. Then a third rang out, afar off. They were all sounding, far
and near, when Gaude, the bugler of Jean's company, made up his mind to
discharge a volley of sonorous notes. He was a big, skinny, sorrowful,
taciturn man, without a hair on his chin, and blew his instrument with
the lungs of a whirlwind.

Sergeant Sapin, an affected little fellow, with big dreamy eyes,
began to call the roll, shouting out the men's names in a shrill
voice, whilst they, having drawn near to him, made answer in a variety
of tones, now akin to the sound of a violoncello and now to that
of a flute. A break, however, suddenly occurred in the responses.
'Lapoulle!' repeated the sergeant, shouting as loud as he could.
There was still no answer, and Jean had to rush to the pile of green
logs, which Lapoulle, egged on by his comrades, was still obstinately
trying to ignite. Stretched there on his stomach, with his face quite
scorched, he continued blowing away the smoke of the blackening wood.

'Thunder!' shouted Jean, 'just leave that alone and answer to your
name.'

Lapoulle sat up with a bewildered air, then appeared to understand, and
finally bellowed 'Present!' in a voice so like that of a savage that
Loubet fell flop on the ground, so amazingly funny did he consider the
incident. Pache, who had finished his sewing, replied to his name in a
scarcely audible voice as though he were mumbling a prayer. Chouteau,
without even rising, let his answer drop disdainfully from his lips,
and then stretched himself out more comfortably. Meanwhile, Rochas,
the lieutenant on duty, stood waiting, motionless, a few yards off.
When the roll had been called, and Sergeant Sapin came to tell him that
there was no one missing, he protruded his chin in the direction of
Weiss, who was still chatting with Maurice, and growled from under his
moustache, 'There's even one man too many. Why on earth is that fellow
here?'

'He has the colonel's permission, sir,' explained Jean, who had
overheard the question.

Rochas shrugged his shoulders, and, without replying, began walking
up and down in front of the tents pending the time to turn in, whilst
Jean, worn out by the day's march, sat down not far from Maurice,
whose words reached him without any intentional listening on his part,
occupied as he was with vague dim reflections that were germinating in
the depths of his slow, dull brain.

Maurice was a believer in war, which he considered to be
inevitable--necessary, even, to the existence of nations. This
doctrine had imposed itself upon him since he had adopted the theory
of evolution, which already at that time impassionated young men of
culture. Is not life itself an incessant battle, which does not flag,
even for a second? Continuous fighting, the victory of the fittest, the
maintenance and renewal of strength by action, and the resuscitation of
juvenescent life from death itself--are not these the very essence of
the natural law? Maurice remembered the great transport that had buoyed
him up when, with the view of atoning for his errors, he had thought of
becoming a soldier and hurrying to the frontier. Possibly the voters
of the Plebiscitum, though surrendering themselves to the Emperor, had
not really desired war. Maurice himself, but a week previously, had
declared that such a war as was being spoken of would be both culpable
and idiotic. People were then discussing the candidature of a German
prince to the Spanish throne, and in the confusion which gradually
arose it seemed as if everybody were in the wrong. No one could say
precisely from which side the provocation had come, and only the
inevitable remained, the fatal law which at a given hour impels one
people against another. Then a great thrill swept through Paris, and
Maurice in his mind's eye still beheld the scenes of that torrid night,
the boulevards a human sea, the bands of men who waved their torches
and shouted: 'To Berlin! To Berlin! To Berlin!' And he again saw a tall
woman[4] with a sculptural figure and a queenly profile mount on a
carriage-box in front of the Hôtel de Ville, and, swathed in the folds
of a tricolour flag, chant the 'Marseillaise.' Was all that a lie? Had
not the heart of Paris really beaten that night?

As was always the case with Maurice, however, after this nervous
excitement there had come long hours of fearful wavering and disgust.
His arrival at the barracks, the adjutant to whom he had reported
himself, the sergeant who had provided him with his uniform, the
stinking and repulsively filthy dormitory, the rough familiarity of
his new companions, the mechanical exercises which had exhausted his
limbs and rendered his brain so heavy--all these had been unpleasant
experiences. In less than a week, however, he had become accustomed to
his new life, and displayed no further repugnance for it. And, indeed,
when the regiment at last set out for Belfort, enthusiasm again seized
hold of him.

From the very outset he had felt confident of victory. The Emperor's
plan was quite clear to him. Four hundred thousand men were to cross
the Rhine before the Prussians were ready, and by a bold, vigorous
dash to separate Northern from Southern Germany; whilst, at the same
time, thanks to some brilliant success, Austria and Italy would
speedily be compelled to ally themselves with France. Had it not been
rumoured, too, at one moment, that the Seventh Army Corps, to which
Maurice's regiment belonged, was to put to sea at Brest in view of
landing in Denmark and creating a diversion which would compel Prussia
to immobilise one of her armies? She was to be surprised, overwhelmed
on every side, crushed in a few weeks' time. There was to be a mere
military promenade--from Strasburg to Berlin. Since that period of
waiting at Belfort, however, Maurice had been distracted by anxiety.
The Seventh Corps, whose allotted task was to watch the outlets of the
Black Forest, had reached Belfort in fearful confusion, deficient in
men, and lacking everything. It was necessary to wait for the third
division to arrive from Italy.[5] The second cavalry brigade had to
remain at Lyons, as some rioting was feared there; and three batteries
of artillery had actually gone astray, no one knew where. Moreover,
the corps was in an extraordinary state of destitution. The magazines
of Belfort, which were to have supplied all requisites, proved to be
empty; there were no tents, no pots or pans, no flannel waistbands,
no pharmaceutical supplies, no field smithies, no horse-locks, not an
ambulance attendant, nor an artificer. At the last moment, too, it was
discovered that the indispensable spare mechanism for thirty thousand
chassepots was wanting, and it became necessary to send an officer to
Paris, whence he returned with barely sufficient for five thousand
weapons, and he had had the utmost difficulty in obtaining even these.

On the other hand, Maurice was particularly worried by the inaction of
the army. What! they had been there a fortnight--why did they not march
forward? He fully realised that each day's delay was an irreparable
blunder, an opportunity of victory irretrievably lost. And, confronting
the plan he had dreamt of, there rose up the reality, the blundering
fashion in which this plan had been executed. Of this he was as yet
but anxiously and dimly conscious; it was only at a later period
that he knew the truth--the Seventh Army Corps écheloned or rather
disseminated along the frontier from Metz to Bitche and from Bitche
to Belfort--the regiments invariably below their assumed strength,
there being at best but 230,000 men, when it was supposed that there
were 430,000; the generals jealous of one another, each bent on
gaining his own marshal's _bâton_ without helping his neighbour; the
most fearful lack of foresight, mobilisation and concentration being
carried out simultaneously to gain time, but resulting in inextricable
confusion; and above all else that creeping paralysis, originating in
high quarters, with the ailing Emperor, who was incapable of prompt
decision, and which was to spread over the entire army, disorganise
and annihilate it, and toss it to the most fearful disasters,
without any possibility of its defending itself. And yet, above the
secret disquietude of those days of waiting, there still lingered an
instinctive confidence in victory.

Suddenly, on August 3, the news of the victory of Saarbrucken, gained
the day before, burst upon one. Nobody knew whether it was a great
victory or not, but the newspapers were brimful of enthusiasm. So
Germany was invaded at last. This was the first step in the glorious
march; and then began the legend of the Prince Imperial, who had
calmly picked up a bullet on the battle field. Two days later, when
the surprise and crushing reverse of Weissenburg became known, a cry
of rage arose from every breast. Five thousand Frenchmen, caught in an
ambuscade, had for ten long hours gallantly resisted five-and-thirty
thousand Prussians--this evidently demanded vengeance! The commanders
had no doubt been guilty in not keeping a better look-out, and in not
foreseeing what had happened; but everything was about to be remedied.
MacMahon had summoned the first division of the Seventh Army Corps; the
First Corps was to be supported by the Fifth;[6] and at the present
time, no doubt, the Prussians had recrossed the Rhine with the bayonets
of the French linesmen in their loins. And the thought that there
must have been some furious fighting that very day, the increasing,
feverish longing for news, all the prevailing anxiety grew and spread
under the broad pale heavens.

Thus it was that Maurice discoursed to Weiss.

'Ah!' he added, 'they must certainly have received a good licking
to-day.'

Instead of replying, Weiss nodded his head with a thoughtful air. He
also was looking towards the Rhine--towards the east, where night had
now completely fallen, and where the sky, darkened as with mystery, had
the aspect of a great black wall. Since the last bugle calls of the
mustering, a profound silence had been falling over the drowsy camp,
disturbed only by the footsteps and converse of a few belated soldiers.
A light, looking like a twinkling star, had just been placed in the
room of the farmhouse where the staff officers sat keeping their vigil,
waiting for the telegrams which arrived at intervals, bringing as yet
only ambiguous tidings. The fire of green wood had been abandoned at
last, but some dense, funereal smoke still ascended from it, and was
driven away by the breeze over the restless farm and towards the sky,
where it dimmed the early stars.

'A licking!' repeated Weiss, at last. 'God grant it!'

Jean, who was still seated a few steps away, pricked up his ears;
and Lieutenant Rochas, noticing the accent of doubt that quivered in
Weiss's wish, stopped short to listen.

'What, do you lack confidence?' Maurice resumed; 'do you think a defeat
possible?'

His brother-in-law stopped him with a gesture, his hands trembling, his
good-natured face suddenly convulsed and quite pale. 'A defeat! Heaven
shield us from it! I belong to this part of the country, you know. My
grandfather and grandmother were murdered by the Cossacks, in 1814, and
whenever I think of invasion my hands clench instinctively, and I feel
inclined to go and fight the enemy in my frock-coat, just as I am! But
a defeat--no, no, I won't believe it possible!'

He became calmer, and his shoulders drooped as though he felt
oppressed. 'All the same,' he resumed, 'I am not at ease. I know
Alsace well; I have just travelled through the province on business,
and have seen things which stared our generals in the face, but which
they refused to see. We Alsatians certainly desired war with Prussia;
we have long been awaiting an opportunity to pay off old scores. But
that did not interfere with our friendly intercourse with Baden and
Bavaria. We most of us have friends or relatives just across the
Rhine. We thought that, like ourselves, they dreamed of curbing the
unbearable pride of the Prussians. Calm and resolute as we usually are,
we have, nevertheless, been seized with impatience and disquietude for
a fortnight past, on seeing how everything has gone from bad to worse.
Ever since the declaration of war the enemy's cavalry scouts have been
allowed to come and terrify our villages, reconnoitre the country, and
cut the telegraph wires. Baden and Bavaria are rising, masses of troops
are marching through the Palatinate, and the information that has come
in from all sides, from the fairs and the markets, shows that the
frontier is menaced. But when the frightened villagers and their mayors
come and tell all this to the passing officers, the latter shrug their
shoulders and think these peasants are mere poltroons troubled with
hallucinations. The enemy is far away! Ah! the truth is we ought not to
have lost an hour, whereas days and days go by. What can we be waiting
for? For the whole of Germany to fall upon us?'

He spoke in a low, sorrowful voice, as though repeating things that he
had long thought out: 'Ah! Germany, I know it well, and the pity is
that you others seem to know as little about it as you know of China.
Do you remember my cousin Gunther, Maurice, the young fellow who came
to shake hands with me last spring at Sedan? He is my cousin on the
women's side. My mother and his are sisters; she was married at Berlin,
and he is a true Prussian; he hates France. He is now serving as a
captain in the Prussian Guards. On the evening when I saw him Off at
the railway station--I still seem to hear him--he said to me in that
rasping voice of his: "If France ever declares war against us she will
be beaten."'

Lieutenant Rochas had, so far, restrained himself, but on hearing this
he stepped forward with a furious air. He was a tall, thin fellow,
nearly fifty years old, with a long, battered, tanned, smoked face. His
huge, hooked nose fell over a large mouth--expressive both of violence
and kindliness--above which bristled his coarse grey moustache. 'What
the ---- are you about,' he thundered, 'discouraging our men like that?'

Without taking part in the dispute, Jean considered the lieutenant
to be in the right. Though astonished by the long delays and the
prevailing confusion, he had never doubted that they would give the
Prussians a fearful thrashing. It was sure and certain, indeed, since
he and his comrades had been sent there for no other purpose.

'But I don't want to discourage anyone,' replied Weiss, somewhat
taken aback. 'On the contrary, I wish everyone knew what I know, for
forewarned is forearmed. But listen, Germany----'

Then, with that sober-minded air of his, he explained his fears: the
victory of Sadowa had brought Prussia increased power, a national
movement was placing her at the head of the other German States, a
vast empire was in progress of formation, men were seized with an
enthusiastic, irresistible impulse to secure the unification of the
Fatherland. Thanks to the system of compulsory military service the
whole nation was up in arms, fully instructed, well disciplined,
provided with a powerful war material, trained also to European
warfare, and still flushed with the glory of its triumph over Austria.
The intelligence and moral strength of this army were also to be
noted; nearly all the commanders were young men, and took their
orders from a generalissimo who seemed destined to revolutionise the
entire art of war, whose prudence and foresight were perfect, and
whose perspicuity was marvellous. Then, confronting Germany, Weiss
boldly depicted France: the Empire greatly aged, still acclaimed, as
witness the Plebiscitum,[7] but rotten at the basis, having weakened
love of country by destroying liberty, and having reverted to liberal
courses when these could be of no avail but could only accelerate its
fall; and exposed, moreover, to crumble away as soon as it ceased
to encourage the appetite for enjoyment which itself had fostered.
The army, still laden with the laurels of the Crimea and Italy, was
certainly splendidly brave; but the system of allowing men to escape
service by a pecuniary payment had tampered with its efficiency; and
it had been abandoned to the routine of the Algerian school, and was
far too confident of victory to make any real effort for proficiency
in the new science of war. Finally, the generals, for the most part of
indifferent merit, were consumed by rivalry, whilst some were crassly
ignorant, and at the head of them there was the Emperor, ailing and
hesitating, deceived by others and deceiving himself as to the outcome
of this frightful adventure, into which they all plunged like blind
men, without any attempt at serious preparation, and amid universal
bewilderment and confusion, like that of a scared flock driven to the
slaughter-house.

Rochas stood there listening, agape, with his eyes wide open and his
terrible nose contracted. Suddenly, however, he made up his mind to
laugh, with a huge laugh that distended his jaws from ear to ear. 'What
are you cackling there? What does all this humbug mean?' he shouted.
'There's no sense in it; it is too stupid for anyone to trouble his
head about. Go and tell it to the marines if you like, but not to me;
no, not to me. I've seen twenty-seven years' service!'

So saying, he struck his chest with his clenched hand. The son of a
journeyman mason from the Limousin country, Rochas had been born in
Paris, and not caring for his father's calling had enlisted when he
was only eighteen. A true soldier of fortune, he started off with
his knapsack, gaining a corporal's stripes in Algeria, rising to the
rank of a sergeant at Sebastopol, and promoted to a lieutenancy after
Solferino. Fifteen years of hardship and heroic bravery was the price
he had paid to become an officer, but he was so painfully ignorant that
it was certain he would never be made a captain.

'Come, sir,' said he to Weiss, 'although you know everything, here's
something you don't know. At Mazagran--I was barely nineteen at the
time--we were only one hundred and twenty-three men, neither more nor
less, yet we held out during four days against twelve thousand Arabs.
Yes, indeed, for years and years out there in Africa, at Mascara,
Biskra, and Dellys, then too in Khabylia, and later on at Laghouat, if
you had only been with us, sir, you would have seen how all those dirty
blackamoors skedaddled as soon as ever we appeared. And at Sebastopol,
sir--ah! dash it, it can't be said that we had an easy time of it out
there. Gales strong enough to tear the very hair out of your head, such
bitter cold and ceaseless alerts, and then, at the very end, everything
blown into the air by those savages! But all the same we made them
dance--dance to our tune in our own frying pan. And then Solferino--you
were not there, sir, so why do you speak of it? Ah! it _was_ warm at
Solferino--though there fell more water from the sky that day than
you have seen fall in all your life--and a nice dressing we gave the
Austrians. You should have seen how they ran away from our bayonets,
how they galloped and pushed one another aside to run the faster, as if
they were on fire!'

He was brimming over with delight, and all the old military gaiety
of France rang out in his triumphant laugh. This was the legend--the
French trooper marching victoriously all over the world with his
sweetheart on one hand and a glass of good wine in the other; the
universe conquered whilst singing a drinking refrain. A French corporal
and four men, and lo! immense armies of foreigners bit the dust.

But he suddenly thundered out: 'Beaten, France beaten! Those Prussian
pigs beat such men as we!' Then stepping up to Weiss he caught hold
of a lapel of his coat. His tall, slim, knight-errant style of figure
expressed profound contempt for any enemy, no matter who that enemy
might be, and supreme indifference as to conditions of time and place.
'Listen to me, sir,' he said; 'if the Prussians dare to come here we
will escort them home again--we'll kick them all the way back--all the
way back to Berlin. You hear me!'

Then he waved his hand superbly, with the serenity of a child, the
candid conviction of the innocent babe that knows nothing and fears
nothing. '_Parbleu_!' he added. 'That's how it is, because it can't be
otherwise.'

Dazed and almost convinced, Weiss hastily declared that he asked for
nothing better. As for Maurice, who held his tongue, not daring to
speak out before his superior, he ended by laughing in unison with
him. That devil of a lieutenant, stupid though he was, had warmed his
heart. Jean, too, with a nod of the head, had approved each of the
lieutenant's words. He also had fought at Solferino, when it rained
so heavily. Moreover, that was the proper way to speak. If all the
officers had spoken like that, the men would not have cared a fig about
there being no pots or pans, or flannel waistbands.

For some time past the night had completely fallen, and in the darkness
Rochas continued waving his long arms. He had never spelt through
more than one book--a volume on the victories of Napoleon I. that had
found its way from a pedlar's box into his knapsack--and unable to
calm himself he vented all his science in this impetuous outburst: 'At
Castiglione, Marengo, Austerlitz and Wagram we thrashed the Austrians!
At Eylau, Jena, and Lutzen we thrashed Prussia! At Friedland,
Smolensko, and the Moskowa we thrashed the Russians! We thrashed
Spain and England everywhere! We thrashed the whole world, right and
left, from top to bottom. Yet to-day you say we are to be thrashed
ourselves! Why? How? Has the world suddenly been changed?'

He drew himself still more erect, raising his arm like a flag-staff.
'Listen, there has been fighting to-day, and the staff are waiting for
news. Well, I'll tell you what news will come! The Prussians have been
thrashed--thrashed to such a point that they have neither arms nor legs
left them, thrashed to such a degree that only crumbs of them remain
for us to sweep away!'

At that moment a loud, dolorous cry resounded under the sombre heavens.
Was it the plaintive note of some night bird? Was it the sobbing voice
of Mystery coming from afar? The whole camp, shrouded in darkness,
shuddered at the sound, and the disquietude fostered by the delay in
the arrival of the expected despatches became more intense, feverish,
and widespread. The flame of the candle that illuminated the anxious
vigil of the staff had shot up higher, and now it was shining erect,
without a flicker, like the flame of a taper beside a death-bed.

But it was ten o'clock; and Gaude, springing from the dark ground where
he had been lost to view, was the first to sound the signal for the men
to retire for the night. Far and near, the other bugles replied, till
the sound gradually died away in a faint flourish, as though the very
instruments were drowsy. Then Weiss, who had lingered there so long,
affectionately pressed Maurice to his heart, and bade him be brave and
hopeful. He would kiss Henriette for him, and say all manner of kind
things to uncle Fouchard.

Just as he was going off a rumour sped through the camp causing a
feverish agitation: Marshal MacMahon had gained a great victory, it
was said; the Crown Prince of Prussia and 25,000 men had been taken
prisoners; the enemy had been driven back, annihilated, leaving his
guns and baggage in the hands of the French.

'Of course!' exclaimed Rochas in his thundering voice; and running
after Weiss, who, quite delighted, was hastening away towards
Mulhausen, he added: 'We'll kick them all the way back, sir, all the
way back!'

A quarter of an hour later, however, a despatch announced that the army
had been obliged to abandon Wœrth,[8] and was in full retreat. Ah!
What a night! Rochas, overcome by sleep, had wrapped himself in his
cloak, and as often happened was slumbering on the ground, disdaining
any shelter. Maurice and Jean had slipped into the tent, where, with
their heads resting on their knapsacks, Loubet, Chouteau, Pache, and
Lapoulle had already settled themselves. There was just room for six
men, provided they curled up their legs. At the outset Loubet enlivened
all these hungry fellows by convincing Lapoulle that some fowls would
be given out at ration time, next day; they felt so tired, however,
that they were soon snoring, careless whether the Prussians came
or not. Jean remained for a moment quite motionless, pressed close
against Maurice. Despite his great fatigue he could not get to sleep,
for everything that Weiss had said of the innumerable, all-devouring
German nation, that was up in arms against France, was revolving in
his brain; and he realised that his companion also was awake, thinking
of the self-same things. Suddenly Maurice drew back impatiently, and
Jean divined that he inconvenienced him. The instinctive enmity and
repugnance, due to difference of class and education, that separated
the peasant from the young man of culture, assumed a form of physical
dislike. It filled Jean with a feeling of shame and secret sadness,
and he tried to make himself small, as it were, to escape the hostile
contempt that he divined in Maurice. The night was freshening, but
inside the tent, with all these closely packed bodies, the atmosphere
became so stifling that Maurice, seized with feverish exasperation, at
length bounded outside, and stretched himself on the ground a few paces
off. Jean, feeling quite wretched, sank into a kind of semi-somnolence,
full of unpleasant dreams, in which his sorrow that nobody cared for
him was mingled with the apprehension of a terrible misfortune, which
he fancied he could hear galloping along, afar off, in the depths of
the Unknown.

Several hours must have elapsed, and the whole black, motionless
camp seemed to be annihilated beneath the oppressive weight of that
dense, evil night, heavy with something fearful which was as yet
without a name. Every now and again there was an upheaval of that
sea of darkness, a sudden groan resounded from some invisible tent,
the gasp of some soldier in a fitful dream. Then there came noises
that were not easily recognised, the snorting of a horse, the clash
of a sabre, the hasty footsteps of some belated prowler--all those
commonplace sounds which acquire at times a menacing sonority. Suddenly
a great glow blazed forth near the canteen. The front was brilliantly
illuminated, and the piles of arms could be seen with ruddy reflections
streaking the burnished barrels of the guns, as if with trickling
runnels of freshly shed blood. The sentinels stood out dark and erect
amid this sudden conflagration. Was this the enemy, whose appearance
the officers had been predicting for two days past, and to meet whom
they had marched expressly from Belfort to Mulhausen? Then, amid a
great crackling and sparkling, the flame suddenly went out. After
smouldering for hours, the pile of green wood, with which Lapoulle and
Loubet had busied themselves so long, had all at once blazed up and
burnt away as though it had been so much straw.

Alarmed by the bright glow, Jean in his turn had precipitately bounded
out of the tent, and in doing so he narrowly missed stumbling over
Maurice, who lay there, looking on, with his head resting upon his
elbow. The night had already fallen again, more dense than ever, and
the two men remained there stretched on the bare ground, at a few paces
from one another. In front of them, in the depths of the gloom, there
still shone the window of the farmhouse, illumined by that solitary
candle that looked like a funeral taper. What could be the time? Two
o'clock, three o'clock perhaps. The staff had certainly not gone to
bed. One could hear the brawling voice of General Bourgain-Desfeuilles,
who was quite exasperated by this long vigil, which he had only been
able to endure thanks to multitudinous cigars and glasses of grog.
Fresh telegrams were arriving, and matters must be getting worse, for
the shadowy estafettes could be indistinctly seen galloping hither and
thither like men deranged. Stamping and swearing could be heard; then
came a stifled gasp like that of a dying man, followed by a fearful
silence. Had the end come at last? An icy chill had swept over the
camp, weighed down by sleep and anguish.

Just then, as a slim, tall, shadowy figure walked past them rapidly,
both Jean and Maurice recognised Colonel de Vineuil. He was with
Surgeon-Major Bouroche, a stout man with the head of a lion. They were
exchanging disconnected words in an undertone, words but imperfectly
articulated, like those one sometimes hears in dreams: 'It came from
Basle--our first division is destroyed--twelve hours' fighting, the
entire army in retreat.' The colonel stopped short, and called to
another shadowy figure, slight, nimble, and dapper, that was hastily
approaching, 'Is that you, Beaudoin?'

'Yes, colonel.'

'Ah! my poor friend. MacMahon has been beaten at Frœschweiler, Frossard
is beaten at Speichern, De Failly hemmed in between them, gave neither
any support. At Frœschweiler we had but a single corps engaged
against an entire army. Prodigies of valour, but everything was swept
away--rout and panic, and France open to the invader.'

His sobs were choking him, and the words he added died away as he
and his shadowy companions disappeared, melting as it were in the
surrounding darkness.

Maurice had sprung from the ground, shuddering from head to foot. 'My
God!' he stammered.

And he found nothing else to say, whilst Jean, with an icy chill at his
heart, muttered: 'Ah! What cursed luck! That gentleman, your relative,
was right, after all, when he said they were stronger than we are.'

Maurice, quite beside himself, felt inclined to strangle Jean. The
Prussians stronger than the French! The thought made his pride revolt.
But the sober-minded, stubborn peasant was already adding--'Still it
doesn't much matter. A man doesn't give in just for one blow. We shall
have to hit them back.'

A tall figure had just sprung up in front of them, and they recognised
Rochas, still draped in his cloak. The fugitive noises, perhaps even
the passing breath of defeat, had roused him from his heavy slumber.
He questioned them, determined to know the truth, and when, with great
difficulty, he understood what had happened, an expression of profound
stupefaction appeared in his empty child-like eyes. Again and again he
repeated: 'Beaten! beaten! How's that? Beaten--_why_?'

The night had been pregnant with the anguish of this disaster. And now
in the east appeared the dawn, an ambiguous dawn, infinitely sad, that
whitened the tents full of sleepers, among whom one could now dimly
descry the cadaverous-looking faces of Loubet and Lapoulle, Chouteau
and Pache, who were still snoring with their mouths wide open. The
aurora of a day of mourning was rising amid the soot-tinted mists that
had ascended from the distant river.



CHAPTER II

THE PANIC--FROM BELFORT TO RHEIMS


Towards eight o'clock the heavy clouds were dissipated by the sun, and
the bright, hot August Sunday shone upon Mulhausen, nestling amid the
broad fertile plain. From the camp, now wide awake and buzzing with
life, one could hear the bells of all the parish churches ringing out
in full peal through the limpid atmosphere. Fraught though it was with
a terrible disaster, this beautiful Sunday was a gay one, and the sky
had a festive brilliancy.

When Gaude suddenly sounded the call to rations, Loubet affected great
astonishment. What would there be? Some of that fowl which he had
promised to Lapoulle the night before? Born amid the Paris Halles,
in the Rue de la Cossonnerie, Loubet was the chance offspring of a
market woman, and had enlisted, so he expressed it, for money's sake,
after trying in turn a variety of callings. Fond of his stomach, he
had a keen scent for dainty morsels, so he went off to see the rations
distributed, whilst Chouteau, the artist--in reality a house painter
of Montmartre--a handsome man and a revolutionist, who was furious at
having been kept in the army after completing his time, began chaffing
Pache, whom he had caught saying his prayers, on his knees, behind the
tent. Pache, a sorry-looking little fellow with a pointed head, coming
from some far-away village in Picardy, submitted to the chaffing with
the patient gentleness of a martyr. He, and that colossus Lapoulle--a
brutish peasant reared amid the Sologne marshes, and so stupendously
ignorant that on joining the regiment he had asked to be shown the
King--were the butts of the squad.

Although the news of the disaster of Frœschweiler had been current
since the reveille, the four men laughed together, and set about their
accustomed tasks with the indifference of machines. A bantering growl
of surprise was heard when Corporal Jean, accompanied by Maurice, came
back from the rationing with some firewood. So the supply which the men
had vainly awaited the evening before in order to cook their _soupe_
had arrived at last. There had merely been twelve hours' delay.

'A good mark for the commissariat!' exclaimed Chouteau.

'Never mind, we've got it now!' said Loubet. 'You shall see what a
capital _pot-au-feu_ I'll make you.'

He willingly took charge of the cooking as a rule; and the others
thanked him for doing so, for he was a capital cook. But on
these occasions he would overwhelm Lapoulle with extraordinary
fatigue-duties. 'Go and fetch the champagne,' he would say to him,
'go and fetch the truffles.' That morning a comical idea, worthy of
a Parisian _gamin_ poking fun at a fool, came into his head: 'Make
haste!' he cried; 'give me the fowl.'

'The fowl--why, where is it?'

'Why, there, on the ground. The fowl I promised you, the fowl the
corporal brought.' So saying he pointed to a large white stone lying at
their feet.

Lapoulle, quite amazed, ended by picking up the stone and turning it
over in his hands.

'Now then, wash it! Wash the feet and the neck,' called Loubet, 'and
use plenty of water, lazybones.' Then, by way of a joke and because
the idea that they were going to have some _soupe_ made him quite gay
and facetious, he flung the stone into the pot full of water: 'That
will flavour the broth nicely. What, didn't you know it? Don't you know
anything, pighead? You shall have the parson's nose; you will see how
tender it is.'

All the other men of the squad were splitting at sight of the
expression on the face of Lapoulle, who, convinced at last, was
already licking his lips. Ah! that rascal Loubet, there was no chance
of catching the blues in his company. When the fire crackled in the
sunlight and the pot began to sing, the whole squad, ranged around it
like worshippers, visibly brightened as they watched the meat dancing
on the water, and sniffed the nice smell that began to spread. They had
felt fearfully hungry since the night before, and the idea of feeding
took precedence of everything else. The army had been beaten, but all
the same they must fill their stomachs. From one end to the other of
the camp the fires were flaming and the pots boiling, and a voracious
delight displayed itself while the bells continued clearly pealing from
every steeple in Mulhausen.

Just as nine o'clock was about to strike, however, a sudden stir
spread through the camp; officers hurried hither and thither, and
Lieutenant Rochas, on receiving instructions from Captain Beaudoin,
passed in front of the tents of his section.

'Now then, fold up everything, pack up everything; we are starting.'

'But the _soupe_?'

'You'll have it another day. We start at once.'

Gaude's bugle now rang out imperiously. Consternation and covert rage
were general. What! must they start off without a bite, without waiting
even an hour, by which time the _soupe_ might be eatable? All the same
the squad wished to drink the broth, but as yet it was merely so much
water, whilst the uncooked meat was like tough leather between the
men's teeth. Chouteau growled angry words, and Jean had to intervene
to hasten the preparations for departure. What could there be such a
tremendous hurry about that they should have to rush off in that style,
without an opportunity even to recruit their strength? Some said they
were about to march against the Prussians, to revenge the previous
day's defeat; but Maurice, on hearing this, incredulously shrugged his
shoulders. In a quarter of an hour the camp was raised, the tents were
folded and strapped to the knapsacks, the guns were shouldered, and
nothing remained on the bare ground save the expiring breakfast fires.

General Douay had determined on an immediate retreat, for some serious
reasons. The Sub-Prefect of Schelestadt's despatch, already three days
old, had been confirmed. Telegrams stated that Prussian camp-fires had
again been seen threatening Markolsheim, and that an army corps of the
enemy was crossing the Rhine at Huningen. Full and precise details
were at hand; cavalry and artillery had been observed, with infantry
marching from all directions to their rallying point. An hour's delay,
and the line of retreat on Belfort would assuredly be intercepted. As
a result of the defeats of Weissenburg and Frœschweiler, the general,
isolated, adrift in his advanced position, now had no alternative but
to fall back in all haste, especially as the morning's tidings were
worse even than those of the night before.

The staff set out ahead at a rapid trot, spurring their horses onward
and in dread lest they should be outstripped and find the Prussians
already at Altkirch. General Bourgain-Desfeuilles, foreseeing a
hard march, took the precaution to pass through Mulhausen, where
he breakfasted copiously, cursing the scramble all the while. And
Mulhausen, as the officers rode through it, wore a sorrowful aspect. At
news of the retreat the townsfolk poured into the streets, lamenting
the sudden departure of the troops whose protection they had so
pressingly implored. So they were to be abandoned, and all the valuable
supplies accumulated at the railway station were to be left for the
enemy; even the town itself would perhaps be merely a captured town
before the evening. Along the country roads, the villagers and the
peasants dwelling in wayside homesteads also hurried to their doors in
astonishment and dismay. So the regiments they had seen marching to
battle only the day before were already retreating, flying from the
enemy without even having fought! The commanders were gloomy, and
without answering any questions urged on their horses, as though the
very fiend were at their heels. Was it true then that the Prussians had
crushed the army, and were pouring forth from all sides into France
like the waters of a swollen river? And, infected with the growing
panic, the peasants fancied they could hear the distant roll of the
invasion travelling through the atmosphere and roaring louder and
louder every moment. Then carts were filled with furniture, houses were
swiftly emptied, and families fled one after another by the roads along
which fear was galloping.

In the confusion of the retreat, whilst skirting the canal from the
Rhone to the Rhine, the 106th was brought to a halt near the bridge,
after covering only the first thousand yards of the march. The marching
orders, given badly enough, had been even worse executed, and had
resulted in the whole of the Second Division crowding together at this
spot. The passage was so narrow--barely sixteen feet--that the defiling
seemed likely to last for ever.

Two hours elapsed and the 106th was still waiting there, facing the
interminable stream of troops that flowed past it. Standing under the
fiery sunrays with their knapsacks on their shoulders and their arms
grounded, the men at last waxed indignant in their impatience.

'It seems we belong to the rear-guard,' said Loubet in that waggish
voice of his.

'They are having a fine game with us, letting us roast here,' cried
Chouteau in a rage; 'we were the first to arrive, we ought to have gone
on ahead.'

At sight of the broad fertile plain and the level roads intersecting
the hop grounds and fields of ripe corn, on the other side of the
canal, it was now quite apparent that they were retreating, returning
indeed along the same route they had come by the day before, and as
this was realised jeers and furious scoffing sped through the ranks.

'So we are taking to our heels,' resumed Chouteau. 'Well, this march to
meet the enemy, which they have been dinning into our ears since the
other morning, is a precious funny one. Really now, this is too much
bluster! We arrive, and then back we bolt without even having time to
eat anything.'

At this, the men began to laugh again in their bitter rage, and
Maurice, who stood near Chouteau, admitted he was in the right. As
they had been kept standing there like posts for a couple of hours why
hadn't they been allowed to cook their _soupe_ quietly and eat it? They
were getting hungry again, and felt the more rancorous that their pots
should have been upset before the _soupe_ was ready, as they could
not understand the need of all this haste, which seemed to them both
cowardly and stupid. Well, they were fine hares and no mistake.

However, Lieutenant Rochas began to trounce Sergeant Sapin for the
disorderly bearing of his men; and hearing the noise, Captain Beaudoin,
as dapper as ever, drew near: 'Silence in the ranks!'

Jean, who like a well-disciplined veteran soldier held his peace,
was looking at Maurice, who seemed amused by Chouteau's malignant,
passionate raillery: and he was astonished that a gentleman who had
received so much schooling should approve of things which, however true
they might be, were certainly not things to be said. If each soldier
began blaming the generals and giving his opinion, they would certainly
not get on together.

At last, after waiting another hour, the 106th was ordered to advance.
The bridge, however, was still so crowded with the fag end of the
division that the most deplorable disorder was created. Several
regiments became intermingled; some companies were carried along and
got across, whilst others, driven to the edge of the roadway, had to
stay there marking time. And to make matters worse, a squadron of
cavalry insisted on passing, driving the laggards who were already
falling out of the ranks of the infantry into the neighbouring fields.
After an hour's marching, quite a large party of stragglers stretched
along the road, crawling and dawdling at their ease.

It was thus that Jean found himself in the rear, adrift with his
squad, which he had not cared to leave, in the depths of a hollow
road. The 106th had disappeared, not another man nor an officer of the
company was to be seen--only solitary soldiers, a medley of strange
men exhausted at the very outset of the march, and who were walking
along leisurely wheresoever the paths might lead them. The sunrays
were overpowering, it was extremely hot, and the knapsacks, rendered
the heavier by the tents and all the complicated paraphernalia that
swelled them out, weighed terribly on the men's shoulders. Many of
these stragglers were not habituated to carrying them, and were
inconvenienced too by their thick, campaigning great-coats, which
seemed to them like leaden vestments. All at once a pale little
linesman, whose eyes were full of tears, stopped short and flung his
knapsack into a ditch with a deep sigh of relief, the long breath which
the man who has been agonising draws as he feels himself coming back to
life.

'He's in the right,' muttered Chouteau, though he himself continued
marching along with his shoulders bending under the knapsack's weight.
Two other men, however, having disburdened themselves, he could no
longer hold out. 'Ah: curse it!' he cried, and with a jerk of his
shoulders he tossed his knapsack on to the bank. Half a hundredweight
on his shoulders--no, thanks. He had had enough of it. They were not
beasts of burden that they should have to drag such things about.

Immediately afterwards Loubet imitated him, and compelled Lapoulle to
do the same. Pache, who crossed himself each time they came upon a
wayside cross, unfastened the straps of his knapsack, and carefully
deposited it at the foot of a low wall, as if intending to come back
and fetch it. And Maurice alone was still laden when Jean, on turning
round, saw what his men had done.

'Take up your knapsacks. I shall have to pay for it if you don't.'

The men, however, without as yet openly revolting, trudged on silently,
with an evil expression on their faces, as they pushed the corporal
before them along the narrow road.

'Take them up or I shall report you!'

These words stung Maurice as though he had been lashed with a whip
across the face. Report them! What! that brute of a peasant report
them, because the poor fellows, feeling their muscles quite crushed,
had eased themselves? And in a fit of feverish irritation he also
unbuckled his straps, and with a defiant look at Jean, let his knapsack
fall by the roadside.

'All right,' calmly said the corporal, realising the futility of a
struggle; 'we will settle all that this evening.'

Maurice's feet caused him intense suffering. They were swelling in his
coarse hard shoes, to which he was not habituated. He was far from
robust, and though he had rid himself of his knapsack he could still
feel a smarting sore on his spine, the unbearable hurt occasioned by
his burden. Now, too, the mere weight of his gun, no matter how he
carried it, made his breath come short and fast. But he was yet more
distressed by the moral agony he experienced, for he was in one of
those crises of despair to which he was subject. All at once, without
possible resistance on his part, he would see his will-power collapse,
and give way to evil instincts and self-abandonment, that subsequently
made him sob with very shame. His errors in Paris had never been
aught but the madness of 'his other self' as he expressed it, of the
weak-minded fellow, capable of any degraded action, that he became in
moments of low-spiritedness. And since he had been dragging himself
along, under the overpowering sun, in this retreat which resembled
a rout, he had become but a unit of the dawdling, disbanded flock
spread over the roads. It was the countershock of the defeat, of the
thunderbolt that had fallen leagues away, and the echo of which was
following close at the heels of these panic-stricken men who fled
without having seen an enemy. What could be hoped for now? Was it not
all over? They were beaten, and there was nothing to do but to lie down
and die.

'All the same,' shouted Loubet with that market boy's laugh of his;
'all the same we are not going to Berlin.'

'To Berlin! to Berlin!' Maurice again heard the cry bellowed forth
by the swarming crowd on the Boulevards during that night of mad
enthusiasm that had determined him to enlist. But the wind had changed
into a tempestuous squall, there had been a terrible veering, and
the very temperament of the French race was symbolised by the heated
confidence which at the first reverse had suddenly collapsed into the
despair now galloping among these vagrant, dispersed soldiers who were
vanquished without having fought.

'This popgun of mine jolly well hurts my arms,' resumed Loubet, as
he again changed his chassepot from one shoulder to the other. 'A
nice toy, indeed, to carry about with one.' And then alluding to the
money he had received as a substitute[9] he added: 'All the same,
only fifteen hundred francs for such a trade as this--it's a regular
swindle. That rich bloke whose place I've took must be smoking some
nice pipes by his fireside, while I'm off to get my head cracked.'

'I had finished my time,' growled Chouteau, 'and I was just about to
slope, but on account of this war they made me stay. Ah! what cursed
bad luck to stumble into such a swinish business as this.'

He was balancing his rifle with a feverish hand, and suddenly he threw
it, with all his strength, over a hedge. 'There,' said he, 'that's the
place for the dirty thing.'

The gun spun round twice, and then fell in a furrow, where it lay
motionless, stretched out like a dead body. Other guns were already
flying through the air to join it, and the field was soon strewn with
prostrate weapons looking sadly stiff in their abandonment under the
oppressive sun. What with hunger torturing their stomachs, their
shoes which injured their feet, this march which filled them with
suffering, and the unforeseen defeat threateningly pursuing them, the
men were seized as it were with epidemic madness. They could not hope
for anything now; the generals bolted, the commissariat did not even
feed them; and what with weariness and worry they experienced a desire
to have done with the whole business before even beginning it. And
that being so, the chassepot might as well join the knapsack. So with
imbecile rage, and with the jeers of madmen amusing themselves, the
laggards, scattered in endless file far away into the country, sent
their guns flying into the fields.

Before ridding himself of his weapon, Loubet twirled it round and round
like a drum-major's cane. Lapoulle, seeing his comrades fling their
guns away, fancied no doubt it was a new drill exercise, and imitated
them. Pache, however, with a confused consciousness of his duty,
which he owed to his religious education, refused to do so, and was
bespattered with insults by Chouteau, who called him a parson's drudge.
'There's a black-beetle for you,' said the house painter. 'Well, go and
serve mass, as you're afraid to do like your comrades.'

Maurice, who was very gloomy, marched on in silence, his head bent
under the fiery sun. Amid a kind of nightmare, brought on by his
atrocious weariness, and peopled with phantoms, he advanced as if bound
for some abyss lying ahead; and he, the man of education, experienced
a subsidence of all his culture, an abasement that lowered him to the
bestial level of the wretches surrounding him. 'Ah! you are right,' he
suddenly said to Chouteau.

He had already deposited his gun on a pile of stones, when Jean, who
had vainly been trying to prevent the arms being thrown away in this
abominable fashion, perceived him, and darted towards him.

'Take up your gun at once; at once, you hear me!' cried the corporal,
his face suffused by a rush of terrible anger. Usually so calm and
conciliatory, he now had flaming eyes, and his voice thundered.
His men, who had never seen him like this before, stopped short in
surprise. 'Take up your gun at once, or you'll have to deal with me.'

Maurice, quivering with excitement, let but one word fall which he
sought to render insulting: 'Clodhopper!'

'Yes, that's it; I'm a clodhopper, and you are a gentleman, you are!
And for that very reason you're a pig, a dirty pig. I tell you so to
your face.' At this some hooting was heard, but the corporal continued
vehemently: 'When a man's educated, he shows it. If we are peasants and
brutes you ought to set us a good example, you who know more than we
do. Take up your gun, I say, or I'll have you shot when we halt.'

Maurice, already conquered, had picked up his gun. Tears of rage
obscured his eyes. He resumed his march, staggering like a drunken man
amid his comrades, who now jeered at him for having given in. Ah! that
Jean, Maurice hated him with an inextinguishable hatred, struck as he
was in the heart by this severe lesson which he felt to be deserved.
And when Chouteau growled out that when men had a corporal like that
they waited for a day of battle to lodge a stray bullet in his head,
Maurice, quite maddened, distinctly saw himself smashing Jean's skull
behind a wall.

A diversion occurred, however. Loubet noticed that during the quarrel
Pache also had ended by getting rid of his gun, gently depositing it at
the foot of a bank. Why had he done this? He did not try to explain,
but laughed slyly, in the somewhat shame-faced style of a good little
boy detected in his first fault. Then, very gay and quite revived, he
marched on with his arms swinging; and along the endless roads, between
the fields of ripe corn and the hop grounds that followed one another,
ever the same, the straggling march continued, and the laggards without
knapsacks or guns were now but a tramping crowd, a medley of scamps and
beggars, at whose approach the frightened villagers closed their doors.

Just then an unforeseen meeting put the finishing touch to Maurice's
rage. A dull, continuous rumbling was heard from afar; it was the
reserve artillery, which had been the last to start, and the first
detachment of which suddenly debouched round a turn of the road,
the laggard linesmen having barely time to throw themselves into
the fields. There was an entire artillery regiment of six squadrons
marching in column, the colonel in the centre and each officer in
his place, and they all clattered along at equal, carefully observed
distances, each accompanied by its caisson, horses, and men. And in
the fifth squadron Maurice recognised his cousin Honoré's gun. The
quartermaster was there, proudly erect on his horse, to the left of
the front driver, Adolphe, a stalwart, fair-complexioned man, who
bestrode a sturdy chestnut, which admirably matched the off-horse
trotting beside it; whilst Adolphe's chum, Louis, the gunner, a dark
little fellow, would be seen among the six men seated in pairs on the
ammunition boxes. They all seemed to have grown taller to Maurice, who
had become acquainted with them at the camp, and the gun, drawn by its
four horses and followed by its caisson, to which six other horses
were harnessed, appeared to him as dazzling as a sun, well groomed and
furbished, idolised by all its people, man and beast, who clung to it
as it were with the discipline and attachment of a gallant family; and
fearfully was Maurice's suffering increased when he saw his cousin
Honoré dart a contemptuous glance at all the laggards, and then look
quite stupefied on perceiving him among this flock of unarmed men.
The defiling was nearly over already. The train of the batteries, the
ammunition and forage waggons, the field smithies passed by; and then
in a last cloud of dust came the spare men and horses, who vanished
from sight at another bend of the road, amid the gradually subsiding
clatter of wheels and hoofs.

'Pooh!' said Loubet, 'it's easy enough to swagger when you travel about
in a carriage.'

The staff had found Altkirch unoccupied. There were no Prussians there
as yet. Still fearing, however, that he was being pursued, and that the
enemy might appear at any moment, General Douay had determined upon
pushing on to Dannemarie, where the first detachments only arrived at
five in the evening. Eight o'clock had struck, and night was gathering
in, when the regiments, in frightful confusion and reduced to half
their strength, commenced preparations for bivouacking. The men were
quite exhausted, sinking both with hunger and fatigue. The laggards,
the lamentable and interminable tag-rag and bobtail of the army, the
cripples and mutineers scattered along the roads, continued arriving,
now one by one, now in little bands, until ten o'clock, and had to
search in the darkness for their companies which they could not find.

As soon as Jean had joined his regiment he went to look for Lieutenant
Rochas to report to him all that had happened, and found him and
Captain Beaudoin conferring with the colonel at the door of a little
inn, all three of them visibly preoccupied about the roll call, and
anxious as to what had become of their men. At the first words the
corporal addressed to the lieutenant, Colonel de Vineuil, overhearing
him, made him approach and relate everything. There was an expression
of deep despondency on the colonel's yellow face, lighted by eyes that
seemed all the blacker on account of the whiteness of his thick snowy
hair and long drooping moustaches.

'Half a dozen of these scamps must be shot, sir,' exclaimed Captain
Beaudoin, without waiting for M. de Vineuil to give his opinion.

Lieutenant Rochas nodded assent, but the colonel made a gesture of
helplessness: 'There are too many of them. Nearly seven hundred. How
could you manage--whom could you select? Besides, to tell the truth,
the general won't have it. He's quite paternal, and says he never
punished a single man in Algeria. No, no; I can do nothing. It's
terrible.'

'It _is_ terrible,' boldly rejoined the captain, 'it's the end of
everything.'

Jean was retiring, when he heard Surgeon-Major Bouroche, whom he
had not seen, growl in an undertone on the threshold of the inn that
without discipline and punishments the army was done for. Before a week
was over the men would be kicking their officers, whereas if a few of
these fine fellows had been shot at once, the others, perhaps, would
have profited by the lesson.

Nobody was punished. With commendable forethought some officers of
the rear-guard escorting the army train had caused the knapsacks and
guns bestrewing either side of the roads to be picked up. Only a small
number was missing, and the men were re-armed at daybreak, furtively
as it were, so as to hush up the affair. Orders had been given to
raise the camp at five o'clock, but the men were roused at four, and
the retreat on Belfort was hastened, the commanders being convinced
that the Prussians were now only two or three leagues away. The men
had to content themselves with biscuit, and with nothing to warm their
stomachs they remained quite foundered after that brief, feverish
night. And again that morning anything like an orderly march was
prevented by the precipitate departure.

The day was an infinitely sad one, far worse than the day before. The
character of the scenery had changed; they had entered a mountainous
country, the roads climbed and descended slopes planted with fir trees;
and the narrow valleys, bushy with furze, were spangled with golden
flowers. But across that stretch of country so bright in the August
sunrays, panic, growing more and more frenzied, had been sweeping since
the previous day. A fresh despatch, instructing the mayors to warn the
inhabitants to place their valuables in safety, had brought the general
terror to a climax. Was the enemy at hand then? Would they even have
time enough to escape? And they all fancied they could hear the roar of
the invasion coming nearer and nearer; that sound like the dull roll of
an overflowing river which had been swelling in volume ever since their
departure from Mulhausen, and which now, at each village they came to,
was increased by some fresh scene of terror, fraught with wailing and
uproar.

Maurice marched along like a somnambulist, with his feet tingling, and
his shoulders crushed by his gun and knapsack. He no longer thought
of anything; at the sights that met his gaze he fancied himself in
a nightmare; and he was no longer conscious of his comrades' tramp,
realising merely that Jean was at his side, worn out with the same
weariness and the same grief as himself. The villages they passed
through presented a lamentable, pitiful aspect, such as to fill the
heart with poignant anguish. As soon as the retreating troops, the
worn-out, footsore, straggling soldiers appeared, the inhabitants began
to bestir themselves, and hasten their flight. They had felt so easy
in mind only a fortnight previously; all Alsace, indeed, had awaited
the war with a smile, convinced that the fighting would take place in
Germany. But now France was invaded, and the tempest was falling upon
their heads, around their houses, and over their fields like one of
those terrible hail and thunder storms which ruin an entire province in
a couple of hours.

Before the doors of the houses, amid a scene of fearful confusion,
men were loading carts and piling up articles of furniture, careless
whether they broke them or not; and from the upper windows women flung
out a last mattress or lowered a baby's cradle which had been well-nigh
forgotten. And the baby having been strapped inside it, the cradle was
perched atop of the load, among the upturned legs of the chairs and
tables. In another vehicle, standing behind, the poor, infirm, old
grandfather was being bound to a wardrobe that he might be carted away
like some household utensil. Then there were those who had no cart,
and who piled a few goods and chattels into a wheelbarrow, and others
who went off with simply a bundle of clothes under their arm, and
others too who had only thought of saving their parlour clock, which
they pressed to their hearts as though it had been an infant. It was
impossible to remove everything, and many articles of furniture and
heavy bundles of linen lay abandoned in the ditches. Some folks before
leaving fastened up their homes, and the houses with their doors and
shutters securely closed looked quite dead; but the majority of the
people, in their haste and the despairing conviction that everything
would be destroyed, left their old homesteads open, with doors and
windows gaping widely; and these poor empty houses, through which
the wind could blow as it listed, and whence the very cats had fled,
shuddering at what was about to happen, were the saddest of all, sad
like the houses of a captured town depopulated by fright. At each
succeeding village the spectacle became more and more pitiable, the
number of those who were moving and hastening away became larger and
larger, and there was shaking of fists, swearing of oaths, and shedding
of tears amid all the growing scramble and confusion.

But it was especially whilst he followed the high road through the
open country that Maurice felt his anguish stifling him. As they
drew nearer to Belfort the train of runaways closed up and became a
continuous procession. Ah! the poor people who imagined they would find
a shelter-place under the walls of the stronghold. The man belaboured
the horse, and the woman followed, dragging the children with her.
Entire families, bending beneath their burdens, and with the little
ones, who were unable to keep up, lagging behind, were hastening over
the blinding white roads which the fiery sun was heating. Many of the
fugitives had taken off their shoes that they might cover the ground
more rapidly, and were walking along barefooted; and mothers with their
dress-bodies unfastened were giving the breast to crying infants,
without pausing for a moment in their march.

In the panic-fraught breeze which dishevelled their hair and lashed
their hastily donned garments, many of the runaways looked round with
scared faces, and made gestures with trembling hands as though to shut
out all view of the horizon. Others, farmers, accompanied by all their
servants, were hastening across the fields, driving before them their
herds and flocks--their sheep, cows, oxen and horses, which they had
turned out with blows from their sheds and stables. They were making
for the mountain gorges, the high table-lands, the deserted forests,
and the sight of them recalled the memory of those great migrations
of ancient times, when invaded nations made way for the conquering
barbarians. They intended to live under canvas in some lonely rock-girt
spot, so far from the roads that not one of the enemy's soldiers would
dare to approach it. And the flying clouds that enveloped them were
soon wafted away behind the clumps of fir trees, whilst the lowing of
the cattle and the thuds of their hoofs grew more and more indistinct.
Meantime, the flood of vehicles and wayfarers pressed along the road,
hampering the march of the troops and becoming, as one approached
Belfort, so compact and strong--with a force like the irresistible
current of a spreading torrent--that the soldiers were repeatedly
compelled to halt.

During one of those brief halts Maurice beheld a scene which he long
remembered, as one might remember a blow dealt one in the face. There
was a solitary house by the roadside, the abode of some poor peasant,
whose meagre patch of land stretched behind it. Firmly rooted to
his native soil, this man had been unwilling to leave his fields,
feeling that if he did so he must needs tear his flesh to shreds. So
he remained there, and could be seen crouching on a bench in a low
room, whence with empty eyes he watched the passing soldiers, whose
retreat was about to place his ripe corn at the mercy of the invader.
Beside him stood a young woman, his wife, with a child in her arms,
whilst another child was pulling at her skirts; and all three, mother
and children, were sobbing and moaning. Suddenly, however, the door
was roughly flung open, and on the threshold appeared the grandmother,
a tall, thin, aged woman, who was furiously flourishing her bare arms
which looked like knotted cords. Her grey hair, escaping from under
her cap, was waving round her gaunt head, and so intense was her rage
that the words she shouted were half-stifled in her throat, whence
they escaped but indistinctly in an agonising hiccough. At first the
soldiers began to laugh. The old lunatic had a fine phiz! But some
of her words reached them, and they heard that she was shouting:
'Blackguards! brigands! cowards! cowards!'

In a more and more piercing voice she spat forth, as it were, that
insulting epithet--coward. And then the laughter ceased, and a great
chill sped through the ranks. The men lowered their heads and looked
elsewhere.

'Cowards! cowards! cowards!'

Suddenly the old woman appeared to increase in stature. She raised her
spare, tragic figure, draped in a shred of a dress, to its full height;
and waving her long arm from west to east with so comprehensive a
gesture that it seemed to embrace the entire heavens, she shouted: 'The
Rhine is not there, you cowards--the Rhine is over _there_. Cowards!
cowards!'

At last they were resuming their march, and Maurice, whose glance
at this moment fell upon Jean's face, saw that the corporal's eyes
were full of tears. He was thunderstruck, and his own suffering was
increased at the thought that even this brutish peasant had felt
the insult--an unmerited one, but to which they must needs submit.
Everything then seemed to crumble away in Maurice's poor, aching head,
and, overcome both by physical and moral suffering, he could never
remember how he had finished the march.

The Seventh Army Corps had required an entire day to cover the fourteen
or fifteen miles separating Dannemarie from Belfort; and night was
again falling and it was very late when the troops were able to
prepare their bivouacs under the walls of the fortress, on the very
spot whence they had started four days previously to march against the
enemy. Despite the lateness of the hour and their great weariness,
the men insisted on lighting their fires and cooking their _soupe_.
It was the first time, for four days, that they had something warm
to swallow. And squatting around the fires in the freshening night
air, they were all dipping their noses into their basins, and grunts
of content were rising on all sides, when a rumour circulated, burst
upon, spread through, and stupefied the camp. Two fresh telegrams had
arrived at brief intervals. The Prussians had not crossed the Rhine at
Markolsheim, and there was no longer a single Prussian at Huningen. The
passage of the Rhine at Markolsheim, the pontoon bridge thrown across
the river at night, thanks to powerful electric lights--all those
alarming stories were mere dreams, the unaccountable hallucinations of
the sub-prefect of Schelestadt. As for the army corps that threatened
Huningen, the famous army corps of the Black Forest, which had made
all Alsace tremble, this was composed of a petty detachment of
Wurtembergers--two battalions of foot and a squadron of horse--who by
skilful tactics, repeated marching and counter-marching, sudden and
unforeseen apparitions, had created a belief in the presence of thirty
or forty thousand men. To think the Dannemarie Viaduct had narrowly
escaped being blown up that morning! Twenty leagues of prosperous
country had been ravaged through an idiotic panic, for no reason
whatever; and at thought of all they had seen that dreadful day--the
inhabitants flying in terror, driving their cattle into the mountains,
and the stream of furniture-laden vehicles flowing towards the town
amid a troop of women and children--the soldiers felt thoroughly
enraged, and vented their anger in exasperated jeers.

'It's altogether too funny,' stammered Loubet, with his mouth full, as
he flourished his spoon. 'So that was the enemy we were taken to fight?
There was nobody at all. Twelve leagues forward and twelve back, and
not even a mouse anywhere. All that for nothing--for the mere pleasure
of getting in a funk!'

Then Chouteau, who was noisily cleaning his basin, soundly rated the
generals without naming them: 'The hogs! What idiots they are! As timid
as hares. As they bolted like that when there was nobody, what would
they have done had they found a real army in front of them?'

Another armful of wood had been flung on the fire that they might
enjoy themselves around the tall leaping flame, and Lapoulle, whilst
warming his legs, with an air of ecstasy, burst into an idiotic laugh
at Chouteau's remarks, though he could not understand them; whereupon
Jean, who had hitherto turned a deaf ear to the chatter, ventured to
say paternally: 'Can't you be quiet? If you were overheard there might
be some unpleasantness.' He, himself, with his simple common sense, was
disgusted with the stupidity of the commanders. Still, he must enforce
respect, and as Chouteau continued growling, he stopped him by saying,
'Silence! Here's the lieutenant. Address yourself to him if you have
any remark to make.'

Maurice, who sat apart from the others in silence, had lowered his
head. This was the end of everything! They were only at the beginning
of the war, but it was all over. The indiscipline and mutinous
behaviour of the men at the very first reverse had already turned the
army into a mere mob without a tie to bind it together, but thoroughly
demoralised and ripe for every catastrophe. They, beneath Belfort, had
not seen a single Prussian, yet they were already beaten.

The monotonous days that followed were fraught with uneasiness and the
tedium of waiting. To occupy the time of his men General Douay made
them toil at the defensive works of the fortress, which were still far
from completed. They turned up the soil and split the rocks. Meanwhile,
no news came. Where was MacMahon? What was taking place under Metz?
The most extravagant rumours circulated; only a few Paris newspapers
reached the troops, and these, by their contradictory statements,
increased the black anxiety amid which they were struggling. Twice had
the general written asking for orders, and without even receiving an
answer. However, on August 12, the Seventh Corps was at last completed
by the arrival of its third division from Italy.[10] Still even now the
general only had two divisions with him, for the first one, beaten at
Frœschweiler, had been carried off in the rout, and it was not known
where the current had cast it. At last, after a week of abandonment, of
complete separation from the rest of France, a telegram brought orders
for departure. The men were delighted, anything was preferable to
the blank life they were leading. And whilst they were getting ready
speculations were indulged in. No one knew where they were going. Some
said they were to be sent to Strasburg to defend it, while others
talked of a bold dash into the Black Forest to intercept the Prussian
line of retreat.

Next morning the 106th was among the first regiments to start,
packed in cattle trucks. The one in which Jean's squad found itself
installed was so full that Loubet pretended there wasn't even room
to sneeze. Rations, as usual, had been distributed amid great
disorder, and the men, having received in brandy what they ought to
have received in food, were nearly all drunk--drunk with a violent,
brawling intoxication which vented itself in obscene songs. As the
train travelled on they could no longer see one another, owing to the
smoke of their pipes, which filled the truck as with fog. It was also
unbearably hot there, owing to the fermentation of all these closely
packed bodies, and as they sped along vociferous cries poured out of
the black flying vehicle, drowning the sound of the wheels, and dying
away afar off in the mournful country. It was only on reaching Langres
that the men realised they were being taken back to Paris.

'Ah! Thunder!' repeated Chouteau, who, by the might of his glib tongue,
already reigned undisputed master of his little corner, 'sure enough,
we shall be drawn up at Charentonneau to prevent Bismarck from taking a
nap at the Tuileries.'

The others roared, thinking this very droll, though they could not say
why. However, the slightest incidents of the journey--the sight of some
peasants posted beside the line, of the groups of anxious people who,
in the hope of obtaining news, were waiting at the smaller stations
for the trains to pass, the view, too, of all that region of France
scared and quivering in presence of the invasion--sufficed to provoke
hooting, shouting, and deafening laughter. And in the gust of wind that
swept by as the engine forged onward, amid the rapid view they obtained
of the train enveloped in smoke and noise, those that had hastened to
the stations received full in the face the howls of these men, all
food for powder, who were being carried along at express speed. At
one station, however, where they stopped, three well-dressed ladies,
rich _bourgeoises_ of the town, who distributed bowls of broth to the
soldiers, met with great success. The men cried as they thanked them,
and kissed their hands.

But farther on, the filthy songs and the savage yells burst forth
again. Shortly after passing Chaumont the train met another one full
of some artillerymen who were no doubt being taken to Metz. Speed had
just been slackened, and the soldiers of the two trains fraternised
amid a fearful clamour. It was, however, the artillerymen, doubtless
more intoxicated than the others, who carried off the palm by shaking
their fists out of the trucks and raising this cry with such despairing
violence that it drowned everything else: 'To the slaughter! slaughter!
slaughter!'

It seemed as if a great chill, an icy wind from a charnel-house were
passing by. There was a sudden brief silence, amid which one heard
Loubet jeering: 'The comrades are not gay.'

'But they are in the right,' rejoined Chouteau, in his tavern-orator's
voice; 'it's disgusting to send a lot of brave chaps to get their
heads cracked on account of some dirty business they don't know a word
about.' And he continued talking in the same strain. This incapable
workman of Montmartre, this lounging, dissipated house-painter, who
had badly digested some scraps of speeches heard at public meetings,
and who mingled revolutionary clap-trap with the great principles
of equality and liberty, played the part of the perverter. He knew
everything, and indoctrinated his comrades, especially Lapoulle,
whom he had promised to make a man of: 'Eh, old fellow? It's simple
enough. If Badinguet and Bismarck have a row together let them settle
it between them with their fists, instead of troubling hundreds of
thousands of men who don't even know one another, and have no wish to
fight.'

The whole truck-load laughed, feeling amused and subjugated, and
Lapoulle, who did not even know who Badinguet[11] was, and who could
not even have said whether he was fighting for an Emperor or a King,
repeated, with that overgrown-baby air of his: 'Of course, with their
fists--and a glass of wine together afterwards.'

But Chouteau had turned towards Pache, in view of taking him in hand.
'And you--you're religious--Well, your religion forbids fighting. So
why are you here, you idiot?'

'Well,' replied Pache, taken aback, 'I'm not here to please myself.
Only the gendarmes----'

'The gendarmes! Humbug! Who cares a rap for the gendarmes? Do you
know, you others, what we ought to do if we were the right sort? Why,
by-and-by, when we get out, we ought to slope--yes, quietly slope and
leave that fat hog Badinguet and his clique of twopenny-halfpenny
generals to settle matters as they please with their dirty Prussians.'

Bravos resounded, the work of perversion was proceeding, and then
Chouteau triumphed, parading his theories, in which were confusedly
mingled the Republic, the rights of man, the rottenness of the
Empire, which must be overthrown, and the treachery of all the
generals who commanded them, and each of whom, as it had been proved,
had sold himself for a million! He, Chouteau, proclaimed himself a
revolutionist: Loubet also knew what his opinions were, he was in
favour of grub and nothing else; but the others did not know whether
they were Republicans or not, or even in what fashion a man might be
a Republican. Nevertheless, carried away by Chouteau's oratory, they
all railed at the Emperor, the officers, the whole cursed show, which
they were bent on abandoning at the double-quick the first time they
felt worried. While fanning their increasing intoxication, Chouteau
stealthily watched Maurice, the gentleman, whom he was enlivening,
and whom he felt so proud indeed to have on his side that at last,
to impassion him the more, he fell upon Jean, who with his eyes half
closed had until now stood there amid all the noise, motionless and as
if asleep. If Maurice harboured any spite against the corporal for the
bitter lesson the latter had given him in forcing him to pick up his
gun, now was the time to urge the one against the other.

'And there are folks I know, who talked of having us shot,' resumed
Chouteau, threateningly. 'Dirty curs who treat us worse than brute
beasts, and who can't understand that when a man has had enough of his
sack and his popgun he pitches the whole lot into the fields. Well,
comrades, what would those curs say if we pitched _them_ on to the line
now that we have them comfortably in a corner? Is it agreed, eh? We
must make an example if we don't want to be plagued any more with this
beastly war. To death with Badinguet's vermin! To death with the dirty
curs who want us to fight!'

Jean had become very red--red with the rush of blood which rose to his
cheeks in his rare moments of anger; and close pressed though he was by
his companions, he managed to draw himself up, hold out his clenched
fists, and protrude his flaming face with so terrible an air that
Chouteau turned quite pale.

'Thunder! just you shut up!' cried the corporal. 'I've said nothing for
hours past, for there are no commanders left, and I can't even send you
to the lock-up. I know well enough I should have rendered a big service
to the regiment by ridding it of a filthy blackguard like you. But
never mind, as punishment is mere humbug, you'll have to deal with me.
I'm not a corporal now, but simply a chap you pester, and who'll shut
your jaw for you. You filthy coward, you won't fight, and you try to
prevent others from fighting! Just say all that again, and you'll feel
my fists.' All the men in the truck had already turned round, stirred
by Jean's gallant defiance, and deserting Chouteau, who stammered and
drew back at sight of his adversary's big fists. 'And I don't care a
rap for Badinguet any more than you do,' resumed Jean; 'I've never
cared a rap for politics, for either Republic or Empire, and when I
tilled my field I never wished but one thing, everybody's happiness,
good order, and prosperity everywhere, the same as I wish now. No doubt
it does plague one to have to fight, but all the same the rascals as
try to discourage one when it's already so hard to behave properly
ought to be stuck against a wall and shot. Dash it all, friends!
doesn't your blood boil when you're told that the Prussians are here in
France, and that we've got to bundle them out!'

In that easy way in which crowds change sides, the soldiers now began
to acclaim Jean as he repeated his oath to break the skull of the first
man in his squad who talked of not fighting. Bravo, corporal! That was
the style! Bismarck's hash would soon be settled! In the midst of the
savage ovation, Jean, who had calmed down, said to Maurice politely, as
though he were not addressing one of his men, 'You can't be on the side
of the cowards, sir--we haven't fought yet, but we'll end by licking
them some day, those Prussians.'

At these words Maurice felt a sunray glide into his heart. He was
disturbed, humiliated. So this Jean was not a mere rustic. Maurice
remembered the fearful hatred that had consumed him when he picked up
his gun after throwing it down in a moment of self-abandonment. But
he also remembered how startled he had been at seeing the two large
tears that stood in the corporal's eyes when the old grandmother, with
streaming grey hair, was insulting them and pointing to the Rhine afar
off beyond the horizon. Was it the fraternity born of fatigue and pain,
endured in common, that was carrying his rancour away? Belonging as he
did to a Bonapartist family, Maurice had never dreamt of the Republic
otherwise than in theory; his inclinations were rather in favour of
the Emperor personally, and he was a partisan of the war, war being
in his mind an essential condition of the life of nations. Now, all
of a sudden, hope was coming back to him in one of those veerings of
the mind to which he was so subject; whilst the enthusiasm which one
evening had impelled him to enlist again beat within him, filling his
heart with confidence in victory.

'Certainly, corporal,' he answered gaily, 'we'll lick them!'

With its load of men, enveloped in the dense smoke of their pipes, and
the stifling heat of their closely packed bodies, the cattle truck
rolled and rolled along, greeting the anxious crowds at the stations
and the haggard peasants posted along the hedges with obscene songs and
drunken clamour. On August 20 they reached the Pantin station, just
outside Paris, and the same night they started off again, quitting the
train on the morrow at Rheims, _en route_ for the camp of Châlons.



CHAPTER III

TALES OF TWO BATTLES--THE EMPEROR


Maurice was greatly surprised when, on detraining at Rheims, the 106th
received orders to encamp there. Were they not going to join the army
at Châlons then? And a couple of hours later, when his regiment had
piled arms at a league from the city, over towards Courcelles, amid
the vast plain skirting the canal from the Aisne to the Marne, his
astonishment increased on learning that the entire army of Châlons had
been falling back since the morning and would bivouac on this very
spot. And, indeed, tents were being pitched from one end of the horizon
to the other, as far away as St. Thierry and La Meuvillette, and even
beyond the high road to Laon; and the fires of all four army corps
would be blazing there that same evening. Evidently enough, the plan of
taking up a position under Paris, there to await the Prussians, had
prevailed, and Maurice was delighted, for was not this plan the wisest?

He spent most of the afternoon of August 21 in strolling through the
camp in search of news. Great latitude was allowed, there seemed less
discipline than ever, and the men went off and came back just as
they pleased. Maurice himself was able to return to Rheims to cash
a post-office order for a hundred francs which he had received from
his sister. Whilst there he entered a café, where he heard a sergeant
talking of the factious disposition of the eighteen battalions of the
Garde Mobile of the Seine, which had been sent back to Paris. The sixth
battalion had almost murdered its officers. At Châlons the generals had
constantly been insulted, and since the Frœschweiler defeat the men no
longer saluted MacMahon. The café was filling with chatterers, and a
violent discussion arose between two peaceful civilians respecting the
number of men that the marshal might have under his orders. One of the
disputants talked of 500,000 men, which was absurd. The other, more
sensible, passed the four corps in review: the Twelfth, completed with
difficulty at the camp by means of marching regiments and a division of
Marine Infantry; the First, the disbanded remnants of which had been
arriving since August 14, and were now being more or less successfully
reorganised; then the Fifth, defeated without having fought, carried
away and broken up in the rout; and the Seventh, just arriving, which
was likewise in a demoralised state, and lacked its first division,
mere shreds of which it had now found at Rheims. Altogether there were
at the utmost 120,000 men, including the Bonnemain and Margueritte
divisions of the reserve cavalry. However, the sergeant having mixed
himself up in the dispute, alluding to the army with furious contempt
as a mere jumble of men, a flock of innocents led by idiots to the
slaughter, the two civilians became alarmed and took themselves off,
fearing lest they might be compromised.

Maurice followed their example, and endeavoured to obtain some
newspapers. He filled his pockets with every number he could buy,
and read them as he walked along under the spreading trees of the
magnificent promenades that engirdle the town. Where could the German
armies be? It seemed as if they had been lost. Two of them, no doubt,
were near Metz--the first, under General Steinmetz, watching the
fortress; the second, under Prince Frederick Charles, trying to make
its way up the right bank of the Moselle so as to cut off Bazaine's
communications with Paris. But where--so confused and contradictory
were the newspaper statements--could the third army really be--the
army of the Crown Prince of Prussia, victorious at Weissenburg and
Frœschweiler, and launched in pursuit of the First and Fifth French
corps? Was it still camping at Nancy, or was it on the point of
reaching Châlons that the camp should have been so hastily abandoned,
and the magazines, accoutrements, forage, quite an incalculable wealth
of supplies, fired and destroyed? There was the same confusion, and
the same contradictory suppositions were indulged in with respect
to the plans of the French generals. Hitherto separated from the
rest of the world, it was only now that Maurice learnt what had been
occurring in Paris--the thunderbolt of defeat falling on a people
confident of victory, the terrible emotion in the streets, the
convocation of the Chambers, the fall of the Liberal ministry[12] that
had organised the Plebiscitum, and the Emperor's deposition from the
post of commander-in-chief, which he had been obliged to surrender to
Marshal Bazaine. The Emperor had been at the camp of Châlons since
August 16, and all the papers spoke of a great council held there on
the 17th, and attended by Prince Napoleon and several generals. None
of the accounts agreed, however, as to the decisions that had been
arrived at, apart from the incidents that had immediately followed,
such as the appointment of General Trochu as governor of Paris and of
Marshal MacMahon as commander of the army of Châlons, which implied
the complete effacement of the Sovereign. A general scare, prodigious
irresolution, conflicting plans following swiftly one upon the
other--all these could be divined. But ever the same question arose in
Maurice's mind: Where were the German armies? Who were right--those who
pretended that Bazaine's movements were free, and that he was effecting
his retreat by way of the northern fortresses, or those who asserted
that he was already blockaded under Metz? There were persistent rumours
of gigantic battles, heroic struggles sustained during an entire week,
from the 14th to the 20th, but from these there was evolved only a
formidable echo of conflict, waged far away.

His legs sinking from fatigue, Maurice seated himself at last on a
bench. The town around him seemed to be living its daily life. Nurses
were minding children under the beautiful trees, and petty cits were
slowly taking their usual walk. Maurice scanned his papers again, and
in doing so came upon an article he had not previously noticed in one
of the most fiery of the Republican opposition journals. This threw
a vivid light on the situation. At the council held at the camp of
Châlons on August 17, so this newspaper asserted, the retreat of the
army upon Paris had been decided on, and General Trochu's appointment
as governor of the capital had been made solely with the view of
preparing the Emperor's return. But the newspaper added that these
decisions had been frustrated by the attitude which the Empress-Regent
and the new ministry[13] had taken up. According to the Empress Eugénie
a revolution was certain if the Emperor returned to Paris. 'He would
not reach the Tuileries alive,' she was asserted to have said. And
she obstinately insisted on a forward march, on MacMahon effecting
a junction, despite every obstacle, with the army of Metz; in which
views she was supported by the minister of war, General de Palikao, who
had planned a victorious, lightning march for MacMahon, so that the
latter might join hands with Bazaine. Gazing dreamily in front of him,
with his paper lying on his knees, Maurice now fancied that he could
understand everything: The two conflicting plans; MacMahon's hesitation
to undertake this dangerous flank march with such indifferent troops;
and the impatient, increasingly fretful orders which reached him from
Paris, urging him into this madly rash adventure. Whilst picturing the
tragical struggle, Maurice had a clear vision of the Emperor, deprived
of his imperial authority which he had confided to the Empress-Regent,
and divested of the supreme command of the army which he had entrusted
to Marshal Bazaine, so that he had now become a mere nothing--a vague,
undefined shadow of an Emperor, a nameless and cumbersome inutility,
whom no one knew what to do with, whom Paris rejected, and who no
longer had any place in the army since he had undertaken not to give it
a single order.

On the following morning, when Maurice awoke after a stormy night,
which he had spent rolled up in his blanket outside his tent, he was
relieved to hear that the plan of retreating upon Paris had gained the
upper hand. There was some talk of a fresh council held the previous
evening, which had been attended by the ex-vice-Emperor,[14] M.
Rouher, whom the Empress had despatched to head quarters in view of
hastening the march upon Verdun, but whom Marshal MacMahon seemed to
have convinced of the danger that would attend such a movement. Had
any bad news of Bazaine come to hand? No one dared to assert this.
However, the absence of news was sufficiently significant. All the
officers with any common sense pronounced themselves in favour of
waiting for the enemy under Paris; and, feeling convinced that he and
his comrades would begin falling back the very next day, since it was
said that orders to that effect had been issued, Maurice in his delight
determined to satisfy a childish craving. He wished, once in a way, to
escape the mess-platter and to breakfast somewhere at a cloth-spread
table, with a bottle of wine, a decanter of water, and a plate before
him--all the things which it seemed to him he had been deprived of for
many months. He had some money in his pocket, so he slipped away with a
beating heart, as if bent on some spree, and began to search about him
for an inn.

It was on the outskirts of the village of Courcelles, beyond the canal,
that he found the breakfast he had dreamt of. He had been told the day
before that the Emperor had taken up his quarters at a private house in
this village, and having strolled there out of curiosity, he remembered
having noticed at the corner of a couple of roads a tavern with an
arbour, where dangled some beautiful bunches of grapes already ripe and
golden. There were some green-painted tables under the creeping vine,
and through the open doorway of the spacious kitchen one could espy
the loud-ticking clock, the cheap coloured prints pasted on the walls,
and the fat hostess attending to the roasting-jack. A bowling alley
stretched in the rear of the house, and the whole place had the gay,
attractive, free-and-easy aspect of an old-fashioned _guinguette_.

A well-built, full-breasted girl, who showed her white teeth, came to
ask Maurice if he wished to breakfast.

'Of course I do. Give me some eggs, a chop, and some cheese--and
some white wine.' Then calling her back he asked, 'Isn't the Emperor
quartered in one of those houses?'

'Yes, in the one in front of us; but you can't see it--it is behind the
trees that rise above that high wall.'

Maurice then installed himself in the arbour, took off his belt
that he might be more at his ease, and selected a table on which the
sunrays, filtering through the vine leaves, were casting golden spots.
His eyes kept on returning to that high yellow wall which screened
the Emperor from view. The house was indeed a hidden and mysterious
one; not even the tiles of the roof could be seen. The entrance was
on the other side, facing the village street--a narrow street, where
neither shop nor even window was to be seen, for it wound along between
monotonous blank walls. The grounds in the rear of the house looked
like an ait of dense verdure amid the neighbouring buildings. Among
these, on the other side of the highway, Maurice noticed a large
courtyard surrounded by stables and coach-houses, and filled with vans
and carriages, amid which men and horses were continually coming and
going.

'And are all those traps for the Emperor?' Maurice jokingly asked the
servant, as she spread a clean white cloth on his table.

'Yes, for the Emperor and no one else,' she answered, with a gay
sprightly air, pleased to have an opportunity of showing her fresh
white teeth. Then she began to enumerate all there was; having learnt
this, no doubt, from the grooms who had been coming to drink at the
tavern since the day before. To begin with, there was the staff of
twenty-five officers, the sixty Cent-Gardes, the escort-detachment of
Guides,[15] the six Gendarmes of the provostship service; then the
household, comprising seventy-three persons, chamberlains, valets
and footmen, cooks and scullions; next four saddle-horses and two
carriages for the Emperor, ten horses for the equerries, and eight for
the outriders and grooms, without counting forty-seven posting horses;
then a _char à bancs_ and twelve baggage vans, two of which, reserved
to the cooks, had excited the girl's admiration by the large quantity
of kitchen utensils, plates, and bottles that could be seen inside
them, all in beautiful order. 'Ah! sir,' she said to Maurice, 'I never
saw such saucepans before! They shine like the sun! And there are all
sorts of dishes and vessels, and things I can't even tell the use of!
And wine, too--bordeaux, and burgundy, and champagne enough to give a
splendid wedding feast.'

Well pleased at sight of the clean white cloth and the light golden
wine sparkling in his glass, Maurice ate a couple of boiled eggs with
a gluttonous enjoyment he had never before experienced. Whenever he
turned his head to the left he obtained, through one of the entrances
to the arbour, a view of the vast tent-covered plain, the swarming city
that had just sprung up amid the stubble between Rheims and the canal.
Only a few meagre clumps of trees dotted the grey expanse, where three
mills upreared their slender arms. Above the confused roofs of Rheims,
intermingled with the crests of chestnut trees, the colossal pile of
the cathedral stood out in the blue atmosphere, looking, though far
away, quite gigantic by the side of the low houses. And, on seeing it,
recollections of schoolboy days came back to Maurice. Lessons that
he had learnt and hemmed and hawed over returned to his mind: the
coronations of the French Kings in Rheims Cathedral, the holy oil,
Clovis, Joan of Arc--all the departed glories of ancient France.

Then, again thinking of the Emperor hidden away in that modest private
house so discreetly closed, Maurice turned his eyes once more on the
high yellow wall, and was surprised to read on it the inscription,
'Vive Napoléon!' traced in huge letters with a bit of charcoal,
beside some clumsy obscene drawings. The rain had washed away the
yellow distemper that had previously concealed the writing, and the
inscription was evidently an old one. How singular to find upon that
wall this acclamation, born of the warlike enthusiasm of long ago,
and intended, undoubtedly, for the uncle, the conquering Napoleon,
not his nephew! At sight of it, all Maurice's childhood arose before
him, carolling in his mind, and again he listened to the tales of
his grandfather, a soldier of the Grand Army. His mother was dead,
and his father had been obliged to accept a post of tax collector,
no opportunities for winning glory being vouchsafed to the sons of
the heroes of France after the fall of the First Empire. And the
grandfather lived with them on a most meagre pension, fallen to the
level of this modest home, and having but one consolation, that of
recounting his campaigns to his grandchildren, the twins, boy and girl,
each with the same fair hair, and whose mother he, in some measure,
was. He would seat Henriette on his left knee, and Maurice on his
right, and then, during long hours, there followed Homeric tales of
battle.

These tales did not seem to belong to history; different periods
were blended, and all the nations of the earth met together in one
great, fearful collision. The English, the Austrians, the Prussians,
the Russians passed by--now in turn, now all at the same time--just
as alliances willed it, and without it being possible to say why some
were beaten rather than others. But beaten they were, inevitably
beaten in advance by a great dash of heroism and genius which swept
armies away as if they had been merely chaff. There was Marengo, the
classical engagement on level ground, with the long lines of troops
skilfully deployed, and the faultless retreat in échelon order of the
battalions so silent and impassive under fire. This was the legendary
battle lost at three o'clock, won at six; the battle when eight hundred
grenadiers of the Consular Guard arrested the onslaught of the entire
Austrian cavalry; when Desaix came up to meet his death and to change
an impending rout into an immortal victory. Then there was Austerlitz,
with its beautiful sun of glory shining through the wintry mist;
Austerlitz, commencing with the capture of the plateau of Pritzen and
ending with the terrifying disruption of the ice on the frozen lakes,
when an entire Russian army corps, men and horses, sank into the water
amid a frightful crash; whilst the god-like Napoleon, who had naturally
foreseen everything, completed the disaster with his round shot. Next
there was Jena, where Prussia's power was entombed; at first, the
skirmishers firing through the October fog, and Ney, by his impatience,
almost compromising everything; then Augereau's advance that extricated
Ney, the great onslaught, so violent that it swept away the enemy's
entire centre; and finally the panic, the _sauve-qui-peut_ of an
over-vaunted cavalry, whom the French Hussars mowed down like ripe
oats, strewing the romantic valley with men and horses. Then there was
Eylau--Eylau, the abominable--the most bloody of battles, when such was
the slaughter that the hideously disfigured bodies lay on the ground
in heaps; Eylau, blood red under its snow storm, with its mournful
cemetery of heroes; Eylau still loudly re-echoing the thunderous charge
of Murat's eighty squadrons, which cut right through the Russian army
and strewed the field with such a depth of corpses that even Napoleon
himself wept at the sight.

Then there was Friedland, the fearful trap into which the Russians,
like a flight of careless sparrows, again fell; Friedland, the
strategical masterpiece of that Emperor who knew everything and could
do everything. At first the French left wing remained motionless and
imperturbable, whilst Ney, having captured the town, was destroying
the bridges; then the French left wing rushed upon the enemy's right,
throwing it into the river, overwhelming it in the inextricable
position into which it had been forced; and so much slaughter had to
be accomplished that the French were still killing the foe at ten
o'clock at night. Next there was Wagram--the Austrians wishing to
cut the French off from the Danube, and repeatedly reinforcing their
left wing so that they might overcome Masséna, who, being wounded,
reclined in a carriage whilst commanding his troops; and meantime the
artful, Titanic Napoleon allowed the Austrians to pursue this course
till all at once the terrible fire of a hundred guns rained upon their
weakened centre, sweeping it more than a league away; whereupon their
left wing, terrified at its isolation, and already falling back before
Masséna, who had retrieved his earlier reverses, carried off with it
the remainder of the Austrian army with devastation akin to that caused
by a breaking dyke. And at last there was the Moskowa, when the bright
sun of Austerlitz shone out again for the last time, a terrible _mêlée_
of men, with all the confusion born of vast numbers of antagonists and
of stubborn courage, hillocks carried under an incessant fusillade,
redoubts captured by assault at the bayonet's point, repeated offensive
returns of the enemy, who disputed the ground inch by inch, and such
desperate bravery on the part of the Russian Guards that the furious
charges of Murat, the simultaneous thunder of three hundred guns, and
all the valour of Ney, the triumphant prince of the day, were needed
to secure victory. But whatever the battle was, the flags were stirred
by the same glorious fluttering in the evening air; the same shouts of
'Vive Napoléon!' resounded when the bivouac fires were being lighted on
the conquered positions; France was everywhere at home--a conqueress
who marched her invincible eagles from one end of Europe to the other,
and who needed but to set her foot on the soil of foreign kingdoms for
the humbled nations to sink into the ground!

Less intoxicated by the white wine that sparkled in his glass than by
the glorious memories carolling in his mind, Maurice was finishing
his chop when his glance fell upon two ragged, mud-stained soldiers,
who looked like bandits weary of roaming the highways; and on hearing
them question the servant girl respecting the precise positions of the
regiments encamped alongside the canal, he called out to them, 'Eh,
comrades, here! You belong to the Seventh Corps, don't you?'

'Of course--to the first division,' replied one of the men; 'there's
no mistake about it I warrant you. The best proof is, I was at
Frœschweiler, where it wasn't cold by any means. And the comrade here
belongs to the First Corps--he was at Weissenburg, another filthy hole!'

Then they told their tale, how both being slightly wounded they had
fallen in the panic and the rout, lying half dead with fatigue in a
ditch, and then dragging themselves along in the rear of the army,
forced by exhausting attacks of fever to linger behind in the towns,
and so belated at last that they were now only just arriving, somewhat
restored to health, and bent upon joining their squads. Maurice, who
was about to tackle a piece of Gruyère cheese, noticed, with his heart
oppressed, the envious glances which they darted at his plate. 'Some
more cheese, and some bread and some wine!' he called. 'You'll join me,
comrades, eh? I stand treat! Here's to your health!'

They sat down delighted; and Maurice, with an increasing chill at his
heart, noted to what a lamentable condition they had fallen, with no
weapons, and with their overcoats and red trousers fastened with so
many bits of string, and patched with so many different shreds of
cloth that they looked like pillagers--gipsies who had donned some old
garments stolen from corpses on the battlefield.

'Ah! curse it, yes!' resumed the bigger of the two, with his mouth
full. 'It wasn't all fun over there. You should have seen it. Just tell
your tale, Coutard.'

Then the little one, gesticulating with a hunk of bread in his hand,
began his story: 'I was washing my shirt while the _soupe_ was being
got ready--we were in a beastly hole, a regular funnel with big woods
all round it which enabled those swinish Prussians to creep up on all
fours without our knowing it--then, just at seven o'clock, their shells
began falling in our pots. We rushed to arms in a jiffy, curse it!
and up to eleven o'clock we fancied we were giving them a downright
licking--but there weren't more than five thousand of us, you must
know, and fresh detachments of those pigs kept constantly coming up. I
was on a little hill, lying down behind a bush, and in front of me and
right and left of me I could see them marching up, swarming like ants,
like lines of black ants that never came to an end. Well, you know, we
couldn't help thinking that the commanders were regular duffers to have
shoved us into such a wasp's nest, far away from our comrades, and to
leave us there too, to be crushed without any help coming. Then, in the
midst of it all, our general, that poor devil General Douay,[16] who
was neither a fool nor a capon, was hit by a ball and toppled over with
his legs in the air. His account was settled! All the same, we still
held out, but there were too many of them, and we had to slope. Next we
fought in an inclosure, and defended the station with such a thundering
row going on that one was quite deafened. Then, I hardly know, but the
town must have been captured, and we found ourselves on a mountain--the
Geissberg they call it, I think--and there, having entrenched ourselves
in a kind of château, we kept on potting those pigs. They jumped into
the air as we hit them, and it was a sight to see how they came down
again on their snouts. But it was all no good; they kept on coming
up till they were quite ten to one, and with as many guns as they
wanted.[17] It is all very well to be brave, but bravery in an affair
like that simply means leaving one's carcase on the field. Well, we
were quite in a jelly at last, and we had to take ourselves off. All
the same, our officers showed themselves regular duffers--didn't they,
Picot?'

There was a pause. Picot, the taller of the two men, drained a glass
of white wine, and then, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand,
rejoined: 'Of course. It was the same at Frœschweiler. Only idiots
would have thought of giving battle with affairs in such a state. My
captain, an artful little beggar, said so. The truth is, the commanders
can have known nothing. An entire army of those beasts fell on us when
we were barely forty thousand. No fighting was expected that day, it
seems; but the battle began little by little, without the officers
wanting it. Of course, I didn't see everything, but I know well enough
that the dancing went on all day, and that just when one thought it had
ended the music began afresh. First at Wœrth, a pretty little village
with a comical steeple, covered with earthenware tiles, which make it
look like a stove. The devil, too, if I know why we were ordered out
of Wœrth in the morning, for afterwards we had to fight, tooth and
nail, to try and recapture it. But we didn't succeed. Ah! my boys,
we did have a job there. You should have seen all the bellies ripped
open and the brains scattered about. It was incredible. Then we had a
set-to round another village--Elsasshausen, a beastly name to remember.
We were being mowed down by a lot of guns which were firing at their
ease from another cursed hill, which we had also given up in the
morning. And then it was that I saw, yes, I myself saw the charge of
the Cuirassiers. Ah! how the poor devils did get themselves killed! It
was pitiful to send men and horses charging over such ground as that, a
slope covered with scrub and full of ditches. And, besides, worse luck,
it could be of no earthly use. All the same, however, it was brave, it
was a grand sight to see. And after that? Well, after that it seemed
as if we had no other course but to try and take ourselves off. The
village was burning like tinder, the Badeners, the Wurtembergers, and
the Prussians--the whole band, in fact--one hundred and twenty thousand
of those beasts, had ended by surrounding us. But we didn't go off. The
music began again round Frœschweiler. The plain truth is, MacMahon may
be a duffer, but he's plucky. You should have seen him on his big horse
in the midst of the shells! Any other man would have bolted at the
outset, thinking it no shame to refuse battle when one isn't in force.
But he, as the fighting had begun, determined to let the skull-cracking
go on to the bitter end. And he managed it, too! In Frœschweiler we
weren't like men fighting; we were like animals, eating one another.
For a couple of hours the gutters ran with blood----. And then? Well,
we had to skedaddle at last! And to think we learned just then that we
had overthrown the Bavarians on our left! Ah! curse it, if we, too, had
only had a hundred and twenty thousand men, if we had only had enough
guns and not quite such duffing officers!'

Still exasperated and violently inclined, Coutard and Picot, in their
ragged uniforms grey with dust, were cutting themselves hunks of bread
and bolting big bits of cheese, whilst venting their nightmare-like
souvenirs under the beautiful vine with its ripe grapes spangled
with golden darts by the sun. They had now come to the fearful rout
that had followed the battle; the disbanded, demoralised, hungry
regiments fleeing through the fields; the high roads one stream of
men, horses, carts, and guns in frightful confusion; all the wreckage
of an annihilated army, lashed onward in its retreat by the mad blast
of panic. Since they had not been able to fall back in good order
and defend the passages of the Vosges, where ten thousand men might
have stopped a hundred thousand, at least they might have blown up
the bridges and filled up the tunnels. But the generals bolted in
the universal scare, and such a tempest of stupefaction swept along,
carrying off both vanquishers and vanquished, that for a moment the two
conflicting armies lost one another--MacMahon hurrying in the direction
of Lunéville, whilst the Crown Prince of Prussia was looking for him
in the direction of the Vosges. On August 7 the remnants of the First
French Army Corps swept through Saverne like a muddy, overflowing
stream laden with wreckage. On the 8th, the Fifth Corps fell in with
the First at Saarburg, like one torrent flowing into another. The
Fifth Corps was also in full flight, beaten without having fought, and
carrying along with it its commander, that sorry General de Failly,
who was distracted to find that the responsibility of the defeat
was ascribed to his inaction. On the 9th and 10th the flying gallop
continued, a mad _sauve-qui-peut_, in which no one halted even to look
round. On the 11th, in the pouring rain, they descended towards Bayon,
so as to avoid Nancy, which was falsely rumoured to be in the enemy's
hands. On the 12th they encamped at Haroué; on the 13th at Vicherey;
and next day they reached Neufchâteau, where the railway at last
gathered together this drifting mass of men, who, during three entire
days, were shovelled into the trains, so that they might be conveyed
to Châlons. Four-and-twenty hours after the last train had started the
Prussians came up.

'Ah! cursed luck!' concluded Picot. 'We had to use our legs, and no
mistake. And we two had been left at the infirmary.'

Coutard was just emptying the bottle into his comrade's glass and his
own: 'Yes,' said he, 'we took ourselves off, and we've been on the road
ever since. All the same, however, one feels better now that one can
drink to the health of those that haven't had their skulls cracked.'

Maurice now understood everything. After so stupidly allowing
themselves to be surprised at Weissenburg, the crushing, lightning
stroke of Frœschweiler had fallen on the French, its sinister glare
casting a vivid light upon the terrible truth. France was not ready,
she had neither cannon, nor men, nor generals; and the enemy, treated
with such contempt, proved to be strong and solid, innumerable,
perfect alike in discipline and tactics. Through the weak screen
formed of the seven French Army Corps, disseminated between Metz and
Strasburg, the foe had literally punched his way. Of a certainty France
would now be left to her own resources; neither Austria nor Italy would
join her; the Emperor's plan had crumbled away through the delay in
the operations and the incapacity of the commanders. And even fatality
was working against the French, accumulating mishaps and deplorable
coincidences, and enabling the Prussians to carry out their secret
plan, which was to cut the French armies in two and throw one portion
of them under Metz, that it might be isolated from the rest of France,
whilst they--the invaders--marched upon Paris, after destroying the
other portion. Already, at this stage, everything was mathematically
clear. France was bound to be beaten, through causes the inevitable
effects of which were already apparent; and this war was but a conflict
between unintelligent bravery on the one hand, and superiority of
numbers and calm methodical strategy on the other. Dispute about it as
one might later on, in any and every case, no matter what might have
been done, defeat was a fatal certainty, predetermined by the laws that
rule the world.

Suddenly, as Maurice's dreamy eyes wandered away, they espied those
words, 'Vive Napoléon!' traced in charcoal on the high yellow wall in
front of him. He experienced an unbearable feeling of uneasiness at
the sight; a sudden burning pang shot through his heart. So it was
true that France, the France of the legendary victories, that had
marched with beating drums through Europe, had now been thrown to
the ground by a petty nation which it had despised. Fifty years had
sufficed to change the world, and defeat was falling heavy and fearful
on those who had once been conquerors. Maurice remembered all that
his brother-in-law Weiss had told him on that night of anguish before
Mulhausen. Yes, Weiss alone had shown any prescience, guessing the
slow, hidden causes of the decline of France, perceiving what a breeze
of youth and strength was blowing from Germany. One warlike age was
ending; another was beginning. Woe to those who halt in the continuous
effort which nations must make; victory belongs to those who march in
the van, to the most accomplished, the healthiest, and the strongest!

Just then a girl's screams were heard. Lieutenant Rochas, like a
conquering trooper, was kissing the pretty servant in the smoky
old kitchen, brightened by cheap coloured prints. He stepped into
the arbour and ordered coffee, and, having overheard the last words
of Coutard and Picot, he gaily remarked, 'Pooh! my lads, all that's
nothing. It's only the beginning of the dance; you're going to see the
revenge we'll have now. So far, they've been five to one. But it's all
going to change, take my word for it. There are three hundred thousand
of us here. All the movements we are making, and which you don't
understand, are to draw the Prussians down on us, whilst Bazaine, who's
watching them, takes them in flank. Then we'll just squash them--like
this fly.'

As he spoke he crushed a passing fly with a loud clap of his hands;
and he talked on gaily, believing, in his childish simplicity, in the
success of this easy plan, and having recovered all his pristine faith
in the invincibility of bravery. He obligingly acquainted the two
soldiers with the exact positions of their regiments, and then, feeling
quite happy, he sat himself down with a cigar between his teeth, in
front of his cup of coffee.

'The pleasure has been mine, comrades,' replied Maurice to Coutard
and Picot, as, in taking themselves off, they thanked him for the
cheese and the bottle of wine. He also had ordered some coffee, and he
sat there looking at Rochas, and sharing his good humour, though he
was surprised that an officer should talk of three hundred thousand
men when they were barely more than one hundred thousand, and that
he should consider the crushing of the Prussians between the army of
Châlons and the army of Metz such a remarkably easy affair. But, on
the other hand, Maurice felt such a need of illusions! Might he not
continue hoping in victory, when the glorious past was carolling so
loudly in his memory? The old _guinguette_ had such a joyous aspect
too, with its creeping vine, whence dangled the clear sun-gilt grapes
of France! Once more did Maurice experience an hour's confidence rising
above all the secret sadness that had slowly gathered in his heart.

As he sat there he noticed an officer of Chasseurs d'Afrique ride
past at a rapid trot, followed by his orderly, and disappear round
the corner of the silent house occupied by the Emperor. Then, as the
orderly returned alone, and halted with both horses at the door of the
tavern, Maurice gave a cry of surprise: 'What, Prosper! Why, I thought
you were at Metz!'

The newcomer was a simple farm-hand of Remilly, whom Maurice had known
when a child, at the time when he went to spend his holidays at uncle
Fouchard's. Having been taken at the conscription, Prosper had already
spent three years in Algeria when the war broke out, and, with his long
thin face and his supple sturdy limbs, with which he was wonderfully
adroit, he looked to great advantage in his sky-blue jacket, his full
red trousers with blue stripes, and his ample red woollen sash. 'What!
Monsieur Maurice,' he said. 'Here's an unexpected meeting!'

He did not hurry to join his friend, however, but forthwith took the
steaming horses to the stable, eyeing his own mount with quite a
paternal air. It was love of horseflesh, dating from childhood, from
the time when he had taken the teams to the fields, that had induced
him to enter the cavalry service. 'We've just come from Monthois, ten
leagues at a stretch,' he said to Maurice, when he returned, 'and
Zephyr needs a feed.' Zephyr was his horse. For his own part he refused
to eat anything, and would only accept some coffee. He had to wait
for his officer, who, on his side, had to wait for the Emperor. They
might be five minutes there, or two hours, there was no telling, so
his officer had told him to bait the horses. Then as Maurice, whose
curiosity was roused, questioned him as to why the officer wanted
to see the Emperor, he replied; 'I don't know--some commission of
course--some papers to hand in.'

Rochas was eyeing Prosper with a softened glance, the sight of the
chasseur uniform having revived his own recollections of Algeria. 'And
where were you, out there, my lad?' he asked.

'At Medeah, sir.'

Medeah! Thereupon they began talking together like comrades, all
regulations notwithstanding. Prosper had grown accustomed to that
Algerian life of constant alerts, a life spent on horseback, the
men setting out to fight as they might have set out on some hunting
excursion, some great _battue_ of Arabs. There was but one platter for
each 'tribe'[18] of six men; and each 'tribe' was a family, one member
of which did the cooking, whilst another did the washing, and the
others pitched the tents, groomed the horses, and furbished the arms.
They rode on through the morning and afternoon, laden with weighty
burdens, in a heat as heavy as lead. Then in the evening they lighted
large fires to drive away the mosquitoes, and gathered around to sing
songs of France. During the clear, star-spangled nights it was often
necessary to get up to quiet the horses, who, incommoded by the warm
breeze, would suddenly begin to bite one another and tear up their
pickets, neighing furiously. Then, too, there was the coffee, a great
affair, the delicious coffee which they crushed in a pan and strained
through one of their red regulation sashes. But there were also the
black days, spent far from all human habitations, face to face with
the enemy. Then there were no more camp-fires, no more songs, no more
sprees. They suffered fearfully at times from thirst, hunger, and
lack of sleep. Yet all the same they were fond of that adventurous
life full of unexpected incidents, that skirmishing warfare so well
adapted to deeds of personal bravery, and as amusing as the conquest
of some island of savages, enlivened by razzias or wholesale pillaging
expeditions, and by the petty thefts of the marauders, many of whose
cunning exploits had become quite legendary, and made even the generals
laugh.

'Ah!' said Prosper, suddenly becoming grave; 'it's not the same here;
we fight differently.'

In reply to further questions from Maurice, he then related their
landing at Toulon, and their long and wearisome journey to Lunéville.
It was there they had heard of Weissenburg and Frœschweiler. He hardly
recollected their line of route after that; they had gone, he thought,
from Nancy to St. Mihiel, and then on to Metz. A great battle must have
been fought on the 14th, for the horizon was aglow with fire; for his
own part, however, he had only seen four Uhlans behind a hedge. On the
16th there had been more fighting, the guns had begun thundering at six
in the morning, and he had heard say that the dance had begun again
on the 18th, more terrible than ever.[19] The Chasseurs d'Afrique,
however, were then no longer with the army, for on the 16th, whilst
they were drawn up along a road near Gravelotte, waiting for orders,
the Emperor, who was driving off in a carriage, took them along with
him to escort him to Verdun. A nice ride that was, more than twenty-six
miles at a gallop, with the fear that the Prussians might intercept
them at every turn of the road.

'And Bazaine?' asked Rochas.

'Bazaine? It's said he was devilish pleased that the Emperor had taken
himself off.'

The lieutenant wished to know, however, if Bazaine were approaching,
and Prosper could only reply by a gesture. Who could tell? He and his
comrades had spent long days marching and counter-marching in the
rain, in reconnoitring, and on outpost duty--and without once seeing
an enemy. They now belonged to the army of Châlons. His regiment, with
two others of Chasseurs and one of Hussars, formed the first division
of the reserve cavalry, and were commanded by General Margueritte, of
whom Prosper spoke with enthusiastic affection. 'Ah! the devil,' said
he, 'there's a lion for you! But what good is it?--so far they've never
known what to do with us except to send us floundering through the mud.'

A pause followed, and then Maurice talked about Remilly and uncle
Fouchard, and Prosper expressed his regret at not being able to go
and shake hands with Honoré, the quartermaster, whose battery must
be stationed more than a league away, on the other side of the road
to Laon. Hearing a horse snort, however, he rose and hurried off
to satisfy himself that Zephyr wanted nothing. It was the time for
coffee and for something short to help it down, and soldiers of all
arms and all ranks were now invading the tavern. There was not an
unoccupied table, and bright was the display of uniforms amid the green
vine-leaves flecked with sunshine. Surgeon-Major Bouroche had just
seated himself beside Rochas, when Jean appeared and addressed himself
to the lieutenant: 'The captain will expect you at three o'clock, for
orders, sir.'

Rochas nodded, as much as to say that he would be punctual, and Jean,
instead of immediately retiring, turned to smile at Maurice, who was
lighting a cigarette. Since the scene in the train, there was a tacit
truce between the two men, as though they were studying one another in
a more and more kindly way.

Prosper, who had just returned, now exclaimed impatiently: 'I shall
have something to eat if my officer doesn't come out of that shanty.
It's disgusting; the Emperor may not be back before to-night.'

'I say,' exclaimed Maurice, whose curiosity was again aroused, 'it's
perhaps some news of Bazaine that you've brought?'

'Perhaps so. They were talking about him at Monthois.'

Just then there was a sudden stir, and Jean, who had been standing
at one of the entrances of the arbour, turned round and said: 'The
Emperor!'

They all sprang to their feet. Between the poplars lining the white
high road there appeared a platoon of Cent-Gardes still correctly
dressed in their luxurious, resplendent uniforms, with large golden
suns glittering upon their breastplates. In the open space behind
them came the Emperor on horseback, escorted by his staff, which was
followed by a second detachment of Cent-Gardes. Everyone uncovered,
and a few acclamations were heard; and the Emperor raised his head as
he passed by, so that one could clearly see his face, drawn and very
pale, with dim wavering eyes which appeared full of water. He seemed as
if he were waking out of a doze, smiled faintly at sight of the sunlit
tavern, and then saluted.

Meantime, Bouroche had darted at Napoleon the quick glance of an
experienced practitioner, and Jean and Maurice, who were standing in
front of the surgeon, distinctly heard him growl: 'There's a nasty
stone there, and no mistake.' And then he completed his diagnosis in
two words, '_Done for_!'

Jean, with his narrow-minded common-sense, had shaken his head
sorrowfully; what fearful bad luck for an army to have such a chief
as that! Ten minutes later, when Maurice, after shaking hands with
Prosper, went off delighted with his nicely served breakfast, to stroll
about and smoke some more cigarettes, he carried away with him the
recollection of that pale, dim-eyed Emperor, passing by on horseback
at a jog-trot. So that was the conspirator, the dreamer deficient in
energy at the decisive moment. He was said to be kind-hearted, to be
quite capable of great and generous ideas, and, silent man that he
was, to have a very tenacious will; and he was also undoubtedly very
brave, disdainful of danger, like a fatalist always ready to accept his
destiny. But in great crises he seemed struck with stupor, paralysed
as it were in presence of accomplished facts; and thenceforward he was
unable to contend against evil fortune. Maurice wondered if this were
not some special physiological condition which agony had aggravated; if
the disease from which the Emperor was evidently suffering were not the
cause of the growing indecision and incapacity that he had displayed
since the outset of the campaign. In that way, everything would have
been explained. A grain of sand in a man's flesh, and empires totter
and fall!

Quite a stir suddenly arose in camp that evening after the roll call,
the officers running hither and thither, transmitting orders, and
arranging everything for the men's departure next morning at five
o'clock. With mingled surprise and disquietude, Maurice learnt that
everything was again changed, and that instead of falling back on
Paris they were about to march on Verdun, in view of joining Bazaine.
A rumour circulated that a despatch had arrived from the latter
during the day, announcing that he was effecting his retreat; and
Maurice then remembered Prosper and the officer he had come with from
Monthois, perhaps to bring the Emperor a copy of this despatch. Thus
the Empress-Regent and the Council of Ministers, so frightened at the
thought of the Emperor's return to Paris, and so obstinately bent
upon throwing the army forward at any cost in order that it might
make a supreme attempt to save the dynasty, had triumphed at last
over the perpetual hesitation of Marshal MacMahon. And that wretched
Emperor, that poor devil who no longer had any place in his own empire,
was to be carried off like a useless, cumbersome parcel among the
baggage-train of his troops, condemned--oh! the irony of it--to drag
after him all his Imperial household, his bodyguards, his carriages,
his horses, his cooks, his vans full of silver saucepans and sparkling
wine of Champagne--in a word, all the pomp of his bee-spangled,
imperial robes, which could now only serve to sweep up the blood and
mire that covered the high-roads of defeat!

At midnight, Maurice had not yet got to sleep. Feverish insomnia,
fraught with ugly dreams, made him turn over and over in the tent.
At last he ended by coming outside, and felt relieved on standing
up and inhaling the cold, wind-swept air. The sky was covered with
huge clouds, the night was becoming very dense, with an infinitely
mournful darkness, which the last expiring fires along the camp
front faintly illumined with star-like lights. And amidst the black,
silent peacefulness one could detect the slow breathing of the
hundred thousand men who were lying there. Then Maurice's anguish
became quieted, and a feeling of fraternity came to him, of indulgent
affection for all those living sleepers, thousands of whom would soon
be sleeping the sleep of death. After all, they were good fellows.
They were scarcely disciplined; they got drunk, and they robbed; but
what sufferings had they not already endured, and what excuses there
were for them in the Downfall of the entire nation! Among them there
remained but a small number of the glorious veterans of Sebastopol and
Solferino, mingled with men who were but lads, and incapable of any
prolonged resistance. These four army corps, hastily assembled and
reorganised, without any solid ties to bind them together, formed, so
to say, the army of despair, the expiatory flock which was to be sent
to the sacrifice in an endeavour to avert the anger of Destiny. And
this army must climb its Calvary to the bitter end, paying, with the
red flood of its blood, for the faults of everyone, and attaining to
fame by the very horror of the disasters that awaited it.

Meditating thus in the depths of the quivering darkness, Maurice became
conscious of the great duty that lay before him. He no longer indulged
the braggart hope of repeating the legendary victories. This march upon
Verdun was a march to Death, and he accepted it with stout and cheerful
resignation, since die he must.



CHAPTER IV

ON THE MARCH--THE SPY


The camp was raised on Tuesday, August 23, at six o'clock in the
morning, and the hundred thousand men of the army of Châlons set out
on the march, flowing away in an immense stream, like some human river
resuming its torrential course after expanding for a time into a lake.
Despite the rumours current the evening before, it was a thorough
surprise to many of the men to find that, instead of continuing their
movement of retreat, they now had to turn their backs on Paris, and
march towards the East--towards the Unknown.

At five o'clock in the morning, the Seventh Army Corps had not received
any cartridges. For two days past the artillerymen had been exhausting
themselves in removing their horses and _matériel_ from the railway
station, which was encumbered with supplies sent back from Metz. And
it was only at the last moment that the vans laden with the ammunition
were discovered among the fearful jumble of trains, and that a fatigue
company, of which Jean formed part, was able to remove some 240,000
cartridges in hastily requisitioned vehicles. Jean distributed the
regulation hundred cartridges to each of the men of his squad at the
very moment when Gaude, the company's bugler, began to sound the march.

The 106th did not have to pass through Rheims. Its orders were to skirt
the town and make for the Châlons high road. Once again, however, the
commanders had neglected to regulate the men's departure at proper
intervals, and, as the four army corps set out at the same time,
extreme confusion arose when they debouched from the various bye-roads
into the highways they were to follow in common. At every moment the
artillery and cavalry intercepted the infantry, and compelled the
latter to halt. Entire brigades had to wait for an hour in ploughed
fields, and with arms grounded, until the roads should become clear.
The worst was that a frightful storm burst some ten minutes after the
start--a perfect deluge, which fell during more than an hour, soaking
the men to the skin and rendering their heavy capotes and knapsacks
still more oppressive. The 106th, however, was able to resume its march
just as the rain was ceasing; whilst some Zouaves, who were still
obliged to wait in a field hard by, devised, by way of taking patience,
a little pastime to amuse themselves--that of assailing one another
with balls of earth, huge lumps of mud, the splashing of which on the
uniforms of those who were hit provoked uproarious laughter. Almost
immediately afterwards the sun reappeared, the triumphant sun of a warm
August morning. Then gaiety returned, the men steamed--much as washing
steams before the fire--and they were soon dry, looking like so many
dirty dogs pulled out of a pond, and joking with one another respecting
the hard crusty mud that dangled from their red trousers. It was still
necessary to stop and wait at each cross road, but at last there came a
final halt at the end of one of the Rheims suburbs, just in front of a
tavern, which never seemed to empty.

It then occurred to Maurice to stand treat to the squad by way of
wishing them all good luck--'if you'll allow it, corporal,' said he.

After hesitating for a moment, Jean accepted a drop of something short.
Loubet and Chouteau were there, the latter slyly respectful since he
had seen Jean's fists so near his face; and Pache and Lapoulle were
there also, good fellows both of them, when others did not set them
agog. 'To your health, corporal!' said Chouteau, in an unctuous voice.

'To yours, and may we all bring our heads and feet back,' politely
replied Jean, amid an approving titter.

The others were starting, however, and Captain Beaudoin had already
drawn near, apparently greatly shocked, and bent on reprimanding the
tipplers, whereas Lieutenant Rochas, indulgent when his men were
thirsty, affected to look in another direction. And now they sped along
the road to Châlons, an endless ribbon, edged with trees and stretching
in a straight line right across the vast plain, with stubble extending
far away on either side, and dotted here and there with lofty ricks and
wooden mills, whose sails were turning. More to the north were rows
of telegraph posts, indicating other roads on which the dark lines
of other troops on the march could be discerned. Several regiments
also cut across the fields in dense masses. In the van, on the left,
a brigade of cavalry trotted along, quite dazzling in the sunlight.
And the entire horizon, at other times so blank, so mournfully empty
and limitless, became animated and populous with these streams of men
gushing forth from all directions, these apparently inexhaustible
myriads that poured, as it were, out of some gigantic ant-hill.

At about nine o'clock the 106th wheeled to the left, quitting the
road to Châlons for another straight, endless, ribbon-like highway,
conducting to Suippe. The men were marching in two open files, leaving
the centre of the road clear. The officers walked along there at their
ease, and Maurice noticed how strongly their thoughtful air contrasted
with the good humour and satisfied sprightliness of the men, who were
as pleased as children to find themselves on the march again. The squad
being almost at the head of the regiment, he also obtained a distant
view of M. de Vineuil, and was greatly struck by the gloomy carriage
of the colonel's tall, stiff frame, which swayed with the motion of
his horse. The band had been packed off to the rear among the sutlers'
carts. And accompanying the division came the ambulance vans and
equipage train, followed by the convoy of the entire army corps, the
forage waggons, the provision vans, the baggage waggons, a stream of
vehicles of every description, more than three miles in length, and
looking like an interminable tail when, at the few bends of the road,
it was possible to obtain any view of it. A herd of cattle brought up
the extreme rear in the far distance--a straggling drove of big oxen
stamping alone in a cloud of dust; the live, whip-driven meat, as it
were, of some warlike migratory people.

Meanwhile, Lapoulle from time to time hoisted up his knapsack by dint
of shrugging his shoulders. Under pretence that he was stronger than
his comrades, he was often laden with the utensils of the squad, such
as the large stew-pot and the water-can. On this occasion he had also
been entrusted with the company's spade, which he had been told it
was an honour to carry. He did not complain, however; in fact, he
was laughing at a song with which Loubet, the tenor of the squad,
was enlivening the long tramp. Loubet's knapsack, by the way, was
celebrated for its contents, which comprised something of everything:
linen, spare shoes, needles and thread, brushes, chocolate, a metal
cup, a spoon and fork, without counting the regulation provisions,
biscuits and coffee; and, although he also had his cartridges inside
it, and a rolled blanket, a shelter tent and pegs strapped to it
outside, the whole seemed to be wonderfully light, so accomplished was
he in the art of packing.

'A beastly part!' muttered Chouteau, from time to time, as he cast a
disdainful glance at the mournful plains of 'la Champagne pouilleuse.'

The vast expanses of chalky soil still stretched out on either side in
endless monotony. Not a farm nor a human being was to be seen; nothing
but some flights of crows dotting the grey immensity. Afar off, on the
left, some dark green pine woods crowned the gentle undulations that
limited the horizon; whilst on the right a long line of trees indicated
the course of the river Vesle; and on that side, for the last league or
so, some dense smoke had been seen rising from behind the hills, its
mingled coils at last blotting out the horizon with the huge, frightful
cloud of a conflagration.

'What's burning over there?' the men asked on every side.

The explanation promptly sped from the van to the rear of the column.
It was the camp of Châlons which had been blazing for two days past,
set on fire, as it was said, by the Emperor's orders, so that the
wealth of supplies gathered together there might not fall into the
enemy's hands. The rear-guard cavalry had been instructed to fire both
a huge wooden building called the Yellow Magazine, which was full of
tents, pickets, and matting, and another large closed shed known as
the New Magazine, in which shoes, blankets and mess utensils were
stored in sufficient quantities to equip another hundred thousand men.
The ricks of forage, which had also been fired, smoked like gigantic
torches; and the army, now marching across the vast, dreary plain,
became sadly silent at sight of the livid, whirling smoke-clouds, which
spread out from behind the distant hills, and slowly covered the sky
with a veil of irreparable mourning. Under the glaring August sun no
sound was to be heard save the regular tramp-tramp of the march, but
the men's faces were persistently turned towards the spreading smoke,
which during another league or so seemed to be pursuing the column as
though to enshroud it in the cloudy gloom of disaster.

Gaiety returned at the midday halt, when the men, whilst eating a
morsel, sat and rested on their knapsacks among some stubble. The large
square biscuits were simply intended for steeping in the _soupe_, but
the little round ones were for eating dry, and, being light and crisp,
were quite nice. Their only fault was that they made one terribly
thirsty. At his comrades' request, Pache now sang a hymn, which the
squad took up in chorus. Jean, smiling good-naturedly, let them do so,
whilst Maurice grew more and more confident at sight of the general
flow of spirits, the good order, and good humour that prevailed during
this first day of the march. And the remainder of the allotted distance
was accomplished in the same vigorous fashion, though the last five
miles proved very trying. They had left the village of Prosnes on their
right, and had quitted the high road to cut across some uncultivated
ground, a sandy _lande_ planted with copses of pine trees, between
which wound the entire division, followed by the interminable convoy,
the men sinking in the sand up to their ankles. The solitude now
seemed to have become more vast, and the only living creatures they
encountered were some emaciated sheep, guarded by a big black dog.

At last, at about four o'clock, the 106th halted at Dontrien, a village
on the banks of the Suippe. The little river meanders between tufts of
foliage, and the old church stands in a graveyard, which a gigantic
horse-chestnut tree fairly covers with its spreading shade. The
regiment pitched its tents in a sloping meadow on the left bank of the
stream. According to the officers, the four army corps would bivouac
that night along the line of the Suippe from Auberive to Heutrégiville,
by way of Dontrien, Béthiniville and Pont-Faverger, with a front
extending along a distance of nearly five leagues.

Gaude immediately sounded the call to rations, and Jean, the great
purveyor in ordinary, ever on the alert, had to hurry off, taking
Lapoulle with him. They returned in half an hour's time with a rib of
beef and a faggot of wood. Three oxen of the drove that followed in
the rear of the army had already been slaughtered and cut up. Lapoulle
then had to go off again to fetch the bread which had been baking since
noon in the village ovens. Excepting wine and tobacco, which were never
once distributed during the whole period, there was on this occasion an
abundance of everything.

Jean, on his return, had found Chouteau engaged in pitching the tent
with Pache's assistance. He looked at them for a moment like an
experienced old soldier who considered they were making a mess of the
job, and finally remarked: 'Well, that'll do since it's going to be
fine to-night. But if it were windy we should all be blown into the
river. I shall have to teach you how to pitch the tent properly.'

Then he thought of sending Maurice to fetch some water in the large
can, but he saw that the young fellow had seated himself on the grass,
and had taken off his shoe to examine his right foot. 'Hallo! what's
up?' asked Jean.

'The counter has rubbed the skin off my heel. My other shoes were going
to pieces, and at Rheims, stupidly enough, I chose these because they
were just my size. I ought to have taken a larger pair.'

Kneeling down, Jean took hold of Maurice's foot and turned it round as
gently as though he were dealing with a child. 'It isn't a laughing
matter,' he said, shaking his head; 'you must be careful. A soldier who
can't depend on his feet may just as well be chucked on a rubbish heap.
My captain was always saying, out in Italy, that battles are won with
men's legs.'

Thereupon, Jean sent Pache to fetch the water, which, after all, was an
easy task, since the river was only some fifty yards away. Meantime,
Loubet, having lighted the wood in a hole which he had dug in the
ground, was able to set the large pot upon it, dropping the meat, which
he had skilfully secured together with string, into the warm water.
Then came the blissful enjoyment of watching the _soupe_ boil. Fatigue
duties being over, all the men of the squad, full of tender solicitude
for the cooking meat, had stretched themselves on, the grass around the
fire. Like children and savages, brutified by this march towards the
Unknown with its uncertain morrow, they now seemed to care for nothing
but eating and sleeping.

Maurice, however, had found in his knapsack one of the newspapers he
had bought at Rheims, and Chouteau on seeing it exclaimed: 'Is there
any news of the Prussians? You must read it to us.'

Under Jean's steadily increasing authority the men were now getting
on fairly well together; and Maurice obligingly began to read all
the interesting news, whilst Pache, the squad's needlewoman, mended
a tear in his overcoat for him, and Lapoulle cleaned his gun. First
of all there was an account of a great victory gained by Bazaine, who
was said to have thrown an entire Prussian army corps headlong into
the stone quarries of Jaumont; and this imaginary narrative[20] was a
dramatically circumstantial one; the enemy's men and horses were said
to have been crushed to death among the rocks, annihilated in fact, to
such a degree, that not one whole body was left for burial! Then came
copious particulars respecting the pitiful condition of the German
armies since they had entered France. Badly fed and badly equipped, the
men had fallen into a state of complete destitution, and, stricken with
fearful maladies, were dying _en masse_ by the wayside. Another article
related that the King of Prussia had the diarrhœa, and that Bismarck
had broken his leg in jumping out of the window of an inn where some
Zouaves had almost caught him. That was capital! Lapoulle laughed from
ear to ear, whilst Chouteau and the others, who did not for one moment
entertain the shadow of a doubt, felt wondrous bold at the idea that
they would soon be picking up Prussians like sparrows in a field after
a hailstorm. But it was especially Bismarck's fall that amused them.
The Zouaves and the Turcos were plucky devils, and no mistake. All
sorts of legends were current concerning these fellows, who not merely
made Germany tremble but angered her as well. It was disgraceful, so
the German papers declared, that a civilised nation should employ
such savages in her defence. And although these so-called savages had
already been decimated at Frœschweiler, it seemed to the French as if
they were still intact and invincible.

Six o'clock was striking from the little steeple of Dontrien when
Loubet called: 'The _soupe_ is ready!' The squad seated itself devoutly
round the pot. At the last moment Loubet had been able to procure some
vegetables from a peasant living close by, so that the broth had a fine
scent of carrots and leeks, and was as soft to the palate as velvet.
Then Jean, the distributor, had to divide the meat into strictly equal
portions, for the men's eyes were aglow, and there would certainly have
been much growling had any one portion appeared to be in the smallest
degree larger than the others. Everything was devoured, the men gorging
themselves to their very eyes.

Even Maurice felt replete and happy, no longer thinking of his foot,
the smarting of which was passing away. He now accepted this brutish
comradeship, principles of equality being forced upon him, by the
physical needs of their common life. That night, too, he enjoyed the
same sound slumber as his five companions, the whole lot of them being
heaped together in the tent, well pleased at feeling themselves warm
whilst the dew was falling so abundantly outside. It should be added
that Lapoulle, egged on by Loubet, had removed some large armfuls of
straw from a neighbouring rick, and on this the six men snored as
comfortably as though they had been provided with feather beds. And
in the clear night, along the pleasant banks of the Suippe, flowing
slowly between the willows, the camp fires of those hundred thousand
men illumined the five leagues of plain from Auberive to Heutrégiville,
like trailing stars.

Coffee was made at sunrise, the grains being pounded in a platter
with the butt of a gun, and thrown into boiling water, to which a
drop of cold water was added in order to precipitate the grounds. The
sun rose that morning with regal magnificence, amid great clouds of
gold and purple. Maurice, however, no longer looked at the horizon
or the sky, and only Jean, like the thoughtful peasant he was, gazed
with an expression of uneasiness at this ruddy dawn which betokened
rain. Indeed, before they started, when the bread baked the day before
had been given out, and Loubet and Pache had fastened the three long
loaves which the squad received to their knapsacks, he blamed them for
having done so. The tents were already folded, however, and everything
had been strapped to the knapsacks, so that he was not listened to.
Six o'clock was striking from all the village steeples when the army
set out again, gallantly resuming its forward march in the early
hopefulness of this new day.

To reach the road from Rheims to Vouziers the 106th almost immediately
began cutting along by-ways and ascending slopes of stubble. This
lasted during more than an hour. Lower down, towards the north,
Béthiniville, where the Emperor was said to have slept, could be seen
embowered in trees. Then, on reaching the Vouziers road, they again
found themselves among plains similar to those of the day before. The
last sorry fields of 'la Champagne pouilleuse' were here spread out in
all their dispiriting monotony. A meagre stream, the Arne, now flowed
on the left, whilst the vast expanse of barren land stretched away on
the right, so flat that the distance of the horizon was considerably
increased. The soldiers passed through some villages, St. Clément,
with its only street winding along the road, and St. Pierre, a large
place inhabited by well-to-do folks, who had barricaded their doors and
windows. The men halted at about ten o'clock near another village, St.
Etienne, where, to their great delight, they were able to procure some
tobacco. The Seventh Corps had now become divided into several columns,
and the 106th marched on with merely a battalion of foot Chasseurs and
the reserve artillery behind it. Vainly did Maurice turn round at the
bends of the road, in the hope of seeing the immense convoy which had
so greatly interested him the day before; the herds were no longer
there, and he could only espy the cannon which--as they rolled over
this low level plain--looked larger than they really were, seeming not
unlike dark grasshoppers with unusually long legs.

After passing St. Etienne, however, the road became frightful; it
ascended by gentle winding slopes through large barren fields dotted
with little woods of pine trees, ever the same, and which, with
their foliage of a blackish green, looked infinitely mournful amid
the expanse of white soil. The troops had not passed through such
a desolate scene before. Badly metalled, moreover, and softened by
the last rains, the road was a perfect bed of mud, of liquefied grey
argil, to which the feet adhered as to pitch. The fatigue of marching
consequently became extreme, and the exhausted men no longer made way.
As a crowning worry, violent showers suddenly began to fall. But little
more was needed, and the artillery, which had stuck in the mire, would
have remained there.

Out of breath, and infuriated with his crushing burden, Chouteau, who
was carrying some rice distributed to the squad, flung it away at a
moment when he thought himself unobserved. But Loubet had seen him, and
remarked: 'That's a dirty trick to play, for it means short commons for
everyone.'

'Humbug!' replied Chouteau; 'there's plenty of everything, so we can
get some more when we halt.'

Influenced by this specious reasoning, Loubet, who was carrying the
bacon, rid himself of his burden in his turn.

Meantime, as his heel had again become inflamed, Maurice experienced
increasing suffering, and he dragged his leg along so painfully that
Jean, becoming more and more solicitous concerning him, ventured to
ask: 'Aren't you all right? Has it begun again?' Then, when a brief
halt was ordered, just to give the men breathing time, he proffered
some good advice: 'Take your shoes off and walk barefooted. The fresh
mud will take the smarting away.'

Indeed, in this fashion Maurice was able to keep up with the others
without much difficulty; and he felt profoundly grateful to Jean. It
was real luck that the squad should have such a corporal as that, a man
who had served before, and who was up to all the tricks of the trade:
an uncultured peasant, no doubt, but all the same a thorough good
fellow.

It was late when, after crossing the road from Châlons to Vouziers,
and diving by a rapid descent into the ravine of Semide, they reached
Contreuve, where they were to bivouac. The country was now changing;
they were already in the Ardennes, and from the far-stretching, barren
hills above the village, which were selected as the camping ground of
the Seventh Corps, one could discern the valley of the Aisne afar off,
obscured by the pale shower-laden clouds.

At six o'clock, as Gaude had not yet sounded the call to rations, Jean,
by way of occupying his time, and anxious, too, on account of the
strong wind which was rising, determined to pitch the tent himself.
He showed his men that they ought to select a somewhat sloping site,
fix the pegs slantwise, and dig a little trench round the canvas
for the rain-water to run into. On account of his foot Maurice was
exempted from all fatigue duties, and he simply looked on, surprised
at the intelligent skill which that sturdy, heavy-looking fellow Jean
displayed. For his own part, he was physically overcome by fatigue, but
his spirits were buoyed up by the hope that was now returning to every
heart. They had done a terrible lot of marching since leaving Rheims,
thirty-eight miles in two days. If they maintained the same speed,
going straight before them, they must certainly succeed in overthrowing
the second German army and joining hands with Bazaine, before the
third one, under the Crown Prince of Prussia, who was said to be at
Vitry-le-François, was able to reach Verdun.

'Hallo! Are they going to let us die of hunger?' asked Chouteau, when
seven o'clock came, and no rations had yet been distributed.

Jean had prudently told Loubet to light a fire and set the large pot,
full of water, on it; and as they had no wood he discreetly shut his
eyes whilst Loubet, by way of procuring some, tore down several palings
inclosing a neighbouring garden. When Jean began to talk, however, of
cooking some rice and bacon, it became necessary to confess that the
rice and bacon had remained behind, on the muddy road near St. Etienne.
Chouteau lied with effrontery, swearing that the packet of rice must
have slipped off his knapsack without his noticing it.

'You pigs!' exclaimed Jean, infuriated, 'to throw food away when there
are so many poor devils with their stomachs empty!'

Then, too, with regard to the bread, the men had not listened to him
at starting; and the three loaves fastened to the knapsacks had been
thoroughly soaked by the showers, softened to such a degree that they
were now like so much pap and quite uneatable. 'A nice pickle we're
in!' repeated Jean; 'we had everything we wanted, and now we haven't
even a crust! What hogs you fellows are!'

Just then a bugle call summoned the sergeants to orders, and the
melancholy-looking Sapin came in to inform the men of his section that,
as no distribution of rations could take place, they must content
themselves with their field supplies. The convoy, it was said, had
remained behind on the road on account of the bad weather, and the
drove of cattle had gone astray owing to conflicting orders. It was
learnt, later on, that as the Fifth and Twelfth Corps had marched
that day in the direction of Rethel, where head quarters were to
be established, all the provisions in the villages, as well as the
inhabitants, who were feverishly anxious to see the Emperor, had flowed
towards that town; so that the country lying before the Seventh Corps
was virtually drained of everything. There was no more meat, no more
bread, and there were even no more people. To make the destitution
complete, the commissariat supplies had been sent to Le Chêne Populeux
through a misunderstanding. Great throughout the campaign was the
despair of the wretched commissaries, against whom the soldiers were
for ever crying out, though, often enough, their only fault was that
they punctually reached appointed places where the troops never arrived.

'Yes, you dirty pigs!' repeated Jean, quite beside himself, 'it serves
you right! You are not deserving of the trouble I'm going to take to
try and find something for you; because, after all, it's my duty not
to let you kick the bucket on the road.' Thereupon he started on a
journey of discovery, like every good corporal should do under the
circumstances, taking with him Pache, whom he liked on account of his
gentleness, though he considered him far too fond of priests.

Meantime, Loubet had noticed a little farmhouse standing two or three
hundred yards away, one of the last houses of Contreuve, where, it
seemed to him, a good deal of business was being done. Calling Chouteau
and Lapoulle, he said to them: 'Let us have a try. I fancy we can get
some grub over there.'

Maurice was left to mount guard over the pot of boiling water, with
orders to keep the fire alight. He had seated himself on his blanket,
with his shoe off so that the sore on his heel might dry. He was
interested at the sight which the camp presented with all the squads
at sixes and sevens since they had learnt that there would be no
distribution of provisions. He became conscious that some of the troops
were always short of everything, whilst others lived in abundance; in
fact, it all depended on the foresight and skill of the corporals and
the men. Amid the stir and bustle around him, he noticed, on glancing
between the tents and the piles of arms, that some fellows had not even
been able to light a fire, and that others, resigning themselves to
circumstances, had already retired for the night; whilst others again,
on the contrary, were eating, he could not tell what, but doubtless
something nice, with keen appetite and relish. He was also struck by
the beautiful order that prevailed among the reserve artillery encamped
on a hill above him. As the sun set, it shone forth between two clouds,
casting a glow over the guns, which the artillerymen had already
carefully cleansed of all the mud that they had been splashed with
during the march.

Meantime the commander of the brigade, General Bourgain-Desfeuilles,
had installed himself comfortably at the little farmhouse whither
Loubet and his comrades had betaken themselves. The general had found
a fairly good bed there, and was seated before an omelet and a roast
fowl, which had put him in an excellent humour; and Colonel de Vineuil
having come to speak to him respecting some matter of detail, he had
invited him to stay and dine with him. So they both sat there eating,
waited upon by a big, fair fellow, who had only been three days in the
farmer's employ, and who declared himself to be an Alsatian refugee,
carried away in the rout of Frœschweiler. The general talked openly
in presence of this man, commented on the march of the troops, and
then, forgetting that the fellow did not belong to the Ardennes, began
questioning him respecting the roads and the distances. Painfully
affected by the thorough ignorance which the general's questions
revealed, the colonel, who, for his part, had formerly resided at
Mézières, supplied some precise particulars, whereupon the general
vented his feelings in the exclamation: 'How idiotic it all is! How can
one fight in a country one knows nothing whatever about?'

The colonel made a vague, despairing gesture. He knew very well that
maps of Germany had been distributed to all the officers as soon as
ever war was declared, whereas not one of them had a map of France in
his possession. All that the colonel had seen and heard during the past
month, had contributed to overwhelm him. Somewhat weak, and of limited
capacity, liked rather than feared by his men, he no longer felt able
to exercise authority; of all his powers, courage alone remained to him.

'Can't one even dine quietly?' suddenly shouted the general. 'What are
they brawling about? Here, you, the Alsatian, go and see what it all
means.'

The farmer, however, made his appearance, exasperated, gesticulating
and sobbing. He was being plundered--some Chasseurs and Zouaves were
pillaging his house. Being the only person in the village who had any
eggs, potatoes, and rabbits to dispose of, he had been foolish enough
to think of doing a bit of trade. Without cheating the men overmuch,
he pocketed their money and handed over his goods; so much so that his
customers, becoming more and more numerous, at last quite bewildered
and overwhelmed him, and ended by pushing him aside and taking whatever
they could lay their hands on without paying him another copper. If
so many peasants, during the war, hid all they possessed and refused
the soldiers at times even a drink of water, it was through fear of
the slow, irresistible onslaught of some such human tide, which, once
admitted, might sweep them out of doors and carry away their homes.

'Ah! my good fellow, just let me be!' replied the general to the
complaining farmer, with an air of displeasure. 'We should have
to shoot a dozen of those rascals every day, and we can't do it.'
Thereupon he ordered the door to be shut, so that he might not be
obliged to act rigorously, whilst the colonel explained that no rations
having been distributed, the men were hungry.

Meantime, Loubet had found a field of potatoes near the house, and had
rushed at it in company with Lapoulle, both of them tearing up the
plants, grubbing up the potatoes with their hands, and filling their
pockets with them. But on hearing Chouteau, who was looking over a
low wall, whistle to them to approach, they ran up, and at the sight
they beheld vented their feelings in exclamations. A flock of a dozen
magnificent geese was promenading majestically in a narrow courtyard.
The men at once held council, and Lapoulle was prevailed upon to jump
over the wall. There was a terrible fight; the goose he seized almost
bit off his nose with its terrible shear-like bill, whereupon he caught
it by the neck and tried to strangle it, whilst it dug its powerful
webbed feet into his arms and stomach. At last he had to crush its head
with a blow of his sturdy fist, but even then it continued struggling
and he made all haste to decamp, followed by the other birds of the
flock, who were tearing his legs.

As the three men returned, with the goose and the potatoes stowed away
in a sack, they met Jean and Pache coming back, well pleased, on their
side, with the result of their expedition, for they were laden with
four new loaves and a cheese, purchased of a worthy old peasant woman.
'The water's boiling, so we'll make some coffee,' said the corporal.
'We have some bread and some cheese--it'll be a regular feast.'

But he suddenly perceived the goose stretched out at his feet, and
could not help laughing. He felt the bird in a knowing way, and was
quite overcome with admiration. 'The devil!' said he, 'she's plump and
no mistake. She must weigh about twenty pounds.'

'We happened to meet her,' explained Loubet with that waggish air of
his, 'and she desired to make our acquaintance.'

Jean waved his hand, as much as to say that he did not wish to know any
more. Men must live, and, besides, why shouldn't these poor devils, who
could hardly remember what poultry tasted like, have a bit of a treat
once in a way? Loubet was already lighting a bright fire, whilst Pache
and Lapoulle tore the feathers off the bird, and Chouteau ran up to
the artillery camp to ask for a piece of string. When he returned he
hung the goose from a couple of bayonets in front of the bright fire,
and Maurice was appointed to give it a dig now and then, so as to make
it turn. The fat fell into the squad's platter placed underneath, and
the entire regiment, attracted by the savoury smell, formed a circle
around. And what a feast there was! Roast goose, boiled potatoes,
bread and cheese! When Jean had cut up the bird, the squad began
gorging. There was no question of portions, they one and all tucked
away till they could eat no more; and a piece was even presented to the
artillerymen who had provided the string.

It happened that evening that the officers of the regiment had to fast.
Owing to wrong directions, the sutler's van had gone astray; it had
no doubt followed the great convoy. Although the men suffered when no
rations were given out, they generally ended by securing something
to eat--they helped one another, the soldiers of each squad shared
whatever they happened to have; but the officer, isolated, left to his
own resources, had no alternative but to starve when the canteen did
not turn up. Accordingly, Chouteau, who had heard Captain Beaudoin
complaining of the disappearance of the provision van, began to sneer
and jeer when--whilst tackling some of the goose's carcass--he saw
the captain pass by with a proud, stiff air. 'Look at him,' he said,
tipping the others a wink. 'See how he's sniffing. He'd give five
francs for the parson's nose.'

They all began to laugh at the captain's hunger, for he was not popular
among his men; they considered him too young and too severe, too
prone to reprimand them unnecessarily. It seemed for a moment as if
he intended to reprove the squad for the scandal which that goose of
theirs was causing; but the fear no doubt of showing how hungry he was,
induced him to walk off with his head erect as if he had seen nothing.
As for Lieutenant Rochas, who was also feeling terribly hungry, he
meandered round the fortunate squad, laughing in a good-natured way. He
was greatly liked by his men, first because he execrated that puppy,
the captain, who owed his rank as an officer to his attendance at the
military school of St. Cyr, and, secondly, because in time past he
had carried the knapsack like themselves. And yet he was not always a
pleasant customer to deal with, being at times so coarse and insulting
in his language that he positively deserved cuffing. After exchanging
glances with his comrades, by way of consulting them, Jean rose up and
induced Rochas to follow him behind the tent. 'Beg pardon, sir,' he
said, 'but without offending you, may we offer you some of this?' And
thereupon he passed him a large piece of bread with a platter on which
was one of the goose's legs, atop of half a dozen large potatoes.

Again that night the squad needed no rocking to sleep. The six men
digested that bird with their fists clenched. They owed thanks to the
corporal for the firm manner in which he had pitched their tent, for
they were not even aware of a violent squall which blew over the camp
at about two o'clock in the morning, accompanied by driving rain. Some
tents were carried away, and the men, starting from their sleep, were
soaked through, and had to run hither and thither in the darkness; but
the squad's tent resisted the onslaught of the wind, and the men were
comfortably under cover with not a drop of water to inconvenience them,
thanks to the little trenches into which the rain dribbled.

Maurice awoke at daybreak, and, as the march was not to be resumed
before eight o'clock, he decided to climb the hill where the reserve
artillery was encamped, so as to shake hands with his cousin Honoré.
After that good night's rest his foot caused him less pain. He was
struck with admiring astonishment on seeing how well the park was
dressed, the six guns of each battery correctly aligned and followed by
the caissons, ammunition, and forage vans, and field smithies. Farther
off, the picketed horses were neighing with their heads turned towards
the rising sun. And Maurice immediately found Honoré's tent, thanks to
the orderly system that allots one row of tents to the men of each gun;
so that the number of guns is clearly indicated by the aspect of an
artillery encampment.

The artillerymen were already up, and were taking their coffee, when
Maurice arrived and found that a quarrel had broken out between
Adolphe, the front driver, and his chum Louis, the gunner. They had
got on very well together, except with regard to messing, during the
three years that they had chummed together--according to the system
by which, in the French artillery, a driver and a gunner are coupled.
Louis, who was very intelligent, and the better educated of the two,
cheerfully accepted the state of dependence in which every mounted man
keeps the footman his comrade, and he pitched the tent, performed the
fatigue duties, and looked after the _soupe_, whilst Adolphe, with an
air of superiority, simply attended to his two horses. At the same
time, however, Louis, who was dark and thin and afflicted with an
excessive appetite, revolted when his comrade, a tall fellow with bushy
fair moustaches, presumed to help himself like a master. That morning,
for instance, the quarrel had arisen through Louis accusing Adolphe of
drinking all the coffee which he, Louis, had made. It became necessary
to reconcile them.

Every morning, immediately after the reveille, Honoré went to have a
look at his gun, and saw that the night dew was carefully wiped from
it in his presence, just as though it were a question of rubbing down
some favourite horse, for fear lest it should catch cold. And he was
standing there, like a father, watching the gun shine in the clear
atmosphere of the dawn, when he recognised Maurice: 'Hallo!' he said;
'I knew that the 106th was near by. I received a letter from Remilly,
yesterday, and I meant to have gone down to you. Let's go and drink a
cup of white wine.'

So that they might be alone together, he took him towards the little
farmhouse plundered the day before, whose peasant owner, altogether
incorrigible and still eager for gain, had now tapped a cask of
white wine in view of playing the taverner. He served the liquor
on a plank outside his door, at a charge of four _sous_ the glass,
being assisted in the work by the man whom he had engaged three days
previously, the colossal, fair-haired Alsatian. Honoré and Maurice were
already chinking glasses, when the eyes of the former fell upon the
so-called refugee. For an instant he scanned his face with an air of
stupefaction. Then he swore a terrible oath: 'By the thunder of God!
Goliath!'

He sprang forward, wishing to seize the scamp by the throat, but the
farmer, imagining that his house was about to be pillaged afresh,
darted back and barricaded the door. There was a moment's confusion,
and all the soldiers present rushed forward, whilst the infuriated
quartermaster almost choked himself with shouting: 'Open! open! you
cursed fool! The fellow's a spy; I tell you, he's a spy!'

Maurice no longer doubted it. He had fully recognised the man who
had been set at liberty at the camp of Mulhausen for lack of proof
against him, and this man was Goliath, whom old Fouchard of Remilly
had formerly employed. When the farmer, however, was at last prevailed
upon to open his door, they searched the farm in vain, the so-called
Alsatian had disappeared. That good-natured looking, fair-haired
colossus, whom General Bourgain-Desfeuilles had questioned to no
purpose whilst dining the day before, and in whose presence he had
carelessly confessed his own ignorance and bewilderment, had gone off!
The rascal had no doubt jumped out by a back window, which was found
open, but it was in vain that they scoured the surrounding fields; huge
though he was, the fellow had vanished like smoke.

Maurice was obliged to lead Honoré away, for in his despair the
quartermaster was on the point of telling his comrades more than was
advisable of certain sad family affairs which they had no need to know.
'Thunder! I should have so liked to strangle him!' said Honoré; 'I was
the more enraged against him on account of the letter I've received.'
Then, as they had both seated themselves against a rick at a few steps
from the farmhouse, he handed the letter in question to Maurice.

That love affair between Honoré Fouchard and Silvine Morange was but
the old, old story. She, a dark-complexioned girl, with beautiful
submissive eyes, had, when very young, lost her mother, a workwoman
employed at a factory at Raucourt. She was a natural child, and Dr.
Dalichamp, her godfather, a worthy man who was always ready to adopt
the offspring of the poor creatures he attended, had found her a
situation as servant girl with Fouchard, the father. The old peasant,
who in his eagerness for gain had turned butcher, hawking his meat
through a score of surrounding villages, was certainly frightfully
avaricious, and a pitiless hard master as well; but the doctor reasoned
that he would watch over the girl, and that she, providing she worked
well, would at all events not lack her daily bread. In any case, she
would escape the loose life of the factory. Then it naturally came
to pass that young Fouchard and the little servant girl fell in love
with one another. Honoré was sixteen when she was twelve, and when
she was sixteen he was twenty. Then, when he drew his number at the
conscription, he was delighted to find it a good one, and determined to
marry her. There had never been any impropriety between them; Honoré
was, indeed, of a calm, thoughtful disposition, and at the most they
had kissed each other in the barn. However, when Honoré broached the
subject of the marriage to his father, the latter was exasperated, and
stubbornly declared that it should not take place whilst he was living.
Still, he kept the girl in his service, thinking, perhaps, that the
young fellow's fancy would pass off; hoping, too, possibly, for things
that did not happen. Two years went by, and Honoré and Silvine still
loved each other, and longed to marry; but at last there was a terrible
scene between the father and the son, and the latter, unable to remain
any longer in the house, enlisted, and was sent to Algeria, whilst
the old man obstinately kept his servant girl, with whom he was well
satisfied.

Then came to pass that frightful thing that wrecked poor Silvine's
life. She had sworn to wait for Honoré, but a fortnight after his
departure she became the prey of Goliath Steinberg--the Prussian, as he
was called--a tall, genial-looking chap, with short, fair hair, and a
pink, smiling face, who had been in Fouchard's employ as farm-hand for
some months already, and had become Honoré's comrade and confidant. Had
old Fouchard stealthily brought this to pass? Had there been seduction
or violence? Silvine herself no longer knew; she was overwhelmed.
Becoming _enceinte_, however, she accepted the necessity of marrying
Goliath, and he, with a smiling face, agreed to it; but he repeatedly
postponed the date of the ceremony, until at last, on the very eve of
Silvine's accouchement, he suddenly disappeared. It was reported later
on that he had found a situation at another farm in the direction of
Beaumont. Since then three years had elapsed, and nobody at Remilly
imagined that this worthy fellow, Goliath, so attentive to the girls,
was simply one of the spies with whom Germany had peopled the Eastern
provinces of France. When Honoré in Algeria heard of what had happened,
it was as if the fierce tropical sun had stretched him prostrate by
dealing him a burning blow on the nape of the neck. He remained for
three months in the hospital, but would never apply for a furlough to
go home, through fear lest he should again meet Silvine and see her
child.

The artilleryman's hands trembled whilst Maurice was reading the
letter. It was a letter from Silvine, the first and only one she had
ever written to him. What feeling had prompted her to write it--she,
so submissive and silent, but whose beautiful black eyes acquired
at times an expression of wondrous resolution, despite her perpetual
servitude? She simply said that she knew he had gone to the war, and
that as she might never see him again she felt too much sorrow at the
thought that he might die fancying she no longer loved him; but she did
love him, and had never loved anyone but him; and she repeated this,
over and over again, throughout four long pages, constantly making use
of the same words, but not seeking to excuse herself or even to explain
what had happened. And not a word did she say of the child; her letter
was but a farewell, full of infinite tenderness.

Maurice, in whom his cousin had formerly confided, felt deeply touched
on reading what Silvine had written. On raising his eyes, he saw that
Honoré was in tears, and he embraced him like a brother. 'My poor
Honoré,' he said.

The quartermaster was already gulping down his emotion, however, and he
carefully replaced the letter on his chest, and then again buttoned up
his uniform. 'Yes,' he said, 'it upsets one. Ah! if I could only have
strangled that bandit! Well, we shall see.'

The bugles were now sounding the signal for raising the camp, and they
both had to run to their tents. The preparations for departure dragged
on, however, and the men had to wait till nearly nine o'clock before
receiving orders to start. Hesitation seemed to have again seized
hold of the commanders: there was no more of that fine resolution
shown during the first two days, when the Seventh Corps had covered
eight-and-thirty miles in a couple of marches. Singular and disquieting
information had been circulating since daybreak; the other three
army corps, it appeared, had been marching northward, the First to
Juniville, and the Fifth and the Twelfth to Rethel, an illogical march
which could only be explained by a need of obtaining supplies. Were
they not to continue their advance upon Verdun? Why was a day lost?
The worst was that the Prussians could not be far off, now, for the
officers had warned their men not to straggle, as any laggards might be
carried off by the reconnoitring parties of the enemy's cavalry.

It was now the 25th of August, and subsequently, on recollecting
Goliath's disappearance, Maurice felt convinced that this scamp was one
of the men who supplied the enemy's staff with the precise information
respecting the march of the army of Châlons, which determined the
sudden change of front carried out by the third German army. The Crown
Prince left Revigny on the very next day, and the necessary evolutions
at once began for that flank attack, that gigantic scheme of encircling
the French troops by dint of forced marches, effected in admirable
order through Champagne and the Ardennes. Whilst the French were
hesitating and oscillating on the spot where they found themselves, as
though suddenly struck with paralysis, the Germans, surrounded by an
immense circle of light cavalry beating the country, marched as many
as twenty-five miles a day, driving the flock of men whom they were
hunting towards the forests on the frontier.[21]

However, the Seventh Corps set out at last, on that morning of the
25th of August, and, wheeling to the left, simply covered the two
short leagues separating Contreuve from Vouziers; whilst the Fifth and
Twelfth Corps remained at Rethel, and the First halted at Attigny.
Between Contreuve and the valley of the Aisne there were some more
plains as barren as ever. As the men approached Vouziers, the road
wound between stretches of grey soil and desolate hillocks, without
a house or even a tree in sight, nothing but mournful desert-like
scenery; and the march, short as it was, was accomplished in a weary,
dispirited fashion, which lengthened it terribly. At noon the 106th
halted on the left bank of the Aisne, the men forming their bivouacs
on high barren ground, the last spurs of which overlooked the valley.
Thence they kept watch over the Monthois road, which skirts the river,
and by which they expected to see the enemy appear.

Maurice was altogether stupefied when he suddenly noticed General
Margueritte's division--all the reserve cavalry, charged to support the
Seventh Corps and to reconnoitre on the army's left flank--approaching
by way of this Monthois road. It was rumoured that it was proceeding
up-country towards Le Chêne Populeux. But what could be the object in
thus weakening the Seventh Corps, the only wing of the army that was
threatened? Why were these two thousand horsemen, who should have been
sent to reconnoitre the country for leagues around, suddenly ordered
to the very centre of the French forces, where they could be of no use
whatever? The worst was that they came up in the midst of the manœuvres
which the Seventh Corps was executing, and almost cut its columns in
twain--men, guns, and horses being mingled in inextricable confusion.
Some of the Chasseurs d'Afrique had to wait a couple of hours just
outside Vouziers.

Whilst they were there, Maurice chanced to recognise Prosper, who had
halted his horse beside a pool, and they were able to have a short chat
together. The Chasseur seemed dazed and stupefied; he had understood
nothing and seen nothing since leaving Rheims--yes, though, he had, he
had seen another couple of Uhlans, beggars who appeared and disappeared
without anyone knowing where they came from or whither they went.
All manner of stories were already being told of them; four Uhlans
galloped into a town with revolvers in their hands, rode through it,
and conquered it, twelve miles ahead of their army corps. They were
everywhere, preceding the columns like buzzing bees, forming, so to
say, shifting curtains, behind which the infantry dissembled its
movements and marched along in perfect security as in time of peace.
And Maurice felt a pang at his heart as he glanced at the road covered
with Chasseurs and Hussars, whose services were so indifferently
utilised.

'Well, till we meet again,' said he, shaking hands with Prosper;
'perhaps they need you up there all the same.'

But the Chasseur seemed disgusted with the sorry work he was ordered
to do, and as he stroked Zephyr with a mournful air, he answered:
'Oh, humbug! they kill the horses and do nothing with the men. It's
disgusting.'

That evening, when Maurice took off his shoe to look at his heel, which
was throbbing quite feverishly, he tore away a piece of skin. Some
blood spurted from the wound, and he gave a cry of pain. Jean, who
was there, was affected with anxious compassion: 'I say, it's getting
serious,' he exclaimed; 'you'll be laid up. It must be attended to. Let
me see to it.'

Kneeling down, he then washed the sore, and dressed it with a strip of
clean linen, which he took out of his knapsack. There was something
motherly in his gestures; he displayed all the gentleness of an
experienced man whose big fingers can acquire a delicate touch whenever
occasion requires. An invincible feeling of affection stole over
Maurice, and his eyes became dim. It was as if he had found a brother
in this peasant, whom he had formerly execrated, and whom he had still
despised only the day before. 'You're a good fellow,' he said. 'Thanks,
old man.'

Then Jean, looking very happy, responded with his quiet smile: 'Now,
youngster, I've still some tobacco left. Will you have a cigarette?'



CHAPTER V

IN BATTLE ARRAY--THE NIGHT OF THE CRIME


When Maurice rose on the morrow, August 26, he was aching all over,
and his shoulders were quite sore after that night spent in the tent.
He was not yet accustomed to sleeping on the hard ground, and as
orders had been issued the previous evening forbidding the men to
take off their shoes, and the sergeants had gone round feeling in the
darkness to make sure that everyone was properly shod and gaitered,
his foot was scarcely any better, being still painful and feverishly
hot. Besides, he must have caught cold in his legs when he had allowed
them to project beyond the canvas in view of stretching himself. Jean
immediately said to him: 'If we are marching to-day you would do well
to see the major,[22] and get him to put you into one of the vans.'

Nothing certain was known, however; the most contradictory rumours
were current. At one moment it was thought they were about to resume
their march, for the camp was raised and the army corps passed through
Vouziers, leaving only a brigade of the Second Division on the left
bank of the Aisne, to continue watching the road from Monthois. Then,
on reaching the right bank, on the other side of the town, the men
were suddenly halted, and arms were piled in the fields and meadows
extending right and left of the road to Grand-Pré. At this moment the
departure of the 4th Hussars, who set out along this Grand-Pré road at
a fast trot, gave rise to all sorts of conjectures.

'If the regiment remains here, I shall stay with you,' declared
Maurice, who did not at all care for that idea of the major and the
ambulance van.

They soon learned, indeed, that they were to encamp there until General
Douay had obtained precise information respecting the enemy's march.
Since the day before--since he had seen Margueritte's division proceed
up-country towards Le Chêne Populeux--the general's anxiety had been
increasing, for he knew that he was no longer covered, that there was
no longer a single man guarding the defiles of the Argonne, and that
consequently he might be attacked at any moment. On this account he had
just despatched the 4th Hussars to reconnoitre the country as far as
the defiles of Grand-Pré and La Croix-aux-Bois, with orders to procure
him some information at any cost.

Bread, meat and forage had been given out the day before, thanks to
the energy of the Mayor of Vouziers; and that morning, at about ten
o'clock, orders had just been issued that the men might cook their
_soupe_--since they might not be able to do so later on--when a general
flutter was occasioned by the departure of some more troops, General
Bordas's brigade, which took the same road as the Hussars. What was
up? Were they all going to start? Wouldn't they be allowed to have a
quiet meal now that the pots were on the fires? Some of the officers
thereupon explained that Bordas's brigade had simply received orders to
occupy Buzancy, a few miles away, whilst others, it must be admitted,
asserted that the Hussars had come in contact with a large force of the
enemy's cavalry, and that the brigade had been sent to the front to
extricate them.

Maurice now enjoyed a few delightful hours of repose. He had stretched
himself out in a field, where the regiment was encamped halfway up the
height, and, numbed as it were with fatigue, he lay there gazing over
the verdant valley of the Aisne, with its meadows dotted with tufts of
trees through which the river slowly coursed. In front of him Vouziers
was reared, built in amphitheatral fashion, and closing the valley, its
roofs rising one above the other, crowned by the dome-covered tower and
the tapering steeple of the church. Down below, near the bridge, the
tannery chimneys were smoking, whilst at the other end of the town the
buildings of a large mill, white with flour, were to be seen among the
foliage on the river bank. And this view of the little town, rising
above the tall rushes, was in Maurice's eyes invested with a tender
charm as though he had again become a sensitive being, a dreamer. His
youth seemed to be coming back to him, the days long past which he had
spent at Vouziers at the time when his home was at Le Chêne, his native
place. For an hour or so he forgot everything else.

The _soupe_ had long since been eaten, and the men were still waiting,
when at about half-past two o'clock an increasing agitation spread
through the camp. Orders sped right and left, the meadows were
evacuated, and all the troops climbed and ranged themselves on the
hills between a couple of villages, Chestres and Falaise, lying some
two or three miles apart. The Engineers at once began digging trenches
and raising breast-works, whilst the reserve artillery placed itself
on the left, crowning a hillock there. A rumour spread that General
Bordas had just sent an estafette to say that having encountered
superior forces at Grand-Pré he was forced to fall back on Buzancy,
which made one fear that his line of retreat on Vouziers might soon be
intercepted. The commander of the Seventh Corps, believing an attack
imminent, had therefore decided to place his men in position so that he
might withstand the onslaught until the remainder of the army came up
to support him; and one of his aides-de-camp had already started off
with a letter, informing Marshal MacMahon of the situation, and asking
him for help. Then, fearing the embarrassment which might be occasioned
by that interminable convoy of supplies, which had again joined the
corps during the night, the general set it in motion at once, ordering
it, in haphazard fashion, to proceed in the direction of Chagny. All
this meant fighting.

'So it's serious, sir, this time?' Maurice ventured to ask Lieutenant
Rochas.

'Oh, yes, ---- it!' replied the lieutenant waving his long arm; 'you'll
see how hot it will be by-and-by.'

All the men were delighted. Since the line of battle had been formed
from Chestres to Falaise the animation of the camp had become still
greater, and feverish impatience was seizing hold of the men. At last,
then, they were about to see those Prussians, whom the newspapers
described as being worn out with marching and exhausted by disease, who
were said to be famished and clad in rags; and the hope of overthrowing
them at the first brush raised everybody's courage.

'So we've found one another at last, and a good job too,' said Jean.
'We've been playing at hide and seek quite long enough; ever since we
lost each other near the frontier, after that battle. But are these the
ones who beat MacMahon?'

Maurice hesitated, and was unable to answer. According to what he
had read at Rheims, it seemed to him difficult that the third German
army, commanded by the Crown Prince of Prussia, could be at Vouziers
when a couple of days previously it appeared to have encamped in the
vicinity of Vitry-le-François. There had certainly been some mention
of a fourth army, under the orders of the Crown Prince of Saxony,
which was to operate on the Meuse; and probably it was this one that
they were about to encounter, though the rapidity of the occupation of
Grand-Pré astonished him, as the Meuse was so far away. Maurice's ideas
became altogether confused, however, when, to his stupefaction, he
heard General Bourgain-Desfeuilles asking a peasant of Falaise whether
the Meuse did not pass by Buzancy, and whether there were not some
strong bridges there. Moreover, in his serene ignorance, the general
asserted that they were about to be attacked by a column of one hundred
thousand men coming from Grand-Pré, whilst another of sixty thousand
was advancing by way of Ste. Menehould.

'And your foot?' asked Jean, addressing Maurice.

'I no longer feel it,' the latter replied, with a laugh. 'If we fight,
I shall be all right.'

This was true; such intense nervous excitement buoyed him up that he
no longer seemed to tread the ground. To think that he had not burnt
a cartridge since the campaign began! He had marched to the frontier,
he had spent that terrible night of anguish before Mulhausen, without
seeing a Prussian, without firing a shot; and then he had been obliged
to retreat, first to Belfort, and then to Rheims; and now for five
days past he had again been marching to meet the enemy, and his
chassepot was still immaculate, unused. He experienced an increasing
need, a slowly gathering longing to level his gun and fire at anyone
or anything, in order to ease his nerves. During the six weeks or
so that had elapsed since he had enlisted in a spasm of enthusiasm,
imagining that he would fight the very next day, he had only employed
his poor delicate feet in running away and tramping along, afar from
any field of battle. Thus it happened that amid the feverish expectancy
of the entire corps, he was one of those who consulted with the most
impatience that Grand-Pré road, which stretched far away into the
distance in a straight line between two rows of lovely trees. The
valley where the Aisne coursed like a silver ribbon among the poplars
and the willows, was spread out below him; but his eyes returned
perforce to the road lying yonder.

There was an alert at about four o'clock. The 4th Hussars came back
after a long round, and stories of some encounters they had had with
Uhlans, repeated with increasing exaggeration by all who heard them,
began to circulate; confirming everyone in the impression that an
attack was imminent. A couple of hours later a fresh estafette arrived
with a scared look, and explained that General Bordas no longer dared
to leave Grand-Pré, as he was convinced that the road to Vouziers was
cut. This was not yet the case, since the estafette had been able
to pass without hindrance; still it might occur at any moment, and
accordingly General Dumont, the commander of the division, set out with
his remaining brigade to extricate the other. The sun was now setting
behind Vouziers, whose roofs stood out blackly against a large red
cloud. For a long time the men in camp were able to see the brigade as
it marched along between the rows of trees, but at last it faded from
sight in the growing darkness.

When Colonel de Vineuil came to make sure that his men were in good
positions for the night, he was astonished not to find Captain Beaudoin
at his post. The captain arrived, however, from Vouziers at that very
moment, and when by way of excusing himself he explained that he had
been lunching at Baroness de Ladicourt's, in the town, he received
a severe reprimand, which, it must be admitted, he listened to in
silence, in the irreproachable attitude of a smart officer.

'My lads,' the colonel repeated, as he passed among his men, 'we
shall no doubt be attacked to-night or certainly to-morrow morning at
daybreak. Mind you are ready, and remember that the 106th has never
retreated.'

They all acclaimed him; and indeed, in the weariness and discouragement
that had been growing upon them since their departure from Rheims
they all longed to finish matters with a tussle. The chassepots were
examined and the needles changed; and then, as they had eaten their
_soupe_ in the morning, the men contented themselves, that night,
with some coffee and biscuit. They received orders not to turn in;
and picket guards were stationed at some sixteen hundred yards from
the camp, whilst sentinels were placed as far away as the banks of
the Aisne. The officers sat up watching around the camp fires; by the
leaping glow of one of which, near a low wall, it was possible to
distinguish every now and then the embroidery on the garish uniforms
worn by the commander-in-chief and his staff, together with shadows
that moved rapidly and anxiously, hastening at times towards the road
to listen there for the sound of horses' hoofs--so intense was the
disquietude concerning the fate of the Third Division.

At about one in the morning Maurice was stationed as sentry at the
edge of a field of plum trees, between the road and the river. The
night was as black as ink, and as soon as he found himself alone in the
overwhelming silence of the sleeping country he felt a sensation of
fear take possession of him, a terrible fear which he had never before
experienced, and which he was unable to conquer, despite a tremor of
anger and shame. He turned round in the hope that the sight of the
camp fires would tranquillise him, but they were hidden by a little
wood, and only a sea of darkness stretched behind him, save that at a
great distance away a few solitary lights shone out from the houses of
Vouziers, whose inhabitants, warned, no doubt, of the state of affairs,
and shuddering at the idea of the approaching battle, had not retired
to rest. What completed Maurice's fright was that on levelling his
chassepot he found that he could not even distinguish its sight. Then
began a cruel spell of waiting, with all the faculties of his being
centred in the sense of hearing--his ears open to almost imperceptible
sounds, and filling at last with a thunderous uproar. The trickling
of some distant water, the light stir of some leaves, the spring of
an insect--all acquired a deafening sonority. Was not that the gallop
of horses, the continuous rumble of artillery coming straight towards
him from over yonder? What was that sound he heard on the left--was
it not a cautious whisper, the stifled voices of some advanced guard
creeping forward in the darkness and preparing a surprise? On three
occasions he was on the point of firing to give the alarm. The fear
of being mistaken, of appearing ridiculous, increased his discomfort.
He had knelt down, resting his left shoulder against a tree, and it
seemed as if he had been there for hours, as if he had been forgotten
and the army had gone away without him. Then suddenly he no longer felt
frightened, but clearly distinguished the rhythmical tread of infantry
marching along the road, which he knew to be some two hundred yards
away. He immediately felt convinced that this was General Dumont,
bringing back Bordas's brigade, the troops who had remained in distress
at Grand-Pré, and whose return was so anxiously awaited. Just then he
was relieved, his sentry duty having barely lasted the regulation hour.

It was, indeed, the Third Division returning to the camp, and the
relief was immense. But at the same time more minute precautions were
taken, for the information brought back by the returning generals
confirmed all that the commander thought he knew respecting the enemy's
approach. A few prisoners had been brought in, some dark Uhlans, draped
in large cloaks, but these refused to answer the questions put to them.
The morning twilight, the lurid dawn of a rainy day was now rising amid
the unremitting expectancy, fraught with enervating impatience, that
filled every breast. For nearly fourteen hours the men had not dared
to close their eyes. At about seven o'clock Lieutenant Rochas related
that MacMahon was approaching with the entire army. The truth, however,
was that General Douay, in reply to his despatch of the previous day,
announcing that a battle near Vouziers was inevitable, had received a
letter from the marshal telling him to hold out until it was possible
to support him. The army's forward movement was now arrested, the
First Corps advanced upon Terron, and the Fifth on Buzancy, whilst the
Twelfth remained at Le Chêne, to form a second line there; and now the
general expectancy increased, no mere engagement was to be fought, but
a great battle, in which the entire army would participate, for which
purpose it was turning aside from the Meuse to march southwards through
the valley of the Aisne. The men again had to content themselves with
coffee and biscuit, their commanders not daring to let them cook their
_soupe_ since the tussle was for noon at the latest--at least so
everybody repeated, without knowing why. An aide-de-camp had just been
despatched to the marshal with the view of hastening the arrival of
the expected succour, since the approach of the two hostile armies was
becoming more and more certain; and three hours later another officer
galloped off to Le Chêne, where head quarters were established, to
ask for orders, so greatly had General Douay's disquietude increased
in consequence of the information brought him by a village mayor,
who declared he had seen a hundred thousand men at Grand-Pré, whilst
another hundred thousand were coming up by way of Buzancy.

Noon came, but there was still not a Prussian to be seen. One o'clock,
two o'clock passed, still nothing. Then lassitude came, and with it
doubt. In bantering voices the men began to jeer at their generals, who
had taken fright, perhaps, at sight of their own shadows on some wall.
It would be a charity to provide them with spectacles. Nice humbugs
they were to have set everybody agog for nothing! And a wag called out:
'Is it the same as it was at Mulhausen, then?'

On hearing this, Maurice, in the anguish of his recollections, felt a
pang at his heart. He remembered that foolish flight, that panic which
had carried the Seventh Corps ten leagues away, although not a single
German had shown himself! And the same affair was beginning again; he
was fully convinced of it. If the enemy had not attacked them, now that
four-and-twenty hours had elapsed since the skirmish of Grand-Pré, it
could only be that the 4th Hussars had simply come into collision with
some reconnoitring party of the enemy's cavalry. The hostile columns
must still be far off, perhaps a couple of days' march away. This idea
suddenly terrified Maurice, for he thought of all the time that the
French had lost. In three days they had barely covered a distance of
two leagues from Contreuve to Vouziers. On the 25th the other army
corps had marched northward, under pretence of obtaining supplies,
whilst now, on the 27th, they were descending southwards to accept a
battle that no one offered them. Following the 4th Hussars towards the
abandoned defiles of the Argonne, Bordas's brigade had fancied itself
lost; and this had entailed the immediate advance of the remainder of
the division that it belonged to, the immobilisation of the entire
Seventh Corps, and finally the southward march of the rest of the
army--all to no purpose! And Maurice reflected that each hour was of
incalculable value, given that mad plan of joining Bazaine, a plan
which only a general of genius could have executed with the help of
veterans, and provided that he rushed straight before him and through
every obstacle, like a blizzard.

'We are done for!' Maurice exclaimed, seized with despair in a sudden
brief flash of lucidity.

Then, as Jean, to whom he addressed himself, opened his eyes wide,
failing to understand him, he continued in an undertone, so that his
words might only reach the corporal's ear: 'The commanders are stupid
rather than malicious, that's certain, and they have no luck! They know
nothing, they foresee nothing, they have no plan, no ideas, no lucky
chances--Ah! everything's against us!'

The discouragement which possessed Maurice, and which he analysed like
an intelligent, well-educated man, was increasing and weighing more and
more heavily upon all the troops who were immobilised there, consumed
with waiting and expectation. Doubt and a presentiment of the truth
were dimly penetrating their sluggish brains; and there was not a man
among them, however limited his mental powers, who did not experience
an uneasy consciousness that he was badly commanded, and ought not to
have been where he was; though on the other hand he could not exactly
tell why it was that he felt so exasperated. What were they doing
there, good heavens! since the Prussians did not appear? Let them
either fight at once or go off somewhere where they could sleep in
peace. They had had quite enough of it. The anxiety went on increasing
every minute after the departure of the last aide-de-camp despatched
to Le Chêne for orders, and the men gathered together in groups and
discussed matters openly. Their agitation even gained the officers, who
did not know what to reply to those who were bold enough to question
them. And thus it came to pass that every breast was lightened as of a
grievous burden, and gave vent to a sigh of profound delight when, at
five o'clock, a report spread that the aide-de-camp had returned, and
that they were now about to fall back!

So prudence had at last gained the upper hand! The Emperor and
MacMahon, who had never been in favour of that advance on Montmédy,
and who felt uneasy at the news that they had again been outmarched
by the foe, and were about to find both the army of the Crown Prince
of Prussia and that of the Crown Prince of Saxony confronting them,
renounced all idea of that improbable junction with Bazaine, and
decided upon retreating by way of the northern strongholds, in such
a manner as to fall back eventually upon Paris. The Seventh Corps
received orders to proceed to Chagny by way of Le Chêne Populeux,
whilst the Fifth was to march on Poix, and the Fifth and Twelfth on
Vendresse. But if they were to fall back, why had they thus advanced to
the Aisne--why had so many days been lost--why had they been subjected
to so much fatigue, when it would have been so easy and so logical
for them, at the time they were at Rheims, to have taken up strong
positions forthwith in the valley of the Marne? Had their commanders no
managing capacity, no military talent, no common-sense even? However,
the men no longer took the trouble to question one another; they
forgave the past in their delight at the sensible decision which had
at last been arrived at--the only method by which they might extricate
themselves from the wasp's nest into which they had ventured. From the
generals down to the rank and file, one and all felt that they could
again recover strength--nay, prove invincible--under Paris, and that it
was there that they would beat the Prussians. But it was necessary to
evacuate Vouziers at daybreak, so that they might be on their march to
Le Chêne before being attacked, and the camp at once became the scene
of extraordinary animation, the bugles sounded and orders crossed,
whilst the baggage train and army-service convoy started in advance so
as to lighten the rear-guard.

Maurice was delighted, but while he was endeavouring to explain to
Jean the movement of the retreat which they were about to execute, he
suddenly gave vent to a cry of pain. His excitement had fallen, and he
again felt his foot weighing his leg down like lead. 'What's up? Has
it begun again?' asked the corporal, really grieved. Then, as an idea
came into that practical head of his, he added: 'Listen, youngster; you
told me yesterday that you had some friends at Le Chêne, the town where
we are going. Well, you ought to get the major's permission to drive
there. You would have a good night's rest in a comfortable bed, and
to-morrow, should you be able to walk better, we could take you up on
our way. Eh? Does that suit you?'

It so happened that Maurice had found an old friend of his father's at
Falaise, the village near which they were encamped; and this man, a
petty farmer, was about to take his daughter to Le Chêne, to confide
her to the care of an aunt there, and had a horse, harnessed to a light
cart, already waiting to start.

Matters nearly turned out badly, however, at the very first words that
Maurice addressed to Major Bouroche: 'I have injured my foot, _Monsieur
le docteur_,' he began.

On hearing this, Bouroche, shaking his large lion-like head, roared
out: 'I'm not _Monsieur le docteur_! Who on earth has sent me such a
soldier as you?' And as Maurice, quite scared, began to stammer an
apology, he resumed: 'I'm the major; do you hear me, you idiot?' Then
realising the kind of man he had to deal with, he, doubtless, felt
somewhat ashamed of himself, for he flew into a yet more violent
tantrum: 'Your foot! a fine affair! Yes, yes, I allow you. Get into a
cart, get into a balloon if you like. We've got quite enough dawdlers
and pillagers already!'

When Jean helped Maurice to hoist himself into the cart, the latter
turned round to thank him; and the two men fell into each other's arms
as if they were not likely ever to see one another again. Indeed, who
could tell--what with the commotion of the retreat and those Prussians
who were near by? Maurice was surprised to feel how great was the
affection that already attached him to Jean. He turned round twice
to wave his hand to him; and then he set out from the camp, where
preparations were now being made to light some large fires, for the
purpose of deceiving the enemy as to the army's presence, whilst in
reality the troops marched off, in the strictest silence, before the
dawn of day.

Once on the road, the petty farmer who was driving Maurice did not
cease to bewail the evil times. He had lacked the necessary courage
to remain at Falaise, and yet he already regretted having left it,
repeating that he would be utterly ruined if the enemy should burn
his house. His daughter--a tall, pale creature--was crying. Maurice,
however--drunk, as it were, with weariness--did not hear either of
them, but slept on in a sitting posture, rocked by the rapid trot
of the little horse, which in less than an hour and a half covered
the four leagues lying between Vouziers and Le Chêne. It was not yet
seven o'clock, and the twilight had scarcely fallen, when the young
fellow, shivering and perplexed, alighted on the Place, near the bridge
spanning the canal, and in front of the narrow yellow house where he
had been born and had spent the first twenty years of his life. He was
going there in a mechanical sort of way, oblivious of the fact that
the house had been sold to a veterinary surgeon some eighteen months
previously. When the farmer questioned him on the subject, he answered
that he knew very well whither he was bound; and then thanked him
repeatedly for his kindness in giving him a lift.

However, whilst approaching the well in the centre of the little
triangular Place, he stopped short, dazed, and with his head quite
empty. Where did he really intend to go? Suddenly he remembered
that he had previously decided to call at the notary's house, which
adjoined his former home, to ask hospitality of the notary's mother,
that venerable, good-hearted old lady, Madame Desroches, who in a
neighbourly way had spoilt him when he was a child. But he could
scarcely recognise Le Chêne, usually such a dead-alive little place,
amid the extraordinary agitation that now prevailed in it, owing to
the presence of the army corps which was camping in its outskirts
and filling its streets with officers, army followers, prowlers, and
laggards of all descriptions. He certainly recognised the canal,
crossing the town from end to end and cutting athwart the central
Place, the two triangular sections of which were united by a narrow
stone bridge. Over there, too, on the other bank, the mossy-roofed
market could readily be identified, together with the Rue Berond
plunging down on the left, and the road to Sedan stretching away on
the right. Only, from the spot where he stood, it was necessary that
he should raise his eyes and search for the slated belfry crowning the
notary's house, to make sure that this was the once deserted corner
where he had played at hopscotch; to such a degree, indeed, did the Rue
de Vouziers in front of him now swarm with people, flowing along in a
compact crowd as far as the town-hall. It seemed to him that an open
space was being kept on the Place, and that some men were making the
inquisitive townsfolk retire; and, in fact, behind the well he beheld
to his astonishment quite an assemblage of vehicles, vans and waggons,
a perfect baggage camp, which he had certainly seen somewhere before.

It was still light, the sun had scarcely sunk in the unrippled water of
the canal, tinging it as with blood, and Maurice had just decided what
course he would adopt, when a woman, standing near by, who had been
looking at him for a few moments, exclaimed: 'Good heavens! but I'm
surely not mistaken; you are young Levasseur?'

In his turn, he then recognised Madame Combette, wife of a chemist
whose shop was on the Place, and he began to explain to her that he
was going to ask worthy Madame Desroches for a bed; but at this she
became strangely agitated and dragged him away, saying: 'No, no, just
come indoors with me. I will explain matters to you.' Then, when they
were in the shop and she had carefully closed the door, she added:
'What, don't you know, my dear boy, that the Emperor is stopping at the
Desroches' house? It was requisitioned for him, and the Desroches are
by no means pleased with the honour, I can tell you! To think that the
poor old lady, a woman of over seventy, has been obliged to give up her
room to go and sleep under the eaves in a servant's bed! Everything
you see on the Place there belongs to the Emperor; it's his luggage,
you understand.'

Yes, indeed, Maurice now well remembered that he had seen those
vans and carts--all the superb train, in fact, of the imperial
household--while he was at Rheims.

'Ah! my dear boy, if you only knew what a number of things have been
taken out of those vans--silver plate, and bottles of wine, and baskets
of provisions, and beautiful linen, and all manner of other things
besides! It went on without stopping for a couple of hours. I wonder
where they can have put so many things, for the house isn't a large
one. Just look! See what a fire they've lighted in the kitchen!'

Maurice then turned to glance at the little two-storeyed white house,
which stood at the corner of the Place and the Rue de Vouziers, a house
of quiet _bourgeoise_ aspect, the disposition of which he pictured
to himself as readily as though he had been inside it only the day
before. Downstairs there was the central passage running right through
the house, and then on each floor there were four rooms. The corner
first-floor window, overlooking the Place, was already lighted up, and
the chemist's wife explained that this was the window of the Emperor's
room. However, as she had already indicated, by far the greater blaze
was in the kitchen, which was on the ground floor, with a window facing
the Rue de Vouziers. The inhabitants of Le Chêne had never previously
seen such a sight as this kitchen now presented, and the street was
blocked with an incessantly renewed stream of inquisitive people all
agape in front of that fiery furnace, where an emperor's dinner was
roasting and boiling. So that they might have a little fresh air the
cooks had set the window wide open. There were three of them, attired
in dazzling white jackets, now fluttering about in front of the fowls
impaled on a tremendously long spit, and now stirring the sauces which
were simmering in huge copper pans that shone like gold. And the oldest
inhabitants could not remember having ever seen so much fire burning,
and so much food cooking at the same time, even on the occasion of the
grandest wedding feasts given at the White Lion Inn.

Combette, the chemist, a restless, weazen, little man, returned home
greatly excited by all he had seen and heard. He appeared to be in the
secret of what was passing, owing to his position as assessor to the
mayor. It was at about half-past three that MacMahon had telegraphed
to Bazaine that the arrival of the Crown Prince of Prussia at Châlons
compelled him to fall back upon the northern fortresses; and another
despatch was about to be sent to the Minister of War, warning him of
the retreat, and explaining to him that the army was in imminent peril
of being cut in twain and annihilated. As for the despatch addressed
to Bazaine, that might go and welcome, but it was doubtful whether
it would ever get to him, for all communications with Metz appeared
to have been intercepted for some days past. The other telegram,
however, was a much more serious affair; and the chemist, lowering
his voice, related that he had heard an officer of high rank remark:
'If they should be warned in Paris we are dished!' This was easily
understood, for everyone was aware of the bitter fierceness with which
the Empress-Regent and the Ministerial Council incited the army to
a forward march. However, the confusion was increasing every hour,
and the most extraordinary intelligence was arriving respecting the
approach of the German armies. Was it possible that the Crown Prince of
Prussia could be at Châlons? In that case, to what army belonged the
Uhlans with whom the Hussars of the Seventh Corps had come in conflict
in the defiles of the Argonne?[23]

'They know nothing at head quarters,' continued the chemist, waving his
arms in a despairing way. 'Ah! what a fearful muddle! Still, everything
will be all right if the army retreats to-morrow.' Then, kind-hearted
man that he was at bottom, he resumed: 'Listen to me, my young friend.
I will dress your foot: you shall dine with us and sleep upstairs in my
assistant's little room, since he's bolted.'

Tormented, however, by a desire to see and learn, Maurice determined
that first of all he would follow out his original idea by paying old
Madame Desroches a visit. He was surprised that he was not stopped
at the door of the house, which, amid all the tumult on the Place,
remained wide open without even a sentry to guard it. Various people,
officers and servants, were continually going in and coming out, and it
seemed as though the commotion prevailing in the kitchen had extended
to the entire premises. However, there was no light on the stairs up
which Maurice had to grope his way. With beating heart, he paused for
a few seconds on the first landing, in front of the door of the room
which he knew to be occupied by the Emperor, but not a sound came from
this room, a death-like silence prevailed there. And up above, when he
reached the threshold of the servant's chamber where Madame Desroches
had been compelled to take refuge, the poor old lady was at first
quite frightened at sight of him. Having recognised him, however, she
exclaimed: 'Ah! my child, in what a dreadful moment do we meet! I would
willingly have given the Emperor my house, but he has such frightfully
ill-bred people with him! If you only knew how they have laid hands
on everything, and they certainly must mean to burn all the fuel, for
they are keeping up such monstrous fires! The poor man is as pale as
though he had just stepped out of the grave, and he looks so sad.'
Then, as the young fellow went off, after trying to tranquillise her,
she crossed the landing and leant over the banisters. 'There!' she
muttered, 'you can see him from here--Ah! we are certainly all lost!
Farewell, my child!'

Maurice had remained standing on the stairs in the darkness. On craning
his neck forward he beheld, through a fan-light, so remarkable a scene
that it dwelt for ever afterwards in his memory. At one end of the
cold, plainly furnished room, the Emperor sat at a small table, laid
for dinner and lighted on either side by a candle. In the background
were two silent aides-de-camp, whilst a _maître d'hôtel_ stood beside
the table, waiting. The glass had not been used, the bread had not been
touched, some fowl's breast lying on the plate was getting cold. The
Emperor sat there stock-still, looking at the table-cloth with those
dim, wavering, watery eyes that Maurice had already noticed at Rheims.
But he seemed to be even more weary now, and when, apparently with
a great effort, he had made up his mind and had carried a couple of
mouthfuls to his lips, he pushed all the rest aside. He had dined. An
expression of intense suffering, endured in secret, made his pale face
look even whiter than before.

Downstairs, the door of the dining-room was opened just as Maurice
passed out, and, amid the flare of the candles and the smoke of the
dishes, he perceived a tableful of equerries, aides-de-camp, and
chamberlains, who were emptying the bottles from the vans, devouring
the fowls, and polishing off the sauces between loud bursts of
conversation. Since the marshal's despatch had gone off, the conviction
that they were about to retreat had been filling all these folks with
delight. In another week or so they would be in Paris, and have clean
beds again.

Then Maurice suddenly realised how terribly he was overcome with
fatigue. It was, indeed, certain--the whole army was about to retreat,
and that being so, there was nothing for him to do but to sleep pending
the arrival of the Seventh Corps. He crossed the Place again, and once
more found himself at the chemist's, where he dined as though in a
dream. Then it certainly seemed to him that his foot was dressed and
that he was carried into a room upstairs. Black night, annihilation
followed. He slept on, overwhelmed, and scarcely breathing. After an
uncertain lapse of time, however--hours or centuries, he could not
tell--a shudder disturbed his slumbers, and he sat up in bed in the
profound darkness. Where was he? What was that continuous roar of
thunder that had awakened him? All at once his memory returned, and
he hastened to the window to look out. In the obscurity down below
a regiment of artillery was crossing the Place, usually so quiet at
night time; the men, horses, and guns following each other in endless
succession, at a trot which made the little lifeless houses fairly
shake. Unreasoning disquietude took possession of Maurice as he beheld
this sudden departure. What time could it be? The town-hall clock
struck four. He was endeavouring to tranquillise himself, reflecting
that the scene he witnessed must simply be the outcome of the orders
issued the previous afternoon, when on turning his head he perceived
something which gave the finishing stroke to his anguish. The corner
first-floor window at the notary's house was still lighted up, and at
regular intervals the dark shadow of the Emperor was profiled upon the
curtains.

Maurice quickly slipped on his trousers, intending to go downstairs,
but at this moment Combette appeared on the threshold carrying a
candlestick and gesticulating. 'I saw you from below just as I came
back from the town-hall,' he said, 'and I came up to tell you the news.
Just fancy! they haven't let me go to bed! For two hours past the
mayor and I have had to attend to fresh requisitions. Yes, once again
everything is altered. Ah! that officer who didn't want any telegram to
be sent to Paris was in the right!'

He continued talking for a long time in imperfect, disjointed phrases;
and Maurice, who remained silent, with anguish in his heart, ended by
understanding him. At about midnight a telegram for the Emperor had
arrived from the Minister of War, in reply to that sent to Paris by
the marshal. The exact wording of the despatch was not known; but an
aide-de-camp had openly declared at the town-hall that the Empress and
the Ministerial Council feared there would be a revolution in Paris
if the Emperor abandoned Bazaine and returned there. Those who had
drawn up the despatch, inaccurately informed as to the true positions
of the German forces, seemed to believe that the army of Châlons had
an advance upon the enemy which it no longer possessed, and with an
extraordinary burst of passion insisted, despite everything, on a
forward march.

'The Emperor sent for the marshal,' added the chemist, 'and they
remained shut up together during nearly an hour. Of course, I don't
know what they said to each other, but all the officers have repeated
to me that we are no longer retreating, and that the march on the Meuse
is resumed. We have just requisitioned all the ovens in the town for
the First Corps, which to-morrow morning will arrive here in place of
the Twelfth, whose artillery, as you can see for yourself, is at this
moment starting for La Besace. This time it's settled; you are marching
to battle.' He paused. He also was looking at the lighted window at the
notary's. Then, with a thoughtful, inquisitive air, he resumed in an
undertone: 'Yes; what can they have said to one another? It's comical
all the same. A man's threatened with danger, and, in order to avoid
it, he decides at six o'clock that he will retreat; then, at midnight,
he rushes head first into that very danger, although the situation
remains identical.'

Maurice was still listening to the guns as they rolled along through
the little black town down below, to the horses trotting past without
cessation, to the men flowing away towards the Meuse, towards the
terrible Unknown of the morrow. And, meantime, on the little window
curtains he still saw the Emperor's shadow pass by at regular
intervals; the shadow of that invalid, kept on his legs by insomnia,
pacing to and fro, feeling that he must needs continue on the move
despite all his sufferings, and with his ears full of the noise made by
all those horses and soldiers whom he was sending to death. So a few
hours had sufficed, and now the disaster was decided upon, accepted!
What, indeed, could they have said to each other, that Emperor and that
marshal, both of whom were aware of the calamity to which they were
marching, who in the evening had been convinced of defeat--given the
frightful situation in which the army would henceforth find itself--and
who could not have changed their opinion in the morning since the peril
was increasing hour by hour? General de Palikao's plan, the lightning
march on Montmédy, already a hazardous venture on August 22, still
susceptible, possibly, of accomplishment on the 25th, with veterans
and a captain of genius, became on the 27th an act of sheer madness
in presence of the continual hesitation of the commanders and the
increasing demoralisation of the troops. If both Emperor and marshal
knew this, why did they yield to the pitiless voices that goaded them
on in their indecision? The marshal, perhaps, had but the limited,
obedient mind of the soldier, great in its abnegation. And the Emperor,
who no longer commanded, was awaiting destiny. They were asked to give
their lives and the lives of the army, and they consented to give them.
That was the Night of the Crime--the abominable night when a nation
was murdered, for thenceforward the army was in distress, one hundred
thousand men were sent to the slaughter!

Despairing and shuddering, Maurice thought of all these things as
he watched that shadow on Madame Desroches' dainty muslin curtains,
that feverish shadow ever on the tramp, and which the pitiless voice
coming from Paris seemed to be urging on. Had not the Empress wished
that night for the father's death so that the son might reign? March!
march! without a glance behind, under the rain and through the mud,
march to extermination, so that this supreme final game for possession
of an agonising empire may be played out to the last card! March!
march! die like a hero on the piled-up corpses of your people; strike
the whole world with compassionate admiration so that it may forgive
your posterity! And doubtless the Emperor _was_ marching to death.
The kitchen was no longer blazing down below; the equerries, the
aides-de-camp, the chamberlains were all asleep; the whole house was
black, save for that lighted window, on the curtains of which the
shadow was incessantly passing to and fro, the shadow of one who had
quietly resigned himself to the fatal sacrifice amid all the deafening
uproar occasioned by the Twelfth Army Corps, which was still marching
along in the darkness.

It suddenly occurred to Maurice that if the forward march were resumed
the Seventh Corps would not pass through Le Chêne, and he pictured
himself left behind, separated from his regiment as though he had
deserted. His foot no longer smarted, a skilful dressing, and a few
hours of complete rest had calmed its feverishness. When Combette had
given him a pair of shoes, broad shoes in which he was quite at his
ease, he became desirous of starting at once, hoping that he might
still meet the 106th on the Vouziers road. After vainly endeavouring
to detain him, the chemist had half made up his mind to drive off with
him in his gig, and scour the roads in the chance hope of finding the
army corps, when Fernand, Combette's assistant, turned up and explained
that he had only absented himself to go and see after a cousin whom
he was in love with. It was this tall, pale fellow, with the look of
a poltroon, who then put the horse to the trap and drove off with
Maurice. It was not yet five o'clock; the rain was streaming like a
deluge from the inky sky, and the lamps of the vehicle were dimmed and
barely lighted the road, which ran through a vast drenched stretch of
country full of tumultuous sounds that caused them to pull up at each
half-mile, in the belief that an army was near at hand.

Meantime Jean, in the camp before Vouziers, had not had a moment's
sleep. Since Maurice had explained to him that the retreat would save
everything he had been on the look-out, preventing his men from leaving
their quarters, and awaiting the orders for raising the camp which the
officers might give at any moment. At about two o'clock a great clatter
of horses' hoofs resounded amid the dense obscurity, which the camp
fires dotted as with ruddy stars. This was an advance guard of cavalry
setting out towards Ballay and Quatre-Champs, for the purpose of
watching the Boult-aux-Bois and Croix-aux-Bois roads. An hour later the
infantry and the artillery set themselves in motion, abandoning those
positions of Falaise and Chestres, which during two long days they had
seemed so obstinately bent on defending against an enemy who never
came. The sky was overcast, and the night still deep, as each regiment
retired in profound silence, like a procession of shadows flitting
away into the darkness. Each heart, however, was beating joyously as
though they had, one and all, escaped some threatening ambush. They
already pictured themselves drawn up under the walls of Paris on the
eve of the _revanche_.

Jean looked around him through the dense night. The road was edged
with trees, and it seemed to him that it lay between large meadows.
Then came rising ground and then declivities, and they were reaching
a village--no doubt Ballay--when a heavy cloud, darkening the sky,
suddenly burst, and the rain came down with violence. So much had
already fallen on the men, however, that they no longer complained,
but simply distended their shoulders. Ballay was speedily left behind;
and, as they drew nearer to Quatre-Champs, furious squalls of wind
swept through the widening valley. When they had passed Quatre-Champs,
and had reached the vast plateau whose barren lands stretch as far as
Noirval, the hurricane put forth all its strength, and they were lashed
by a frightful deluge. And it was here that orders to halt stopped in
turn every regiment.

The entire Seventh Corps, thirty and odd thousand men, had been
gathered together here by the time the dawn arose, a dawn of a muddy
hue seen through streaming grey water. What was up? Why were they
halting? Disquietude was already spreading through the ranks, and some
asserted that the marching orders had just been changed. The men had
received instructions to ground their arms, and were forbidden to break
the ranks and sit down. At certain moments the wind swept across the
high table-land with such violence that they had to stand shoulder to
shoulder to avoid being carried away. The icy rain was blinding them,
pelting their faces and streaming through their clothes. And two hours
went by, an interminable spell of waiting, the reason of which no one
knew, though anguish was again oppressing every heart.

As the daylight gradually increased, Jean endeavoured to ascertain
where they were. Some one had pointed out to him the road leading to
Le Chêne which climbed a hill to the north-west, on the other side of
Quatre-Champs. Why had they not taken it? Why had they wheeled to the
right instead of to the left? Then he became interested in the doings
of the staff, which was installed at the farm of La Converserie at
the edge of the plateau. They all seemed very much upset there; the
officers were running about gesticulating and discussing together; and
nothing came--what could they be waiting for? The plateau was a kind
of arena covered with stubble, overlooked on the north and the east by
wooded heights; with dense woods extending on the south, whilst through
an opening on the west the valley of the Aisne could be perceived,
together with the little white houses of Vouziers. Below La Converserie
rose the slated steeple of Quatre-Champs, drenched by the raging
downpour, beneath which the few poor mossy roofs of the village seemed
to be melting away. And as Jean's glance enfiladed the steep street he
clearly distinguished a gig arriving at a fast trot, along the pebbly
roadway now transformed into a torrent.

It was Maurice who, at a bend of the road, on the hill over yonder, had
at last caught sight of the Seventh Corps. For a couple of hours he had
been scouring the country, deceived by what a peasant had told him,
and taken out of his way by the covert ill-will of the young fellow
driving him, who was in quite a fever of fear lest they should meet the
Prussians. As soon as Maurice reached the farm he sprang out of the
vehicle and immediately joined his regiment.

'What! you here!' exclaimed Jean, quite stupefied. 'Why's that? We were
going to call for you on the road.'

With a gesture Maurice expressed all his anger and his grief. 'Ah, yes!
But the march is no longer that way; we are going over _there_ to find
our graves.'

'All right,' the corporal, turning quite pale, replied after an
interval of silence. 'At least we shall get our heads cracked together.'

And, as they had parted, so did they meet again with an embrace. Under
the beating downpour the private sought his place in the ranks, whilst
the corporal, streaming with rain-water, set an example of stoicism by
abstaining from all complaint.

The news, however, was now spreading. The rumour had become a
certainty. They were no longer retreating upon Paris, but again
marching upon the Meuse. One of the marshal's aides-de-camp had just
brought the Seventh Corps orders to proceed to Nouart and encamp there,
whilst the Fifth, advancing on Beauclair, was to form the right wing
of the army, and the First was to make for Le Chêne, there to replace
the Twelfth, now marching on La Besace, on the left. And if thirty and
odd thousand men had been waiting on that plateau with arms grounded
for nearly three hours and exposed to that furious hurricane, it was
because General Douay, amid the lamentable confusion occasioned by this
change of front, experienced intense disquietude as to the fate of the
convoy which on the previous day he had sent forward to Chagny. It was
necessary to wait until it joined the corps, and it was reported that
it had been cut in two at Le Chêne by the Twelfth Corps' convoy. On
the other hand, a portion of the _matériel_--including all the field
smithies--having taken the wrong direction, was now returning from
Terron by the road to Vouziers, where it would certainly fall into
the hands of the Germans. Never was there greater disorder, never was
anxiety more keen.

Perfect despair now displayed itself among the soldiers. Many of
them wished to sit down on their knapsacks in the mud of that soaked
plateau, there to await death amid the rain. They jeered, and insulted
their commanders: Fine commanders they were, with no brains, who undid
in the evening what they had done in the morning, who dawdled when
the enemy was nowhere near, and skedaddled as soon as he appeared! A
final attack of demoralisation was turning this army into a mere flock,
without either faith, confidence, or discipline--a flock to be led
to the slaughter according to the chances of the road. Over yonder,
towards Vouziers, a fusillade had just broken out--the rear-guard of
the Seventh Corps and the advance guard of the German troops were
exchanging shots; and for a minute or two, moreover, all eyes had been
turned towards the valley of the Aisne, where a mass of dense, black,
whirling smoke was rising against a clear patch of sky: the village of
Falaise, fired by the Uhlans, was burning. Maurice and his comrades
were enraged. So the Prussians were there now. For two whole days had
the Seventh Corps waited to give them time to arrive, and now it was
taking to its heels. Bitter anger mounted to the brains even of those
whose capacity was most limited at the thought of the irreparable
blunder that had been perpetrated, the idiotic delay at Vouziers, the
trap into which they had fallen; the reconnoitring parties of the
fourth German army amusing Bordas's brigade, and immobilising in turn
every corps of the army of Châlons so as to allow the Crown Prince of
Prussia time to hasten to the spot with the Third Army. And at this
moment the enemy's forces were joining hands, thanks to the ignorance
of the marshal, who as yet did not know what troops he had before him;
and the Seventh and Fifth Corps were about to be harassed without
respite, threatened incessantly with a crowning disaster.

Maurice gazed at Falaise whilst it continued burning on the horizon.
Just then, however, some solace was afforded by the arrival of the
convoy, thought to be lost, but which was seen debouching from the
road to Le Chêne. Thereupon, whilst the First Division remained at
Quatre-Champs to escort and protect the interminable baggage-train,
the Second at once set out for Boult-aux-Bois through the forest,
whilst the Third took up position on the heights of Belleville on
the left, with the view of insuring communications. Just as the rain
was increasing in violence, the 106th at last quitted the plateau,
resuming once more that criminal march towards the Meuse--towards the
Unknown; and at that same moment Maurice, in his mind's eye, again
saw the Emperor's shadow flitting mournfully to and fro on old Madame
Desroches' little curtains. Ah! the army of the forlorn hope, the army
sent to perdition, despatched to certain annihilation for the purpose
of saving a dynasty. March, march, without glancing behind, under the
rain and through the mud--march to extermination!



CHAPTER VI

AN ARMY'S CALVARY--CHASED BY THE FOE


'Thunder!' exclaimed Chouteau, when he awoke on the following morning
in the tent, feeling weary and icy cold; 'I'd willingly accept some hot
broth with plenty of meat round it.'

When they had encamped on the previous evening at Boult-aux-Bois, only
some scanty rations of potatoes had been distributed, the commissariat
becoming more and more bewildered and disorganised by the incessant
marching and counter-marching, and failing to meet the troops at any of
the appointed places. In the confusion prevailing on the roads, no one
knew where to find those migratory droves of cattle intended for the
army, and famine seemed near at hand.

'Yes, dash it all!' rejoined Loubet, with a sneer of desperation, as he
stretched himself. 'But it's all over now. No more roast goose!'

The squad was in a bad humour. Things were not lively when there was
nothing to eat; and besides there was that incessant rain, and that mud
in which they had been sleeping.

Seeing that Pache was crossing himself, after saying his morning prayer
with closed lips, that infidel Chouteau furiously resumed: 'Why don't
you pray for a couple of sausages and a pint of wine for each of us?'

'Ah! if we only had some bread even,' sighed Lapoulle, who, with his
excessive appetite, suffered more hunger than the others.

However, Lieutenant Rochas silenced them. They ought to be ashamed of
themselves, always thinking of their stomachs! For his part, when he
felt hungry he simply tightened his belt. Since affairs had been going
from bad to worse, and a fusillade could occasionally be heard, the
lieutenant had recovered all his stubborn confidence in victory. It was
so simple now that the Prussians were there: the French would just give
them a licking. And he shrugged his shoulders behind Captain Beaudoin,
that whipper-snapper, as he called him, who, quite distracted by the
loss of his baggage, was now always in a furious passion, with his
lips set and his face extremely pale. Nothing to eat? A man could put
up with that! What made the Captain so indignant was that he could not
change his shirt.

Maurice awoke, depressed and shivering. Thanks to his broad shoes, his
foot had not again become inflamed; but the deluge of the previous day,
which still made his great-coat very heavy, had again left him aching
in every limb. When he was sent to fetch the water for the coffee he
gazed for a moment over the plain at the edge of which Boult-aux-Bois
is situated. Forests climb the hills on the west and the north, where
a ridge extends as far as Belleville; whilst a vast open expanse, amid
the gentle undulations of which various hamlets are hidden, stretches
towards Buzancy on the east. Was it from that side that the enemy was
expected? As he came back from the stream with his can full of water,
a family of weeping peasants, clustering on the threshold of a little
farmhouse, called him and asked him if the soldiers would stay there
to defend them. Three times already, owing to contrary orders, had the
Fifth Army Corps crossed this part of the country. A cannonade in the
direction of Bar had been heard during the previous day, so that the
Prussians could not now be more than a couple of leagues distant. When
Maurice told these poor people that the Seventh Corps would in all
probability soon set out again, they began to bewail their lot. So
they were to be abandoned; so the soldiers did not come to fight, since
they simply saw them appear and disappear, invariably fleeing from the
foe.

'Those who want any sugar,' said Loubet, when he served the coffee,
'must suck their thumbs.'

Nobody laughed, however. It was, indeed, vexatious, not even to have
any sugar for their coffee. And if they had only had a scrap of biscuit
to eat! However, during that long halt on the plateau of Quatre-Champs
the day before, almost all of them, by way of passing the time, had
nibbled the fragments, devoured even the crumbs remaining in their
knapsacks. Fortunately, Jean's squad discovered that they possessed a
dozen potatoes, and these were divided among the men.

'Ah! if I had only known, I would have bought some bread at Le Chêne,'
regretfully said Maurice, whose stomach craved for food.

Jean sat there listening in silence. He had had a quarrel that morning
with Chouteau, who when ordered to fetch the firewood had insolently
refused to do so, saying that it was not his turn. Since affairs had
been going from bad to worse, the indiscipline was increasing, until
at last the officers dared not even reprimand their men. Jean, with
his admirable calmness, realised that he must sink his authority as
corporal, if he did not wish to provoke open mutiny. So he played the
part of a good-natured fellow, appearing to be simply the comrade of
his men, to whom, thanks to his experience, he was able to render
important services. If his squad was no longer so well fed as formerly,
at all events it did not perish of hunger like others did. It was
especially Maurice's sufferings that touched Jean. He realised that
this delicate little fellow was getting very weak, and he watched him
with an uneasy eye, wondering how he would manage to keep up to the end.

When he heard him complaining that he had no bread, he rose to his
feet, went off for a moment to rummage in his knapsack, and then, on
returning, slipped a biscuit into Maurice's hand.

'Take that and hide it,' he whispered to him, 'I haven't enough for
everyone.'

'But how about yourself?' asked the young fellow, deeply touched.

'Oh! never mind me. Besides, I still have a couple left.'

This was a fact. Jean had been carefully preserving three biscuits in
case there should be any fighting, for he knew by experience that a
man feels frightfully hungry on the battlefield. For the moment he had
eaten a potato, and that sufficed him. Later on, something else might
turn up.

The Seventh Corps was again set in motion at about ten o'clock. The
marshal's original intention, no doubt, was to despatch it by way of
Buzancy to Stenay, where it would have crossed the Meuse. But the
Prussians, who were marching faster than the army of Châlons, must by
this time already be at Stenay; indeed, it was said, they were even at
Buzancy. Driven in this way towards the north, the Seventh Corps had
consequently received orders to proceed to La Besace, some fourteen
or fifteen miles from Boult-aux-Bois, with the view of reaching and
crossing the Meuse at Mouzon on the morrow. The start was a dreary one;
the men, with their stomachs almost empty and their limbs unrested,
exhausted by the fatigue and waiting of the previous days, were audibly
growling; and the gloomy officers, giving way to uneasiness at thought
of the catastrophe to which they were marching, talked complainingly
of their inaction, and were indignant that they had not been sent to
Buzancy to support the Fifth Corps, whose guns had been heard there.
This corps must also be retreating--no doubt towards Nouart, whilst
the Twelfth, bound for Mouzon, was setting out from La Besace, and the
First was taking the road to Raucourt.

All these masses of men now tramped along like so many flocks, urged on
and worried by dogs, and hustling one another, as they at last advanced
towards the longed-for Meuse, after endless dawdling and delay.

When the 106th started from Boult-aux-Bois, following the cavalry and
artillery--the three divisions streaking the plain with a long stream
of marching men--the sky again became covered with large, livid clouds,
the gloom of which put the finishing stroke to the men's sadness. For
a time the regiment followed the high road to Buzancy, which was edged
with superb poplars. At Germond, a village where heaps of manure were
smoking before the doors on either side of the road, the women sobbed,
and taking their children in their arms, held them out to the passing
troops as though begging the latter to carry them away. Not a morsel of
bread or a potato remained in the place. And now, instead of proceeding
any farther in the direction of Buzancy, the 106th wheeled to the left
towards Authe; and when on a hill across the plain, the men again saw
Belleville, through which they had marched the day before, they at once
became conscious that they were retracing their steps.

'Thunder!' growled Chouteau; 'do they take us for spinning tops?'

And Loubet added, 'There are generals for you! Pulling first one way,
then another! One can easily see that they don't care a fig for our
legs.'

They all became angry. It was too bad to weary men out in this fashion
simply for the purpose of promenading them up and down. They were
now marching across the barren plain in a column of two files, one
on either side of the road, the centre of which was reserved to the
officers; but no jokes were cracked, no songs were sung to enliven
the march as on the day when they had left Rheims--the day when they
carried their knapsacks so jauntily, their shoulders lightened by
the hope of outstripping the Prussians and beating them. Now they
were silent and irritated, and crawled along wearily, hating their
guns, which made their shoulders sore, and their knapsacks, which
weighed them down; no longer, moreover, having any confidence in their
commanders, but giving way to such despair that they were like cattle,
which only fear of the goad can impel onward. The wretched army was now
beginning to ascend its Calvary.

For a few minutes, however, something had greatly interested Maurice.
He had seen a horseman ride out of a little wood, far away on the left,
where the ground rose in a succession of ridges of increasing height,
parted by narrow valleys. Almost immediately afterwards a second
horseman appeared and then another. They all three remained there
motionless, looking no larger than the fist, like toys, sharply and
precisely outlined. Maurice thought they must belong to some outpost of
Hussars, or to some returning reconnoitring-party, but he was suddenly
astonished to see some brilliant specks on their shoulders--the
glitter, no doubt, of brass epaulettes.

'Look over there!' he said, nudging Jean, who marched beside him; 'some
Uhlans!'

The corporal opened his eyes wide: 'Uhlans? Those?'

Indeed they were Uhlans, the first Prussians that the 106th had seen.
During the six weeks or so that the regiment had been campaigning, not
only had it not fired a shot, but it had not even obtained a glimpse
of the enemy. Maurice's remark sped along the file, and every head was
turned with growing curiosity. Those Uhlans looked fine fellows.

'One of them is precious fat,' observed Loubet.

However, an entire squadron suddenly showed itself on a plateau to the
left of the little wood; and at this threatening apparition the column
was halted. Orders arrived, and the 106th took up position behind some
trees, on the margin of a stream. The artillery was already galloping
back and placing itself on a knoll. And then, for a couple of hours,
they lingered there in battle array without anything further occurring.
The party of hostile cavalry remained at the same spot on the horizon;
and at last, realising that precious time was being lost, the French
resumed their march.

'Ah! well,' muttered Jean, regretfully; 'the fight won't be for to-day.'

Maurice also felt his hands burning with the desire to fire at least a
shot. And he reflected on the blunder that had been made the previous
day in not hurrying to the support of the Fifth Corps. If the Prussians
did not attack them it could only be because they had not as yet
sufficient infantry at their disposal. Their cavalry demonstrations
could therefore have no other object than to delay the columns on the
march. Once again, then, the French had fallen into the trap set for
them. And, indeed, from that time forward, the 106th incessantly beheld
the Uhlans at each rise of the ground on their left flank. The enemy's
scouts followed the regiment and watched it, vanishing every now and
again behind some farm, and reappearing at the corner of a wood.

By degrees it harassed the troops to see themselves being thus
enveloped from afar, as if in some invisible net. 'Those fellows are
becoming a confounded nuisance,' repeated Pache, and even Lapoulle said
the same. 'It would ease one, dash it, to send them a few slugs.'

But, with a heavy step that soon wearied them, the men continued
painfully marching on. Just as one feels a storm brewing before it
has even shown itself on the horizon, so, in the general uneasiness,
one could feel the enemy approaching. Severe orders were given with
reference to the rear-guard, and there were no more laggards, everyone
now being aware that the Prussians were following the corps, and would
pounce upon all stragglers. The German infantry was in fact arriving at
a lightning pace, marching its five-and-twenty miles a day, whilst the
French regiments, harassed and paralysed, tramped and tramped over the
same ground.

When they reached Authe the sky cleared, and Maurice, to whom the sun
served as a guide, observed that instead of proceeding any farther
in the direction of Le Chêne--three long leagues away--they now went
straight towards the east. It was two in the afternoon, and after
shivering for a couple of days under the rain the men now began to
suffer from the oppressive heat. The road wound with long bends across
some deserted plains. Not a house, not a living being was to be seen;
only a few little woods relieved the monotony of the barren expanse;
and the mournful silence prevailing in this solitude infected the
sweating soldiers, as with their heads drooping they wearily dragged
themselves along. At last they caught sight of St. Pierremont, a
cluster of deserted houses on a monticle. They did not pass the
village, however; indeed Maurice noticed that they wheeled at once
to the left, taking a northerly direction towards La Besace. He now
realised what route had been selected for this attempt to reach Mouzon
before the Prussians arrived there. But could they succeed in the
effort, with troops so weary and so demoralised? This seemed the more
doubtful, as at St. Pierremont the three Uhlans again appeared in the
distance at the bend of a road coming from Buzancy; and, moreover, just
as the French rear-guard was leaving the village a hostile battery was
unmasked, and a few shells fell, without, however, doing any harm.
The French did not answer the fire, but continued their march with
increasing difficulty.

There are three long leagues from St. Pierremont to La Besace, and
Jean, on learning this from Maurice, made a gesture of despair. The men
could never go that distance; he could tell that by sure and certain
signs--their hard breathing, and the wild look on their faces. The road
moreover was a steep one, running between two ridges, which gradually
drew nearer to one another. At last a halt became necessary; but,
unfortunately, this rest increased the stiffness of the men's limbs,
and when orders were given to start again matters became even worse
than before. The regiments no longer made way, and many men fell to the
ground. Jean, who noticed that Maurice was growing pale, with his eyes
dimmed by weariness, began talking, contrary to his wont, hoping that
by a flow of words he would manage to divert the young fellow, and keep
him awake amid the mechanical tramp, tramp of the march, of which the
men had now ceased to have any mental perception.

'So your sister lives at Sedan,' said Jean; 'perhaps we shall pass that
way.'

'Through Sedan? Never, that's not our road; they would be madmen to
take us there.'

'Is your sister young?'

'She's as old as I am. I told you we were twins.'

'And is she like you?'

'Yes, she's fair like me, but with such soft, curly hair. She's very
slight, with a thin face, and so quiet. Ah! my poor Henriette.'

'You are very fond of one another?'

'Yes--yes.'

There was a pause, and Jean, on looking at Maurice, saw that his
eyes were closing and that he was about to fall. 'Hullo, my poor
youngster--hold yourself up. Good heavens! Give me your popgun a
moment; that will ease you. It certainly isn't possible to go any
farther to-day; if we do, we shall leave half the men on the road.' He
had just caught sight of Oches, with its few houses climbing a hill
ahead of them. The yellow church, perched aloft, overlooks the other
buildings from amidst the trees.

'Sure enough we shall have to sleep here,' added Jean.

He had guessed correctly. Noticing the extreme weariness of his men,
General Douay despaired of reaching La Besace that day. He was,
however, more particularly induced to halt by the arrival of the
convoy--that worrying convoy which he had been dragging about with him
since leaving Rheims and whose three leagues of vehicles and horses
had so repeatedly delayed his march. Whilst at Quatre-Champs, he had
despatched this interminable train direct to St. Pierremont, but it was
only at Oches that it again joined the corps, and with the horses so
exhausted that they could no longer be prevailed upon to move. It was
now already five o'clock, and the general, fearing to enter the defile
of Stonne at that hour, decided that he must renounce accomplishing the
distance prescribed by the marshal. The men halted and began to encamp,
the convoy being drawn up in the meadows below, where it was protected
by one of the divisions; whilst the artillery established itself on the
slopes behind, and the brigade which was to serve as the rear-guard
on the morrow remained upon a height facing St. Pierremont. Another
division, of which General Bourgain-Desfeuilles' brigade formed part,
bivouacked behind the church on a broad plateau, edged by a wood of oak
trees.

When the 106th was at last able to encamp on the outskirts of this
wood, night was already coming on, so much confusion had there been in
selecting and apportioning the various sites.

'Curse it!' said Chouteau, furiously; 'I sha'n't eat. I shall sleep!'

Indeed, this was the general cry. Many of the men had not enough
strength left them to pitch their tents, but went to sleep wherever
they fell. Besides, in order to sup, they needed the presence of the
commissariat; and the commissariat, which was expecting the Seventh
Corps at La Besace, was not at Oches. Such, too, were the disorder
and laxity that there were no longer any bugle calls to rations, nor
from this time forward, indeed, were any rations distributed. It was
a case of everyone for himself; the soldiers having to subsist on the
supplies which they were supposed to have in their knapsacks. But the
latter were empty; few indeed were the men who found a crust in them,
some chance crumbs of the plenty in which they had momentarily lived at
Vouziers. There was, however, some coffee, and the less weary of the
troops again drank coffee without sugar.

When Jean, desirous of sharing his two remaining biscuits with Maurice,
came up to the young fellow, he found him sound asleep. For a moment he
thought of rousing him, but decided not to do so; and then, like the
stoic he was, he again hid both biscuits in his knapsack, as carefully
as though he were concealing gold, and contented himself with some
coffee like his comrades. He had insisted upon having the tent pitched,
and they were already lying down inside it when Loubet, who had been
on the prowl, came back with some carrots which he had pulled up in a
neighbouring field. It was impossible to cook them, so they were eaten
raw; but they only irritated the men's hunger, and made Pache quite ill.

'No, no, let him sleep,' said Jean to Chouteau, when the latter began
shaking Maurice to give him his share.

'Ah!' remarked Lapoulle, 'we shall have some bread to-morrow when we
get to Angoulême--I've a cousin who's in garrison at Angoulême--a
capital place!'

The others were amazed (as well they might be, for it was as if an
English soldier marching through the Highlands had expressed the belief
that they would reach Bristol on the morrow), and Chouteau exclaimed:
'Angoulême! what do you mean? What a fool you must be to think you're
going to Angoulême!'

It was impossible, however, to extract any explanation from Lapoulle,
though he adhered to his opinion that they were marching to Angoulême.
That same morning, by the way, on seeing the Uhlans, he had maintained
that they were some of Bazaine's soldiers.

Then the camp fell into a death-like silence in the inky night. Chilly
though it was, no fires were allowed to be lighted. It was known that
the Prussians were only a few miles away, and as little noise as
possible was made for fear of attracting their attention. The officers
had already warned their men that the march would be resumed at four
o'clock, with the view of making up for lost time, and weary as they
were they all hastily and gluttonously gave themselves up to sleep.
The loud breathing of those masses of men ascended into the darkness
above the dispersed encampments, as though it were the breathing of the
very earth.

All at once the squad was awakened by the report of a firearm. The
night was still dense, it could scarcely be three o'clock. In a
moment they were all on foot, and the alert passed through the camp,
everyone believing that the enemy was attacking them. But it was only
that hungry fellow Loubet, who, having woke up, had plunged into the
neighbouring wood in the idea that there must be some rabbits there.
What a feast they would have if, at the first gleam of light, he could
bring a couple of rabbits back to his comrades! But whilst he was
seeking a good spot to post himself, he heard some men coming towards
him, talking together and breaking the branches, and thereupon he had
fired in dismay, thinking that he had to deal with some Prussians.
Maurice, Jean, and others were already reaching the spot, when a gruff
voice shouted, 'In God's name don't shoot!'

At the edge of the wood they then perceived a tall, thin man, whose
thick bushy beard could be but imperfectly distinguished. He wore a
grey blouse, tightened at the waist by a red sash; and carried a gun
slung over his shoulder. He at once explained that he was a Frenchman,
a sergeant of Francs-tireurs, and that he had come from the woods of
Dieulet with a couple of his men to give the general some information.
'Here, Cabasse! Ducat!' he shouted, turning round, 'here, you drones,
make haste!'

The two men had doubtless felt frightened. However, they now
approached. Ducat was short, pale, and fat, with scanty hair; and
Cabasse, tall and bony, with a dark face and a long nose like a
knife-blade. Meantime Maurice, who had been scrutinising the sergeant
with surprise, ended by asking him, 'Aren't you Guillaume Sambuc, of
Remilly?'

And when the sergeant, looking rather alarmed, had with some hesitation
answered affirmatively, the young fellow instinctively fell back, for
this man, Sambuc, had the reputation of being a terrible rogue, the
true scion of a family of woodcutters, who had turned out very badly.
The father, a drunkard, had been found one evening on the verge of a
wood, with his throat cut; the mother and daughter, both thieves and
beggars, had disappeared, but were doubtless leading a shameful life.
Guillaume, the Franc-tireur, had been a smuggler and poacher in time of
peace; and only one of this family of wolves had grown into an honest
man--Prosper, the Chasseur d'Afrique, who, before becoming a soldier,
had hired himself out as a farm hand in his hatred of forest life.

'I saw your brother at Rheims and Vouziers,' resumed Maurice. 'He was
all right.'

Sambuc made no answer to this, but to hasten matters exclaimed: 'Take
me to the general. Tell him that some Francs-tireurs of the Dieulet
woods have something important to communicate to him.'

While they were returning to the camp Maurice began thinking of these
Francs-tireurs, these free companies on whom so many hopes had been
founded, but who were already, on all sides, giving so much cause for
complaint. It had been expected that they would carry on a war of
ambushes, await the enemy behind the hedges, harass him, shoot down his
sentries, and hold the woods so that, not a Prussian would ever leave
them alive. But, to tell the truth, they were becoming the terror of
the peasants, whom they defended inefficiently, and whose fields they
laid waste. In their hatred of the regular military service, all the
waifs and strays of society hastened to join these corps, delighted to
escape discipline and to roam the country like merry bandits, sleeping
and tippling wheresoever chance led them. Some of these companies were
indeed composed of really execrable elements.

'Here, Cabasse! Here, Ducat!' repeated Sambuc, turning round at each
step he took; 'make haste, you laggards!'

Maurice instinctively divined that both these men must be terrible
rascals. Cabasse, the tall, bony fellow, had been born at Toulon, and
after serving as a waiter in a café at Marseilles, had turned up at
Sedan as commission agent for a firm of the South of France. He had
narrowly escaped the clutches of the law in connection with some story
of theft, the real facts of which were not known. Ducat, his short,
fat comrade, had been a process-server at Blainville, but had been
compelled to sell his office owing to his scandalous immorality, which,
since he had been book-keeper at a factory at Raucourt, had again
almost brought him into the dock at the assize court. Ducat indulged in
Latin quotations, whereas Cabasse was scarcely able to read; but the
one completed the other, and they formed together a pair of equivocal
scoundrels, well calculated to inspire alarm.

The camp was already awakening, and Jean and Maurice conducted
the Francs-tireurs to Captain Beaudoin, who took them to Colonel
de Vineuil. The latter began to question them, but Sambuc,
conscious of his importance, was absolutely bent on speaking to the
general. In a bad humour at having to rise in the middle of the
night, with another day of famine and fatigue before him, General
Bourgain-Desfeuilles--who, having slept at the priest's, had just
appeared on the parsonage threshold--received the three men in a
furious fashion.

'Where have they come from? What do they want? Ah! so it's you,
Francs-tireurs? Some more laggards, eh?'

'We are holding the woods of Dieulet with our comrades, general,'
replied Sambuc, in no wise disconcerted.

'The woods of Dieulet! where are they?'

'Between Stenay and Mouzon, general.'

'Stenay, Mouzon. I don't know them. How can I understand anything with
all these new names?'

Colonel de Vineuil felt uncomfortable on hearing this, and discreetly
intervened to remind the general that Stenay and Mouzon were on the
Meuse, and that the Germans, having occupied the former locality, were
about to attempt the passage of the river by the bridge at the latter
town, which lay more to the north.

'Well, general,' resumed Sambuc, 'we came to warn you that the Dieulet
woods are now full of Prussians. When the Fifth Corps was leaving
Bois-les-Dames yesterday there was an engagement near Nouart.'

'What! was there fighting yesterday?'

'Yes, general; the Fifth Corps fought while it was falling back, and
to-night it must be at Beaumont. So while some of our comrades went to
inform it of the enemy's movements, it occurred to us to come and tell
you of the situation, so that you may support the Fifth Corps, for it
will have quite sixty thousand men to deal with in the morning.'

On hearing this, General Bourgain-Desfeuilles shrugged his shoulders.
'Sixty thousand men! How you talk! Why not a hundred thousand? You must
be dreaming, my fine fellow. Fear makes you see double. There can't be
sixty thousand men near us--we should know it.'

To this opinion he obstinately clung, and it was in vain that Sambuc
appealed to the testimony of Ducat and Cabasse.

'We saw the guns,' so the Provençal asserted, 'and those devils must be
madmen to risk sending them along the forest roads, in which one sinks
to the shins on account of the late rain.'

'Somebody is guiding them, that's certain,' declared the
ex-process-server, in his turn.

Since their experiences at Vouziers, however, the general no longer
believed in the reported concentration of the two German armies, which
had been dinned into his ears, he said, till he was sick and tired
of it. And he did not even consider it worth his while to send the
Francs-tireurs to the commander of the Seventh Corps, to whom, by the
way, the men thought they were speaking. If one had listened to all the
peasants and prowlers who came with so-called information, the army
would no longer have taken a step without being turned to right or
left, and launched into unheard-of adventures. However, as the three
Francs-tireurs knew the country, the general ordered them to remain and
accompany the column.

'All the same,' said Jean to Maurice as they were returning to the camp
to fold up their tent; 'all the same, those are good fellows to have
come four leagues across country to warn us.'

The young man assented; he considered that the Francs-tireurs were in
the right. He also knew the country, and felt extremely uneasy at the
thought that the Prussians were in the Dieulet woods advancing upon
Sommauthe and Beaumont. In the dawn of what he instinctively felt would
be a terrible day, he had seated himself on the ground, weary already,
although they had not yet started on the march; but his stomach was
empty, and his heart oppressed with anguish.

Worried to see him look so pale, the corporal, in a fatherly way,
inquired: 'Still queer, eh? Is it your foot again?'

Maurice shook his head. Thanks to the broad shoes he was now wearing,
his foot was very much better.

'You are hungry, then?' And, as he did not reply, Jean, without being
observed, took one of the two remaining biscuits out of his knapsack,
and then, frankly lying, said, 'There, I kept your share for you. I ate
the other one just now.'

The dawn was breaking when the Seventh Corps left Oches, on the way to
Mouzon, through La Besace, where it ought to have slept. First of all,
the terrible convoy had gone off escorted by the First Division, and
whilst the train waggons, drawn by capital horses, set out at a good
pace, the vehicles that had been requisitioned, empty for the most part
and useless, dawdled in the strangest way between the ridges of the
defile of Stonne. The road rises--more particularly after passing the
hamlet of La Berlière--between wooded hills which overlook it. At about
eight o'clock, just as the two other divisions were at last setting
out, Marshal MacMahon made his appearance, and was exasperated at still
finding there the troops, whom he fancied would have left La Besace
at dawn with only a few miles to cover in order to reach Mouzon. And,
not unnaturally, he had a lively altercation with General Douay. It
was decided that the First Division and the convoy should be allowed
to continue their march on Mouzon, but that the other division should
take the road to Raucourt and Autrecourt, so as to pass the Meuse at
Villers, by which plan they would no longer be retarded by that heavy,
slow-travelling advance-guard. Once more, then, they had to take a
northerly direction, so eager was the marshal in his desire to place
the Meuse between his army and the enemy. They must, at any cost, be on
the right bank of the river that evening. Yet the rear-guard was still
at Oches, when a Prussian battery on a distant summit, in the direction
of St. Pierremont, again began the game of the day before, and fired.
At first the French unwisely returned the fire, but eventually the last
troops fell back.

Until eleven o'clock or so the 106th continued slowly following the
road which winds, between lofty rounded hills, through the depths of
the defile of Stonne. Precipitous bare crests rise up on the left, but
the slopes descending from the woods on the right are less abrupt. The
sun was now shining again, and it was very hot in that narrow valley,
the solitude of which was quite oppressive. After passing La Berlière,
which is overlooked by a lofty, dreary calvary, there was not a farm,
not a human being, not even a cow grazing in the meadows. And the men,
so weary and so hungry already the previous day, who had scarcely slept
and had eaten nothing, were even at this stage lapsing into a crawl,
dispirited and full of covert rage.

Then, all at once, as they were halted at the edge of the road, the
cannon thundered out on the right. The reports were so precise and
so loud that the fighting could not be more than a couple of leagues
away. The effect which the sound had upon these men, so wearied by
retreating, so enervated by waiting, was extraordinary. They all stood
there erect and quivering, forgetting their fatigue. Why did they not
march? They wished to fight, to get their skulls cracked, anything
rather than to continue fleeing as they were doing, without knowing
whither or why.

Taking Colonel de Vineuil with him, General Bourgain-Desfeuilles
had just ascended one of the hills on the right, with a view of
reconnoitring the country. They could both be seen levelling their
field-glasses up there, between two little woods; and they at once
despatched an aide-de-camp, who accompanied them, with orders to send
them the Francs-tireurs, if the latter were still with the troops. A
few of the men, Jean, Maurice, and others, accompanied Sambuc and his
comrades, to be in attendance in case of need.

'What a cursed country this is, with these everlasting hills and
woods!' exclaimed the general, as soon as he perceived Sambuc. 'You
hear that? Where is it? Where are they fighting?'

For a moment, Sambuc, to whom Ducat and Cabasse stuck like leeches,
listened and scanned the wide-spread horizon, without replying. Near
him was Maurice, gazing at the same scene, wonderstruck at sight of the
immense rolling expanse of vales and woods. It was like an endless sea
of huge, slowly rising waves. The forests blotched the yellow soil with
dark green, and under the fierce sun the distant hills were bathed in a
ruddy vapour. Although one could see nothing, not even a little smoke
against the background of clear sky, the cannon continued thundering,
with the din of a distant storm increasing in violence.

'There's Sommauthe on the right,' said Sambuc, at last, pointing to
a high summit crowned with foliage. 'Yoncq is there on the left--the
fighting is at Beaumont, general.'

'Yes, at Varniforêt or at Beaumont,' corroborated Ducat.

'Beaumont, Beaumont,' muttered the general; 'one never knows in this
cursed country----' Then he added aloud, 'And how far away is this
place, Beaumont?'

'About six miles, by taking the road from Le Chêne to Stenay, which
runs past over yonder.'

The cannonade did not cease, but seemed to be advancing from west
to east like a continuous roll of thunder. 'The devil! it's getting
hotter,' added Sambuc. 'I expected it. I warned you this morning,
general. Those are certainly the batteries we saw in the Dieulet woods.
At the present time the Fifth Corps must have to contend against all
that army which was coming up by Buzancy and Beauclair.'

There was a pause, whilst the battle roared louder and louder afar off.
Maurice had to set his teeth to restrain his furious desire to cry out.
Why did they lose time in talk, why did they not at once march towards
those guns? Never before had he experienced such excitement. Each
report re-echoed in his breast, raised him from the ground, inspired
him with a longing to rush to the battlefield, join in the fray, and at
once bring matters to an issue. Were they going to skirt that battle
like the others; elbow it, as it were, without firing even a shot? Was
there a wager on, that ever since the declaration of war they had been
dragged about like this, invariably fleeing from the foe? At Vouziers
they had only heard the shots fired by the rear-guard. At Oches the
enemy had merely cannonaded them in the rear for a few minutes. And
now were they going to scamper away, instead of hurrying to support
their comrades at the double quick? Maurice looked at Jean, who, like
himself, was very pale, with his eyes glittering feverishly. Every
heart bounded in response to the vehement call of the cannon.

However, there was another spell of waiting. A number of staff officers
were climbing the narrow pathway up the hill. It was General Douay
hastening to the spot with an anxious face, and when he, himself, had
questioned the Francs-tireurs, a cry of despair escaped him. But even
if he had been warned in the morning, what could he have done? The
marshal's orders were peremptory; they were to cross the Meuse before
evening, no matter at what cost. And now, how could he collect together
his columns écheloned along the road to Raucourt so as to throw them
rapidly upon Beaumont? Would they not certainly arrive too late? The
Fifth Corps must already be retreating in the direction of Mouzon; as,
indeed the cannonade clearly indicated, for it was travelling farther
and farther towards the east, like a hurricane of hail and disaster
passing along into the distance. With a gesture of fury at the thought
that he was so powerless, General Douay raised both his arms above the
vast horizon of hills and vales, fields and forests; and then angrily
gave orders to continue marching upon Raucourt.

Oh! that march in the depths of the defile of Stonne, between the
high crests, whilst the guns continued thundering behind the woods on
the right! At the head of the 106th rode Colonel de Vineuil, stiffly
bestriding his horse, with his pale head erect and his eyelids beating
as if to restrain his tears. Captain Beaudoin was biting his moustache
in silence, whilst Lieutenant Rochas could not refrain from muttering
blasphemous words, insulting everybody, himself included. And even
among the soldiers who were not desirous of fighting, among those who
were the least brave, there ascended a desire to shout and strike,
the anger born of the perpetual defeat, the rage they felt that they
should still have to fall back with heavy uncertain steps, whilst those
accursed Prussians were slaughtering their comrades yonder!

Below Stonne, whence a narrow road winds down through the hills, the
highway became broader, and the troops passed beside large fields,
intersected by little woods. Since leaving Oches the 106th, which
now found itself in the rear-guard, had, at every moment, been in
expectation of an attack; for the enemy was now following the column
step by step, observing its movements, and doubtless watching for a
favourable moment to fall upon its rear. Hostile cavalry, profiting
by the undulatory character of the country, was already trying to
gain upon the army's flanks. Several squadrons of the Prussian Guard
were at last seen debouching from behind a wood, but halted at sight
of a regiment of Hussars, which advanced, sweeping the road. And,
thanks to this respite, the retreat continued in fairly good order,
and the men were approaching Raucourt, when they beheld a sight which
increased their anguish and completed their demoralisation. All at
once, by a cross road, they caught sight of a precipitate rout coming
towards them--wounded officers, disbanded and unarmed soldiers,
galloping train-waggons, men and horses all fleeing, distracted,
beneath a hurricane of disaster! These were the remnants of a brigade
of the First Division which had escorted the convoy sent off in the
morning to Mouzon by way of La Besace. A mistake in the road, a
frightful mischance, had brought this brigade and a part of the convoy
to Varniforêt, near Beaumont, at the moment of the complete rout of
the Fifth Corps. Surprised, suddenly subjected to a flank attack,
succumbing beneath superior numbers, the men had fled, and panic was
bringing them back, bleeding, haggard, and half mad, distracting
their comrades with their terror. The stories they told spread fear
around them; they seemed to have come on the wings of that thunderous
cannonade which since noon had been heard without cessation.

Then, in passing through Raucourt there was desperate hustling and
anxiety. Ought they to turn to the right, towards Autrecourt, in view
of crossing the Meuse at Villers, as had been decided? Perplexed and
hesitating, General Douay feared that he might find the bridge there
blocked with retreating troops, perhaps even already in the power of
the Prussians. He preferred, therefore, to continue straight on through
the defile of Haraucourt, so as to reach Remilly before night. Again
had their destination been changed; after Mouzon, Villers, and after
Villers, Remilly. They were still marching due north, with the Uhlans
galloping behind them. They had now less than four miles to go, but it
was already five o'clock, and they were overwhelmingly fatigued. They
had been on foot since daybreak, and had taken twelve hours to cover
scarcely three leagues, tramping along, wearing themselves out with
endless halts, amid the liveliest emotions and fears. Moreover, during
the last two nights they had barely slept, and since leaving Vouziers
they had not been able to satisfy their hunger. They were sinking with
inanition. At Raucourt the scene was pitiable.

Raucourt is a well-to-do little town, with its numerous factories, its
well-built high street which the road follows, its coquettish-looking
church and town-hall. Only, all its resources had been exhausted;
the bakers' and grocers' shops had been emptied, even the crumbs in
the private houses had been swept away--first during the night that
the Emperor and Marshal MacMahon had spent there, when the town was
burdened with the staff and the imperial household, and then when the
whole of the First Corps passed through it on the following morning,
streaming along the highway like a river. Now there was no bread
left there, no more wine, no more sugar, nothing that can be eaten,
nothing that can be drunk--excepting water. Ladies had been seen
standing at their doors, distributing glasses of wine and cups of
broth, draining alike their casks and their saucepans to the dregs.
And thus everything had gone, and great was the despair when, at
about three o'clock, the first regiments of the Seventh Corps began
defiling along the high street. What! So it was beginning again! There
were still more soldiers! Once more, indeed, the high street became
a river of exhausted men--men covered with dust and dying of hunger,
without anybody having a morsel of anything to give to them. Many of
the soldiers halted, knocked at the doors, held out their hands towards
the windows, begging that a crust of bread might be thrown to them. And
there were women who sobbed, and who signed to the soldiers that they
could give them nothing, since they had nothing whatever left.

At the corner of a street called the Rue des Dix-Potiers Maurice's eyes
began to swim, and he staggered. Jean hastened to assist him, but,
sinking on a corner-stone, he murmured: 'No, leave me; this is the
end--I prefer to die here!'

'Thunder!' exclaimed the corporal, affecting the stern mien of a
discontented superior, 'who's given me such a soldier as you? Do you
want to be picked up by the Prussians? Make haste--up, and march!'

The young fellow did not reply; his face was livid, his eyes were
closed, and he had half fainted away. On seeing this, Jean swore
again, but in a tone of infinite pity: 'My God! My God!' And hastening
to a fountain near by, he filled his tin bowl with water, with which
he began to bathe his comrade's face. Then, this time without any
concealment, he drew from his knapsack that last biscuit which he had
so carefully preserved, and broke it into little morsels which he
placed between Maurice's teeth. The famished man opened his eyes and
began to devour.

'But you?' he suddenly asked, his memory returning to him. 'Didn't you
eat then?'

'I?' said Jean. 'Oh, I'm tougher than you. I can wait. A drop of Adam's
ale, and I'm on my legs again.'

He again went to the fountain to fill his bowl, which he emptied at a
draught, clacking his tongue. _His_ face, however, was also ashy pale,
and he felt so famished that his hands trembled.

'Make haste and let's get off,' he said to Maurice. 'We must join the
comrades, youngster.'

Leaning heavily on Jean's arm, Maurice then allowed himself to be
led away. Never had woman's arm brought such warmth as this to his
heart. Now that everything was crumbling to the ground, amid this
extreme misery, with death threatening him, he experienced a delicious
sensation of comfort, on realising that there was yet one who loved
him and succoured him; and perhaps also the idea that this heart which
was wholly his was the heart of a man of simple mind, of a peasant but
slightly removed from the soil, and who had once been so repugnant to
him, now added an infinite sweetness to his feelings of gratitude.
Was not this the fraternity of the earliest days of the world, the
friendship that existed long before there was any culture, before there
were any classes; the friendship of two men, linked together, bound
up in one another in their mutual need of assistance, threatened as
they were by inimical nature? He could hear his humanity beating in
Jean's breast, and he even felt proud that his comrade was stronger
than himself, that he succoured him and devoted himself to him; whilst
Jean, on the other hand, without analysing his sensations, experienced
a feeling of delight in shielding his young friend's refinement and
intelligence--qualities that in himself had remained in a rudimentary
state. Since the violent death of his wife, carried off in a fearful
tragedy, he had thought himself without a heart, and he had sworn that
he would have nothing more to do with those creatures who bring man so
much suffering, even when their natures are not evil. And the mutual
friendship of Jean and Maurice became to both of them, as it were,
an expansion of their beings; they did not embrace, and yet, however
dissimilar their natures, they were none the less closely united, so
bound up in one another, as they tramped along that terrible road to
Remilly, the one supporting the other, that they seemed to form but one
being compounded of pity and suffering.

Whilst the rear-guard was leaving Raucourt, the Germans entered
the town at the other end; and two of their batteries which were
immediately planted on the heights, upon the left, commenced firing.
At this moment, as the 106th was moving off by the downhill-road,
skirting the Emmane, it found itself in the line of fire. One shell cut
down a poplar on the river bank, and another buried itself in a meadow
near Captain Beaudoin. Until reaching Haraucourt the defile gradually
contracts, and one there plunges into a narrow passage, overlooked
on either hand by crested hills covered with trees. If a handful of
Prussians were in ambuscade there, a disaster was certain. Cannonaded
in the rear, with an attack possible both on right and left, the troops
now advanced in increasing anxiety, eager to get out of this dangerous
pass. And thus a last flash of energy came to even the weariest among
them. The men, who a little while ago had been crawling from door to
door through Raucourt, now stepped out jauntily, revived by the spur of
peril. Even the horses seemed to realise that a terrible price might
have to be paid for a moment lost; and the head of the column must
have already been at Remilly, and the impetus given to the retreat was
continuing, when all at once the men again ceased to advance.

'Dash it!' said Chouteau, 'are they going to leave us here?'

The 106th had not yet reached Haraucourt and the shells were still
falling. Whilst the regiment was marking time pending the resumption
of the march, a shell burst on the right, fortunately without wounding
anyone. Five minutes elapsed, seeming frightfully long, an eternity.
But the men could not move; there was some obstacle over yonder,
barring the road like a wall suddenly thrown up. The colonel, rising
in his stirrups, looked ahead, quivering, and feeling that panic was
spreading among his men behind him.

'Everyone knows that we've been sold!' resumed Chouteau, vehemently.

Then, under the lash of fear, loud murmurs arose, a swelling growl of
exasperation. Yes, yes; they had been brought there to be sold, to be
handed over to the Prussians!

Evil fortune had proved so implacable, the blunders committed had
been so excessive, that to these men of narrow minds such a series of
disasters could only be explained by treachery.

'We are betrayed! We are betrayed!' they shouted, in maddened voices.

Then, an idea occurring to Loubet he exclaimed: 'It's perhaps that
beast of an Emperor who's blocking the road with all his luggage.'

The surmise circulated, till it was positively affirmed that the
block was occasioned by the imperial household having intercepted the
column. Then the men swore abominable oaths, venting all the hatred
that had been roused in their breasts by the insolence of the Emperor's
attendants, who took possession of the towns where they slept,
unpacking their provisions, their baskets of wine, and their silver
plate in the presence of soldiers who were destitute of everything, and
setting the kitchens ablaze when the poor devils had to go without a
particle of food.

Ah! that wretched Emperor--now without a throne or a command, like
a lost child in the midst of his empire, carried off as if he were
some useless parcel among the baggage of his troops, condemned to
drag about with him the irony of his gala household, his Cent-Gardes,
his carriages, his horses, his cooks, his vans, all the pomp of his
bee-spangled state robes, sweeping up the blood and the mire of the
highways of defeat!

Two more shells now fell in quick succession, and a splinter carried
off Lieutenant Rochas's cap. The ranks closed up amid violent
pushing--a kind of wave, the ebbing of which spread afar off. Men were
calling out in choking voices, and Lapoulle shouted to those in front
of him to advance. Another minute, perhaps, and a frightful catastrophe
would take place, a _sauve-qui-peut_ which would result in the men
engaging in a furious _mêlée_ together, and being crushed to death in
the depths of that narrow pass.

The colonel turned round, looking very pale: 'My lads, my lads,' he
said, 'a little patience. I have sent some one to see--we are off.'

But the march was not resumed, and the seconds seemed like centuries.
Jean had already taken Maurice by the hand, and with admirable calmness
was explaining to him in a whisper that if their comrades should again
begin pushing, they had better jump aside on the left, and climb
through the woods on the other side of the little river. He looked
round for the Francs-tireurs, in the idea that they must know the
roads, but he was told that they had disappeared while the regiment
was passing through Raucourt. And then, all at once, the march was
resumed; they turned round a bend of the road, and were thenceforth
screened from the German batteries. Later on, some of them learned that
it was General de Bonnemain's division of cavalry--four regiments of
Cuirassiers--that had thus intercepted and stopped the Seventh Corps in
the confusion of that disastrous day.

The night was falling when the 106th passed through Augecourt. The
wooded crests still rose upon the right, but on the left the defile
grew broader, and a bluish valley could be seen in the distance. At
last from the heights of Remilly they perceived, in the evening mist,
a pale silvery ribbon winding through the immense rolling expanse of
meadow and cultivated land. It was the Meuse--the Meuse they had so
longed to reach and where it seemed the victory was to be.

And Maurice, stretching out his arm towards some distant, tiny lights,
that were gaily shining out amid the verdure in the depths of that
fruitful valley, so delightfully charming in the gentle twilight, said
to Jean, with the joyous relief of a man who again finds a spot he
loves: 'There--look over yonder--that is SEDAN!'



CHAPTER VII

IN VIEW OF SEDAN--SILVINE'S STORY


A frightful medley of men, horses, and vehicles encumbered the sloping
street of Remilly, descending in zigzags to the Meuse. Halfway down the
hill, in front of the church, were some guns, the wheels of which were
locked together, and the men seemed unable to get them any farther,
however much they might swear and push. Near the spinning-mill below,
where a fall of the Emmane roars, a train of baggage waggons was
stranded, completely blocking the road; whilst an ever-swelling mob of
exasperated soldiers was fighting at the Cross of Malta inn, without
any of the men being able to obtain even a glass of wine.

The furious rush came to an end on the southern side of the village,
which a copse here separates from the Meuse. The Engineers had thrown a
pontoon bridge across the river during the morning. On the right there
was a ferry with the waterman's solitary house standing out whitely
among the tall rushes. Large fires had been lighted on both banks, and
every now and then the flames, deftly encouraged, set the night all
aglow, lighting up both the water and the shore, as though it had been
midday. One could then perceive the enormous accumulation of troops
waiting here; for only two men could cross the foot-bridge at a time,
whilst the pontoon bridge, which was certainly not more than ten feet
wide, was encumbered with artillery, cavalry and baggage waggons,
defiling over it at a distressingly slow pace. It was reported that a
brigade of the First Corps and an ammunition convoy were still on the
spot, besides four regiments of Cuirassiers belonging to Bonnemain's
division; and now, in the rear, came the entire Seventh Army Corps,
thirty and odd thousand men, who believing that they had the enemy at
their heels were feverishly eager to reach a place of safety by getting
across the stream.

For a moment perfect despair prevailed when the men of the Seventh
Corps arrived on the scene. What! they had been marching ever since
morning without anything to eat, and had managed, by dint of superhuman
exertion, to escape out of that terrible defile of Haraucourt, simply
to plunge into all this confusion and bewilderment, to run their heads,
as it were, against an impassable wall! Many hours would probably
elapse before the last arrivals were able to cross; and, even supposing
the Prussians should not dare to continue the pursuit during the night,
it was certain they would be on the spot at daybreak. Nevertheless,
orders were given to pile arms, and the men encamped on some extensive
bare hills, whose slopes, skirted by the road to Mouzon, descend to the
meadows of the Meuse. On a plateau, in the rear, the reserve artillery
took up position, with the guns pointed towards the defile so that, if
necessary, they might shell its outlet.

Meantime, the 106th was installed, above the road, in some stubble
overlooking the far-spreading plain. The men parted with their
chassepots regretfully, glancing behind them with disquietude, haunted
as they were with the apprehension of an attack. With their teeth set
and a harsh expression on their faces, they abstained from chatting
together, merely growling angry words, every now and then. Nine o'clock
was on the point of striking; they had been there for a couple of
hours; and many of them, though atrociously weary, were unable to
sleep, and lay upon the ground listening and starting at the faintest
sounds that were wafted from afar off. They no longer struggled against
the hunger that consumed them. They would eat when they got across the
river, and then, if there were nothing else, they would eat the grass.
Down below, however, the obstruction was increasing, and the officers,
whom General Douay had posted near the bridge, came every twenty
minutes or so with the same irritating tidings that many hours must
elapse before all the troops could be got across. At last the general
decided to make his way to the bridge in person, and he could be seen
struggling in the midst of this human sea and urging on the march.

Seated against a bank by the side of Jean, Maurice pointed to the
north as he had done before. 'Sedan lies there below,' said he. 'And,
look, Bazeilles is yonder! And then there's Douzy and Carignan on the
right--it's at Carignan, no doubt, that we shall be concentrated. Ah!
there's plenty of room there, as you would soon see, if it were only
daylight!'

His gesture embraced the whole of the immense shadowy valley. The sky
was not so dark as to prevent one from discerning the pale river,
coursing through the expanse of black, rolling meadows. Here and there
the tufts of trees formed denser patches and a row of poplars barred
the horizon on the left, as with a fantastic-looking dyke. Then, in
the depths far away, behind Sedan, dotted with bright little lights,
there was an accumulation of darkness, as though all the forests of the
Ardennes had there stretched a curtain of their centenarian oaks.

Jean was again gazing at the pontoon bridge below them. 'Look!' said
he, 'it will all give way. We shall never get across.'

The fires were now burning higher on both banks, and their glow had
become so bright that the frightful scene was clearly visible. The
pontoons, supporting the timbers, had ended by sinking beneath the
weight of all the artillery and cavalry that had passed over them since
the morning, and the brow or platform of the bridge was a few inches
under water. Two by two, in endless files went the Cuirassiers, who
were now crossing the stream, slowly emerging from the darkness on
one bank, and passing at last into that on the other. As the bridge
could no longer be seen, it seemed as though they were marching on the
water, on the brightly illumined river, in which a lurid conflagration
was dancing. The neighing horses, with their manes raised and their
legs stiffened by fright, advanced but slowly over the swaying bridge,
which seemed to be gliding away beneath them. Erect in their stirrups,
and with tightened reins, still did the Cuirassiers pass and pass, all
uniformly draped in long white cloaks, and their helmets blazing with
fiery reflections. They looked like phantom horsemen, with flaming
hair, marching away to some tenebrous warfare.

A deep plaint escaped from Jean's contracted throat: 'Oh! how hungry I
am!'

The men around him, despite the complaining groans of their empty
stomachs, had now fallen asleep. Their weariness was so intense that
it had finally mastered their fears, and had stretched them on their
backs with open mouths, overwhelmed beneath the dark sky which no moon
illumined. From one to the other end of those bare hills, waiting and
expectancy had now given place to a death-like silence.

'Oh! how hungry I am, so hungry I could eat the very earth.' Such was
the cry which Jean, so inured to hardship and usually so silent, was
no longer able to restrain; a cry which he raised despite himself, in
the delirium caused by privation; for six-and-thirty hours had now
elapsed since he had partaken of any food. Then Maurice, who realised
that their regiment would not cross the Meuse at least for another two
or three hours, made up his mind to speak: 'Listen,' said he, 'I have
an uncle living near here; uncle Fouchard, whom I told you about. His
place is over there, some five or six hundred yards away. I hesitated
about going, but since you are so hungry we had better try him. He will
give us some bread at all events.' Thereupon he led his unresisting
comrade away.

Old Fouchard's little farm was situated on the outskirts of the defile
of Haraucourt, near the plateau where the reserve artillery was
encamped. There was a low house, with outbuildings of considerable
extent, a barn, a cowshed, and a stable: and, in a kind of coach-house
on the other side of the road, the old peasant had installed his
butcher's business. It was there that he slaughtered the animals which
he subsequently hawked through the surrounding villages in his cart.
As the two men drew near to the place Maurice was surprised not to see
any light in the house. 'The old miser!' he muttered; 'he must have
barricaded himself indoors--he won't open.'

On reaching the road, the young fellow stopped short at sight of a
dozen marauding soldiers--hungry rascals, no doubt, on the prowl for
something to fill their maws with--who were moving hither and thither
in front of the farmhouse. They had begun by calling; then they had
knocked; and now, as the house remained quite black and silent, they
were battering the door with the butt-ends of their guns with the
object of breaking the lock open. Gruff voices could be heard roaring:
'Thunder! Hit harder! Break the cursed door down, since there's no one
inside.'

Suddenly, however, the shutter of a garret window was flung back, and
a tall old man, wearing a blouse and with his head bare, appeared
carrying a tallow candle in one hand and a gun in the other. He had
coarse white hair and a square, broadly wrinkled face, with a prominent
nose, large light-coloured eyes and a chin expressive of obstinate
self-will.

'Are you fellows thieves, that you are smashing everything like that?'
he shouted in a harsh voice. 'What on earth do you want?'

The soldiers drew back, somewhat abashed: 'We are dying of hunger. We
want something to eat,' they answered.

'I've got nothing, not even a crust! Do you fellows think we can
feed hundreds of thousands of men? Other troops passed by here this
morning--General Ducrot's men--and they took everything I had.'

One by one the soldiers were again drawing nearer: 'All the same, just
open your door. We'll have a rest. You'll be able to find us a morsel,
sure enough.'

They were again hammering on the door, when the old man, after placing
the candle on the window-sill, raised his gun to his shoulder: 'As true
as that's a candle,' he shouted, 'I'll send a bullet into the head of
the first man who touches my door!'

A combat appeared imminent. Curses resounded, and some one shouted that
they ought to settle the hash of that swinish peasant, who, like the
rest of the litter, would have flung his bread into the water rather
than give a bite to a soldier. The chassepots were already levelled,
and it seemed certain that he would be shot down, for, in his obstinate
rage, he remained standing there, clearly visible in the flaring
candle-light.

'Nothing at all,' he resumed, 'not a crust! Everything has been taken
from me.'

At this moment Maurice, in dire alarm, sprang forward followed by Jean.

'Comrades, comrades!' he shouted as with a blow of his arm he lowered
the guns of the marauders; and then, raising his head, he called to
Fouchard in a supplicating tone: 'Come, be reasonable. Don't you know
me?'

'Who are you?'

'Your nephew, Maurice Levasseur.'

Fouchard had taken up the candle again, and, doubtless, he recognised
Maurice; but he remained obstinate, determined not to give the men even
so much as a glass of water. 'Nephew, indeed!' he growled; 'who can
tell in that cursed darkness? Begone all of you, or I'll fire!' And
amid the shouts that were then raised, the threats that they would
pick him off and fire his shanty, he continued bawling the same phrase,
repeating it a score of times: 'Begone all of you, or I'll fire!'

'Even on me, father?' suddenly called a loud voice which resounded
above all the tumult.

The other men had drawn on one side, and now, in the flickering
candle-light, a quartermaster suddenly appeared. It was Honoré, whose
battery was stationed less than two hundred yards away, and who, for a
couple of hours, had been struggling with a desire he felt to go and
knock at his father's door. Yet he had sworn that he would never again
cross the threshold, and, during the four years that he had been in
the army, he had not once written to the old man whom he now addressed
so curtly. The marauders were already talking together with animation,
and concerting other measures. So that was the old fellow's son--a
quartermaster, eh! Such being the case there was evidently nothing to
be done; matters might turn out badly, and they had far better try
their luck elsewhere. Thereupon they slunk away, speedily vanishing
amid the pitchy darkness.

When Fouchard realised that he was saved from being pillaged, he
exclaimed, without evincing the slightest emotion, and, in fact, as
though he had seen his son only the day before: 'It's you--all right,
I'm coming down.'

It was a long business. He could be heard unlocking and re-locking
doors which, like a careful man, he kept secured. Then, at last, the
front door was just set ajar and held vigorously to prevent it from
being flung wide open. '_You_ can come in--but no one else, mind,' said
Fouchard to his son. Evident as was his repugnance, however, he could
not refuse shelter to his nephew: 'Well, you too,' he added.

Then he pitilessly pushed the door back on Jean, and Maurice again had
to supplicate. But the old man was obstinate; no, no, he didn't want
any strangers, any thieves to smash the furniture. Honoré, however,
at last forced the door open with his shoulder and made the corporal
enter; the old fellow being compelled to yield, though he continued
muttering covert threats. He had not parted with his gun, but when he
had led them into the living-room he rested it against the sideboard,
and placing the candle on the table, sank into stubborn silence.

'I say, father, we are dying of hunger. You'll surely give us some
bread and cheese?'

Fouchard made no answer; he did not seem to hear his son, but
repeatedly stepped up to the window to listen whether some fresh band
were not on the point of besieging his house. 'Come, uncle,' said
Maurice, 'Jean's a brother. He went without food to save me. We have
suffered so dreadfully together.'

The old man, however, continued his perambulations, satisfying himself
that everything was in its place, and without even casting a glance
at his son and nephew. Still without saying a word, he at last made
up his mind to grant their request, and then, taking the candle, he
went off, leaving them in the darkness and carefully locking the door
behind him so that he might not be followed. He could be heard going
down the cellar stairs, and then another long interval ensued. When he
came back he again made the door fast and placed a large loaf and a
cheese upon the table, still maintaining his obstinate silence, not,
however, that he was sullen, for his anger had passed away, but from
motives of policy, since one can never tell how far talking may lead
one. Moreover, the three men were in no mood to waste words, but fell
on the food and began to devour it. No sound could now be heard save
the savage crunching of their jaws.

Honoré at last rose to fetch a pitcher of water standing near the
sideboard. 'You might have given us some wine, father,' said he.

Fouchard, who was recovering his calmness and self-control, at the
same time found his tongue again: 'Wine? Why, I haven't a drop left.
Ducrot's men ate and drank and pillaged everything I had.'

He was lying, and all his efforts to conceal it were unavailing; it
could be clearly detected by the blinking of his big pale eyes. A
couple of days previously he had concealed his cattle, the few cows he
kept and the oxen and sheep reserved for his business, driving them
away in the night and hiding them no one knew where, but possibly in
the depths of some wood or some abandoned quarry. And since then he
had spent long hours at home in burying his wine, his bread, in fact
all his provisions, even to the flour and salt, so that one would
have ransacked every cupboard in vain. The house was cleared. He had
even refused to sell anything to the first soldiers who had presented
themselves. There was no telling, perhaps he might have better
opportunities, and vague ideas of making a pile of money germinated in
this shrewd, patient miser's brain.

Maurice, promptly satisfying his hunger, was the first to speak. 'And
is it long since you saw my sister, Henriette?' he asked.

The old fellow was still walking about, glancing every now and then
at Jean, who was precipitately swallowing huge mouthfuls of bread;
and slowly, as though weighing every word he answered: 'Henriette?
Yes, I saw her last month at Sedan. But I caught sight of her husband,
Weiss, this morning. He was in a trap with his employer, Monsieur
Delaherche--they were going to Mouzon to see the army pass, just by way
of amusing themselves.' An expression of profound irony passed over the
old peasant's stolid face. 'Perhaps,' added he, 'they may have seen
too much of the army, and not have had much amusement--for after three
o'clock, it was impossible to pass along the roads. They were crowded
with runaways.'

Then, in the same quiet voice and with an air of seeming indifference,
he gave some particulars respecting the defeat of the Fifth Corps,
which, whilst the men were preparing their _soupe_, had been surprised
at Beaumont by the Bavarians, and thrown back as far as Mouzon.[24]
Some panic-stricken, disbanded soldiers, on their way through Remilly,
had shouted to him that De Failly had once more sold them to Bismarck.
On hearing all this Maurice could not help thinking of the precipitate
marching of the last two days, of the orders to hasten the retreat
given by MacMahon, now all eagerness to cross the Meuse at any
cost after so many precious days had been lost in incomprehensible
hesitation. But the decision had come too late. Doubtless the marshal,
so angered on finding the Seventh Corps still at Oches when it ought to
have reached La Besace, had imagined that the Fifth Corps was already
encamped at Mouzon, when, in reality, it was being crushed at Beaumont,
through its folly in tarrying there. What, however, could be required,
expected of troops who were so badly commanded, so demoralised by
waiting and persistent retreating, exhausted alike by hunger and
weariness?

Fouchard had ended by stationing himself behind Jean, astonished to see
what a prodigious quantity of bread and cheese the corporal managed
to put away. 'You feel better now, eh?' he remarked, in a bantering
fashion.

Jean raised his head, and with the same peasant-like air replied: 'A
little, thanks.'

Meanwhile, despite his intense hunger, Honoré every now and then ceased
eating, and turned his head to listen as if he fancied he could hear
some sound or other. If, after a fight with himself, he had broken his
oath that he would never again set foot in that house, it was solely
on account of the irresistible desire he experienced to see Silvine
once more. Under his shirt, against his very skin, he preserved the
letter he had received from her at Rheims, that tender letter in which
she told him that she still loved him, and that she would never love
anyone else, despite all the cruel past, despite Goliath, despite even
little Charlot,[25] the Prussian's son and her own. And now Honoré had
thoughts only for her, and felt anxious at not having yet seen her,
though he strove to hide his anxiety from his father. Passion, however,
won the day, and at last, endeavouring to speak in a natural voice, he
inquired: 'And Silvine--is she still with you?'

Fouchard glanced askance at his son, his eyes glittering with inward
merriment: 'Yes, yes,' he answered.

Then he relapsed into silence and began spitting; and the artilleryman,
after a pause, was forced to resume: 'She's in bed, then?'

'No, no.'

At last, however, the old man condescended to explain that, in spite
of what was happening, he had driven to Raucourt market that morning
in his cart, taking the girl with him. Soldiers might be passing along
the roads, but surely that was no reason why people should cease
eating meat, or why he should neglect his business. So, as was his
habit every Tuesday, he had driven to Raucourt with a sheep and some
beef, and was just finishing his sales when the Seventh Corps made its
appearance, and he speedily found himself in the midst of a frightful
hubbub. Soldiers were running about hustling everybody, and fearing
that some of them might steal his horse and cart, he had taken himself
off, leaving Silvine behind; she, it appeared, was away at the time,
carrying meat to some customers in the town. 'Oh! she'll find her
way back sure enough,' he added: 'she must have taken refuge at Dr.
Dalichamp, her godfather's--she's a brave girl, although she only seems
to know how to obey--she has her qualities, certainly she has.'

Was he jeering? Was he desirous of explaining why he still retained
the services of that girl, the cause of his quarrel with his son, and
this, despite the child, from whom she refused to be parted? Again did
Fouchard give Honoré a sidelong glance, and laugh inwardly as he added,
'Charlot's in there, asleep in her room; so it's certain she won't be
very long coming.'

Honoré, whose lips were quivering, gazed so fixedly at his father that
the latter again began walking up and down. Then the silence fell once
more, whilst the artilleryman, in a mechanical way, cut himself another
piece of bread, and went on eating. Jean also continued devouring the
bread and cheese without feeling the slightest desire to talk. Maurice,
whose hunger was appeased, sat there with his elbows on the table,
examining the furniture of the room, the old sideboard and the old
clock, and dreaming of the holidays that he and his sister had spent at
Remilly in times long past. Thus the minutes went by, and at last the
clock struck eleven.

'The devil!' muttered Maurice. 'We mustn't let the others go off.'

Without any opposition on Fouchard's part, he then opened the window.
The whole black valley was hollowed out there below, looking, at the
first glance, like a sombre rolling sea; but when the eyes had become
accustomed to the scene, one could clearly distinguish the bridge,
illumined by the fires on both banks. The Cuirassiers were still
crossing the river, draped in their long white cloaks, and looking
like phantoms whose horses, lashed onward by a blast of terror, seemed
to be walking on the water. And the endless, interminable procession
continued crawling along, like some vision passing slowly before the
eyes. Meantime, on the bare hills on the right, where the troops were
slumbering, all was as still and silent as death itself.

'Ah, well!' said Maurice, with a gesture of despair, 'it will be for
to-morrow morning.'

He had left the window wide open, and old Fouchard, catching up his
gun, sprang over the sill and jumped out with the nimbleness of a young
man. For a moment he could be heard marching along with the regular
step of a sentinel, and then the only audible sound was that of the
commotion on the encumbered bridge far away; doubtless the old peasant
had seated himself by the roadside, where he felt more at his ease,
since he could there watch for any threatening danger, prepared, if
need were, to jump indoors again and defend his house.

And now not a minute elapsed but Honoré glanced at the clock. His
disquietude was increasing. Less than four miles separate Raucourt
from Remilly, a matter of an hour's walk for a sturdy young girl like
Silvine. Why had she not arrived, for many and many hours had now
elapsed since the old man had left her amid the confusion created by
the army corps flooding the district and blocking up the roads? Some
catastrophe must certainly have befallen her; and he pictured her in
dire distress--wandering distracted through the fields, or knocked down
and trampled upon by the horses on the high road.

Suddenly, however, he, Maurice and Jean, rose to their feet. Some one
was running down the road, and they had distinctly heard the old man
cock his gun. 'Who goes there?' called Fouchard, in a harsh voice. 'Is
it you, Silvine?'

There was no answer, and he repeated his question, threatening to fire.
Then an oppressed, panting voice managed to articulate: 'Yes, yes, it's
I, father Fouchard.' And immediately afterwards the girl inquired: 'And
Charlot?'

'He's in bed and asleep.'

'Oh! all right then--thanks!' Thereupon she no longer hastened, but
heaved a deep sigh, in which she exhaled all her weariness and anguish.

'Get in by the window,' resumed Fouchard. 'There's some one inside.'

Springing into the room, she stopped short in surprise at sight of the
three men. In the flickering candle-light she appeared before them,
very dark-complexioned, with thick black hair, and with large, lovely
eyes, that sufficed to render her beautiful, lighting up her oval face,
which usually wore an expression of submissive tranquillity. But the
sudden sight of Honoré had now brought all the blood in her heart to
her cheeks, albeit she was not astonished to find him there, for she
had been thinking of him whilst running back from Raucourt.

He was choking, and felt extremely faint, but he affected great
calmness.

'Good evening, Silvine.'

'Good evening, Honoré.'

Then, that she might not burst into sobs, she averted her head and
smiled at Maurice, whom she had just recognised. Jean's presence
inconvenienced her. She felt as though she were stifling, and took off
the kerchief she wore about her neck.

'We were anxious about you, Silvine,' resumed Honoré, 'on account of
all those Prussians who are coming up.'

She suddenly became very pale again, and an expression of agitation
swept over her face. Glancing involuntarily in the direction of the
room where Charlot was asleep, and waving her hand as if to drive away
some frightful vision, she muttered: 'The Prussians, yes--yes, I have
seen them.'

Then, worn out with fatigue, she sank upon a chair, and related that on
the invasion of Raucourt by the Seventh Corps she had sought refuge at
the house of Dr. Dalichamp, her godfather, hoping that Fouchard would
think of fetching her before he started home. Such was the hustling
and confusion in the high street that a dog would not have ventured
there. She had waited patiently, and without feeling much uneasiness,
till four o'clock, employing her time meanwhile in helping several
ladies to prepare some lint; for, in the idea that some of the wounded
from Metz and Verdun, supposing there were any fighting over there,
would be sent on to Raucourt, the doctor had been busily engaged for a
fortnight past in installing an ambulance at the town-hall. Some people
came who asserted that this ambulance might be required at once; and in
point of fact a cannonade had been heard since noon in the direction of
Beaumont. Still, that was some distance away, and nobody felt alarmed.
Suddenly, however, just as the last French soldiers were on the point
of leaving Raucourt a shell plunged, with a fearful crash, through the
roof of a neighbouring house. Two others followed--a German battery
was cannonading the rear guard of the Seventh Army Corps. Some wounded
men from Beaumont having already been brought to the town-hall, it was
feared that a shell might fall upon them, and finish them off on the
straw mattresses on which they were lying waiting for the doctor to
attend to them. Maddened by terror these unfortunate men rose up, and
despite their broken limbs, which drew from them loud cries of agony,
insisted on crawling into the cellar, which they considered to be the
only safe place.

'And then,' continued Silvine. 'I don't know how it happened, but all
at once everything became silent--I had gone upstairs to a window
overlooking the street and the country, and I could no longer see
anyone, not a single French soldier. But suddenly I heard a heavy
tramp. Somebody called out something I did not understand, and then
the butt-ends of a number of muskets fell with a thud on the ground.
In the street down below there were a lot of dark-looking men, short
and grimed with dirt, with huge, hideous heads and wearing helmets
like those that our firemen wear. I was told they were Bavarians.
Then, as I raised my eyes, I saw--oh! I saw thousands and thousands
of them, coming along by the roads and the fields and the woods, in
close columns which never seemed to end. The whole country-side at once
became quite black with them. It was like a swarm of black locusts
coming and coming in such numbers that in less than no time I could no
longer see the ground.'

She shuddered, and again made that gesture with her hand to drive away
a frightful remembrance.

'And then--ah! you can't imagine what happened. It seems that these
men had been three days on the march and had just been fighting like
furies at Beaumont. And they were dying of hunger, half out of their
senses, with their eyes starting from their heads. Their officers made
no attempt to restrain them, and they all rushed into the houses and
the shops, bursting open the doors, breaking the windows, smashing the
furniture, searching everywhere for something to eat and drink, and
swallowing no matter what came into their hands. I saw one at Monsieur
Simonnet's--the grocer's--who was scooping molasses out of a tub with
his helmet. Others were munching pieces of raw bacon. Others, too,
were swallowing flour. It had already been said that there was nothing
left, as our soldiers had been passing through the town for forty-eight
hours or more, but these men managed to find something--provisions
that had been hidden, no doubt, and this made them think that people
purposely refused them food, and they set to work like madmen, smashing
everything. In less than an hour the grocers' shops, and the bakers'
and the butchers' and even the private houses had all their windows
broken, their cupboards ransacked, and their cellars invaded and
emptied. At the doctor's, you may believe me or not, but I actually
caught sight of one fat fellow, who was eating the soap! It was,
however, especially the cellar which they ravaged. We could hear them
from upstairs, roaring down there like wild beasts, smashing the
bottles and turning on the taps of all the casks, so that the wine
rushed out with the noise of a waterfall. When they came up again their
hands had been quite reddened by all the wine they had been messing
with. And--see how it is when men become savages--Monsieur Dalichamp
vainly did his utmost to prevent one soldier from drinking some syrup
of opium which he had found in a wine bottle. The wretched fellow must
certainly be dead by now; he was suffering dreadfully when I came away.'

Seized with a great shudder she covered her eyes with her hands as
though to shut out the sight of all she had seen. 'No, no,' she gasped,
'it was too frightful; it stifles me.'

Old Fouchard, still outside, had drawn near and stood by the window,
listening. This story of pillage had made him thoughtful. He had been
told that the Prussians paid for everything; were they now turning
thieves, then? Maurice and Jean also evinced the keenest interest in
these particulars concerning the enemy, whom this girl had just seen,
but whom they themselves had not yet met, though the fighting had been
going on for a month past. Honoré, however, with a pensive air and
twitching mouth, took interest in her alone, being absorbed in thoughts
of the calamity that had long since parted them.

Just then the door of the next room opened, and little Charlot ran in.
He must have heard his mother's voice; and now, simply clad in his
shirt, he was coming to kiss her. Pink and fair, and very big for his
age, he had a light curly crop of hair and large blue eyes. Silvine
shuddered on seeing him appear so suddenly, as though startled by his
resemblance to his father. Did she no longer know her own fondly loved
child, that she thus gazed at him with an air of fright, as if face to
face with some horrible vision? At last she burst into sobs. 'My poor
little one!' she murmured.

And then, like one distracted, she caught him in her arms and pressed
him to her neck, whilst Honoré, turning livid, noted Charlot's
remarkable likeness to Goliath. The child had the same fair,
square-shaped head as his father; his healthy, infantile form, fresh
cheeks, and smiling lips seemed typical of the German race. So this was
the Prussian's son, 'the little Prussian,' as the jokers of Remilly
called him! And there was his mother, pressing him to her bosom--his
mother, this Frenchwoman, still overwhelmed, and with her heart
lacerated by all that she had seen of the invasion!

'My poor little one, be good: go to bed again; go to by-by, my poor
little fellow.''

Then she carried him away, and when she again returned she was no
longer crying; she had once more recovered her calm, docile, courageous
expression of countenance. It was Honoré who, in a trembling voice,
resumed the conversation: 'And the Prussians?'

'Ah! yes, the Prussians,' said Silvine. 'Well, they had broken
everything, pillaged everything, eaten everything, drunk everything.
They also stole the house linen, the napkins, the towels, the sheets,
even the muslin curtains, which they tore into long strips to dress
their feet with. I saw some of them whose feet were so many big sores,
so fearfully had they been punished by their terrible march. In the
road, in front of the doctor's, a number of them took off their boots
and bound strips of lace-edged chemises round their heels--chemises
which they had stolen, no doubt, from pretty Madame Lefèvre, the
manufacturer's wife. The pillage lasted till nightfall. The houses had
no doors and scarcely a pane of glass left, but were quite open to the
street, and you could see the remnants of furniture inside--everything
smashed--a sight to make the calmest people furious. I was almost out
of my senses, and I could not stay there any longer. At the doctor's
they tried to detain me, telling me that the roads were blocked, that
they were not safe, that I should certainly be killed; but, all the
same, I went off, and took to the fields on the right hand as soon as
I got out of Raucourt. Carts full of French and Prussian wounded, all
heaped up together, were arriving from Beaumont. Two passed quite close
to me in the darkness, and I heard such groans, such shrieks of pain
that I ran--oh! I ran right across the fields and through the woods
without knowing where I was--going a long distance out of my way over
towards Villers. I hid myself three times, fancying I could hear some
soldiers, but the only person I met was another woman, who was running,
like myself--running away from Beaumont--and who told me things that
made my hair stand on end. Well, at last I got here, and I feel so
wretched--oh, so wretched!'

Her sobs were again suffocating her, but the haunting memory of her
adventure soon brought her back to her narrative, and she related
what the woman of Beaumont had told her. This woman, who lived in the
main street of the village, had seen the German artillery pass after
nightfall. On either side of the way stood a line of soldiers carrying
torches of resin, which illumined the road with the ruddy glare of a
conflagration. And in the middle a stream of horses, guns, and caissons
swept past, urged on at a furious, hellish gallop. Frenzied and
diabolical were the haste and eagerness to achieve victory, to pursue,
overtake, finish off, and crush the French troops in the depths of some
pit near by. Nothing was spared, every obstacle was annihilated, and
still and ever the artillery swept past. If horses fell, their traces
were immediately cut, and they were crushed, rolled on, thrust aside
like bloody wreckage. The men who tried to cross were in their turn
knocked down and hashed to mincemeat by the cannon wheels. And, as
the hurricane swept along, the famished drivers did not for a moment
think of halting, but deftly caught the loaves of bread that were
flung to them, and seized hold of the hunks of meat which some of the
torchbearers had stuck upon the tips of their bayonets. And then with
these same bayonets the torchbearers prodded the horses, which reared
and plunged, and, maddened by pain, galloped faster and faster away.
And thus, as the night went by, still and ever the artillery rushed
along with tempestuous violence, in the midst of frantic hurrahs.

Despite the attention he had been giving to Silvine's narrative,
Maurice, overcome with fatigue after his gluttonous repast, had just
let his head fall upon the table, on which he was resting both arms.
For another minute Jean continued struggling, then he, in his turn, was
vanquished and fell asleep at the other end of the table. Meantime, old
Fouchard had gone down the road again, and thus Honoré found himself
alone with Silvine, who was now sitting, quite still, in front of the
open window.

The quartermaster rose up and approached the window in his turn. The
night was still dense and black, laden with the hard breathing of
thousands of troops. Louder, more sonorous sounds, were now rising,
however--now a cracking noise, then the thud of a collision. At present
some artillery was crossing the half-submerged bridge down below.
Horses reared, frightened by the dancing, flowing water. Caissons
slipped, and as they could not be righted, had to be thrown into the
stream. And at sight of the retreat which was being so painfully, so
slowly effected across the river--this retreat, which had begun the
previous day, and would certainly not be accomplished by dawn--the
young man instinctively thought of that other artillery--the artillery
of the foe--rushing like a wild torrent through Beaumont, overthrowing
all before it, and crushing both man and beast so that it might travel
the faster.

At last, Honoré drew near to Silvine, and in full view of all that
darkness through which fierce quiverings sped, he gently said to her,
'So you are unhappy?'

'Yes, very unhappy.' She divined that he was going to speak of the
abomination, and she lowered her head.

'Tell me,' he resumed; 'how did it happen?'

At first she could not answer him, but he plied her with questions, and
at last, in a choking voice, she stammered: 'My God! I do not know; I
swear to you I do not even know. But it would be wrong to tell a lie,
and I cannot excuse myself. I cannot say that he struck me--but you
were gone, and I was mad, and it came to pass I know not, I know not
how.'

Her sobs were stifling her, and for a moment Honoré paused. His face
was ashy pale, and his throat contracted. However, the idea that she
refused to tell a lie rendered him somewhat calmer. At last he began
questioning her afresh, his mind still busy with all that he did not as
yet understand.

'All the same, my father kept you here?' said he.

Growing calmer once more, again recovering her expression of courageous
resignation, she answered, without raising her eyes: 'I do his work;
I don't cost much to keep; and now, as there is another mouth besides
my own to feed, he has lowered my wages. He knows well enough that,
whatever he may order me to do, I am now obliged to do it.'

'But you, why did you stay?'

At this she was so surprised that she raised her eyes and looked at
him: 'I? Where would you have me go? Here, at least my little one and I
have something to eat, and live in peace.'

The silence fell once more. They were now looking into one another's
eyes. The panting of the throng was ascending in increased volume from
the dark valley below, and the rumbling of the guns as they rolled
over the pontoon bridge seemed interminable. Suddenly a loud cry, the
forlorn cry of some man or beast, infinitely piteous, sped through the
dark expanse.

'Listen to me, Silvine,' slowly resumed Honoré; 'you sent me a letter
which gave me great joy. But for that I should never have come back
here. I read it again this evening, and in it you say things that could
not be better said.'

She had at first turned pale on hearing him mention her letter. Perhaps
he was angry with her for having dared to write to him like some bold,
vulgar wench. But as he proceeded, she became quite red.

'I know you don't like lying,' continued Honoré, 'and for that reason
I believe what you wrote to me. Yes, I now thoroughly believe it.
You were right in thinking that if I had been killed during the war,
without seeing you again, I should have been very unhappy at the
thought that you did not love me. But since you still love me, since
you have never loved anybody else----'

Then his speech faltered; he could no longer find words to express
himself; he was shaking with intense emotion. 'Listen, Silvine,' he
said at last, 'if those swinish Prussians don't kill me I'll take you
all the same; yes, we'll be married as soon as I get my discharge.'

She sprang to her feet, gave a loud cry and fell in the young man's
arms. She was quite unable to speak; all the blood in her veins had
rushed to her face. Honoré seated himself on the chair and took her on
his knees.

'I have thought it over,' said he, 'and in coming here to-night that
was what I wanted to say to you. If my father refuses his consent,
well, we'll go away together. The world is wide. And as for your little
one, well, we can't strangle him. There'll be others coming by-and-by;
among the brood I sha'n't be able to distinguish him.'

So she was forgiven. Yet she struggled against this immense happiness,
and at last she murmured, 'No, it isn't possible, it is too much. Some
day, perhaps, you will regret it. But how good you are, Honoré; and how
I love you!'

He silenced her with a kiss on the lips. And she no longer had the
strength to refuse the promised felicity, the happy life which she had
thought for ever dead. With an involuntary irresistible impulse, she
caught him in her arms, and in her turn kissed him, pressing him to
her bosom with all her woman's strength, like a treasure regained that
belonged to her alone, and which none should ever take from her. He
was hers once more, he whom she had lost, and she would die rather than
lose him again.

At that moment a sound of commotion arose; the dense night was filled
with the loud tumult of the reveille. Orders were being shouted, bugles
rang out, and from the bare hills rose up a mass of shadowy forms that
moved hither and thither, an indistinct, rolling sea flowing already
towards the road. The fires on both banks were now going out, and
one could merely discern confused, tramping masses of men, it being
impossible to tell whether they were still crossing the river or not.
Never, however, had the darkness been fraught with such anguish, such
desperate fear.

Old Fouchard now drew near to the window and called that the others
were starting. His voice roused Jean and Maurice, who rose to their
feet numbed and shivering. Honoré, meantime, had quickly pressed
Silvine's hand in his own. 'It is sworn,' said he; 'wait for me.'

She could not think of a word to answer, but she gave him a look into
which she cast her whole soul, a last, long look as he sprang out of
the window to join his battery at the double-quick.

'Good-bye, father.'

'Good-bye, my lad.'

And that was all; the peasant and the soldier parted as they had met,
without an embrace--like a father and son who do not need to see one
another in order to live.

When in their turn Maurice and Jean had left the farm, they descended
the steep slope at a gallop. But they no longer found the 106th down
below; all the regiments were already on the march, and they had to
run on, now directed to the right and now to the left, until at last,
when they had quite lost their heads amid the fearful confusion, they
fell in with their company, which Lieutenant Rochas was commanding. As
for Captain Beaudoin and the rest of the regiment, they were doubtless
elsewhere. And now Maurice was stupefied on realising that this mob of
men, horses, and guns was quitting Remilly in the direction of Sedan,
proceeding along the left bank of the Meuse. What had happened, then?
Why did they not cross the river? Why did they retreat towards the
north?

An officer of Chasseurs who happened to be there, no one knew how,
exclaimed aloud: 'Thunder! We ought to have taken to our heels on the
28th, when we were at Le Chêne!'

Meanwhile, others explained the movements that were being accomplished,
and scraps of intelligence circulated. It appeared that at about two
o'clock in the morning one of Marshal MacMahon's aides-de-camp had
come to inform General Douay that the entire army was to fall back on
Sedan without loss of time. The Fifth Corps crushed at Beaumont was
overwhelming the other corps in its own disaster. When the aide-de-camp
arrived, General Douay was still watching near the pontoon-bridge,
in despair that only his Third Division had as yet managed to cross
the stream. Dawn was now at hand, and they might be attacked at any
moment. Accordingly he instructed the general officers, placed under
his orders, to gain Sedan by the most direct routes, each acting for
himself. For his own part, quitting the bridge, which he ordered to
be destroyed, he went off along the left bank with his First Division
and the reserve artillery, whilst the Third Division proceeded along
the right bank, and the first, which had suffered at Beaumont and was
disbanded, fled no one knew whither. Of the Seventh Army Corps, which
had not yet fought a battle, there were now only so many scattered
fragments, straying along the roads and rushing onward in the darkness.

It was not yet three o'clock, and the night was still black. Maurice,
though he was acquainted with the district, no longer knew where he
was roaming, unable to take his bearings amid the overflowing torrent,
the maddened mob that was streaming tempestuously along the road.
Many men who had escaped from the crushing blow of Beaumont, soldiers
of all arms, in tatters, and grimed with blood and dust, had become
mingled with the regiments and spread terror through the ranks. From
all the broad valley across the stream ascended a sound of commotion,
the tramping of other flocks, of other flights, for the First Corps had
left Carignan and Douzy, and the Twelfth Corps had started from Mouzon
with the remnants of the Fifth, all being set in motion, carried along
by the same logical, irresistible force, which since the 28th had been
impelling the army northwards, driving it into the depths whence no
egress was possible, and where it was fated to perish.

However, whilst Captain Beaudoin's company was passing through
Pont-Maugis the morning twilight appeared, and Maurice was then able
to identify his surroundings. On the left were the slopes of the Liry
hill, on the right the road was skirted by the Meuse. Infinitely sad
in the grey dawn, Bazeilles and Balan loomed indistinctly beyond the
meadows; whilst on the horizon Sedan, livid and woeful, with the aspect
of some vision seen in a nightmare, stood out against the vast dark
curtain of forest trees. When, after passing through Wadelincourt, the
men at last reached the Torcy gate, it became necessary to parley, to
supplicate, threaten, and, in fact, almost besiege the fortress before
the governor would lower the drawbridge. It was now five o'clock.
Intoxicated with weariness, hunger and cold, the Seventh Army Corps
entered Sedan.



CHAPTER VIII

SEDAN AT LAST! THE EVE OF BATTLE


Jean became separated from Maurice in the scramble which took place
on the Place de Torcy at the end of the Wadelincourt highway, and as
he ran on he lost himself among the tramping crowd, and was unable to
find his friend. This was really unlucky, for he had accepted Maurice's
offer to take him to his sister's house, where they had arranged to
have a rest, a refreshing nap in a comfortable bed. There was so much
confusion, all the regiments being intermingled, without marching
orders or even commanders, that the men were almost at liberty to do
as they pleased. Thus Maurice and Jean had come to the conclusion that
after enjoying a few hours' sleep they would still have ample time to
take their bearings and rejoin their comrades.

Quite scared, Jean found himself on the Torcy viaduct, overlooking
extensive meadows which the governor had flooded with the waters of
the river. Then, after passing through another gateway, he crossed the
bridge over the Meuse, and, although the dawn was rising, it seemed
to him as if night were coming back again, so darkly did the lofty
houses overshadow the damp streets of this little town, cramped up
within its ramparts. Jean did not even remember the name of Maurice's
brother-in-law; he only knew that the young fellow's sister was named
Henriette. Where should he go? Whom should he ask for? It was only
the mechanical motion of the march that still kept him upright; he
felt that he should fall if he ventured to stop. Like a drowning man,
he could hear nothing save a confused buzzing, distinguish nothing
save the continuous streaming of the flood of men and horses in the
midst of which he was being carried along. Having partaken of some
food at Remilly, it was now the need of sleep that caused him the most
suffering; and, indeed, all around him weariness was conquering hunger.
The shadowy flock of soldiers went stumbling hither and thither along
the strange streets, and at every step some man or other sank down on
the footway or on a doorstep, and remained there fast asleep.

Suddenly, however, on raising his eyes, Jean noticed an inscription:
'Avenue de la Sous-Préfecture.' At the farther end of this avenue there
was a monument in a garden, and at a corner near him he perceived a
cavalry soldier, a Chasseur d'Afrique, whom he fancied he recognised.
Was it not that fellow Prosper, belonging to Remilly, whom he had seen
with Maurice at Vouziers? The Chasseur had alighted from his horse, and
the wretched, haggard animal was trembling in every limb, so famished
that it had stretched out its neck to munch the woodwork of a van,
standing beside the footway. The horses had received no rations for
two days past, and were dying of exhaustion. Jean noticed that tears
were falling from the eyes of the Chasseur d'Afrique, as he stood there
beside his steed, whose big teeth were gnawing the wood with a rasping
sound.

Jean passed on, and when, a few moments afterwards, he retraced
his steps, in the idea that this Chasseur must know the address of
Maurice's relatives, he found him gone. Despair then took possession
of the corporal, who wandered on from street to street till he again
found himself at the Sub-Prefecture, whence he proceeded as far as the
Place Turenne. Then, for a moment, he fancied himself saved, for in
front of the town-hall, at the foot of the statue of Turenne, he espied
Lieutenant Rochas with a few men of his company. Since he could not
find his friend he would join the regiment again and have a nap under
canvas. That, at all events, would be better than nothing. Captain
Beaudoin not having turned up again--he had doubtless been carried away
in some other direction--the lieutenant had endeavoured to get his men
together, besides trying to ascertain on what spot the division was to
encamp. On its way through the town, however, the company gradually
diminished instead of increasing. One man, after making a furious
gesture, strode into a tavern and was not seen again. Three others
halted in front of a grocer's shop, in compliance with the suggestion
of some Zouaves, who had just tapped a little barrel of brandy there.
Others, too, quite overcome, had fallen to the ground, and were lying
prostrate in the gutters; whilst some, anxious to start off again,
tried to pick themselves up, but fell back once more, utterly worn out
and dazed. Chouteau and Loubet, after nudging one another, bolted up a
dark passage, behind a fat woman who was carrying a loaf; and finally
only Pache and Lapoulle, and some ten of their comrades, remained with
the lieutenant.

When Jean came up, Rochas was standing beside the bronze statue of
Turenne, making a great effort to remain erect and keep his eyes open.
'Ah! so it's you, corporal. Where are your men?' he muttered, on
recognising Jean.

Jean waved his hand as if to say that he did not know; but Pache, from
whose eyes tears were starting, pointed to Lapoulle, and answered: 'We
are here; there are only we two left--may God take pity on us, it's
getting too dreadful.'

Lapoulle, the man with the terrible appetite, looked at Jean's hands
with a voracious expression. For some days past he had been disgusted
to find them always empty. Possibly, in his sleepy state, he imagined
that the corporal had been to fetch the rations. 'Curse it!' he
growled, 'so we've again got to tighten our belts.'

Whilst leaning against the railing which inclosed the statue, awaiting
orders to sound the assembly, Gaude, the bugler, had gone to sleep,
and slid to the ground, where he was now lying spread out on his back.
One by one they all succumbed, and with their fists clenched, began
to snore. Sergeant Sapin, his nose contracted and his thin little
face extremely pale, was the only one whose eyes remained wide open,
scanning the horizon of this strange town as though he could there
read his impending fate. On his side, Lieutenant Rochas had given way
to an irresistible desire to sit down, and, crouching on the pavement,
he endeavoured to give an order: 'Corporal,' he said, 'you must, you
must----' But his tongue, clogged by fatigue, refused its service, and
all at once he also fell back, overwhelmed with weariness.

Thereupon Jean, afraid lest he should fall on the pavement like the
others, went off, still obstinately bent on finding a bed. At one
of the windows of the Golden Cross Hotel, on the other side of the
Place, he had just espied General Bourgain-Desfeuilles, already in
his shirt sleeves, and about to slip between a pair of clean white
sheets. As that was the course which the generals adopted, what use
was there in being zealous, in suffering any longer? And suddenly
Jean felt overjoyed, for a name had come to him from the depths of
his memory, the name of the cloth manufacturer who employed Maurice's
brother-in-law: Monsieur Delaherche!--yes, that was it. An old
gentleman was passing at that moment: 'Can you tell me where Monsieur
Delaherche lives?' Jean asked him.

'In the Rue Maqua, almost at the corner of the Rue au Beurre. It's a
big, handsome house, with a carved front.' The old man then passed on,
but all at once he hastened back after Jean, exclaiming: 'I say, you
belong to the 106th. If you are looking for your regiment, it has left
the town by way of the Château over there. I just met your colonel,
Monsieur de Vineuil, whom I knew very well when he was in garrison at
Mézières.'

Jean, however, set off again, making a furious gesture of annoyance.
No, no, he wasn't going to lie on the hard ground now that he was
certain of finding Maurice. And yet, in the depths of his conscience,
he was worried by a feeling of remorse, for in his mind's eye he could
see the colonel, tall and rigid, indefatigable despite his age, and
always sleeping under canvas like his men. Busy with such thoughts as
these, Jean began threading the High Street, and, having lost himself
amid the increasing tumult that pervaded the town, he ended by applying
to a little boy, who conducted him to the Rue Maqua.

It was here that one of Delaherche's grand-uncles had, in the last
century, built a monumental factory, which had now been the property
of the family for a hundred and sixty years. Sedan counts several
cloth manufactories, dating from the earlier years of Louis XV., as
large as Louvres, and with regally majestic façades. That in the Rue
Maqua had three storeys of lofty windows framed round with carving of
a severe style; and, in the rear of the front building, there was a
palatial courtyard shaded with old trees, gigantic elms dating from
the foundation of the establishment. Three generations of Delaherches
had amassed considerable fortunes there, and now it was the younger
branch of the family that reigned, the father of Jules Delaherche, the
present owner, having inherited the property from a cousin who had died
childless. Jules' father had increased the prosperity of the firm,
but he was a man of easy morals, and had rendered his wife extremely
unhappy. She, on becoming a widow, had feared lest her son should
take to the same courses as his father, and after marrying him to a
woman who was very devout and of very simple tastes, she had sought
to maintain him in a dependent state as though he were a mere youth,
and this till he was over fifty years of age. Life, however, sometimes
has terrible revenges, and his wife having died, Delaherche, like a
mere stripling, fell in love with a young widow of Charleville, pretty
Madame Maginot, concerning whom there had been no little gossip, but
whom he had ended by marrying during the previous autumn, despite all
his mother's remonstrances. Sedan, a very puritanical town, has always
looked down severely on Charleville, the abode of gaiety and festivity.
It should be said, however, that the marriage would never have taken
place had Gilberte not been the niece of Colonel de Vineuil, who, so it
seemed, was on the point of becoming a general. This relationship, the
idea of allying himself to a military family, had greatly flattered the
manufacturer's feelings.

On the morning of August 30, having learnt that the army was near
Mouzon, Delaherche, in company with Weiss, his book-keeper, had started
on that excursion which old Fouchard had referred to in conversation
with Maurice. Tall and stoutly built, with a ruddy complexion, a large
nose and thick lips, the manufacturer was of an expansive nature,
endowed with all the inquisitiveness of the French _bourgeois_, who
likes nothing better than a brilliant military display. On learning
from the chemist at Mouzon that the Emperor was at Baybel farm, he
had climbed thither and had seen Napoleon, had almost spoken to him,
had met, in fact, with quite an adventure, which he had not ceased
talking about since his return to Sedan. But the homeward journey in
the midst of the Beaumont panic, along the roads crowded with runaways,
had been truly terrible. A score of times had the gig narrowly missed
being upset in the wayside ditches; and delayed over and over again
by constantly recurring obstacles, Delaherche and Weiss had only got
back to Sedan at nightfall. The pleasure trip ended, indeed, in a most
unpleasant fashion; the army, which the manufacturer had gone to see,
marching along a couple of leagues away, drove him home again with
the gallop of its retreat, and this unforeseen, tragical adventure
so exercised his mind that on the road back he kept on repeating to
his companion: 'And to think that I fancied the army was marching on
Verdun--that was why I didn't want to miss the opportunity of seeing
it. Well, I have seen it, and no mistake; and I fancy we shall see
rather more of it at Sedan than will be altogether pleasant.'

Awakened at five o'clock the next morning by the loud commotion of
the Seventh Corps streaming torrent-like through the town, he hastily
dressed himself and went out; and the first person whom he met on the
Place Turenne was none other than Captain Beaudoin. During the previous
year, the captain had been one of the intimates of pretty Madame
Maginot at Charleville; and she had introduced him to Delaherche prior
to their marriage. According to the scandal-mongers, the captain, who
was considered to be the lady's favoured admirer, had retired through a
feeling of delicacy, not wishing to stand between his inamorata and the
manufacturer's large fortune.

'What! is it you?' exclaimed Delaherche, as he encountered him on the
Place. 'Good heavens! What a state you are in!'

The captain, usually so correct and spruce in his get-up, was now
indeed in a pitiable condition. Not only was his uniform sadly soiled,
but his face and hands were black. He had arrived from Remilly in the
company of some Turcos, and was exasperated at having lost his company,
how he could not tell. Like all the others, he was dying of hunger and
fatigue, but this caused him far less distress than the circumstance
that he had been unable to change his linen since leaving Rheims.

'Just fancy!' he immediately whimpered, 'my baggage got lost at
Vouziers--lost by some idiots or other; some rascals whose heads I'd
break if I could only get hold of them. And I've nothing left; not a
handkerchief, not a pair of socks even. 'Pon my honour, it's enough to
drive a man mad!'

Delaherche at once insisted on taking him home. But Beaudoin resisted.
No, no, he no longer looked like a human being, and he did not wish
to frighten people. The manufacturer then had to give him his word of
honour that neither his mother nor his wife was up. Besides, he would
supply him with water, soap and linen, in fact, everything he might
require.

Seven o'clock was striking when Captain Beaudoin, after a wash and
a brush, made his entry into the lofty, grey-panelled dining room,
wearing one of Delaherche's shirts under his uniform. Madame Delaherche
senior was already there, for she invariably rose at dawn, despite her
eight-and-seventy years. Her hair was quite white, and she had a long,
thin face, with a slender, pointed nose, and a mouth that no longer
smiled. She rose from her chair and showed herself extremely polite,
inviting the captain to seat himself in front of one of the cups of
café-au-lait that were already placed on the table. 'But perhaps,
monsieur,' said she, 'you would prefer some meat and wine after so much
fatigue?'

He protested the contrary: 'Many thanks, madame, but a little milk and
some bread and butter will suit me best.'

At this moment a door was gaily opened, and Gilberte came in with her
hand outstretched. Delaherche must have informed her that the captain
was there, for as a rule she was never out of bed before ten o'clock.
She was tall and seemingly strong and supple, with beautiful black
hair, beautiful black eyes, a rosy complexion, and smiling mien; hers
was a somewhat giddy nature no doubt, but evidently there was not a
grain of malice in her composition. She wore a beige morning wrapper
embroidered with purple silk, which had undoubtedly come from Paris.
'Ah! captain,' she said eagerly, as she shook hands with the young
man, 'how kind of you to have paid a visit to our poor little nook in
the provinces.' Then, the first to laugh at her own thoughtlessness,
she added: 'Ah! what a stupid I am! Of course you would rather not be
at Sedan under such sad circumstances. But I am so pleased to see you
again.'

Her eyes, indeed, were sparkling with pleasure, and Madame
Delaherche, senior, who was doubtless acquainted with the Charleville
tittle-tattle, gazed fixedly at both of them with a rigid air. The
captain behaved very discreetly, however, as though simply retaining a
pleasant recollection of an hospitable house where in past times he had
been cordially welcomed.

They sat down to breakfast, and Delaherche immediately reverted to
his excursion of the previous day, unable to resist the desire that
possessed him to relate his adventures once more. 'I saw the Emperor
at Baybel,' he began, and, thus started, nothing could stop him. First
came a description of the farm, a large square building, with an inner
court inclosed by iron railings, and perched on a hillock overlooking
Mouzon, on the left of the road leading to Carignan. Then he reverted
to the Twelfth Army Corps, through which he had passed whilst it was
camping among the vines on the slopes. Superb troops were these,
looking quite brilliant in the sunshine, and the sight of them had
filled his heart with patriotic delight.

'Well,' he continued, 'I was standing there, when all at once the
Emperor came out of the farm--he had halted there to rest and
breakfast. Although the sun was very hot, he wore an overcoat over his
general's uniform. There was a servant walking behind him with a camp
stool. Ah! he didn't look at all well, no, that he didn't; he was quite
bent, and walked as if in pain; his face was yellow, too--altogether
he seemed very ill. But I wasn't surprised at it, for when the chemist
at Mouzon suggested to me that I ought go on to Baybel, he told me
that one of the imperial aides-de-camp had just been to him for some
medicine for----you understand what I mean----' The presence of his
mother and his wife prevented him from referring more explicitly to
the dysentery from which the Emperor had been suffering since his
departure from Le Chêne, and which had constantly compelled him to halt
at the farms scattered along his route. 'Well,' continued Delaherche,
'the servant opened the camp-stool at the end of a cornfield, near
a plantation, and then the Emperor sat down. He sat there stock
still, half crouching, like some petty cit warming his rheumatics in
the sunshine. And those mournful eyes of his wandered all over the
horizon--there was the Meuse flowing through the valley down below;
wooded hills stretched far away in front of him; there were the crests
of the woods of Dieulet on the left, and the green hills of Sommauthe
rising up on the right. Several aides-de-camp and officers of high rank
gathered round him, and a colonel of Dragoons--who, a little while
before, had asked me for some information about the district--had just
made me a sign not to go away, when, all at once----'

At this point Delaherche rose up, for he was coming to the dramatic
part of his narrative, and wished to enforce his words with pantomime.
'All at once,' he continued, 'I heard several loud reports, and, right
in front of me, just in advance of the woods of Dieulet, I saw some
shells describing curves in the air. 'Pon my word it was just like
fireworks let off in broad daylight. I heard a lot of exclamations
among the Emperor's party. Naturally they all seemed very anxious. The
colonel of Dragoons whom I mentioned just now came running up to me
again, and asked me if I could tell where the fighting was going on. I
answered at once: "It's at Beaumont; there's not the least doubt about
it." Then he went back to the Emperor, on whose knees an aide-de-camp
was unfolding a map. The Emperor, however, wouldn't believe that the
fighting was at Beaumont. But, of course, I could only repeat what I
had said, especially as one could see the shells careering through
the air, coming nearer and nearer, right along the road to Mouzon.
Then, just as I see you, captain, I saw the Emperor turn his pale face
towards me. Yes, he looked at me for a moment with those dim eyes of
his, full of distrust and sadness. And then he let his head drop over
his map once more, and didn't move again.'

Delaherche, an ardent Bonapartist at the time of the Plebiscitum,
had been willing to admit since the earlier reverses that the Empire
had erred in various ways. But he still defended the dynasty and
pitied Napoleon III., whom everybody deceived. According to him the
people, who were really responsible for the disasters of France, were
the deputies of the Republican Opposition, who had prevented the
Legislature from voting the necessary men and credits.

'And the Emperor went back to the farm?' asked Captain Beaudoin.

'Well, I really don't know; I left him sitting on the camp-stool. It
was midday, and the battle was coming nearer and nearer, and I had
begun to feel anxious about getting home again. The only thing I can
add is that a general to whom I pointed out Carignan some way off in
the plain behind us, appeared thunderstruck when I told him that the
Belgian frontier was only a few miles away. Ah! that poor Emperor, he
has some nice generals, and no mistake.'

Whilst her husband was discoursing in this fashion, Gilberte, smiling,
and as much at her ease as though she were still a widow in her
drawing-room at Charleville, was busy attending to the captain's
requirements, passing him the toast, the butter, and whatever else he
needed. She pressed him to accept a room and go to bed, but he declined
this, and it was arranged that he should merely take a couple of hours'
rest on a sofa, in Delaherche's study, before rejoining his regiment.
Just as he was taking the sugar basin from Gilberte's hands, old Madame
Delaherche, who kept her eyes fixed on the young couple, distinctly saw
them press each other's finger-tips; and after that she no longer had
any doubts.

Just then, however, a servant entered the room: 'There's a soldier
downstairs, sir, who is asking for Monsieur Weiss's address.'

Delaherche was not at all stuck-up; with a garrulous taste for
popularity he was fond of chatting with the poor and the humble.
'Weiss's address?' said he. 'That's funny--send the soldier here!'

Jean entered, so worn-out that he was fairly staggering. He started
with surprise on perceiving his captain seated at table between two
ladies, and drew back his hand, which he had already thrust forward in
a mechanical way so that he might support himself by grasping a chair.
Then he briefly answered the questions put to him by the manufacturer,
who began playing the good-natured fellow, the soldier's friend. In a
few words Jean explained his intimacy with Maurice, and the reason why
he wished to find him.

'This is a corporal of my company,' at last said the captain by way of
curtailing the explanations, and in his turn he began to question Jean,
wishing to ascertain what had become of the regiment. And when Jean
related that the colonel, and such men as remained with him, had just
been seen crossing the town for the purpose of camping on the northern
side, Gilberte again spoke over hastily, with the vivacity of a pretty
woman who seldom takes the trouble to reflect: 'My uncle? Oh! why
didn't he come to breakfast here? We would have had a room got ready
for him. Suppose we send for him?'

But Madame Delaherche, senior, waved her hand with a gesture of
sovereign authority. The blood of the old burgesses of the frontier
cities coursed in her veins; she was endowed with all the masculine
virtues of rigid patriotism; and she only broke her uncompromising
silence to exclaim: 'Let Monsieur de Vineuil remain where he is; he is
doing his duty.'

This made the others feel uncomfortable, and Delaherche carried the
captain away into his study that he might rest, as arranged, upon
the sofa there; whilst Gilberte, on her side, without heeding her
mother-in-law's lesson, went off like a bird shaking its wings, as
blithe and as gay as ever, despite the storm. Meanwhile, the servant to
whose care Jean had been committed conducted him across the yard of the
factory, and through a maze of passages and staircases.

Weiss lived in the Rue des Voyards, but the house, which belonged to
Delaherche, communicated in the rear with the monumental edifice in
the Rue Maqua. The Rue des Voyards was then one of the most confined
streets in Sedan, being, in fact, simply a narrow, damp lane, darkened
by the high rampart which it skirted. The eaves of the lofty frontages
almost touched one another, and the passages were as black as vaults,
especially at the end where rose the high college wall. Weiss, however,
occupying a third floor, rent and firing free, found himself quite
comfortable there, especially as he was so near his office, whither he
could betake himself in his slippers without having to appear in the
streets. He was a happy man since he had married Henriette, whom he had
long desired to make his wife at the time when he had known her at Le
Chêne, at the house of her father, the tax collector, whose housewife
she had been since she was six years old, having had to take the place
of the mother who had died in giving her birth. Weiss, meantime,
had obtained a situation at the local refinery, almost in a menial
capacity, but he had gradually educated himself, and raised himself, by
dint of hard work, to the position of accountant. Yet he only succeeded
in realising his dream through the death of Henriette's father and the
folly of her brother Maurice, whose servant she had in some measure
become, sacrificing herself in the hope of making a gentleman of him.
Brought up like a little Cinderella, knowing how to read and write,
but nothing more, she had just sold the old house and the furniture,
without, however, realising sufficient to defray the cost of Maurice's
folly, when Weiss, the worthy fellow, came forward and offered her all
he possessed, including his strong arms and his heart, and she had
consented to marry him, touched to tears by his affection and--calm,
virtuous, reasoning little woman that she was--penetrated with tender
esteem for him, in default of passionate love. And now fortune was
smiling on them, for Delaherche had talked of giving Weiss an interest
in the business, and their happiness would be complete as soon as
children were born to them.

'Take care,' said the servant to Jean; 'the stairs are very steep.'

The corporal, indeed, was stumbling up the flights in profound
darkness, but all at once a door was hastily flung open, and a ray of
light streamed over the steps. Then he heard a gentle voice exclaiming,
'It is he.'

'Madame Weiss,' called the servant, 'here's a soldier asking for you.'

A gay little laugh resounded, the laugh of one who is well pleased, and
the gentle voice replied: 'All right, I know who it is.'

Then as the corporal, stifling and ill at ease, stopped short on
the landing, the voice continued: 'Come in, Monsieur Jean. Maurice
has been here a couple of hours, and we have been waiting for you so
impatiently!'

Then, in the pale light of the room he entered, Jean saw Henriette, and
at once noticed her striking likeness to Maurice, that extraordinary
resemblance common between twins that seems to make each of them the
other's double. Her beautiful fair hair was of the light tint of ripe
oats, and excepting that her mouth appeared somewhat large her features
were small and delicate. She was, however, shorter than her brother,
and still more slight and frail of build. But it was especially her
grey eyes that distinguished her from Maurice--her calm, brave, grey
eyes from which shone forth such another heroic soul as that of her
grandfather, the hero of the Grand Army. She spoke but little, moved
about noiselessly, and displayed such skilful, activity, such smiling
gentleness, that she imparted a caress as it were to the atmosphere in
which she lived.

'Here, come in here, Monsieur Jean,' she repeated. 'Everything will be
ready directly.'

He stammered a reply, unable to express his thanks in the emotion
he felt at being welcomed in such a brotherly manner. Moreover, his
eyelids were closing, and in the irresistible drowsiness that had
seized hold of him, he saw her through a kind of film, a mist in which
she appeared to be vaguely floating without touching the ground. Was
this kindly young woman, who smiled at him with so much simplicity,
merely a charming apparition then? For a moment he had his doubts on
the subject. However, it certainly seemed to him that she took hold of
his hand, and that he could feel hers, small and firm, loyal, like the
hand of an old friend.

From that moment Jean lost all precise consciousness of what took
place. They were in the dining-room, it seemed, there was meat and
bread on the table, but he lacked the strength to carry the morsels
to his mouth. A man was seated on a chair there, and at last he
recognised Weiss, whom he had previously seen at Mulhausen. He failed
to understand, however, what Weiss was saying with a sorrowful air and
slow despondent gestures. As for Maurice, he was already asleep, lying
motionless, like one dead, on a trestle-bedstead in front of the stove.
And Henriette was busy with a divan, on which a mattress had already
been thrown. She brought a bolster, a pillow, and blankets, and with
ready skilful hands she spread out a pair of white sheets, beautiful
sheets, white like snow.

Oh! those white sheets, those white sheets so ardently coveted! Jean
had eyes for nothing else. He had not undressed and slept in a bed
for six weeks, and he experienced a gluttonous craving, a childish
impatience, an irresistible longing to slip in between all that
whiteness and freshness, and lose himself in the midst of it. And, as
soon as he had been left alone, a few seconds sufficed him to undress;
in a trice he was in his shirt, barefooted, and popped into bed and
satisfied his desire, grunting the while like a contented animal.
The pale morning light was streaming into the room through the lofty
window, and as, already half asleep, he partially reopened his eyes,
there came to him another apparition of Henriette, less distinct, more
immaterial than the first. It seemed to him that she glided into the
room on tip-toe, and placed a water decanter and a glass, which she
had forgotten, on the table near him, and he fancied that she remained
there for a few seconds looking at both of them, her brother and
himself, with that quiet smile of hers, full of infinite kindness. Then
she vanished, and Jean, overwhelmed, fell fast asleep between the white
sheets.

Hours, years flowed past. Jean and Maurice no longer existed, not a
dream broke upon their slumbers. They were unconscious of everything,
even of the slight beating of their pulses. Ten years or ten minutes,
whatever the lapse of time they could not count it; this was the
revenge, as it were, of their jaded bodies, reaping satisfaction in the
annihilation of their entire beings. Then, all at once, starting at
the same moment, both of them awoke. Hallo! what was the matter, how
long had they been asleep? The same pale light was streaming through
the lofty window. They still felt extenuated, their joints had become
stiffened, their limbs seemed more wearied, the bitter taste in their
mouths was more pronounced than when they had gone to bed. Fortunately,
they could only have slept an hour or so, and they were in no wise
surprised to see Weiss seated in the same chair as before, and in the
same despondent attitude, as though he had been waiting for them to
awaken.

'Dash it!' stammered Jean. 'All the same, we must get up, for we must
join the regiment before noon.' Then, with a slight cry of pain, he
sprang on to the tiled floor, and began to dress.

'Before noon?' answered Weiss; 'why, it's seven o'clock; you've been
sleeping for twelve hours or so.'

Seven o'clock: good heavens! They were thunderstruck. Jean, hastily
dressing, wished to rush off at once, whilst Maurice, who was still in
bed, complained dolefully that he could not move his legs. How should
they find their comrades? The army must have gone off long ago, and
they both became quite angry, complaining that they ought not to have
been allowed to sleep so long.

'Oh! you did just as well to stay in bed, for nothing has been done,'
replied Weiss, with a despondent gesture.

He had been scouring Sedan and the environs since the morning, and
had returned home only a short time previously in despair at the
inaction of the troops during this precious 31st of August, which had
been entirely lost--consumed in inexplicable waiting. There was only
one possible excuse for it all--the extreme weariness of the men,
their absolute need of rest--but, granting that, it was difficult to
understand why the retreat had not been resumed as soon as the troops
had secured the necessary modicum of sleep.

'For my part,' resumed Weiss, 'I don't pretend to be an authority on
these matters, but I instinctively feel, yes, I feel that the army
is very badly situated here at Sedan. The Twelfth Corps is posted at
Bazeilles, where there was a little fighting this morning, the First is
ranged along the Givonne from La Moncelle to the wood of La Garenne,
whilst the Seventh is camping on the plateau of Floing, and the Fifth,
half destroyed, is heaped up under the very ramparts, on the side of
the Château--and it frightens me to know that they are all ranged like
that round the town, waiting for the Prussians. For my part I should
have been off, and at once, in the direction of Mézières. I know the
country; there's no other possible line of retreat; you can't go
farther north or you'll be thrown into Belgium--besides, come here--I
want to show you something.' Taking Jean by the hand he led him to the
window. 'Look over there, on the hill-tops,' he added.

Dominating the ramparts and the neighbouring buildings, the window
overlooked the valley of the Meuse on the southern side of Sedan. There
was the river winding through the expanse of meadow land; Remilly rose
up on the left, Pont-Maugis and Wadelincourt were just in front, and
Frénois was on the right. There, too, were the hills, displaying their
green slopes, first the Liry hill, then the Marfée, the Croix-Piau,
all crowned with large woods. In the declining daylight the vast
horizon was invested with infinite softness, a crystalline limpidity.

'Can't you see those black lines on the march along the hill-tops, over
there, those black ants swarming past?'

Jean opened his eyes wide, whilst Maurice, kneeling on his bed, craned
his neck forward. 'Ah! yes,' they both exclaimed, at the same moment,
'There's one line, there's another, another--they are everywhere!'

'Well,' resumed Weiss, 'those are the Prussians--I've been looking at
them ever since the morning, and they pass and pass without cessation.
If our soldiers are waiting for them you may be pretty sure that they
are making all haste to arrive, and all the townsfolk have seen them
the same as I have. It's only our generals who seem to have become
blind. A little while ago I was talking to a general who shrugged
his shoulders and told me that Marshal MacMahon was positive that he
only had some seventy thousand men to deal with. God grant that his
information be correct!--But just look at them; look at them, the
ground is covered with them and still and ever they swarm and swarm!'

At this moment Maurice threw himself back on his bed and burst into
loud sobs. Henriette had just entered the room with the same smiling
air that she had worn during the morning. But at sight of Maurice she
felt alarmed, and hastily approached him. 'What is the matter?'

He waved her back, however. 'No, no, leave me, I have never brought you
anything but sorrow. When I think that you used to deprive yourself of
dresses, and that I was sent to college! Ah! a precious lot of good
my education has done me! And then I almost dishonoured our name, and
Heaven alone knows where I should be at the present time if you hadn't
bled yourself in every vein to repair my folly!'

She was again smiling in her peaceful way: 'You certainly haven't woke
up in a good humour, my dear fellow,' she replied. 'You know very well
that all that is blotted out, forgotten. Aren't you now doing your duty
as a Frenchman? I'm quite proud of you since you've enlisted; I assure
you I am.'

She had turned towards Jean as though to summon him to her assistance.
He was gazing at her, somewhat surprised to find that she did not look
so pretty as he had thought her in the morning. She seemed slighter
and paler now that he no longer saw her with the hallucinatory vision
of his weariness. Her likeness to her brother remained very striking,
however, although, at this moment, the difference in their natures was
made plainly manifest; he, nervous like a woman, stricken with the
disease of the period, a prey to the historical, social crisis of the
race, capable of rising at one moment to the noblest enthusiasm, and
of falling, the next, to the most abject despair; she, so small and
slight, as unobtrusive as a Cinderella, with the air of a resigned
little housewife, but albeit displaying an undaunted brow and brave
eyes--in a word, the stuff that martyrs are made of.

'Proud of me!' Maurice exclaimed. 'Well, there's no reason why you
should be proud of me. For a month past we have been flying the enemy
like the cowards we are.'

'Well,' said Jean, in his sensible way; 'we are not the only ones--we
simply do as we are bidden.'

But now the crisis to which the young fellow was a prey burst forth
with more violence than ever. 'That's just it, and I've had my fill of
it. Isn't it enough to make one shed tears of blood--these continual
defeats, these idiotic generals, these soldiers who are stupidly led
to the slaughter-house like flocks of animals? And now, here we are in
a blind alley whence there's no escape! You can see that the Prussians
are coming up on all sides, and that we are about to be crushed--the
army is lost! No, no; I shall stay here; I would rather be shot as a
deserter. You can go away without me, Jean. No! I won't go back to the
regiment; I shall stay here!'

A fresh flood of tears stretched him on his pillow. This was one of
those irresistible slackenings of the nerves sweeping everything away,
one of those sudden collapses into despair bringing with it contempt
for everybody, himself included, to which he was so subject. His
sister, who knew him well, remained undisturbed. 'It would be very
wrong, my dear Maurice,' said she, 'to desert your post at the moment
of danger.'

With a sudden start he sat up in bed: 'Well, give me my gun, then. I'll
blow my brains out. Like that it will be sooner over.' Then, stretching
out his arm and pointing to Weiss, who sat there motionless and silent,
he added: 'There, he's the only sensible one; yes, he alone saw clearly
into all this--don't you remember, Jean, what he said to me a month ago
at Mulhausen?'

'That's true,' the corporal replied; 'this gentleman said we should be
beaten.'

A vision of the scene rose up before him; that anxious night, the long
waiting fraught with so much anguish, the mournful sky already pregnant
with the disaster of Frœschweiler, whilst Weiss so quietly expressed
his fears: Germany ready, better commanded, better armed, sustained by
a great outburst of patriotism, and France scared, a prey to disorder,
behind the times, perverted, having neither the commanders, nor the
men, nor the arms she needed. And now the fearful prophecy was being
fulfilled.

Weiss raised his trembling hands. An expression of intense grief had
come over his good-natured face. 'Ah! I assure you,' he muttered, 'it
gives me no pleasure at all to find that I was in the right. I am a
mere stupid; but all this was so clear and patent to those who knew
anything at all. At the same time, however, even if we are beaten, we
can still kill some of those baleful Prussians. That's our consolation.
I still think our men will leave their lives here, and I should like
to see the Prussians leave theirs too; yes, I should like to see them
lying in heaps, covering all the ground yonder!'

He had risen to his feet, and he pointed to the valley of the Meuse.
Those large, short-sighted eyes of his which had prevented him from
serving in the army were now illumined by a vivid flame. 'Thunder!' he
exclaimed, 'yes, I'd fight readily enough if I were my own master. I
don't know whether it's because they are now in possession of my native
province, the province where the Cossacks already did such frightful
things years ago, but I can't think of them or picture them in our
country and our houses without feeling a furious longing to go and
bleed a dozen of them! Ah! if I hadn't been invalided, if I were only a
soldier!' Then after a short pause he added: 'But, after all, who can
tell what will happen?'

Hope inspired those last words, the need which even the least deceived
experienced of believing that victory was still possible. And Maurice,
already ashamed of his tears, listened to Weiss, clinging for comfort
to this dream. After all, had it not been reported the previous day
that Bazaine had reached Verdun? Fortune owed a miracle to that land of
France which she had so long endowed with glory.

Henriette, who had long since relapsed into silence, left the room.
When she returned she was in no wise surprised to find her brother
dressed and ready to start. However, she insisted that he and Jean
should eat something before they went, and they had to take their
places at table. But the food seemed to choke them: they were still
heavy after their long slumber, and were troubled with nausea. Jean,
however, like a prudent man, divided a loaf and placed one half of it
in Maurice's knapsack and the other in his own. The daylight was now
fast waning, and it was necessary they should start. Henriette, who
had paused beside the window, was gazing at the Prussian troops as
they crossed the Marfée hill--marching on and on without cessation,
but growing more and more indistinct in the depths of the gathering
darkness. All at once an involuntary plaint escaped her: 'Oh! war, war,
what a horrible thing it is!'

Thereupon Maurice, promptly taking his revenge, began to twit her.
'What! my dear girl,' said he, 'it's you who want us to fight, and yet
you rail at war?'

She turned round, and, looking him in the face, replied, with that
brave air of hers: 'Yes, I execrate war. I consider it unjust and
abominable. Perhaps it's simply because I'm a woman. But all this
killing horrifies me. Why can't nations discuss matters quietly, and
come to an understanding?'

Jean, the good fellow, nodded his head approvingly. To his illiterate
mind nothing seemed easier than for everyone to agree after discussing
things in a proper spirit. But Maurice, swayed by his scientific
theories, reflected that war was necessary, that it was life itself,
the law of the universe. Were not peace and justice the inventions
of compassionate mankind, whereas impassive nature had from all time
been the scene of perpetual strife? 'Come to an understanding!' he
exclaimed. 'Yes, some centuries hence. If all the nations no longer
formed but one, it might be possible to conceive such a golden age,
but, then, would not the end of war mean the end of humanity? I was
idiotic, just now. One _must_ fight, since such is the law of nature.'
At present he was smiling, and he repeated Weiss's words: 'After all,
who can tell what will happen?' Once more he was swayed by illusions;
his nervous sensibility, so exaggerated that it was almost a disease,
required that he should try to deceive himself. 'By the bye,' he
remarked, gaily, 'what about Cousin Gunther?'

'Cousin Gunther,' replied Henriette, 'he belongs to the Prussian Guard.
Is the Guard near here?'

Weiss made a gesture, implying that he could not tell, and the two
soldiers imitated his example. They were unable to answer the question.
Their generals even did not know what foes they had to contend against.

'Well, let's get off. I'll show you the way,' said Weiss, 'I learned
just now where the 106th is encamped.' And then he informed his wife
that he should not return that night, as he proposed sleeping at
Bazeilles, where he had lately purchased a small house, adjoining some
dyeworks belonging to M. Delaherche. He had just finished furnishing
the place, with the intention of spending the remainder of the summer
there, and had already stored various provisions in the cellar, a cask
of wine, a couple of sacks of potatoes and other things, concerning
which he now expressed anxiety. It was, indeed, certain that the house
would be pillaged by marauders if it remained unoccupied, but this
he would probably be able to avert by staying there that night. His
wife looked at him fixedly whilst he was thus speaking. 'Oh! don't be
alarmed,' he added, with a smile, 'I merely want to mount guard over
our few sticks, and if the village should be attacked, if there should
be the slightest danger, I'll come back at once, I promise you.'

'Go then,' she said; 'but mind you come back, or I shall certainly
fetch you.'

On reaching the door she kissed Maurice tenderly, and holding out her
hand to Jean pressed his for a few seconds in a friendly way. 'I'm
confiding my brother to you again,' she said. 'Yes, he has told me how
kind you have been to him, and I like you very much.'

Jean felt so disturbed that he could find no words to answer her, but
contented himself with returning the pressure of her small firm hand.
And again did he experience the same impression as on his arrival--this
fair-haired Henriette, so lightsome, smiling, and unobtrusive, seemed
as it were to impart a caress to the atmosphere around her.

Down below they found themselves once more in Sedan, as dank and dark
as in the morning. The twilight was already obscuring the narrow
streets, where all was bustle and confusion. Most of the shops were
closed, and the houses seemed bereft of life, but out of doors there
was a perfect crush. They reached the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville,
however, without any very great difficulty, and there they encountered
M. Delaherche, strolling about like the sightseer he was. He appeared
delighted on recognising Maurice, and at once related that he had just
been conducting Captain Beaudoin towards Floing, where the regiment
was encamped. And his accustomed satisfaction increased when he learnt
that Weiss intended to sleep at Bazeilles, for he himself had resolved
to spend the night at his dyeworks there, as, indeed, he had just been
telling the captain. 'We'll go together, Weiss,' said he. 'But meantime
let's stroll just as far as the Sub-Prefecture; perhaps we shall get a
glimpse of the Emperor.'

Napoleon III. was his one preoccupation since he had so narrowly missed
speaking to him at Baybel, and he talked in such a strain that he ended
by rousing the curiosity of the two soldiers, who decided to follow
him. Only a few whispering groups were assembled on the Place de la
Sous-Préfecture, but from time to time some scared officers dashed by.
The mournful dimness was already darkening the trees, and one could
hear the loud noise made by the Meuse as it flowed along at the foot
of the houses on the right hand. Some of the assembled people were
relating that the Emperor--who had only been induced with difficulty
to leave Carignan at eleven o'clock the previous night--had positively
refused to push on to Mézières, as he wished to remain on the scene of
danger, so as not to demoralise the troops. Others asserted, however,
that he was no longer at Sedan, that he had fled, leaving one of his
lieutenants behind to personate him--an officer who had donned his
uniform, and who was so remarkably like him that the entire army was
deceived. Others, again, gave their word of honour that they had seen
several vehicles, containing the imperial treasure (a hundred millions
of francs in brand-new gold napoleons), drive into the grounds of
the Sub-Prefecture. But the vehicles in question were simply those
of the Emperor's household, the char-à-bancs, the two calashes,
and the twelve vans, the sight of which had so revolutionised the
villages, Courcelles, Le Chêne and Raucourt, and the number of which
rumour had so exaggerated that in the popular imagination they had
become an immense train, obstructing the roads to such a degree that
they arrested the progress of the entire army. And now, accursed and
shameful, they, had at last stranded at Sedan, hidden from all eyes by
the Sub-Prefect's lilac bushes.

Whilst Delaherche, rising on tip-toe, was examining the ground-floor
windows of the Sub-Prefect's abode, an old woman--who stood near
him--some poor journey-woman of the neighbourhood, with a bent frame
and distorted hands consumed by toil, mumbled between her teeth: 'An
Emperor, well, I should like to get a squint at one, just to see what
he's like.'

At that very moment Delaherche, catching hold of Maurice's arm,
exclaimed: 'There--that's him--there, look, at the window on the
left. Oh! there's no mistake about it. I recognise him perfectly;
I was so near him yesterday, you know. He has pulled back the
curtain--yes--there--that pale face against the window-pane.'

The old woman heard these words, and stood there gazing. Close to the
window-pane, as Delaherche had said, she could see a cadaverous-looking
face with dim eyes, distorted features, and moustaches which seemed to
have blanched in the throes of this last, long agony. Quite stupefied,
the old woman immediately turned round and went off, making a gesture
of superlative contempt: 'That an Emperor? Ugh, the ugly beast!'

A Zouave stood near by, one of those disbanded soldiers who evinced
no haste to join their regiments. He was brandishing his chassepot,
swearing and expectorating threats, and all at once he exclaimed to a
comrade: 'Wait a second, I'll put a bullet into his head.'

This made Delaherche quite indignant, and he intervened; but Napoleon
had already disappeared. The loud rush of the Meuse was still
resounding; a plaint of infinite sadness seemed to have sped by in the
growing dimness. From afar off came the muttering of other scattered
noises. Was it the echo of the terrible order, 'March! march!' shouted
from Paris, the order that had impelled this man on and on, from
halting-place to halting-place, dragging with him along the highways
of defeat all the irony of his imperial escort, and now brought to a
stand, confronted by the frightful disaster that he had foreseen and
had come to meet. Ah! how many brave fellows were about to die through
his fault, and how profoundly must he have been stirred in every corner
of his being--he, the sick man, the sentimental dreamer, so silently
and mournfully waiting for destiny!

Weiss and Delaherche accompanied the two soldiers as far as the plateau
of Floing. 'Farewell!' said Maurice, as he embraced his brother-in-law.

'No, no, till we meet again!' gaily exclaimed the manufacturer.

Jean, with his keen scent, at once found the 106th, whose tents were
pitched on the slope of the plateau, behind the cemetery. Night had now
almost completely fallen, but one could still distinguish the dark,
massy roofs of the town, beyond which were Balan and Bazeilles in the
meadows that stretched as far as the range of hills from Remilly to
Frénois; whilst on the left extended a black patch, the wood of La
Garenne, and on the right, down below, glittered the Meuse, like a
broad, pale ribbon. For a moment Maurice scanned the vast horizon as it
faded away in the darkness.

'Ah! here's the corporal!' exclaimed Chouteau; 'has he come back from
rations?'

There was some little commotion. All day long the men had been
rejoining their regiments, some of them quite alone, others in little
parties, and amid such a scramble that the officers had even renounced
asking for explanations. Indeed, they closed their eyes, only too glad
to welcome those who chose to come back. Moreover, Captain Beaudoin had
arrived but a short time previously, and it was only at two o'clock
that Lieutenant Rochas had reached the camp, having with him merely a
third of the men of his disbanded company. The latter, however, was now
almost complete again. Some of the men were drunk, whilst others were
still famished, not having managed to obtain even a scrap of bread; for
there had again been no distribution of rations. Loubet had certainly
endeavoured to cook some cabbages, pulled up out of a neighbouring
garden, but he had neither salt nor lard to make the vegetables
palatable, and the men's stomachs were still groaning with hunger.

'Come, corporal, what have you brought, you who are so artful?' resumed
Chouteau, in a bantering way; 'oh! I don't need anything myself; Loubet
and I lunched in capital style at a lady's.'

Anxious faces were turned towards Jean, the squad had been waiting for
him--especially those unlucky fellows, Lapoulle and Pache--for they had
not managed to get a bite, and they had relied on him, in the belief
that if need were he could actually extract flour from mill stones.
And Jean, moved to pity, filled with remorse at the thought that he
had abandoned his men, divided between them the half-loaf which he
had placed in his knapsack before leaving Weiss's house. 'Curse it!
curse it!' repeated Lapoulle, finding no other words to express the
satisfaction with which he devoured the bread; whilst Pache mumbled a
_Pater_ and an _Ave_, so as to make sure that Heaven would send him
his daily food again on the morrow.

Bugler Gaude had just blown a sonorous blast, the summons to the
roll-call. There was no tattoo however; the camp at once sank into
deep silence. And when Sergeant Sapin, with the thin, sickly face and
the contracted nose, had found that his half-section was complete, he
gently remarked: 'Some of them will be missing to-morrow night.' Then,
noticing that Jean was looking at him, he added with an air of tranquil
certainty, gazing the while into the darkness with dreamy eyes: 'Oh!
for my part I shall be killed to-morrow.'

It was nine o'clock. The night threatened to be very cold, for a great
deal of mist had risen from the Meuse, hiding the stars from view.
Maurice shivered as he lay beside Jean under a hedge, and suggested
that it would perhaps be better for them to turn into the tent. Worn
out, however, aching in every limb since their rest at Weiss's,
neither of them was able to get to sleep. They envied Lieutenant
Rochas, who, disdaining any shelter and simply wrapped in a blanket,
was snoring like a hero on the damp ground near them. Then, for a
long time they fixed their attention on the little, flickering flame
of a candle, burning in a large tent where the colonel and a few
officers were sitting up. M. de Vineuil had seemed very anxious all
the evening at not receiving any orders for the following day. He
felt that his regiment was quite adrift, still far too much to the
front, though he had already fallen back some distance, relinquishing
the advanced position that he had taken up in the morning. General
Bourgain-Desfeuilles had not shown himself; he was said to be ill in
bed at the Golden Cross Hotel, and the colonel had at last decided to
send an officer to warn him that the new position appeared a dangerous
one; the Seventh Corps being so scattered, having far too long a line
to defend, from the bend of the Meuse to the wood of La Garenne. The
battle would certainly begin at dawn. They now had only seven or eight
hours of that deep, black peacefulness before them. At last the candle
in the colonel's tent was extinguished, and at that moment Maurice was
greatly surprised to see Captain Beaudoin pass by, furtively skirting
the hedge, and vanishing in the direction of Sedan.

The night was becoming more and more dense, the mass of vapour that had
ascended from the river obscured it with a gloomy fog. 'Are you awake,
Jean?' asked Maurice.

Jean was sleeping, and Maurice was now quite alone. The idea of joining
Lapoulle and the others in the tent was somehow repugnant to him, yet
he envied them as he heard them snoring, in response, as it were,
to Rochas. Then he reflected that if great captains sometimes sleep
so soundly on the eve of battle it is simply because they are very
tired. He could now only hear the breath of slumber, a widespread,
gentle breathing, rising from all the vast camp plunged in darkness.
Everything was obliterated from view; he was simply aware that the
Fifth Corps must be encamped somewhere near them, under the ramparts,
that the First was stretched from the wood of La Garenne to the village
of La Moncelle, whilst the Twelfth occupied Bazeilles, on the other
side of Sedan; and all were sleeping--from the depths of the darkness,
more than a league away, from the first to the last tent passed the
slow palpitation of slumber. Then, too, sounds were wafted to him at
intervals from afar off, where all was so mysterious--sounds so light
and distant that they seemed like a simple buzzing in the ears--the
faint gallop of cavalry, the low, dull rumbling of guns, and especially
the heavy tramping of men, the march along the hill-tops of the great,
black, human swarm, the invasion and envelopment which even night
itself had not been able to stay. And, over yonder, were there not
flashes suddenly bursting on the darkness and then expiring, voices
which shrieked forth here and there, increasing all the anguish that
prevailed during that last night, in the fear-fraught waiting for the
dawn?

With fumbling fingers Maurice sought Jean's hand and clasped it. Then
only did he feel reassured and fall asleep. Nothing now remained awake,
save a steeple of Sedan, whose clock struck, one by one, the fateful
hours.


END OF PART I.



PART II

_THE BATTLE OF SEDAN_


CHAPTER I

THE ATTACK ON BAZEILLES--THE EMPEROR UNDER FIRE


Weiss was fast asleep in his little room at Bazeilles, where all
was dark, when a sudden disturbance made him spring out of bed. He
listened, and heard the roar of cannon. Groping for the candle, he
lighted it, and on looking at his watch found it was four o'clock;
the dawn was scarcely breaking. He hastily put on his eye-glasses
and scanned the high street--the Douzy road, which runs through the
village--but the atmosphere there seemed full of thick dust, and
nothing could be distinguished. He thereupon entered the adjoining
room, the window of which overlooked the meadows on the side of the
Meuse, and realised that the morning mist was rising from the river,
obscuring the horizon. The guns were thundering more and more loudly
from over yonder, across the water, but were hidden from view by the
foggy veil. All at once a French battery replied with such a crash, and
at so short a distance away, that the walls of the little house fairly
shook.

Weiss's abode was nearly in the centre of Bazeilles, on the right-hand
side, near the Place de l'Eglise. It stood back a little from the
highway which it faced, and comprised a ground floor and upper floor,
the latter being lighted by three windows and surmounted by a garret.
In the rear there was a rather large garden, which sloped down towards
the meadows, and whence the view extended over the immense panorama
of hills from Remilly to Frénois. With the fervour of one who has but
recently become a householder, Weiss had remained on his legs till
nearly two o'clock in the morning, burying all his provisions in the
cellar, and placing mattresses before all the windows, with the view
of shielding his furniture as much as possible from the enemy's fire.
He felt enraged at the idea that the Prussians might come and pillage
this house, which he had so long coveted, which he had acquired with so
much difficulty, and which he had had the enjoyment of during, as yet,
so brief a space of time.

All at once he heard some one calling to him from the road: 'I say,
Weiss, do you hear?'

He went down, and on opening the door found Delaherche, who had spent
the night at his dyeworks, a large brick building, separated from the
house merely by a party wall. All the workmen had already fled through
the woods into Belgium, and the only person who remained to protect the
place was the door-portress, a mason's widow, named Françoise Quitard.
She, poor, trembling, scared creature, would have fled with the others
had it not been for her boy, little Auguste, a lad some ten years of
age, who was so ill with typhoid fever that he could not be removed.

'I say,' resumed Delaherche, 'do you hear? It's beginning nicely--it
would be prudent for us to get back to Sedan at once.'

Weiss had formally promised his wife that he would leave Bazeilles as
soon as there was any serious danger, and he was quite resolved to keep
his promise. So far, however, merely a long-range artillery engagement
was being fought, in a more or less random fashion, through the morning
mist.

'Wait a bit,' the book-keeper replied, 'there's no hurry.'

Delaherche's curiosity was so acute and restless that it had almost
lent him some courage. He had not closed his eyes during the night,
being greatly interested in the defensive preparations that were being
made by the French troops. Foreseeing that he would be attacked at
daybreak, General Lebrun, who commanded the Twelfth Army Corps, had
employed the night in entrenching himself in Bazeilles. Orders had been
given him that he must at any cost prevent the enemy from occupying
the village, and accordingly barricades had been thrown up across the
high road and the side streets, each house had been garrisoned, and
each lane and garden transformed into a fortress. And the men, quietly
roused in the inky darkness, were already at their posts at three in
the morning, each with ninety cartridges in his pouch and with his
chassepot freshly lubricated. Thus it happened that the enemy's first
cannon shot surprised nobody; and the French batteries, posted in the
rear between Balan and Bazeilles, immediately answered it, more by way
of announcing their presence, however, than for any serious purpose,
for the firing was mere guess work and could hardly prove effective in
such a fog.

'The dyeworks will be vigorously defended,' resumed Delaherche. 'I've
got an entire section there. Come and see.'

Forty and odd men of the Marine Infantry had indeed been posted there,
under the command of a lieutenant, a tall, fair fellow, very young,
but with an energetic, stubborn expression of countenance. His men
had already taken possession of the building, and whilst some of them
loopholed the shutters on the first floor, others embattled the low
wall of the courtyard overlooking the meadows in the rear. It was in
the courtyard that Delaherche and Weiss found the lieutenant, who was
vainly trying to distinguish the enemy's positions through the morning
mist.

'What a horrid fog!' he muttered. 'We can't fight groping.' And
immediately afterwards, without the slightest transition, he inquired:
'What day is it?'

'Thursday,' replied Weiss.

'Thursday--oh, yes! The devil take me, but we live as though the world
no longer existed.'

At that moment, amid the thundering of the guns, which did not for a
moment cease, a lively fusillade burst forth on the outskirts of the
meadows, some two or three hundred yards away. And just then there was
a sudden change in the surroundings, similar to a transformation scene
at a theatre--the sun arose, the vapour from the Meuse flew away in
fragments like shreds of delicate muslin, and a blue sky of spotless
limpidity appeared to view. A delightful morning was heralding in a
glorious summer day.

'Ah!' exclaimed Delaherche, 'they are crossing the railway bridge--do
you see them trying to gain ground along the line? What crass stupidity
on our part--the bridge ought to have been blown up!'

The lieutenant made a gesture of anger. The mine was laid, he related,
but, on the previous day, the commanders had forgotten to fire it,
after the men had fought during four long hours to recapture this very
bridge. 'It's our cursed luck,' he added curtly.

Weiss remained silent, gazing at the scene and trying to understand
it. The French occupied a very strong position in Bazeilles. Built on
either side of the road from Sedan to Douzy, the village overlooked
the plain; and apart from this road, turning to the left and passing
in front of the Château, there was only one other, branching out to
the right, and leading to the railway bridge. It was, therefore,
necessary for the Germans who were now advancing to cross the meadows
and cultivated fields, all the vast open expanse edging the Meuse and
the railway line. The enemy's prudence being well known, it seemed
unlikely that the real attack would take place on this side, and yet
dense masses of men were still coming up by way of the bridge, and
this, despite all the havoc wrought in their ranks by the French
mitrailleuses posted on the outskirts of the village. Those who
succeeded in crossing the bridge immediately threw themselves in
skirmishing order among the few pollard willows rising here and there,
until the columns managed to reform, and again press forward. It was
from this direction that came the fusillade of increasing intensity
that had begun to crackle just as the mist rose.

'Hallo!' remarked Weiss, 'those fellows are Bavarians--I can tell it by
their helmets.'

At the same time it seemed to him that some other columns, half
hidden by the railway line, were pressing onward, on the right, and
endeavouring to reach some distant trees, whence, by an oblique
movement, they might again descend upon Bazeilles. Should they succeed
in thus sheltering themselves in the park of Montivilliers, the
village might be captured. This was vaguely but promptly realised by
Weiss. However, as the front attack was becoming more determined, he
ceased thinking of it. He had abruptly turned towards the heights
of Floing, which rose up on the north, above the town of Sedan. A
battery installed there had just opened fire, puffs of smoke could be
seen ascending in the bright sunlight, and the detonations could be
distinctly heard.

'Hum,' said Weiss, 'the dance will be a general one.'

The lieutenant, who was looking in the same direction, made a vigorous
gesture of assent, and added: 'But Bazeilles is the important point.
The issue of the battle will be decided here.'

'Do you really think so?' Weiss asked.

'There's no doubt about it. The marshal himself must certainly have
that opinion, for he came here last night to tell us that we must
fight to the last man rather than let the enemy take the village.'

Weiss shook his head, however, scanned the horizon around him, and
then, in a hesitating way, as though he were talking to himself,
remarked: 'Well, no--no--I hardly fancy that--I'm afraid of something
else--something I hardly dare say----' He spoke no further, but held
out his arms as though they were the branches of a vice; and then
turning towards the north, he brought his hands together as if the
vice-chops had suddenly met. In this fashion he expressed the fears
that had been troubling him since the previous day, fears based on his
knowledge of the country, and on everything that he had observed of
the march of the hostile armies. And even now, when the broad plain
expanded in the radiant sunshine, his eyes returned once more to the
hills on the left bank of the river, over which, throughout an entire
day and an entire night, there had marched such an interminable, black
swarm of German troops. A battery was firing from the left of Remilly,
but the one whose shells were beginning to fall at Bazeilles was
installed at Pont-Maugis on the bank of the river. Weiss folded his
eye-glasses one over the other, and held them to one eye that he might
the more effectually explore the wooded slopes. However, he could only
see the white puffs of smoke with which the guns were, each minute,
capping the heights. What had become, then, of the human torrent which
had streamed along those hills? All that he could distinguish, after
prolonged scrutiny, was a cluster of horses and uniforms--some general
and his staff, no doubt--perched at the corner of a pine wood on the
Marfée hill, above Noyers and Frénois. Farther on was the loop of
the Meuse, barring the west; and on this side the only possible line
of retreat on Mézières lay along the narrow road passing through the
defile of St. Albert, between the river and the forest of the Ardennes.
On the previous day, chancing to meet a general in a hollow road of
the valley of Givonne--a general who he afterwards learnt was Ducrot,
the commander of the First Corps--Weiss had ventured to speak to him
of this one possible line of retreat. Unless the troops immediately
retired by the road in question, if they waited until the Prussians had
crossed the Meuse at Donchery and intercepted the passage of the river,
they would certainly find themselves immobilised, brought to a stand
at the Belgian frontier. That same evening, moreover, it had already
seemed too late to effect the movement, for the Uhlans were reported
to be in possession of the Donchery bridge--another bridge which had
not been blown up, in this case through forgetfulness to bring the
powder required for the purpose. And now, thought Weiss despairingly,
the whole stream of men, the great black swarm, must be crossing the
plain of Donchery on its way towards the defile of St. Albert, with
its advance guard already threatening St. Menges and Floing, whither
he had conducted Jean and Maurice the previous night. He could espy
the distant steeple of Floing looking like a fine white needle in the
brilliant sunlight.

On the east was the other branch of the vice. Although Weiss could
descry the line of battle of the Seventh Corps, stretching on the
northern side from the plateau of Illy to that of Floing, and
ineffectually supported by the Fifth Corps, posted as a reserve force
under the ramparts, it was impossible for him to tell what was taking
place on the east, where the First Corps was drawn up in the valley
of Givonne from the wood of La Garenne to the village of Daigny.
However, the guns were already thundering in that direction, and it
seemed as if an engagement were being fought in the Chevalier Wood
in front of the village. And Weiss was the more disquieted as some
peasants had already, on the previous day, reported the arrival of the
Prussians at Francheval, so that the movement which was being effected
on the west by way of Donchery was also being effected on the east by
way of Francheval; and it seemed certain that the vice-chops would
eventually meet at the Calvary of Illy, on the northern side, should
the all-enveloping march on either hand not be promptly stayed. He knew
nothing of military science; he had simply his common sense to guide
him, but he trembled at sight of that huge triangle, one side of which
was formed by the Meuse, whilst the other two were represented by the
Seventh Corps on the north, and the First on the east; the Twelfth
posted at Bazeilles on the south, occupying the extreme angle, and all
three turning the back to one another and awaiting, nobody knew how or
why, the foe who was now coming up on every side. And in the centre, in
the depths of a pit as it were, was the town of Sedan, armed with guns
that were past service, and having neither a supply of ammunition nor a
supply of food.

'Don't you see,' said Weiss, repeating the gesture he had previously
made--his arms stretched out and his finger-tips meeting--'that's how
it will be if your generals don't take care--the enemy are playing with
you at Bazeilles.'

He explained himself, however, in a confused, unsatisfactory manner,
and the lieutenant, not being acquainted with the district, failed
to understand him, and impatiently shrugged his shoulders, full of
disdain for this spectacled civilian, who claimed to know better than
Marshal MacMahon. On Weiss repeating that the attack upon Bazeilles was
probably only a feint, intended to conceal the enemy's real design, the
young officer became quite irritated, and exclaimed: 'Pray mind your
own business. We are going to drive your Bavarians into the Meuse, and
they'll learn what it is to play with us.'

The enemy's skirmishers seemed to have drawn somewhat nearer during the
last minute or two, and several bullets having struck the brick wall
of the dyeworks with a dull thud, the French soldiers began to return
the fire, sheltered by the low wall of the courtyard. The clear, sharp
report of a chassepot resounded every second.

'Drive them into the Meuse--yes, no doubt,' muttered Weiss, 'and pass
over them and march back on Carignan--that would be a good idea.'
Then addressing Delaherche, who in his fear of the bullets had hidden
himself behind the pump, he added: 'All the same, the proper plan
was to have hurried off to Mézières yesterday evening. I should have
preferred that if I'd been in the place of the generals. However, one
must fight now, for retreat is not longer possible.'

'Are you coming?' asked Delaherche, who, despite his ardent curiosity,
was beginning to blanch. 'If we stay here much longer we sha'n't be
able to get back to Sedan.'

'Yes, wait a minute. I'll go with you.'

Then, in spite of the danger to which he exposed himself, Weiss rose on
tip-toe, obstinately bent on finding out how matters were progressing.
On the right were the meadows flooded by order of the Governor of
Sedan, quite a large lake protecting the town from Torcy to Balan. A
delicate azure tint suffused the broad sheet of unruffled water in
the early sunlight. But the lake did not stretch far enough to cover
the outskirts of Bazeilles, and the Bavarians, advancing through the
grass, had indeed drawn nearer, taking advantage of every ditch and
every tree they came upon. They were now, perhaps, five hundred yards
away, and Weiss was struck with the slowness of their movements,
the patient manner in which they gradually gained ground, exposing
themselves as little as possible. Moreover, a powerful artillery was
supporting them, and at each moment shells came hissing through the
fresh, pure atmosphere. Weiss raised his eyes and saw that the battery
of Pont-Maugis was not the only one that was firing on Bazeilles;
two others, planted midway up the Liry hill, had also opened fire,
not merely cannonading the village, but sweeping the bare ground of
La Moncelle farther on, where the reserves of the Twelfth Corps were
posted, and even the wooded slopes of Daigny, occupied by a division
of the First Corps. And, indeed, flames were now flashing from all
the hill-crests on the left bank of the river. The guns seemed to
spring out of the soil. At each moment the circle of fire extended--at
Noyers a battery was firing on Balan, at Wadelincourt a battery was
firing on Sedan itself, and at Frénois, just below the Marfée hill,
a formidable battery was hurling shells right over the town, shells
which went plunging and bursting among the troops of the Seventh Corps
on the plateau of Floing. And it was with terrified anguish that
Weiss now gazed on those slopes that he loved so well, those rounded
hills which fringed the valley afar off with so gay a greenery, and
which he had never imagined could serve any other purpose than that
of delighting the eyesight; but now, all at once, they had become, as
it were, a fearful, gigantic fortress, ready to pulverise the futile
fortifications of Sedan.

He suddenly raised his head on seeing a little plaster fall to the
ground. A bullet had chipped it off the front of his house, which he
could perceive above the party-wall. 'Are those brigands going to
demolish my house?' he growled, feeling greatly annoyed.

Just then, however, he was astonished to hear a slight noise behind
him, and on turning round he saw a soldier falling on his back with
a bullet in the heart. For a moment the poor fellow's legs were
stirred by a supreme convulsion, but death came so swiftly that his
face retained its peaceful, youthful expression. This was the first
man killed; Weiss, however, was most disturbed by the clatter of the
soldier's chassepot, which as it escaped from his hands rebounded on
the paving-stones of the yard.

'Oh! I'm off,' stammered Delaherche. 'If you won't come I shall go
alone.'

The lieutenant, whom the presence of these civilians disturbed,
intervened approvingly: 'Yes, gentlemen, you had better go away. We may
now be attacked at any moment.'

Thereupon, after glancing once more at the meadows, where the Bavarians
were still gaining ground, Weiss made up his mind to follow Delaherche.
But, on reaching the street, he paused to double-lock the door of
his house, and when he again rejoined his companion an unforeseen
spectacle once more stayed their flight. The Place de l'Eglise, some
three hundred yards away, at the end of the road, was at that moment
being attacked by a strong column of Bavarians debouching from the
Douzy highway. After a time the regiment of Marine Infantry, entrusted
with the defence of the Place, appeared to slacken fire as though to
let the foe advance, but, all at once, when the German column was
massed in front of the French, the latter resorted to a strange and,
on the enemy's part, evidently unexpected manœuvre. The Marines sprang
on one or the other side of the way, a large number of them flinging
themselves upon the ground; and then, through the space thus suddenly
opened, the French mitrailleuses, in position at the other end of the
road, rained a perfect storm of bullets upon the foe. The hostile
column was virtually swept away, and the Marines thereupon bounded to
their feet and charged the scattered survivors of the Bavarian force at
the bayonet's point, bringing many of them to the ground and throwing
the others far back. And twice again was this same manœuvre repeated,
and with the same success. Three women, who had remained in a little
house at the corner of a lane, could be seen tranquilly installed at
one of the windows there, laughing and clapping their hands at the
sight, and looking indeed as much amused as though they were at a
theatre.

'Ah! dash it!' suddenly said Weiss; 'I forgot to lock up my cellar and
take the key. Wait a bit. I sha'n't be a second.'

As this first attack seemed to have been repulsed, Delaherche, whose
curiosity once more began to gain the upper hand, was in less haste
to get away. Standing outside the dyeworks, he began talking to the
portress, who had stepped to the threshold of the room she occupied, on
the ground floor.

'You ought to come away with us, Françoise,' he said. 'It's not right
for a woman to remain here all alone in the midst of such horrible
things.'

She raised her trembling arms and answered: 'Ah, sir, I should
certainly have gone away if it hadn't been for my little Auguste, who's
so ill. Will you come in and look at him, sir?'

He did not go in, but craned his neck forward and shook his head
ominously as he espied the lad lying in a clean white bed, with the
purple flush of fever suffusing his face, whilst with flaming eyes he
looked fixedly at his mother.

'But now I think of it,' said the manufacturer, 'why don't you take him
away? I'll fix you up at Sedan. Wrap him in a warm blanket, and come
with us.'

'Oh! it can't be done, sir. The doctor told me it would kill the boy
to move him. If only his poor father were still alive. But there are
only we two left, and, needing one another as we do, we must be very
careful. And, after all, perhaps those Prussians won't do any harm to a
lone woman and a sick child.'

At this moment Weiss returned, delighted at having made every door in
his house secure. 'They'll have to smash everything if they want to get
in,' said he. 'And now let's get off. It won't be an easy job--we had
better keep close to the houses or we may be hit by a bullet.'

The enemy was, indeed, evidently preparing a fresh attack, for the
fusillade was increasing in violence, and there was no pause now in the
hissing of the shells. A couple of the latter had already fallen in the
road about a hundred yards away, whilst a third had plunged into the
soft soil of a neighbouring garden without bursting.

'I must say good-bye to your little Auguste, Françoise,' resumed Weiss.
'Oh! he doesn't look so bad now; in a couple of days he'll be out of
danger. Well, keep your spirits up. Mind you go indoors at once. Don't
venture out here.'

At last the two men turned to go off.

'Good-bye, Françoise.'

'Good-bye, gentlemen.'

But at that very moment there was a terrible crash. After overthrowing
one of the chimneys of Weiss's house, a shell had fallen on the
footway, where it burst with so fearful an explosion that every
window-pane near by was shivered to pieces. For a moment a mass of
thick dust, a cloud of heavy smoke obscured everything. Then the front
of the dyeworks reappeared, displaying a gaping aperture, and across
the threshold of her room lay Françoise, dead, her backbone broken,
and her head crushed--now merely a bundle of human rags, covered with
blood, and hideous to behold.

Weiss rushed up furiously. He was stammering, and oaths alone could
give expression to his feelings: 'Curse them! Curse them!' he shouted.
Yes, she was indeed dead. He had stooped down and felt her hands. As
he was rising again his eyes encountered the blotched face of little
Auguste, who had raised his head to look at his mother. The lad said
nothing, he did not shriek or cry, but his large eyes, full of fever,
were quite dilated as they gazed upon that frightfully mangled body,
which he could no longer recognise. 'Curse them!' shouted Weiss at
last, 'so now they are killing women!'

He had again drawn himself erect, and he shook his fist at the
Bavarians, whose helmets were once more appearing to view in the
direction of the church. Then the sight of the roof of his house, half
broken in by the fallen chimney, put the finishing touch to his mad
exasperation. 'You dirty blackguards!' he shouted, 'you kill women and
you knock my house to pieces! No, no, it is impossible, I can't go off
like that; I shall stay!'

He darted into the courtyard of the dyeworks, and bounded back again,
carrying the chassepot and cartridge pouch of the dead soldier. For
use on important occasions, when he was desirous of seeing anything
very distinctly, he always carried a pair of spectacles in his pocket,
though he seldom wore them through a coquettish regard for the feelings
of his young wife. Now, however, he promptly took off his folding
glasses and put on his spectacles; and then this stout civilian, whose
good-natured, full face was quite transfigured by anger, who looked
almost comical yet superb in his heroism, began to fire, aiming at the
detachment of Bavarians massed at the end of the street. It was in his
blood, as he was wont to say; he had longed to stretch some of them on
the ground ever since hearing the stories of 1814, related to him in
his childish days, in his Alsatian home.

'Ah! the dirty blackguards, the dirty blackguards!'

And still he kept on firing--so rapidly in fact that the barrel of his
chassepot began to burn his fingers.

Everything now betokened a terrible attack. The fusillade had ceased
on the side of the meadows. The Bavarians had become masters of a
narrow stream fringed with poplars and pollard willows, and were
preparing to assault the houses defending the Place de l'Eglise. Their
skirmishers had prudently fallen back, and now the sunshine alone
was drowsily streaming in a golden sheet over the immense grassy
expanse, flecked here and there with black patches--the corpses of
the soldiers who had been killed. And accordingly, the Lieutenant of
Marine Infantry, realising that danger would henceforth come from the
side of the street, evacuated the courtyard of the dyeworks, leaving
merely a sentry there; and speedily ranged his men along the side-walk,
informing them that should the enemy obtain possession of the Place de
l'Eglise they were to barricade themselves inside the building, on the
first floor, and defend it as long as they had a cartridge left them.
The men fired as they pleased, lying on the ground, screened by border
stones and profiting by the slightest projections of the buildings; and
along the broad, deserted highway, bright with sunshine, there now sped
a perfect hurricane of lead, with streaks of smoke--a hailstorm, as it
were, driven along by a violent wind. A girl was seen to dart madly
across the road without receiving any injury; then an old peasant in
a blouse, stubbornly bent upon taking his horse into the stable, was
struck by a bullet in the forehead, the force of the shock throwing him
into the middle of the road. Moreover, the roof of the church had just
been broken in by a shell, and two other projectiles had set fire to
some houses, whose timbers crackled and blazed in the broad sunlight.
And the sight of that poor creature, Françoise, pounded to pieces near
her ailing child, of the peasant lying in the road with the bullet
in his skull, of the damaged church and the flaming houses, put the
finishing touch to the wrath of the inhabitants, who, rather than fly
to Belgium, had preferred to stay and meet death in their modest homes.
And men of the middle classes and sons of toil, men in coats and men
in blouses, fired on the enemy from their windows with a fury akin to
madness.

'Ah! the bandits!' suddenly exclaimed Weiss. 'They have got round. I
saw them running along the railway line. There! can't you hear them
over yonder on the left?'

A fusillade had indeed just broken out in the rear of the park of
Montivilliers which skirted the road. If the foe should secure
possession of that park Bazeilles would be captured. The violence of
the firing proved, however, that the Commander of the Twelfth Corps had
foreseen this movement on the enemy's part, and that the park was being
defended.

'Take care, you clumsy chap!' suddenly exclaimed the lieutenant,
forcing Weiss to draw back close to the wall; 'you'll be cut in half!'

Though he could not help smiling at this big spectacled fellow, he had
begun to feel interested in him, doubtless on account of the bravery
he displayed; and, hearing a shell coming, he had in a fraternal way
pushed him on one side. The projectile fell a dozen paces off, and,
in bursting, covered them both with splinters. The civilian, however,
remained erect without a scratch, whereas the unfortunate lieutenant
had both legs broken. 'Ah! curse it!' he muttered. 'I'm done for.'

He had been thrown down on the side-walk, and he instructed his men to
place him in a sitting posture with his back against a door, near the
spot where the corpse of that unfortunate woman Françoise was stretched
across the threshold of her room. And the lieutenant's young face still
retained its stubborn, energetic expression. 'It's of no consequence,
my lads,' said he. 'Listen to me. Fire at your ease, don't hurry--I'll
tell you when the time comes to charge them.'

And thus, with his head erect, watching the distant movements of the
foe, he continued commanding his men. Another house across the road
caught fire. The crackling of the fusillade and the loud explosions
of the shells rent the dust-and-smoke-pervaded atmosphere. Men were
toppling over at each street corner, and wherever the dead had
fallen--now singly, now in clusters--there were dark spots splashed
with blood; whilst over and above the village arose a frightful,
growing clamour, the threatening uproar of thousands of men rushing on
a few hundred brave fellows who were resolved to die.

And now Delaherche, who had repeatedly called to Weiss, asked him
for the last time: 'Are you coming? No? So much the worse, but I'm
off--good-bye!'

It was about seven o'clock, and he had already delayed his departure
longer than was prudent. So far as there were houses skirting the
road, he took advantage of their projections and recesses, bolting
into a doorway or behind a wall each time there was a volley. And so
rapidly did he glide along, with all the suppleness of a snake, that
he was surprised to find himself still so young and nimble. But on
reaching the limits of Bazeilles, when it became necessary that he
should follow the bare, deserted road, swept by the Liry batteries
for a distance of three hundred yards, he fairly shivered, albeit he
was perspiring from every pore. For a moment or two, bending low, he
continued advancing along a ditch, then all at once he broke into a mad
gallop and rushed straight before him along the road, with detonation
after detonation resounding like thunderclaps in his ears. His eyes
were burning, and he fancied he was running through flames. It seemed
to last an eternity; but all at once he espied a small house on his
left, and promptly darted towards it. Once sheltered by its walls he
felt a tremendous weight uplifted from his chest. There were several
people near him, men on foot and men on horseback. At first he failed
to distinguish any of them, but as he recovered his self-possession the
sight he beheld filled him with astonishment.

Was not that the Emperor and his staff? He hesitated to answer the
query affirmatively, although, since he had almost spoken to Napoleon
at Baybel, he had flattered himself he should at once recognise him
anywhere. Then he suddenly opened his mouth and looked on gaping. Yes,
it was indeed Napoleon III., to all appearance taller now that he was
on horseback,[26] and with his moustaches so carefully waxed, and his
cheeks so highly coloured that Delaherche immediately came to the
conclusion that he had sought to make himself look young again--in a
word, that he had made himself up for the occasion like an actor. Ay,
without doubt he had caused his valet to paint his face so that he
might not appear among his troops spreading discouragement and fright
around him with his pale, haggard countenance distorted by suffering,
his contracted nose, and dim, bleared eyes. And warned, at five
o'clock, that there was fighting going on at Bazeilles, he had set out
thither, silent and mournful like a phantom, but with his cheeks all
aglow with rouge.

On the way some brickworks afforded a shelter. The walls on one side
were being riddled by the bullets raining upon them; and shells were at
every moment falling on the road. The entire escort halted.

'It is really dangerous, sire,' said some one; but the Emperor turned
round, and with a wave of the hand simply ordered his staff to draw up
in a narrow lane skirting the works, where both men and horses would be
completely hidden. 'It's really madness, sire--we beg you, sire----'

However, he simply repeated his gesture, as though to say that the
appearance of a number of uniforms on that bare road would certainly
attract the attention of the hostile batteries on the left bank of the
Meuse. And then, all alone, he rode forward amid the bullets and the
shells, without evincing any haste, but still and ever in the same
mournful, indifferent manner, as though he were going in search of
Destiny. And doubtless, he could hear behind him that implacable voice
that had ever urged him forward, the voice that rang out from Paris,
calling: 'March, march, die like a hero on the corpses of your people,
strike the whole universe with compassionate admiration, so that your
son may reign!' And forward he went, slowly walking his horse. For
nearly a hundred yards he thus continued advancing; and then he halted
to await the fate that he had come in search of. The bullets whistled
by like an equinoctial gale, and a shell burst near him covering him
with earth. Yet still he remained there waiting. His charger's mane
stood up, the animal was quivering all over, instinctively recoiling
at thus finding itself in the presence of death which passed by every
moment, unwilling, however, to touch either man or beast. And then,
after that infinite period of waiting, the Emperor, realising like the
resigned fatalist he was, that it was not there he should find his
destiny, quietly rode back again, as though he had merely gone forward
to reconnoitre the exact positions of the German batteries.

'What courage you have shown, sire! But we beg of you not to expose
yourself again!'

However, with another wave of the hand he summoned the members of
his staff to follow him, now sparing them no more than he had spared
himself; and off he rode across the fields, over the bare ground of La
Rapaille towards the position of La Moncelle. On the way a captain of
the escort fell dead, and two horses were killed under their riders.
The regiments of the Twelfth Corps, before which Napoleon passed, saw
him appear and vanish like a spectre; not once was he saluted nor once
acclaimed.

Delaherche witnessed all this, and it made him shudder, especially
when he reflected that on leaving the brickworks he should again find
himself in the open, exposed to all the projectiles. So he lingered
there, listening to some officers who had remained behind, their horses
having been previously shot under them.

'I tell you he was killed on the spot,' said one; 'a shell cut him in
half.'

'No, no. I myself saw him carried off. He was merely wounded--a
splinter of a shell in the hip----'

'At what time did it occur?'

'At about half-past six, an hour ago. It was in a hollow road over
yonder, near La Moncelle.'

'And was he taken back to Sedan?'

'Certainly, he's there now.'

Whom could they be speaking of? All at once Delaherche realised that
they must be referring to Marshal MacMahon, wounded whilst on his way
to the outposts. The marshal wounded! Such was our cursed luck, as
the lieutenant of Marine Infantry had said. And the manufacturer was
reflecting on the consequences of this unfortunate casualty when an
estafette galloped by with reins down, and shouted to a comrade whom he
recognised: 'General Ducrot is commander-in-chief. The entire army is
to concentrate at Illy, to retreat on Mézières!'

The next moment the estafette was already far away, entering Bazeilles
under a fire of increasing intensity, and Delaherche, scared by the
extraordinary tidings that had reached him in such rapid succession,
and liable to find himself caught in the midst of the retreating
troops, at last made up his mind to start off again, and ran all the
way to Balan, whence he managed to reach Sedan without any very great
difficulty. And, meantime, the estafette was still galloping through
Bazeilles, seeking the commanders that he might give them their orders.
And the tidings were also galloping along--Marshal MacMahon wounded,
General Ducrot appointed commander-in-chief, the whole army to fall
back on Illy!

'What! what are they saying?' exclaimed Weiss, already black with
powder. 'Retreat on Mézières at this time of day? Why, it's madness;
the army could not possibly get through!'

He was in despair, full of remorse that he himself had advised that
very course the day before, and had advised it precisely to General
Ducrot, who was now invested with the supreme command. Certainly, on
the previous day there was no other reasonable plan to follow. The army
ought to have retreated, retreated immediately by the defile of St.
Albert. But at the present time the road must be intercepted by all
that black swarm of Prussians that had streamed along, over yonder,
towards the plain of Donchery. And, madness for madness, the only truly
valiant, desperate course was to hurl the Bavarians into the Meuse,
pass over them, and march once more on Carignan.

Hitching up his falling spectacles every minute with a touch of
his finger-tips, Weiss explained the position of affairs to the
lieutenant, who was still seated there with his limbs shattered
and his back against the door. He was now looking extremely pale,
however--indeed he was dying from loss of blood. 'I assure you that I'm
right, lieutenant,' said Weiss. 'Tell your men to keep firm. You can
see that we are victorious. Another effort and we shall fling them into
the Meuse.'

The second attack of the Bavarians had, in fact, just been repulsed.
The mitrailleuses had again swept the Place de l'Eglise, with such
effect that the enemy's dead now lay there in heaps, which rose up
here and there like barricades; and the disbanded foe, charged at the
bayonet's point, was now being driven from all the lanes into the
meadows, where there began a flight towards the river, that would
assuredly have become a rout if the Marines, already extenuated and
decimated, had been supported by fresh troops. On the other hand, the
fusillade in the park of Montivilliers was coming no nearer, making it
evident that the wood might be cleared of the enemy if reinforcements
only came up.

'Tell your men to charge them, lieutenant!' suddenly shouted Weiss; 'at
the bayonet's point!'

The lieutenant, now of a waxy whiteness, still had sufficient strength
left him to murmur in a dying voice: 'You hear, my lads; at them with
the bayonet!'

And those were his last words. He expired with his stubborn head still
erect and his eyes open, gazing on the battle. Flies were already
buzzing around and settling on Françoise's shapeless head, whilst
little Auguste, lying in bed, a prey to feverish delirium, was calling
and asking for something to drink in a low, supplicating voice: 'Wake
up, get up, mother--I'm thirsty, I'm so thirsty.'

However, General Ducrot's orders were peremptory, and the officers had
to command a retreat, lamenting that they were prevented from profiting
by the advantage they had just gained. Plainly enough, the new
commander, full of fears with regard to the enemy's turning movement,
was disposed to sacrifice everything to a mad attempt to escape his
clutches. So the Place de l'Eglise was evacuated, the troops fell back
from lane to lane, and the road was soon empty. Women could be heard
wailing and sobbing, and men swore and shook their fists in their anger
at being thus abandoned. Many of them shut themselves in their houses,
determined to defend them and die.

'Oh! I'm not going off like that!' exclaimed Weiss, quite beside
himself. 'I prefer to leave my carcase here. We'll see if they'll come
to smash my furniture and drink my wine.'

He had completely given himself up to his rage, to the unquenchable
fury of battle. The thought of the foreigner entering his house,
sitting in his chair, and drinking out of his glass made his whole body
revolt, and drove away all thoughts of his accustomed life, his wife,
and his business affairs, all the prudence that he usually displayed
like a sensible petty _bourgeois_. And now he shut himself, barricaded
himself, inside his house, walking up and down like a caged animal,
proceeding from room to room, and making sure that every aperture was
properly closed. He counted his cartridges, and found he had about
forty left. Then, as he was giving a last glance over towards the
Meuse to make certain that no attack was to be feared by way of the
meadows, the spectacle furnished by the hills on the left bank once
more arrested his attention. The position of the German batteries was
clearly indicated by the puffs of smoke ascending from them; and above
the formidable battery of Frénois, on the verge of a little wood on the
Marfée hill, he again espied that same cluster of uniforms which he had
already seen, but now looking larger than on the previous occasion,
and so brilliant in the broad sunlight that, on placing his folders
in front of his spectacles, he could distinguish the gold or brass of
epaulettes and helmets.

'The dirty blackguards! The dirty blackguards!' he repeated, shaking
his fist at the group.

It was King William of Prussia who was perched up there, on the Marfée
hill, with his staff. He had already, at seven o'clock, arrived
there from Vendresse, where he had slept, and there he was, well out
of harm's way, with the valley of the Meuse, the whole unbounded
battlefield spread out below him. The vast panorama extended from one
horizon to another, and he looked down upon it from the hill as upon a
gala performance from a throne reared in some gigantic court-box.

Sedan, with the geometrical lines of its fortifications bathed on the
south and the west by the flooded meadows and the river, stood out in
the centre against the dark background of the Ardennes Forest, which
draped the horizon as with a curtain of antique greenery. Houses were
already blazing at Bazeilles, where all was misty with the dust of
battle. Then, on the east, from La Moncelle to Givonne, only a few
regiments of the Twelfth and First French Corps could be seen, looking
like lines of insects as they crossed the stubble, and now and again
disappearing in a narrow valley where some hamlets were also hidden;
and, farther on, the ground rose again, and pale-tinted fields could
be perceived, blotched with the green mass of the Chevalier Wood. The
Seventh French Corps was especially well in view on the north, with
its regiments represented by numerous black specks moving hither and
thither over the plateau of Floing, a broad band of dark grey soil,
which descended from the little wood of La Garenne to the herbage on
the river bank. Beyond were Floing, St. Menges, Fleigneux, and Illy,
all the villages scattered across the surging expanse, quite a rugged
region, intersected by steep escarpments. And on the left, also, was
the loop of the Meuse, with its slow waters glittering like new silver
in the clear sunlight, and its long languid bend forming the peninsula
of Iges, and intercepting all communication with Mézières save on one
point, where, between the farther bank and the impassable forest, there
opened the only entrance to the defile of St. Albert.

The hundred thousand men and the five hundred guns of the French army
were heaped together, brought to bay within the triangle; and when the
King of Prussia turned his eyes westward he perceived another plain,
that of Donchery, with bare fields spreading out towards Briancourt,
Marancourt, and Vrignes-aux-Bois, an infinite expanse of grey soil
dusty under the blue sky; and when he turned to the east he also
beheld, confronting the confined French lines, another immense open
expanse, with an abundance of villages, first Douzy and Carignan, and
then, ascending northwards, Rubécourt, Pourru-aux-Bois, Francheval, and
Villers-Cernay, till at last there came La Chapelle, near the Belgian
frontier. And all this surrounding ground belonged to him, and as he
pushed forward at his pleasure the two hundred and fifty thousand men
and the eight hundred guns of his armies, he could, at one glance,
survey their invading march. The Eleventh German Army Corps was, on
the one hand, already advancing on St. Menges, whilst the Fifth Corps
was at Vrignes-aux-Bois, and the division of Wurtembergers was waiting
near Donchery; and although, on the other side, the King's view was
somewhat obstructed by the trees and hills, it was yet easy for him to
realise the movements that were being accomplished. He had just seen
the Twelfth German Corps enter the Chevalier Wood, and he knew that
the Guard must by this time have reached Villers-Cernay. And the army
of the Crown Prince of Prussia on the left, and the army of the Crown
Prince of Saxony on the right, formed, as it were, the two branches of
the vice which were opening and ascending with irresistible force to
meet over yonder; whilst on their side the two Bavarian Army Corps were
rushing upon Bazeilles.

And, at King William's feet, the German batteries, disposed in an
almost uninterrupted line from Remilly to Frénois, were now thundering
without cessation, covering La Moncelle and Daigny with shells, and
sweeping the plateaux on the north with other projectiles which passed
right over the town of Sedan. As yet it was hardly more than eight in
the morning, and the King was already waiting for the inevitable result
of the battle, his eyes fixed on the gigantic chessboard before him,
his mind busy with the movements of that human dust, the bellicose
madness of those few black specks which here and there dotted the
surface of smiling and eternal nature.



CHAPTER II

MAURICE RECEIVES THE BAPTISM OF FIRE


At daybreak, in the thick fog enveloping the plateau of Floing, Bugler
Gaude sounded the reveille with all the strength of his lungs. But the
moisture with which the atmosphere was densely impregnated, so deadened
the joyous call that it failed to awaken the men of the company, most
of whom, lacking even the energy to pitch their tents, had rolled
themselves in the canvas or stretched themselves in the mud. They were
lying there, already looking like corpses with their pallid faces
hardened by weariness and sleep, and to rouse them it became necessary
to shake them one by one, when they sat up with the air of men just
resuscitated from the grave, quite livid, and with their eyes full of
terror at the thought of life.

Maurice was awakened by Jean. 'What's up? Where are we?' he stammered
as he glanced in a scared way on either side, perceiving nothing but
the grey sea in the depths of which he was apparently plunged, with the
shadowy forms of his comrades floating around him. It was impossible
to see twenty yards ahead, so that he could not take his bearings. He
had not the faintest notion as to the whereabouts of Sedan. At that
moment, however, the sound of a cannonade, somewhere far away, fell on
his ears: 'Ah! it's for to-day--so we are going to fight. So much the
better, we must make an end of it all.'

The men around him said the same: on all sides there was a gloomy
satisfaction, a longing to escape from that interminable nightmare,
and to come face to face with those Prussians, whom, at the outset,
they had gone in search of, and then had fled from during so many weary
hours. At last they would be able to fire on the foe and disburden
themselves of those cartridges which they had brought from such a
distance without an opportunity of burning even one of them. This time
everybody realised that battle was inevitable.

However, the guns of Bazeilles were thundering more and more loudly,
and Jean, who stood there listening, inquired: 'Where are they firing?'

'I fancy it's near the Meuse,' replied Maurice; 'but the deuce take me
if I know where I am.'

'Listen, youngster,' now said the corporal, 'you must keep beside me
to-day, for a fellow needs to know something about these affairs if he
doesn't want to get injured. I've been through the mill before, and
I'll keep my eyes open for both of us.'

In the meantime the squad was beginning to growl, furious at the
thought that they had nothing warm to comfort their stomachs with. It
was impossible to light any fires without any dry wood, and in such
filthy weather too. Thus, at the very moment when the battle was about
to commence, the great, imperious, paramount belly-question came to the
fore once more. Perhaps they were heroes--some of them at any rate--but
before and above everything else they were maws. Eating was indeed the
one all-important question, and how lovingly they skimmed the pot on
the days when there was some good _soupe_, and how angry they waxed,
like children and savages, when there was a scarcity of rations!

'No grub, no fighting,' declared Chouteau; 'I'll be blowed if I risk my
skin to-day!'

This big, lanky house-painter, this fine speechifier from Montmartre,
this public-house theorist who marred the few reasonable ideas that
he had picked up here and there, by blending them with a frightful
mixture of trash and lies, was again showing himself in the colours
of a revolutionist. 'Besides,' continued he, 'haven't they played the
fool with us, telling us that the Prussians were dying of hunger and
illness, that they hadn't even got any shirts left, and were to be met
on the roads grimed with dirt and as tattered as paupers?'

This made Loubet laugh, like the _gamin_ he was whose life had been
spent amid all the hole-and-corner avocations of the Paris markets.

'But it's all rot,' continued Chouteau, 'it's we who are kicking the
bucket, dying of misery, with our shoes full of holes and our clothes
so ragged that anyone might be tempted to give us a copper out of
charity. And then too those big victories! Ah! the humbugs, to tell us
that they had taken Bismarck prisoner and knocked a whole army head
over heels into a stone quarry. Ah! they have played the fool with us
and no mistake.'

Pache and Lapoulle listened, clenching their fists and nodding
their heads with an air of fury. Others also were enraged, for
the everlasting lies of the Paris newspapers had ended by having
a disastrous effect. Confidence was dead; no belief remained in
anything. The minds of these big children, at the outset so fertile in
extraordinary hopes, were now filled with maddening nightmares.

'Of course, and it's simple enough,' resumed Chouteau. 'It's easily
understood since we've been sold--you fellows know it as well as I do.'

Every time that he heard this, Lapoulle in his childish simplicity felt
quite exasperated. 'Sold, eh?' said he. 'Ah! what rogues some people
are.'

'Yes, sold like Judas sold his Master,' muttered Pache, his mind always
full of biblical reminiscences.

Chouteau was triumphing: 'It's simple enough,' said he, 'everyone
knows the figures. MacMahon was paid three millions of francs, and the
generals had a million apiece to bring us here. It was all settled in
Paris last spring; and a rocket was sent up last night as a signal that
all was ready, and that the others could come and take us.'

The arrant stupidity of this invention revolted Maurice. Chouteau had
formerly amused him, almost won him over by his Parisian 'go;' but
for some time past he had been unable to stomach this perverter, this
ne'er-do-well, who railed at everything so as to disgust the others.
'Why do you tell such absurd stories?' he exclaimed; 'you know very
well there's no truth in it at all.'

'No truth in it? What! it isn't true that we have been sold? It
wouldn't be surprising if a toff like you happened to belong to that
band of swinish traitors. If that's the case,' continued Chouteau,
stepping forward in a threatening way, 'you had better say so, Mr.
Gentleman, because we can settle your hash at once, without waiting for
your friend Bismarck.'

The others also were beginning to growl, and Jean thought it his duty
to intervene: 'Keep quiet, all of you: I'll report the first one who
stirs.'

But Chouteau, with a sneer, began to hoot him. He didn't care a rap
for his report. He'd fight or not, just as he pleased, and they'd
better not bother him, for his cartridges would do just as well for
others as for the Prussians. Now that the battle was beginning, the
little discipline that fear had still maintained would be swept away.
What could they do to him? He meant to skedaddle as soon as he had had
enough of it. And he went on talking in an insulting fashion, exciting
the others against the corporal, who suffered them to die of hunger.
Yes, it was Jean's fault if the squad had had nothing to eat for three
days past, whereas the comrades had _soupe_ and meat. Mr. Jean and the
toff, however, had gone to feast with some wenches. Yes, indeed, others
had seen their goings-on at Sedan.

'You've spent the squad's money,' shouted Chouteau at last; 'you
daren't deny it, you cursed jobber!'

Matters were getting serious. Lapoulle clenched his fist, and even
Pache, usually so gentle but now maddened by hunger, demanded an
explanation of Jean. The only sensible one was Loubet, who began to
laugh, saying that it was idiotic for Frenchmen to fall out when the
Prussians were there close by. He wasn't a partisan of quarrelling
either with fists or with guns, and, alluding to the few hundred francs
he had received as a substitute, he added: 'Well, if they fancy my
skin's worth no more than that I'll undeceive them. I'm not going to
give them more than their money's worth.'

Maurice and Jean, however, exasperated by Chouteau's idiotic onslaught,
replied in violent terms, and were spurning the charges levelled at
them, when all at once a loud voice rang out through the fog: 'What's
the row there? Who are the stupid clowns disputing like that?'

Then Lieutenant Rochas appeared to view, with his cap discoloured
by the rain, his overcoat merely retaining a button here and there,
and the whole of his lank, awkward person in a pitiable condition
of neglect and wretchedness. And yet he had none the less assumed a
victorious swagger, his moustaches bristling and his eyes flaring.

'Please, sir,' replied Jean, quite beside himself, 'it's these men who
are shouting that we are sold. Yes, they say our generals have sold us.'

To the narrow mind of Rochas this idea of treachery did not appear
altogether unreasonable, for it explained defeats which he did not
consider admissible. 'Well, what the deuce is it to them if they _have_
been sold?' he answered. 'What business is it of _theirs_? At any rate,
it doesn't alter the fact that the Prussians are here now, and that we
are going to give them one of those lickings that are remembered.'

Afar off, behind the dense curtain of mist, the guns of Bazeilles did
not cease thundering. And impulsively thrusting out his arms, the
lieutenant added, 'Ah! this time there's no mistake. We are going to
drive them home again with the butt-ends of our rifles.'

To his mind the thunder of the cannonade effaced all the past: the
delays and uncertainties of the march, the demoralisation of the
troops, the disaster of Beaumont, and even the last agony of the forced
retreat upon Sedan. Since they were about to fight, was not victory a
certainty? He had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing, he retained all
his braggart contempt for the enemy, his absolute ignorance of the new
methods of warfare, his unswerving conviction that an old soldier of
the Crimea, Italy, and Algeria could not be beaten. It would be really
too droll if he were to undergo that experience at his age.

A laugh suddenly parted his jaws from ear to ear. And, like the worthy
fellow he was, he now did his men one of those good turns which made
them like him so much despite the manner in which he occasionally rated
them. 'Listen, my lads,' said he, 'instead of disputing, it's much
better to drink a drop together. Yes, I'm going to stand treat, and you
can drink my health.'

Thereupon, from a deep pocket of his overcoat, he produced a bottle of
brandy, adding, with that triumphant air of his, that it was a present
from a lady. This was not so surprising, as during the previous day
he had been seen in a tavern at Floing making himself quite at home
there with the servant girl on his knees. And now the soldiers laughed
heartily, and held out their tin bowls, into which he gaily poured the
liquor.

'You must drink to your sweethearts, my lads, if you have any, and you
must drink to the glory of France. That's all I care about. Here's to
jollity!'

'You're right, sir; here's to your health and everybody's!'

They all drank together, reconciled and warmed by the liquor. It was
really very kind of the lieutenant to have treated them to that drop
of 'short' in the early cold before they advanced on the enemy. And
Maurice felt the alcohol descending into his veins, again bringing
warmth and the semi-intoxication of illusion. Why should they not
defeat the Prussians after all? Had not battles their surprises in
reserve, sudden, unexpected transitions at which History remained
astonished? Besides, that devil of a fellow, Rochas, declared that
Bazaine was on his way to join them, and was expected to come up before
nightfall. And he intimated that the information could be positively
relied upon, for he had it from a general's aide-de-camp; and although
he stretched his arm towards Belgium, to point out by what direction
Bazaine was approaching, Maurice surrendered himself to one of those
crises of hope without which he was unable to live. After all, perhaps
the _revanche_ was really at hand.

'Pray, sir, what are we waiting for?' he ventured to ask; 'aren't we
going to march?'

Rochas made a gesture as if to say that he was without orders. Then,
after a pause, he added: 'Has anyone seen the captain?'

Nobody replied. Jean remembered that during the night he had espied him
slinking away in the direction of Sedan; however, a prudent soldier
should never let it appear that he has seen a superior apart from the
service. So he had decided to hold his tongue, when, on turning round,
he perceived a shadowy form approaching beside a hedge. And, thereupon,
he exclaimed: 'Here he comes!'

It was indeed Captain Beaudoin, who astonished everybody with his
irreproachable get-up, contrasting in such a marked degree with the
deplorable condition of the lieutenant. His uniform was nicely brushed,
his boots were beautifully polished, and there was something quite
coquettish, something suggestive of _galanterie_ about his white hands,
his curled moustaches, and the vague perfume of Persian lilac that he
diffused around him, reminding one of a pretty woman's well-appointed
dressing-room.

'Hallo!' sneered Loubet; 'so the captain has found his baggage again.'

Nobody smiled, however, for the captain was known not to be an easy
customer. He was execrated by his men, whom he kept at a distance. A
regular vinegar-bottle, as Rochas put it. Since the earlier defeats he
had seemed quite offended, and the disaster, which everybody foresaw,
appeared to him above all things improper. A Bonapartist by conviction,
having had a prospect of rapid and high advancement before him, backed
up as he was by several influential Parisian _salons_, he felt that
his fortune was sinking in the mud and mire of this disastrous war. It
was said that he possessed a very pretty tenor voice, to which he was
already deeply indebted. Moreover, he was not without intelligence,
though he knew nothing of his profession, being simply desirous of
pleasing, and when necessary proving very brave, without, however,
displaying any excessive zeal.

'What a fog!' he quietly remarked, feeling more at his ease now that he
had found his company, which he had been looking for during the last
half-hour, almost fearing that he had lost himself.

However, orders had at length arrived, and the battalion immediately
advanced. Fresh clouds of mist must have been ascending from the Meuse,
for the men almost had to grope their way through a kind of whitish
dew, falling upon them in fine drops. And Maurice was struck by the
sudden apparition of Colonel de Vineuil, who, erect on his horse,
rose up before him at the corner of a road; the old officer looking
very tall and very pale, motionless like a marble statue of despair,
and the animal shivering in the early cold with dilated nostrils
which were turned towards the cannon over yonder. And Maurice was yet
more struck when, at ten paces in the rear, he espied the regimental
colours carried by the sub-lieutenant on duty, and looking, amid the
soft, shifting white vapour, like a trembling apparition of glory,
already fading away in the atmosphere of dreamland. The gilded eagle
was drenched with water, and the tricoloured silk, embroidered with
the names of victories, soiled by smoke, and perforated with ancient
wounds, seemed to be paling in the mist; well-nigh the only brilliant
touches, amid all this obliteration, being supplied by the enamel
points of the Cross of Honour, which was hanging from the tassel of the
flag.

The colonel and the colours disappeared, hidden by a fresh wave of
mist, and the battalion still continued advancing, as though through
a mass of damp cotton-wool, and without the men having the faintest
notion whither they were going. They had descended a narrow slope,
and were now climbing a hollow road. Then all at once resounded the
command, 'Halt!' And there they remained, their arms grounded, their
knapsacks weighing down their shoulders, and with strict orders not
to stir. They were probably on a plateau, but it was still quite
impossible to distinguish anything twenty paces away. It was now seven
o'clock; the cannonade seemed to have drawn nearer; fresh batteries,
installed closer and closer to one another, were now firing from the
other side of Sedan.

'Oh! as for me,' suddenly said Sergeant Sapin to Jean and Maurice,
'I shall be killed to-day.' He had not opened his mouth since the
reveille. Judging by the expression of his thin face, with its large,
handsome eyes, and small, contracted nose, he had been absorbed in a
painful reverie.

'What an idea!' protested Jean. 'Can any of us say what will happen to
us? It's all chance.'

The sergeant, however, shook his head as though absolutely convinced of
what he had said. 'For my part,' he added, 'it's as good as done. Yes,
I shall be killed to-day.'

Some of the men now turned round and asked him if he had dreamt it. No,
he hadn't dreamt anything; only he felt it _there_. 'And all the same,
it worries me,' said he, 'for I was going to be married as soon as I
got my discharge.'

Again his eyes wavered; all his past life rose up before him. The son
of a Lyons grocer in a small way of business, spoilt by his mother,
who was dead, and unable to get on with his father, he had remained
in the regiment disgusted with everything, but unwilling to be bought
out. Then, on one occasion, whilst away on leave, he had come to an
understanding with one of his cousins and had arranged to marry her.
And then he had again begun to take an interest in life, and the pair
of them had laid many happy plans for going into business together with
the help of the small sum that the girl was to bring as a dowry. He, on
his side, had received some education, and was fairly proficient in the
three R's. For a year past his only thoughts had been for the future
felicity he had planned.

All at once he shuddered, shook himself as though to get rid of his
fixed idea, and then calmly repeated: 'Yes, it's a beastly worry; but I
shall be killed to-day.'

None of the others spoke; the spell of waiting continued. They were not
aware whether they were facing or turning their backs on the enemy.
Vague sounds occasionally emerged from the depths of the fog--the
rumbling of wheels, the tramp of a mass of men, the distant trot of
horses; sounds produced by the movements of the troops which the fog
was hiding, all the evolutions of the Seventh Army Corps, now taking
up its line of battle. During the last minute or so, however, it had
seemed as if the vapour were becoming less dense. Fragments of it
arose, looking like pieces of muslin, and patches of the horizon were
disclosed, still dim, however, of a gloomy blue, like that of deep
water. And it was at one of these moments when the atmosphere was
clearing that they saw the regiments of Chasseurs d'Afrique, belonging
to Margueritte's division, pass by like phantom horsemen. Erect in
their saddles, with their short, light-blue jackets and their broad red
sashes, the Chasseurs urged on their mounts, animals of slender build,
who were half hidden beneath the cumbersome kits they carried. Behind
one squadron came another, and after emerging for a moment from the
haze where all was vague, they passed into it again as though melting
away under the fine rain. Doubtless they had been in the way, and were
being sent farther off, those in command not knowing what to do with
them, as had been the case ever since the outset of the campaign. They
had scarcely been employed on reconnoitring duties at all, and as soon
as an engagement began they were promenaded from valley to valley,
valuable, yet useless.

As Maurice looked at them he thought of Prosper. 'Hallo!' he muttered,
'perhaps he's over there.'

'Who?' asked Jean.

'That fellow from Remilly, whose brother, the Franc-tireur, we met at
Oches.'

The Chasseurs had passed on, however, and then came another gallop,
that of a general's staff descending the sloping road. Jean recognised
Bourgain-Desfeuilles, the commander of their brigade, who was waving
his arm in a furious manner. So he had at last deigned to quit the
Golden Cross Hotel, and his bad humour plainly indicated how annoyed
he was at having had to rise so early, after being so badly lodged and
wretchedly fed. His voice could be distinctly heard, thundering out:
'Well, d---- it, the Moselle or the Meuse, at any rate the water that's
there!'

However, the mist was at length rising. As at Bazeilles, there was a
sudden transformation scene, a radiant spectacle gradually disclosed
to view, as when the drop-curtain slowly ascends towards the flies.
The sunrays were brightly streaming from the blue vault, and Maurice
immediately recognised the spot where they were waiting. 'Ah!' said he
to Jean, 'this is what they call the plateau of Algeria. You see that
village in front of us, on the other side of the valley, that's Floing.
That one, farther off, is St. Menges; and there, farther still, is
Fleigneux. Then, right away, in the forest of the Ardennes--those trees
on the horizon--comes the frontier.'

With his hand outstretched he continued giving his explanations. The
plateau of Algeria, a strip of muddy soil, rather less than two and
a half miles in length, sloped gently from the wood of La Garenne
towards the Meuse, from which some meadows parted it. It was here that
General Douay had disposed the Seventh Corps, in despair that he had
not sufficient men to defend so long a line as that allotted to him, or
to establish a solid connection with the First Corps, whose positions,
perpendicular to his own, extended along the valley of the Givonne from
the wood of La Garenne to Daigny.

'Ah! you see how vast it is, eh?' said Maurice, turning round, and with
a wave of the hand embracing the entire horizon. From the plateau of
Algeria the whole immense field of battle stretched out towards the
south and the west. First there was Sedan, whose citadel could be seen
rising above the housetops; then came Balan and Bazeilles, hazy with
smoke; and, in the rear, the heights on the left bank of the Meuse, the
Liry, Marfée and Croix-Piau hills. But the view was more particularly
extensive on the west, in the direction of Donchery. The loop of the
Meuse bounded the peninsula of Iges as with a light ribbon, and over
there one could plainly detect the narrow Route de St. Albert, running
between the bank and a steep height, which, somewhat farther on, was
crowned by the little wood of Le Seugnon, a spur of the woods of La
Falizette. The road to Vrignes-aux-Bois and Donchery passed over the
summit of the height at a spot known as the Crossway of the Red House.

'And in that direction, you know, we could fall back on Mézières,' said
Maurice. But at that very moment a first cannon shot was fired from
St. Menges. Shreds of fog were still trailing in the depths, and a
vague mass of men could just be espied marching along the defile of St.
Albert. 'Ah! there they are!' resumed Maurice, instinctively lowering
his voice, and without naming the Prussians. 'Our line of retreat is
cut off!'

It was not yet eight o'clock. The cannonade, which was increasing in
violence in the direction of Bazeilles, could now also be heard on the
east, in the valley of the Givonne, which they were unable to see.
At this moment, indeed, the army of the Crown Prince of Saxony was
emerging from the Chevalier Wood and advancing upon the First Corps in
front of Daigny. And now that the Eleventh Prussian Corps, marching
upon Floing, was opening fire on General Douay's troops, the battle had
begun on all sides, from north to south, over an expanse of several
leagues.

Maurice had just realised what a deplorable blunder had been made in
not withdrawing upon Mézières during the night. And although he had
only a dim notion as to what might be the exact consequences of the
blunder, he was instinctively apprehensive of danger, and gazed with
disquietude at the neighbouring heights overlooking the plateau of
Algeria. Allowing that they might not have had sufficient time to
retreat on Mézières, why, at all events, had they not occupied those
heights, with their backs to the frontier, so that they might, at all
risks, have made their way into Belgium in the event of a defeat? Two
points appeared particularly threatening, the round Hattoy hill, above
Floing on the left, and the so-called Calvary of Illy, crowned by a
stone cross rising between two lime trees. On the previous day General
Douay had sent a regiment to occupy the Hattoy hill, but this isolated
position being considered dangerous the men had fallen back at dawn.
As for the Calvary of Illy, its defence had been entrusted to the left
wing of the First Army Corps. All the vast bare expanse, dented with
deep valleys from Sedan to the Ardennes, was there; and evidently the
key of the position was at the foot of that cross and those two lime
trees, whence one could sweep all the surrounding country.

Two more artillery reports were now heard. Then came the roar of
several pieces fired simultaneously, and this time a puff of smoke was
seen to ascend from a little hill on the left of St. Menges. 'Ah!' said
Jean, 'it's our turn now.'

Nothing was seen of any projectile, however. The men, still standing
there stock-still, with their arms grounded, had no other pastime than
that of contemplating the fine order of the Second Division, drawn
up in front of Floing, and with its left wing thrown forward in the
direction of the Meuse, to meet any attack on that side. The Third
Division was deploying on the east as far as the wood of La Garenne,
below Illy; whilst the first, cut up at Beaumont, was in the rear,
forming a second line. The Engineers had been engaged all night in the
preparation of defensive works, and were still digging shelter-trenches
and raising breast-works, when the Prussians began firing.

A fusillade broke out in the lower part of Floing, but soon ceased, and
just then Captain Beaudoin's company received orders to fall back a
distance of some three hundred yards. The men had just reached a large
square field of cabbages, when the captain curtly commanded them to lie
down. They had to obey, although the order was by no means a pleasant
one. The abundant dew had quite soaked the cabbages, on whose thick
leaves of a greenish gold there lingered large drops of as brilliant
and as pure a water as diamonds. 'Sight at four hundred yards!' called
the captain.

Maurice thereupon rested the barrel of his chassepot on a cabbage
in front of him. Lying there, on the soil, he could no longer see
anything save a confused stretch of ground streaked here and there with
greenery, and nudging Jean, who was on his right hand, he asked him
what they were doing in that field. Jean, experienced in such matters,
pointed out to him a battery which was being established on a hillock
near at hand. Plainly enough they had been placed there to support that
battery. Thereupon Maurice, inquisitive as to whether Honoré was at the
battery in question, scrambled to his feet; but the reserve artillery
was in the rear, beyond a clump of trees.

'Thunder!' shouted Rochas, 'lie down at once!'

Before Maurice had again stretched himself on his stomach a shell
passed by, hissing, and from that moment there was no pause in the
arrival of the projectiles. The correct range, however, was but slowly
found; the first shells fell far beyond the French battery, which also
opened fire, whilst others, which sank into the soft soil, did not
explode, so that for some time there was any number of jokes about the
clumsiness of those sauerkraut-eating gunners.

'Why, their artillery fire is a mere flash in the pan!' said Loubet.

Then Chouteau indulged in a disgusting joke, and Lieutenant Rochas
joined in with the remark, 'There! I told you those fools couldn't even
point a gun!'

One shell, however, burst some ten paces away, covering the company
with mould, and although Loubet called to his comrades in a bantering
way to get their brushes out of their knapsacks, Chouteau, who was
turning quite pale, held his peace. He had never been under fire
before, neither had Pache nor Lapoulle, nor, indeed, any man of the
squad excepting Jean. Their eyes blinked and grew dim, whilst their
voices became shrill and faint as though they had a difficulty in
speaking. Maurice, who still retained some measure of self-possession,
endeavoured to analyse his sensations: he was not yet frightened, for
he did not think he was in danger, and all that he experienced was
a slight uneasiness in the epigastrium, whilst his head gradually
emptied, so that he could not connect his ideas. All the same, however,
his hopefulness had been increasing like growing intoxication ever
since he had observed with so much wonderment the capital order of
the troops. He had reached a state when he no longer had any doubt of
victory, provided they could only charge the enemy with cold steel.

'Hallo!' he muttered; 'what a lot of flies there are.' Thrice already
he had heard a buzzing sound.

Jean could not help laughing. 'No,' said he; 'they are bullets.'

Other light buzzing sounds swept by, and now all the men of the squad
turned their heads, greatly interested. It was an irresistible impulse,
and one after another they lifted up their necks, unable to keep still.

'I say,' said Loubet to Lapoulle, by way of amusing himself with the
simpleton, 'whenever you see a bullet coming you've only got to put a
finger in front of your nose--like that--it cuts the air apart, and the
bullet passes on the right or the left.'

'But I don't see them coming,' said Lapoulle, whereupon everybody
roared.

'Oh my! he doesn't see them! Keep your lamps open, you fool! Why, there
comes one--and there's another. Didn't you see that one? It was a green
bullet.'

And thereupon Lapoulle opened his eyes as wide as he could, and kept
one finger uplifted in front of his nose, whilst Pache, touching the
scapular he wore, wished he were able to extend it like a breastplate
over his chest.

Rochas, who had remained standing, exclaimed all at once in his
bantering way: 'You're not forbidden to salute the shells, my lads, bub
never mind about the bullets, there are too many of them.'

At that moment a splinter of a shell shattered the head of a soldier in
the front rank. He was not even able to cry out: there was a spurt of
blood and brain-matter--that was all.

'Poor devil!' quietly said Sergeant Sapin, who was very calm and very
pale; 'whose turn next?'

But they could no longer hear one another; and it was indeed especially
the frightful uproar that distressed Maurice. The battery near by
was firing without a pause, with a continuous roar which shook the
ground; and the mitrailleuses, rending the air asunder, were even
more insufferable. How long were they going to lie among those
cabbages? There was still nothing to be seen; nothing was known. It
was impossible to form the slightest idea of the battle; was it even
a real battle, a great one? All that Maurice could distinguish above
the smooth line of the fields before him was the round, wooded summit
of the Hattoy hill, far away and still deserted. Not a Prussian was
to be seen on the horizon. Only some puffs of smoke arose, wafted for
a moment in the sunlight. Then, as he turned his head, he was greatly
astonished on perceiving in the depths of a sequestered valley,
sheltered by rugged slopes, a peasant who was calmly pursuing his
avocation--guiding a plough drawn by a big white horse. Why should the
man lose a day? Corn would not cease growing, the human race would not
cease living, because a few thousand men happened to be fighting.

Consumed by impatience, Maurice rose to his feet, and at a glance he
again saw the batteries of St. Menges, which were cannonading them,
crowned with tawny smoke; and he also again beheld the road from St.
Albert now blocked with Prussians, the indistinct swarming of an
invading horde. Jean, however, swiftly caught hold of his legs and
dragged him to the ground. 'Are you mad?' said the corporal; 'you'll be
potted.'

On his side Rochas began to swear: 'Lie down at once! What the deuce
does the fellow mean, trying to get killed when he hasn't been ordered
to do so?'

'But you're not lying down, sir,' said Maurice.

'Oh! in my case it's different; it's necessary that I should know
what's passing.'

Captain Beaudoin also remained bravely erect. But he did not open his
mouth to speak to his men, to whom nothing attached him; and it seemed
as if he were unable to keep still, for again and again did he tramp
from one end of the field to the other.

And meantime the waiting continued, nothing came. Maurice was
suffocating beneath his knapsack, which, in his horizontal position,
so wearisome after a time, was weighing heavily on his back and chest.
The men had been particularly cautioned that they were not to rid
themselves of their knapsacks until the last extremity.

'I say, are we going to spend the whole day here?' Maurice ended by
asking Jean.

'Perhaps so. At Solferino, I remember, we spent five hours lying in
a carrot-field with our noses on the ground.' And then, like the
practical fellow he was, Jean added: 'But what are you complaining of?
We are not badly off. There'll always be time enough for us to expose
ourselves. Everyone has his turn, you know. If we all got ourselves
killed at the beginning there would be no one left for the finish.'

'Ah!' suddenly interrupted Maurice, 'look at that smoke on the Hattoy
hill. They've captured it; they'll be leading us a nice dance now.'

For a moment the sight he beheld supplied some food for his anxious
curiosity, into which the first quiver of fear was stealing. He could
not take his eyes off the round summit of that hill, the only acclivity
that he could perceive, above the fleeting line of fields, level with
his eye. It was, however, much too far away for him to distinguish the
gunners of the batteries that had just been established there by the
Prussians, and, indeed, he only saw the puffs of smoke rising at each
fresh discharge above a plantation, which probably concealed the guns.

As Maurice had instinctively divined, the capture of this position,
the defence of which General Douay had been compelled to renounce,
was a very serious matter. The Hattoy hill commanded the surrounding
plateaux, and when the German batteries installed there opened fire on
the Second Division of the Seventh Corps, they speedily decimated it.
The enemy's practice was now much improved, and the French battery,
near which Beaudoin's company was lying down, had a couple of gunners
killed in rapid succession. A splinter at the same time wounded a
quartermaster-corporal of the company, whose left heel was carried
clean away, and who began shrieking with pain as though he had suddenly
gone mad.

'Shut up, you brute!' shouted Rochas. 'Is there any sense in making
such a row over a flea-bite?'

Suddenly calmed, the wounded man became silent, and sank into a
senseless immobility, with his foot in his hand.

And, meanwhile, the formidable artillery duel, growing more and more
serious, steadily went on over the heads of the prostrate regiments,
across the hot, mournful stretch of country where no one was to be
seen in the fierce sunlight. There seemed to be nothing but this
thunder, this destructive blizzard rushing backwards and forwards
athwart the deserted expanse. And hours and hours were to elapse before
it ceased. But the superiority of the German artillery was already
becoming manifest; nearly all of their percussion shells exploded at
tremendous distances, whereas the French shells, on the fuse system,
did not travel nearly so far, and more frequently than otherwise
burst in the air before reaching their destinations. And, meantime,
for Captain Beaudoin's men there was no resource but that of trying
to make themselves as small as possible in the furrows in which they
were lying, close-pressed to the soil. They were not even able to ease
themselves, intoxicate themselves, shake off their thoughts by firing a
few shots. For whom could they fire at, since there was still nobody to
be seen along the blank horizon?

'Aren't we going to fire?' Maurice kept on repeating, quite beside
himself. 'I'd give five francs to see one of those Prussians appear.
It's exasperating to be fired at like that without being able to reply.'

'Don't be in a hurry, the time may come,' replied Jean, quietly.

However, the gallop of horses on their left made them turn their heads,
and they recognised General Douay, who, followed by his staff, had
ridden up to ascertain how his troops were behaving under the terrible
fire from the Hattoy hill. He seemed satisfied, and was giving a few
orders, when General Bourgain-Desfeuilles, in his turn, debouched from
a hollow road. 'Carpet-general' though he was, he trotted along with
careless indifference amidst all the projectiles, obstinately clinging
to his Algerian practices, and having failed to profit by any of the
lessons of the war. He was gesticulating after the fashion of Rochas,
and shouting: 'I'm waiting for them. We'll see how it will be when
we get to close quarters by-and-by.' Then, catching sight of General
Douay, he rode up to him: 'Is it true, general, that the marshal's
wounded?'

'Yes, it is, unfortunately. I received a line from Ducrot just now,
telling me that the marshal had selected him to take command of the
army.'

'Ah! so it's Ducrot! And what are the orders?'

The commander of the Seventh Corps made a gesture of despair. He had
realised, already on the previous day, that the army was lost if it
remained at Sedan, and he had urged again and again, but vainly, that
the positions of St. Menges and Illy ought to be occupied in view of
insuring a means of retreating upon Mézières.

'Ducrot reverts to our plan,' he said, in answer to
Bourgain-Desfeuilles. 'The entire army is to concentrate on the plateau
of Illy.' And then he repeated his gesture as though to say that it was
too late!

The roar of the cannon drowned many of his words; still the sense of
them reached Maurice's ears distinctly enough, and he was quite scared.
What! Marshal MacMahon was wounded, General Ducrot commanded in his
stead, the entire army was to retreat to the north of Sedan, and the
poor devils of soldiers who were getting themselves killed were in
utter ignorance of all these important matters! And they were playing
this fearful game at the mercy of a chance accident, dependent on the
fancies of a fresh leader! He divined the confusion, the final disarray
into which the army was falling, without a commander, without a plan,
dragged first one way and then another, whilst the Germans never
deviated, but went straight towards their goal with the precision of
machinery.

General Bourgain-Desfeuilles was already riding away when he was
imperatively recalled by his superior, who had just received another
message, brought to him by a Hussar, covered with dust.

'General! general!' shouted Douay, whose voice, in his surprise and
emotion, thundered so loudly that it resounded above all the roar of
the artillery. 'General, it is no longer Ducrot who commands, but
Wimpffen! Yes, he arrived yesterday, at the very moment of the Beaumont
rout, to take De Failly's place at the head of the Fifth Corps--and he
writes me that he has a letter from the Minister of War placing him at
the head of the army in the event of any vacancy in the command--and
the orders to retreat are cancelled, we are to regain and defend our
original positions.'

General Bourgain-Desfeuilles was listening with dilated eyes.
'Thunder!' he exclaimed at last, 'we ought to know what we are to
do--though for my own part I don't care a rap!'

Then away he galloped, really indifferent as to the issue of the
affair, having merely viewed the war at the outset as a means of
rapidly attaining to divisional rank, and now simply desiring that this
stupid campaign should be brought to an end as soon as possible, since
it gave so little satisfaction to everybody.

And now the men of Beaudoin's company burst into a derisive laugh.
Maurice said nothing, but he shared the opinion of Chouteau and Loubet,
who began to jeer and joke, pouring forth their contempt. Right
wheel, left wheel, go as you're told. Nice commanders they had, and
no mistake; commanders who agreed so well together, and who didn't
want all the blanket to themselves--oh! no, of course not! When men
had such generals as those, wasn't it best to go off to bed? Three
commanders-in-chief in the space of a couple of hours, three fine
fellows who didn't know what ought to be done, and each of whom gave
different orders! Really, it was enough to make you feel exasperated,
enough to demoralise a saint! And then those fatal charges of treason
cropped up afresh--Ducrot and Wimpffen were like MacMahon, they wanted
to earn Bismarck's three millions!

General Douay had halted at some little distance in advance of his
staff, and there he remained quite alone, gazing at the Prussian
positions, and absorbed in a reverie of infinite sadness. For a long
time he continued scanning the Hattoy hill, the shells from which were
falling close around him. Then, after turning towards the plateau of
Illy, he summoned an officer to carry an order to a brigade of the
Fifth Corps, which he had obtained from General de Wimpffen the day
before, and which connected him with Ducrot's left wing. And he was
distinctly heard to remark: 'If the Prussians should obtain possession
of the Calvary we could not hold out here for an hour; we should be
thrown back on Sedan.'

Thereupon he went off, disappearing with his escort at a bend of the
hollow road, whilst the enemy's fire increased in intensity. Very
possibly he had been remarked.

And now the shells, which hitherto had simply been coming from the
front, began raining on the left flank as well. The fire of the
batteries at Frénois, and of another battery established on the
peninsula of Iges, was crossing that from the Hattoy hill. And the
projectiles fairly swept the plateau of Algeria. The men, occupied in
watching what was going on in front, now had this flank fire to alarm
them, and, exposed to two dangers, were at a loss how to escape from
either. In rapid succession three men were killed, whilst two who were
wounded shrieked aloud.

And it was now that Sergeant Sapin met the death he expected. He had
turned round, and, when it was too late to avoid the shell, he saw it
coming. 'Ah! there it is,' he simply said. There was a look, not of
terror, but of profound sadness on his little pale face, in his large
handsome eyes. His belly was ripped open, and he began to moan: 'Oh!
don't leave me here! take me to the ambulance I beg of you--take me
away.'

Rochas wished to silence him, and in his brutal fashion was about to
tell him that when a man was mortally wounded he had no business to put
a couple of comrades to unnecessary trouble. Suddenly, however, the
grim lieutenant was stirred by pity, and exclaimed: 'Wait a moment, my
poor fellow, till the bearers come for you.'

But the wretched man continued moaning, and began to weep, distracted
that the longed-for happiness should be fleeing away with the flow of
his blood. 'Take me away,' he begged, 'take me away.'

Thereupon Captain Beaudoin, whose excited nerves were doubtless
exasperated by this plaint, called for a couple of men to carry the
sergeant to a little wood near by, where there was a field ambulance.
Anticipating their comrades, Chouteau and Loubet at once bounded to
their feet and took up the sergeant, one holding him under his armpits
and the other by his feet. Then off they carried him at a run. On the
way, however, they felt him stiffening, expiring in a last convulsion.

'I say,' said Loubet, 'he's dead. Let's drop him.'

But Chouteau refused to do so, exclaiming in a fury: 'Just you run on,
you lazybones. Do you think I'm such a fool as to drop him here for the
captain to call us back?'

Accordingly they went on their way with the corpse until they reached
the little wood, where they flung it at the foot of a tree. Then they
went off, and were not seen again until the evening.

The firing was now becoming more and more violent, the battery which
the company was supporting having been reinforced by a couple of
guns; and, in the increasing uproar, fear, mad fear, at last took
possession of Maurice. At the outset he had been free from the cold
perspiration that was now issuing from every pore of his skin, from the
painful weakness that at present he felt in the pit of his stomach,
the well-nigh irresistible inclination that he experienced to rise up
and rush away shrieking. And doubtless all this was but the result of
reflection, as often happens with delicate, nervous natures. Jean,
however, was watching him, and as soon as he detected this crisis of
cowardice by the troubled wavering of his eyes, he caught hold of him
with his strong hand, and roughly prevented him from stirring. And,
in a fatherly way, he whispered insulting words in his ear, trying to
make him feel ashamed of himself, for he knew that insults, and at
times even kicks, are needed to restore some men's courage. Others also
were shivering. Pache had his eyes full of tears, and gave vent to a
gentle, involuntary plaint, like the wailing of a little child, which
he was altogether unable to restrain. And Lapoulle's vitals were so
stirred that he was taken quite ill. Several other men were similarly
distressed, and the scene which ensued led to much hooting and jeering,
the effect of which was to restore everybody's courage.

'You wretched coward!' Jean repeated to Maurice, 'mind you don't behave
like them--I'll punch your head if you don't behave properly.'

He was in this manner warming the young fellow's heart, when all at
once, at some four hundred yards in front of them, they perceived
a dozen men in dark uniforms emerging from a little wood. At last,
then, there were the Prussians--easily recognisable by their spiked
helmets--the first Prussians they had seen within range of their
chassepots since the outset of the campaign. Other squads followed the
first one, and in front of them one could see the little clouds of dust
thrown up by the shells. Everything was very small, yet delicately
precise; the Prussians looked like so many little tin soldiers set
out in good order. However, as the shells from the French batteries
rained upon them in increasing numbers, they soon fell back again,
disappearing behind the trees.

But Captain Beaudoin's men had seen them, and fancied they could see
them still. The chassepots had gone off of their own accord. Maurice
was the first to fire. Jean, Pache, Lapoulle, all the others followed
his example. There had been no command to fire; in fact, the captain
wished to stop it, and only gave way on Rochas making a gesture
implying that it was absolutely necessary the men should thus ease
their feelings. So at last they were firing, employing those cartridges
which they had been carrying in their pouches for more than a month
past, without an opportunity of burning a single one of them. Maurice,
especially, was quite enlivened. Thus occupied, he forgot his fright.
The detonations drove away his thoughts. Meantime, the verge of the
wood remained desolate. Not a leaf was stirring there, not a Prussian
had reappeared, yet the men continued firing at the motionless trees.

Then, all at once, having raised his head, Maurice was surprised to
see Colonel de Vineuil on his big horse, only a few paces away; both
man and beast looking as impassive as though they were of stone. With
his face to the foe, the colonel remained there, whilst the bullets
rained around him. The entire regiment must now have fallen back to
this point, other companies were lying down in neighbouring fields,
and the fusillade was spreading right along the line. And, slightly in
the rear, Maurice also saw the colours, borne aloft by the strong arm
of the sub-lieutenant, who carried them. But they were no longer the
phantom colours which the morning fog had obscured. The gilded eagle
was shining radiantly under the fierce sunbeams, and vividly glared
the silk of the three colours, despite all the glorious wear and tear
of bygone battles. Against the bright blue sky, amid the wind of the
cannonade, the flag was waving like a flag of victory.

And now that they were fighting, why should not victory be theirs?
With desperate, maddened rage, Maurice and his comrades continued
burning their cartridges, shooting at the distant wood, where twigs and
branches were slowly and silently raining upon the ground.



CHAPTER III

INSIDE SEDAN: NAPOLEON'S MIDNIGHT AGONY--TWO WOMEN


Henriette was unable to sleep that night. She was worried by the
thought that her husband was at Bazeilles so near the German lines. In
vain did she repeat to herself the promise he had made her to return
at the first sign of danger; and in vain at each moment did she pause
in her work to listen, fancying she could hear him coming. Towards ten
o'clock, when it was time for her to go to bed, she opened the window,
and remained there, looking out, with her elbow resting on the sill.

The night was very dark, and down below she could scarcely distinguish
the pavement of the Rue des Voyards, a narrow, gloomy passage hemmed
in by old houses. The only light was a smoky, star-like lamp some
distance away, in the direction of the college. And from the depths
beneath there ascended a cellar-like, saltpetrous smell, the occasional
caterwauling of some angry tom, the heavy footfall of some soldier who
had lost his way. Moreover, unaccustomed noises resounded through Sedan
behind her, sudden gallops, continuous rumblings, which sped along like
threats of death. She listened, with her heart beating loudly, but
still and ever she failed to recognise the steps of her husband coming
round the corner.

Hours went by, and she became anxious concerning the distant glimmers
which she could espy along the country side, beyond the ramparts.
It was so dark that she had to picture the situation of the various
localities. That huge pale sheet down below was evidently the water
covering the flooded meadows. But what was that fire which she had
seen flare up and then die away, over yonder, doubtless on the Marfée
hill? And there were other fires flaming all along the hills, at
Pont-Maugis, Noyers, and Frénois, mysterious fires vacillating above
an innumerable multitude, swarming there in the darkness. But it was
especially the extraordinary sounds which she heard that made her
start and tremble--the tramping of a people on the march, the panting
of horses, the clang of arms, quite a chevachie passing along afar
off, in the depths of that dim inferno. Suddenly the booming of
a cannon resounded, one formidable, frightful report, followed by
perfect silence. It froze all the blood in her veins. What could it
be? A signal, no doubt--a signal that some movement had succeeded, an
announcement that they were ready over yonder, and that the sun might
now rise when he pleased.

At about two in the morning Henriette, still dressed, threw herself
upon her bed, neglecting even to close the window. She was quite
overcome with fatigue and anxiety. What could be the matter with her,
that she should now be shivering with fever like that--she, as a rule,
so calm, with so light a step that one heard her no more than if she
had not existed? She slept painfully, numbed as it were, but with a
persistent consciousness of the catastrophe that weighed so heavily
in the black atmosphere. All at once, in the midst of her uneasy
slumber, the voice of the cannon was heard again; dull, distant reports
resounded; and now the firing went on regularly, stubbornly, without
cessation. She sat up on her bed shuddering. Where was she? She no
longer recognised, no longer even saw the room, which seemed to be full
of dense smoke. Then all at once she understood that the mist rising
from the neighbouring river must have entered through the open window.
Outside, the guns were now sounding more frequently. She sprang off the
bed and hastened to the window to listen.

Four o'clock was striking from one of the steeples of Sedan. The
morning twilight was breaking, dim, undecided in the dun-coloured mist.
It was impossible to see anything; she could no longer distinguish
even the college buildings a few yards away. Where were they firing,
good heavens? Her first thought was for her brother, Maurice, for the
reports were so deadened by the fog that they seemed to her to come
from the north, right over the town. Then, however, it appeared certain
that the firing was in front of her, and she trembled for her husband.
Yes, the firing was undoubtedly at Bazeilles. For a few moments,
however, she felt reassured, for it seemed to her, every now and then,
as though the reports were, after all, coming from her right. Perhaps
they were fighting at Donchery, where the bridge, as she was aware,
had not been blown up. And now the most frightful perplexity took
possession of her--were they firing from Donchery or from Bazeilles?
It was impossible for her to tell, there was such a continuous buzzing
in her ears. At last her anguish of mind became so acute that she
felt unable to remain waiting there any longer. She quivered with an
unrestrainable desire to know the truth at once, and throwing a shawl
over her shoulders she went out in search of information.

She hesitated for a moment as she reached the Rue des Voyards down
below, for the town still seemed so black in the opaque fog that
enveloped it. The morning twilight had not yet reached the damp
pavement between the smoky old house-fronts. The only persons she
perceived as she went along the Rue au Beurre were two drunken Turcos
with a girl, inside a low tavern where a candle was flickering. She
had to turn into the Rue Maqua to find some animation--soldiers whose
shadows glided furtively along the footways: cowards, possibly, in
search of a hiding place; together with a big cuirassier who had lost
himself, and who knocked at each door he came to, searching for his
captain; and there was also a stream of civilians, perspiring with fear
at the idea that they had so long delayed their departure, and packing
themselves closely in carts, to see if there were still time to get to
Bouillon in Belgium, whither half of Sedan had been emigrating for two
days past.

Henriette was instinctively bound for the Sub-Prefecture, where she
felt certain she would gain some information; and, to avoid being
accosted, the idea occurred to her of cutting through the side
streets. But she was unable to pass along the Rue du Four and the Rue
des Laboureurs: they were blocked with cannon, endless rows of guns,
caissons, and ammunition waggons, which had been huddled together there
the day before, and seemed to have been forgotten. There was not even
a sentry mounting guard over them; and the sight of all that gloomy,
unutilised artillery, slumbering in abandonment in the depths of those
deserted by-ways, chilled Henriette's heart. She now had to retrace her
steps by way of the Place du Collège towards the high street, where,
outside the Hôtel de l'Europe, she saw some orderlies holding horses,
and waiting for a party of field officers, whose voices resounded
loudly in the brightly illuminated dining-room. People were still more
plentiful on the Place du Rivage and the Place Turenne, where groups
of anxious townsfolk, women and children, were mingled with scared,
disbanded soldiers, going hither and thither; and she saw a general
rush swearing out of the Golden Cross Hotel and gallop off in a rage at
the risk of knocking everybody down. For a moment she seemed to think
of entering the town-hall; however she ultimately turned into the Rue
du Pont-de-Meuse to reach the Sub-Prefecture.

And never before in her eyes had Sedan presented such a tragic aspect
as that which it now wore in the dim, dirty morning twilight, full of
fog. The houses seemed to be dead; many of them were empty, abandoned
a couple of days since; and others, where fear-fraught insomnia could
be divined, remained hermetically closed. With all those streets
still half deserted, peopled merely with anxious shadows, traversed
by abrupt departures in the midst of all the laggard soldiers who had
been roaming about since the previous day, it was a morning to make
one fairly shiver. The light would gradually increase, and by-and-by
the town would be crowded, submerged by the impending disaster; but as
yet it was only half-past five, and so far one could barely hear the
cannonade, its booming being deadened by the lofty black houses.

Henriette was acquainted with the daughter of the door-portress at
the Sub-Prefecture. Rose was the girl's name; she was a pretty,
delicate-looking, little blonde, and worked at Delaherche's factory.
When Henriette stepped into the lodge the mother was not there, but
Rose greeted her with her accustomed amiability. 'Oh, my dear lady, we
can no longer keep on our legs,' said she; 'mother has had to go and
lie down a little. Just fancy, what with all the comings and goings, we
have had to remain on foot all night!'

And without waiting for any questions she rattled on and on, feverishly
excited by the many extraordinary things that she had seen since the
day before. 'The marshal has slept well,' she said. 'But that poor
Emperor! No, you can't imagine how dreadfully he suffers! Last night
I went up to help give out some linen, and just as I was passing
through a room next to the dressing-room I heard some moaning--oh! such
dreadful moaning, as though somebody was dying. It made me tremble
all over; and it froze my heart when I learned it was the Emperor. It
appears he has a dreadful illness which makes him cry out like that. He
restrains himself when anybody's there, but as soon as he's alone it
masters him, and he calls out and complains--it's enough to make your
hair stand on end.'

'Do you know where they are fighting this morning?' interrupted
Henriette.

Rose dismissed the question, however, with an impatient wave of the
hand. 'So you understand,' said she, 'I wanted to know how he was, and
I went up four or five times during the night and listened, with my ear
to the partition--and each time that I went I heard him moaning and
complaining, and he didn't cease, he didn't close his eyes for a moment
all night long, I'm sure of it. How terrible, isn't it, to suffer
like that with all the worry he has? For everything's in confusion, a
regular scramble. They all seem to have lost their senses! The doors do
nothing but bang, fresh people are always coming. Some of them fly in
a rage, and others cry. The house is quite topsy-turvy; everything's
being pillaged. I assure you I saw some officers drinking out of the
bottles last night, and some of them even went to bed in their big
boots. And after all it's the Emperor who's the best of the lot, and
who takes up the least room in the little corner where he hides himself
to moan.'

Then, as Henriette repeated her question, Rose replied: 'Where they
are fighting? It's at Bazeilles--they've been fighting there since
daybreak! A soldier on horseback came to tell the marshal, and he at
once went to the Emperor to let him know. The marshal has already been
gone some ten minutes or so, and I think the Emperor's going to join
him, for they are dressing him upstairs. I was up there just now, and I
caught sight of his valet combing and curling him, and doing all sorts
of things to his face.'

Henriette, however, now had the information she desired, and therefore
turned to go: 'Many thanks, Rose, I'm in a hurry,' she said; whereupon
the young girl, complaisantly accompanying her as far as the street,
replied: 'Oh, I'm quite at your service, Madame Weiss. I know that one
can tell _you_ everything.'

Henriette quickly returned to her home in the Rue des Voyards. She felt
convinced that she would now find her husband there; and, reflecting
that he would be alarmed by her absence, she hastened her steps. She
raised her head as she drew near to the house, almost fancying that
she could see him leaning out of the window, watching for her. But
no, there was nobody at the window, which was still wide open. And
when she had climbed the stairs, and given a glance into each of
the three rooms, she stopped short thunderstruck, her heart filled
with anguish at only finding there that same icy fog, deadening the
incessant commotion of the cannonade. They were still firing over
yonder, and, for a moment, she returned to the window. The morning mist
still reared its impenetrable veil, but now that she was informed she
immediately realised that the struggle was going on at Bazeilles; she
could distinguish the crackling of the mitrailleuses, and the crashing
volleys of the French batteries, replying to the distant volleys of
the German ones. It seemed, too, as though the detonations were coming
nearer; the battle was, every minute, growing more and more violent.

Why did not Weiss return? He had promised so positively that he
would come back at the first attack. Henriette's disquietude was
increasing; she pictured obstacles: the road might be cut, perhaps the
shells already rendered a retreat too dangerous. And perhaps, too, an
irreparable misfortune had happened. But she dismissed that thought,
sustained by hope which urged her to action. For a moment she thought
of going to Bazeilles, of starting to meet her husband. Then she
hesitated, for they might cross one another on the way, and what would
become of her if she should miss him? And how alarmed he would be if
he came home and did not find her there! On the other hand, however,
bold as it was to think of going to Bazeilles at such a moment, it
seemed to her a natural course to follow--the proper course, indeed,
for an active woman like herself, who did whatever was requisite in
her household affairs without asking for instructions. And besides,
wherever her husband was, she ought to be there too; that was the long
and short of it.

All at once, however, possessed by a fresh idea, she left the window,
saying:

'And Monsieur Delaherche--I must see.'

It had just occurred to her that the manufacturer also had spent the
night at Bazeilles, and that if he had returned he would be able to
give her some news of her husband. She swiftly went downstairs again,
and this time, instead of passing out by way of the Rue des Voyards,
she crossed the narrow yard of the house, and followed the passage
leading to the large factory buildings, whose monumental façade
overlooked the Rue Maqua. As she reached the old central garden, now
paved with stones, and retaining only a lawn girt round with superb
trees, gigantic elms of the last century, she was greatly surprised
at sight of a sentry mounting guard in front of the closed doors of a
coach-house. Then she suddenly remembered why he was there. She had
learnt the day before that the treasury chest of the Seventh Army Corps
had been deposited there, and she experienced a singular feeling at
thought of all that gold, millions of francs, so it was said, hidden
away in that coach-house, whilst they were already killing one another
over yonder.

However, at the moment when she was beginning to ascend the servant's
staircase, on her way to Gilberte's room, she met with a fresh
surprise, indeed so unforeseen an encounter that she hastily stepped
down the three stairs which she had already climbed, doubting whether
she would still dare to go and knock at the door above. A soldier, a
captain, had just tripped past her as lightly as a fleeting apparition,
and yet she had had sufficient time to recognise him, having met him
at Gilberte's house at Charleville in the days when she--Gilberte--was
still Madame Maginot. Henriette took a few steps across the courtyard,
and looked up at the two lofty bedroom windows, the shutters of which
were still closed. Then, having come to a decision, she climbed the
stairs.

A friend since childhood, quite intimate with Gilberte, she
occasionally went to chat with her of a morning; and she intended,
on reaching the first landing, to knock, as was her wont, at the
dressing-room door. But she found that it had been left ajar, and she
merely had to push it open and cross the dressing-room to reach the
bedchamber, an extremely lofty apartment, from the ceiling of which
descended flowing curtains of red velvet, enveloping a large bedstead.
All was quiet in this room, the atmosphere of which was saturated with
a vague perfume of lilac; there was merely a sound of calm breathing,
and even that was so faint as to be scarcely audible.

'Gilberte!' called Henriette, gently. In the dim light that filtered
through the red curtains drawn before the windows she could see her
friend's pretty round head, which had slipped from off the pillow and
was resting on one of her bare arms, whilst all around streamed her
beautiful black hair, which had become uncoiled. 'Gilberte!'

The young woman moved, stretched herself, but did not at first open her
eyes. All at once, however, raising her head and recognising Henriette,
she exclaimed: 'Why, is it you? What o'clock is it?'

When she learnt that six was striking she felt uncomfortable, and in
order to hide it began jesting, asking whether that were a proper time
to come and awaken people. Then, at the first question respecting her
husband, she exclaimed: 'But he hasn't come home. I hardly expect he
will be here before nine o'clock. Why should he come back so early?'

And as she still continued smiling in her sleepy torpor, Henriette had
to insist: 'But I tell you that they have been fighting at Bazeilles
since daybreak, and as I am very anxious about my husband----'

'Oh! my dear,' exclaimed Gilberte, 'there is no occasion for anxiety.
My husband is so prudent that he would have been here long ago had
there been the slightest danger. As long as you don't see him you may
be quite easy.'

Henriette was impressed by this remark. Delaherche was certainly not
the man to expose himself unnecessarily. And, thereupon, feeling
reassured, she approached the windows, drew back the curtains, and
threw the shutters open. The ruddy light from the sky where the sun was
now beginning to show itself, gilding the fog, streamed into the room.
One of the windows remained slightly open, and now in this large, warm
chamber, so close and suffocating a moment previously, the cannon could
be distinctly heard.

Sitting up, with one elbow buried in the pillow, Gilberte gazed at the
sky with her pretty, expressionless eyes. Her chemise had slipped from
one of her shoulders, and her skin looked beautifully pink and delicate
under her scattered locks of black hair. 'And so they are fighting,'
she murmured. 'Fighting so early! How ridiculous it is to fight!'

Henriette, however, had just espied a pair of gloves, military gloves,
lying forgotten upon a side table, and at this significant discovery
she could not restrain a start. Then Gilberte flushed a deep crimson,
and drawing her friend to the side of the bed, in a confused, coaxing
way, she hid her face against her shoulder. 'I felt you must know
it, that you must have seen him,' she murmured; 'you must not judge
me too severely, darling. I have known him so long. You remember, at
Charleville, I confessed to you----.' And then, lowering her voice,
she continued, with a touch of emotion through which there stole,
however, something like a little laugh: 'You do not know how he spoke
to me when I met him again yesterday. And, only think, he has to fight
this morning, and perhaps he will be killed. What could I do?' She
had simply wished that he might be happy before he went to risk his
life for his country on the battlefield. And such was her bird-like
giddiness, that it was this which somehow made her smile, despite all
her confusion. 'Do you condemn me?' she asked.

Henriette had listened to her with a grave expression on her face. Such
things surprised her; she could not understand them. Doubtless she
herself was different. Her heart was with her husband and her brother
over yonder, where the bullets were raining. How was it possible to
slumber peacefully, or think of passion, and smile and jest when loved
ones were in peril?

'But your husband, my dear, and that young fellow too; does it not stir
your heart not to be with them?' she said. 'Think of it; they may be
brought back to you, dead, at any moment.'

With a wave of her beautiful bare arm Gilberte swiftly drove the
frightful vision away. 'Good heavens! what's that you say? How cruel of
you to spoil my morning for me like that. No, no, I won't think of it;
it is too dreadful.'

Then even Henriette could not help smiling. She remembered their
childhood, when Gilberte had been sent for the benefit of her
health to a farm near Le Chêne Populeux; her father, Commander de
Vineuil--Director of Customs at Charleville since his retirement from
the army in consequence of his wounds--having felt the more anxious
about her when he had found her coughing, as he was haunted by the
remembrance of his young wife, carried off by phthisis a short time
previously. Gilberte was then only nine years old, but she was already
a turbulent coquette, fond of juvenile theatricals, invariably wishing
to play the part of the queen, draped in all the scraps of finery
she could find, and carefully preserving the silver paper wrapped
round her chocolate in order to make crowns and bracelets of it. And
she had remained much the same when in her twentieth year she had
become the wife of M. Maginot of Mézières, an inspector of the State
forests. Mézières, which is cramped up within its ramparts, was not
to her liking; she infinitely preferred the open, fête-enlivened
life of Charleville, and continued residing there. Her father was
no longer alive and she enjoyed complete liberty, her husband being
such a perfect cipher that she in nowise troubled herself about him.
Provincial malignity had bestowed many lovers upon her at that time,
but although, by reason of her father's old connections and her
relationship to Colonel de Vineuil, she lived amid a perfect stream of
uniforms, she had really had but one weakness, and that for Captain
Beaudoin. She was not of a perverse nature; she was simply giddy, fond
of pleasure, and, if she had erred, it certainly seemed to be because
of the irresistible need she experienced to be beautiful and gay.

'It was very wrong of you,' said Henriette, at last, with a grave look.

She might have said more, but Gilberte with one of her pretty caressing
gestures closed her mouth. And there they remained, neither speaking
any further, but linked in an affectionate embrace albeit so dissimilar
from one another. They could hear the beating of each other's hearts,
and might have realised how different was their language--the one the
heart of a woman who gave herself up to mirth, who wasted and frittered
away her life; the other a heart that was bound up in one unique
devotion, full of the great, mute heroism of a strong and lofty soul.

'It's true; they are fighting,' Gilberte at last exclaimed. 'I must
make haste and dress.'

The detonations seemed to have been growing louder since silence had
reigned in the room. Gilberte sprang out of bed, and, unwilling to
summon her maid, asked Henriette to help her. She put on a dress and a
pair of boots, so that she might be ready either to receive or to go
out, and she was hastily dressing her hair--indeed, had almost finished
doing so--when there came a knock at the door, and, on recognising the
voice of old Madame Delaherche, she ran to open it. 'Certainly, mother
dear, you can come in,' she said, and with her usual thoughtlessness
she ushered her mother-in-law into the room, forgetting that the gloves
were still lying on the side-table.

In vain did Henriette dart forward to take and throw them behind an
arm-chair. They must have been seen by the old lady, for she stopped
short as if she were stifling, as though unable to catch her breath.
But at last, after glancing around the room, she said: 'So Madame Weiss
came up to wake you. Were you able to sleep, then?'

She had evidently not come for the mere purpose of talking in that
strain. Ah! that unfortunate second marriage which her son had insisted
upon, despite all her remonstrances, which he had contracted after
twenty years of frigid matrimony with a skinny, sulky wife! During
all that time he had been so sensible and reasonable, and then, all
at once, at fifty years of age, he had been carried away by quite a
youthful desire for that pretty widow, so frivolous and gay. She, the
mother, had vowed that she would watch over the present, and now
here was the past coming back again! But ought she to speak out? Her
presence in the house nowadays was like a silent blame, and she almost
always remained in her own room occupied with her devotions. This time,
however, the wrong was so serious that she resolved to warn her son.

'You know that Jules has not come back?' said Gilberte.

The old lady nodded. Since the beginning of the cannonade she had felt
anxious, and had been watching for her son's return. She was, however,
a brave mother. And now she remembered for what reason she had come
upstairs. 'Your uncle, the colonel,' she said to her daughter-in-law,
'has sent us Major Bouroche with a note in pencil, asking if we will
allow an ambulance to be installed here. He knows that we have plenty
of room in the factory, and I have already placed the drying room and
the courtyard at the gentlemen's disposal. Only, you ought to come
down.'

'Oh! at once, at once!' said Henriette, stepping forward, 'we will
help.'

Gilberte herself gave signs of emotion, and became quite enraptured
with the idea of playing the nurse, which to her was a novel part. She
barely took time to fasten a strip of lace over her hair, and the three
women thereupon went down.

Scarcely had they reached the spacious porch, when, the gate being
open, they saw that a crowd had assembled in the street. A low vehicle
was slowly approaching, a kind of tilted cart drawn by one horse,
which a lieutenant of Zouaves was leading. They at once thought that a
wounded man was being brought to them.

'Yes, yes, it's here; come in!'

But they learned that they were mistaken. The wounded man lying in the
cart was Marshal MacMahon, whose left hip had been half carried away by
a splinter of a shell, and who, after a first dressing at a gardener's
little house, was now being taken to the Sub-Prefecture. His head was
bare, he was half undressed, and the gold embroidery of his uniform
was soiled with dust and blood. He did not speak, but he had raised
his head and was glancing vaguely around him. On perceiving the three
women who stood there painfully impressed, their hands clasped at sight
of the great misfortune that was passing--the whole army struck in the
person of its commander at the very first shells fired by the foe--he
made a slight inclination of the head, smiling feebly in a paternal
way. Some of the bystanders respectfully uncovered, whilst others
bustled about, relating that General Ducrot had just been appointed
commander-in-chief. It was now half-past seven o'clock.

'And the Emperor?' asked Henriette of a bookseller who was standing at
his door near by.

'He passed about an hour ago. I followed him, and saw him go off by the
Balan gate. There's a report that a cannon ball has carried off his
head.'

At this, however, a grocer over the way became quite indignant. 'It's
all a pack of lies,' said he. 'Only brave men come to any harm.'

The cart conveying the marshal was now drawing near to the Place du
Collège, where it became lost to view amid a swelling crowd, through
which the most extraordinary rumours from the battlefield were already
circulating. The fog was at last dispersing, and the streets were
filling with sunlight.

'Now, ladies, it isn't outside, but here that you are wanted,' a gruff
voice suddenly called from the courtyard.

They all three went in again, and found themselves in presence of Major
Bouroche, who had already flung his uniform in a corner and donned a
large white apron. Above all this whiteness, as yet unspotted, that
huge head of his, covered with coarse bristling hair, that lion-like
countenance was glowing with haste and energy. And so terrible did he
seem to them, that they at once became his slaves, obedient to his beck
and call, and bustling about to satisfy him.

'We have nothing,' said he; 'give me some linen. Try and find me some
more mattresses. Show my men where the pump is.' And thereupon they ran
hither and thither, and multiplied themselves as though they were his
servants.

It was a capital idea to select the factory for an ambulance. Merely
in the drying room, a vast hall with large windows, there was ample
space to make up a hundred beds, and an adjoining shed would suit
remarkably well as an operating room. A long table had just been placed
in it; the pump was only a few steps off, and the men who were but
slightly wounded could wait on the lawn near by. And, moreover, it was
all so very pleasant with those beautiful old elms, which spread such
delightful shade around.

Bouroche had preferred to establish his quarters inside Sedan
immediately; for he foresaw the massacre, the fearful onslaught which
would eventually throw the troops into the town. He had therefore
contented himself with leaving a couple of field ambulances with the
Seventh Corps in the rear of Floing; and the injured men, after having
their wounds summarily dressed there, were to be sent on to him.
All the bearer-squads had remained with the troops for the purpose
of picking up the wounded on the field, and the entire transport
_matériel_--stretchers, waggons, vans--was with them. And, on the
other hand, excepting a couple of assistant surgeons, whom he had left
in charge of the field-ambulances, Bouroche had brought with him to
the factory his entire medical staff, two second-class surgeons, and
three under-assistant surgeons, who would no doubt suffice for the
operations that might have to be performed. He also had with him three
apothecaries and a dozen infirmary attendants.

However, he did not cease fuming, for he could never do anything
otherwise than in a passionate way: 'What the deuce are you up to? Just
place those mattresses closer together! We'll lay some straw in that
corner if necessary!' he shouted.

The cannon was growling, and he knew very well that work--waggon-loads
of mangled, bleeding flesh--would be arriving at the factory in a few
moments; so with violent haste he got everything ready in the large
hall which as yet was empty. Then, other preparations had to be made
under the shed, the pharmaceutical and dressing chests were opened
and set out on a plank, with packets of lint, rollers, compresses,
linen-cloths, and fracture bandages; whilst on another plank, beside
a large pot of cerate and a bottle of chloroform, the cases of bright
steel instruments were spread out--the probes, forceps, catlings,
scissors, saws, quite an arsenal of everything pointed and cutting,
everything that searches, opens, gashes, slices, and lops off. There
was, however, a lack of basins.

'You must have some pans or pails, or earthenware pots,' said Bouroche;
'give us whatever you like. Of course we are not going to smear
ourselves with blood up to our eyes. And some sponges, too; try and get
me some sponges.'

Old Madame Delaherche went off at once, and returned with three
servant girls carrying all the pans she could find. Gilberte, standing
meanwhile before the instrument cases, signed to Henriette to approach,
and, with a faint shudder, showed her the terrific arsenal. And then
they remained standing there in silence, holding each other by the
hand, their grasp pregnant with all the vague terror and anxious pity
that agitated them.

'Ah! my dear, just think of having a leg or an arm cut off!'

'Poor fellows!'

Bouroche had just placed a mattress on the long table in the shed,
and was covering it with some oilcloth, when the stamping of horses
was heard under the porch. It was the first ambulance waggon entering
the courtyard. The ten men, seated face to face in the vehicle, were,
however, only slightly wounded: a few who were injured in the head had
their foreheads bandaged, whilst each of the others had an arm in a
sling. They alighted with a little assistance, and the inspection at
once began.

Whilst Henriette was gently helping a young fellow, with a bullet in
his shoulder, to take off his capote, an operation which drew from
him many cries of pain, she noticed the number of his regiment on his
collar. 'Why, you belong to the 106th,' said she; 'are you in Captain
Beaudoin's company?'

No, he was in Captain Ravaud's, he replied; but all the same he knew
Corporal Jean Macquart, and he felt certain that the latter's squad had
not yet taken part in the fighting. This information, vague as it was,
sufficed to make the young woman quite cheerful: her brother was alive
and she would feel altogether at her ease as soon as she had kissed her
husband, whose arrival she was still every minute expecting.

At this moment, however, as she raised her head she was thunderstruck
to see Delaherche standing in a group a few paces off, engaged in
recounting all the terrible dangers through which he had just passed on
his way back from Bazeilles. How did he happen to be there? She had not
seen him come in.

'Isn't my husband with you?' she asked.

Delaherche, however, whom his mother and wife were complaisantly
questioning, was in no hurry to answer her. 'Wait a bit,' said he, and
returning to his narrative he continued: 'I was nearly killed a score
of times between Bazeilles and Balan. There was a perfect hurricane of
bullets and shells. And I met the Emperor--oh! he was very brave--and
then I ran from Balan here----'

'My husband?' asked Henriette, shaking his arm.

'Weiss? Why, he stopped there.'

'Stopped there!'

'Yes; he picked up a dead soldier's chassepot, and he's fighting!'

'Fighting, how's that?'

'Oh! he was quite mad! He wouldn't come, though I asked him over and
over again to do so, and at last, of course, I left him----'

Henriette was gazing at Delaherche with fixed, dilated eyes. A pause
ensued, during which she quietly made up her mind. 'Then I'm going
there,' she said.

Going there, indeed! But it was impossible, senseless. And again did
Delaherche talk of the bullets and shells that were sweeping the road.
Gilberte, too, again took hold of her hands, this time to detain her;
whilst old Madame Delaherche did all she could to show her how blindly
rash her project was. But with that unpretending, gentle air of hers,
she repeated: 'It is of no use talking to me; I am going.'

And she became obstinate, and would take no advice, accept nothing
but the strip of black lace that covered Gilberte's head. Hoping
that he might still convince her of her folly, Delaherche ended by
declaring that he would accompany her at least as far as the Balan
gate. However, he had just caught sight of the sentry who, amid all the
confusion occasioned by the establishment of the ambulance, had not
ceased marching slowly up and down in front of the coach-house, where
the treasure chest of the Seventh Corps was deposited; and suddenly
remembering it, and feeling anxious for its safety, Delaherche went to
glance at the coach-house door by way of making sure that the millions
were still there. Henriette, meanwhile, turned towards the porch.

'Wait for me!' exclaimed the manufacturer. 'Upon my word you are every
bit as mad as your husband!'

It so happened that another ambulance cart was just then arriving,
and they had to step aside to let it pass. It was a smaller vehicle
than the first, on two wheels only, and contained a couple of men both
severely wounded and lying on sacking. The first, who was taken out
with every kind of precaution, appeared to be one mass of bleeding
flesh; one of his hands was shattered, and his side had been ripped
open by a splinter of a shell. The other had his right leg crushed.
He was immediately laid up on the oilcloth, covering the mattress on
the long table, and Bouroche began to perform his first operation,
whilst his assistants and the attendants hurried hither and thither.
Meanwhile, old Madame Delaherche and Gilberte sat on the lawn, busily
rolling linen bands.

Delaherche overtook Henriette just outside. 'Now surely, my dear Madame
Weiss,' said he, 'you are not going to do anything so rash--how can you
possibly join Weiss over there? Besides, he can't be there now, he must
have come away; no doubt he's returning through the fields. I assure
you you cannot possibly get to Bazeilles.'

She did not listen to him, however; she hastened her steps and turned
into the Rue du Ménil to reach the Balan gate. It was nearly nine
o'clock, and nothing in the aspect of Sedan now suggested that black
shivering of a few hours previously, that lonesome, groping awakening
amid the dense fog. At present an oppressive sun clearly outlined the
shadows cast by the houses, and the paved streets were obstructed by an
anxious crowd through which estafettes were continually galloping. The
townsfolk clustered more particularly around the few unarmed soldiers
who had already come in from the battle, some of them slightly wounded,
others shouting and gesticulating, in an extraordinary state of nervous
excitement. And yet the town would almost have worn its everyday aspect
had it not been for the closed shops, the lifeless house-fronts, where
not a shutter was opened; and had it not been also for the cannonade,
that incessant cannonade, that shook every stone, the roadways, the
walls, and even the slates of the house-roofs.

A most unpleasant conflict was going on in the mind of Delaherche.
On the one hand was his duty as a brave man, which required that he
should not leave Henriette; on the other, his terror at the thought
of going back to Bazeilles, through the shells. All at once, just as
they were reaching the Balan gate, they were separated by a stream of
mounted officers, returning from the fight. There was quite a crush of
townsfolk near this gate, waiting for news; and in vain did Delaherche
run hither and thither, looking for the young woman; she was gone,
she must have already passed the rampart, and was doubtless hurrying
along the road. He did not allow his zeal to take him any farther, but
suddenly caught himself exclaiming: 'Ah! well, so much the worse; it's
too stupid!'

And then he began strolling through Sedan, like an inquisitive
_bourgeois_ bent on missing none of the sights, though to tell the
truth he was now labouring under increasing disquietude. What would
be the end of it all? Would not the town suffer a great deal if the
army were beaten? Such were the questions he put to himself; but the
answers remained obscure, being almost wholly dependent on the course
that events might take. Nevertheless, he began to feel very anxious
about his factory, his house property in the Rue Maqua, whence, by the
way, he had been careful to remove all his securities, burying them in
a safe place. At last he repaired to the town-hall, where, finding the
municipal council assembled _en permanence_, he lingered a long while,
without, however, learning anything fresh, except that the battle was
progressing unfavourably. The army no longer knew whom to obey--drawn
back as it had been by General Ducrot during the two hours when he
had exercised the chief command, and suddenly thrown forward again by
General de Wimpffen, who had succeeded him; and these incomprehensible
veerings, these positions which had to be reconquered after being
abandoned, the utter absence of any plan, any energetic direction, all
combined to precipitate the disaster.

Delaherche next went as far as the Sub-Prefecture to ascertain whether
the Emperor had returned. But here they could only give him news of
Marshal MacMahon, who, having had his wound, which was of but little
gravity, dressed by a surgeon, was now lying quietly in bed. At about
eleven o'clock, however, whilst Delaherche was again roaming the
streets, he was stopped for a moment in the Grande Rue, just in front
of the Hôtel de l'Europe, by a cortège of dusty horsemen, who were
slowly walking their dejected steeds. And at the head of the party he
recognised the Emperor, who was now returning to his quarters after
spending four hours on the battlefield. Decidedly, death had not
been willing to take him. The perspiration caused by the anguish of
that long ride through the defeat, had made the paint trickle from
his cheeks, and softened the wax of his moustaches, which were now
drooping low, whilst his cadaverous countenance expressed the painful
stupor of mortal agony. An officer, who alighted at the hotel, began
to explain to a cluster of townsfolk that they had ridden all along
the little valley from La Moncelle to Givonne, among the troops of
the First Corps, whom the Saxons had thrown back on to the right bank
of the stream; and they had returned by way of the hollow road of the
Fond-de-Givonne, which was already so obstructed that had the Emperor
desired to proceed once more to the front, he could only have done so
with very great difficulty. Besides, what would have been the good of
it?

Whilst Delaherche was listening to these particulars a violent
explosion shook the entire neighbourhood. A shell had just carried
away a chimney in the Rue Ste.-Barbe near the Keep. There was quite
a _sauve-qui-peut_, and women were heard shrieking. For his own part
he had drawn close to a wall, when all at once another detonation
shattered the window panes of a neighbouring house. Matters were
becoming terrible if the enemy were bombarding Sedan, and he hastened
as fast as he could to the Rue Maqua, seized with so pressing a desire
to ascertain the truth that, without pausing for a moment, he darted up
the stairs to a terrace on the roof, whence he could overlook the town
and its environs.

He almost immediately felt somewhat reassured. The fight was being
waged over the housetops. The German batteries of La Marfée and Frénois
were sweeping the plateau of Algeria beyond the town. For a moment
Delaherche even became quite interested in watching the flight of the
shells, the long curved sweep of light smoke which they left above
Sedan, like a slender track of grey feathers scattered by invisible
birds. At first it seemed to him evident that the few shells which had
damaged some of the roofs around him were simply stray projectiles.
The town was not as yet being bombarded. On a more careful inspection,
however, it occurred to him that these shells must have been aimed in
reply to the infrequent shots fired by the guns of Sedan itself. He
then turned round and began to examine the citadel on the northern
side--a formidable, complicated mass of fortifications, huge pieces
of blackened wall, green patches of glacis, a swarming of geometrical
bastions, prominent among which were the threatening angles of three
gigantic horn-works, Les Ecossais, Le Grand Jardin, and La Rochette;
whilst on the west, like a Cyclopean prolongation of the defences,
came the fort of Nassau, followed by that of the Palatinate, above
the suburb of Le Ménil. This survey left him a melancholy impression,
however. All these works were enormous, yet how child-like! Of what
possible use were they nowadays, when artillery could so easily send
projectiles flying from one horizon to the other? Moreover, they were
not armed, they had neither the guns, nor the ammunition, nor the
men that were needed to turn them to account. Barely three weeks had
elapsed since the Governor had begun to organise a national guard,
formed of volunteer citizens, for the purpose of working the few guns
that were in a serviceable condition. It thus happened that three
cannon were firing from the Palatinate fort, and perhaps half a dozen
from the Paris gate. As, however, the ammunition was limited to seven
or eight charges per gun, it was necessary to husband it, so that a
shot was only fired every half-hour or so, and then simply for honour's
sake; for the projectiles did not carry the required distance, but fell
in the meadows just in front, for which reason the enemy's disdainful
batteries merely replied at long intervals, and as though out of
charity.

It was those batteries of the foe that interested Delaherche. His keen
eyes were exploring the slopes of the Marfée hill, when he suddenly
remembered that he had a telescope which, by way of amusement, he had
in former times often pointed on the environs from that very terrace.
He fetched it and set it in position, and whilst he was taking his
bearings, slowly moving the instrument so that the fields, trees, and
houses passed in turn before him, his eyes fell on the same cluster of
uniforms, grouped at the corner of a pine wood, above the great battery
of Frénois, that Weiss had faintly espied from Bazeilles. Delaherche,
however, thanks to the magnifying power of his telescope could have
counted the officers of this staff, so plainly did he see them. Some
were reclining on the grass, others stood up, grouped together, and
in advance of them was one man, all by himself, lean and slim, in a
uniform free from all showiness, but whom he instinctively divined to
be the master. It was, indeed, the King of Prussia, barely half an inch
high, like one of those diminutive tin soldiers that children play
with. Delaherche only became quite certain of it later on; still, from
that moment he scarcely took his eyes off that tiny little fellow whose
face, the size of a pin's head, appeared simply like a pale spot under
the vast blue heavens.

It was not yet noon; the King was verifying the mathematical,
inexorable march of his armies since nine o'clock. They were ever
pressing onward and onward, following the routes traced out for them,
completing the circle, and raising, step by step, around Sedan their
wall of men and iron. That on the left, which had proceeded by way
of the level plain of Donchery, was still debouching from the defile
of St. Albert, passing beyond St. Menges, and beginning to reach
Fleigneux; and in the rear of his Eleventh Corps, hotly grappling with
General Douay's troops, the King could distinctly see the stealthy
advance of his Fifth Corps, which, under cover of the woods, was making
for the Calvary of Illy. And meantime batteries were being added to
batteries, the line of thundering guns was incessantly being prolonged,
and the entire horizon was gradually becoming one belt of flames. The
army on the right hand henceforth occupied the whole valley of the
Givonne; the Twelfth German Corps had seized La Moncelle, and the Guard
had just passed through Daigny, and was already ascending the banks of
the stream, also marching upon the Calvary of Illy, after compelling
General Ducrot to fall back behind the wood of La Garenne. One more
effort and the Crown Princes of Prussia and Saxony would join hands
over yonder, amid those bare fields on the very verge of the forest of
the Ardennes. South of Sedan one could no longer perceive Bazeilles; it
had disappeared in the smoke of the burning houses, in the dun-coloured
dust of a furious struggle.

And the King was tranquilly looking on, waiting as he had waited since
the early morning. One, two, perhaps three hours must still elapse:
it was merely a question of time, one wheel was impelling another,
the pounding machine was at work, and would complete its task. The
battlefield was now contracting under the infinite expanse of sunny
sky; all the furious _mêlée_ of black specks was tumbling and settling
closer and closer around Sedan. In the town some window panes were
aglow; it seemed as though a house were burning on the left, near the
Faubourg de la Cassine. Far around, however, in the once more deserted
fields, towards Donchery and towards Carignan, there was a warm,
luminous peacefulness that stretched in the powerful noontide glow over
the clear waters of the Meuse, over the trees so pleased with life, the
large fertile expanses of arable land, and the broad emerald meadows.

The King, in a few words, had just asked for some information. He
wished to know every move that was made, hold in his hand, as it were,
the human dust that he commanded on that colossal chessboard. On his
right a flight of swallows, frightened by the cannonade, rose whirling,
ascended to a great height, and vanished southward.



CHAPTER IV

A WOMAN'S HEROISM--THE HORRORS OF BAZEILLES


Henriette was at first able to walk rapidly along the road leading to
Balan. It was barely more than nine o'clock, and for some distance the
broad paved highway, edged with houses and gardens, was still free;
though towards the village it was becoming more and more obstructed
by the flight of the inhabitants and the movements of the troops. At
each fresh stream of the crowd that she encountered, she pressed close
against the walls, or glided hither and thither, invariably contriving
to pass on, no matter what obstacles there might be. And slight of
figure as she was, unobtrusive, too, in her dark dress, with her
beautiful fair hair and her little pale face half-hidden by Gilberte's
black lace _fichu_, she escaped the notice of those she met; and
nothing was able to stay her light and silent steps.

At Balan, however, she found the road barred by a regiment of Marine
Infantry--a compact mass of men who were waiting for orders, under the
shelter of some large trees which hid them from the enemy. She rose
on tip-toe, but the column was of such length that she could not even
see the end of it. Nevertheless, she tried to slip by, seeking to make
herself even smaller than she was. Elbows pushed her back, however; the
butt-ends of guns digged her in the sides, and when she had taken a
score of steps, loud shouts and protests rose up around her. A captain
turned his head and angrily demanded: 'Here! woman, are you mad? Where
are you going?'

'I am going to Bazeilles.'

'What! to Bazeilles?'

A general roar of laughter ensued. The men pointed her out to one
another, and jested. The captain, whom her answer had also enlivened,
exclaimed: 'Well, if you are going to Bazeilles you ought to take us
with you, little one! We were there just now, and I hope we are going
to return there. But I warn you that it's warm.'

'I am going to Bazeilles to join my husband,' declared Henriette in a
gentle voice, her pale blue eyes retaining their expression of quiet
decision.

At this the men ceased laughing; and an old sergeant extricated her
from the ranks and compelled her to retrace her steps. 'You can see
very well, my poor child,' said he, 'that it is impossible for you to
pass. It isn't a woman's place to be at Bazeilles just now. You'll find
your husband again later on. Come, be reasonable!'

She had to give way, and step back to the rear of the column; and
there she remained standing, at each minute rising upon tip-toe to
look along the road; for she was stubbornly bent upon resuming her
journey as soon as this became possible. From the talk around her she
derived some knowledge of the situation. Several officers were bitterly
complaining of the orders to retreat which had caused them to abandon
Bazeilles at a quarter-past eight that morning, when General Ducrot on
succeeding the marshal had resolved to concentrate the entire army upon
the plateau of Illy. The worst was that the First Corps in surrendering
the valley of the Givonne to the Germans, had fallen back too soon, so
that the Twelfth Corps, already hotly attacked in front, had also been
overlapped on the left. And, now that General de Wimpffen had succeeded
General Ducrot, the original plan was again in the ascendant, and
orders were coming to reconquer Bazeilles at any cost, and to throw the
Bavarians into the Meuse. Was it not really idiotic, however, that they
should have had to abandon this position, and now have to reconquer it
when it was in possession of the enemy? They were quite willing to give
their lives, but not for the mere fun of doing so.

All at once there was a great rush of men and horses, and General de
Wimpffen galloped up, erect in his stirrups, his face aglow and his
voice greatly excited as he shouted: 'We cannot fall back, my lads;
it would be the end of everything. If we must retreat we will retire
on Carignan and not on Mézières. But we will win! You beat them this
morning, and you will beat them again!'

Then away he galloped, going off by a road that ascended towards
La Moncelle; and the rumour spread that he had just had a violent
discussion with General Ducrot, during which each had upheld his own
plan and attacked the other's; one declaring that a retreat on Mézières
had been an impossibility since the night before, whilst the other
predicted that if they did not now retire to the plateau of Illy the
entire army would be surrounded before evening. And they also accused
one another of knowing neither the district nor the real state of the
troops. The worst was, that both of them were in the right.

For a moment or so, pressing as was Henriette's desire to go forward,
her attention had been diverted from her purpose. She had just
recognised some fugitives from Bazeilles stranded by the roadside--a
family of poor weavers, the husband, the wife and their three girls,
the eldest of whom was only nine years old. They were so overcome, so
utterly distracted by weariness and despair, that they had been able to
go no farther, but had sunk down against a wall. 'Ah! my dear lady,'
said the woman to Henriette, 'we have nothing left. Our house, you
know, was on the Place de l'Eglise. A shell set it on fire, and I don't
know how the children and we two didn't leave our lives there.'

At this remembrance the three little girls again began sobbing and
shrieking, whilst the mother, with the gestures of one deranged, gave a
few particulars of their disaster: 'I saw the loom burn like a faggot
of dry wood,' said she; 'the bed, the furniture flamed up faster than
straw--and there was the clock too; yes, the clock which I didn't even
have time to carry away with me.'

'Thunder!' swore the man, with his eyes full of big tear-drops, 'what
on earth will become of us?'

To tranquillise them, Henriette replied in a voice that quivered
slightly: 'At all events, you are together; neither of you has come to
any harm, and you have your little girls with you too. You must not
complain.'

Then she began to question them, anxious to know what was taking place
at Bazeilles, whether they had seen her husband there, and what had
been the condition of her house at the time they came away. In their
shivering fright, however, they gave contradictory answers. No, they
had not seen Monsieur Weiss. But at this, one of the little girls
declared that she _had_ seen him; he was lying on the footway, said
she, with a big hole in his head. Her father thereupon gave her a smack
to teach her not to tell such stories, for a story it was, undoubtedly.
As for the house, that must have been standing when they came away; in
fact, they now remembered noticing, as they passed it, that the door
and the windows were all carefully closed, as if nobody were there.
Besides, at that time, the Bavarians were only in possession of the
Place de l'Eglise, and they had to conquer the village, street by
street, house by house. Since then, however, they must have made no
little progress, and at the present time, no doubt, all Bazeilles was
on fire.[27] And the wretched couple continued talking of all these
things with fumbling gestures of fear, evoking the whole frightful
vision of flaming roofs, flowing blood, and corpses strewing the ground.

'And my husband?' repeated Henriette.

They no longer answered her, however; they were sobbing, with their
hands before their eyes. And she remained there consumed by atrocious
anxiety, but erect and without weakening, merely a faint quiver causing
her lips to tremble. What ought she to believe? In vain did she repeat
that the child must have been mistaken; still and ever she seemed to
see her husband lying across the road with a bullet in his head. Then,
too, she was disquieted on thinking of the house where, so it seemed,
every shutter was closed. Why was that? Was he no longer there? All
at once a conviction that he was dead froze her heart to the core.
Perhaps, though, he was only wounded, and at this thought her urgent
longing to go there and be with him seized hold of her once more, and
so imperiously that she would again have tried to make her way through
the ranks of the soldiers had not the bugles at that moment sounded the
advance.

Many of the young fellows gathered together here had come from Toulon,
Rochefort, or Brest, barely drilled, without ever having fired a shot
in their lives, and yet they had been fighting since the morning as
bravely and as stoutly as veterans. They, who had marched so badly
from Rheims to Mouzon, weighed down by the unwonted task, were proving
themselves the best disciplined, the most fraternally united of all
the troops--linked together in presence of the enemy by a solid bond
of duty and abnegation. The bugles had merely to sound and they were
returning to the fight, marching once more to the attack despite all
the anger that swelled their veins. Thrice had they been promised the
support of a division which did not come, and they felt that they were
being abandoned, sacrificed. To send them back to Bazeilles, like this,
after making them evacuate the village, was equivalent indeed to asking
each one of them for his life. And they all knew it, and they all gave
their lives without a thought of revolting. The ranks closed up, and
they advanced beyond the trees that screened them, to find themselves
once more among the bullets and the shells.

Henriette gave a deep sigh of relief. So at last they were marching!
She followed, hoping to reach Bazeilles in company with the troops, and
quite prepared to run, should they, on their side, do so. But they had
already halted again. The enemy's projectiles were now fairly raining
around them, and to reoccupy Bazeilles each yard of the road had to
be conquered, the lanes, houses, and gardens recaptured both on the
right and on the left. The men in the first ranks had opened fire, and
they now only advanced by fits and starts, long minutes being consumed
in overcoming the slightest obstacles. And Henriette soon realised
that she would never get there if she continued remaining in the rear
waiting for victory. So she made up her mind, and threw herself between
two hedges on the right hand, taking a path that descended towards the
meadows.

Her project now was to get to Bazeilles by way of those vast
pasture-lands skirting the Meuse. But she had no very distinct idea how
she should manage this, and all at once she found her way barred by a
little sea of still water. It was the inundation, the defensive lake
formed by flooding the low ground, which she had altogether forgotten.
For a moment she thought of retracing her steps; then, skirting the
edge of the water, at the risk of leaving her shoes in the mud, she
continued on her way through the drenched grass, in which she sank up
to her ankles. This was practicable for a hundred yards or so; but she
was then confronted by a garden wall. The ground descended at this
spot, and the water washing the wall was quite six feet in depth. So
it was impossible to pass that way. She clenched her little fists, and
had to put forth all her strength to bear up against this crushing
disappointment and refrain from bursting into tears. However, when
the first shock was over, she skirted the inclosure and found a lane
running along between some scattered houses. And she now thought
herself saved, for she was acquainted with that labyrinth, those bits
of tangled paths whose skein, perplexing though it was, ended at last
at the village.

So far there had been no shells to impede her progress, but all at
once, with her blood curdling and her face very pale, she stopped short
amid the deafening thunderclap of a frightful explosion, the blast of
which enveloped her. A projectile had just burst a few yards ahead. She
looked round and examined the heights on the left bank of the river,
where the smoke of the German batteries was ascending to the sky; then
realising whence the shell had come, she once more started off, with
her eyes fixed upon the horizon, watching for the projectiles so as to
avoid them. Despite the mad temerity of her journey she retained great
_sang-froid_, all the brave tranquillity that her little housewife's
soul was capable of showing. Her desire was to escape death, to find
her husband, and bring him away that they might yet live together and
be happy. The shells were now falling without a pause, and she glided
along close to the walls, threw herself behind border-stones, and took
advantage of every nook that afforded the slightest shelter. But at
last there came an open space, a stretch of broken-up road which was
already covered with splinters; and she was waiting at the corner of
a shed, when all at once, level with the ground, she espied a child's
inquisitive face peeping out of a hole. It was a little boy some
ten years old, barefooted, and wearing simply a shirt and a pair of
tattered trousers--some ragamuffin of the roads whom the battle was
greatly amusing. His narrow black eyes were sparkling with delight, and
at each detonation he gleefully exclaimed: 'Oh! how funny they are!
Don't move, there's another one coming! Boum! Didn't that one make a
row? Don't move! Don't move!' And, for his own part, he would dive into
his hole, reappear raising his wren-like head, and then dive again each
time a projectile fell.[28]

Henriette now remarked that the shells were coming from the Liry hill,
and that the batteries of Pont-Maugis and Noyers were firing only on
Balan. She could distinctly perceive the smoke of each discharge, and
almost immediately afterwards she heard the hissing of the shell,
followed by the detonation. A short pause must have occurred in the
firing, for at last she could only see some light vapour which was
slowly dispersing.

'They must be drinking a glass,' said the youngster; 'make haste, give
me your hand; we'll get off.'

He took her hand and forced her to follow him, and bending low they
both galloped, side by side, across the open space. At its farther
extremity, as they were throwing themselves for shelter behind a rick,
they glanced round and saw another shell arrive, which fell right upon
the shed, at the very spot where they had been waiting a moment before.
The crash was frightful, the shed itself fell in a heap to the ground.

At this spectacle the urchin danced with senseless delight, considering
it extremely funny. 'Bravo! there's a smash! All the same, it was time
we crossed!'

And now Henriette, for a second time, came upon impassable
obstacles--garden walls with never a lane between them. Her little
companion, however, kept on laughing, and declared that it was easy
enough to pass if one chose to do so. Climbing on to the coping of a
wall he assisted her over, and they jumped down into a kitchen garden
among beds of beans and peas. There were walls all round, and in order
to get out again they had to pass through a gardener's low house.
Whistling and swinging his arms, the lad went on ahead, showing no
surprise at anything he saw. He opened a door, found himself in a room,
and made his way into another one, where an old woman, probably the
only living creature who had remained in the place, was standing near a
table with a look of stupor. She gazed at these two strangers who were
thus passing through her house; but she did not say a word to them, nor
did they speak to her. Once out of the house they found themselves in a
lane which for a moment they were able to follow. Then, however, came
other obstacles, and for half a mile or more, according to the chances
of the road they contrived to make for themselves, it was frequently
necessary to climb over walls or creep through gaps in hedges, and
pass out by cart-shed doors, or ground-floor windows, by way of taking
a short cut. They could hear dogs howling, and once they were almost
knocked down by a cow, which was fleeing at a mad gallop. However, they
must have been getting nigh, for a smell of fire was wafted to them,
and large stretches of ruddy smoke were every minute veiling the sun,
like light, wavy fragments of crape.

All at once, however, the urchin stopped, and, confronting Henriette,
inquired: 'I say, Madame, pray where are you going like that?'

'You can see very well. I'm going to Bazeilles.'

He whistled and burst into a shrill laugh, like a scapegrace playing
the truant from school, and having a fine time of it: 'To Bazeilles!
Oh! that's not my direction. I'm going another way. Good day.'

And thereupon he turned on his heels and went off as he had come, and
she never knew where he had sprung from or whither he went. She had
found him in a hole, and she lost sight of him round a corner, and
never set eyes upon him again.

Henriette experienced a singular sensation of fear when she once more
found herself alone. No doubt that puny child had scarcely been of any
protection, but his chatter had diverted her thoughts. And now she,
who was naturally so brave, had begun to tremble. The shells were no
longer falling, the Germans had ceased firing on Bazeilles, no doubt
for fear of killing their own men, who were masters of the village.
But for a few minutes already she had heard the whistling of bullets,
that blue-bottle kind of buzzing which she had been told about, and
recognised. So confused were all the noises of the rageful fight
afar off, so violent was the universal clamour, that she could not
distinguish the crackling of the fusillade. All at once, whilst she
was turning the corner of a house, a dull thud resounding near her ear
abruptly arrested her steps. A bullet had chipped some plaster from
the corner of the house-front, and she turned very pale. Then, before
she had time to ask herself if she would have sufficient courage to
persevere, it seemed to her as though she were struck on the forehead
by a blow from a hammer, and she fell on both knees, half stunned. A
second bullet, in ricochetting, had grazed her forehead just above the
left eyebrow, badly bruising it, and carrying away a strip of skin. And
when she withdrew her hands which she had raised to her forehead, she
found them red with blood. Beneath her fingers, however, she had felt
her skull intact, quite firm; and to encourage herself she repeated
aloud: 'It is nothing, it is nothing. Come, I am surely not frightened;
no, I am not frightened.'

And 'twas true; she picked herself up, and henceforth walked on
among the bullets with the indifference of one detached from herself,
who has ceased to reason and gives her life. And she no longer even
sought to protect herself, but went straight before her with her
head erect, hastening her steps only because of her desire to reach
her destination. The projectiles were falling and flattening around
her, and she narrowly missed being killed a score of times without
apparently being aware of it. Her lightsome haste, her silent feminine
activeness seemed to assist her as it were, to render her so slight
and so agile amid the peril that she escaped it. At last she had
arrived at Bazeilles, and she at once cut across a field of lucern to
reach the high road which passes through the village. Just as she was
turning into it, on her right hand, a couple of hundred paces away,
she recognised her house, which was burning, the flames not showing
in the brilliant sunlight, but the roof already half fallen in, and
the windows vomiting big whirling coils of black smoke. Then a gallop
carried her along; she ran breathlessly.

At eight o'clock, Weiss had found himself shut up there, separated from
the retreating troops. Immediately afterwards it had become impossible
for him to return to Sedan, for the Bavarians, streaming forth from the
park of Montivilliers, intercepted the road. He was alone, with his
gun and his remaining cartridges, when he suddenly espied at his door
a small detachment of soldiers, who, parted from their comrades, had
remained behind like himself, and were seeking some place of shelter
where they might, at any rate, sell their lives dearly. He hastily
went down to open the door, and the house henceforth had a garrison:
a captain, a corporal, and eight men, all of them beside themselves,
quite maddened, and resolved upon no surrender.

'What! are you one of us, Laurent?' exclaimed Weiss, surprised to see
among the soldiers a young man in blue linen trousers and jacket, who
carried a chassepot which he had picked up beside some corpse.

Laurent, a tall, thin fellow, thirty years of age, was a journeyman
gardener of the neighbourhood. He had lately lost his mother and his
wife, both carried away by the same malignant fever. 'Why shouldn't I
be one of you?' he answered. 'I've only my carcase left, and I can very
well give it. Besides, it amuses me, you know, for I'm not a bad shot,
and it would be good sport to bring down one of those brutes each time
I fire.'

Meanwhile, the captain and the corporal had already begun to inspect
the house. Nothing could be done on the ground floor, so they contented
themselves with pushing a quantity of furniture before the door
and the windows, with the view of barricading them as stoutly as
possible. Then they organised the defence in the three little rooms
on the first floor and the garret up above; approving, by the way, of
the preparations that Weiss had already made, the mattresses placed
against the shutters, and the loopholes devised in the latter between
the transverse laths. Whilst the captain was venturing to peep out to
examine the surroundings, he heard a child calling and crying. 'Who's
that?' he asked.

Then Weiss, in his mind's eye, again espied poor little Auguste in
the adjacent dyeworks, his face purple with fever as he lay between
his white sheets asking for something to drink, and calling for his
mother, who could never more answer him; for she was lying across the
tiled threshold with her head smashed to pieces. And as this vision
rose up before him he made a sorrowful gesture, and replied: 'It's a
poor little fellow whose mother has been killed by a shell, and who is
crying there, next door.'

'Thunder!' muttered Laurent. 'What a price we shall have to make them
pay for it all!'

As yet only some stray bullets had struck the house-front. Weiss and
the captain, accompanied by the gardener and two soldiers, had gone up
to the garret, whence they could keep watch over the road. They could
see it obliquely as far as the Place de l'Eglise, which was now in the
possession of the Bavarians, who only continued advancing, however,
with great difficulty and extreme caution. A handful of soldiers, at
the corner of a lane, kept them at bay during nearly a quarter of
an hour, with so galling a fire that there was soon quite a heap of
slain. Then, at the other corner, there was a house which they had to
secure possession of before proceeding any farther. At one moment, as
the smoke blew off, a woman could be espied firing with a gun from
one of the windows. It was the house of a baker; some other soldiers
had been forgotten there, mingled with the occupants; and when the
place was at last captured by the foe, loud shouts resounded, and a
frightful scramble whirled to the wall over the way--a rush, amid
which the woman's skirt and a man's jacket and bristling white hair
suddenly appeared to view. Then came the sound of platoon firing, and
blood spurted to the coping of the wall. The Germans were inflexible;
every person, not belonging to the belligerent forces, who was captured
with arms in his hand, was shot down there and then, as having placed
himself beyond the pale of the law of nations. And their wrath was
rising in presence of the furious resistance offered by the village.
The frightful losses they had sustained during nearly five hours'
combat urged them on to atrocious reprisals. The gutters were running
red with blood, corpses were barring the streets, and some crossways
were like charnel-houses, whence the rattle of death could be heard
ascending to the sky. And they were seen to throw lighted straw into
each house they carried by force. Some of them ran about with torches,
others smeared the walls with petroleum, and soon entire streets were
on fire--Bazeilles blazed.

At last, in the central part of the village there only remained
Weiss's house, with its closed shutters, that retained the threatening
appearance of a citadel resolved upon no surrender.

'Attention! here they come,' exclaimed the captain.

A volley from the garret and the first-floor stretched on the ground
three of the Bavarians who were stealthily advancing close to the
walls. The others thereupon fell back, placing themselves in ambush
at the corners of the road, and the siege of the house began, such a
shower of bullets pelting the front that one might have thought there
was a hailstorm. For nearly ten minutes this fusillade went on without
cessation, denting the plaster without doing much damage. One of the
two soldiers, whom the captain had taken with him into the garret,
imprudently showed himself, however, at a dormer window, and was
instantly killed by a bullet, which struck him full in the forehead.

'Curse it! that's one less!' growled the captain. 'Be cautious, we are
not numerous enough to get ourselves killed for the fun of the thing.'
He himself had taken a chassepot, and was firing from behind a shutter.

Laurent, the gardener, particularly excited his admiration. On his
knees, as though he were stalking game, with the barrel of his gun
resting in a narrow loophole, the young fellow only fired when he was
sure of bringing down his man, and he himself predicted the result of
each shot before it took effect. 'That little blue officer over there,'
said he, 'in the heart. That other one, the skinny chap, farther off,
between the eyes. That fat fellow with the carroty beard--I can't stand
him--in the stomach.'

And the man he named invariably fell, struck in the very spot he had
mentioned; and he quietly continued firing, without the least haste,
having plenty of work before him, as he said, and requiring, indeed,
more time than he could command, to pick them all off in that fashion.

'Ah! if I could only see,' Weiss kept on repeating, in a furious
voice. He had just broken his spectacles, and was in despair at this
untimely accident. Certainly, he still had his eye-glasses, but with
the perspiration that was streaming down his face he was unable to
fix them firmly on his nose; and in a feverish state, with his hands
trembling, he frequently fired quite at random. Increasing passion was
now sweeping away all that remained of his accustomed calmness.

'Don't be in such a hurry; it does no good,' remarked Laurent. 'There!
see that one who no longer has his helmet, at the corner by the
grocer's. Aim at him carefully. Why! that's first rate; you have broken
his leg! See how he's floundering about in his blood.'

Weiss, who was rather pale, looked at the man, and muttered, 'Finish
him off.'

'Waste a bullet? Not if I know it! Far better bring down another one.'

The attacking party had observed the galling fire directed upon them
from the garret windows. Not one of their men could advance without
being hit, and accordingly they brought up some fresh troops, who
received orders to riddle the roof with bullets. The garret then became
altogether untenable. The slates were transpierced as easily as though
they had been mere sheets of paper; and, with a buzzing like that of
bees, the projectiles flew into the attic here, there, and everywhere.
At each moment the defenders were in danger of being killed.

'Let's go down,' said the captain. 'We can still hold out on the first
floor.' As he was stepping towards the ladder, however, a bullet struck
him in the groin and he fell: 'Too late! Curse it!' he muttered.

With the help of the remaining soldier, Weiss and Laurent insisted upon
carrying him down, although he told them not to waste time in attending
on him. His account was settled, he remarked, and he might just as well
kick the bucket up there as down below. However, when they had laid him
on a bed, in a room on the first floor, he became desirous of still
directing the defence.

'Fire into the lot of them--don't trouble about anything else. They
are too prudent to risk coming forward as long as your fire doesn't
slacken.'

And, indeed, the siege of the little house continued as though it
were to last for ever. A score of times it seemed upon the point of
being carried by the tempest of lead that assailed it; but through the
hurricane and the smoke it again and again appeared to view, still
standing, dented, perforated, and lacerated, but none the less vomiting
bullets from every aperture. Exasperated at losing so many men, at
being kept so long at bay by such a paltry shanty, the assailants were
fairly howling with rage, but they continued firing from a distance,
lacking the courage to rush forward and burst open the door and windows
below.

'Look out!' suddenly exclaimed the corporal; 'a shutter is falling.'

The violence of the bullets had, indeed, torn one of the shutters from
its hinges. Weiss, however, darted forward, pushing a wardrobe against
the window, and Laurent, in ambush behind it, was able to continue
firing. One of the soldiers, whose jaw had been shattered, was lying
at his feet losing a great quantity of blood. Another, hit by a bullet
in the throat, rolled over to the wall, beside which he lay with a
convulsive shudder shaking him from head to foot, whilst from his
parted lips escaped an endless rattle. Without counting the captain,
who--lying on the bedstead with his back resting against the head
of it--was already too weak to speak, but still gave some orders by
signs--there were at present only eight of them left. And now the three
rooms on the first floor were, like the garret, becoming untenable, for
the mattresses had been reduced to shreds, and no longer kept out the
projectiles; at each moment bits of plaster fell from the walls and the
ceiling, corners were chipped off the articles of furniture, whilst the
wardrobe was being slit and rent as though with a hatchet. Worst of
all, however, ammunition was failing.

'What a pity!' growled Laurent; 'it's been going on so well.'

'Wait a bit!' replied Weiss, as an idea flashed through his mind.

He had just remembered the dead soldier lying in the garret upstairs,
and he went up to search the body and take the cartridges that must be
upon it. He found that a large piece of the roof had now fallen in,
and he could see the blue sky, a bright sunshiny expanse, at sight of
which he was very much astonished. To avoid being killed he dragged
himself over the floor on his knees, and when he had secured the
cartridges, some thirty or thereabouts, he made all haste and bounded
down again.

Whilst he was dividing these new supplies with the gardener, however,
one of the soldiers gave a shriek and fell on his knees. There were now
only seven, and a moment afterwards there were only six of them left,
for the corporal was hit in the left eye by a bullet, which blew out
his brains.

From that moment Weiss was no longer conscious of anything. He and
the five others continued firing like madmen, consuming the remaining
cartridges without a thought even of the possibility of surrendering.
The tiled floors of the three little rooms were now littered with
remnants of furniture. Corpses blocked the doorways, and in one corner
a wounded man was giving vent to a frightful, continuous moan. Wherever
they stepped blood stuck to the soles of their shoes; and some of
it, after coursing through the rooms, was even trickling down the
staircase. Moreover, it was no longer possible to breathe up there; the
atmosphere was dense and hot with powder-smoke, a pungent, nauseating
dust plunging them into almost complete obscurity, which was streaked,
however, by a ruddy flame each time a shot was fired.

'Thunder!' exclaimed Weiss; 'why, they are bringing cannon!'

It was true. Despairing of reducing the handful of madmen, who thus
delayed their advance, the Bavarians were now placing a gun in position
at the corner of the Place de l'Eglise. And the honour thus shown them,
that artillery pointed at them from over yonder, made the besieged
furiously mirthful. They jeered contemptuously: Ah! those dirty
cowards with their cannon! Laurent, meanwhile, was still on his knees,
carefully aiming at the gunners and bringing a man down at each shot he
fired, so that for a time the gun could not be worked; in fact, five or
six minutes elapsed before the first discharge. And even then, the gun
being pointed too high, merely a strip of the roof was carried away.

But the end was at hand. In vain did they search the dead; there was
not a cartridge left! Haggard and exhausted, the six men fumbled here
and there, seeking for something which they might fling from the
windows to crush the enemy. One of them, on showing himself at a
window, vociferating and brandishing his fists, was riddled by a volley
of lead, and then only five of them were left. What could they do? Go
down--try to escape by way of the garden and the meadows? But at that
moment there was a loud uproar below, and men streamed furiously up the
stairs. The Bavarians had at last crept round the house, broken open
the back door, and invaded the ground floor. A terrible _mêlée_ ensued
in the little rooms, among the corpses and the shattered furniture.
The chest of one of the French soldiers was transpierced by a bayonet
thrust, and the two others were taken prisoners, whilst the captain,
who had just vented his last gasp, lay there with his mouth open and
his arm still raised, as though to give an order.

However, a German officer, a stout, fair man, armed with a revolver,
and whose bloodshot eyes seemed to be starting from his head, had
caught sight of Weiss and Laurent, the one in his black coat and the
other in his blue linen jacket, and savagely asked them in French: 'Who
are you? What the ---- are you doing here?'

Then, seeing that they were black with powder, he realised the truth,
and stammering with fury, heaped insults upon them in German. He had
already raised his weapon to blow their brains out, when the soldiers
he commanded rushed forward, caught hold of the two civilians and
pushed them before them down the stairs. The two men were carried
along by the human wave which flung them upon the road, where they
rolled over as far as the opposite wall, amid such vociferous shouts
that the voices of the officers could be no longer heard. Then, during
two or three minutes which elapsed whilst the stout fair officer
was endeavouring to clear a space, in view of proceeding with their
execution, they were able to pick themselves up and look about them.

Other houses were now blazing--all Bazeilles was becoming a furnace.
Flames were beginning to stream through the lofty windows of the
church. Some soldiers were driving an old lady out of her house after
compelling her to give them some matches that they might set her bed
and her curtains on fire. What with all the lighted wisps of straw
flung here and there, and all the petroleum poured upon the walls, the
conflagrations were spreading from street to street. It was warfare as
waged by savages--savages infuriated by the duration of the struggle,
and avenging their dead, their heaps of dead over whom they had to
march. Bands of men were yelling amid the smoke and the sparks, amid
all the fearful uproar compounded of dying groans and shrieks, falling
walls, and discharges of musketry. They could scarcely see one another;
large clouds of livid dust, impregnated with an insufferable stench
of fat and blood, as though laden indeed with all the abominations of
the massacre, flew up, obscuring the sun. And they were still killing,
still destroying in every corner; the human beast was let loose, all
the idiotic anger, all the furious madness of man preying upon man.

And, at last, in front of him, Weiss could see his own house burning.
Soldiers had hurried up with torches, and others were feeding the
flames with the remnants of the furniture. The ground floor speedily
blazed, and the smoke poured forth from all the gaping wounds of the
roof and the front. The adjacent dyeworks, too, were already catching
fire; and--oh, the pity of it!--little Auguste, lying in bed, delirious
with fever, could still be heard calling for his mother, whose skirts
were beginning to burn as her corpse, with its head pounded to pieces,
lay there across the threshold.

'Mother, I'm so thirsty; mother, give me some water.'

But the flames roared, the plaint ceased, and then nothing could be
distinguished save the deafening hurrahs of the conquerors!

All at once, however, above every noise, above all the shouting, there
arose a terrible cry. It was Henriette arriving--Henriette, who had
just espied her husband standing with his back to a wall, in front of a
platoon which was loading its weapons.

She sprang upon his neck: 'My God! what is it? They are not going to
kill you!'

Weiss gazed at her in stupefaction. 'Twas she, his wife whom he had so
long desired, whom he had adored with such idolising tenderness. And
with a shudder he awoke, distracted, to the awful reality. Why had he
tarried there firing upon the foe instead of returning to her, as he
had sworn to do? His lost happiness flashed before his dizzy eyes; they
were to be torn asunder, parted for evermore. Then he was struck by
the sight of the blood upon her forehead, and in a mechanical voice he
stammered, 'Are you wounded? It was madness for you to come----'

With a wild gesture, however, she interrupted him. 'Oh! me; it's
nothing, a mere scratch--but you, why are they keeping you? I won't
have them shoot you!'

The officer who was struggling in the middle of the obstructed road,
trying to clear a space so that the platoon might fall back a few
paces, turned round on hearing the sound of voices; and when he
perceived the woman hanging on the neck of one of the prisoners, he
again savagely shouted in French: 'No, no--no humbug, please! Where
have you come from? What do you want?'

'I want my husband.'

'Your husband, that man there? He has been condemned; justice must be
done.'

'I want my husband.'

'Come, be reasonable--move aside, we don't wish to do you any harm.'

'I want my husband.'

Renouncing his attempts at persuasion, the officer was about to give
orders that she should be torn from the prisoner's arms, when Laurent,
hitherto silent and impassive, ventured to intervene: 'I say, captain,
it was I who knocked so many of your men over, and it's right enough
that you should shoot me. Besides, I've nobody to think of, neither
mother, nor wife, nor child--but this gentleman's married--why not let
him go, and settle my affair?'

'What's that tomfoolery!' yelled the captain, quite beside himself;
'are you making fun of me? Here! a man here to take this woman away.'

He had to repeat the order in German, whereupon a soldier stepped
forward, a short, broad-chested Bavarian, whose enormous head was bushy
with carroty beard and hair, amidst which one could only distinguish
a broad square-shaped nose, and a pair of big blue eyes. He was a
frightful object, stained all over with blood, looking like some bear
from a mountain cavern--one of those hairy monsters, red with the blood
of the prey whose bones they have just been crunching.

'I want my husband; kill me with my husband!' repeated Henriette, in a
heartrending cry.

But, dealing himself heavy blows on the chest with his clenched fist,
the officer declared that he was not a murderer, and that if there were
some who slaughtered the innocent, he at all events was not one of
them. She had not been condemned, and he would cut off his hand rather
than touch a hair of her head.

Then, as the soldier was approaching her, Henriette distractedly coiled
her limbs round Weiss: 'Oh! I beseech you, dear, keep me, let me die
with you.'

Weiss was shedding big tears, and without answering was trying to
unloosen the unhappy woman's convulsive grasp upon his shoulder and his
loins.

'Do you no longer care for me,' she pleaded, 'that you wish to die
without me? Keep me here; it will tire them out, and they will shoot us
both.'

He had now succeeded in detaching one of her little hands, and was
pressing it to his mouth, covering it with kisses, whilst still
striving to loosen the grasp of the other one.

'No, no! Keep me,' she cried, 'I want to die.'

At last, however, after infinite trouble, he held both her hands in his
own. And, hitherto silent, having purposely refrained from answering
her, he now said but three words: 'Farewell, dear wife!'

He himself had thrown her into the arms of the Bavarian who carried her
away. She struggled and shrieked, whilst the soldier, doubtless for
the purpose of calming her, gave vent to a stream of gruff words. With
a violent effort she had managed to disengage her head, and she saw
everything.

In less than three seconds it was over. Weiss, whose glasses had
slipped down while he was parting from his wife, had hastily set them
on his nose again, as though he wished to look death full in the face.
He stepped back and leant against the wall, with his arms crossed;
and this stout peaceable fellow, in his coat torn to shreds, had a
wildly excited face, aglow with all the beauty of courage. Near him
was Laurent, who had contented himself with shoving his hands into his
pockets. The cruel scene, the abominableness of those savages who shot
men down before the very eyes of their wives, seemed to fill him with
indignation. He drew himself up, scanned the firing party, and in a
contemptuous tone spat forth the words: 'You filthy pigs!'

But the officer had raised his sword, and the two men fell like logs,
the gardener with his face on the ground, the book-keeper on his flank,
alongside the wall. The latter, before expiring, experienced a final
convulsion, his eyelids blinked, his mouth writhed. Then the officer
stepped up to him, and stirred him with his foot, desirous of making
sure that he was quite dead.

Henriette had seen everything: those dying eyes seeking for her, that
frightful quiver of the death-pangs, that big boot pushing the corpse
aside. She did not cry out, but she silently, furiously bit at what was
near her mouth; and it was a hand that her teeth caught hold of. The
Bavarian roared, the pain was so atrocious. He threw her down, almost
felling her. Their faces met, and never was she able to forget that red
hair and beard splashed with blood, and those blue eyes dilated and
swimming with fury.

Later on, Henriette could not clearly remember what had happened after
her husband's death. She, herself, had had but one desire, to return
to his corpse, take it, and watch over it. However, as happens in
nightmares, all sorts of obstacles rose up before her, staying her
course at every step. Again had a brisk fusillade broken out, and there
was a great stir among the German troops who occupied Bazeilles. The
French Marine Infantry was, at last, again reaching the village, and
the engagement began afresh with so much violence that the young woman
was thrown into a lane on the left, among a crazed, terrified flock of
villagers. There could be no doubt, however, as to the issue of the
struggle; it was too late to reconquer the abandoned positions. During
another half-hour the men of the Marine Infantry fought with the utmost
desperation, sacrificing their lives in a superb, furious transport;
but at each moment the foe received reinforcements which streamed forth
from all sides, the meadows, the roads, and the park of Montivilliers.
Nothing could now have dislodged them from that village, which they had
secured at such fearful cost, where several thousands of their men were
lying dead amid blood and flames. Destruction was now completing its
work, the place had become but a charnel-house of scattered limbs and
smoking ruins. Slaughtered, annihilated, Bazeilles was dwindling into
ashes.

For a last time did Henriette espy in the distance her little house,
the floors of which were falling into a vortex of fiery flakes. And
ever, alongside the wall facing the house, could she see her husband's
corpse. But another human stream caught her in its flow, the bugles
sounded the retreat, and she was carried away, how she knew not, among
the troops as they gradually fell back. And then she became as it were
a thing, a mere rolling waif borne onward amid the confused tramping of
a multitude that was streaming along the highway. And she was conscious
of nothing further, till at last she found herself at Balan, in the
house of some strangers, where she sat sobbing in a kitchen, with her
head resting upon a table.



CHAPTER V

THE STRUGGLE FOR THE CALVARY--THE GREAT CHARGE


At ten o'clock the men of Captain Beaudoin's company were still lying
in the cabbage field on the plateau of Algeria, whence they had not
stirred since early morning. The cross fire from the batteries on the
Hattoy hill and the peninsula of Iges was increasing in violence, and
had again just killed a couple of soldiers; but still no orders came
to advance. Were they going to remain there all day then, allowing
themselves to be pounded like that, without making any attempt at
fighting?

The men were no longer even able to relieve their feelings by firing
their chassepots, for Captain Beaudoin had succeeded in putting a stop
to that furious and useless fusillade, directed upon the little wood
over yonder, where not a single Prussian seemed to have remained. The
sun was now becoming most oppressive; the men fairly roasted as they
lay there under the flaming sky.

Jean, on turning round, felt anxious on seeing that Maurice's head had
sunk to the ground. The young fellow's eyes were closed, and his cheek
was close pressed to the soil; he looked, too, extremely pale and did
not stir. 'Hallo, what's up?' asked Jean.

Maurice, however, had simply fallen asleep. He had been overcome by
waiting and weariness, although death was on the wing all around.
When he suddenly awoke again there was a calm look in his widely
opened eyes, but the scared, wavering expression of the battlefield
immediately returned to them. He had no notion how long his slumber had
lasted; it seemed to him as though he were emerging from delightful,
infinite nihility.

'Ah! that's funny,' he muttered, 'I've been asleep--it has done me
good.'

Indeed, he now felt less of that painful oppression, the bone-splitting
clasp of fright upon his temples and his ribs; and he began to poke
fun at Lapoulle, who had not merely been expressing anxiety about
Chouteau and Loubet, ever since their disappearance, but had even
talked of going to look for them. That was a fine idea; all he wanted,
no doubt, was to shelter himself behind a tree and smoke a pipe there!
Pache opined that the two men had been detained at the ambulance, where
there was probably a lack of bearers. Ah! that business of picking up
the wounded under the enemy's fire was by no means a pleasant one. Full
of the superstitious notions of his native village, Pache added that it
was very unlucky to touch a corpse--whoever did so would soon die.

'Thunder! will you just shut up?' cried Lieutenant Rochas, who had
overheard this remark. 'Does anybody die?'

Colonel de Vineuil, erect on his big charger a few paces away, turned
his head at this, and smiled for the first time that morning, Then he
again subsided into his motionless attitude, still impassively waiting
for orders, whilst the shells continued raining around him.

Maurice, who had now become interested in the bearers, watched them
as they searched about in the various folds of the ground. A field
ambulance was being installed behind a bank, at the edge of the
hollow road near by, and the bearers attached to it were beginning to
explore the plateau. A tent was promptly pitched whilst the necessary
_matériel_ was removed from a van waiting on the road. Instruments,
apparatus, and linen were produced--the few things, in fact, that were
requisite for summary dressings pending the despatch of the wounded to
Sedan, whither they were sent as rapidly as could be managed. Vehicles,
however, were already becoming scarce. There were only some assistant
surgeons in charge of the ambulance, and it was more particularly the
bearers who gave proof of a stubborn, inglorious courage. Clad in grey,
with the red cross of Geneva on their caps and their arm-badges, they
could be seen venturing slowly and quietly under the projectiles, as
far as the spots where the soldiers had fallen. They often crawled
along on hands and knees, and endeavoured to take advantage of the
various ditches and hedges, of all the protection that the ground
afforded, never evincing any braggardism in unnecessarily exposing
themselves to peril. As soon as they found any men on the ground their
laborious task began, for many of those who were lying there had simply
fainted, and it was necessary to distinguish the wounded from the
dead. Some men had remained face downwards, and were stifling with
their mouths in pools of blood; others had their throats full of earth,
as though they had bitten the ground; others, again, were lying in a
heap, pell-mell, with their arms and legs contracted and their chests
half crushed. The bearers carefully extricated and picked up those who
were still breathing, stretching their limbs and raising their heads,
which they cleaned as well as they could manage. Each bearer carried a
can of water, in the use of which he was extremely sparing. And one or
another of them would often be seen kneeling on the same spot for many
minutes together, trying to revive some wounded man and waiting for him
to open his eyes.

At fifty yards or so, on his left hand, Maurice noticed one bearer
looking for the wound of a little soldier, from one of whose sleeves
a streamlet of blood trickled continuously. This was a case of
hæmorrhage, and the man with the red cross having at last found the
wound managed to stop the flow of blood by compressing the artery. In
this manner the bearers attended to all urgent cases. Whenever there
was a fracture they were not only particularly careful how they moved
the man, but they fixed and bandaged his damaged limb, so that his
condition might not be aggravated by transport. The conveyance of the
wounded to the ambulance was indeed the great affair; the bearers
supported those who could still walk, and carried others either in
their arms like babies or in pick-a-back fashion. At times also,
according to the difficulties of the case, two, three, or four of them
assembled and formed a seat with their joined hands, or carried the
sufferer away in a horizontal position, by his legs and shoulders. To
supplement the regulation stretchers, recourse was had to all sorts of
ingenious devices; at times a stretcher would be formed by linking a
couple of chassepots together with knapsack-straps. And all over the
bare plateau which the shells were ploughing the bearers could be seen,
now single, now in small parties, gliding along with their burdens,
bending their heads, testing the ground with their feet, and displaying
prudent but admirable heroism.

Whilst Maurice was watching one of them on his right hand, a thin, puny
fellow, who, like some toilsome ant burdened with too large a grain of
wheat, was staggering along with bended legs, carrying a heavy sergeant
whose arms were entwined around his neck, he suddenly saw both men
topple over and disappear amid the explosion of a shell. When the smoke
had cleared off the sergeant again appeared to view, lying on his back
and without any fresh wound, whereas the bearer was stretched beside
him with his flank ripped open. And thereupon another bearer came up,
another busy ant, who after turning his comrade over and finding him
dead, again picked up the wounded sergeant and carried him away.

Maurice thereupon remarked to Lapoulle: 'Well, if you like their job
better than ours, just go and lend them a hand.'

For a moment or so the batteries of St. Menges had been firing their
utmost, and the hailstorm of projectiles was becoming more violent.
Captain Beaudoin, who was still nervously walking up and down in front
of his company, at last ventured to approach the colonel. It was
pitiful, said he, that the spirits of the men should be worn out like
that, by long hours of idle waiting.

'I have no orders,' stoically repeated the colonel.

Just then General Douay was again seen galloping past, followed by his
staff. A few minutes previously he had met General de Wimpffen, who had
hastened to this part of the field to beg him to hold out; and this he
had thought he might promise to do, on the express condition, however,
that the Calvary of Illy, on his right, should be defended. If the
position of Illy were lost, he should be unable to answer for anything;
for a retreat would then become unavoidable. General de Wimpffen
declared that some troops of the First Corps were about to occupy the
Calvary, and, in fact, almost immediately afterwards a regiment of
Zouaves was seen to establish itself there; whereupon General Douay,
feeling more at his ease, consented to send Dumont's division to the
support of the Twelfth Corps, which was being hard pressed. A quarter
of an hour afterwards, however, he was returning from an inspection of
his left wing, which still presented a firm front, when, on raising his
eyes, he gave vent to a cry of dismay, for the Calvary was bare: not
a Zouave remained there. Under the terrific fire from the Fleigneux
batteries the position was not tenable, and had consequently been
abandoned. In despair, foreseeing the disaster that must overwhelm the
army, General Douay was galloping off to rejoin his right wing, when he
encountered Dumont's division falling back in disorder, panic-stricken,
and mingled with some remnants of the First Corps. The latter, after
its early retreat, had failed to reconquer the positions it had
held at dawn, and, leaving Daigny in possession of the Saxons, and
Givonne in that of the Prussian Guard, it had been obliged to proceed
northwards through the wood of La Garenne, cannonaded by the batteries
which the enemy planted upon every crest from one to the other end
of the valley. The terrible circle of flame and iron was closing
up. Whilst a portion of the Prussian Guard turned the heights and
proceeded on its westward march towards Illy, the Fifth German Corps,
screened by the Eleventh, which was in possession of St. Menges, still
continued on its easterly course, already leaving Fleigneux behind it,
and incessantly throwing its artillery forward with the most impudent
temerity; its commanders being so convinced, indeed, of the ignorance
and powerlessness of the French generals that they did not even wait
for infantry to support their gunners. It was now midday, and the
whole horizon was glowing and thundering, raining cross fires upon the
Seventh and First French Corps.

And now, whilst the foe's artillery was in this wise preparing for the
supreme attack on the Calvary, General Douay determined upon a last
desperate effort to reconquer it. He despatched orders, threw himself
in person among the fugitives of Dumont's division, and succeeded in
forming a column which he hurled upon the plateau. It held out there
for a few minutes, but the bullets rained so thickly, and such an
avalanche of shells swept the bare, treeless fields, that a panic
speedily broke out, and carried the men down the slopes again, whirling
them away like bits of straw caught in a storm. The general was
obstinate, however, and ordered up other regiments.

An estafette, galloping past, shouted some order to Colonel de Vineuil
amid the fearful uproar. The colonel was already erect in his stirrups
with his face aglow; and brandishing his sword and pointing to the
Calvary, he cried: 'It's our turn at last, my boys! Forward, up yonder!'

Inspirited by the colonel's manner, the 106th set out. Beaudoin's men
had been among the first to spring to their feet, jesting together, and
remarking that they felt quite rusty, and had every joint clogged with
earth. They had taken but a few steps, however, when so violent became
the enemy's fire that they had to dive into a shelter-trench which they
luckily came upon. They filed along it, bending double.

'Take care, youngster,' said Jean to Maurice; 'here's the rub. Don't
show the tip of your nose even; if you do, it will surely be carried
away. And get your bones well together if you don't want to drop any of
them on the road. Those who come back from this affair will be lucky
ones.'

Amid the buzzing, mob-like clamour that filled his head, Maurice could
scarcely hear the corporal. He no longer knew whether he was afraid
or not; he ran along, carried onward by the gallop of his comrades
and destitute of any personal will, having but one desire, that of
finishing the business at once. And so completely had he become a mere
wave of this marching torrent, that he felt panic seize hold of him
and was ready to take to flight as soon as a sudden recoil set in at
the farther end of the trench, at view of the bare ground remaining to
be climbed. The instinct of self-preservation broke loose within him;
swayed by the impulses around him his muscles rebelled against his duty.

Some men were already turning back, when the colonel threw himself
in their way. 'Come, my boys,' said he, 'you don't mean to grieve me
like that; you are surely not going to behave like cowards! Remember,
that the 106th has never recoiled; you would be the first to stain our
colours!'

Urging on his horse he barred the way, expostulating in turn with each
of the fugitives, and speaking of France in a voice that was tremulous
with tears.

Lieutenant Rochas was so affected by the scene that he flew into a
violent passion, and, raising his sword, began beating the men with it,
as though it were a stick. 'You dirty curs!' he shouted, 'I'll kick you
all the way up--that I will! Mind you obey orders, or I'll smash the
jaw of the first man who turns tail.'

This violence, however, this idea of kicking soldiers into fighting,
was not to the colonel's taste. 'No, no, lieutenant,' he said; 'they'll
all follow me. Isn't that so, my boys? You won't let your old colonel
face the Prussians all alone? Forward then, up yonder!'

Thereupon he set out, and they one and all followed him, feeling that
he had talked to them like a father whom they could not abandon without
showing themselves to be arrant cowards. And he quietly rode across the
bare fields on his big charger, whilst his men scattered and spread
themselves out like skirmishers, taking advantage of the slightest
cover. The ground rose, and more than five hundred yards of stubble and
beetroot fields had to be crossed before reaching the Calvary. Instead
of the correct lines of the classical assault, such as is witnessed in
sham-fighting, all that could be seen in a minute or two was the backs
of the men as they bent double and glided along close to the ground,
now singly, and now in little groups, now crawling on their knees, and
now suddenly springing forward like insects, making their way to the
summit, by dint of agility and cunning. The hostile batteries must have
perceived them, for the soil was ploughed up by the shells which fell
so frequently that there was no pause in the detonations. On the way
five of the men were killed, and a lieutenant was cut clean in half.

Maurice and Jean were lucky enough to come upon a hedge, behind which
they were able to run on without being seen. A bullet, however, here
penetrated the temple of one of their comrades, who, in falling, almost
tripped them up. They had to push him aside with their feet. They no
longer paid any attention to the dead; there were too many of them.
The horrors of the battlefield--a wounded man whom they perceived
howling and holding in his entrails with both hands, a horse, which was
still dragging itself along although its haunches were broken--all the
frightful agonies displayed to view had ended by no longer affecting
them. Their only sufferings were occasioned by the oppressive heat of
the midday sun which was biting into their shoulders.

'How thirsty I am!' stammered Maurice; 'it seems as if my throat were
full of soot. Can't you smell that horrible stench of burning wool?'

Jean nodded: 'It was the same at Solferino. Perhaps it's the smell
of war. Wait a bit; I've still some brandy left, we'll drink a drop
together.'

They quietly halted for a minute behind the hedge, but the brandy
burnt their stomachs, instead of quenching their thirst. That burning
taste in their mouths was quite exasperating. And, besides, they felt
famished, and would willingly have devoured the half-loaf which Maurice
still had in his knapsack. But was there any possibility of getting
at it? Other men were each moment coming up behind them, and pushing
them onward. At last, they too bounded over the last slope and found
themselves upon the plateau, at the very foot of the Calvary, the old
stone cross reared between two meagre lime-trees, and eaten away here
and there by the wind and the rain.

'Ah, dash it! here we are at last!' Jean exclaimed; 'but the thing is
to stop here.'

He was right. As Lapoulle, in a plaintive voice, remarked to the
amusement of his comrades, the spot was hardly a pleasant one. And
now, once again, they all stretched themselves among some stubble.
Nevertheless three more men were speedily killed. A perfect hurricane
was raging up there; the projectiles came from St. Menges, Fleigneux,
and Givonne, in such numbers that vapour seemed to issue from the soil,
as happens during a heavy storm of rain. Evidently enough, the position
could not be long retained unless artillery promptly arrived to support
the men who had been so daringly sent to the front. General Douay,
it was said, had given orders to run up a couple of batteries of the
reserve artillery; and the men looked round anxiously every moment,
waiting for these guns which did not arrive.

'It's ridiculous, ridiculous!' repeated Captain Beaudoin, who had again
resumed his jerky promenade. 'A regiment ought not to be sent to an
exposed position like this without being at once supported.' Then,
noticing a dip in the ground on his left, he called out to Rochas: 'I
say, lieutenant, the company might lie down there.'

Rochas, erect and motionless, shrugged his shoulders: 'Oh! captain,
here or there, it's all the same. The best is not to stir.'

Thereupon Beaudoin, who as a rule never swore, flew into a passion.
'But, d---- it, we shall all leave our carcases here,' said he; 'we
can't allow ourselves to be destroyed in this fashion.'

And, getting obstinate, he determined to inspect the position which he
had pointed out as a preferable one. He had not taken a dozen steps,
however, when he disappeared in a sudden explosion. His right leg was
smashed by a splinter of a shell, and he fell upon his back, raising a
shrill cry, like a woman surprised.

'It was a dead certainty,' muttered Rochas; 'so much moving about does
no good. Besides, there's no escape from fate.'

Some of the men raised themselves up on seeing their captain fall; and
as he called for help, begging that they would carry him away, Jean at
last ran to him, immediately followed by Maurice.

'In heaven's name, my friends, don't abandon me; carry me to the
ambulance.'

'Well, sir, it won't be an easy job. However, we'll try.'

They were already concerting as to how they should lift him, when,
sheltered behind the hedge which they had previously skirted, they
noticed a couple of bearers who appeared to be waiting for employment.
Jean and Maurice signed to them energetically and prevailed upon them
to approach. If these men could only carry the captain to the ambulance
without mishap, he might be saved. The road was a long one, however,
and the storm of iron hail was increasing in violence.

As the bearers, after tightly bandaging the wounded limb, were carrying
the captain away on their joined hands, one of his arms being passed
round each of their necks, Colonel de Vineuil, who had been informed
of the casualty, rode up, urging on his horse. He had a liking for the
young officer, whom he had known ever since he had left St. Cyr, and he
showed himself much affected. 'Keep up your courage, my poor fellow,'
said he; 'it won't be anything serious. They'll save you.'

The captain made a gesture of relief, as though a great deal of courage
had at last come to him. 'No, no,' he answered; 'it's all over, and I
prefer it should be so. The exasperating thing is having to wait for
what we cannot avoid.'

He was carried away, and the bearers were lucky enough to reach the
hedge without any mishap. They swiftly skirted it with their burden,
and when the colonel saw them disappear behind the clump of trees,
where the ambulance was established, he gave a sigh of relief.

'But you yourself are wounded, sir,' Maurice suddenly exclaimed. He had
just noticed that the colonel's left boot was covered with blood. The
heel had been carried away, and a piece of leather had penetrated into
the flesh of the leg.

M. de Vineuil quietly leant over his saddle and looked for a moment at
his foot, which must have felt both burning hot and terribly heavy.
'Yes, yes,' he muttered, 'I caught that just now. But it's nothing, it
doesn't prevent me from keeping in the saddle.' And as he rode off to
take his place again at the head of his regiment, he added: 'A man can
always get on when he's in the saddle and can stay there.'

The two batteries of the reserve artillery were now at last coming
up, to the intense relief of the anxious soldiers, to whom it seemed
as though these guns were bringing salvation, a rampart and thunder
that would speedily silence the cannon of the foe over yonder. It
was, moreover, a superb sight, so correctly were the batteries run
up in order of battle, each gun followed by its caisson, the drivers
astride the near-horses, and holding the off-horses by the bridle; the
gunners seated on the boxes; and the corporals and sergeants galloping
alongside in their respective places. It might have been thought they
were parading, anxious to preserve the regulation distances as they
dashed at full speed over the stubble, with a dull rumbling like that
of a storm.

Maurice, who was again lying in a furrow, raised himself up,
enraptured, and said to Jean: 'There, that is Honoré's battery on the
left. I recognise the men.'

With a back-hander, Jean threw him to the ground again. 'Lie flat, and
keep still,' he said.

With their cheeks resting on the soil, however, they both continued
watching the battery, feeling greatly interested in the manœuvres that
were being executed, and with their hearts beating quickly at sight
of the calm, active bravery of the artillerymen from whom they yet
expected victory.

The battery had suddenly halted on a bare summit, on their left hand,
and in a moment everything was ready; the gunners sprang from the
boxes and unhooked the limbers, and the drivers, leaving the pieces
in position, wheeled their horses and withdrew to a distance of some
fifteen yards, where they remained motionless, facing the enemy. The
six guns were already levelled, set wide apart, in three sections,
commanded by lieutenants, and united under the orders of a captain
whose slim, extremely tall figure rose up, unluckily for him, like some
conspicuous landmark. And when he had rapidly made a calculation, he
was heard to exclaim: 'Sight at 1,700 yards.'

The mark was to be a Prussian battery established behind some bushes
on the left of Fleigneux, and whose terrible fire was rendering the
plateau of Illy untenable.

'Do you see,' again began Maurice, who was quite unable to hold his
tongue, 'Honoré's gun is in the central section. There he is, leaning
forward with the gun-layer--little Louis--we drank a glass together at
Vouziers, as you may remember. And that driver over there who sits so
stiffly on his horse, a beautiful chestnut, is Louis' chum, Adolphe.'

The whole stream of men, horses and _matériel_, was disposed in a
straight line about a hundred yards in depth. First was the gun with
its six gunners and its quartermaster,[29] farther off the limber and
its four horses and its pair of drivers; then the caisson with its six
horses and its three drivers; further still the ammunition and forage
waggons and the field smithy; whilst the spare caissons and spare men
and horses, provided to fill up any gaps in the battery, waited at some
distance on the right, so that they might not be unnecessarily exposed
in the enfilade of the firing.

Honoré was now attending to the loading of his gun. Two of his men
were already bringing the charge and the projectile from the caisson,
over which the corporal and the artificer were watching; and two other
gunners, after inserting the serge-covered charge by the muzzle,
at once rammed it carefully into position and then slipped in the
shell, the points of which grated as they slid along the grooves.
Then the assistant gun-layer, after pricking the cartridge with the
priming-wire, swiftly applied the match to the touch-hole. Honoré was
desirous of aiming this first shot himself, and half-lying on the
block-trail, he worked the regulating screw to obtain the correct
range, indicating the proper direction by a gentle, continuous wave
of the hand, whilst the gun-layer, holding the lever behind him,
imperceptibly moved the piece more to the right or more to the left.

'That must be right,' said Honoré, rising up.

The captain, with his lofty figure bent double, inspected the sighting.
At each piece the assistant gun-layer was in position, holding the
lanyard in readiness to pull the saw-like blade that ignited the
fulminate. And the command was then given slowly, and in due order:
'Number one, fire! Number two, fire!'

The six shells were hurled into space, the guns recoiled and were
brought back into position, whilst the quartermasters noted that their
fire had not nearly reached the required distance. They rectified
it; the practice began afresh in the same orderly fashion as before;
and it was this precise routine, this mechanical labour that needed
to be calmly and deliberately accomplished, that sustained the men's
firmness. That beloved creature, the gun, grouped a little family
around her, whose members were closely united by the bonds of a common
occupation. The gun was indeed the connecting link, the one object
of concern; it was for her that they all existed, the caisson, the
waggons, the horses, even the men themselves. And from all this sprang
the great cohesion of the battery, a steadfastness and tranquillity
such as prevail in happy families.

Some acclamations from the men of the 106th had greeted the first
discharge. At last, then, they were going to stop the jabbering of
those Prussian cannon. But a feeling of disappointment immediately
followed when it was seen that the shells did not travel the distance,
most of them bursting in the air before reaching the bushes among which
the enemy's artillery was hidden.

'Honoré,' resumed Maurice, 'says that the other guns are mere nails by
the side of his. In his estimation his one will never be matched! See
how lovingly he looks at it, and how carefully he has it sponged so
that the dear thing may not feel too warm.'

In this way he jested with Jean, both of them quite inspirited by the
smart, calm bravery of the artillerymen. In three shots, however, the
Prussian batteries had regulated their fire; their range had at first
been too long, but their practice now became so wonderfully accurate
that their shells fell upon the French guns, which, despite every
effort to increase their range, still failed to carry the distance. One
of Honoré's men, on the left, was killed. The corpse was pushed aside,
and the firing continued, still with the same careful regularity,
and without the slightest display of haste. Projectiles were coming
from, and exploding on all sides, whilst around each piece the same
methodical manœuvres were repeated, the gun was loaded with its charge
and shell, the sighting was regulated, the shot was fired, and the
piece, having recoiled, was run up again as though the work absorbed
these men to such a degree that they could neither see nor hear
anything else.

Maurice, however, was especially struck by the demeanour of the
drivers, who, stiffly erect on their horses, confronted the enemy,
fifteen yards or so in the rear of the guns. Adolphe was among them
with his broad shoulders, bushy fair moustaches, and rubicund face;
and a man needed to be brave, indeed, to stay there like that, without
so much as blinking his eyes, whilst he watched the shells coming
straight towards him, and without being able even to bite his nails by
way of occupation, and in order to divert his thoughts. The gunners
on their side were working; they had so much to attend to that they
could not think of danger, whereas the motionless drivers saw but death
before their eyes, and had full leisure to ponder upon it and await
its coming. They were compelled to face the enemy, because, had they
turned their backs upon him, an irresistible impulse to flee might have
carried both men and horses away. A man can brave danger when he sees
it. There is no more obscure and yet no greater heroism than this.

Another gunner had just had his head carried off; two horses, harnessed
to a caisson, had fallen with their bellies ripped open; and the fire
of the foe was proving so slaughterous that it was evident the entire
battery would be dismounted, if they obstinately remained on this same
spot. Despite all the inconvenience of a change of position, it was
necessary to foil the enemy's terrible fire, and the captain no longer
hesitated, but ordered up the fore-carriages.

The dangerous manœuvre was executed with lightning-like rapidity; the
drivers wheeled round again, bringing back the limbers, to which the
gunners at once hooked the carriage trails. Whilst this was being
accomplished, however, a lengthy front was developed, at sight of
which the enemy redoubled his fire. Three more men thereupon fell to
the ground. Then the battery dashed off at a fast trot, describing
an arc through the fields, and establishing itself some fifty yards
farther away on the right, upon a little plateau on the other side of
the position held by the 106th. The guns were unlimbered, the drivers
again found themselves confronting the foe, and the fire began afresh,
without a pause, and with so much commotion that the ground did not
cease shaking.

All at once Maurice raised a cry. In three shots the Prussian batteries
had again regulated their fire, and the third shell had fallen upon
Honoré's gun. Honoré was seen to dart forward and feel the freshly
made wound with a trembling hand; a large piece had been chipped off
the bronze muzzle. The gun could still be worked, however, and as soon
as the wheels had been cleared of the corpse of another gunner, whose
blood had splashed the carriage, the practice was resumed.

'No, it isn't little Louis,' continued Maurice, venting his thoughts
aloud. 'There he is aiming; he must be wounded, however, for he's only
using his left arm. Ah! little Louis--he got on so well with Adolphe,
on condition though that the gunner, the footman, should, in spite of
his superior education, act as the humble servant of the driver, the
mounted man----'

At this moment Jean, hitherto silent, interrupted Maurice with a cry of
anguish: 'They can never stay there; we are done for!'

In less than five minutes, indeed, this new position had become as
untenable as the previous one. The enemy's projectiles rained upon it
with precisely the same accuracy. One shell smashed a gun and killed
a lieutenant and two men. Every shot took effect, to such a degree,
in fact, that if they obstinately lingered there neither a gun nor
an artilleryman would soon remain. The enemy's fire was destruction
incarnate; it swept everything away. And so, for the second time, the
captain's voice rang out, ordering up the limbers.

Once more was the manœuvre executed, the drivers setting their horses
at a gallop, and wheeling so that the gunners might again limber the
pieces. This time, however, during the movement, a splinter gashed
Louis' throat and tore away his jaw, and he fell across the block-trail
which he had been raising. And just as Adolphe came up, at the moment
when the enemy obtained a flank view of the line of teams, a furious
volley swooped down. Adolphe fell, with his chest split open, and his
arms outstretched, and in a last convulsion he caught hold of his
comrade; and there they lay embracing, fiercely contorted, coupled
together even in death.

But, despite the killing of many horses, despite the disorder which
the slaughterous volley had wrought in the ranks, the entire battery
was already ascending a slope, establishing itself in a more advanced
position at a few yards from the spot where Maurice and Jean were
lying. The guns were now unlimbered for the third time, the drivers
again found themselves facing the enemy, whilst the gunners immediately
reopened fire with the obstinacy of unconquerable heroism.

'This is the end of everything,' said Maurice, in a dying voice.

It seemed, indeed, as though earth and sky were mingled. The stones
split asunder, dense smoke occasionally hid the sun. The horses stood
with their heads low, dizzy, stupefied amid the fearful uproar.
Wherever the captain appeared he seemed abnormally tall. At last he was
cut in two--snapped, and fell like a flag-staff.

The effort was being tenaciously, deliberately prolonged, however,
especially by Honoré and his men. He, himself, despite his stripes,
now had to help work the gun, for only three gunners remained to him.
He levelled and fired whilst the three men fetched the ammunition,
loaded the piece, and handled the sponge and the rammer. Spare men and
horses had been asked for to fill up the gaps that death had made,
but they were a long time coming, and meanwhile it was necessary to
do without them. The worry was that the gun still failed to carry the
distance, almost all the projectiles bursting in the air, and doing
but little harm to those terrible batteries of the foe whose fire was
so efficacious. And all at once Honoré swore an oath which rang out
above all the thunder of the cannonade: there was no end to their ill
luck, the gun's right wheel had just been pounded to pieces. Thunder!
So now the poor creature had a leg broken, and was thrown on her side,
with her nose on the ground, crippled and useless! Honoré shed big
tears at the sight, and clasped her neck with his twitching hands,
as though he hoped to set her erect again by the mere warmth of his
affection. To think of it!--the best gun of all, the only one that had
managed to send a few shells over yonder! Then a mad resolution took
possession of him, that of immediately replacing the shattered wheel
under the enemy's fire. With the assistance of a gunner, he himself
went to fetch a spare wheel from the ammunition waggon, and the work
then began, the most dangerous that can be performed on the field of
battle. Fortunately the spare men and horses had eventually arrived,
and a couple of fresh gunners lent a helping hand.

But once again the battery was dismantled. This heroic madness could be
carried no farther. Orders to fall back for good were on the point of
being given.

'We must make haste, comrades!' shouted Honoré. 'We'll take her away at
any rate; they sha'n't have her.'

'Twas his one idea, to save his gun, like others save the colours.
And he was still speaking when he was annihilated, his right arm torn
away and his left side ripped open. He fell upon the gun and remained
there as though stretched upon a bed of honour, his head still erect,
and his face unscathed, turned with a fine expression of anger towards
the enemy yonder. A letter--Silvine's--had slipped through a rent in
his uniform and was stained with drop after drop of his blood, as he
grasped it with his twisted fingers.

The only lieutenant who had not been killed now shouted the command:
'Limber up!'

One of the caissons had already blown up with the commotion of
fireworks, fusing and bursting. The horses of another caisson had to
be taken to save a gun whose team was lying on the ground. And, this
last time, when the drivers had wheeled, and the four remaining guns
had again been limbered, the battery galloped off without stopping
until it was some eleven hundred yards away, behind the fringing trees
of the wood of La Garenne.

Maurice had seen everything, and with a faint shudder of horror he
repeated in a mechanical fashion: 'Oh! the poor fellow, the poor
fellow!'

It seemed as though his grief imparted increased intensity to the
growing pain that was griping his stomach. The animal part of his
nature was rebelling; his strength was exhausted; he was dying of
hunger. His eyesight was becoming dim, he was no longer conscious even
of the danger to which the regiment was exposed, now that the battery
had been compelled to fall back. At any moment, indeed, the plateau
might be attacked by the enemy in force.

'I say,' he remarked to Jean, 'I really must eat--I'd rather eat and be
killed at once.'

Having opened his knapsack, he took the bread in his trembling hands
and began to bite it voraciously. The bullets whistled by, a couple of
shells exploded a few yards away, but nothing had any existence for him
save his hunger, which must be satisfied.

'Will you have a bit, Jean?'

Stupefied, his eyes swollen, and his stomach rent by a similar craving,
Jean looked at him and answered: 'Yes, all the same I'll have some; I
feel too bad.'

They divided the bread and ate it gluttonously, without a thought of
anything else so long as a mouthful of it remained. And it was only
after they had finished that they again saw their colonel, on his
big charger, with his bloody boot. The 106th was being overlapped on
either side. Some companies must have already fled, and M. de Vineuil,
compelled to give way to the torrent, raised his sword, and, with
his eyes full of tears, exclaimed, 'God shield us, my lads, since He
would not take us!' Bands of fugitives were surrounding him, and he
disappeared from view in a depression of the ground.

Without knowing how they had got there, Jean and Maurice next found
themselves with the remnants of their company behind the hedge which
they had skirted in the morning. There remained at most some forty men
under the command of Lieutenant Rochas. The colours were with them,
and with a view of trying to save them, the sub-lieutenant, acting
as ensign, had just rolled the silk around the staff. They all filed
along to the end of the hedge, and then threw themselves among some
little trees on a slope, where Rochas ordered them to open fire again.
Sheltered and scattered in skirmishing order, the men were able to
hold out here, the more especially as a mass of cavalry was being set
in motion on their right, and regiments of infantry were again being
brought into line to support it.

And now Maurice realised the slow, invincible encompassment which was
on the point of being completed. Early in the morning he had seen the
Prussians debouching from the defile of St. Albert, reaching first St.
Menges, and then Fleigneux, and now he could not only hear the cannon
of the Prussian Guard thundering behind the wood of La Garenne, but
began to perceive some other German uniforms coming up by the heights
of Givonne. But a few minutes more and the circle would close up, and
the Guard would join hands with the Fifth German Corps, surrounding the
French army with a living wall, an annihilating belt of artillery. It
must have been with the desperate thought of making a last effort, of
striving to break through this marching wall, that a division of the
reserve cavalry, that commanded by General Margueritte, was now being
massed behind a fold in the ground in readiness to charge. They, were,
indeed, about to charge to death, without any possibility of effecting
their object, but for the honour of France. And Maurice, thinking of
Prosper, witnessed the terrible sight.

Since early morning Prosper had done nothing but urge on his horse,
continually marching and counter-marching from one to the other end of
the plateau of Illy. He and his comrades had been wakened one by one
at dawn, without any trumpet call; and in order that they might make
their coffee they had ingeniously contrived to screen each fire with
a cloak so as not to set the Prussians on the alert. After that they
had remained in ignorance of everything. They could certainly hear the
guns, see the smoke, espy distant movements of infantry, but in the
complete inaction in which they were left by the generals they knew
nothing of the incidents of the battle, its importance and its results.
Prosper, for his own part, was so sleepy that he could hardly keep
up. Fatigue was the great suffering: bad nights, an accumulation of
weariness, followed by invincible somnolence when the men rocked in
the saddle. Prosper himself became a prey to hallucinations--fancied
at times that he was on the ground, snoring on a mattress of pebbles;
or dreamt that he was in a comfortable bed with clean white sheets.
Sometimes he actually slept in the saddle for minutes together,
becoming a mere moving thing, carried along according to the chances of
the trot. In this way some of his comrades had occasionally fallen from
their mounts. They were all so weary that the trumpet calls no longer
awoke them; it was only by dint of kicking that they could be roused
from oblivion and set upon their legs.

'What game are they having, what game are they having with us?' Prosper
kept on saying, in the hope that by doing so he might shake off his
irresistible torpor.

The cannon had been thundering since six o'clock. A couple of comrades
had been killed by a shell beside him while they were ascending a hill,
and, farther on, three others had fallen to the ground, riddled with
bullets which had come no one knew whence. This useless, dangerous
military promenade across the battlefield was altogether exasperating.
At last, however, at about one o'clock, he realised that the commanders
had decided to get them killed in a decent fashion, at any rate. The
whole of General Margueritte's division, three regiments of Chasseurs
d'Afrique, one of Chasseurs de France, and one of Hussars had just
been assembled in a fold of the ground, on the left of the road, and
slightly below the Calvary. The trumpets had sounded 'Dismount,' and
the officers thereupon gave orders to tighten the girths and secure the
kits.

Prosper dismounted, stretched himself, and fondled Zephyr with his
hand. Poor Zephyr! he was as stultified as his master, quite worn out
by the stupid life he was led. Besides, he carried such a multitude
of things: First, there was the linen in the holsters, and the cloak
rolled up above them; then the blouse, the overalls, and the haversack,
with everything required for grooming, behind the saddle; and in
addition there was the provision bag thrown across the horse's back,
without mentioning the goat-skin, the water-can, and the mess-tin. The
Chasseur's heart was flooded with tender compassion for his steed as
he tightened the girth and made sure that all the paraphernalia on his
back was properly secured.

It was a trying moment. Prosper, who was not more of a coward than his
comrades, felt his mouth quite parched, and lighted a cigarette. When
orders are given to charge, each man may fairly say: 'It's all up with
me this time;' so few, indeed, are the chances in his favour.

Some five or six minutes went by, and the men told one another that
General Margueritte had gone forward to reconnoitre the ground.
Meantime, they waited. The five regiments had been assembled in three
columns; each column was seven squadrons deep, so there would be plenty
of food for the enemy's cannon.

All at once the trumpets sounded: 'To horse!' And almost immediately
afterwards another command rang out: 'Draw swords!'

The colonel of each regiment had already galloped forward, taking up
his regulation position--at seven-and-twenty yards in advance of the
front. The captains were at their places at the head of their men. Then
the spell of waiting began again, amid death-like silence. No longer
a sound, not even the faintest breath was heard under the fierce sun.
The men's hearts alone were beating. But another command, the last, and
then this motionless mass would spring forward, and rush onward with
the speed of a tempest.

At that moment, however, a mounted officer, wounded and supported by
two men, appeared upon the hill-crest. At first he was not recognised;
then a roar resounded, swelling into a furious clamour. It was General
Margueritte, whose cheeks had been transpierced by a bullet, and who
was destined to die of his wound. He was unable to speak, but he waved
his arm towards the enemy.

The clamour was still increasing: 'Our general! Vengeance! vengeance!'

Thereupon the colonel of the first regiment raised his sabre in the
air, and cried in a voice like thunder: 'Charge!'

The trumpets sounded and the mass started off, first of all at a trot.
Prosper was in the front rank, but almost at the end of the right
wing. The greatest danger is in the centre, upon which the enemy
instinctively directs his more violent fire. When they had reached the
crest of the Calvary and were beginning to descend the other slope,
in the direction of the broad plain, Prosper could distinctly see, a
thousand yards ahead of him, the Prussian squares against which they
were being hurled. He trotted along, however, as though he were in a
dream, swaying like a man asleep, feeling light and buoyant, and with
his brain so empty that he had no idea of anything. He had become a
mere machine worked by an irresistible power. Orders were repeated
for the men to keep as close together as possible, knee to knee, so
that they might acquire the resistive strength of granite. And as the
trot became swifter and changed into a desperate gallop, the Chasseurs
d'Afrique in Arab fashion began raising savage yells which maddened
their horses. It soon became a diabolical race, at hellish speed, and
as an accompaniment to the furious gallop and the ferocious howls there
resounded the crackling of the fusillade, the bullets striking the
cans and pans of the advancing squadrons, the brass on the uniforms of
the men and on the harness of the horses, with the loud pit-a-pat of
hail. And through this hail swept the shells--the hurricane of wind
and thunder which shook the ground and impregnated the sunlight with a
stench akin to that of burning wool and sweating beasts.

At five hundred yards from the foe a furious eddy, sweeping everything
away, threw Prosper from his horse. He caught Zephyr by the mane,
however, and managed to get into the saddle again. Riddled and broken
by the fusillade, the centre had just given way, and the two wings were
whirling round, falling back to re-form and rush forward once more.
This was the fatal, foreseen annihilation of the first squadron. The
fallen horses barred the ground; some had been struck dead on the spot;
others were struggling in violent throes; and dismounted soldiers could
be seen running hither and thither at the full speed of their little
legs in search of other horses. The dead were already strewing the
plain, and many riderless chargers continued galloping, coming back
to the ranks of their own accord so that they might return at a mad
pace to the fight, as though the powder fascinated them. The charge
was resumed; the second squadron swept on with growing fury, the men
bending low over their horses' necks, with their sabres on a level with
the knee, ready to strike. Another couple of hundred yards were covered
amid a deafening, tempestuous clamour. Yet again did the bullets make
a gap in the centre, men and horses fell, arresting the onslaught with
the inextricable obstruction of their corpses. And thus, in its turn,
was the second squadron mowed down, annihilated, leaving the front
place to those that followed behind it.

When, with heroic obstinacy, the third charge was made, Prosper found
himself mixed up with some Hussars and Chasseurs de France. The
regiments were mingling; there was now only a huge wave of horsemen
which incessantly broke and re-formed, carrying whatever it met along
with it. Prosper no longer had any idea of anything; he had surrendered
himself to his horse, brave Zephyr, whom he was so fond of, and who
seemed maddened by a wound in the ear. At present he was in the centre;
other horses reared and fell around him; some men were thrown to the
ground as by a hurricane, whilst others, though shot dead, remained in
the saddle, and continued charging, showing but the whites of their
eyes. And, this time, again, another two hundred yards having been
covered, the stubble in the rear of the squadrons was littered with
dead and dying. There were some whose heads had sunk deep into the
soil. Others, who had fallen on their backs, gazed at the great round
sun with terrified eyes starting from their sockets. Then there was
a big black horse, an officer's charger, whose belly had been ripped
open, and who vainly strove to rise with the hoofs of both forelegs
caught in his entrails. Whilst the foe redoubled his fire, the wings
whirled once again, and fell back, to return, however, to the charge
with desperate fury.

It was, indeed, only the fourth squadron, at the fourth onslaught, that
reached the Prussian lines. Prosper, with his sabre uplifted, smote
the helmets and the dark uniforms that he saw through the smoky mist.
Blood flowed, and on noticing that Zephyr's mouth was ensanguined, he
imagined that it was through having bitten the foe. So frightful was
the clamour becoming, that he could no longer hear himself shout, and
yet his throat was being almost torn away by the yells that issued from
it. Behind the first Prussian line, however, there was yet another
one, then another, and then another. Heroism remained of no avail;
those deep masses of men were like lofty herbage amid which horses and
horsemen disappeared. Mow them down as you might, there were always
thousands left standing. The firing continued with such intensity,
the muzzles of the needle guns were so close, that uniforms were set
on fire. All foundered, sank down among the bayonets; chests were
transpierced, and skulls were split. Two-thirds of those regiments of
horsemen were to remain on the field, and of that famous charge there
would abide but the memory of the glorious madness of having attempted
it. And, all at once, Zephyr, in his turn, was struck by a bullet full
in the chest, and fell to the ground, crushing under him Prosper's
right thigh, the pain of which was so acute that the Chasseur fainted.

Maurice and Jean, who had been watching the heroic gallop of the
squadrons, gave vent to a cry of rage: 'Thunder! Bravery's not a bit of
good.'

And then they continued discharging their chassepots, on their haunches
behind the bushes of the little hillock, where they and their comrades
were scattered in skirmishing order. Rochas himself had picked up a gun
and joined in the firing. This time, however, the plateau of Illy was
well lost, the Prussian troops were invading it from all sides. It must
now have been about two o'clock, the junction of the hostile forces was
at last being effected, the Fifth Corps and the Prussian Guard were
meeting and buckling the belt.

All at once Jean was thrown to the ground. 'I'm done for,' he stammered.

A heavy blow, like that of a hammer, had struck him on the crown of
the head, and his cap, torn and carried off, was lying behind him. He
at first thought that his skull was split, that his brain was bare,
and for a few seconds he dared not raise his hand to the spot, feeling
certain he should find a hole there. Then, having ventured to do so, he
drew away his hands and found them red with a thick flow of blood. And
the pain was so great that he fainted.

At that same moment Rochas gave orders to fall back. A Prussian company
was now no more than two or three hundred yards distant. If they
remained they would be caught. 'Don't hurry, though,' said he, 'turn on
the way and fire another shot. We will rally behind that low wall.'

Maurice, however, was in despair. 'We are surely not going to leave our
corporal here, sir?'

'But what can be done if his account's settled?'

'No, no; he still breathes. Let's carry him.'

Rochas shrugged his shoulders as though to say that they could not
encumber themselves with every man who fell. Then Maurice turned
supplicatingly to Pache and Lapoulle: 'Come,' said he, 'lend me a hand.
I'm not strong enough by myself.'

But they did not listen to him, did not hear him; the instinct of
self-preservation was so absorbing that neither had thought for any but
himself. They were already gliding along on their knees, disappearing
at a gallop in the direction of the low wall. And now the Prussians
were only a hundred yards away.

Shedding tears of rage, Maurice, who had remained alone with Jean,
took him in his arms and endeavoured to carry him off. But he was
indeed too weak, too puny, exhausted moreover by fatigue and anguish.
Almost at the first step he staggered and fell with his burden. If he
could only have seen a bearer! He looked about him wildly, fancied he
could distinguish some bearers among the fugitive soldiers, and waved
his arm to them. But nobody came. Then, collecting all his remaining
strength, he again took up Jean, and succeeded in carrying him some
thirty paces, when a shell having exploded near them, he fancied it was
all over, and that he also was about to die on his comrade's body.

He slowly picked himself up, felt himself, found himself unscathed,
without a scratch. Why did he not flee? There was still time; he could
reach the wall in a few bounds, and that would mean salvation. Fear was
coming back again, distracting him, and he was on the point of rushing
away, when bonds, stronger even than death, held him back. No! it was
impossible; he could not abandon Jean. It would have made him bleed
from every pore; the fraternity that had sprung up between that peasant
and himself extended to the depths of his being, to the very roots of
life. Its origin might have been traced back, perhaps, to the first
days of the world; for it was as though there had been but two men left
in all creation, one of whom could not part from the other without
parting from himself.

If Maurice had not eaten that crust of bread amid the shells, an hour
previously, he would never have found the strength to do that which
he now did. Later on, moreover, he was unable to recollect how he
had accomplished it. He must have lifted Jean on to his shoulders,
have dragged himself along, have halted and set out afresh a score of
times amid the stubble and the bushes, stumbling over each stone he
encountered, but still and ever setting himself upon his legs again.
He was sustained by an unconquerable will, a resistive power that
would have enabled him to carry a mountain. When he at last got behind
the wall, he there again found Rochas and the few remaining men of
the company, who were still firing, defending the colours which the
sub-lieutenant was carrying under his arm.

No line of retreat had been indicated to the different army corps for
adoption in the event of a defeat. This lack of foresight and the
prevailing confusion left each general free to act as he pleased,
and now they all found themselves thrown back on Sedan, within the
formidable embrace of the victorious German armies. The Seventh Corps'
Second Division was retiring in fairly good order, but the remnants of
its other divisions, mingled with the remnants of the First Corps, were
already rolling towards the town in a fearful mob--a torrent of rage
and fright, in which men and horses were swept along.

Just then, however, Maurice was delighted to see Jean opening his
eyes. He wished to wash his face for him, and as he was hastening to
a rill near by, he was greatly astonished when, on his right hand, in
the depths of a secluded valley, sheltered by rugged slopes, he again
espied the same peasant whom he had seen in the morning, and who was
still leisurely turning up the sod, guiding his plough drawn by a big
white horse. Why should a day be lost? Corn would not cease growing,
nor would the human race cease living simply because it pleased some
men to fight.



CHAPTER VI

THE WHITE FLAG--THE HORRORS OF AN AMBULANCE


At last, up above on the lofty terrace, whither he had climbed to
obtain some idea of the situation, Delaherche again became excited
by impatience to know what was happening. He saw very well that the
shells were passing over the town, and realised that the three or four,
which had burst through some of the surrounding roofs, could merely
be infrequent replies to the fire of the Palatinate fort, so slack
and inefficacious. But he distinguished nothing of the battle, and
experienced a pressing desire for information which was quickened by
the dread that he might lose both fortune and life in the catastrophe.
So he went down, leaving the telescope up there, levelled upon the
German batteries.

Once below, however, the sight which the central garden of the factory
presented momentarily arrested his steps. It was nearly one o'clock,
and the wounded were crowding into the ambulance. There was already a
deficiency of the regulation conveyances, both of the two and the four
wheelers; and ammunition and forage waggons, vans for the transport
of _matériel_, in fact, whatever vehicles it had been possible to
requisition on the battlefield, now made their appearance. Eventually
there even came tilted and other carts belonging to cultivators, taken
from farms, and to which stray horses had been harnessed. And heaped
together in all these vehicles were the men who had been picked up
and summarily attended to by the field ambulance. Frightful was the
unloading of these poor fellows, some greenly pallid, and others
violet from congestion. Many of them had fainted, and others were
raising shrill plaints. Some, who were struck with stupor, surrendered
themselves to the attendants with a look of terror, whilst a few
expired as soon as touched, unable to endure the slightest shaking. To
such a degree was the ambulance being invaded that in another moment
there would not remain a single unoccupied mattress in the spacious
drying-hall, and Surgeon-Major Bouroche was accordingly ordering the
attendants to utilise the large litter of straw which he had spread
at one end of the structure. As yet, however, he and his assistants
sufficed for the requisite operations. He had merely asked that a
second table, with a mattress and some oilcloth, might be placed in
the shed where he operated. Here an assistant swiftly applied a napkin
dipped in chloroform to the patient's nose, the narrow steel blades
flashed before the eyes; the saws gave out a faint rasping sound, and
the blood flowed in sudden spurts, instantly arrested. The wounded
were brought in and carried away amid a rapid coming-and-going, time
being scarcely allowed for wiping the oilcloth with a sponge. And
at the farther end of the lawn, behind a clump of laburnums, it had
been necessary to form a kind of charnel-place where the attendants
disembarrassed themselves of the dead, and whither they also went to
throw the amputated legs and arms, all the remnants of flesh and bones
remaining on the tables.

Old Madame Delaherche and Gilberte, seated under one of the lofty
trees, could no longer roll bands enough, and Bouroche, who passed by
with his face flaming and his apron already crimson with blood, threw
a packet of linen to Delaherche, exclaiming: 'Here! do something, make
yourself useful.'

'Excuse me,' protested the manufacturer, 'but I must go out for news;
we no longer know whether we are alive.' And then, lightly touching his
wife's hair with his lips, 'My poor Gilberte,' he added, 'to think that
a shell might set everything on fire here. It's frightful!'

She was very pale, and raising her head, glanced around her with a
shudder. But that involuntary, invincible smile of hers speedily came
back to her lips: 'Yes, frightful!' she said, 'all those men whom they
are cutting up. It's a wonder that I can stay here without fainting.'

Old Madame Delaherche had looked at her son as he kissed his wife's
hair, and had made a gesture as though to push him aside, for she
thought of that other man by whom that same hair must also have been
kissed. Her old hands trembled, however, and she let them fall,
murmuring: 'How much suffering, good Lord! One forgets one's own.'

Delaherche then went off, explaining that he should speedily return
with positive information. As soon as he was in the Rue Maqua he was
surprised at the number of soldiers who were already returning from
the field without their weapons, and with their uniforms in shreds,
soiled with dust. He could not, however, obtain any precise details
from those whom he endeavoured to question. Some, who were quite
stupefied, replied that they didn't know; whilst others had such a deal
to relate, and gesticulated so furiously, and talked so extravagantly,
that they resembled madmen. He thereupon directed his steps once more
towards the Sub-Prefecture, thinking to himself that all the news
must flow thither. As he was crossing the Place du Collège, a couple
of guns, doubtless the only remaining pieces of some battery, came up
at a gallop, and stranded beside the footway. On reaching the High
Street he had to acknowledge that the town was becoming quite crowded
with fugitives. Three dismounted Hussars were sitting in a doorway,
dividing a loaf of bread; two others were slowly leading their horses
by the bridle, at a loss for a stable where they might tether them;
officers, too, were running wildly hither and thither, looking as
if they did not know where they were going. On the Place Turenne a
sub-lieutenant advised Delaherche not to linger there, for the shells
were falling very frequently, a splinter of one of them having just
broken the railing around the statue of the great captain, the victor
of the Palatinate. And, as Delaherche was swiftly gliding along the Rue
de la Sous-Préfecture, he saw a couple of projectiles explode, with a
frightful crash, on the bridge spanning the Meuse.

Reaching the Sub-Prefecture, he was standing in front of the porter's
lodge, seeking a pretext to ask for one of the aides-de-camp and
question him, when a youthful voice called him by name: 'Monsieur
Delaherche! come in quick; it's anything but pleasant outside.'

The speaker was Rose, his work-girl, whom he had not thought of. Thanks
to her, however, every door would be opened to him. He entered the
lodge and accepted a seat.

'Just fancy,' began Rose, 'all this business has made mother quite ill;
she's in bed and can't get up. So there's only me, you see, for father
is at the citadel, being a National Guard. A little while ago the
Emperor again wanted to show his bravery, for he went out again and was
able to get to the end of the street, as far as the bridge. But then a
shell fell in front of him, and the horse of one of his equerries was
killed. And so he came back again--not surprising, is it? What would
you have him do?'

'Then you know how we are situated--what do the officers say?'

She gave him a look of astonishment. Amid all these abominations,
but little of which she understood, she bustled about assiduously,
retaining her gay freshness, with her fine hair and her clear eyes, the
eyes of the child she was. 'No, I know nothing,' she said; 'at twelve
o'clock I took up a letter for Marshal MacMahon. The Emperor was with
him. They remained shut up together for nearly an hour, the marshal in
bed, and the Emperor on a chair close to the mattress. I know that,
because I saw them when the door was opened.'

'What were they saying?'

She again looked at him, and could not help laughing.

'Why, I don't know,' she answered. 'How could I know? Nobody in the
world knows what they said to one another.'[30]

That was true, and Delaherche made a gesture as though to apologise
for his foolish question. Still the idea of that supreme conversation
worried him; how interesting it must have been! What decision could
they have come to?

'And now,' added Rose, 'the Emperor has gone back into his private
room, where he's conferring with two generals who arrived just now
from the battlefield.' She paused and glanced towards the house-steps:
'Look! here comes one of the generals--and look! here's the other.'

Delaherche hastily stepped out of the lodge and recognised Generals
Douay and Ducrot, whose horses were waiting. He watched them get into
the saddle again and gallop off. After the abandonment of the plateau
of Illy, each, on his own side, had hastened into the town to warn
the Emperor that the battle was lost. They furnished him with precise
details of the situation; the army and Sedan were now completely
enveloped, and the disaster would prove frightful.

For a few minutes the Emperor walked up and down his room in silence,
with the wavering step of a sick man. The only person there besides
himself was an aide-de-camp, standing erect and silent near a door.
And, with a disfigured face which was now twitching with a nervous
tic, Napoleon kept pacing to and fro between the chimney-piece and
the window. His back appeared to have become more bent, as though a
world had fallen upon it; and his dim eyes, veiled by their heavy
lids, bespoke the resignation of the fatalist who has played and lost
his final game with Destiny. Each time, however, that he reached the
window, set ajar, he gave a start which, for a second, made him pause;
and during one of those brief halts he raised a trembling hand and
muttered: 'Oh! those guns, those guns! one has heard them ever since
the morning.'

From that spot, indeed, the roaring of the batteries of the Marfée and
Frénois hills reached the ear with extraordinary violence--it was a
rolling thunder, which not merely rattled the window panes, but shook
the very walls, a stubborn, incessant, exasperating uproar. And the
Emperor must have reflected that the struggle was henceforth a hopeless
one, that all resistance was becoming a crime. What could it avail,
why should more blood be spilt, more limbs be shattered, more heads
be carried off, more and more dead be ever and ever added to those
already scattered across the country-side? Since they, the French,
were vanquished, since it was all over, why continue the massacre any
longer? Sufficient abomination and suffering already cried out aloud
under the sun.

Once more did the Emperor reach the window, and again he began to
tremble, with his hands raised: 'Oh! those guns, those guns! Will they
never stop?'

Perhaps the terrible thought of his responsibility was arising within
him, with a vision of the thousands of bleeding corpses stretched upon
the ground over yonder, through his fault. Perhaps, though, it was
but the melting of his heart--the pitiful heart of a dreamer, of a
man in reality good-natured and haunted by humanitarian notions. And
albeit Fate had dealt him this frightful blow--which was crushing and
sweeping away his fortune as though it were but a bit of straw--he
yet found tears for others, was distracted that this useless butchery
should still continue, and lacked the strength to endure it any longer.
That villainous cannonade was now rending his breast, at each moment
increasing his agony.

'Oh! those guns, those guns! Make them stop firing at once--at once.'

And then this Emperor, who, having confided his powers to the
Empress-Regent, no longer had any throne; this generalissimo, who,
since he had surrendered the supreme command to Marshal Bazaine, no
longer commanded, awoke once more to the exercise of his power--to the
irresistible needment of being the master for the last time. Since his
stay at Châlons he had kept in the background, had not given an order;
content, in his resignation, to become nothing more than a nameless
and cumbersome inutility, a troublesome parcel carried along among the
baggage train of the troops. And it was only in the hour of defeat that
the emperor again awoke within him; the first, the only order that he
was yet to give, in the scared compassion of his heart, was to hoist
the white flag upon the citadel to beg a truce.

'Oh! those guns, those guns! Take a sheet, a table-cloth, no matter
what! Run quickly, tell them to stop those guns!'

The aide-de-camp hastily left the room, and the Emperor continued
his wavering march from the chimney-piece to the window, whilst the
batteries kept on thundering, shaking the house from top to bottom.

Delaherche was still talking with Rose when a sergeant, on duty at the
Sub-Prefecture, ran into the lodge: 'Mademoiselle,' said he, 'we can't
find anything. I can't see a servant anywhere. Do you happen to have
any linen--a piece of white linen?'

'Will a napkin do?'

'No, no; that wouldn't be large enough. Half a sheet would do.'

Rose, ever obliging, had already darted to the wardrobe. 'I haven't any
half-sheets,' said she. 'A large piece of white linen--no, I don't see
anything that would suit you--Oh! would you like a table-cloth?'

'A table-cloth? Nothing could be better; that's exactly what we want.'
And as he turned to go he added: 'We are going to make a white flag
of it, and hoist it on the citadel, to ask for peace. Much obliged,
mademoiselle.'

Delaherche gave a start of involuntary delight. At last, then, they
were going to have quietness. It occurred to him, however, that his joy
was unpatriotic, and he restrained it. Nevertheless his lightened heart
beat quickly, and he eagerly watched a colonel and a captain, who,
followed by the sergeant, were now coming out of the Sub-Prefecture
with hasty steps. The colonel was carrying the table-cloth, rolled up,
under his arm. It occurred to Delaherche to follow them, and he took
leave of Rose, who was quite proud of having provided that cloth. Just
then it struck two o'clock.

In front of the town-hall Delaherche was hustled by a stream of haggard
soldiers coming from the Faubourg of La Cassine. He lost sight of the
colonel, and thereupon renounced his intention of going to see the
hoisting of the white flag. He would certainly not be allowed to enter
the keep; and besides, on hearing some people say that shells were
falling on the college, he was once more filled with anxiety. Perhaps
his factory had caught fire during his absence. Thereupon he darted
off again, possessed by a feverish desire to be on the move, which he
endeavoured to satisfy by running through the streets. Groups of people
barred his way, however; at each crossing there were fresh obstacles.
It was only on reaching the Rue Maqua that he gave a sigh of relief,
on finding that the monumental front of his house was intact, that
neither a puff of smoke nor a spark of fire was to be seen. He went in
and called out to his mother and his wife: 'Things are going all right;
they are hoisting the white flag, so the firing will soon be over.'

Then he stopped short, for the scene which the ambulance presented
was really terrible. Not only was every mattress occupied in the
spacious drying-room, the door of which was open, but there no longer
remained any space even on the litter of straw spread out at one end
of the building. More straw was now being laid between the beds: the
wounded were being closely packed, one beside the other. There were
already more than a couple of hundred of them, and others were still
arriving. A white light streamed from the broad windows upon all this
accumulation of human suffering. At times there arose some involuntary
cry occasioned by too sudden a movement; and now and again the rattle
of the death pangs was wafted through the moist atmosphere. From one
end of the room there long resounded a continuous, gentle, almost
musical wail. Then the silence became deeper, like a kind of resigned
stupor, like the oppressive mournfulness of a death room, broken only
by the steps and whispers of the attendants. The wounds, most of which
had been hastily dressed on the battlefield, though some had remained
bare, untended, were displayed in all their distressful horror, amid
shreds of torn capotes and trousers. Feet were stretched out, still
booted, but crushed and bleeding. Inert limbs dangled from knees and
elbows which had been smashed as though by blows of a hammer. There
were broken hands and hanging fingers, too, sustained by mere strips
of skin. Most numerous, apparently, were the fractured legs and arms,
stiffened by pain and as heavy as lead; but the disquieting wounds
were especially those that had opened up the stomach, the chest, or
the head. Blood was flowing from flanks that had been frightfully
lacerated; bowels had become knotted under upraised skin; some men,
through their loins being gashed and hacked, were twisted into
frightfully distorted postures. Some lungs had been perforated through
and through with so small a hole that no blood flowed; others had a
gaping aperture whence life was ebbing in a red stream; and there
were men, too, who suddenly became delirious and black, killed all at
once by internal hæmorrhage. The heads had suffered yet more severely
than the bodies; jaws had been smashed, teeth and tongue formed but a
bloody mixture; eyes had been driven half out of their torn sockets;
skulls had been split open, and cerebral substance was visible. All
those whose brains or marrow had been touched by the projectiles lay
like corpses, in the prostration of coma; whilst others, the fractured,
the feverish ones, moved restlessly and begged for water in low,
supplicating voices.

And in the shed close by, where the operations were performed, there
were yet more horrors. In this first scramble, only the more urgent
operations were proceeded with, those necessitated by the desperate
condition of the wounded. Whenever there was any danger of hæmorrhage
Bouroche immediately began to amputate. And, in the same way, when
the projectiles were lodged in any dangerous part, the base of the
neck, the region of the axilla, the origin of the thigh, the bend of
the elbow, or the knee joint, he did not spend time in feeling for
them and removing them. The wounds which he preferred to leave under
observation, were simply dressed by the attendants in accordance with
his instructions. For his own part he had already performed four
amputations, spacing them out, resting himself, as it were, between
these more serious operations by extracting a few bullets. And he was
now beginning to feel tired. There were only two tables, his own and
another, at which one of his assistants operated. A sheet had just been
hung up between them, so that the men operated upon might not see one
another. And, despite all the washing with sponges, the tables remained
blood-red, whilst the pails, which were emptied a few paces off over a
bed of China asters, those pails, whose clear water a glassful of blood
sufficed to dye, seemed to be pails of pure blood--blood flung in a
splashing, drenching shower over the flowers of the lawn. And, although
the air freely circulated in the open shed, a nauseous stench now arose
from the tables, linen and instruments there, mingling with a vague
smell of chloroform.

Pitiful at heart, Delaherche was shuddering with compassion, when he
felt interested at sight of a landau entering the porch. This carriage,
the only vehicle, no doubt, that the men of the field ambulance had
been able to find, was packed full of wounded. There were eight of
them inside it, one atop of another; and when, in the last man who was
lifted out, the manufacturer recognised Captain Beaudoin, he raised a
cry of mingled terror and surprise: 'Oh! my poor friend! Wait a moment,
I will call my mother and my wife.'

They hastened to the spot, leaving a couple of servant-girls to
continue making the linen-rollers. The attendants, who had taken the
captain out of the carriage, carried him into the drying-room, and were
about to lay him on some straw there, when, upon one of the mattresses,
Delaherche perceived a soldier with ashy face and open eyes, who no
longer stirred.

'I say, that fellow's dead!' the manufacturer exclaimed.

'So he is,' muttered an attendant. 'We'll get rid of him and make
room for that officer.' Thereupon he and a comrade took up the corpse
and carried it to the charnel-place behind the laburnums. There were
already a dozen dead men lying there, stiffened in the last rattle,
some with their feet stretched out as though distended by suffering,
others all awry, twisted into atrocious postures. There were some
showing only the whites of their eyes, and sneering, with their lips
turned outwardly and displaying their white teeth; whilst several,
upon whose drawn, elongated faces there lingered a fearfully mournful
expression, were yet shedding big tears. One skinny, youthful little
fellow, whose head had been split open, was convulsively pressing a
woman's portrait--a common, faded, blood-smeared photograph--to his
heart. And, pell-mell, at the feet of the corpses, were piled the
amputated legs and arms, everything that was cut away, hewn off on the
operating tables--the parings of flesh and bone of a butcher's shop,
swept, as it were, into a corner.

Gilberte had shuddered at sight of Captain Beaudoin. Good God! how pale
he was, lying on that mattress there, his face quite white under the
filth that soiled it. And she was frozen with appalment, remembering
that but a few hours previously he had been full of life. She fell upon
her knees: 'What a misfortune, my friend! But it's nothing dangerous,
is it?'

She had pulled out her handkerchief in a mechanical fashion, and
wiped his face with it, unable to tolerate him in that dirty state,
grimed with earth, gunpowder, and sweat. It seemed to her also that by
cleansing him a little, she gave him some relief: 'It is not dangerous,
is it? It's only your leg.'

Emerging from a kind of somnolence the captain painfully opened his
eyes, and, recognising his friends, he tried to smile at them: 'Yes,
only my leg; I did not even feel the blow, I thought I had slipped and
was falling.' He had to pause, for he could only speak with difficulty:
'Oh! I'm so thirsty,' he added, 'so thirsty.'

Thereupon, old Madame Delaherche, who was leaning over him on the other
side of the mattress, went off in all haste to fetch a glass and a
decanter of water with which a small quantity of cognac had been mixed.
And when the captain had eagerly drained the glass, she had to divide
what remained in the decanter among the wounded near by; every hand was
outstretched, and ardent voices supplicated her. A Zouave, for whom
there was none left, began to sob.

Delaherche, meantime, was seeking an opportunity to speak to the major,
in order that the captain might receive prompt attention. Bouroche
had just come in with his bloody apron, his broad perspiring face
and flaming leonine mane; and, as he passed along, the men raised
themselves up and tried to stop him, each burning with a desire to
secure the next turn, anxious to be succoured and to learn his fate.

'Me, _monsieur le major_, me!' they called. Faltering, prayerful
voices pursued him, and fumbling fingers clutched at his clothes.
Without listening to anyone, however, quite absorbed, breathing hard
with fatigue, he decided how he would proceed with his work. He talked
aloud, counted the men with his finger, numbered and classified
them: this one, that one, and that other one; numbers one, two, and
three; a jaw, an arm, and a thigh. Meantime, an assistant surgeon who
accompanied him listened attentively, so that he might remember which
men were to be brought, and in what order, into the operating shed.

'Major,' said Delaherche, 'there's a captain here, Captain Beaudoin----'

'What! Beaudoin here!' interrupted Bouroche; 'poor devil!'

He posted himself in front of the wounded officer, and no doubt
realised the gravity of the case at a glance, for without even stooping
to examine the damaged leg he immediately added: 'All right! he shall
be brought to me at once, as soon as I've performed the operation which
is being prepared.'

Thereupon he went back into the outhouse, followed by Delaherche, who
did not want to lose sight of him for fear lest he should forget his
promise.

The disarticulation of a shoulder-joint in accordance with
Lisfranc's[31] method was this time in question, a pretty operation
as surgeons say, something elegant and prompt, lasting barely forty
seconds from first to last. The patient was already being chloroformed,
whilst an assistant caught hold of his shoulder with both hands; the
fingers under the arm-pit, the thumbs up above. Thereupon Bouroche, who
was armed with a large, long knife, called out, 'Set him up,' grasped
the deltoid, transfixed the arm and severed the muscle; then stepping
back, he detached the articulation at one stroke, and the arm fell,
amputated in three movements. The assistant had immediately stopped the
axillary artery with his thumbs. 'Lay him down again,' said Bouroche,
laughing involuntarily as he proceeded with the ligation, for the
operation had only taken him five-and-thirty seconds. All that now
remained was to press the shreds of flesh down upon the wound like a
shoulder strap. Altogether it was a pretty piece of work, notably on
account of the danger, for, by the axillary artery, a man may lose all
his blood in three minutes; besides which, the life of a patient under
the influence of chloroform is invariably imperilled when he is raised
from a recumbent to a sitting posture.

Frozen with horror. Delaherche had turned to go, but before he could
do so the arm was already lying on the table. The man who had been
amputated, a sturdy young peasant, emerged from his torpor and saw an
attendant carrying his arm away, to throw it behind the laburnums. He
hastily glanced at his shoulder, and, on seeing the bleeding stump,
flew into a violent rage: 'Good heavens! that's a nice thing you've
done!'

Bouroche, who was terribly tired, did not at first reply; but at last
in a good-natured way he said: 'I did it for the best, I didn't want
you to kick the bucket, my boy. Besides, I asked you beforehand if
you'd have it off, and you said "yes."'

'I said "yes"? I said "yes"? Did I know what you meant?' Then, as his
anger fell, he began shedding bitter tears, and gasped: 'What shall I
ever be able to do with myself now?'

He was carried back to the litter of straw; the oilcloth and the table
were violently washed; and the pailfuls of red water which were again
flung across the lawn made the white bed of China asters quite bloody.

Delaherche, however, felt astonished at still hearing the cannonade.
Why did it not stop? Rose's table-cloth must now be hoisted over the
citadel. And yet it seemed as if the fire of the Prussian batteries
were increasing in intensity. Such was the uproar, that one could no
longer hear oneself; the commotion shook the least nervous from head to
foot, amid growing anguish. These shocks which tore away the heart were
suited neither to amputators nor amputated. They upset, fevered the
entire ambulance to the point of exasperation.

'But it was all finished; so why do they keep on firing?' exclaimed
Delaherche, listening anxiously, and imagining every second that the
shot he heard would be the last.

Then, as he turned to remind Bouroche of the captain, he was astonished
to find the surgeon lying on his stomach atop of a truss of straw,
with both arms bared to the shoulders and plunged in a couple of pails
full of icy water. In this fashion was the major refreshing himself,
for he was both physically and morally worn out, crushed, overwhelmed
by immense sadness and distress, experiencing one of those momentary
agonies of the practitioner who realises his powerlessness. Bouroche,
albeit, was a sturdy fellow, hard-skinned and stout-hearted. But the
thought 'what avails it?' had flashed across his mind, and filled him
with sorrow. He had been suddenly paralysed by the consciousness that
he would never be able to accomplish everything; that it was not given
to him to do so. So of what use was it all, since Death was bound to
prove the stronger?

Two attendants came up, with Captain Beaudoin on a stretcher. 'Here's
the captain, major,' Delaherche ventured to say.

Bouroche opened his eyes, took his arms out of the pails, shook them,
and wiped them in the straw. Then, raising himself on his knees: 'Yes,
dash it!' said he; 'come, come, the day is by no means over.'

He was already getting up, shaking his lion-like head and tawny hair;
set erect again by habit and imperious discipline. Gilberte and Madame
Delaherche had followed the stretcher, and when the captain had been
laid on the oilcloth-covered mattress, they still lingered there,
standing just a few paces away.

'Good! it's above the right ankle,' said Bouroche, who talked a good
deal by way of occupying the minds of his patients. 'That's not so bad.
Wounds there can be cured--I'll examine it.'

It was evident, however, that Beaudoin's state of torpor preoccupied
him. On looking at the provisional dressing--a simple band tightened
and secured to the trousers by a bayonet sheath--he began growling
between his teeth, asking what fool was responsible for that. Suddenly,
however, he became silent again. The truth had just dawned upon
him. During the transport, no doubt--in the landau packed full of
wounded--the bandage had loosened and slipped, ceasing to compress the
wound, so that an abundant loss of blood had ensued.

Guessing this, Bouroche--by way of venting his feelings--flew into a
violent rage with an attendant who was helping him. 'You ---- dawdler;
make haste with that cutting,' he shouted.

The captain's trousers and drawers, shoe and sock were thereupon cut
open. First the leg, then the foot appeared; their wan nudity stained
with blood. And above the ankle there was a frightful hole, into which
a splinter of a shell had driven a shred of red cloth. A swelling of
lacerated flesh, a protuberance of the muscle emerged in a pulpous
state from the wound.

Gilberte had to lean against one of the posts supporting the roof of
the shed. Ah! that flesh, that flesh so soft and white, now bleeding
and mangled! Despite her horror, she could not turn her eyes away from
it.

'The devil!' said Bouroche, 'they've put you in a nice state!'

He felt the foot and found it cold; no beat of the pulse could be
detected. His face had become very grave, and his lips were drawn down,
as always happened when he found himself confronted by a disquieting
case. 'The devil!' he repeated, 'that foot's bad.'

Roused from his somnolence by anxiety, the captain looked at him,
waiting; and ended by saying: 'Do you think so, major?'

Although amputation might be a matter of necessity, Bouroche's
system was never to ask a wounded man point-blank for the customary
authorisation. He preferred that the sufferer should, of his own
accord, resign himself to the operation. 'A bad foot,' he muttered, as
if he were thinking aloud; 'we can't save it.'

'Come, major, to the point,' resumed Beaudoin, nervously; 'what do you
think of it?'

'I think you are a brave man, captain, and that you are going to let me
do what must be done.'

Beaudoin's paling eyes were dimmed by a kind of ruddy smoke. He had
understood. However, despite the insupportable fear that was throttling
him, he replied simply, like a gallant man: 'Do it, major.'

The preparations did not take long. The assistant, who had already
dipped the napkin in chloroform, immediately applied it to the
patient's nose. Then, at the moment when the slight agitation preceding
anæsthesia manifested itself, two attendants slid the captain along the
mattress so that his legs might project beyond it; and, whilst one of
them held up the left leg, an assistant-surgeon, seizing hold of the
right one, grasped it tightly with both hands, at the origin of the
thigh, for the purpose of compressing the artery.

On seeing Bouroche approach with his narrow blade, Gilberte felt she
could endure no more: 'No, no, it's too dreadful!'

She felt faint, and leant upon the arm which Madame Delaherche held out
to prevent her from falling.

'Why do you stop, then?'

However, they both remained there; averting their heads, it is true,
not wishing to see any more, and standing motionless and trembling,
pressed close to one another, despite the little affection there was
between them.

At no other time that day did the cannon thunder so loudly as it
thundered now. It was three o'clock, and Delaherche, disappointed,
exasperated, declared the uproar to be incomprehensible. Far from
ceasing their fire, the German batteries were redoubling it. Why? What
could be taking place? It was a hellish bombardment; the ground shook,
the very atmosphere seemed on fire. The belt of artillery encircling
Sedan, the eight hundred guns of the German armies, were firing
simultaneously, ravaging all the surrounding fields with continuous
thunderbolts; and a couple of hours of this converging fire directed
centreward from all the encompassing heights would suffice to burn
and pulverise the town. The situation was serious, for shells were
again beginning to fall on the houses. The detonations were heard more
and more frequently. One shell burst in the Rue des Voyards. Another
chipped a corner off the high factory chimney, and some fragments of
brick and cement fell just outside the operating-shed.

Bouroche raised his eyes, and growled: 'Do they want to finish off our
wounded? That row is insupportable.'

In the meantime an attendant had caught hold of the captain's wounded
leg by the foot, and by a rapid circular incision the major now cut
the skin below the knee, at a couple of inches from the point where he
contemplated sawing the bone. Then, with the same narrow knife, which
he did not exchange for another, since he wished to accomplish the
operation as speedily as possible, he detached the skin, raising it up
all round, much in the fashion in which one peels an orange. Just as he
was about to sever the muscles, however, an attendant approached him
and whispered in his ear: 'Number two has dropped off.'

So frightful was the din that the major could not hear. 'Speak louder,
will you? My ears are tingling with that cursed cannonade.'

'Number two has dropped off.'

'Who's number two?'

'The arm.'

'Oh! all right! Well, you'll bring me number three--the jaw.'

Then, with extraordinary skill, he at one stroke severed the muscles
to the bone. He bared the tibia and the fibula, and, as a support,
passed the three-tail compress between them. Then, with a single kerf
of the saw, he lopped them off, the foot remaining in the hands of the
attendant who was holding it.

But little blood flowed, thanks to the pressure which the assistant
was maintaining higher up, around the thigh; and the ligation of the
three arteries was swiftly accomplished. Nevertheless, the major shook
his head; and when his assistant had taken his hands away, he examined
his work, and, certain that his patient could not as yet hear him,
muttered: 'It's a nuisance; no blood comes from the little arteries.'

Then, with a wave of the hand, he completed his diagnosis. Another poor
devil done for! Again upon his perspiring face appeared that expression
of immense fatigue and sadness, that despair summed up in the words:
'Of what use is it?' And, indeed, what did his labour avail since
he did not succeed in saving four out of ten? However, he wiped his
forehead, and having turned down the flesh of the captain's stump, he
began to sew the three sutures.

Gilberte had just turned round, Delaherche having told her that it was
finished, and that she could look. However, she caught sight of the
captain's foot as the attendant carried it off into the garden. The
charnel-place was now becoming more and more crowded; two more corpses
were lying there, one with the mouth wide open and black, looking as
though it were still howling; the other shrunk by an abominable agony,
reduced to the size of a puny, deformed child. The annoyance was that
the pile of remnants was now stretching into the path near by. The
attendant hesitated for a moment as to where he might fitly deposit the
captain's foot, but at last he made up his mind to throw it on the heap.

'Well, it's all finished,' said the major to Beaudoin, who was being
roused; 'you're out of danger.'

The captain's, however, was not that gladsome awakening which follows
upon successful operations. He slightly raised himself, but fell back
stammering in a feeble voice: 'Thanks, major. I would rather it were
all over.'

However, he could feel the smart of the spirit dressing. And just as
the stretcher was being brought near, so that he might be carried back
to his mattress, a terrible detonation shook the entire factory; a
shell had burst behind the shed, in the little yard where the pump was.
Several window-panes were smashed to pieces, and thick smoke poured
into the ambulance. In the drying-room, panic raised the wounded up on
their straw pallets, and all cried out in terror, and all were eager to
flee.

Delaherche rushed off in distraction to ascertain the extent of the
damage. Were they now going to demolish his house, set it on fire? What
could be happening? Why did they keep on firing when the Emperor wanted
them to stop?

'D----n! bestir yourselves!' shouted Bouroche to his attendants, whom
terror rooted to the spot. 'Wash the table; go and fetch me number
three!'

The table was washed, and once again the pailfuls of red water were
flung across the lawn. The bed of China asters had become a bloody
hash--the chopped stalks and flowers were swimming in blood. And now,
by way of relaxation, the major, having had number three brought to
him, began searching for a bullet which, after shattering the inferior
maxilla, must have lodged itself under the tongue. A deal of blood was
flowing, and made his fingers quite sticky.

Captain Beaudoin was again lying on his mattress in the drying-room.
Gilberte and her mother-in-law had followed the stretcher, and
Delaherche himself came to chat for a moment, despite his agitation.
'Keep quiet and rest yourself, captain,' said he; 'we will have a room
got ready, you shall stay with us.'

Amid his prostration, however, the captain awoke to a short interval
of lucidity. 'No,' said he, 'I really think I am going to die.' And he
gazed at the three of them, with dilated eyes full of the fear of death.

'Oh! what are you saying, captain?' murmured Gilberte, forcing herself
to smile, though she felt quite frozen. 'You will be up again in a
month's time.'

He shook his head, however; and now he looked at her alone, with
immense regret for life in his eyes, quailing at the thought that he
must go off like that, before his time, and without having exhausted
the delights of existence.

'I'm going to die, I'm going to die. Ah! it's awful.'

Then all at once his glance fell on his soiled, torn uniform and
black hands, and it made him uncomfortable to find himself in such a
horrid state in the presence of ladies. He felt ashamed, too, of his
self-abandonment; and the thought that he was wanting in smartness
restored to him a deal of bravery. 'Well,' he managed to resume, in a
gay voice, 'if I am to die, I should at least like to die with my hands
clean. Would you have the kindness, madame, to dip a towel in some
water and give it me?'

Gilberte darted off, and on returning with the towel, insisted upon
cleaning his hands for him. From that moment he displayed very great
courage, desirous as he was that his end might be that of a well-bred
man. Delaherche encouraged him, and assisted his wife in arranging
him in a becoming manner. And in presence of this dying man, on
seeing husband and wife so assiduous in their attentions, old Madame
Delaherche felt her rancour pass away. Once more would she keep silent,
she who knew and had sworn to tell her son everything. But why plunge
the house in affliction, since death was carrying away the sin?

The end came almost immediately. Captain Beaudoin, growing weaker and
weaker, again fell into a state of prostration. An icy sweat streamed
from his forehead and his neck. For a moment he reopened his eyes, and
fumbled as though he were seeking a blanket, and drawing it up close to
his chin, with a gentle, stubborn pull of his twisted hands: 'Oh! I am
so cold, so very cold.'

And he passed away, expired without a sob, his calm, wasted face
retaining an expression of infinite sadness.

Delaherche did not allow the corpse to be carried to the charnel-place,
but saw to its being deposited in a coach-house; and he then tried to
induce Gilberte, who was sobbing, quite upset, to go back into the
house. She declared, however, that she should feel too frightened
if she remained alone, and that she preferred staying with her
mother-in-law amid the bustle of the ambulance, which diverted her
thoughts. She was already running off to give some water to a Chasseur
d'Afrique delirious with fever, and to help dress the hand of a
little Linesman, a recruit of twenty, who had come on foot from the
battlefield. One of his thumbs had been carried away; and as he was
a good-looking, comical fellow, who jested about his wound with the
heedless air of a Parisian wag, she ended by getting quite lively in
his company.

The cannonade seemed to have become still more violent whilst the
captain was dying; a second shell had fallen in the garden, cutting
down one of the centenarian trees. Moreover, a conflagration of
considerable magnitude had broken out in the Faubourg of La Cassine,
and some terror-stricken people cried out that all Sedan was burning.
It would be the end of everything if this bombardment were to continue
for any length of time with such fearful violence.

'It's incomprehensible. I'm going back!' exclaimed Delaherche, at last,
quite beside himself.

'Where to?' asked Bouroche.

'Why, to the Sub-Prefecture, to ascertain whether the Emperor's playing
the fool with us when he talks of hoisting the white flag.'

For a few seconds the major remained dumbfounded by this idea of the
white flag, defeat, and capitulation, which broke upon him amid his
powerlessness to save the poor mangled fellows who were being brought
to him in such numbers. He made a gesture of furious despair. 'Well, go
to the devil!' he shouted; 'we are none the less done for.'

Once outside, Delaherche experienced far greater difficulty than
before in making his way through the groups of people, which were now
much larger. The streets were every minute filling with the stream
of disbanded soldiers. He questioned several of the officers he met,
but none of them had seen the white flag upon the citadel. At last,
however, a colonel declared that he had espied it there for an instant;
it had been taken down almost as soon as hoisted. That seemed to
explain everything; either the Germans had not perceived it, or else,
seeing it appear and disappear, they had realised that the last agony
was at hand, and had thereupon redoubled their fire. Indeed, a story
was already circulating of a general who, at sight of the flag, had
flown into a mad rage, had rushed upon it, and torn it down with his
own hands, breaking the staff and trampling the linen under foot. And
thus the Prussian batteries were still firing; the projectiles rained
upon the roofs and the streets, houses were burning, and a woman had
just had her head smashed, at the corner of the Place Turenne.

On reaching the Sub-Prefecture, Delaherche did not find Rose in the
lodge. Every door of the house was now open; the rout was beginning. He
entered and went upstairs, meeting only a few scared people, none of
whom inquired his business. Whilst he was hesitating on the first-floor
landing, he came upon the young girl.

'Oh, Monsieur Delaherche, matters are getting much worse,' said she.
'There, make haste and look if you want to see the Emperor.'

A door on the left hand stood ajar, and, through the opening, one could
perceive Napoleon III. who had resumed his wavering march from the
chimney-piece to the window. He tramped up and down without a pause,
despite his intolerable sufferings.

An aide-de-camp had just entered the room--it was he who had carelessly
left the door ajar--and the Emperor was heard asking in a voice
enervated by wretchedness: 'But why are they still firing, monsieur,
when I have had the white flag hoisted?'

Still did he experience the same unbearable torment at sound of that
cannonade which never ceased, but on the contrary increased in violence
every minute. It struck him in the heart each time that he drew near to
the window. Still more blood, still more human lives destroyed through
his fault! Each minute added more corpses to the pile, to no purpose
whatever. And, commiserative dreamer that he was, his whole being
revolted at the thought of this slaughter; and a dozen times already
he had put the same despairing question to those who entered the room:
'But why are they still firing when I have had the white flag hoisted?'

Delaherche did not manage to catch the muttered answer of the
aide-de-camp. Besides, the Emperor had not paused in his walk. Faint
though he felt each time that he reached the window, he yielded to
the needment of returning thither. His pallor had increased, his
long-drawn, mournful face, but imperfectly cleansed of the paint with
which it had been brightened that morning, plainly told his agony.

At that moment a vivacious little man, in a dusty uniform, whom
Delaherche recognised as General Lebrun, crossed the landing and pushed
the door open, without waiting to be announced. And the Emperor's
anxious voice could immediately be distinguished, once more asking:
'But why, general, why are they still firing when I have had the white
flag hoisted?'

The aide-de-camp came out of the room and shut the door behind him, so
that Delaherche could not even hear the general's answer. All was blank
again.

'Ah!' repeated Rose, 'things are getting bad, I can tell it by the
gentlemen's faces. It's like my table-cloth, which I shall never see
again; some say it has been torn up. After all, it's the Emperor whom
I pity the most, for he's in a worse state even than the marshal. He
would be far better in his bed than in that room, where he's wearing
himself out with walking.'

She was quite affected, and her pretty, fair face expressed sincere
compassion; for which very reason Delaherche, whose Bonapartist fervour
had been sensibly cooling during the last two days, considered her
rather foolish. He lingered with her downstairs, however, whilst
watching for General Lebrun's departure. And when the general came down
he followed him.

General Lebrun had explained to the Emperor that if he desired to ask
for an armistice, a letter signed by the commander-in-chief of the
French forces must be transmitted to the commander-in-chief of the
German armies. He had then offered to write the letter in question and
to start in search of General de Wimpffen, by whom it should be signed.
And now he was carrying this letter away, and his only fear was that he
might be unable to find Wimpffen, for he did not know on what part of
the field he was. The crush by this time had become so great that he
was compelled to walk his horse through Sedan, thus enabling Delaherche
to follow him as far as the Ménil gate.

Once on the highway, however, General Lebrun put his horse at a gallop,
and as he was approaching Balan, he was lucky enough to perceive
General de Wimpffen. A few minutes previously the latter had written
to the Emperor: 'Sire, come and place yourself at the head of your
troops; they will esteem it an honour to open you a passage through the
enemy's lines.' Accordingly, at the first word of a truce he flew into
a furious passion. No, no! he would sign nothing; he meant to fight.
It was then half-past three o'clock, and shortly afterwards came the
last onslaught, that heroic, despairing attempt to pierce through the
Bavarians by marching yet once more upon Bazeilles. To restore the
spirits of the soldiers, lies were circulated along the streets of
Sedan and across the surrounding fields. 'Bazaine is coming up! Bazaine
is coming up!' was the cry. It was a dream that many had indulged in
since the morning, thinking, each time that the Germans unmasked a
fresh battery, that the guns they heard were those of the army of Metz.

Some twelve hundred men were got together, disbanded soldiers of
all arms, from every corps; and along the road, swept by the enemy's
projectiles, the little column dashed with glorious gallantry, at the
double-quick. It was superb at first; the men who fell did not arrest
the dash of the others, and some five hundred yards were covered
with a perfect fury of courage. But the ranks were speedily thinned,
and the bravest at last fell back. What could be done indeed against
such overwhelming numbers? This effort was but the mad temerity of a
commander who refused to be beaten. And at last General de Wimpffen
found himself alone with General Lebrun, on that road to Balan and
Bazeilles, which they finally had to abandon. No course now remained
but to retreat under the walls of Sedan.

As soon as he had lost sight of the general, Delaherche returned in all
haste to the factory, possessed by one idea, that of again climbing
to his observatory, and thence watching the course of events. He was
delayed for a moment, however, as he reached the house, for in the
porch he came upon Colonel de Vineuil, who, lying in a half-fainting
state on some hay, in a market-gardener's tilted cart, was just then
arriving with his bloody boot. The colonel had stubbornly persisted
in trying to rally the remnants of his regiment until the moment when
he had fallen from his horse. He was at once carried to a room on the
first floor, and Bouroche, hastening to him, and finding he had only a
split in the ankle, contented himself with dressing the wound, after
extracting the pieces of boot-leather that had lodged in it. Then,
over tasked and exasperated, he rushed downstairs again, shouting that
he would rather cut off one of his legs than continue working in that
dirty fashion, without the proper supplies or the necessary assistants.
And indeed the ambulance people no longer knew where to place the
wounded; they had been obliged to lay some of them in the grass on the
lawn. There were two rows of them there already, waiting and wailing
in the open air, under the shells which continued raining upon Sedan.
Since noon more than four hundred men had been brought to this one
ambulance, and in vain had Bouroche asked for surgeons--the only person
sent to him was a young doctor of the town. It was impossible for him
to suffice for everything; he probed, cut, sawed, and sewed, quite
beside himself, sorely distressed to find that far more work kept on
arriving than he could possibly cope with. Gilberte, intoxicated with
horror, sickened by the sight of so much blood and so many tears,
now remained upstairs with her uncle, the colonel, whilst old Madame
Delaherche stayed below, bringing water to the feverish ones, and
wiping the clammy faces of those who were in the throes of death.

On reaching the terrace up above, Delaherche had at once endeavoured
to form some idea of the situation. The town had suffered less than he
had thought; there was only one conflagration, throwing up a column
of dense black smoke in the Faubourg of La Cassine. At present the
Palatinate fort had ceased firing, for want, no doubt, of ammunition;
and only the guns of the Paris gate continued discharging a few shots,
at long intervals. What, however, immediately interested him, was to
find that the white flag had again been hoisted on the keep; but,
probably, it could not be seen from the battlefield, for the firing
continued, as intense as ever. Some neighbouring roofs prevented him
from seeing the Balan road, so that he could not watch the movements
of the troops there. However, on applying his eye to the telescope,
which had remained in position, he again perceived the German staff on
the same spot where he had noticed it at noon. The master--the tiny
tin soldier, no taller than half of one's little finger, in whom he
fancied he could recognise the King of Prussia--was still standing
in his dark uniform in advance of the other officers, most of whom,
scintillating with embroidery, were lying upon the grass. Among them
were foreign officers, aides-de-camp, generals, court marshals, princes
and princelets, all provided with field-glasses, with which, since
early morning, they had been surveying the agony of the French army, as
though they were at a theatre. And now the formidable drama was drawing
to a close.

From that wooded height of La Marfée King William had just beheld the
junction of his troops. It was accomplished; the Third Army, under
the orders of the Crown Prince, his son, which had proceeded by way
of St. Menges and Fleigneux, was taking possession of the plateau of
Illy, whilst the Fourth Army, commanded by the Crown Prince of Saxony,
reached the meeting place by way of Daigny and Givonne, after turning
the wood of La Garenne. Thus the Eleventh and Fifth German Corps
joined hands with the Twelfth Corps and the Prussian Guard. And the
supreme effort made to break the circle at the very moment when it was
closing up, that useless but glorious charge of General Margueritte's
division, had wrung an admiring exclamation from the King: 'Ah! the
brave fellows!' Now the mathematical, inexorable encompassment was
completed, the vice-chops had met; and at a glance the King could
survey the immense wall of men and guns enveloping the vanquished army.
On the north the grasp pressed closer and closer home, throwing the
fugitives back into Sedan under the redoubling fire of the batteries
which fringed the horizon all around in an unbroken line. On the south
Bazeilles, conquered, empty, and mournful, was burning away, throwing
up whirling clouds of spark-laden smoke; whilst the Bavarians, now
masters of Balan, were levelling their guns at three hundred yards
from the gates of Sedan itself. And the other batteries, those on the
left bank at Pont-Maugis, Noyers, Frénois, and Wadelincourt, which
for nearly twelve hours had been firing without a pause, were now
thundering yet more loudly, completing the impassable belt of flames,
even under the King's feet.

Somewhat tired, however, King William laid his field-glass aside for
a moment, and continued examining the scene without its help. The sun
was descending obliquely towards the woods, sinking to rest in a sky of
unspotted purity; it gilded the whole vast stretch of country, bathed
it in so limpid a light that the smallest objects acquired remarkable
distinctness. The King could distinguish the houses of Sedan, with
their little, black window bars, the ramparts and the fortress, all the
complicated defensive works, clearly and sharply outlined. Then all
around, scattered amid the fields, were the villages, fresh-coloured
and shiny as with varnish, like the farmhouses one finds in boxes of
toys. On the left was Donchery, at the edge of the level plain; on
the right were Douzy and Carignan in the meadows. It seemed as though
one could count the trees of the Forest of the Ardennes, whose sea
of verdure stretched away to the frontier. In the crisp light, the
lazily winding Meuse looked like a river of pure gold, and the fearful
blood-smeared battle, seen from this height, under the sun's farewell
rays, became as it were a delicate piece of painting. Some corpses
of cavalry soldiers, and dead horses with their bellies ripped open,
scattered bright touches over the plateau of Floing. Towards the right,
in the direction of Givonne the eye was amused by the scrambles of
the retreat, the vortex of running, falling black specks; whilst on
the peninsula of Iges, on the left, a Bavarian battery, whose guns
looked no bigger than lucifer matches, was served with such clock-work
regularity, that it seemed like some piece of mechanism, carefully
put together. And all this was victory--victory surpassing hope,
overwhelming; and the King felt no remorse whatever as he looked down
upon all those tiny corpses, those thousands of men occupying less
space than the dust of the roads, that immense valley where neither the
conflagrations of Bazeilles, the massacres of Illy nor the anguish of
Sedan could prevent impassive nature from remaining beauteous in this,
the serene close of a lovely day.

All at once, however, Delaherche perceived a French general, clad in a
blue tunic and mounted on a black horse, who was ascending the slopes
of La Marfée preceded by a Hussar carrying a flag of truce. It was
General Reille, charged by the Emperor to deliver this letter to the
King of Prussia:--

 'Sir, my Brother,--Not having been able to die in the midst of my
 troops, it only remains for me to place my sword in your Majesty's
 hands.--I am your Majesty's good Brother,

 'Napoleon.'

In his eagerness to stop the slaughter, since he was no longer the
master, the Emperor delivered himself up, hoping that he might thereby
soften the victor. And Delaherche saw General Reille, who was unarmed
and carried merely a riding-whip, rein in his horse at ten paces from
the King, alight, and then step forward and deliver the letter. The
sun was sinking in a far-spreading, roseate glow; the King seated
himself on a chair, rested his arm on the back of another one held by a
secretary, and replied that he accepted the sword, pending the despatch
of an officer, empowered to treat for the capitulation.



CHAPTER VII

THROUGH THE ROUT--THE FIGHT AT THE HERMITAGE


From all the lost positions around Sedan, from Floing, from the plateau
of Illy, the wood of La Garenne, the valley of the Givonne, and the
road to Bazeilles, a stream of men, horses, and cannon was now flowing
back in terror, rolling along towards the town. This stronghold, which
the commanders of the army had so disastrously selected as their
base, was proving a balefully tempting spot, an inviting refuge for
the runaways, a place of seeming safety whither the bravest allowed
themselves to be allured, in the demoralisation and panic overtaking
all. They imagined that behind those ramparts yonder, they would at
last escape from that terrible artillery which had been growling for
nearly twelve hours; and there was no discriminative capacity, no
reasoning faculty left among them; the animal carried away the man, it
was the madness of instinct, galloping off and seeking its hole, to
hide underground and sleep.

When Maurice, whilst bathing Jean's face with cool water, at the foot
of the little wall, at last saw him open his eyes again, he raised an
exclamation of delight: 'Ah! my poor fellow, I thought you were done
for! And I don't say it to reproach you, but you are _that_ heavy!'

Jean, still dazed, seemed to be awaking from a dream. Then he must have
understood and have remembered everything, for two big tears rolled
down his cheeks. So that weak fellow Maurice, whom he loved and tended
like a child, had, in the enthusiasm of his friendship, found arms
strong enough to carry him thither.

'Let me just look at your nob,' said Maurice.

The wound proved to be scarcely anything, a mere scratch of the scalp,
but it had bled profusely. The hair, glued together by the blood, now
served the purpose of a pledget, and Maurice took good care not to damp
it, for fear of reopening the sore.

'There, you are clean now,' he added, 'you look like a human being
again. Wait a bit, here's a cap.'

Thereupon, picking up the _képi_ of a dead soldier which was lying
beside him, he placed it carefully on Jean's head: 'It's just your
size,' said he. 'Now if you can walk we shall be proper.'

Jean rose up and shook his head to make sure that it was firm. He
only felt a slight heaviness, and that he could very well endure.
Then, carried away by emotion, like the man of simple heart he was, he
caught Maurice in his arms, and, almost smothering him, pressed him
to his breast. 'Oh, my dear little fellow, my dear little fellow,' he
repeated; it was all that he could say.

The Prussians were coming up, however, and they ought not to dawdle
behind that wall. Lieutenant Rochas was already beating a retreat with
his few men, protecting the colours, which the sub-lieutenant still
carried, rolled around their shaft. Lapoulle, being very tall, was
able to rise on tip-toe and fire a few more shots over the coping of
the wall; but Pache carried his chassepot slung over his shoulder,
opining, no doubt, that he had done quite enough work that day, and
ought now to have something to eat and go to bed. Bending double, Jean
and Maurice made haste to join the others. There was no lack either of
guns or cartridges; one merely had to stoop to pick them up. So they
again armed themselves, their knapsacks, rifles, and pouches having
been abandoned over yonder, when Maurice had been obliged to hoist Jean
upon his shoulders.

The wall stretched as far as the wood of La Garenne, and the little
band, fancying itself saved, promptly threw itself behind a farmhouse,
whence it reached the trees. 'Ah!' said Rochas, who retained all his
fine, unshakable confidence, 'we'll just draw breath here for a moment,
before resuming the offensive.'

At the first steps they took, however, they all felt that they were
entering a hellish place; still, they could not fall back--whatever
the danger, they must needs cross that wood, through which lay their
only line of retreat. And it had become a most fearful wood, a wood of
despair and death. Realising that some of the French troops must be
retiring through it, the Prussians were riddling it with bullets, and
covering it with shells. Lashed, as it were, by a tempest, it shook and
howled amid the shattering of its branches. The shells cut down the
trees, the bullets brought down the leaves in showers, plaintive voices
seemed to issue from the split trunks, and sobs fell with the sap-laden
boughs. It was like the awful agony of a chained multitude, the terror
and wailing of thousands of beings rooted to the soil and unable to
flee from the storm of lead and iron. Never was plaint of anguish more
intense than in that bombarded forest.

Maurice and Jean, who had joined their comrades, at once felt
frightened. They were making their way through full-grown trees and
there was space to run, but the bullets whizzed past them every second,
wildly ricocheting hither and thither, so that, as they glided from
trunk to trunk, they could not tell from which side danger might come.
Two men were killed, struck both in front and behind. A venerable oak,
whose trunk was smashed by a shell, fell across Maurice's path with
the tragic majesty of a hero, crushing all around it. And just as the
young fellow was springing back, a colossal beech tree, which another
shell had discrowned, snapped and sank to the ground, like some lofty
cathedral pillar. Whither could they flee? On which side direct their
steps? There were but toppling branches all around them; it seemed as
though they were in some vast edifice that threatened ruin, and the
ceilings of whose halls, following one upon another, were for ever and
ever falling. And when they had sprung into a plantation to escape
being crushed by the big trees, Jean narrowly missed being cut in half
by a shell, which fortunately failed to explode. They were now unable
to make way amid the inextricable multitude of shrubs and saplings.
The slender stems detained them by the shoulders, the long grass
twined around their ankles, sudden walls of brambles brought them to
a standstill; whilst all around them flew the foliage detached by the
giant scythe which was mowing down the wood. Another man, killed beside
them by a bullet which penetrated his forehead, remained erect, caught
between two young birches; and a score of times, whilst imprisoned in
this plantation, they felt death brush them as it passed.

'Curse it!' said Maurice, 'we shall never get out of it.'

He was livid, shuddering again; and even Jean, the brave fellow, who in
the morning had inspirited him, was now paling and feeling icy cold. It
was fear--horrible, contagious, irresistible fear. Again did they feel
an ardent thirst burning them, an unbearable dryness of the mouth and
a contraction of the throat, of painful, strangulating violence. They
experienced, too, a most uncomfortable sensation, with nausea in the
pit of the stomach, whilst innumerable pins seemed to be pricking their
legs. And amid these purely physical symptoms of fear, with the grasp
of fright pressing tightly on their brows, they saw thousands of black
specks flit past them, as though they were indeed able to distinguish
the flying cloud of bullets.

'Ah! what cursed luck!' stammered Jean. 'It's horribly vexing to be
here, getting our skulls cracked for others, when they are somewhere
else, quietly smoking their pipes.'

'Yes, why should it be I rather than another?' added Maurice,
distracted and haggard. This was the rebellion of self, the egotistical
rage of the individual unwilling to sacrifice himself and die for the
sake of the species.

'And besides,' resumed Jean, 'if one only knew the reason of it, if it
were at all likely to be of any use.' And then raising his eyes and
looking at the sky, he added: 'That horrid sun, too, won't make up its
mind to skedaddle! When it has set and night comes there will perhaps
be an end of the fighting.'

Unable to tell what o'clock it was, having in fact lost all
consciousness of time, he had for a long while already been watching
the slow decline of the orb, whose course seemed almost to have been
stayed, for it was still and ever hanging over yonder, above the woods
on the left bank. And this longing for the sunset was not cowardice,
but rather an imperious, growing needment to cease hearing the shells
and the bullets, to go off elsewhere, bury oneself in the ground, and
plunge into oblivion. Were it not for fear of the world, for the vain
glory of distinguishing oneself in presence of one's comrades, a man
would ofttimes lose his head, and despite himself hurry away at a
gallop.

However, Maurice and Jean were now again growing accustomed to their
peril; and amidst their utter distraction there came to them a kind of
unconsciousness and intoxication which was bravery. They ended by no
longer trying to hasten through that accursed wood. Horrors had yet
increased among that people of bombarded trees, now falling upon all
sides like giant sentries killed at their posts. In the delicious,
subdued, greeny light under the foliage, in the depths of all the
mysterious shelter-places carpeted with moss, the brutal blast of death
was ever blowing. The lonely springs were violated; the dying moaned
even in the hidden nooks where only lovers hitherto had strayed. One
man, whose chest was perforated by a bullet, had just time enough to
cry 'Hit!' as he fell dying, face downward, on the sward. Another,
both of whose legs had been broken by a shell, continued laughing,
unconscious of his wound, thinking, in fact, that he had merely
stumbled against a tree root. Others, with their limbs pitted, mortally
stricken, continued speaking and running for several yards before they
fell to the ground in a sudden convulsion. At the first moment the
deepest wounds were scarcely felt, and it was only afterwards that the
frightful sufferings began, bursting forth with lamentation and tears.

Ah! the traitorous wood, the massacred forest, which, amid all the
sobbing of the dying trees, filled, little by little, with the howling
anguish of the wounded. At the foot of an oak tree, Maurice and Jean
perceived a Zouave, who, with his intestines escaping from a ghastly
wound, was raising a continuous roar, like a dying wild beast. Farther
on, there was another one--on fire; his blue sash was burning, the
flame was rising and singeing his beard, whilst he shed big tears,
unable to move because his spine was broken. Then there was a captain
whose left arm was torn off, and whose right side was laid open to
the thigh, and who, stretched on his stomach, dragged himself along
upon an elbow, begging all those who passed, in a shrill, horribly
supplicating voice, to have the compassion to despatch him. And there
were others and others still, all suffering abominably, strewing the
grassy paths in such numbers that it was necessary to be careful lest
one should tread upon them in passing. The dead, the wounded, no longer
counted, however. The comrade who fell was abandoned, forgotten. Not a
glance even was given behind. 'Twas fate. Another's turn next; perhaps,
indeed, one's own!

All at once, as they were at last reaching the verge of the wood, a
call resounded: 'Help!' The sub-lieutenant carrying the colours had
just been struck by a bullet in the left lung. He had fallen, spitting
forth the blood that had gushed into his mouth; and seeing that nobody
stopped, he found strength to call 'Help!' again, and to add, 'The
colours!'

Rochas, darting back, seized hold of the flag, the shaft of which was
broken, and bounded away with it; whilst the sub-lieutenant, his speech
thickened by the bloody froth filling his mouth, muttered: 'I'm done
for, but no matter--save the colours!'

And he remained alone, writhing on the moss in that delicious sylvan
nook, tearing up the grass with his convulsive hands, whilst his chest
heaved with a frightful rattle which lasted for long hours.

At last they were out of that fearful wood. Besides Jean and Maurice,
the only remaining men of the little band were Lieutenant Rochas,
Pache, and Lapoulle. Bugler Gaude, who had been lost to view, suddenly
sprang out of a thicket, however, and with his bugle dangling from his
shoulder, ran on to join his comrades. And the survivors were immensely
relieved to find themselves again in the open country where they could
breathe at their ease. The whistling of the bullets had ceased, and no
shells fell on this side of the valley.

Immediately afterwards they heard some one swearing violently,
and ahead of them, in front of a farm gate, they perceived an
angry general, mounted on a horse steaming with sweat. It was
Bourgain-Desfeuilles, the commander of their brigade, who like
themselves was covered with dust and appeared overcome with fatigue.
That red, fat face of his--the face of a jolly companion--expressed the
exasperation he felt at the disaster which he looked upon as a personal
mischance. His men had not seen him since the morning. He had doubtless
lost himself on the battlefield, galloping hither and thither in search
of the remnants of his brigade, quite capable by the way of getting
himself killed in his rage against those Prussian batteries which were
sweeping away not only the Empire, but also his own fortune, high in
favour as he was at the Tuileries.

'Thunder!' he shouted. 'Isn't there anyone left, then? Can't a man even
get any information in this cursed place?'

The farmer and his family must have fled into the depths of the
Ardennes. At last, however, an aged woman appeared at the gate, some
old servant whose legs, almost past service, had kept her there.

'Eh, mother, here!' shouted the general. 'Where's Belgium?'

She looked at him with an expression of stupor, as though she did not
understand him. Then, casting all restraint aside, and forgetting he
was talking to a peasant woman, he shouted that for his own part he
didn't intend to be caught like a rat in a trap by returning to Sedan,
but meant to sling his hook across the frontier at the double-quick.
Some soldiers had drawn near to him and were listening.

'But it's no longer possible to get through, general,' said a sergeant.
'There are Prussians all around. This morning was the time to slope.'

Stories were, indeed, already circulating of companies, separated
from their regiments, which, without intending it, had got across the
frontier, and of others too which, later on, had even succeeded in
piercing the enemy's lines before the junction of the German armies was
complete.

Quite beside himself, the general shrugged his shoulders. 'Come!' said
he, 'can't one cut through anything with dare-devils like you? I'll
find another fifty brave fellows willing to risk their skins.' And
again turning towards the old peasant woman: 'Eh! thunder!' he cried,
'just answer, will you, where's Belgium?'

This time she understood him, and pointed towards the forests with her
shrivelled hand: 'Over there, over there!'

'Eh? What do you say? Those houses at the end of the fields?'

'Oh, much farther than that, much farther away! Over yonder, right over
yonder!'

The general was stifling with rage. ''Pon my word, this wretched place
is disgusting! A man can never tell where he is! Belgium was quite
close by, and we were afraid of tumbling into it unawares, and now
that we want to get there, it's gone to the devil! No, no, this is
altogether too much, they can take me, and do what they like with me
for all I care. I'm off to bed.' And, urging on his horse, leaping in
the saddle like a wine-skin inflated by a blast of anger, he galloped
off in the direction of Sedan.

The road turned, and they descended into the Fond de Givonne,[32]
a suburb of the town, shut in by hills, where the road in climbing
towards the woods was skirted by little houses and gardens. Such a
stream of fugitives now crowded it that Lieutenant Rochas soon found
himself blockaded with Pache, Lapoulle, and Gaude, under the walls
of a tavern, at the corner of a crossway. Jean and Maurice had some
trouble in joining them. And greatly were they surprised on hearing
a drunkard's husky voice suddenly calling to them: 'Hallo! here's a
meeting! Eh, you fellows! What a meeting to be sure!'

On looking round they recognised Chouteau, who was leaning out of one
of the ground-floor windows of the tavern. He was very drunk, and
between a couple of hiccoughs he continued: 'Don't stand on ceremony
if you are thirsty. There's still a drop left for friends.' And then,
waving his hand over his shoulder, he called some one from the other
end of the room: 'Make haste, you lazybones. Give these gentlemen
something to drink.'

Thereupon Loubet made his appearance, grinning, and waving a bottle
of wine in either hand. He was less intoxicated than his comrade,
and, with the nasal twang of the 'coco'[33] vendors perambulating the
streets on a public holiday, he cried, like the Parisian wag he was:
'Nice and cool! nice and cool! who'll have a drink!'

He and Chouteau had not been seen by their comrades since they had gone
off under the pretence of carrying Sergeant Sapin to the ambulance.
They had no doubt wandered and lounged about, carefully avoiding the
spots where the shells were falling, till they had finally stranded
in that tavern and helped to pillage it. Lieutenant Rochas was quite
indignant: 'Wait a bit, you bandits!' he shouted, 'I'll teach you to
guzzle while we others are risking our skins!'

Chouteau, however, would have none of his reprimand. 'Just remember,
you old lunatic,' said he, 'that there are no lieutenants left now; we
are all free men! Haven't the Prussians licked you enough--do you want
another dose, eh?'

Rochas had to be held back, such was his eagerness to smash Chouteau's
head. Loubet, with the bottles under his arms, endeavoured to make
peace: 'Nonsense!' said he, 'we mustn't eat one another, we are all
brothers.' And catching sight of his comrades, Lapoulle and Pache, he
added: 'Don't be idiots, you fellows, come in and rinse your throats.'

Lapoulle hesitated for a moment, dimly conscious that it was wrong to
go and make merry whilst so many poor devils had only their tongues to
swallow. But then he was so thoroughly tired out, so exhausted too with
hunger and thirst. All at once he made up his mind, and without a word
sprang into the tavern, pushing Pache, also silent and sorely tempted,
before him. Pache yielded, and neither of them reappeared.

'The brigands!' repeated Rochas; 'they all ought to be shot.'

He now only had Jean, Maurice, and Gaude with him, and despite their
efforts to resist the impetus, they were all four gradually drifting
along with the torrent of fugitives, which stretched across the full
breadth of the road. They already found themselves far away from the
tavern. It was the rout rolling towards the ditches of Sedan in a muddy
stream, like a heap of soil and stones which a storm, in sweeping
the hillsides, drags down into the valleys. From all the surrounding
plateaux, by every slope and every fold, by the Floing road, by way of
Pierremont, by way of the cemetery, by way of the Champ de Mars, as
well as by the Fond de Givonne, the same mob was pouring along with
an ever-accelerated gallop of panic. And how could one reproach these
wretched men, who, for twelve hours, had been waiting motionless
under the death-dealing artillery of an invisible foe, against which
they could do nothing? Now, moreover, the batteries assailed them in
front, in flank, and in the rear, the fires converged more and more as
the army retreated upon the town; the men were struck down in heaps,
cut into a mass of mincemeat in the traitorous hole whither they were
swept. A few regiments of the Seventh Corps, notably on the side of
Floing, were falling back in fairly good order. But there were no
longer ranks or leaders in the Fond de Givonne; the men scrambled and
hustled one another distractedly; among them were remnants of every
arm, Zouaves, Turcos, Chasseurs, Linesmen, mostly unarmed, and all
with torn, soiled uniforms, black hands, black faces, bloodshot eyes
starting from their sockets, and swollen mouths, tumefied through
having yelled so many oaths. Now and again a riderless charger rushed
along at a gallop, throwing men to the ground and penetrating the
mob with a long eddy of fright. Then guns passed by at breakneck
speed--disbanded batteries whose artillerymen, carried away as it were
by intoxication, raised no warning shout, but pursued their course
crushing everything in their way. And yet the flock-like tramping did
not cease; it was a compact defiling, shoulder to shoulder; a flight
_en masse_, every break in which was immediately filled up, in the
universal, instinctive eagerness to arrive yonder and secure a shelter
behind a wall.

Again did Jean raise his head and turn towards the west. The sunrays
were still burning the men's perspiring faces through the thick dust
which was raised by their tramping feet. It was a lovely day, the sky
was divinely blue. 'What a beastly nuisance!' repeated Jean; 'that
horrid sun won't sling its hook.'

All at once, in a young woman standing close to a house and on the
point of being crushed against it by the torrent, Maurice, to his
stupefaction, recognised his sister, Henriette. For nearly a minute
he remained gaping at her. And it was she who, without appearing
surprised, spoke the first words: 'They shot him at Bazeilles--yes, I
was there--and then, as I want to recover his body, I had an idea----'

She named neither the Prussians nor Weiss. Everybody was bound to
understand her, and Maurice understood. He fondly loved his sister,
and, with a sob, exclaimed, 'My poor darling!'

When Henriette had recovered her senses, at about two o'clock, she had
found herself at Balan, weeping in the kitchen of some people whom she
did not know, with her head lying on a table. But her tears soon ceased
to flow. The heroine was already awakening in that slight, delicate,
silent woman She feared nothing, she had a proud, unconquerable soul.
And, in her grief, she no longer had but one idea, that of recovering
her husband's body to bury it. Her first plan was simply to return to
Bazeilles. But everybody deterred her from attempting this, showed
her that it was absolutely impossible for her to succeed. So she at
last declared that she would seek some one, a man willing either to
accompany her or to take the necessary steps. And her choice fell upon
a cousin of hers, who had been the assistant-manager of the refinery at
Le Chêne, at the time when Weiss was employed there. He had been much
attached to her husband and would surely not refuse his help. For a
couple of years past, thanks to his wife having inherited some property
from her parents, he had retired and taken up his abode at a charming
place called the Hermitage, whose tiers of terraces rose up near Sedan,
on the farther side of the Fond de Givonne. And thither she was now
making her way through all the many obstacles, forced at each moment to
halt, and in constant danger of being thrown down, trodden under foot,
and killed.

She briefly explained her plan to Maurice, who approved of it. 'Cousin
Dubreuil,' said he, 'has always been a good friend to us. He will help
you.'

Then another idea came into his head. Lieutenant Rochas was anxious to
save the regimental colours. It had already been suggested that the
flag should be cut up, and that each man should carry a strip of the
silk under his shirt; or it might be buried at the foot of a tree,
and disinterred later on, if the situation of the spot were carefully
noted. But the idea of lacerating that banner or burying it like a
corpse affected them too painfully, and they would have preferred some
other expedient. Accordingly, when Maurice proposed that they should
confide the colours to some safe person, who would hide them, and if
need wore, defend them until he could restore them intact, they all
approved of the suggestion. 'Well, then,' resumed the young fellow,
addressing his sister, 'we will go with you to see if Dubreuil is at
the Hermitage Besides, I'm determined not to leave you.'

It was not easy to get out of the crowd, but they succeeded in doing
so, and turned into a hollow road climbing on the left. Then they
fell into a perfect labyrinth of lanes and paths, a suburb of market
and flower gardens, villas and other country places all jumbled and
entangled together; and these paths and lanes wound round between stone
walls, or turned sharply, and ended at times in blind alleys. There
was here, indeed, a marvellous entrenched camp for an ambuscade kind
of warfare, full of nooks which ten men might have defended against a
regiment for hours. Shots were already crackling here and there, for
the suburb overlooked Sedan, and the Prussian Guard was coming up from
the other side of the valley.

When Maurice and Henriette, followed by the others, had turned first
to the left and then to the right between two interminable walls, they
suddenly came out in front of the large open gateway of the Hermitage,
whose grounds rose up in three broad terraces, upon one of which stood
the house, a large rectangular building, approached by an avenue of
venerable elms. On the verge of a wood, in front, beyond a narrow,
deeply banked valley, were some other country residences.

Henriette felt anxious on seeing the gate wide open. 'They are no
longer there--they must have gone away,' said she.

Her surmise was correct. Foreseeing the impending disaster, Dubreuil
had, on the previous day, resigned himself to taking his wife and
children to Bouillon. Still, the house was not empty. On glancing at it
from a distance through the trees, it became evident that it was the
scene of commotion. The young woman at last ventured to step into the
avenue, but recoiled on beholding the corpse of a Prussian soldier.

'Hallo!' exclaimed Rochas, 'has there been a tussle here already?'

They were all eager to know what had happened, and hurried towards the
house, where the sight they beheld enlightened them. Plainly enough
the doors and windows of the ground floor had been broken open with
the butts of guns, and through all the gaping apertures could be seen
the pillaged rooms; whilst numerous articles of furniture which had
been thrown outside were lying on the gravel of the terrace, below the
steps. There was notably a sky-blue drawing-room _suite_, a sofa and
twelve arm-chairs, ranged anyhow, pell-mell, round a large stand, the
white marble top of which was split in halves. And several Zouaves,
Chasseurs, Linesmen, and men of the Marine Infantry were running about
behind the buildings and along the paths, firing at the little wood
beyond the dingle in front of them.

'We found some of those filthy Prussians here, sir,' a Zouave explained
to Rochas. 'They were sacking the place. But you can see that we
settled their hash for them. Only the brutes are now coming back, ten
to one, and it won't be an easy job.'

The corpses of three other Prussian soldiers were stretched here
and there upon the terrace. And while Henriette was fixedly looking
at them--doubtless thinking of her husband who, in a like way, was
sleeping the last sleep, lying disfigured amid dust and blood over
yonder--a bullet whizzed past her head and struck a tree behind her.
Jean darted forward: 'Don't stay there--quick, quick! go and hide
yourself in the house!'

Since he had met her again, looking so changed, so distracted by
wretchedness, he had been gazing at her with a melting heart, picturing
her as she had appeared to him on the previous day with her good
housewife's smile. At first he could think of nothing to say to her,
not knowing even if she would recognise him. But he would gladly have
devoted himself to her could he have given her back any tranquillity
and happiness. 'Wait for us in the house,' said he. 'As soon as there
is any danger we'll contrive to get you off up there.'

'What use is it?' she replied, with a gesture of indifference. However,
her brother was also pushing her towards the house, and she had to
climb the steps, and for a moment enter the hall, whence she could
survey the avenue from end to end. From that moment she became a
spectatress of the fight.

Maurice and Jean were posted behind one of the first elms. Each of
those ancient trunks, of giant proportions, furnished ample shelter for
a couple of men. Farther on, Bugler Gaude had joined Lieutenant Rochas,
who obstinately kept the flag with him since there was no one to whom
he could confide it. Whilst he was firing he stood it against the tree,
beside him. Each trunk had its little garrison, the Zouaves, Chasseurs,
and Marines concealing themselves behind the elms, from one to the
other end of the avenue, and only peering forth at the moment when they
fired.

The number of Prussians in the little wood across the dingle was no
doubt steadily increasing, for the hostile fusillade became more and
more lively. No one was to be seen--you barely espied a flitting
profile, darting every now and then from one tree to another. Some of
the enemy's skirmishers occupied a country house with green shutters
standing on the verge of the wood, and were firing from the partially
opened windows of the ground floor. It was now about four o'clock, the
cannonade was slackening, dying away; but in this sequestered hollow,
whence the white flag hoisted on the keep of Sedan could not be seen,
these men, French and Germans, were yet killing one another as though
they had some personal quarrel together. And in this direction indeed,
in spite of the truce, many hole-and-corner encounters were stubbornly
prolonged until black night fell. Both through the suburb of the Fond
de Givonne, and across the gardens of the Petit-Pont, the fusillade
rattled persistently.

Prussians and Frenchmen continued for a long while riddling one another
with bullets across that narrow valley, beyond the Hermitage. From
time to time, whenever a man was imprudent enough to show himself, he
fell with a bullet in his chest. Three more corpses were already lying
in the avenue, and a wounded man, stretched upon his face there, was
giving vent to a frightful rattle, without anyone thinking of going to
turn him over, so as to lessen his agony.

All at once, as Jean raised his eyes, he saw Henriette slipping a
knapsack as a pillow under the unfortunate fellow's head, after laying
him upon his back. She had stolen out of the house without being
perceived. The corporal ran up to her and dragged her behind the tree
which screened Maurice and himself. 'Do you want to get killed?' he
asked her.

She did not seem conscious of her rash temerity: 'No--but I was
frightened, all alone in that vestibule,' she answered: 'I would much
rather stay out here.'

And thenceforth she remained with them. They set her down at their feet
close against the trunk of the elm, whilst they continued firing their
last cartridges in such mad desperation that both weariness and fear
flew away. Indeed, complete unconsciousness was coming over them, their
actions were growing quite mechanical, their heads had become so empty
that they had lost even the instinct of self-preservation.

'Just look, Maurice!' Henriette suddenly exclaimed; 'isn't that a man
of the Prussian Guard--that dead fellow lying in front of us?'

For a moment or so she had been scrutinising one of the enemy's dead,
a thick-set man with big moustaches, who was lying on his side on
the gravel of the terrace. His spiked helmet had rolled a few steps
away, with its strap broken. And the uniform was indeed that of the
Prussian Guard: dark grey trousers, blue tunic with white galloons and
great-coat rolled up and worn in bandolier fashion.

'I assure you it is the Guards' uniform,' continued Henriette. 'I've an
engraving at home. And, besides, there's the photograph which Cousin
Gunther sent us.' She paused, and then in her tranquil way rose and
stepped up to the corpse before she could be prevented. She stooped
over the body and at once exclaimed: 'The shoulder-strap is red! Ah! I
felt certain of it.' And then back she came, never heeding the bullets
which whistled past her ears. 'Yes, the shoulder-strap's red--it was
fated--Cousin Gunther's regiment.'

From that moment neither Maurice nor Jean could prevail on her to
remain still, under cover of the tree. She moved about, and protruded
her head, insisting, despite everything, upon looking in the direction
of the little wood, as though harassed by some absorbing thought. Her
brother and the corporal still continued firing, pushing her back with
their knees whenever she exposed herself too much. The Prussians, no
doubt, were beginning to consider themselves in sufficient force for
an attack, for they were now boldly showing themselves; quite a stream
of them was gathering and pouring forth from among the trees. This led
to their sustaining heavy losses, for every French bullet took effect,
bringing a man to the ground.

'There! perhaps that's your cousin!' suddenly said Jean, 'that officer
who has just come out of the house with the green shutters.'

A captain, recognisable by the gold-laced collar of his tunic and the
gilded eagle which, in the oblique sunlight, was flaming on his helmet,
could now be seen just outside the little house. Sword in hand, he
was calling out an order in a sharp voice, and the distance was so
short--barely two hundred yards--that one could plainly distinguish
his slim figure and his stern face of a pinkish hue with little fair
moustaches. Henriette closely scrutinised him with her sharp eyes,
and without any sign of astonishment replied: 'It is certainly he. I
recognise him perfectly.'

Maurice made a wild gesture and took aim. 'Cousin Gunther? Ah! thunder!
he shall pay for Weiss!'

But Henriette sprang up quivering, and dealt his chassepot a blow, so
that the bullet flew skyward: 'No, no,' said she, 'not relatives; not
people we know. It is abominable!'

Her womanly instincts were again aroused within her, and she dropped to
the ground behind the tree, weeping and sobbing violently. Horror was
overwhelming her; she was now all fear and grief.

Rochas, however, was triumphant. The fire of his few soldiers, whom he
excited with his thunderous voice, had acquired such intensity at sight
of the Prussians that the latter were falling back, again seeking the
cover of the little wood. 'Keep firm, my lads!' shouted the lieutenant;
'don't give way. Ah! the capons, they are turning tail, we'll settle
their hash for them!'

He was quite joyful: he seemed to have recovered all his amazing
confidence. There had been no defeats! Those few men in front of him,
yonder, were the German armies, which he was about to overthrow at one
easy stroke. All his tall, lean frame, his long, bony face, with its
hooked nose curving over a passionate, good-natured mouth, was merry
with a braggart delight, the joy of the trooper who has conquered the
world between courting his sweetheart and tippling a bottle of good
wine!

'_Parbleu_! my lads, what are we here for if not to give them a
licking! It would be something new for us to be beaten, eh? Beaten! is
it possible? Another effort, my lads, and they'll scamper away like
hares!'

He yelled and gesticulated, withal such a capital fellow amid his
ignorant illusions, that the men readily joined in his gaiety. All at
once he shouted: 'We'll kick them back to the frontier, yes, kick them
back to the frontier! Victory! Victory!'

At that same moment, however, while the enemy on the other side of the
dingle seemed to be falling back, a terrible fusillade broke out on
the left. It was the everlasting turning movement--a large detachment
of the Guard had made its way round by the Fond de Givonne. From that
moment it was no longer possible to hold the Hermitage. The dozen men
or so who were still defending its terraces found themselves between
two fires, in danger, too, of being cut off from Sedan. Some of them
fell, and for a moment there was extreme confusion. The Prussians were
already climbing over the walls of the grounds, rushing up along the
pathways in such numbers that a bayonet fight immediately began. One
Zouave, a tall handsome, black-bearded man, whose head was bare, and
who had doffed his jacket, especially distinguished himself by his
fearful exploits, transpiercing cracking chests and yielding bellies,
wiping his bayonet, red with one man's blood, in the flesh of another's
flank; and the weapon having broken he took to splitting skulls with
the butt of his gun, till at last a stumble altogether disarmed him,
when he sprang with such force at the throat of a burly Prussian that,
locked in a mortal embrace, they both rolled over the gravel as far as
the gaping kitchen doorway. And here and there, amid the trees and at
the edges of the lawns, there were other slaughterous encounters which
swelled the number of dead. But it was in front of the house-steps,
around the sky-blue sofa and arm-chairs that the struggle proved most
desperate--a mad scramble of men firing for a moment at such close
range that they burned one another's faces, and then closing and
tearing with tooth and nail, for lack of a handy knife to plunge into
each other's throats.

And then it was that Gaude the bugler, whose pained expression of face
always spoke of sorrows which he never mentioned to his comrades, was
seized with a fit of heroic lunacy. Amid this last defeat, although he
knew well enough that the company was annihilated, that not a man could
answer his summons, he caught hold of his bugle, raised it to his lips
and sounded the rally with such a tempestuous blast that it seemed as
though he wanted to arouse the dead. The Prussians were coming up, yet
he did not stir, but blew louder and louder, sounding a full flourish
until a volley threw him to the ground, when his last breath escaped in
a bugle note, quivering skywards through the air.

Rochas standing there, unable to comprehend what was passing, had made
no attempt at flight. He waited and stammered: 'Eh, what is it? what,
what?' The idea that this was again defeat did not enter his brain.
Everything was being changed, even the rules of fighting. Ought not
those fellows to have waited across the dingle until the French went
thither to beat them? It was impossible to kill enough of them; fresh
ones were ever popping up. What could it all mean, this cursed war, in
which ten men collected together to kill a single antagonist, when the
enemy only showed himself of an evening, after routing you throughout
the day by a prudent cannonade? Aghast, distracted, having understood
nothing of the campaign from first to last, Rochas felt himself
enveloped, carried off, as it were, by some superior force which he no
longer resisted, albeit he mechanically repeated in his obstinate way:
'Courage, my lads, victory is yonder!'

All the same, he had with a swift movement again taken up the colours.
'Twas his last thought--to hide them so that they might not be captured
by the Prussians. However, although the shaft was broken, it somehow
caught in his legs, and almost tripped him up. Bullets were whistling
past him, he felt that death was near, and stripping the silk from the
staff, he tore and tried to annihilate it. And, at that same moment, he
was struck in the neck, in the chest, and in the legs, and sank upon
the ground, swathed in those tricolour shreds. For another minute he
remained alive, with dilated eyes, espying perhaps on the horizon a
vision of what War really was--an atrocious, vital struggle which man
should accept only with a grave and resigned heart, as he would some
fatal law. Then a little sob escaped him, and he passed away in his
childish bewilderment, like some poor being of limited understanding,
some joyous insect crushed beneath the necessity of gigantic and
impassive nature. And, with him, died a legend.

As soon as the Prussians were seen arriving, Jean and Maurice had
beaten a retreat from tree to tree, screening Henriette as far as
was practicable. They did not cease firing, but every now and again
discharged a shot and then sought a fresh shelter-place. Maurice knew
of a little door in the wall, in the upper part of the grounds, and
they luckily found it open. Without a moment's hesitation, they all
three darted outside, bounding into a narrow by-way which wound along
between high walls. Just as they were reaching the end of it some shots
compelled them to spring to the left into what unfortunately proved
to be a blind alley. They thereupon had to gallop back and turn to
the right under a hail of bullets. Later on, indeed, they were never
able to remember the road they had taken. Men were still firing at one
another from well-nigh every corner of that inextricable network of
paths and lanes. Some lingered battling, till the last moment, beside
the cart-gates of market gardeners' premises; the slightest obstacles
were being defended and carried by assault with terrible desperation.
Then, all at once, Maurice, his sister, and the corporal found
themselves once more on the road of the Fond de Givonne, near Sedan.

And now for the last time Jean raised his head and looked towards the
west, whence a great rosy glow was rising; and he heaved a sigh of
immense relief: 'Ah! that horrid sun is setting at last.'

Meanwhile, they were all three galloping, galloping along without
drawing breath. Around them, the fag end of the stream of fugitives
was still pouring down the road with the ever-increasing speed of an
overflowing torrent. When they reached the Balan gate they had to wait
amid a ferocious crush and scramble. The drawbridge chains had broken,
and as the ditch could only be crossed by the narrow foot-bridge,
neither guns nor horses were, on this side, able to enter the town. The
crush was said to be still more frightful at the Château postern and
the Cassine gate. It was a wild engulfment, all the remnants of the
army rolling down the slopes, throwing themselves upon the town and
tumbling into it with a sluicy uproar as though into the depths of some
sewer. The baleful fascination of those walls had ended by perverting
even the bravest.

Maurice had taken Henriette in his arms, and quivering with impatience
he exclaimed: 'I hope for God's sake they won't close the gate till
everyone has got in.'

His fear was that of the throng. Meantime, however, soldiers were
already camping upon the slopes, both on right and left, whilst
batteries of artillery, guns, caissons, and horses were stranding,
pell-mell, in the ditch. Then repeated bugle calls rang out, followed
by the clear notes of the 'retreat' summoning the belated soldiers.
Several more men thereupon came up at the double-quick, and although
isolated shots still resounded through the suburbs, the reports now
became less and less frequent. Detachments were posted on the inner
banquette of the parapet to defend the approaches, and the gate was at
last closed. The Prussians were now no more than a hundred yards away.
They could be seen coming and going across the Balan road, quietly
occupying the houses and gardens there.

Maurice and Jean--pushing Henriette before them so as to protect her
from the jostling of their comrades--had been among the last to enter
Sedan. Six o'clock was striking. The cannonade had now ceased for
nearly an hour, and little by little there came an end even to the
isolated rifle shots. And then of all the deafening uproar, the hateful
thunder that had growled since sunrise, nothing whatever remained;
it had passed into death-like nihility. Night came, falling amid a
lugubrious, an awful silence.



CHAPTER VIII

TRUCE AND SURRENDER


At about half-past five, before the gates were closed, Delaherche,
anxious with regard to the consequences, now that he knew the battle
to be lost, again returned to the Sub-Prefecture. He remained there
during nearly three hours, pacing across the paved courtyard, watching
and questioning the officers who passed; and it was thus that he became
acquainted with the rapid march of events:--General de Wimpffen's
resignation tendered, then withdrawn, full powers conferred upon him by
the Emperor to repair to the Prussian headquarters and obtain the least
grievous conditions possible for the vanquished army, and finally,
the assembling of a council of war, to decide whether they might
try to continue the struggle by defending the fortress. During the
sitting of this council, which was composed of some twenty commanding
officers, and seemed to last an eternity, the manufacturer climbed the
house-steps more than a score of times. And all at once, at a quarter
past eight, he saw General de Wimpffen come down them, very red and
with swollen eyes. He was followed by a colonel and two other generals,
and they all leaped into the saddle and went off by the bridge over the
Meuse. So capitulation had been resolved upon, had become inevitable!

Tranquillised by this, Delaherche reflected that he was very hungry,
and resolved to return home. As soon as he was out of the courtyard,
however, he hesitated at sight of the frightful obstruction that had
meantime been reaching a climax. The streets, the squares were gorged,
crammed, filled with men, horses, and guns to such a point that it
seemed as though the compact mass had been forcibly driven into the
town by means of some gigantic ram. Whilst the regiments which had
fallen back in good order were bivouacking on the ramparts, the
scattered remnants of all the various corps, the fugitives of every
arm, the whole swarming herd had fairly submerged Sedan, and such was
now the accumulation, so dense had this motionless crowd become, that
in its midst one could no longer move either arm or leg. The wheels
of the guns, of the caissons and other innumerable vehicles were
locked together, the horses which had been lashed and urged in every
direction, had room neither to advance nor to step back, and the men,
deaf to every threat, were invading the houses, devouring whatever
they found, lying down wherever they could, both in the rooms and in
the cellars. Many too had fallen on the doorsteps, blocking up the
vestibules; whilst others, lacking the strength to go any farther, were
stretched upon the footways, sound asleep there, not even rising when
their limbs were trampled upon, preferring as it were to lie there and
be crushed rather than take the trouble of going elsewhere.

Delaherche then understood the necessity of surrender. At some
crossways artillery caissons stood so close together, that if a single
German shell had fallen upon anyone of them, all would have exploded,
and Sedan would then have flared from rampart to rampart. And, besides,
what could be done with such a heap of wretches, overwhelmed with
hunger and weariness, without cartridges and without food? An entire
day would have been needed merely to clear the streets. Then, too,
the fortress itself was not armed, the town was not provisioned. All
this had been pointed out at the council of war, by those who were
of sensible mind, those who retained an accurate perception of the
situation in the midst of their deep, patriotic grief; and the boldest
officers, those who quivered and exclaimed that it was impossible for
an army to surrender in this fashion, had been obliged to bow their
heads, unable to devise any practical means of renewing the struggle on
the morrow.

Delaherche managed with great difficulty to make his way through the
mob on the Place Turenne and the Place du Rivage. As he passed in front
of the Golden Cross Hotel he caught sight of its mournful dining-room,
where some general officers sat in silence at the bare table. There
was nothing left--not even any bread. General Bourgain-Desfeuilles,
who could be heard roaring in the kitchen, must, however, have
managed to discover a few scraps, for he suddenly became silent,
and darted upstairs embarrassed with something wrapped in a greasy
paper. There was such a crowd outside, looking through the windows
at that lugubrious _table d'hôte_, swept bare by sudden famine, that
Delaherche, stuck fast in its midst, had to use his elbows vigorously,
and even then, such was the pushing, that he occasionally lost all the
ground he had managed to gain. In the High Street the block appeared so
impassable that for a moment he despaired of ever getting home again.
All the guns of a battery seemed to have been thrown there, pell-mell,
one atop of another. Eventually he made up his mind to climb on to
the carriages, whence striding over the pieces he jumped from wheel
to wheel, at the risk of breaking his legs. Then the horses barred
his way, and he had to stoop, glide between the legs and under the
bellies of these wretched animals who were dying of inanition. The
obstacles became more and more formidable, and so frightened him at
last, that when, after a quarter of an hour of repeated efforts, he had
got as far as the Rue St. Michel, he resolved to turn into that street
and work his way round by the Rue des Laboureurs, hoping that these
out-of-the-way thoroughfares would be less obstructed than the High
Street. Unluckily, however, there happened to be there a house of evil
repute, which a band of drunken soldiers was besieging; and fearing
that he might get some nasty blow in the brawl, he retraced his steps.
Thenceforth he became obstinate, and pushed on to the end of the High
Street, at times balancing himself on the shafts of vehicles and at
others climbing over vans. On the Place du Collège he was passed along
on men's shoulders for some thirty steps; then, falling, he narrowly
missed having his ribs broken, and only saved himself by catching hold
of the iron bars of a railing. And more than an hour had elapsed since
his departure from the Sub-Prefecture when he at last reached the Rue
Maqua, sweating, in tatters, and quite exhausted. Yet, as a rule, he
could walk from one place to the other in less than five minutes.

Desirous of preventing the ambulance and the garden from being invaded,
Major Bouroche had taken the precaution to have two sentries placed at
the entrance of the premises. This was a great relief to Delaherche, to
whom the idea had suddenly occurred that his house was perhaps being
pillaged. On reaching the garden the sight of the ambulance, faintly
lighted up by a few lanterns, and exhaling the foul breath of fever,
again sent a shiver to his heart. Then, on stumbling against a soldier
who was lying on the paving-stones, he suddenly remembered the Seventh
Corps' treasury-chest which this man had been guarding since the
morning, forgotten, no doubt, by his officers, and at last so overcome
by fatigue that he had stretched himself there to sleep.

The house itself seemed to be empty, all was black on the ground floor,
where the doors were wide open. The servants must have remained in the
ambulance, for he found nobody in the kitchen, where a dim little lamp
was smoking. Having lighted a candle, he went as softly as he could
up the stairs in order not to wake his mother and his wife. Before
returning to the Sub-Prefecture he had begged that they would go to bed
early, after so laborious a day, fraught with such terrible emotions.

On entering his private room, however, he had a surprise. A soldier
was lying upon the sofa where Captain Beaudoin had slept for a few
hours the day before, and it was only when he recognised him to
be Henriette's brother, Maurice, that he understood his presence
there, the more so as, on turning round, he had perceived another
soldier--that fellow Jean whom he had seen prior to the battle, and
who, wrapped in a blanket, was now lying on a rug. Utterly overcome
with weariness, they both looked like dead men. Delaherche did not
tarry, but went to his wife's room close by. A lamp, standing on the
corner of a table, was burning there amid a quivering silence. Gilberte
had simply thrown herself across the bed, in fear, no doubt, of some
catastrophe. She was sleeping very calmly, however, whilst Henriette,
seated near her on a chair, with merely her head resting on the edge
of the mattress, was also slumbering; but _her_ sleep was disturbed by
nightmares, and big tears were welling under her eyelids. Delaherche
looked at them both for a moment, and was tempted to rouse Henriette
to inquire what she had done. Had she been to Bazeilles? Perhaps, if
he questioned her, she would be able to give him some news of his
dyeworks. However, he took pity on her, and was on the point of leaving
the room when his mother appeared on the threshold, and, without a
word, signed to him to follow her.

As they crossed the dining-room he gave vent to his astonishment:
'What, haven't you gone to bed?'

She shook her head; and then, in an undertone, she said: 'I cannot
sleep. I have been sitting in an armchair near the colonel. He's in a
burning fever, and wakes up every moment and questions me. I don't
know what to answer him. Come in and see him.'

M. de Vineuil had already fallen asleep again. His long, red
face--which his moustaches streaked with wavy snow--could scarcely
be distinguished on the pillow, for Madame Delaherche had placed a
newspaper before the lamp, so that the head of the bed was obscured.
The bright light fell upon herself as she sat rigidly in the armchair,
with her hands inertly resting in her lap, and her eyes gazing afar, in
a tragic reverie.

'Wait a moment,' she murmured. 'I think he heard you come in. Yes, he
is waking again.'

The colonel was, indeed, opening his eyes and fixing them on Delaherche
without moving his head. He recognised the manufacturer, and in a voice
which trembled with fever, he inquired: 'It's all over, isn't it? They
are capitulating?'

Espying a glance which his mother gave him, Delaherche was on the point
of telling an untruth. But what would be the good of it? And so, with
a gesture of discouragement, he replied: 'What would you have them do?
If you could only see the streets of the town. General de Wimpffen has
just started for the German headquarters to discuss the conditions.'

M. de Vineuil's eyes had closed again, and a long shudder convulsed
him, whilst from his lips escaped a hollow lamentation: 'Ah! my God!
my God!' And without opening his eyes he continued in a spasmodical
voice: 'Ah! it was yesterday that what I wanted ought to have been
done. Yes, I know the district. I told the general what I feared;
but they wouldn't even listen to _him_--all the heights up there, up
above St. Menges, as far as Fleigneux, occupied by our men--the army
commanding Sedan, and holding the defile of St. Albert. We wait there,
our positions are impregnable, the road to Mézières remains open----'

Then his speech became embarrassed, and he could only stammer a few
unintelligible words, whilst the fever-born vision of the battle slowly
faded away, carried off by sleep. He slumbered, possibly still dreaming
of victory.

'Does the major answer for him?' Delaherche asked, in a low voice. The
old lady nodded affirmatively. 'All the same those wounds in the foot
are terrible,' he resumed. 'He will be laid up for a long while, I
suppose?'

This time she made no reply; she herself was absorbed in the great
grief of the defeat. She belonged to another age, to those old, rough
frontier-burgesses of bygone times, so ardent in defending their
cities. The bright lamp-light fell upon her stern face, which with its
sharp nose and thin lips bespoke all her anger and suffering, all the
feeling of revolt that prevented her from sleeping.

Then Delaherche felt isolated and frightfully wretched. His hunger was
returning, becoming quite intolerable, and he thought it was weakness
alone that thus deprived him of all courage. So he left the room on
tip-toe and went down into the kitchen again with the candlestick. But
here everything was still more dreary: with the fire out, the sideboard
empty, and the dishcloths flung about in disorder, it seemed as though
the blast of the disaster had swept even through this room and carried
away all the substantial gaiety of creature comforts. He thought at
first that he should not be able to find even a crust, the bread
having been taken for the _soupe_ at the ambulance. In the depths of a
cupboard, however, he at last came upon some haricot beans, left from
the previous day, and forgotten there. And he ate them as they were,
cold, without butter and without bread, standing at the table there,
for he did not like to go upstairs to partake of such a meal as this,
though on the other hand he made all haste to get out of that dismal
kitchen, where the little vacillating lamp was infecting the atmosphere
with a horrible stench of petroleum.

It was now scarcely more than ten o'clock, and Delaherche remained
with nothing to do pending the time when he should know whether the
capitulation was really to be signed or not. He still experienced a
feeling of anxiety, a fear lest the struggle should be resumed, a
dreadful terror of what might then happen, which he did not speak of,
but which weighed covertly upon his heart. When he had again returned
to his private room, where neither Maurice nor Jean had stirred, he
tried to lie back in an arm-chair and get to sleep there; but sleep
would not come to him, a noise of exploding shells made him start to
his feet each time that he was on the point of losing consciousness.
It was the uproar of the frightful cannonade of the daytime still
lingering in his ears; and whenever he was roused by it he would listen
for a moment, quite scared, and tremble at the deep silence which
surrounded him. Being unable to sleep, he preferred to remain on his
legs, and began wandering about the dark rooms, carefully avoiding the
chamber where his mother was watching over the colonel, for the fixed
stare with which she gazed at him made him feel quite uncomfortable.
However, he twice went to see if Henriette had awakened, and paused at
sight of his wife's calm, peaceful face. Not knowing what to do with
himself, he kept on going up and down, moving hither and thither, until
two o'clock in the morning.

He could then bear it no longer, and resolved upon again returning
to the Sub-Prefecture, fully realising that until he knew what to
expect it would be impossible for him to obtain any repose. Down
below, however, at sight of the obstructed street, he was seized with
despair, feeling that he would never have the strength to go and return
through all those obstacles, the mere recollection of which made his
limbs ache. And he stood there hesitating, when he saw Major Bouroche
approach, panting and swearing: 'Thunder! I thought I should have left
my legs behind me.'

The major had been obliged to repair to the town-hall to beg the mayor
to requisition some chloroform, and send it to him at daybreak, for his
own supply was exhausted. He still had several urgent operations to
perform, and feared, so he put it, that he might be obliged to chop the
poor devils up without anæsthetising them.

'Well?' asked Delaherche.

'Well, they don't even know whether the chemists have any left!'

But the manufacturer did not care a rap about the chloroform. 'No,
no,' said he, 'is it finished over there? Have they signed with the
Prussians?'

The major waved his arm violently. 'Nothing's done!' he cried.
'Wimpffen has just come back. Those beggars, it seems, are that
exacting they deserve to have their ears boxed! Well, well, let us
begin again and kick the bucket all of us; that's the best thing to do!'

Delaherche turned pale as he listened. 'But is what you tell me quite
certain?'

'I had it from those people of the Municipal Council who are sitting
over there _en permanence_. An officer came from the Sub-Prefecture to
inform them of everything.'

Then he gave some details. The interview between General de Wimpffen,
General von Moltke, and Bismarck had taken place at the château of
Bellevue, near Donchery. A terrible man that General von Moltke,
stern and hard, with the glabrous face of a mathematical chemist; a
man who won battles by working out algebraical calculations in his
study! He had immediately been desirous of showing that he was fully
acquainted with the hopeless situation of the French army: it had no
provisions and no ammunition, said he, it was a prey to demoralisation
and disorder, and there was no possibility whatever of its breaking the
iron circle that shut it in; whilst the German armies occupied by far
the stronger positions, and could burn down the town in a couple of
hours. Then he coldly dictated his will, which was the surrender of the
entire French army, with arms and baggage.

On his side, Bismarck simply supported Moltke with the air of a
good-natured bloodhound. And, thereupon, General de Wimpffen exhausted
himself in combating these conditions, the most harsh that were ever
imposed upon a beaten army. He spoke of his ill-luck, the heroism of
the soldiers, and the danger of exasperating a proud people beyond
endurance; he threatened, begged, talked during three hours with
despairing, superb eloquence, asking that the vanquished army might
simply be interned in some far-off region of France, or, if preferred,
in Algeria; but, after all, the only concession made by the victor was
that those of the officers who would give an engagement in writing, and
pledge their honour not to serve again during the war, might return
to their homes. Finally, the truce was prolonged until ten o'clock on
the following morning, and if at that hour the conditions had not been
accepted, the Prussian batteries would again open fire and burn down
the town.

'But it's idiotic!' exclaimed Delaherche; 'you don't burn down a town
that has done nothing to deserve it.'

The major, however, put the finishing touch to his alarm by adding
that he had just seen some officers at the Hôtel de l'Europe who were
talking of a _sortie en masse_ before daybreak. Since the German
exactions had become known, extreme excitement was being manifested,
and the most extravagant plans were broached. Nobody was deterred by
the idea that it would not be loyal to break the truce without a word
of warning, under cover of the darkness, and all sorts of mad plans
were indulged in:--A midnight march on Carignan through the ranks
of the Bavarians, the recapture of the plateau of Illy, by means of
a surprise, and the opening up of the road to Mézières; or else an
irresistible rush, which at one bound would land them in Belgium.
Others, it is true, said nothing, but realised the fatality of the
disaster, and would have accepted and signed anything with a glad cry
of relief, so as to have done at once with the whole business.

'Well, good night,' added Bouroche. 'I must try to sleep for a couple
of hours. I need it.'

Thereupon he went off, leaving Delaherche suffocating. What? It was
true, then; they were going to begin fighting again; they were going
to burn and raze Sedan to the ground! It was becoming inevitable; this
frightful thing would assuredly take place as soon as the sun had risen
high enough above the hills to illumine the horror of the massacre.
In a mechanical way he once more climbed the steep garret-stairs, and
found himself again among the chimney stacks at the edge of the narrow
terrace overlooking the town. But now he was in the midst of darkness,
an infinite rolling sea of huge black waves, among which he was at
first unable to distinguish anything. The factory buildings below him
were the first to stand out in the gloom, in confused masses which he
recognised; the engine-room, the loom-shops, the drying-rooms, the
warehouses; and the view of all that huge pile of building, his pride
and his wealth, overwhelmed him with pity for himself at the thought
that in a few hours' time there would only be some ashes of it left. He
raised his eyes towards the horizon and looked all around that black
immensity, where the menace of the morrow was sleeping. On the south,
in the direction of Bazeilles, some flakes of fire were flying skyward
above the houses sinking into cinders; whilst, towards the north, the
farm of the wood of La Garenne, set on fire during the evening, was
still burning, ensanguining the trees with a great red glow. There
were no other fires, nothing but those two blazes; all the rest was
a fathomless abyss traversed only by scattered, terrifying noises.
Some one was weeping over yonder, perhaps far away, perhaps upon the
ramparts. In vain did he try to penetrate the veil, to discern the
Liry and Marfée hills, the Frénois and Wadelincourt batteries, all the
long belt of bronze beasts, with outstretched necks and open muzzles,
whose presence he divined there. And as he lowered his eyes upon the
town around him, he heard its pant of anguish--not merely the restless
slumber of the soldiers fallen in the streets, the dull rustling of
that mass of men, animals, and guns, but also, at least he fancied
so, the anxious insomnia of the citizens, his neighbours, who, like
himself, were unable to sleep, consumed by fever whilst they waited for
the dawn. They all must know that the capitulation was not signed;
they all must be counting the hours, shivering at the idea that if
it were not signed nothing would remain for them but to go down into
their cellars to die there, blocked up, crushed beneath the ruins of
their homes. Then, all at once it seemed to him as though a desperate
voice were ascending from the Rue des Voyards, crying 'Murder!' amid a
sudden clank of arms. And thereupon he leant over the terrace railing
and remained there listening in the dense night, lost amid the misty,
starless sky, and seized from head to foot with such a shuddering that
every hair upon his skin stood up.

Maurice awoke on the sofa at the first gleam of light. He was aching
all over and did not stir, but lay there with his eyes fixed on the
window panes, whilst they were slowly whitened by a livid dawn.
In the acute lucidity of those waking moments, all the abominable
memories returned to him, the battle of the day before, the flight,
the disaster. Everything again passed before his eyes, even to the
slightest details, and he experienced frightful suffering at the
thought of that defeat, the crying shame of which penetrated to the
very roots of his being, as though he had felt himself the culprit.
And he reasoned his sufferings, analysed himself, finding the faculty
of devouring himself quickened by what had happened. Was he not, after
all, the first comer, a mere passer-by of the period, certainly of
brilliant education, but at the same time crassly ignorant of all that
he ought to have known, vain, too, even to blindness, and perverted by
impatience for enjoyment, and by the lying prosperity of the reign?
Then came another evocation as it were; he pictured his grandfather,
born in 1780, one of the heroes of the Grand Army, one of the victors
of Austerlitz, Wagram, and Friedland; next his father, born in 1811,
fallen into bureaucracy, a petty official of indifferent ability,
receiver of taxes at Le Chêne Populeux, where he had worn himself
away; then himself, born in 1841, brought up as a gentleman, called to
the bar, capable of the worst folly and of the greatest enthusiasm,
vanquished at Sedan, in what he realised was an immense catastrophe,
the end, indeed, of a world; and this degeneration of the race, which
explained how it had become possible that France, victorious with
the grandfathers, should be defeated in the person of the grandsons,
crushed his heart as though it were some slowly aggravated family
complaint, culminating in the fatal catastrophe when the appointed hour
had struck. He would have felt so brave and triumphant had they been
victorious! But in presence of defeat he was seized with the nervous
weakness of a woman, and gave way to one of those fits of immense
despair, during which it seemed to him as though the whole world were
foundering. There was nothing left, France was dead. Sobs stifled him,
and he wept, joining his hands together and stammering once more the
prayers of infancy: 'Take me, my God! Take all these poor suffering
wretches!'

Jean, rolled up in the blanket on the floor, heard him, and began to
stir. 'What is the matter, youngster? Are you ill?' asked the corporal,
eventually sitting up and feeling greatly astonished. Then, realising
that Maurice had been taken again with those peculiar ideas of his,
he spoke to him in a fatherly way: 'Come, what is the matter? You
shouldn't worry yourself like that for nothing.'

'Ah!' exclaimed Maurice, 'it's all up; we can prepare ourselves to
become Prussians.'

Jean, illiterate peasant that he was, with a hard skull, expressed
great astonishment on hearing this, whereupon Maurice tried to make him
understand that the race was exhausted, and must disappear and make
room for the necessary stream of new blood. With an obstinate shake
of the head, however, the corporal refused to accept the explanation:
'What! my field no longer belong to me? I should allow the Prussians to
take it when I'm not yet dead and still have my two arms left? Come,
come!'

Then, in his turn, he gave utterance to his ideas, expressing himself
laboriously in such words as he could think of. They had had a fearful
licking; that was certain. But they were not all dead, yet; there were
still some left, and these would suffice to build the house afresh,
provided they were good fellows and hard-workers, and didn't drink all
they earned. In a family, now, when its members take proper care and
put a bit of money by, they always manage to pull through even the
worst stretches of bad luck. And besides, a blow sometimes does a man
good: it makes him reflect. And then, too, if it were true there was
some rottenness somewhere, some putrid limbs or other, far better lop
them off with an axe and have done with them, than keep them until
they killed you, like the cholera. 'Exhausted, done for? No, no,' he
repeated again and again. 'I'm not done for. I don't feel that way at
all.'

And stiff and lame though he was, with his hair still matted together
by the blood from his torn scalp, he drew himself up, full of a
vivacious need of life, ready to take a tool, to drive a plough, to
build the house afresh as he expressed it. He belonged to the old,
stubborn, sober stratum, the sensible, hard-working, and thrifty France.

'All the same,' he resumed, 'I'm sorry for the Emperor. Trade seemed to
be in a fair way, wheat sold well. But, sure enough, he has been very
stupid. No sensible chap would get himself into such a mess as this.'

Maurice, who still remained quite overwhelmed, made another distressful
gesture: 'Ah! the Emperor; I liked him at bottom in spite of my ideas
of liberty and a Republic. Yes, I had it in my blood, on account of my
grandfather, no doubt. And now you see everything's rotten, even in
that direction. Ah! what will become of us?'

A wild look was glimmering in his eyes, and he raised so grievous
a plaint that Jean felt anxious and was about to rise, when the
door opened and Henriette came in. The sound of their voices had
just awakened her in the adjoining bedchamber. A pale light was now
brightening the room.

'You've come just in time to scold him,' said Jean, pretending to
laugh. 'He's not behaving as he ought.'

However, the sight of his sister, so pale and afflicted, had induced
a salutary crisis of sensibility. Maurice opened his arms, called
her to his heart, and when she had flung her arms around his neck, a
great appeasement penetrated him. She herself was weeping, and their
tears mingled. 'Ah! my poor, poor darling. I'm angry with myself that
I haven't more courage to console you! That good fellow Weiss--your
husband who was so fond of you--what will become of you? You have
always been the victim, and yet you never complained. What a deal of
grief I, myself, have caused you already, and who knows whether I
sha'n't cause you even more----'

She was silencing him, placing her hand before his mouth, when in came
Delaherche half out of his senses. Again feeling frightfully hungry,
with one of those nervous hungers which fatigue exasperates, he had at
last come down from the terrace, and on going to the kitchen to get
something warm to drink, he had there found the cook with one of her
relatives, a carpenter of Bazeilles, to whom she was just serving some
mulled wine. Thereupon, this man, one of the last to remain in the
village amid the conflagration, had told him that his dyeworks were
utterly destroyed, reduced to a heap of cinders.

'Ah! the brigands, would you believe it?' stammered the manufacturer,
addressing Jean and Maurice. 'Everything is lost. They are going to
burn down Sedan this morning as they burnt down Bazeilles yesterday--I
am ruined, ruined!'

Struck all at once by the scar which he observed on Henriette's
forehead, he remembered that he had not yet been able to speak with
her. 'It's true, then,' he added, 'you went there, and got hurt like
that? Ah! poor Weiss!' And then, understanding by the young woman's
red eyes that she knew of her husband's death, he blurted out a
fearful detail which he had just learnt from the carpenter: 'That poor
Weiss! It appears they burned him! Yes, they threw the bodies of the
inhabitants they had shot into the flames of a blazing house, which
they had smeared with petroleum.'[34]

Henriette listened, struck with horror. Good Lord! So she would not
even have the consolation of recovering and burying her dear husband,
whose ashes would be swept away by the wind! Maurice had again pressed
her to his heart, and in a caressing voice was calling her his poor
Cinderella, and beseeching her not to give way to so much grief, she
who was so brave.

After an interval of silence, during which Delaherche stood at the
window observing the brightening of the light, he hastily turned and
said to the two soldiers: 'By the way, I was forgetting, but I came to
tell you that downstairs, in the coach-house, where the treasury-chest
is deposited, there is an officer distributing the money among the men,
so that the Prussians may not get it. You ought to go down, for money
may be useful if we are not all of us dead to-night.'

The advice was good, and Maurice and Jean went down, as soon as
Henriette had consented to take her brother's place on the sofa.
Delaherche, meantime, passed into the adjoining room, where he found
Gilberte, still with her face quite calm, and sleeping as peacefully as
a child; neither the loud talking nor the sobs having caused so much
as a change in her position. And thence he peeped into the room where
his mother was watching over M. de Vineuil, and found that she had
dozed off in her armchair, whilst the colonel, whose eyes were closed,
had not stirred, being utterly prostrated by fever. All at once,
however, he opened his eyes widely, and asked: 'Well, it is finished,
isn't it?'

Vexed by this question, which detained him just when he wished to take
himself off, Delaherche made an angry gesture, whilst deadening his
voice to answer: 'Ah, yes, finished, till it begins again! Nothing has
been signed.'

A prey to incipient delirium, the colonel continued in faint tones: 'My
God, may I die before the finish! I don't hear the guns. Why are they
no longer firing? Up at St. Menges and Fleigneux we command all the
roads; we will fling the Prussians into the Meuse should they venture
to turn Sedan, to attack us. The town is at our feet between them and
us, like an obstacle which strengthens our position. March! the Seventh
Corps will take the lead, the Twelfth will cover the retreat----'

His hands jogged up and down on the sheet as though in unison with the
trot of the horse, which, in his dream, was carrying him along. Little
by little, however, as his words fell more heavily from his lips and he
sank asleep, their movement became slower, till at last it altogether
ceased, and he lay there, without a breath, overwhelmed.

'Rest yourself,' Delaherche had whispered, 'I will come back as soon as
I have some news.' Then, after making sure that he had not awakened his
mother, he slipped out of the room and disappeared.

Seated on a kitchen chair in the coach-house down below, Jean and
Maurice had found a paymaster who was distributing fortunes there,
screened merely by a little deal table placed in front of him, and
without having recourse to pens, receipt forms, or papers of any kind.
He simply dipped his hand into the bags overflowing with gold coins,
and without even taking the trouble to count them, rapidly dropped a
handful into the cap of each sergeant of the Seventh Corps who defiled
before him. It was understood that the sergeants were to divide the
sums given them among the men of their half-section. They all received
the money with an awkward air, as though it had been some ration of
meat or coffee, and then went off in embarrassment, emptying their
_képis_ into their pockets, so that they might not find themselves
in the streets with all that gold displayed to view. And not a word
was spoken. The only sound was the crystalline chinking of the coins
amid the stupefaction which these poor devils experienced at finding
themselves laden with all this wealth when there was no longer a loaf
of bread or a quart of wine to be purchased in the whole town.

When Jean and Maurice stepped forward, the paymaster at first withdrew
the handful of gold which he had ready, and exclaimed: 'Neither of you
is a sergeant. Only the sergeants have a right to receive----' Then,
tired already, and anxious to have done with it, he added: 'Here,
corporal, you can take some all the same. Quick there, whose turn next?'

He had let the coins drop into the _képi_ which Jean held out to him;
and the corporal, stirred at sight of the amount, nearly six hundred
francs, immediately desired Maurice to take half of it. There was no
telling, said he; it was quite possible that they might be suddenly
separated from one another. They accordingly divided the money in the
garden in front of the ambulance, which they afterwards entered, having
noticed their company's drummer, a gay, fat fellow named Bastian, lying
on the straw near the entry. At about five o'clock on the previous
evening, when the battle was over, he had been unluckily wounded in the
groin by a stray bullet.

The spectacle which the ambulance presented in the white morning
twilight, at this moment of the reveille, fairly froze their hearts.
Three more of the wounded had died, unperceived, during the night, and
now the attendants were hastily making room for others by carrying the
corpses away. Every now and then the men amputated on the previous
day, lying there in a somnolent state, would abruptly open their eyes
and gaze with stupor on the vast dormitory of suffering in which they
found themselves, and where, as in the shambles, a half-slaughtered
flock lay prone upon the straw. The attendants had certainly swept
and somewhat tidied the place on the previous evening, after all the
bloody _cuisine_ of the operations; but here and there trails of blood
could be seen on the badly wiped floor, whilst a large red-spotted
sponge, looking not unlike a human brain, was floating in a pail, and a
forgotten hand, with broken fingers, was lying just outside the door,
under the shed. These were the crumbs as it were of the butchery, the
frightful scraps of the morrow of a day of massacre, dimly seen in
the mournful rising of the dawn. And all the agitation and turbulent
assertion of life of the earlier hours had, under the heavy weight of
fever, given way to prostration. Scarcely a stammered plaint, deadened
by sleepiness, disturbed the moist silence. A scared look came into the
sufferer's glassy eyes as they again encountered the daylight; their
clammy mouths exhaled foul breath; the whole hall was sinking into the
succession of endless, livid, nauseous, death-sprinkled days which were
now reserved to those wretched, mutilated men, who, at the end of two
or three months, might possibly get over it, but at the cost of one of
their limbs.

Bouroche, who was beginning his round, after a few hours' repose,
paused for an instant in front of Drummer Bastian, and then passed on
with a scarcely perceptible shrug of the shoulders. Nothing could be
done for that poor devil. The drummer, however, had opened his eyes,
and, as though resuscitated, was keenly watching a sergeant, who, with
his cap full of gold, had come to see whether some of his men were
among the wounded. It so happened that there were a couple, and he gave
each of them twenty francs. Other sergeants now arrived; gold began to
rain upon the straw, and Bastian, who had succeeded in sitting up, held
out both his hands, which the death pangs were already shaking, and
stammered: 'For me! For me!'

The sergeant intended to pass on, as Bouroche had done. What, indeed,
could be the use of money to a dying man? Suddenly yielding, however,
to a good-natured impulse, he dropped some coins, without counting
them, into the drummer's hands, which were already icy cold. 'For
me! For me!' gasped Bastian once more. He had fallen back again, and
fumbled for some time with his stiffened fingers, endeavouring to
recover the gold which slipped from his grasp. Then he expired.

'Good night! The gent has blown his candle out!' said a dark, lean,
little Zouave, who was lying near by. 'It's vexing all the same, just
as one's got the brass to pay for a drink.'

The Zouave had his left foot bandaged; nevertheless he managed to raise
himself and crawl on his knees and elbows to the side of the corpse,
when he picked up all the money, searching both the drummer's hands and
the folds of his great-coat. And noticing, when he had returned to his
place with the cash, that the others were looking at him, he contented
himself with remarking: 'Needn't let it be lost, eh?'

Maurice, whom this atmosphere of human misery suffocated, had made
all haste to draw Jean outside again. As they were once more passing
through the operating-shed they saw Bouroche there. He was exasperated
at not having been able to procure any chloroform, but was all the same
making up his mind to amputate the leg of a little fellow of twenty.
Jean and Maurice fled, so as not to hear the poor devil's shrieks.

At that moment Delaherche came in from the street, and waving his arm
to them, called out: 'Come upstairs, come at once. We are going to
have some breakfast; the cook has managed to get some milk. It's very
fortunate, for we need something warm.'

Despite the effort he was making, he could not conceal his exultant
delight, and as the others approached him, he lowered his voice and
added, with a radiant face: 'This time it's settled. General de
Wimpffen has gone back to sign the capitulation.'

Ah! what an immense relief; his factory saved, the atrocious nightmare
dissipated, life coming back again, full of pain and sorrow, no doubt;
but for all that life, yes, _life_! Nine o'clock was now striking, and
little Rose, whom he had met in the neighbourhood, had just told him
what had taken place during the early morning at the Sub-Prefecture.
She had made her way to this part of the town, through the somewhat
less crowded streets, with the view of trying to obtain some bread from
an aunt, who kept a baker's shop. At eight o'clock, said she, General
de Wimpffen had assembled a fresh council of war, composed of more than
thirty generals, whom he had informed of the result of the step he
had taken, of the futility of his efforts, and of the harsh exactions
of the victorious enemy. His hands trembled whilst he described the
interview, violent emotion filled his eyes with tears; and he was still
speaking when a colonel of the Prussian staff presented himself as a
_parlementaire_, in General von Moltke's name, with a reminder that if
a decision had not been come to by ten o'clock the German fire would
reopen on the town of Sedan. Thereupon, in this extreme, frightful
necessity, the council had adopted the only course that was open to it,
that of authorising General de Wimpffen to return to the château of
Bellevue to accept everything. The general must have already arrived
there, and the entire French army was surrendering.

Rose next launched out into a variety of details concerning the
extraordinary agitation which the news was exciting in the town. At the
Sub-Prefecture she had seen some officers tearing off their epaulettes,
and bursting into tears like children. Cuirassiers flung their sabres
into the Meuse from the bridge, over which an entire regiment had
defiled, man after man throwing away his weapon and gazing on the water
as it spurted and then closed up. In the streets, too, the soldiers
took hold of their chassepots by the barrels, and broke the butts
against the house-walls, whilst artillerymen removed the pieces of
mechanism from the mitrailleuses, and consigned them to the sewers.
There were some soldiers, also, who buried, and others who burned the
flags. On the Place Turenne she had seen an old sergeant climb upon a
corner stone, and as though seized with sudden madness, heap insults
upon the commanders and taunt them with cowardice. Other men seemed
stultified and wept big silent tears. And, it must be said, there
were others, the greater number too, whose eyes smiled with gladness,
whose persons from head to foot denoted enraptured relief. So at last
there was to be an end to their misery; they were prisoners, and there
would be no more fighting. They had for so many days been suffering
from excessive marching and lack of food. Besides, what was the use of
fighting since they were not the stronger? So much the better if the
commanders _had_ sold them, so as to have done with the business at
once. It was so delightful to think that they would soon have white
bread again and sleep in beds.

As Delaherche was entering the dining-room upstairs with Maurice and
Jean, his mother called him: 'Come here a moment. I'm anxious about the
colonel.'

With open eyes, M. de Vineuil was once more venting aloud the panting
dream of his feverish delirium: 'What matters it? If the Prussians
do cut us off from Mézières----' he gasped; 'here come some of them
turning the wood of La Falizette, whilst others are coming up along
the valley of the Givonne. But the frontier is behind us, and we can
cross it at a bound, as soon as we have killed as many of them as
possible--that was what I wanted yesterday----'

His ardent eyes, however, had just caught sight of Delaherche. He
recognised him, and seemed to come to his senses, to emerge from his
hallucinatory somnolence; and as he thus returned to a consciousness of
the terrible reality, he asked for the third time; 'It's finished, eh?'

And this time, the manufacturer was quite unable to restrain the
outburst of his satisfaction: 'Yes, thank heavens! quite finished! The
capitulation must now be signed.'

On hearing this, the colonel, despite his bandaged foot, rose violently
from the bed, and taking his sword, which had remained lying on a
chair, he made an effort to break it. But his hands were trembling, and
the blade slipped.

'Take care! he'll hurt himself,' cried Delaherche. 'Take it out of his
hands; it's dangerous!'

Old Madame Delaherche seized hold of the sword, but at sight of M. de
Vineuil's despair she did not hide it, as her son advised her to do.
Putting forth strength extraordinary in one so old, and of which she
herself would not have thought her poor hands capable, she broke it
with a sharp snap upon her knee. The colonel had got into bed again,
and lay there weeping, and looking at his old friend with an expression
of infinite tenderness.

Meantime, in the dining-room, the cook had served bowls of
_café-au-lait_ for everybody. Both Henriette and Gilberte were now
awake, the latter well rested by her good sleep, and with a clear face
and gay eyes. And tenderly did she kiss her friend, whom she pitied,
so she said, from the very depths of her heart. Maurice placed himself
near his sister, whilst Jean, who had been pressed to stay, and who
felt somewhat embarrassed, found himself facing Delaherche. Old Madame
Delaherche could not be prevailed upon to come and sit down at table,
and merely drank a bowl of coffee which was taken to her. The breakfast
of the five others, however, though begun in silence, soon became
animated. They were empty and very hungry, and how could they not
feel glad at finding themselves there, virtually unharmed and in good
health, when thousands of poor devils were strewing the surrounding
country? And in the large, cool dining-room, too, the spotless white
table-cloth was a joy for the eyes, whilst the _café-au-lait_, which
was very hot, seemed exquisite.

They talked. Delaherche, who had already recovered all the assurance of
the rich manufacturer, the _bonhomie_ of the master fond of popularity,
severe only towards those who failed, reverted to Napoleon III., whose
face had been haunting him for a couple of days past. And he addressed
himself to Jean, having only that artless fellow there. 'Ah! monsieur,'
he began, 'yes, I can indeed say that the Emperor has greatly deceived
me. For however much his incense-bearers may plead extenuating
circumstances, he is evidently the first cause, the only cause of our
disasters.'

He was already forgetting that he had formerly shown himself an ardent
Bonapartist, and but a few months previously had done all he could to
insure the triumph of the Plebiscitum. And he no longer even pitied the
fallen Sovereign who was about to become the Man of Sedan, but taxed
him with every iniquity.

'Absolutely incapable, as one is forced to recognise at the present
moment; still that by itself would be nothing--but his mind has always
been addicted to chimeras; he's a man with an ill-proportioned brain,
with whom things seemed to succeed just so long as he had luck on his
side. No; people mustn't try to make us pity his fate, by telling us
that he was deceived by others, and that the Opposition refused him the
necessary men and credits. It is he who has deceived us, whose vices
and blunders have plunged us into the frightful mess in which we find
ourselves.'

Maurice, who did not wish to take any part in the conversation, could
not restrain a smile, whilst Jean, whom this talk about politics
rendered uncomfortable, and who feared that he might say something
foolish, contented himself with replying: 'Folks say, all the same,
that he's a good fellow.'

However, these few words, modestly spoken though they were, almost
made Delaherche leap from his seat. All the fright he had experienced,
all the anguish he had undergone, burst forth in a cry of exasperated
passion that had turned to hatred. 'A good fellow, indeed; that's
easily said! Do you know, monsieur, that three shells fell here in
my factory, and that it wasn't the Emperor's fault if the buildings
were not burnt down? Do you know that I who speak to you, I shall lose
a hundred thousand francs in this idiotic affair? Ah! no, no, it is
altogether too much--France invaded, burnt, exterminated, industry at
a standstill, trade destroyed! We've had quite enough of such a good
fellow as that, Heaven preserve us from him! He's down in the mud and
the blood, and I say let him stay there!'

Thereupon he made an energetic gesture with his fist as though he
were pushing down some struggling wretch and keeping him under water.
Then, with a greedy lip, he finished drinking his coffee. Gilberte
had given vent to a slight involuntary laugh at sight of the painful
abstractedness of Henriette, whom she served like a child. The meal
continued till at last the bowls were emptied; still they did not
stir, preferring to linger awhile amid the gladsome peacefulness of
that large, cool room.

And at that same hour Napoleon III. was in the weaver's poor house on
the Donchery road. Already at five in the morning he had insisted upon
leaving the Sub-Prefecture, ill at ease at feeling Sedan encompassing
him, like a reproach and a threat; still worried, moreover, by a desire
to soothe his sensitive heart by obtaining more favourable terms for
his unfortunate army. He wished to see the King of Prussia. So, getting
into a hired calash, he had set out along the broad highway, bordered
with lofty poplars, that first portion of his journey into exile,
accomplished in the freshness of the dawn, with a consciousness of all
the fallen grandeur that he was leaving behind him in his flight; and
it was upon that road that he met Bismarck hastening to him, in an old
flat cap and long greased boots, for the sole purpose of trifling with
him and preventing him from seeing the King until the capitulation
was signed. The King was still at Vendresse, eight and a half miles
away. Where should he go? Where could he wait? Afar off, the palace
of the Tuileries had disappeared, enveloped in a thundercloud. Sedan,
too, already seemed to have receded a distance of many leagues, shut
off, as it were, by a river of blood. There were no more imperial
châteaux in France, no more official residences; there was not even a
corner in the abode of the smallest functionary where he dared to go
and seat himself. And it was in the weaver's house that he was minded
to strand--the wretched house espied beside the road, with its narrow
kitchen-garden skirted by a hedge, and comprising merely a ground-floor
and one upper storey with mournful little windows. The room upstairs
had whitewashed walls and a tiled floor, and its only furniture was a
deal table and two straw-bottomed chairs. There he waited for hours,
at first in the company of Bismarck, who smiled on hearing him talk of
generosity, and then all alone, dragging his misery up and down the
room, pressing his ashy face to the window-panes, and gazing once more
upon that soil of France, that Meuse which looked so beautiful as it
flowed along athwart vast, fertile fields.[35]

Then that day, the next day, and the following days, there came
the other abominable marches and their halting places: the château
of Bellevue, that smiling _bourgeois_ country-seat overlooking the
river, where he slept, and where he wept after his interview with
King William; then the cruel departure, Sedan avoided for fear of the
vanquished and the famished, the pontoon bridge, which the Prussians
had thrown across the river at Iges, the long circuit on the northern
side of the town, the by-ways, the remote roads of Floing, Fleigneux,
and Illy--all that lamentable flight in the open calash; and there,
on that tragic, corpse-strewn plateau of Illy, occurred the legendary
meeting--the wretched Emperor, no longer able to endure the motion
of the vehicle, sinking down under the violence of some spasm, maybe
mechanically smoking his everlasting cigarette, whilst a flock of
haggard, blood-and-dust-covered prisoners, whom their captors were
escorting from Fleigneux to Sedan, ranged themselves at the edge of
the road to allow the carriage to pass; the first ones silent, the
next ones growling, and the others, beyond, growing more and more
exasperated until they burst into jeers and brandished their fists
with gestures of insult and malediction. And after that there was yet
the interminable journey across other portions of the battlefield, a
league of broken-up roads, past ruins, and corpses with widely opened,
threatening eyes; and then came a bare stretch of country with vast,
silent woods, and the frontier atop of an incline; and beyond it the
end of everything--a dip into a narrow valley where the road was edged
with pines.

And what a first night of exile that was at Bouillon, in an inn,
the Hôtel de la Poste, where he found himself amid such a throng
of mere sightseers and French refugees that he deemed it proper to
show himself, whereat there was loud murmuring and hissing! The
room, with its three windows overlooking the Place and the Semoy,
was the commonplace hotel-room, with the usual chairs upholstered
in red damask, the usual mahogany wardrobe with a plate-glass door,
the mantelshelf decked with the usual zinc clock, flanked by shells
and vases of artificial flowers under glass cases. Right and left
of the door were two little fellow beds. In one of them slept an
aide-de-camp, so overcome by fatigue that at nine o'clock he was
already sound asleep. In the other one the Emperor must have turned
and turned for hours, unable to close his eyes; and if he got up to
assuage his sufferings by walking, his only diversion can have been
to look at two engravings, hanging on the wall there, on either side
of the chimney-piece--one representing Rouget de l'Isle singing the
Marseillaise; the other, the Day of Judgment, the mighty call sounded
by the trumps of the Archangels, drawing all the dead from the bosom
of the earth, the resurrection of the ossuaries of the battlefields,
ascending to testify before God.[36]

All the train of the Imperial household, the cumbersome, accursed
baggage vans, had remained at Sedan, in distress behind the
sub-prefect's lilac bushes. Those in charge were at a loss how to
spirit them away, how to remove them safely from the sight of the poor
folks dying of misery, so intolerable indeed became the aggressive
insolence which they had assumed, the frightful irony with which
the defeat had imbued them. A very dark night had to be waited for,
and then the horses, the carriages, and the vans, with their silver
saucepans, their spits, and their baskets of fine wines, went forth
from Sedan with great mystery, and in their turn betook themselves to
Belgium, journeying with muffled tread and roll along the dark roads
amid an uneasy shivering, such as attends a theft.


END OF PART II.



PART III

_WOE TO THE VANQUISHED!_


CHAPTER I

SILVINE'S QUEST--AMONG THE SLAIN


Amid the smoke and thunder of the cannonade, during the interminable
day of the battle, Silvine, quivering from head to foot at thought
of Honoré, had not ceased gazing towards Sedan from that hill of
Remilly, where stood old Fouchard's little farm. And on the morrow her
anxiety had increased, augmented by the impossibility of obtaining any
accurate tidings from the Prussians guarding the roads, who refused to
answer any questions, being, moreover, themselves ignorant of what was
happening. The bright sunshine of the previous day had disappeared,
showers had fallen, and the valley now wore a gloomy aspect in the
livid light.

Towards evening old Fouchard, who, in his intentional silence, was
also feeling worried, though he thought but little of his son, being
indeed more anxious to know how the misfortunes of others would
affect himself, was standing on his threshold waiting for something
to turn up, when he noticed a big fellow in a blouse, who had been
prowling along the road for a moment or so with an embarrassed air. On
recognising him, the old man's surprise was so intense, that although
three Prussians were passing at the time he called in a loud voice:

'Hullo, Prosper! Is it you?'

With an energetic wave of the arm the Chasseur d'Afrique abruptly
silenced him. Then, drawing near, he answered in an undertone:
'Yes, it's I. I've had quite enough of fighting for nothing, so I
skedaddled--and, I say, father Fouchard, you don't want a farm-hand, do
you?'

At this the old man immediately regained all his prudent reserve. It so
happened that he did want somebody, but it would not serve his purpose
to say so. 'A hand? Why, no--not just now. But come inside all the
same, and drink a glass of wine. I'm not going to leave you on the road
like that.'

In the living-room was Silvine, just setting the _soupe_ on the fire,
with little Charlot laughing and frolicking, and hanging to her skirts.
She did not at first recognise Prosper, although he had formerly been
in service with her; but, in fact, it was only on bringing a couple
of glasses and a bottle of wine that she took a good look at him; and
then she at once raised a cry, and, with thoughts only for Honoré,
exclaimed: 'Ah! you've come back from it, haven't you? Is Honoré all
right?'

Prosper was on the point of answering when he hesitated. For two days
past he had been living in a dream, amid a violent succession of
ill-defined events which had left no precise impression on his memory.
He certainly thought that he had seen Honoré stretched dead upon a
cannon, but he would not have sworn it; and why should he grieve folks
when he was not certain? 'Honoré,' he muttered, 'I don't know, I can't
say.'

She looked at him fixedly and insisted: 'Then you haven't seen him?'

Shaking his head, and slowly waving his hands, he answered: 'You are
mistaken if you think one can be certain of anything. So many things
happened, so many things! Why, of all that cursed battle I couldn't
tell you so long, even to save my life! No, not even tell the places
I passed through. 'Pon my word it makes one an idiot.' He drank a
glass of wine and remained sitting there, quite downcast, with dreamy
eyes peering, as it were, into the depths of his memory. 'All I can
remember,' he resumed, 'is that night was already falling when I
recovered consciousness. The sun was still high up in the sky when I
fell, whilst we were charging. I must have been lying there for hours
with my right leg caught under poor Zephyr, who had been hit full in
the chest. There was nothing at all pleasant, I can assure you, in
my position, with heaps of dead comrades round me, and not so much
as a live cat to be seen, and with the prospect, too, of kicking the
bucket myself if nobody came to pick me up. I tried ever so gently to
release my thigh, but it was no go, Zephyr was as heavy as five hundred
thousand devils. He was still warm. I fondled him, called him, spoke
endearing words to him, and then something happened, do you know, that
I shall never forget. He opened his eyes and tried to raise his poor
head, which was lying on the ground beside mine. And we had a chat
together. 'My poor old fellow,' I said to him, 'I don't say it to
reproach you, but is it because you want me to kick the bucket with you
that you hold me down so tight?' Of course he didn't answer yes, but,
all the same, I read in his eyes the grief he felt at leaving me. And
I don't know how it happened, whether he did it on purpose, or whether
it was only a convulsion, but he gave a sudden start which threw him
on one side. And I was then able to get up, ah! in a fearful state,
with my leg as heavy as lead. But no matter, I took Zephyr's head in
my arms and went on talking to him, telling him all my heart could
think of--that he was a good horse, and that I was very fond of him and
should always remember him. He listened to me and seemed so pleased!
Then he gave another start and died; his big eyes, which hadn't ceased
looking at me, became quite blank all at once. It's funny, too, and
you won't believe me, but the plain truth is he had big tears in his
eyes--my poor Zephyr, he wept as though he were one of us.'

Weeping himself, almost choking with grief, Prosper had to pause.
He drank another glass of wine and then resumed his narrative in
imperfect, disjointed phrases. Night had drawn in, only a red ray of
light had remained, on a level with the battlefield, throwing the giant
shadows of the dead horses far over the ground. He, no doubt, had for
a long time remained with Zephyr, unable to depart on account of the
heaviness of his leg. Then he had been set on his feet by a sudden
sensation of terror, a pressing desire to remain alone no longer, but
to find himself again among some comrades in order that he might feel
less afraid. In this wise the forgotten wounded had dragged themselves
along from the ditches, the bushes, all the lonely nooks on every side,
searching for companionship, gathering together in groups, little
parties of four or five, for it seemed to them less hard to suffer and
die in company. And in this wise too, Prosper, whilst hobbling through
the wood of La Garenne, fell in with two soldiers of the 43rd, who had
not received so much as a scratch, but had hidden themselves there
like hares, waiting for the night. On learning that he knew the road
they explained their idea to him, which was to escape into Belgium,
making their way to the frontier, through the woods, before daylight.
He at first refused to guide them, for he would rather have betaken
himself direct to Remilly, certain as he was that he would find an
asylum there. But how could he procure a blouse and trousers? Besides
how could he hope to get past the numerous Prussian pickets between the
wood of La Garenne and Remilly? He would have had to cross the entire
valley. So he finally consented to guide his two comrades. His leg
having become inflamed they halted at a farm to let him rest, and were
lucky enough to obtain some bread there. Nine o'clock was striking from
a distant steeple when they set out again. The only serious danger in
which they found themselves was at La Chapelle, where they fell into
the midst of a hostile picket-guard, which rushed to arms and fired
into the darkness whilst they, on their side, threw themselves on their
stomachs, crawled and galloped along on all fours beneath the whizzing
bullets. After that experience they did not again venture out of the
woods, but groped along, with fumbling hands and ears on the alert,
until at the turn of a path they crawled up stealthily and sprang upon
the shoulders of a forlorn sentinel whose throat they ripped open with
a knife. And then the roads proved free and they continued on their
way, laughing and whistling. At about three in the morning they reached
a little Belgian village, where a good-natured farmer on being aroused
at once opened his barn, in which they fell sound asleep upon trusses
of hay.

The sun was already high when Prosper awoke. On opening his eyes he
found his comrades still snoring and perceived the farmer harnessing a
horse to a large tilted cart, laden with bread, rice, coffee, sugar,
all sorts of provisions in fact, hidden underneath sacks of charcoal.
And he learnt that the worthy fellow had two married daughters at
Raucourt in France, to whom he was about to take these provisions,
knowing them to be absolutely destitute since the Bavarians had passed
through the town. He had obtained the safe-conduct necessary for his
purpose early that morning.

Prosper was at once seized with an uncontrollable desire to share
the cart seat with the farmer, and return to that secluded spot over
yonder, nostalgia for which was already filling his heart with anguish.
It was all so simple--he would alight at Remilly through which the
farmer must needs pass. And in three minutes it was settled, the
coveted trousers and blouse were lent to him, the farmer gave out
everywhere that he was his man, and at about six in the evening he
alighted in front of the village church, having only been stopped some
two or three times on the road by the Prussian pickets.

'Yes, I'd had enough of it,' Prosper repeated after a pause. 'If they
had only put us to some use, like over yonder, in Algeria; but to be
always cantering up and down doing nothing, to feel that one serves no
earthly purpose--all that ends by becoming unbearable. Besides, now
that my poor Zephyr's dead I should be all alone. The only thing I can
do is to go back to the fields. That's better than being a prisoner of
the Prussians, eh? You have some horses, father Fouchard, you shall see
if I'm fond of them and can take care of them?'

The old man's eyes glistened. He chinked glasses again, and without any
show of eagerness, completed the business: 'Well, as it will be doing
you a service, I'll agree to it--I'll take you. But as to wages, you
mustn't talk of them, mind, till the war's over, for I really don't
need any one, and the times are so hard.'

Meanwhile Silvine, seated with Charlot on her lap, had not taken her
eyes off Prosper; and, now, on seeing him rise with the intention of
going to the stables to make the acquaintance of the horses there, she
once more asked him: 'And so you haven't seen Honoré?'

This question, so abruptly repeated, made Prosper start, as though it
had suddenly thrown a flood of light upon a dim corner of his memory.
He once more hesitated, but finally decided to speak out: 'Well, I
didn't want to grieve you just now,' said he, 'but I fancy Honoré must
have remained yonder-----'

'What do you mean?'

'Well, I think the Prussians did for him--I saw him lying back on a
cannon, with his head raised and a hole just below his heart.'

Silence fell. Silvine had become frightfully pale, and old Fouchard,
quite thunderstruck, set his glass, which he had just filled with the
wine remaining in the bottle, upon the table again. 'You are sure of
that?' the young woman asked in a choking voice.

'Well, as sure as one can be of anything one sees. It was on a little
hillock just beside three trees, and it seems to me I could go there
with my eyes shut.'

To her it seemed as though everything had crumbled away. Her lover,
who had forgiven her, who had bound himself to her by a promise, whom
she was to have married as soon as he got his discharge at the end of
the war! And now they had killed him, and he was lying yonder with a
hole below his heart! Never before had she felt such love for him. So
intense was her desire to gaze upon him again, and, despite everything,
secure him for herself even beneath the sod, that she was thoroughly
aroused from her customary passivity. Roughly setting Charlot on the
floor, she exclaimed: 'Well, I myself will only believe it when I've
seen it. Since you know where it is, you shall take me there. And if
it's true, if we find him, we'll bring him back here.'

Tears were stifling her, and she sank upon the table, quivering with
prolonged sobs, whilst the child, stupefied at being so roughly treated
by his mother, likewise burst into tears. Then taking the little
one in her arms again and pressing him to her heart she stammered
distractedly: 'My poor child! my poor child!'

Old Fouchard was still in a state of consternation. Despite
appearances, he was, in his own fashion, attached to his son. Old
memories must have come back to him from long, long ago, from the days
when his wife was living, when Honoré still went to school, for two big
tears welled from his red eyes and coursed down the tanned parchment of
his cheeks. He had not wept for ten years or more. Then oaths escaped
his lips, and he ended by getting quite angry respecting that son of
his whom he would never see again: 'Curse it! It upsets a man--to have
but one lad, and for them to kill him.'

When some measure of calmness had returned, however, Fouchard was
extremely annoyed at finding that Silvine still talked of going over
yonder in search of Honoré's body. Without further lamentation,
preserving indeed a despairing, invincible silence, she persisted in
her resolve; and he no longer knew her, usually so docile, performing
any task assigned to her without complaint, whereas now those large,
submissive eyes of hers, which sufficed for the beauty of her face, had
acquired an expression of fierce decision, whilst her brow remained
pale, as with the pallor of death, beneath her mass of thick dark
hair. She had already torn a red wrapper from her shoulders and went
to dress herself in black from head to foot, like a widow. In vain did
Fouchard dwell upon the difficulty of the search, the dangers which she
would be exposed to, the faint hope there was of finding the body. No
matter, she even ceased answering him at last, and he realised that
she would go off of her own accord and do something rash if he did not
take steps in the matter, a prospect which disquieted him the more as
trouble might ensue with the German authorities. Accordingly he made up
his mind to go and see the mayor of Remilly, who was a distant cousin
of his, and between them they concocted a plausible story: Silvine was
said to be Honoré's widow, and Prosper passed as being her brother, so
that the Bavarian colonel, quartered at the Cross-of-Malta inn below
the village, willingly drew up a safe-conduct, authorising the brother
and sister to bring back the husband's body provided they could find
it. By this time night had drawn in, and the only thing to which the
young woman would consent was to defer the journey until sunrise.

On the morrow Fouchard would not allow a horse to be put to one of
his large carts, for fear lest he should never see either beast or
vehicle again. Who could tell, indeed, whether the Prussians would
not confiscate them both? At last, however, he consented, with an ill
grace, to lend a little grey donkey and its cart, which, though small,
was yet large enough to carry a corpse. At great length he then gave
instructions to Prosper, who, although he had slept well, seemed very
thoughtful and anxious. Now that, rested and freed from excitement,
he tried to remember the spot where he had seen Honoré lying, he
doubted whether he would be able to find it, and the prospect of this
expedition disturbed him. At the last moment Silvine went to fetch the
blanket from her own bed, folded it up, and laid it in the cart; and
she was already starting, when she ran back to kiss little Charlot:
'I leave him in your care, father Fouchard; mind that he doesn't get
playing with the lucifers.'

'Yes, yes, you needn't be anxious.'

The preparations had lasted a long time, and it was nearly seven
o'clock when Silvine and Prosper descended the steep slopes of Remilly
behind the narrow cart which the little grey donkey drew along with its
head hanging low. It had rained heavily during the night, the roads
were like rivers of mud, and large livid patches of cloud were scudding
across the gloomy sky.

Desirous of taking the shortest route, Prosper had adopted the idea of
passing through Sedan. Before reaching Pont-Maugis, however, the cart
was stopped and detained during more than an hour by a Prussian picket,
and only when the _laissez-passer_ had circulated among four or five
officers was the donkey able to resume its journey, it being stipulated
that the party should make the round by way of Bazeilles, which was
reached by a cross-road on the left. No reason was assigned for this
stipulation, but doubtless the officers wished to avoid increasing the
crush which prevailed in the town. Whilst Silvine was crossing the
Meuse, over the railway bridge, that fatal bridge which the French had
neglected to blow up, and for which, albeit, the Bavarians had paid so
terrible a price, she espied the corpse of an artilleryman coming down
stream with the current, in a sauntering sort of way. Caught by a tuft
of herbage, it remained for a moment motionless, then suddenly swung
round and started off again.

Bazeilles, which the donkey crossed at a walk from end to end, was a
picture of destruction, of all the abominable havoc that devastating
war can wreak when with the fury of a blizzard it sweeps through a
land. The dead had already been picked up, not a single corpse remained
on the paved highway of the village, and the rain was washing away the
blood. Some puddles, however, were still quite red, and beside them
lay suspicious remnants, things which looked like shreds of flesh,
with what seemed to be hair adhering to them. But the appalment which
froze every heart came from the sight of the ruins--the ruins of that
village which three days previously had worn such a smiling aspect
with its pleasant houses girt with gardens, and which now had crumbled
to the ground, annihilated, displaying but scraps of walls blackened
by the flames. The church, a huge funeral pile of smoking beams, was
still burning in the centre of the Place, whence arose a stout column
of black smoke which spread out on high like a great tuft of mourning
plumes above a hearse. Entire streets had disappeared, nothing remained
on either hand--nothing but piles of calcined stones fringing the
gutters amid a mass of soot and cinders, a thick, inky mud, which
spread over everything. At the various crossways the corner houses
had been razed to the ground, carried away as it were by the fiery
blast which had blown past these spots. Other houses had suffered less
grievously, one had by chance remained standing, isolated; whilst those
on its right and left seemed to have been hacked by shrapnel, their
upreared carcases resembling gaunt skeletons. And everything exhaled an
unbearable stench, the nauseating smell of fire, especially the acrid
odour of the petroleum with which the floorings had been deluged. Then,
too, there was the mute desolation of the household goods which the
villagers had tried to save, the poor articles of furniture that had
been flung from the windows and shattered by their fall; the crippled
tables with broken legs, the wardrobes with their sides ripped open
and their chests rent asunder, the linen, too, lying here and there,
torn and soiled, with all the woeful residue of the pillage melting
away in the rain. And, on glancing behind one gaping house-front and
between some fallen flooring, one could espy a clock standing upon a
mantelpiece that still adhered to the wall of an upper storey.

'Ah! the brutes!' growled Prosper, whose soldier's blood rose hotly to
his brain at sight of such abomination.

He clenched his fist, and Silvine, herself very pale, had to quiet him
with a glance each time that they came upon a sentry by the roadside.
The Bavarians had indeed placed sentinels near the houses which were
still burning, and these men, with fixed bayonets and loaded guns,
seemed to be protecting the fires in order that the flames might
complete their work. With a threatening gesture, a guttural cry when
he had to deal with any obstinate person, the sentry drove back both
the mere sightseers and the interested parties who were prowling
around. Clusters of villagers had collected at a distance and stood
there in silence, looking on and quivering with restrained rage. One
woman, quite young, with dishevelled hair and in a mud-stained dress,
obstinately remained in front of the heaped-up, smoking remnants of a
little house, the live cinders of which she wished to search although
the sentinel sternly forbade her approach. It was said that this
woman's little child had been burnt to death in the house. And, all at
once, as the Bavarian brutally pushed her aside, she turned round and
spat all her furious despair in his face, assailing him with insults
which reeked of blood and filth, foul, obscene words which eased her
feelings. He probably did not understand her, but falling back gazed at
her with an uneasy air until three of his comrades ran up and freed him
from the woman, whom they dragged away, howling. A man and two little
girls, who, all three, had fallen on the ground from sheer fatigue and
wretchedness, were sobbing in front of the ruins of another house, not
knowing where to go, having indeed seen all they possessed fly away
in smoke and cinders. A patrol, however, came along and dispersed the
villagers, and then the road again became deserted save for the stern,
gloomy sentinels, who glanced vigilantly to right and left intent upon
enforcing their iniquitous orders.

'The brutes! the brutes!' repeated Prosper in a low growl. 'It would be
a treat to strangle a few of them.'

Silvine again silenced him. She was shuddering. A dog, shut up in a
cart-house spared by the fire, forgotten there for a couple of days
past, was howling, raising a continuous plaint, so doleful that a
kind of terror sped athwart the low hanging sky whence some fine
grey rain had just begun to fall. And at that moment, whilst passing
the park of Montivilliers, they came upon a ghastly spectacle; three
large tumbrels laden with corpses were standing there, one behind the
other--scavengers' tumbrels, into which, as they pass along the streets
of a morning, it is customary to shovel all the refuse of the previous
day; and in a like manner they had now been filled with corpses;
stopping each time that a body was flung into them, and starting
off again with a great rumbling of wheels to halt once more farther
on--in this wise scouring the whole of Bazeilles, until they fairly
overflowed with heaped-up corpses. And now, motionless, by the wayside,
they were waiting to be taken to the public 'shoot,' the neighbouring
charnel-place. Feet protruded from them, upreared in the air; and a
head, half-severed from the trunk, hung over the side of one of the
vehicles. And when the three tumbrels again set out, jolting along
through the puddles, a long, livid, pendent hand began rubbing against
one of the wheels, which in its revolutions gradually wore it away,
stripped it first of its skin, and then consumed it to the bone.

The rain ceased falling when they reached the village of Balan, where
Prosper prevailed on Silvine to eat some bread, which he had taken the
precaution to bring with him. It was already eleven o'clock. As they
were drawing near to Sedan they were stopped by another Prussian post,
and, this time, there was a terrible to-do, for the officer in command
flew into a passion and even refused to return the _laissez-passer_,
which, speaking in perfect French, he declared to be a forgery. By
his orders some soldiers pushed the donkey and the little cart under
a shed. What was to be done? How were they to continue their journey?
Silvine was in despair, when an idea came to her on recollecting cousin
Dubreuil, that well-to-do relative of old Fouchard's, with whom she was
acquainted, and whose residence, the Hermitage, was only a few hundred
yards away, beyond the lanes overlooking the suburb. Perhaps the German
officer might listen to a man of means like him. So, leaving the
donkey, she took Prosper with her, for the officer contented himself
with impounding the vehicle and the moke, and allowed the young couple
to go free. They ran on and found the gate of the Hermitage wide open,
and as they entered the avenue of ancient elms they were greatly
astonished by a spectacle which they descried in the distance. 'The
deuce!' said Prosper, 'here are some fellows having a high time of it!'

A joyous party appeared to be assembled on the fine gravel of the
terrace, below the house-steps. Some arm-chairs and a sofa, upholstered
in sky-blue satin, were ranged around a table with a marble top, thus
forming a strange, open-air drawing-room, which the rain must have
been drenching since the day before. A couple of Zouaves, wallowing
at either end of the sofa, appeared to be splitting with laughter;
whilst a little Linesman, leaning forward in an arm-chair, looked as
though he were holding his sides. All three had their elbows resting
in a nonchalant way on the arms of their seats; whilst a Chasseur was
holding out his hand as though to take a glass from the table. They had
apparently emptied the cellar, and were having a spree.

'How is it they are still here?' muttered Prosper, becoming more and
more stupefied as he drew nearer. 'The devils! are they doing this to
show their contempt for the Prussians?'

All at once, however, Silvine, whose eyes were dilating, shrieked and
made a gesture of horror. The soldiers did not stir--they were dead!
The two Zouaves, stiffened and with twisted hands, had no faces left
them; their noses had been torn off, their eyes driven out of their
sockets. The laugh of the Linesman who was holding his sides, was
due to a bullet which had split his lips, breaking his teeth. And
atrocious, indeed, was the sight which these poor wretches presented,
seated there, as though chatting together, in the rigid postures of
lay figures, with their eyes glassy, and their mouths wide open, each
and all of them icy cold and for ever motionless. Had they, whilst yet
alive, dragged themselves to that spot that they might die together?
Was it the Prussians, who, by way of a grim joke, had picked them up
and seated them there in a convivial circle, as though in derision of
French gaiety?

'A queer amusement all the same,' resumed Prosper, turning pale. And
looking at the other corpses strewn across the avenue, beneath the
trees and over the lawns, at the thirty brave fellows or so among whom
lay Lieutenant Rochas, riddled with bullets and swathed in the colours
of his regiment, the Chasseur added with a serious, almost reverential
air: 'There's been some hard fighting here. I hardly think we shall
meet the gentleman you want to find.'

Silvine was already entering the house, through whose shattered windows
and gaping doorways the damp atmosphere freely penetrated. Evidently
enough, there was nobody there; the occupants must have gone away prior
to the battle. However, she obstinately made her way to the kitchen,
and on entering it again raised a cry of fright. Two bodies had rolled
under the sink--a Zouave, a well-built man with a black beard, and a
brawny Prussian with red hair. They were locked together in a savage
embrace; the Frenchman's teeth had bitten into the German's cheek, and
their stiffened arms had in no degree relaxed their grasp, but were
still bending and cracking each other's broken spine, uniting them both
in such an intricate knot of everlasting fury, that they must needs be
buried together.

Since there was nothing they could do in that empty house, which death
alone now tenanted, Prosper made all haste to lead Silvine away. On
returning, in despair, to the outpost where the donkey and the cart
had been detained, they were lucky enough to find there a general who
was visiting the battlefield. He wished to see the _laissez-passer_
which the stern officer commanding the post had confiscated, and having
read it he returned it to Silvine with a gesture of commiseration, as
though to say that this poor woman should be allowed to go on her way
in search of her husband's body. Thereupon, without tarrying, she and
her companion, followed by the little cart, went off towards the Fond
de Givonne, permission to pass through Sedan having been again refused
them.

They turned to the left in view of reaching the plateau of Illy by
the road passing through the wood of La Garenne. But here again they
were delayed, and a score of times did they despair of getting through
the wood, so many were the obstacles they met with. At every step the
trees, cut down by the shells, barred the road like fallen giants.
This, indeed, was the bombarded forest, through which as through some
square of the Old Guard of steadfast, veteran firmness, the cannonade
had swept, destroying venerable lives. On all sides were prostrate
trunks, stripped, pitted, rent like human breasts. This scene of
destruction, with its multitude of massacred branches shedding tears
of sap, was fraught with the same heartrending horror as a field of
human battle. And there were also corpses; the corpses of soldiers who
had fallen beside the trees as by the side of comrades. A lieutenant
was lying there, with his mouth quite bloody and with both hands still
clawing the soil and tearing up tufts of grass. Farther on a captain
had passed away, stretched upon his stomach, and with his head upraised
to bellow forth his pain. Others seemed to be sleeping among the
bushes, whilst a Zouave, whose blue sash had caught fire, had had his
beard and hair entirely burnt. And all along the narrow woodland road,
it repeatedly became necessary to push the corpses on one side so that
the donkey might continue on its way.

All at once, however, on reaching a little valley, the horror came to
an end. The battle had, doubtless, taken another direction, leaving
this delightful nook unscathed. Not a twig of the trees had been
broken, not a drop of blood had stained the moss. A beck flowed past
through duckweed, and lofty beech trees shaded the path which skirted
it. With the freshness of the running water, the quivering silence
of the greenery, the spot was fraught with a penetrating charm, an
adorable peacefulness.

Prosper stopped the donkey in order that it might drink from the
stream. 'Ah! how pleasant it is here!' he said, thus spontaneously
giving expression to his relief.

Silvine glanced around her with astonished eyes, anxious at finding
that she also felt refreshed and almost happy. Why should this secluded
nook wear such an aspect of peaceful felicity when all was mourning
and suffering around it? She made a despairing, eager gesture. 'Quick!
quick! let us get on. Where is it? Where did you see Honoré?'

Fifty yards farther on, as they at last arrived at the plateau of Illy,
the level plain suddenly spread itself out before them. This time
they had come to the real battlefield, the bare expanse of country
stretching away to the horizon under the great wan sky, whence frequent
showers were streaming. No heaps of dead were to be seen. All the
Germans must have been already buried, for not one of them remained
among the scattered corpses of the French strewn along the roads,
over the stubbles, and in the hollows, according to the phases of the
struggle. The first corpse they came upon was that of a sergeant, a
superb, sturdy young fellow whose face was peaceful, with parted lips
which seemed to be smiling. A hundred paces farther on, however, they
saw another corpse lying across the road and this was frightfully
mutilated, with the head half carried away and the shoulders splashed
with brain-matter. Then, after passing the solitary corpses, they came
upon little clusters of dead here and there. They saw seven kneeling
in a line, with their guns raised to their shoulders, who had been
shot dead whilst in the act of firing; whilst near them had fallen
a non-commissioned officer in the posture of one giving the word of
command. The road then followed a narrow ravine, and horror again took
possession of them, for an entire company seemed to have fallen here,
annihilated by shrapnel. The trench-like hollow was filled with bodies,
men who had slipped, toppled over, and become entangled together, some
with severed limbs, and others with twisted hands, which had clawed the
yellow bank in their futile efforts to save themselves from falling. A
black band of crows flew away as Silvine and Prosper approached; and
swarms of flies were already buzzing over the bodies, flocking to the
spot in thousands, all eager to drink the fresh blood flowing from the
wounds.

'Where is it, where is it?' repeated Silvine.

They were now skirting a ploughed field covered with knapsacks, of
which some regiment, hard pressed by the enemy, must have rid itself
in a fit of panic. The _débris_ strewing the soil indicated various
episodes of the struggle. Scattered _képis_ looking like large
poppies with shreds of uniforms, epaulettes and belts, all covering a
field of beets, denoted a fierce hand-to-hand encounter, one of the
few close tussles engaged in during that formidable artillery duel
which had lasted for twelve long hours. But it was more particularly
against broken or abandoned weapons that one stumbled at almost every
step--sabres, bayonets, chassepots, in such great numbers that they
seemed as it were the fruit of the earth, a crop that had sprouted
from the soil on some day of abomination. Pans and cans also littered
the roadways, together with all sorts of things that had fallen from
the rent knapsacks--rice, brushes, and cartridges. And field followed
field amid the same immense devastation, fences torn down, trees
scorched as though they had been set on fire, the very soil furrowed
by the shells, or so trodden underfoot, so hardened, so ravaged by the
gallop of masses of men, that it seemed as though it must for evermore
remain unproductive. And while the rain blurred everything with its wan
moisture, a persistent smell arose, the smell peculiar to battlefields,
which stink of fermenting straw and burning cloth, a commingling of
filth and gunpowder.

Weary of these fields of death, through leagues and leagues of which
it seemed to her she had been marching, Silvine gazed around her with
growing anguish; 'Where is it? where is it, then?'

But no answer came from Prosper, who was growing uneasy. For his own
part, he was upset less by the sight of his dead comrades than by that
of the horses, the poor horses prone on their sides, such numbers of
which they encountered. Some were really pitiable to see, lying in
frightful postures with heads torn off and flanks ripped open, giving
egress to their entrails. Several, stretched upon their backs and
displaying their huge bellies, upreared their four stiffened legs like
posts. The boundless plain was quite bumpy with these stricken steeds.
Some of them were not yet dead though they had been in agony for two
days past; and at the faintest sound, they raised their pain-racked
heads, wagging them to right and left, and then letting them fall
again; whilst others, remaining motionless, gave vent at times to a
loud call, that plaint of the dying horse, so peculiar, so frightfully
dolorous, that the very atmosphere quivered at the sound. And Prosper,
with his heart lacerated, bethought himself of Zephyr, fancying that he
would perhaps see him again.

All at once he felt the ground shaking as under the gallop of a furious
charge. He looked round, and barely had time to call to his companion:
'The horses! the horses! Run behind that wall!'

A hundred chargers or so, all riderless, and some still laden with
heavy kits, were rushing from the summit of a neighbouring slope,
rolling towards them at a hellish pace. These were the mounts which
had lost their riders in the fight Remaining on the field, they had
instinctively collected together, and having neither hay nor straw,
they had for a couple of days past been cropping the scanty grass,
pulling the hedges to pieces, and gnawing the bark of the trees. And
now, whenever hunger pricked them like a spur, they started off all
together at a mad gallop, and charged across the blank, silent country,
crushing the dead, and finishing off the wounded.

The herd was drawing near, and Silvine only had time to pull the donkey
and the little cart behind the low wall: 'Good heavens! they will break
everything!'

The horses, however, had leapt the barrier; there was merely a roll of
thunder as it were, and then they were galloping off, plunging into a
hollow road which stretched away to the verge of a wood, behind which
they disappeared.

Having led the donkey back into the track, Silvine insisted upon
Prosper answering her: 'Come, where is it?'

Turning and surveying the horizon on every side, he answered: 'There
were three trees--I must find them--a fellow doesn't see very clearly,
you know, when he's fighting, and it isn't easy afterwards to find out
the road one took.'

Then, on perceiving some people on his left, two men and a woman, it
occurred to him to question them. But the woman fled at his approach,
and the men warned him away with threatening gestures. Others whom
he saw, clad in sordid garments, inexpressibly filthy, and with the
suspicious-looking faces of bandits, were careful to avoid him,
slinking away between the bushes like crawling, crafty animals. And on
noticing that the dead, in the rear of these evil-looking men, were
shoeless, displaying their bare white feet in the grey light, he ended
by realising that these prowlers were some of the tramps following
the hostile armies, plunderers of corpses, predatory German Jews,
who had entered France in the wake of the invasion. One tall, thin
fellow darted away ahead of him at a gallop, with a sack burdening his
shoulders, and stolen silver and stolen watches jingling in his pockets.

A lad of thirteen or fourteen allowed Prosper to approach him, however,
and protested loudly when the Chasseur, finding that he was French,
began overwhelming him with reproaches: What! couldn't a chap earn
his living, then? For his part, he was simply picking up chassepots,
and received five sous for each one that he found. That same morning,
having fled from his village with his stomach empty since the previous
day, he had hired himself out to a man from Luxemburg who had
contracted with the Prussians to collect the rifles scattered over
the battlefield. The Germans, indeed, feared that if the weapons were
picked up by the frontier peasants, they would be carried off into
Belgium, and sent back into France by another route, and thus quite a
crowd of poor devils was now hunting for the guns, seeking for so many
five-sous, rummaging among the herbage, like the peasant-women who may
be seen bending double in the meadows whilst searching the grass for
dandelions.

'A dirty trade!' Prosper growled.

'Well, a chap must eat,' the youngster answered. 'I'm not robbing
anyone.'

Then, as he did not belong to that district, and could not give any
information, he pointed out a little farmhouse, near by, where he had
seen some people a short time before. Prosper thanked him and was going
off to join Silvine again, when he caught sight of a chassepot half
buried in a furrow. His first thought was to say nothing about it, but
all at once he retraced his steps, and despite himself exclaimed: 'Hi!
there's one here, that will make five sous more for you.'

As they drew near to the farm, Silvine noticed some other peasants
who were digging a long trench with picks and spades. These were
immediately under the orders of German officers, who, with nothing more
formidable than switches in their hands, stood by, stiff and silent,
watching the work. The inhabitants of all the surrounding villages had
in this way been requisitioned to bury the dead; for it was feared
that the rainy weather would hasten the mortification of the corpses.
Near the trench were two carts laden with dead bodies, which a gang of
men was removing and swiftly depositing in the cavity, placing them
side by side in serried array, and without troubling to search their
garments or even to look at their faces. And in the rear of the first
party three other men, provided with large shovels, were covering the
row of corpses with a layer of earth, so thin and scanty, however, that
it was already cracking under the action of the rain. So hastily and
carelessly was the work done, indeed, that before a fortnight was over
a pestilence would be rising from every chink. Silvine could not resist
halting beside the trench and gazing at the poor wretches who were
laid in it. She was shuddering with a horrible fear, an idea that she
recognised Honoré in each blood-smeared face that her eyes fell upon.
Was not that he--that unfortunate fellow who had lost his left eye, or
that other one, perhaps, with the broken jaw? If she did not speedily
find him on that endless, indefinite plateau, he would assuredly be
taken from her beyond power of recovery, and buried all of a heap with
the others. Accordingly she ran off to join Prosper, who had gone on
to the farm-gate with the donkey: 'Good Lord, where is it, then? Ask,
question the people!'

Apart, however, from a servant-woman and her child who had made their
way back from the woods, where they had almost perished of hunger
and thirst, there were only some Prussian soldiers at the farm. It
was a nook suggestive of patriarchal simplicity, of honest rest
following upon the fatigues of the past few days. Some of the Germans
were carefully brushing their tunics, which they had hung on the
clothes-lines. Another, skilful with his needle, had almost finished
darning a hole in his trousers; whilst in the middle of the courtyard
the cook of the party had lighted a large fire, on which the evening
repast was boiling in a huge pot, which exhaled a pleasant smell of
bacon and cabbage. The conquest was already being organised with
perfect tranquillity and discipline. These men, smoking their long
pipes, might have passed for peaceful civilians who had just returned
home. On a bench at the door a brawny, carroty-haired fellow had taken
the servant's child--a little chap of five or six--in his arms, and was
dandling him playfully, speaking German words of endearment to him,
vastly amused to see the urchin laugh at this harsh-syllabled foreign
language which he did not understand.

Prosper, however, at once turned his back upon the farm for fear of
some fresh mishap. But these Prussians were evidently good-natured
fellows; they smiled at sight of the little moke, and did not even
trouble to ask for the _laissez-passer_.

Then came a wild march. On the sun appearing for a moment between two
clouds they saw that it was already low on the horizon. Would night
fall and surprise them in that endless charnel-place? Then a fresh
shower obscured the sun, and all around them there remained but the
pale infinitude of rain, a fine spray which blotted out everything,
the roads, the fields, and the trees. The donkey was still trotting at
the same slow pace behind them, carrying his head low, and dragging
the little cart along with the resigned gait of a docile animal. They
went northward, they came back towards Sedan, no longer knowing what
direction they were taking; and twice they retraced their steps on
recognising certain spots which they had previously passed. They were
doubtless going round and round; and at last, overcome by despair and
exhaustion, they halted at a crossway where three roads met, and stood
there in the pelting downpour, lacking both strength of mind and body
to pursue their search any farther.

To their surprise, however, they suddenly heard some groans, and on
trudging as far as a lonely cottage, on their left, they found two
wounded men lying in a room. All the doors were open, and these men had
seen nobody, not a soul, during the two days that they had been lying
there, shivering with fever, and without even having their wounds
dressed. Thirst was consuming them, torturing them the more acutely
as the rain was streaming all around them, and they could hear it
pattering loudly on the window-panes. Neither could move, and both at
once raised a cry of 'Water! water!' that distressful, longing cry with
which the wounded always pursue the passer-by whenever the faintest
sound of steps rouses them from their lethargy.

When Silvine had brought them some water, Prosper, who in the more
severely wounded of the two men had recognised a comrade, a Chasseur
d'Afrique of his own regiment, realised that they could not be far from
the ground over which Margueritte's division had charged. He questioned
the poor fellow, who, with a vague wave of the arm, ended by answering
affirmatively, 'It was over yonder, on the left, after passing a large
field of lucern.' Provided with this information, Silvine wished to
start off again at once. Some men were passing, picking up the dead,
and having called to them in order that they might come to succour the
two wounded soldiers, she took hold of the donkey's bridle and began
dragging the animal over the slippery ground, all eagerness to make her
way yonder past that field of lucern.

All at once Prosper halted. 'It must be hereabouts. Look! there are the
three trees on the right. Do you see the ruts too? And yonder there's a
broken caisson. We've reached the spot at last.'

Quivering from head to foot, Silvine darted forward and examined two
corpses, two artillerymen who had fallen by the wayside. 'But he's not
here, he's not here!' she exclaimed. 'You must have made a mistake.
Yes, you must have fancied it, your eyes must have deceived you.'

Little by little a mad hope, a delirious joy was gaining upon her.
'Suppose you were mistaken. What if he should be alive? And of course
he must be alive since he's not here.'

But, all at once, she groaned aloud. Turning round, she had found
herself on the very spot where the battery had been established.
The scene was a frightful one, the ground cut up and rent as by an
earthquake, with wreckage lying all around, and corpses thrown upon
their stomachs, their backs, their sides, in horrifying postures; their
arms twisted, their legs doubled under them, their heads askew, their
white teeth showing in their mouths, which howling had distended.
A corporal had expired with both hands pressed upon his eyelids in
a paroxysm of fright, as though to shut out all view of what was
happening. Some gold coins, which a lieutenant had carried in a belt
about his body, had fallen from it, oozing forth with his blood, and
lay scattered among his bowels. The two chums, Adolphe the driver, and
Louis the gun-layer, with their eyes protruding from their sockets,
were still clasped in a fierce embrace, one atop of the other, coupled
even in death. And at last there was Honoré, lying upon his crippled
gun as on a bed of honour, struck both in the flank and the shoulder,
but with his face unscathed and handsome with its expression of anger,
whilst his eyes were still turned in the direction of those Prussian
batteries yonder.

'Oh! my friend,' sobbed Silvine, 'my friend!'

She had fallen upon her knees on the drenched ground, with clasped
hands, in an outburst of mad grief. That name of friend, the only one
that came to her lips, told of all the affection she had lost in losing
that excellent young fellow, so good, so kind, who had forgiven her
and consented, despite everything, to make her his wife. And now her
hope was ended, her life was over. Never had she loved another, never
would she cease to love _him_. The rain was abating, and a flock of
crows whirling and croaking above the three trees, alarmed her like a
threat of evil. Did they want to take him from her once more, that dear
one, dead, alas! whom she had only found again with so much difficulty?
She had dragged herself to him, on her knees, and was driving away the
greedy flies that buzzed above his blankly staring eyes, whose glance
she still obstinately sought.

But her anxiety took another turn when between Honoré's clenched
fingers she espied some blood-stained paper. With gentle jerks, she
tried to pull it from him; but the dead man would not release it, his
fingers grasped it so tightly that it could only have been torn from
him in shreds. It was the letter he had preserved under his shirt,
against his skin, the letter she had written to him, which he had thus
pressed as in a farewell clasp, amid the final throes of his agony. And
when she had recognised it, there stole through all her affliction a
profound and penetrating joy. She was quite overcome on finding that
he had died thinking of her. Yes, most certainly, she would leave that
dear letter in his hand, she would make no further effort to take it
from him since he was so stubbornly bent on carrying it with him to
the grave. A fresh flow of tears relieved her: warm, gentle tears
were these. She had risen to her feet and she kissed his hands, she
kissed his brow, repeating ever the same infinitely loving word: 'My
friend--my friend.'

Meanwhile, however, the sun was sinking, and Prosper had gone to fetch
the blanket, which he spread upon the ground. Then, slowly, reverently,
they both raised Honoré's body, laid it on the blanket, and carried it,
wrapped in the folds of the covering, to the little cart. The rain was
already threatening again, and, mournful little _cortège_ that they
formed, they were starting off once more across that accursed plain,
when all at once they heard a rolling, rumbling noise, as of thunder.
Then again did Prosper call: 'The horses! the horses!'

It was another charge of those famished, wandering cavalry mounts which
had remained at large. They were approaching this time over a vast
level stretch of stubble, in a deep mass, with their manes streaming in
the wind and their nostrils covered with foam; and an oblique ray of
the red sun threw the shadow of their frantic gallop clean across the
plateau to its farther end. Silvine had immediately sprung in front of
the cart, her arms uplifted, as though to stop them, with a gesture of
furious affright. Fortunately, some rising ground turned them aside and
they swerved to the left, otherwise they must have crushed everything.
The ground fairly shook beneath their mad scamper, and their hoofs
sent the stones flying like grape-shot, one pebble wounding the little
donkey on the head. Then they were lost to view in the depths of a
ravine.

'It's hunger that makes them gallop like that,' said Prosper. 'Poor
animals!'

Having bandaged the donkey's head with her handkerchief, Silvine again
took hold of the bridle and the dismal little _cortège_ once more
traversed the plateau on its return journey of a couple of leagues or
so to Remilly. At every few steps Prosper halted to gaze at the dead
horses, his heart heavy at the thought of going off like that, without
having again seen Zephyr.

A little below the wood of La Garenne, they were turning to the left
with the intention of taking the road they had followed in the morning,
when a German outpost demanded their _laissez-passer_, and instead of
turning them away from Sedan ordered them to pass through the town
under penalty of being arrested. There was no questioning this new
order, besides it shortened the journey by a mile and a half, which
they were glad of, weary as they felt in every limb.

Inside Sedan, however, their progress was greatly impeded. As soon
as they were within the fortifications they found themselves in a
foul atmosphere reeking with filth. For three days the town had
been the cesspool of a hundred thousand men; and to complete the
insufferable stench there were the carcases of the horses, which had
been slaughtered and cut up on the various open spaces, and whose
entrails were now rotting in the sunlight, their heads, their bones
lying here and there about the pavements and swarming with flies. A
pestilence would assuredly break out if proper diligence were not shown
in sweeping into the sewers all those horrible beds of manure which in
the Rue du Ménil, the Rue Maqua, and even on the Place Turenne were a
quarter of a yard high. As it happened, printed notices placarded by
the German authorities already requisitioned the inhabitants for the
following day, ordering all of them, no matter what their position
might be, workmen, shopkeepers, merchants, and magistrates, to assemble
with brooms and shovels and set about this necessary work, under threat
of heavy penalties if the town were not clean by the evening. And the
chief judge of the local court was already to be seen at his door,
scraping the pavement and throwing the filth into a barrow, with a
fire-shovel!

Silvine and Prosper, who had turned into the High Street, could walk
but slowly through the fœtid slime. Moreover, a great commotion reigned
in the town, and at every moment the road was blocked. The Prussians
were now searching the houses for such of the French soldiers as had
hidden themselves, obstinately intent on not surrendering. At about
two o'clock on the previous day, when General de Wimpffen had returned
from the château of Bellevue after signing the capitulation there,
a rumour had circulated that the captive army was to be confined on
the peninsula of Iges, until convoys could be organised to escort it
to Germany. Merely a few officers intended to avail themselves of
the clause which accorded them their liberty on condition that they
pledged their word in writing not to serve again during the war. Among
these, it appeared, there was only one general--Bourgain-Desfeuilles,
who alleged his rheumatism as an excuse. And that same morning he
had been saluted with jeers and hisses on taking his departure from
the Golden Cross Hotel in a vehicle. Since dawn the operation of
disarming the French troops had been in progress; the soldiers having
to defile across the Place Turenne, and throw their guns and bayonets
in a pile which, amid a crashing like that of old iron, kept rising
higher and higher in one corner of the square. A detachment of German
troops was assembled there under the orders of a young officer, a
tall, pale fellow in a sky-blue tunic, a plumed cap and white gloves,
who superintended the disarmament with an air of haughty smartness.
A Zouave having refused, with a mutinous gesture, to surrender his
chassepot, the officer gave orders for his removal, exclaiming, in
perfect French: 'That man to be shot at once!' With dejected faces
the other Frenchmen continued defiling, throwing their guns upon the
pile with a mechanical gesture, anxious as they were to have done with
it all. But how many there were who no longer had any weapons, whose
chassepots lay scattered over the country-side! And how many who were
hiding since the previous day, in the vain hope of escaping surrender
amid the inexpressible confusion. The houses they had invaded still
swarmed with these obstinate fellows, who refused to answer when called
and squeezed themselves into corners, imagining that they would not be
found there. The German patrols which scoured the town came upon some
of the vanquished hidden under articles of furniture. Others who had
taken refuge in cellars refused to come out even when discovered, and
the patrols at last fired upon them through the vent-holes. Never was
there such a man-hunt, such an abominable _battue_.

On reaching the bridge over the Meuse the donkey was stopped by the
crush there. A suspicious officer, commanding the picket, which guarded
the bridge, fancied that the little cart might be leaving the town
with some bread or meat, and wished to make sure of its contents. When
he had pulled the blanket aside and saw the corpse, he gazed at it
for an instant as though thunderstruck; then with a wave of his arm
he signed that the vehicle might proceed on its way. But it was still
impossible to advance, in fact the obstruction was increasing. A German
detachment was conducting one of the first convoys of prisoners to
the peninsula of Iges. There seemed no end to this flock of captives.
Onward they pressed, hustling one another, treading on one another's
heels, with their uniforms in tatters, their heads bowed, their eyes
darting hangdog, sidelong glances, their backs bent and their arms
swinging listlessly, like the vanquished men they were, no longer
possessed of even a knife to cut their own throats with. The harsh
voices of their guards rang out urging them onward, like whips raining
lashes through their silent scramble, amid which the only sound was
the plashing of their heavy shoes in the thick mud. Another shower had
begun to fall, and there could be no more sorrowful sight than that
flock of vanquished soldiers, trudging along in the rain, like tramps
and beggars of the highways.

All at once Prosper, who, like the old Chasseur d'Afrique he was, felt
his heart beating so violently with restrained rage that it seemed
likely to burst, nudged Silvine in order to call her attention to two
of the passing soldiers. He had recognised Maurice and Jean, marching
fraternally, side by side, among their comrades; and the little cart
having resumed its journey in the wake of the convoy, he was able to
follow the two friends with his eyes as far as the suburb of Torcy,
whilst they proceeded along the level road which conducts to Iges
between gardens and plots of vegetables.

'Ah!' murmured Silvine, lowering her eyes upon Honoré's corpse,
profoundly distressed by all she had seen. 'Perhaps the dead are the
happier.'

Nightfall surprised them at Wadelincourt, and it had long since been
pitch dark when they once more reached Remilly. Old Fouchard was
stupefied on beholding his son's corpse, for he had felt certain that
it would not be found. For his own part he had employed his day in
driving a good bargain. Officers' horses, stolen on the battlefield,
were being readily sold at twenty francs apiece, and he had given but
five-and-forty francs for three of them.



CHAPTER II

THE HORRORS OF CAPTIVITY--STARVATION, MURDER, AND DISEASE


There was such a scramble whilst the column of prisoners was leaving
Torcy that Maurice was separated from Jean. And, run as he might
afterwards, he only lost himself the more. When he at last reached the
bridge thrown across the canal at the base of the peninsula of Iges, he
found himself among some Chasseurs d'Afrique and was unable to rejoin
his regiment.

The bridge was defended by a couple of guns pointed towards the
peninsula; and the Prussian staff had turned a private residence, just
beyond the canal, into a guard-house, where was stationed a commandant
appointed to receive and guard the prisoners. The formalities were of
a very summary description; the men arriving were simply counted like
sheep, just as they came along, but little attention being paid either
to the different uniforms or the different numbers; and the various
flocks having scrambled past began to encamp wheresoever the chances of
the road led them.

Maurice thought he might venture to apply to a Bavarian officer who sat
there, astride a chair, smoking: 'In which direction, sir, shall I find
the 106th of the Line?'

Was this officer an exception to the rule, and did he not understand
French? Or did he think it amusing to send a poor devil of a prisoner
astray? At all events he smiled, raised his hand and signed to Maurice
to go straight on.

Although Maurice belonged to that part of the country he had never
previously set foot on the peninsula, and he walked onward upon a
journey of discovery much as though he had been thrown by a squall upon
some far-away island. He at first skirted Glaire Tower, a handsome
estate on his left, whose little park, planted beside the Meuse, was
extremely charming. Then the road followed the river which flowed by
on the right hand, below steep and lofty banks. Little by little the
road sloped upwards, winding round the hillock in the centre of the
peninsula; and here were some old quarries, excavations towards which
strayed narrow pathways. Farther on stood a mill beside the water.
Then the road turned, and came back to the village of Iges, built on
a slope and connected with the opposite bank of the Meuse by a ferry
just in front of the spinning works of St. Albert. Finally patches of
cultivated ground and meadows were spread out--quite an expanse of
flat, treeless land, limited by the rounded loop of the river. In vain
did Maurice scan the undulating hill slope: he could only see some
artillery and cavalry taking up their quarters there. Thereupon he
again made inquiries, applying to a corporal of Chasseurs d'Afrique,
who, however, could tell him nothing. Night was gathering and, feeling
weary, he sat down for a moment on a mile-stone.

Then, in the despair which all at once came over him, he perceived
across the Meuse those accursed fields where he had fought two days
before. In the waning light of that rainy day everything had a livid
hue--a dismal, mud-smeared vista was offered to his eyes. The defile
of St. Albert, the narrow road by which the Prussians had approached,
skirted the loop of the river as far as some whitish quarry pits.
The crests of the wood of La Falizette waved beyond the slopes of
the Seugnon hill; and almost in front of him, just a little on the
left, was St. Menges with its road sloping down to the ferry. In the
centre, just opposite, rose the Hattoy hill. Illy was far away in the
rear. Fleigneux nestled behind a bend of the ground; whilst Floing was
nearer in, on the right hand. He recognised the field in which he had
waited, for so many hours, lying among the cabbages; the plateau which
the reserve artillery had attempted to defend; and the crest where he
had seen Honoré expire, stretched upon his shattered gun. And all the
abomination of the disaster seemed to be coming to life again, filling
him with anguish and disgust till he felt sick at heart.

A fear lest he should be overtaken by the darkness induced him to
resume his search. Perhaps the 106th was camping on the low ground,
beyond the village. But he only found some prowlers there, and
accordingly resolved to make the circuit of the peninsula, following
the loop of the river. Whilst crossing a potato field he took the
precaution to tear up some of the plants and fill his pockets with
potatoes; they were not yet ripe, but he had nothing else to eat, for
it unluckily happened that Jean had taken charge of the two loaves
which Delaherche had given them when starting. What especially struck
Maurice was the large number of horses he met on the bare land sloping
gently, from the central hillock, to the Meuse in the direction of
Donchery. Why had all these animals been brought there? How were they
to be fed? Black night had fallen when he reached a little wood,
beside the water, where he was surprised to find the Cent-Gardes of
the Emperor's escort already installed, drying themselves around large
fires. These 'gentlemen,' who thus camped apart from the other troops,
had good tents, pots full of boiling _soupe_, and even a cow, tethered
to a tree. Maurice at once noticed that they gazed askance at him,
wretched-looking Linesman that he was, with his uniform in tatters and
covered with mud. Still they allowed him to cook his potatoes among
the ashes of one of their fires; after which, withdrawing to a tree
a hundred yards away, he sat himself down to eat. It was no longer
raining, the sky had cleared and the stars were shining very brightly
in the depths of the bluey darkness. He then reflected that it would be
best for him to spend the night there, and to resume his search in the
morning. Besides he was quite overcome with fatigue, and the tree would
always afford him some shelter should the rain begin falling again.

He did not manage to sleep, however, haunted as he was by thoughts of
that vast prison open to the night air, in which he realised he was
confined. The Prussians had displayed remarkable acumen in driving
thither the eighty thousand men who remained of the army of Châlons.
The peninsula was a league[37] or so in length, with a width of about
a mile, ample space in which to pen the immense disbanded flock of
vanquished soldiers. And Maurice clearly realised that water surrounded
them without a break, the loop of the Meuse winding round them on three
sides, whilst at the base of the peninsula was the derivational canal,
linking the two adjacent river-beds. At this point only was there an
outlet, the bridge guarded by a couple of cannon. And thus, despite
its extent, nothing would be easier than to guard this camp. He had
already noticed the German sentries, who had been posted in a cordon on
the opposite bank of the Meuse, near the water's edge, at intervals of
fifty yards or so, with orders to fire upon every man who might try to
escape by swimming across the river. Uhlans, moreover, galloped along
in the rear connecting the various pickets; and farther away, scattered
over the country-side, were the black lines of the Prussian regiments,
so that a triple living enceinte penned in the captive army.

At present, however, although insomnia kept his eyes wide open, Maurice
could only see the darkness, amid which the bivouac fires were being
lighted, together with the silhouettes of the motionless sentries,
ranged beyond the pale ribbon of the Meuse. These sentries stood there
erect and black in the starlight, and at regular intervals Maurice
heard their guttural call, a threatening watch-cry which died away,
afar off, amid the loud gushing of the river. As he heard those harsh
foreign syllables speeding along beneath a lovely starlit night of
France, all the nightmare of two days previously was born anew within
him; he once more seemed to behold all that he had again seen whilst
it was light an hour or so previously--that plateau of Illy still
strewn with slain, those accursed outskirts of Sedan, where a world
had crumbled away. Lying on the damp soil at the verge of the wood,
his head resting on the root of a tree, he again sank into the despair
which had taken possession of him on Delaherche's sofa the previous
morning; and that which now tortured him, increasing the anguish of his
pride, was the question of the morrow, a desire to measure the depth
of that great Downfall, to ascertain amid what ruins that world of
yesterday had sunk. Was that abominable war not over, as the Emperor
had surrendered his sword to King William? But he remembered what two
Bavarian soldiers had said whilst conducting him and his comrades to
Iges: 'We all in France, we all to Paris!' Amid his semi-somnolence
there came to him a sudden vision of what was happening--the Empire
swept away, carried off by universal execration; the Republic
proclaimed amidst an outburst of patriotic fever; the shadows of the
Legend of '92 arising, the soldiers of the _levée en masse_, the
armies of volunteers driving the invader from the soil of France. And
everything was intermingled in his poor, ailing head--the demands
of the victors; the harshness of the conquest; the obstinacy of the
vanquished, intent on resisting even to the last drop of their blood;
and the captivity reserved to those eighty thousand men, of whom he was
one, first on that peninsula, and then in the fortresses of Germany
during weeks, months, and perhaps years. Everything was splitting to
pieces--falling for evermore into the depths of limitless misfortune.

The call of the sentries, growing gradually louder and louder, burst
forth in front of him and then slowly died away, afar off. He had
awakened from a short doze, and was turning over on the hard ground
when the profound silence was suddenly rent by the report of a
firearm. Then a death-rattle sped through the black night, and there
came a sound of splashing water, the brief struggle of a body sinking
head-foremost in the stream. Some unlucky fellow had, no doubt, been
hit by a bullet in the chest, whilst attempting to escape by swimming
across the Meuse.

At sunrise on the morrow Maurice arose. The sky was clear, and he was
eager to join Jean and his comrades. For a moment he had an idea of
again scouring the interior of the peninsula, but on reflection he
resolved to complete his round. And just as he again reached the bank
of the canal, he perceived the remnants of the 106th, a thousand men
or so, encamped on the bank, which was screened only by a meagre row
of poplars. Had he turned to the left on the previous day instead of
going straight before him he would at once have overtaken his regiment.
Indeed, nearly all the infantry were heaped together here, along that
bank stretching from Glaire Tower to the château of Villette, another
country seat, surrounded by a few old houses, in the direction of
Donchery; and they were all bivouacking near the bridge, near the only
outlet, in that same instinctive desire for liberty which causes a
flock of sheep to press near the gate of the fold.

At sight of Maurice, Jean raised a cry of delight: 'Ah! here you are at
last! I fancied you were in the river.'

With the corporal were the remaining men of his squad, Pache and
Lapoulle, Loubet and Chouteau, who, after sleeping here and there
under the doorways of Sedan, had eventually been swept together by the
Prussian patrols. So far as their company was concerned, the corporal
was the only superior they had left them, for death had carried
away Sergeant Sapin, Lieutenant Rochas, and Captain Beaudoin; and
although the victors had abolished all distinctions of rank among the
prisoners, deciding that they henceforth owed obedience only to the
German officers, the four men had none the less drawn together around
Jean, knowing that he was prudent and experienced, a man to cling to
in difficult circumstances. And thus, that morning, in spite of the
stupidity of some and the ill will of others, concord and good humour
were paramount among the little party. To begin with, Jean had found
them a spot between two water furrows where the ground was almost dry;
and since they had only half a shelter tent left between them all, they
had here stretched themselves out to pass the night. Then, too, Jean
had just managed to procure some wood and a pot, in which Loubet had
made them some nice warm coffee, which had quite inspirited them. The
rain was no longer falling, the day seemed likely to be a very fine
one, and they still had a little biscuit and bacon left; moreover, as
Chouteau remarked, it was delightful to have no orders to obey, and to
be able to loaf about just as one chose. They were captives, no doubt,
but all the same there was plenty of room. Besides, in two or three
days' time they would be off on the road to Germany. And thus that
first day, September 4, which chanced to be a Sunday, proved a gay one.

Maurice, himself, in better spirits since he had joined his comrades,
experienced but little suffering, save such as was caused him by the
Prussian bands, which played throughout the afternoon on the other side
of the canal. There was psalm-singing in chorus towards the evening;
and, beyond the cordon of sentries, the German soldiers strolled to and
fro in little groups, slowly and loudly chanting in celebration of the
Sabbath.

'Oh, that music!' Maurice exclaimed at last in his exasperation. 'It
pierces me through and through.'

Jean, whose nerves were less susceptible, shrugged his shoulders:
'Well, they have good reason to be pleased. Besides, they perhaps think
that they are entertaining us. The day hasn't been an unpleasant one,
we mustn't grumble.'

At the fall of night, however, the rain came down again. It was a
perfect disaster. Some soldiers had taken possession of the few
abandoned houses on the peninsula. A few others had managed to set up
tents. But the greater number, lacking any kind of shelter, destitute
even of blankets, had to spend the night in the open air under the
torrential downpour. At about one in the morning, Maurice, who had
dozed off with fatigue, awoke, and found himself in a perfect lake.
The water furrows, swollen by the rain, had overflowed, submerging the
ground where he had stretched himself to sleep. Chouteau and Loubet
were swearing with rage, whilst Pache began shaking Lapoulle, who was
still sound asleep amid all this flood. Then Jean, bethinking himself
of the poplars planted alongside the canal, hastened to them for
shelter with his men, who, bending down, spent the remainder of that
frightful night with their backs against the trunks, and their legs
doubled under them to protect them from the big rain drops.

And the morrow and the following day proved really abominable; so heavy
and so frequent were the showers that the men's clothes never once had
time to dry. Famine was beginning, too; there was not a biscuit, not
a bit of bacon, not a grain of coffee left. During those two days,
the Monday and the Tuesday, they lived on potatoes stolen from the
neighbouring fields; and even these became so scarce at the close of
the second day that men with money bought them at the rate of five sous
apiece. It is true that bugles sounded to rations, and the corporal had
in all haste repaired to a large shed at Glaire Tower, where, so it was
rumoured, rations of bread were being distributed. But on the first
occasion he had waited there to no purpose for three hours, and on the
second he had had a quarrel with a Bavarian. The French officers being
unable to do anything to assist their men, in the powerless position
to which they were reduced, it really seemed as though the German
staff had herded the vanquished army together there in the rain with
the intention of starving it to death. No steps apparently were taken,
not an attempt was made to feed those eighty thousand men, whose agony
was now beginning in that frightful hell which was to acquire the name
of the Camp of Misery, a name of woe which in after times the bravest
could not recall without a shudder.

On returning from his long, useless waits before the shed, Jean, as a
rule so calm, flew into quite a passion. 'Are they playing the fool
with us, sounding to rations like that when there's nothing? I'm dashed
if I'll trouble to go there again.'

And yet at the first call he again hastened thither. These regulation
bugle-calls were positively inhuman, and they produced another result
which wrung Maurice's heart. Each time that the bugles sounded, the
abandoned French horses, at large on the other side of the canal,
galloped up and leaped into the water, as excited by those well-known
flourishes as by the prick of the spur. Exhausted by hunger, however,
they were mostly carried off by the current, few of them managing
to reach the bank of the peninsula. They could be seen struggling
lamentably, and so large a number of them was drowned that at last
their floating, inflated carcases obstructed the canal. As for those
that managed to land, they were seized with madness, as it were, and
galloped away across the waste fields.

'Some more meat for the crows!' said Maurice sorrowfully, remembering
the horses that he had already seen in such alarming numbers during the
first night of his captivity. 'If we remain here many days longer, we
shall all be eating one another. Ah! the poor animals.'

The Tuesday proved, indeed, terrible. Jean, who was getting seriously
anxious at Maurice's feverish condition, compelled the young fellow
to wrap himself in a shred of a blanket which he had purchased from
a Zouave for ten francs: whilst, for his own part, with his overcoat
soaked like a sponge, he remained all night exposed to the downpour to
which there was no cessation. The position under the poplars became
untenable, a river of mud was streaming along on all sides, and the
earth was so gorged, so saturated, that it now retained the water on
its surface in deep puddles. The worst was that the six men had their
stomachs empty, their evening meal having been limited to two beets,
which for lack of dry wood they had not even been able to cook. And the
sweetish roots, fresh though they were to the palate, had developed an
insupportable burning sensation in their stomachs. Moreover, dysentery
was now breaking out, caused by fatigue, bad living, and incessant
dampness. With his back to the trunk of the same tree as Maurice, and
with his legs quite under water, Jean stretched out his hand a dozen
times that night to make sure that the young fellow had not uncovered
himself in his agitated slumber. Since Maurice had saved him from the
Prussians, by carrying him in his arms across the plateau of Illy, the
corporal had been paying back his debt a hundredfold. Without reasoning
what he did, he freely gave himself to Maurice, entirely forgot himself
in his affection for him. It was an unmeasured, ever active attachment
on the part of this peasant, who was but slightly removed from the
soil, and could not even find words to express his feelings. For
Maurice, he had already taken food from his own mouth, as the men of
the squad expressed it; and now, had there been need of it, he would
have given him his skin as a covering, to protect his shoulders, and
warm his feet. And amid all the savage egotism that surrounded them,
amid the suffering of appetite, maddened by hunger, he was possibly
indebted to his self-abnegation for the unexpected advantage that he
reaped in retaining his quiet good-humour, and good health; for he
alone still gave proof of strength, and lost but little of his wits.

Thus it happened that, after that fearful night, he put into execution
an idea that had been haunting him. 'I say, youngster,' said he to
Maurice, 'as we get nothing given us to eat, and are being forgotten,
so it seems, in this cursed hole, we must bestir ourselves a bit, if we
don't want to die of hunger. Can you walk?'

The sun was fortunately shining again and had made Maurice feel quite
warm. 'Oh! yes, I can walk well enough,' said he.

'Then we'll go on a journey of discovery. We have some money, and we
shall have to be precious unlucky if we don't find something to buy.
And we mustn't burden ourselves with the others, they are not straight
enough, let them take care of themselves.'

He was, in fact, disgusted with the crafty egotism of Loubet and
Chouteau, who stole whatever they could lay their hands on and never
shared anything with their comrades. And in the same way there was
nothing to be done with either that brute Lapoulle or that black-beetle
Pache.

So Jean and Maurice went off by the road which the latter had already
followed, alongside the Meuse. The park and house of Glaire Tower were
already devastated and pillaged, the lawns ravined as by a storm,
the trees felled, and the buildings invaded. A crowd of ragged,
mud-splashed soldiers, with hollow cheeks and eyes that glittered with
fever, were camping there in gipsy fashion, living like wolves in the
filthy rooms, which they were afraid to leave lest they should lose
their places for the night. On the slopes farther on Jean and Maurice
passed through the cavalry and artillery, formerly so smart and jaunty,
but now sadly down-fallen, disorganised by the torture of hunger which
maddened the horses and scattered the men over the fields in plundering
bands. Outside the mill, on their right hand, they saw a procession of
artillerymen and Chasseurs d'Afrique slowly defiling along: the miller
was selling them flour at the rate of a franc for every two handfuls
which he emptied into their handkerchiefs. The fear, however, of having
to wait too long for any of this, induced Jean and Maurice to proceed
farther on; besides they hoped that they might find something better
in the village of Iges. And they were in consternation when they had
visited the hamlet and found it bare and desolate, just like some
Algerian village after a flight of locusts has fallen upon it. Not a
crumb remained there, neither bread, nor vegetables, nor meat; it was
as though the wretched houses had been scraped bare with the finger
nails. It appeared that General Lebrun had taken up his quarters at the
mayor's. To facilitate the provisioning of the troops he had vainly
endeavoured to organise a system of tickets, the value of which would
have been reimbursed by the State after the war; but no provisions were
obtainable, money was utterly useless. On the previous day a biscuit
had fetched two francs, a bottle of wine seven francs, a small liqueur
glass of brandy one franc,[38] and a pipeful of tobacco half a franc.
And now officers had to mount guard over the general's quarters and the
adjacent hovels, with drawn swords, for frequent bands of prowlers
burst open the cottage doors, stealing even the colza oil from the
lamps and drinking it!

Three Zouaves called to Maurice and Jean in the idea that if five of
them banded together they might bring some enterprise or other to
success. 'Come with us!' they cried. 'There are some horses kicking the
bucket, and if we could only get some dry wood----'

But Maurice and Jean did not go, and the Zouaves rushed upon a
peasant's house, broke open the cupboards and tore the thatch off the
roof. Some officers, however, came up at a run, threatening them with
their revolvers, and put them to flight.

Finding the few people who had remained at Iges as wretched and as
hungry as the soldiers themselves, Jean regretted that he had disdained
the flour at the mill: 'We must go back, perhaps there's still some
left,' said he.

Maurice, however, was growing so weary, so exhausted by hunger, that
Jean left him in a quarry hole, sitting on a rock in full view of the
far-spreading horizon of Sedan. For his own part, after a wait of
three-quarters of an hour he at last returned with a duster full of
flour. They could devise no other plan than to eat it as it was by
the handful. It wasn't nasty, in fact it had no smell and merely the
insipid taste of dough. This breakfast, though a poor one, revived them
somewhat. And they were even lucky enough to find on the rock a pool of
rain water, fairly clean, with which they quenched their thirst.

However, on Jean proposing that they should stay and spend the
afternoon there, Maurice made a violent gesture of refusal. 'No, no,
not here! It would make me ill if I had that long before my eyes.' So
saying, he pointed with his trembling hand to the immense horizon, the
Hattoy hill, the plateaux of Floing and Illy, the wood of La Garenne,
all those hateful fields of slaughter and defeat. 'Just now whilst
I was waiting for you,' he added, 'I had to turn my back on it all,
for I should have ended by howling with rage, yes, howling like an
exasperated dog. You can't imagine the pain it gives me, it drives me
mad!'

Jean gazed at him, astonished that his pride should bleed like that,
anxious too on again espying in his eyes that wild, mad look which he
had previously noticed in them. He thought it best to treat the matter
lightly: 'Well, we can easily settle all that,' said he, 'we'll go to
another part.'

Then they wandered about until evening, wheresoever the paths led
them, visiting the low ground of the peninsula in the hope that they
might still find some potatoes there. The artillerymen, however,
had appropriated the ploughs and turned up the fields, reaping and
gleaning and taking everything away. They thereupon retraced their
steps, and again passed through idle, agonising flocks of captives,
soldiers who were promenading their hunger, strewing the soil with
their numbed bodies, falling from sheer exhaustion by hundreds in the
broad sunlight. Not an hour went by but Jean and Maurice themselves
were overcome and had to sit down. Then all at once exasperation set
them on their feet again, and they once more began prowling round as
though spurred on by the instinct of the animal that seeks its food.
This agony seemed to have been lasting for months, yet the minutes were
rapidly flying by. In the fields in the direction of Donchery, they
were frightened by the wandering horses, and had to seek shelter behind
a wall, where they remained for a long time in an exhausted state,
gazing with dim eyes at those maddened animals tearing along against
the red background of the sunset.

As Maurice had foreseen, the thousands of horses which had been led
into captivity with the army, and could not be fed, proved a source of
daily increasing danger. They had first eaten the bark of the trees,
then they had attacked the trelliswork, the fences, all the planks
they came upon, and now they were becoming cannibals. They could be
seen throwing themselves upon one another and tearing off the hair of
each other's tails, chewing it furiously with foaming jaws. But it
was especially at night time that they became terrible, as though the
darkness oppressed them with a nightmare. They gathered together in
bands and rushed upon the few tents that had been pitched, attracted by
the straw there. In vain had the men lighted large fires to keep them
away; these fires only seemed to excite them the more. Their neighing
was so dolorous, so frightful at times that it seemed like the roaring
of wild beasts. Driven away, they returned yet more numerous and more
ferocious. And at every moment there sped through the darkness the long
cry of agony of some soldier gone astray whom they had knocked over and
crushed in their wild gallop.

The sun was still above the horizon when Jean and Maurice, on their way
back to the camping ground, were surprised to come upon the four men of
their squad, crouching in a ditch as though plotting some evil stroke.
Loubet at once called to them, and Chouteau proceeded to explain:
'It's about to-night's dinner,' said he. 'We shall all end by kicking
the bucket, we haven't had anything to eat for six-and-thirty hours.
But there are some horses, you know, and as horseflesh is by no means
bad----'

'Eh, you'll join us, corporal, won't you?' broke in Loubet, 'for with
such a big animal to handle, the more we are the better it will be.
Look! there's one over yonder whom we've been watching for an hour or
so--that big roan who seems ailing. It will be easier to finish him
off.'

So saying, he pointed to a horse which had just fallen from hunger
at the edge of a ravaged field of beets. Lying on its side, the
animal from time to time raised its poor head, breathing loudly and
mournfully, and gazing around with glassy eyes.

'Ah! what a time to wait!' growled Lapoulle, tortured by his voracious
appetite: 'I'll go and settle him, shall I?'

Loubet prevented him, however: No, thanks! They were not at all anxious
to have a row with the Prussians, who, under penalty of death, had
forbidden the prisoners to kill a single one of the horses, for fear
lest the abandoned carcase might foment a pestilence. It was necessary
to wait till night had closed in. And this was why they were all four
gathered in that ditch, watching with glittering eyes which did not
stir from the animal.

'I say, corporal,' suddenly asked Pache in a somewhat faltering voice,
'you are a man of ideas, couldn't you kill him without hurting him?'

With a gesture of revolt Jean declined the cruel task. Kill that poor,
agonising beast? No, no! His first impulse was to flee and carry
Maurice away with him, so that neither might take any part in that
frightful butchery. But at sight of his companion's pallor he scolded
himself for his sensibility. After all, animals were intended for the
food of man. A fellow ought not to let himself die of hunger when there
was meat available. And pleased to see that Maurice was some what
inspirited by the prospect of dining, he put on a good-humoured air and
answered: 'Well, no, I have no idea as to that, and if he's got to be
killed without being hurt----'

'Oh! I don't care a fig about that,' interrupted Lapoulle, I'll manage
it, you'll see.'

When Jean and Maurice had seated themselves in the ditch, the waiting
was resumed. From time to time one of the party rose up to make sure
that the horse was still on the same spot, stretching its neck towards
the fresh breezes from the Meuse, towards the setting sun, as though
to drink in the life that lingered there. Then, as the twilight slowly
fell, all six men rose up to continue their savage watch, impatient
for the laggard night, and glancing on all sides with wild anxiety to
ascertain if anyone were observing them.

'Ah! dash it!' suddenly exclaimed Chouteau, 'now's the time.'

The surrounding landscape was still broadly defined in the equivocal
owl's light which now prevailed. And Lapoulle ran up the first,
followed by the five others. He had picked up a large round stone in
the ditch, and he rushed upon the horse and began to batter its skull,
with his arms stiffly outstretched as though they had formed a club.
At the second blow, however, the horse made an attempt to get up.
Chouteau and Loubet, standing over its legs, were trying to hold them
down, and calling to the others to help them. The animal neighed in a
terrified, dolorous, almost human voice, struggled to rise, and would
have shattered them like glass had it not been already half dead of
starvation. Its head continued moving, and Lapoulle's blows missed
their aim, so that he was unable to despatch it.

'Curse it! how hard the brute's bones are! Hold him so that I can
settle him.'

Jean and Maurice, whose hearts were frozen, did not hear Chouteau
calling to them, but stood by with hanging arms, unable to make up
their minds to intervene. And, all at once, Pache dropped upon his
knees--in an instinctive impulse of religious pity--joined his hands,
and began stammering prayers such as are said at the bedside of the
dying.

Once more did Lapoulle miss his aim, merely tearing off one of the ears
of the wretched horse, which fell back, giving vent to a loud cry.

'Wait a bit,' growled Chouteau. 'We must settle him, or we shall be
caught. Don't let go, Loubet.'

He had just taken his knife from his pocket, a little knife, the blade
of which was not much longer than the finger. And, stretched upon the
animal's body, with one arm passed round its neck, he dug this blade
into the live flesh, and searched it, cutting and hacking, until he
had found and severed the artery. He had bounded aside when the blood
spurted forth, gushing as from a pipe, whilst the animal's feet stirred
feebly, and great convulsive shudders coursed over its skin. Nearly
five minutes elapsed before it was dead. Its large dilated eyes were
turned, with an expression of doleful fright, upon the haggard men who
were waiting for its death. At last they grew dim, and, all at once,
their light was extinguished. Pache was still upon his knees stammering
a prayer.

When the animal no longer stirred, they were greatly embarrassed as to
how they could cut a nice joint off it. Loubet, who had plied every
calling, certainly pointed out how they ought to proceed if they wanted
to secure the fillet; but it was dark, and having nothing but that
little knife, he proved a clumsy butcher, and fairly lost himself amid
all that warm flesh, still palpitating with life. And the impatient
Lapoulle, having decided to help him by opening the belly, when there
was no necessity to do so, the carnage became something abominable; all
was ferocious haste amid the spilt blood and strewn entrails; they were
like wolves raking the carcase of the prey with their fangs.

'I don't know what piece it can be,' at last said Loubet, rising up,
his arms laden with a huge chunk of meat. 'At any rate, there's enough
here to fill us up to our eyes.'

Overcome with horror, Jean and Maurice averted their heads. Hunger was
torturing them, however, and they followed the band when it galloped
away in dread lest it should be surprised near the slaughtered horse.
Chouteau, by the way, had just made a find--two large beets, which had
been overlooked in the field, and which he carried away. To disburden
his arms Loubet flung the meat upon Lapoulle's shoulders, whilst Pache
carried the squad's pot which they had been lugging about with them so
as to have it handy should their hunt be successful. And the six men
galloped and galloped along without drawing breath, as though they were
being pursued.

All at once, however, Loubet stopped his comrades. 'This is stupid; the
question is, where are we going to cook it?'

Jean, who was recovering his wits, suggested the quarries, which were
not more than three hundred yards away; in one or another of the
cavities there they could kindle a fire without being seen. When they
reached the spot, however, all sorts of difficulties arose. First
came the question of wood. Fortunately they discovered a roadmender's
barrow, the planks of which Lapoulle split with his heels. Then there
was no drinkable water. The little pools of rain-water had been dried
up by the sun during the afternoon. No doubt there was a pump, but it
was much too far away, at Glaire Tower; and besides, to get any water
from it you had to join a procession and wait for hours, and might deem
yourself fortunate if, just as your turn had come to fill your tin,
some comrade did not upset it with his elbow in the scramble. As for
the few wells in the neighbourhood, these had been dry for a couple
of days past, and the buckets only brought up so much mud. Thus the
only available water was that of the Meuse, the bank of which was just
across the road.

'I'll go there with the pot,' suggested Jean.

But the others protested. 'No, no, we don't want to be poisoned, the
river's full of corpses.'

This was true, large numbers of dead men and horses were drifting down
the Meuse. They passed by at every moment, inflated, green, already
mortifying. Many of them had caught in the herbage near the banks, and
remained there, poisoning the atmosphere, whilst the current stirred
them with a continuous quivering. And nearly all the soldiers who
had drunk of that abominable water had been seized with nausea and
dysentery, following upon frightful colics.

Still they had to resign themselves to it, Maurice explaining that it
would hardly be dangerous after being boiled. 'Then I'll go,' repeated
Jean, taking Lapoulle with him.

Black night had fallen by the time the pot, full of meat and water,
had been got on the fire. Loubet had peeled the beets to cook them
in the broth; ''twould make a ragout fit for the other world,' he
remarked. And they all of them urged on the flames, slipping the
remnants of the barrow under the pot, whilst their big shadows danced
about in a fantastic way in the depths of the rocky cavity. At last it
became impossible for them to wait any longer, they threw themselves
on the filthy broth and tore the meat to pieces with their trembling,
clutching fingers, too impatient even to use Chouteau's little knife.
But, despite all their efforts, their stomachs rose. It was the lack
of salt that caused them the most disgust; their stomachs refused to
retain that insipid, pappy beetroot, that half-cooked glutinous flesh
with an argillaceous flavour. They almost immediately began to vomit.
Pache could not go on eating, Chouteau and Loubet heaped insults on
that brute of a horse which they had had so much trouble to kill, and
which now made their stomachs ache. Lapoulle was the only one who dined
copiously; however, he almost died of it during the night, after he
had gone back with the three others to sleep under the poplars of the
canal.

On the way, Maurice, catching hold of Jean's arm, had, without
speaking, dragged him into a by-path. He felt furiously disgusted with
his comrades, and had formed the plan of sleeping in the little wood
where he had spent his first night on the peninsula. The idea was a
good one, and Jean strongly approved of it when he stretched himself in
the sloping soil, which he found quite dry, under the thick foliage.
They remained there till it was broad daylight, falling even into a
deep sleep which brought them back some strength.

The next day was Thursday, but they no longer knew how they were
living, they simply felt pleased at observing that the fine weather
seemed to have set in again. Despite Maurice's repugnance, Jean
prevailed on him to return to the canal bank to see if their regiment
would not leave the peninsula that morning. Every day now some of the
prisoners, columns a thousand and twelve hundred strong, were being
sent off to the German fortresses. A couple of days previously, in
front of the Prussian guard-house, Jean had seen a convoy of officers
and generals who were going to Pont-à-Mousson to take the train there.
A feverish, furious longing to get away from that frightful Camp of
Misery prevailed among one and all. Ah! if their own turn could only
have come, thought Maurice and the corporal; and they were quite in
despair when they found the 106th still encamped on the canal bank, in
the growing disorder caused by so much suffering.

That day, however, they thought they would succeed in getting something
to eat. Quite a trade had sprung up since the morning between the
prisoners and the Bavarians on the other side of the canal. Money
was flung to the latter in handkerchiefs, which were thrown back
wrapped round some coarse brown bread or common damp tobacco. Even the
prisoners who had no money managed to secure something by throwing
over their white regulation gloves, which seemed to have taken the
Bavarians' fancy. For a couple of hours this barbarous mode of exchange
was kept up all along the canal, across which packets were continually
flying. However, when Maurice flung over a five-franc piece, wrapped
in his necktie, the Bavarian who sent him a loaf in exchange threw it
in such a clumsy or tricky fashion that it fell flop into the water,
whereat the Germans burst into a loud guffaw. Twice did Maurice repeat
the experiment, and twice the loaf sent back to him dived into the
canal. On hearing the roars of laughter which arose, some Bavarian
officers ran up and prohibited their men from selling anything to the
prisoners under penalty of severe punishment. The traffic then ceased,
and Jean had to exert himself to calm Maurice, who was shaking his
fists at those thieves yonder, shouting to them to throw him back his
five-franc pieces.

In spite of its bright sunshine the day proved a terrible one. There
were two alerts, two bugle calls, on hearing which Jean hastened to
the shed, where rations were said to be distributed. But on both
occasions, he only secured some digs in the ribs, during the scramble.
The Prussians, so remarkably well organised themselves, continued
displaying a brutal indifference with regard to the vanquished army.
Generals Douay and Lebrun having protested against this inhuman
treatment, they certainly sent a few sheep and some cart-loads of
bread to the peninsula, but there was such an absence of method and
precaution that the sheep were carried off and the carts ransacked as
soon as they had crossed the bridge, so that the troops encamped more
than a hundred yards away were no better off than before. In fact,
the prowlers and pillagers were about the only ones who succeeded
in filling their maws. Jean scented the trick, and ended by leading
Maurice towards the bridge, so that they might wait and watch there for
the arrival of provisions.

It was already four o'clock and they had as yet eaten nothing that
lovely, sunshiny day, when all at once they were delighted to catch
sight of Delaherche. A few of the townspeople of Sedan had, with
great difficulty, obtained permission to go and see the prisoners, to
whom they carried provisions; and Maurice had several times already
expressed surprise at receiving no news of his sister. As soon as they
espied Delaherche, carrying a large basket and with a loaf of bread
tucked under either arm, they sprang forward to meet him, but once
again they came up too late. Such was the rush, indeed, that the basket
and one of the loaves vanished without the manufacturer himself being
able to understand how they had been torn away from him.

Eager as he was for popularity, he had crossed the bridge with a smile
on his lips and an air of affable good fellowship, but now he was
altogether upset and stupefied. 'Ah! my poor friends,' he stammered.

Jean had already taken possession of the remaining loaf, and
vigorously defended it; and whilst he and Maurice were devouring the
bread by the roadside, Delaherche told them the news. His wife, thank
Heaven! was very well; but he was anxious about the colonel, who
had become extremely depressed, although Madame Delaherche, senior,
continued keeping him company from morn till night.

'And my sister?' asked Maurice.

'Your sister, ah yes! She came with me, it was she who brought the two
loaves. Only she had to stay yonder, on the other side of the canal.
Beg as we might, the sentries would not let her pass. The Prussians,
you know, have given strict orders that women are not to be allowed on
the peninsula.'

Then he went on talking of Henriette and of her futile endeavours to
see her brother and assist him. One day, in the streets of Sedan,
chance had brought her face to face with cousin Gunther, the captain in
the Prussian Guards. He was passing along with that stern forbidding
air of his, pretending not to recognise her, and she herself, feeling
her heart rise as though she were in presence of one of her husband's
murderers, had at the first moment hastened her steps. Then in a sudden
veering which she could not account for, she had turned back after him,
and in a harsh, reproachful voice, had told him everything, especially
how her husband had been shot at Bazeilles. And on thus hearing of his
relative's frightful death, he had made but an ambiguous gesture; it
was the fortune of war, he also might have been killed. His soldier's
face barely twitched as he learnt the news. Then, when she spoke to him
of her brother who was a prisoner, begging that he would intervene so
that she might obtain permission to see him, he refused to do so. Such
intervention was not allowed, he said; the orders were strict; and he
spoke of his superior's orders as though they were Divine commandments.
On leaving him, Henriette clearly realised that he deemed himself a
justiciar, and was swayed by all the intolerance and arrogance of an
hereditary enemy, who had grown up hating the race which he was now
chastising.

'Well,' concluded Delaherche, 'at all events you will have had some
little to eat this evening. What worries me is that I fear I sha'n't be
able to get another permit to come here.'

He then asked them if they had any commissions, and obligingly took
charge of some letters, written in pencil, which other soldiers
confided to him, for the Bavarians had been seen laughing and lighting
their pipes with the missives which they had promised to forward.
Then, whilst Maurice and Jean were accompanying him back to the bridge,
he suddenly exclaimed: 'Look! there's Henriette yonder. Can't you see
her waving her handkerchief?'

Indeed, among the throng behind the line of sentinels, a thin little
face could be espied, a white speck, as it were, palpitating in the
sunlight. Greatly affected, with their eyes moist, both soldiers
immediately raised their arms and answered with an energetic wave of
the hand.

The morrow, a Friday, proved the most fearful day that Maurice had
spent on the peninsula. True enough, after passing another quiet night
in the little wood, he had been lucky enough to get some bread to
eat; Jean having discovered an old woman at the château of Villette
who had some for sale, at the moderate price of ten francs the pound.
Later on that day, however, they both witnessed a frightful scene, the
nightmare-like memory of which long haunted them.

Chouteau had noticed the previous evening that Pache no longer
complained, but was going about with a lightsome, contented air, like
a man who has eaten his fill. The idea at once occurred to him that
the slyboots must have a hidden store somewhere; and he was confirmed
in this impression in the morning when he saw Pache go off for nearly
an hour, and come back smiling slyly, with his mouth still full. Some
windfall must certainly have come to him; he had probably got hold of
some provisions or other in one of the scrambles. Thereupon Chouteau
set himself the task of stirring up Loubet and Lapoulle, especially the
latter. 'Ah!' said he, 'what a dirty cur that fellow Pache must be, to
have some grub and not to share it with his comrades. I'll tell you
what, we'll follow him this evening. We'll just see if he'll dare to
gorge himself all alone, when other poor devils are kicking the bucket
all round him.'

'Yes, yes, we'll follow him!' Lapoulle angrily repeated. 'We'll just
see what it means.'

So saying, the colossus clenched his fists, maddened by the idea of
getting something to eat. He experienced even greater suffering than
the others, on account of his terrible appetite; indeed, his torment
became at times so intense that he had even tried to chew the grass. He
had secured nothing else to eat since two days previously, since the
night, in fact, when the horseflesh and beetroot had given him such a
frightful attack of dysentery. Despite his great strength, he was so
clumsy with his big limbs that he had not been able to secure anything
when the provision carts were pillaged. He would now have given his
blood for a pound of bread.

When night was falling Pache glided away among the trees of Glaire
Tower, and the three others cautiously crept after him. 'We mustn't
rouse his suspicions,' repeated Chouteau. 'Be careful, he might look
back.'

However, after going another hundred yards or so, Pache evidently
fancied himself alone, for he began walking rapidly without casting
a glance behind. They were thus easily able to follow him to the
neighbouring quarries, and came up behind him just as he was moving two
large stones to take a half loaf of bread from under them. This was all
that remained of his hoard, just enough to make one more meal.

'You dirty black-beetle!' shouted Lapoulle. 'So that's why you hide
yourself, is it? You'll just give me that. It's my share.'

Give his bread, indeed! Why should he give it? However puny he might
be, his anger made him draw himself erect, pressing the bread to his
heart with all the strength he possessed. He, also, was hungry. 'Mind
your own business!' he answered, 'it's mine!'

Then, at sight of Lapoulle's raised fist, he darted away, galloping
down from the quarries towards the bare fields in the direction of
Donchery. The three others pursued him, panting, as fast as their legs
could carry them. He gained ground, however, being lighter than they
were, so frightened too, and so bent on not losing his bread, that
it seemed as though the wind were carrying him away. He had already
gone more than a thousand yards, and was nearing the little wood on
the river bank, when he overtook Jean and Maurice, who were returning
to their night quarters there. As he rushed by he raised a cry of
distress, whilst they, astounded at sight of this man-hunt so wildly
galloping past them, stopped short at the edge of a field, where they
remained watching. And thus it was that they saw everything.

Stumbling against a stone, Pache unhappily fell to the ground. The
three others were already coming up, swearing and howling, maddened by
their run, like wolves overtaking their prey.

'Give it me, thunder!' shouted Lapoulle, 'or I'll settle your hash!'
And he was again raising his fist when Chouteau, after opening the
little knife that had served to slaughter the horse, passed it to him,
exclaiming: 'Here! take the knife.'

Meantime, however, Jean had darted forward to prevent an affray.
He also was losing his head, and talked of sending them all to the
guard-room; whereat Loubet, with an evil grin, told him he must be a
Prussian, for there were no officers left, so to say, the Prussians
alone now exercising authority.

'D----!' repeated Lapoulle, 'will you give me that bread?'

Despite the terror that blanched his face, Pache hugged the bread yet
more closely to his chest, with the obstinacy of a famished peasant,
who will never part with anything belonging to him.

'No!'

Then in a trice it was all over; the brute planted the knife in his
throat with such violence that he did not even raise a cry. His arms
relaxed, and the hunk of bread rolled to the ground, into the blood
that had spurted from the wound.

At sight of this mad, imbecile murder, Maurice, hitherto motionless,
seemed all at once to lose his reason. Shaking his fists at the three
men, he called them assassins with such vehemence that his frame shook
from head to foot. Lapoulle, however, did not even seem to hear him.
Still crouching on the ground near the corpse, he was devouring the
blood-splashed bread with an air of fierce stupor, as though stunned by
the loud noise of his own jaws; and he appeared so terrible whilst he
thus satisfied his craving appetite, that Chouteau and Loubet did not
even dare to ask him for their share.

Night had now completely gathered in, a clear night with a beautiful
starry sky; and Maurice and Jean, who had betaken themselves to the
little wood, were soon only able to see Lapoulle, who went wandering up
and down the river-bank. Chouteau and Loubet had disappeared, they had
no doubt gone back to the canal-bank, uneasy with regard to that corpse
which they were leaving behind them. Lapoulle, on the contrary, seemed
afraid to go and join his comrades. Oppressed by the weight of that
big chunk of bread which he had swallowed too fast, he was now, too,
after the dizziness of the murder-moment, seized with an anguish which
made motion a necessity; and not daring to turn back along the road,
across which the corpse was lying, he tramped incessantly along the
steep river-bank, with a wavering, irresolute step. Was remorse already
dawning in the depths of that dark soul? Or was it not simply the fear
of discovery? He paced up and down like a wild beast before the bars
of its cage, with a sudden, growing longing to flee, a longing which
was painful like a physical ailment, and which he felt would cause his
death if he did not satisfy it. Quick, quick, he must at once get out
of that prison where he had killed. And yet, despite that eager desire,
he all at once sank down, and for a long time remained wallowing among
the rushes on the bank.

Meantime Maurice, in his horror and disgust, was saying to Jean:
'Listen, I can't stay here a moment longer. It will drive me mad, I
assure you--I'm astonished that my body has held out--my health is not
so bad--but I'm losing my head, I'm losing it sure enough--I shall
be lost if you leave me another day in this hell. Let's get off, I
beg of you, let's get off.' And thereupon he began unfolding various
extravagant plans of escape which he had formed. They would swim across
the Meuse, spring upon the sentinels, and strangle them with a bit
of rope which he had in his pocket; or else they would stone them to
death; or else bribe them and put on their uniforms so as to make their
way through the Prussian lines.

'Be quiet, youngster,' repeated Jean, despairingly. 'It frightens me to
hear you say such foolish things. Is there any sense in it all, is it
possible to get away as you think? Wait till to-morrow, we'll see what
happens. And now don't talk about it any more.'

For his own part, although his heart was overflowing with anger and
disgust, although he was greatly weakened by privation, he still
retained his common sense amid all that nightmare-kind of life which
verged on the profoundest depths of human misery. And as his comrade
became more and more desperate and wished to fling himself into the
Meuse, he had to hold him back and even do him violence, alternately
scolding and supplicating, with tears standing in his eyes. 'There!
look!' he exclaimed all at once.

The water had just splashed, and they saw that Lapoulle had made up his
mind to slip into the river after doffing his capote, for fear lest
it might impede his movements. His shirt could be plainly descried,
forming a whitish spot on the bosom of the black, flowing water. He was
swimming slowly upstream, doubtless on the look-out for some spot where
he might land. Meantime, on the opposite bank, the slim silhouettes
of the motionless sentinels could be plainly distinguished. Then,
all at once, a flash rent the night asunder, and a report crackled,
re-echoing as far as the rocks of Montimont. The river merely bubbled
as though struck downward by a pair of oars, and that was all; forsaken
and inert, Lapoulle's body, the white speck on the dark water, began
floating away, carried along by the current.

At daybreak on the morrow, which was Saturday, Jean again brought
Maurice back to the camping-ground of the 106th in the hope that they
might be leaving the peninsula that day. But there were no orders; it
seemed as though the regiment had been forgotten. Many had now taken
their departure, the camp was emptying, and those who were still left
in it sank more and more deeply into the blues. For eight long days
insanity had been germinating and spreading in that hell. The rain, no
doubt, had given over, but the oppressive, burning sunlight had only
wrought a change of torture. The excessive heat put the finishing touch
to the men's exhaustion, and imparted an alarming epidemical character
to the attacks of dysentery. What with nausea and diarrhœa, this army
of sick men quite poisoned the atmosphere in which it lived. It was no
longer possible to skirt the banks either of the Meuse or the canal, so
foul had become the stench of the drowned horses and soldiers rotting
among the herbage. Moreover, the horses which had died of starvation
lay putrefying in the fields, exhaling such a pestilence that the
Prussians began to fear for themselves, and bringing picks and shovels,
compelled the prisoners to bury the bodies.

That Saturday, by the way, the famine ceased. As their numbers were
now greatly reduced, and provisions were coming in from all sides, the
captives passed, all at once, from extreme destitution to the most
abundant plenty. There was no lack of bread or meat, or even wine, and
they ate from dawn till sunset, to the point of killing themselves.
Night fell and some were still eating, and even went on eating till the
following morning. And naturally enough many of them gave up the ghost.

Throughout the day Jean's one preoccupation was to keep a watch on
Maurice, for he realised that the young fellow was now ripe for any
extravagant action. Heated by wine he had even talked of cuffing a
German officer in order that he might be sent away. Accordingly, in the
evening, having discovered a vacant corner in the cellar of one of the
outbuildings of Glaire Tower, Jean thought it prudent to go and sleep
there with his companion, in the hope that the latter would be calmed
by a good night's rest. But it proved the most fearful night of their
whole sojourn in the camp, a perfect night of horrors, during which
they were not once able to close their eyes. Other soldiers helped to
fill the cellar, and among them were two men lying side by side in the
same corner, and dying of dysentery. As soon as the darkness had come,
these two did not cease complaining, with hollow groans, inarticulate
cries, followed at last by a death-rattle which became louder and
louder, sounding so awful in the pitchy darkness that the other men who
were lying there, longing to sleep, became quite enraged, and called to
the dying soldiers to hold their peace. But the latter did not hear,
and the rattle went on, ceasing for a moment perhaps every now and
then, but suddenly breaking forth anew, and then drowning every other
sound; whilst, in the intervals, the drunken clamour of the comrades
who were still eating, unable to satisfy themselves, was wafted from
without.

Then Maurice's agony began. He had tried to flee from that plaint of
atrocious pain, which brought the sweat of anguish to his brow; but
whilst he was rising and fumbling he stumbled over some outstretched
limbs and fell to the ground again, walled up, as it were, with those
dying men. And he made no further attempt to escape. A vision of the
whole frightful disaster was rising up before him, from the time of
their departure from Rheims to the crushing blow of Sedan. It seemed
to him also as though the passion of the Army of Châlons were only
that night coming to an end, amid the inky blackness of that cellar,
resounding with the death-rattle of those two soldiers who prevented
their comrades from sleeping. The army of despair, the expiatory
flock, offered up as a holocaust, had, at each of its Stations,[39]
paid for the faults of all with the red flood of its blood. And, now,
ingloriously slaughtered and beslavered, it was sinking to martyrdom
beneath a more brutal chastisement than it had deserved. 'Twas too
much, Maurice was boiling over with anger, hungering for justice,
burning to avenge himself on Destiny.

When the morning twilight appeared one of the two soldiers was dead,
but the other's throat was still rattling.

'Come on, youngster,' said Jean, gently; 'we'll go and get some fresh
air, that will be best.'

Strolling along in the pure morning air, which was already warm, they
skirted the steep river-bank till they again found themselves near the
village of Iges. And then Maurice suddenly became more excited than
ever, shaking his fist at the far-spreading, sunlit horizon of the
battlefield, which was spread out before him, the plateau of Illy just
opposite, St. Menges on his left, and the wood of La Garenne on his
right hand.

'No, no!' he cried. 'I cannot--I cannot bear the sight of all that any
longer! It pierces my heart and drives me mad! Take me away, take me
away at once!'

That day was again a Sunday; the pealing of church bells was wafted
from Sedan, and a German regimental band could already be heard playing
in the distance. However, there were still no orders for the 106th,
and, frightened by Maurice's growing delirium, Jean made up his mind
to try a plan which he had been nursing since the previous day. On
the road, in front of the German guard-house, preparations were being
made for the departure of another regiment, the 5th of the Line. Great
confusion prevailed in the column, which an officer, who spoke very
indifferent French, could not succeed in counting. And thereupon Jean
and Maurice, having torn off both the collars and buttons of their
uniforms, in order that the number of their regiment might not betray
them, slipped into the midst of the throng, crossed the bridge, and
thus at last found themselves on the road. The same idea must have
occurred to Chouteau and Loubet, whom they espied behind them, glancing
nervously on either side, like the murderers they were.

Ah! how great was the relief of those first happy moments! Now that
they were outside their prison, it seemed like a resurrection, a return
to living light and boundless air, the flowery awakening of every hope.
And whatever might be their misfortunes now, they feared them not, they
could afford to laugh at them, for had they not emerged unscathed from
the frightful nightmare of the Camp of Misery?



CHAPTER III

THE SLAVE-DRIVERS--A BID FOR FREEDOM


That morning, for the last time, had Jean and Maurice heard the gay
calls of the French bugles, and now they were marching along the
road to Germany among the drove of prisoners, which was preceded and
followed by platoons of Prussian soldiers, others of whom, with fixed
bayonets, kept a watch upon the captives on either hand. And now they
only heard the shrill, dismal notes of the German trumpets at each
guard-post that they passed.

Maurice was delighted to find that the column turned to the left, so
that it would evidently pass through Sedan. Perhaps he would be lucky
enough to catch a glimpse of his sister there. However, the three-mile
march from the peninsula of Iges to the town, sufficed to damp the
joy he felt at having emerged from that cesspool where he had been
agonising for nine long days. This pitiable convoy of prisoners, of
disarmed soldiers with hanging arms, led away like so many sheep, at a
hasty, timorous scamper, was but a fresh form of torture. Clad in rags,
soiled with the filth in which they had been abandoned, emaciated by
more than a week's privation, they now looked like so many vagabonds,
suspicious tramps picked up along the roads by some scouring party of
gendarmes. By the time they had reached the suburb of Torcy, where men
paused on the side-walks and women came to their doors to gaze at them
with an expression of gloomy compassion, Maurice already felt stifling,
and bowed his head, his mouth twitching with the bitterness of his
sensations.

Jean, however, endowed with a practical mind and a tougher skin,
thought only of their foolishness in neglecting to bring a couple of
loaves of bread away with them. In the wild haste of their departure
they had come away, indeed, with their stomachs empty, and hunger
was once again weakening their legs. Other captives must have been
similarly situated, for many of them held out money, begging the people
of Torcy to sell them something. One very tall fellow, who looked
extremely ill, waved a bit of gold, with his long arm raised over the
heads of the soldiers of the escort, and was in despair that he could
find nothing to buy. Just then Jean, who was watching, espied a dozen
loaves in a pile, outside a baker's shop, some little distance ahead.
Before any of the others he threw down a five-franc piece, intending
to take a couple of the loaves. Then, as one of the Prussian soldiers
brutally pushed him back, he obstinately made an effort to regain his
money. But the captain in charge of the column, a bald-headed little
man with a brutal face, was already rushing up. Raising his revolver
with the butt downward over Jean's head, he declared with an oath
that he would split the skull of the first man who dared to stir. And
thereupon they all bent their backs and lowered their eyes, continuing
their march with a subdued tramp, the quailing submissiveness of a
flock of sheep.

'Oh! how I should like to slap him,' muttered Maurice savagely, 'box
his ears, and smash his teeth with a back-hander.'

From that moment he could not bear to look at that captain, whose
scornful face he so desired to smack. They were now entering Sedan,
crossing the bridge over the Meuse, and not a moment passed without
some fresh scene of brutality. A woman, a mother doubtless, was
desirous of embracing a young sergeant, but was pushed back so
violently with the butt of a gun, that she fell to the ground. On the
Place Turenne some well-to-do townsfolk were belaboured because they
compassionately threw provisions to the prisoners. In the High Street
one of the captives, having slipped down in trying to take a bottle
of wine offered to him by a lady, was kicked to his feet again. And
although, during the last eight days, Sedan had frequently seen the
miserable herds of the defeat driven through its streets in this same
brutal fashion, it could not accustom itself to the spectacle, but at
each fresh _défilé_ was stirred by a fever of compassion and resentment.

Jean, who by this time had grown calm again, was, like Maurice,
thinking of Henriette; and, all at once, too, the idea that they might
see Delaherche occurred to him. He nudged his comrade and remarked:
'Keep your eyes open by-and-by if we pass down the street.'

And, indeed, as soon as they entered the Rue Maqua, they caught sight
of several heads peering forth from one of the monumental windows
of the factory, and as they drew nearer, they recognised Delaherche
and his wife Gilberte, with their elbows resting on the window bar,
whilst behind them stood Madame Delaherche senior, erect, with a stern
expression on her face. They all three had some loaves with them, and
these Delaherche flung to the famished captives who were holding up
trembling, imploring hands.

Maurice immediately noticed that his sister was not one of the party;
whilst Jean, on seeing so many loaves rain down, became all anxiety,
fearing that none would remain for them. He waved his arm frantically
and called: 'For us! For us!'

The Delaherches evinced an almost joyous surprise. Their faces, pale
with pity, immediately brightened, and gestures expressive of their
pleasure at the meeting escaped them. Gilberte herself wished to throw
the last loaf into Jean's arms, and did so in such a charmingly awkward
way that she could not restrain a pretty laugh at her own expense.

Unable to halt, Maurice turned his head, and with the greatest rapidity
called in an anxious, questioning tone: 'And Henriette? Henriette?'

Delaherche answered in a long phrase which was drowned by the tramping
of the men. He must have realised that the young fellow had not heard
him, for immediately afterwards he began making a variety of signs,
pointing especially towards the South. However, the column was already
entering the Rue du Ménil, and the factory façade was lost to sight,
together with the three heads protruding from the window, and a hand
which was waving a handkerchief.

'What did he say to you?' asked Jean.

Maurice, sorely worried, was still vainly looking behind him. 'I don't
know, I didn't understand--I shall be anxious now, as long as I don't
get some news.'

And meantime the tramping continued, the Prussians hastened the march
with the brutality of conquerors, and the wretched flock, stretched
into a narrow file, passed out of Sedan by the Ménil Gate, scampering
along like sheep in fear of the dogs.

As they passed through Bazeilles, Jean and Maurice bethought themselves
of Weiss, and looked for the ashes of the little house which had been
so valiantly defended. During their sojourn at the Camp of Misery some
comrades had told them of the devastation of the village, the fires and
the massacres, but the sight they beheld surpassed all the abomination
they had pictured. Although twelve days had now elapsed since the
disaster, the piles of ruins were still smoking. Many damaged walls had
fallen in, and in all this village of two thousand souls there were now
not ten houses standing. The captive soldiers were consoled somewhat,
however, on meeting numerous barrows and carts full of Bavarian
helmets and rifles, which had been picked up since the struggle. This
proof that a large number of these cut-throats and incendiaries had
been slain, in some measure relieved the prisoners' feelings.

They were to halt at Douzy, nominally for the purpose of breakfasting,
and did not get there without having suffered. Exhausted, indeed, by
their long fast, the captives were speedily fatigued. Those who had
gorged themselves with food on the previous day, became giddy and
heavy, and felt their legs sink beneath them; their gluttony, far
from restoring their lost strength, had, in fact, only weakened them
the more. And so, when the column halted in a meadow on the left of
the village of Douzy, the unfortunate fellows flung themselves on the
grass, lacking even the energy to eat. There was no wine, and some
charitable women who endeavoured to approach, bringing a few bottles,
were driven away by the sentries. One of them, badly frightened, fell
and sprained her ankle, and then there were cries and tears, quite a
revolting scene, whilst the Prussians, who had confiscated the bottles
of wine, proceeded to drink their contents. This tender compassion
of the peasants for the poor soldiers who were being led away into
captivity, was constantly manifested along the route; but on the other
hand they were said to display great harshness towards the general
officers. A few days previously the inhabitants of that very village of
Douzy had hissed a convoy of generals who were proceeding on parole to
Pont-à-Mousson. The roads were not safe for officers; men in blouses,
soldiers who had escaped the foe, or who had possibly deserted before
the fight, sprang upon them with pitchforks to massacre them, shouting
that they were cowards and had sold themselves; thus helping to ingraft
that legend of treachery which twenty years later still caused the
folks of these districts to speak with execration of all who were in
command during that disastrous campaign.

Seated on the grass, Maurice and Jean ate half of their loaf, and
were luckily able to wash it down with a drop of brandy, with which a
worthy farmer managed to fill a flask they had. Then the starting off
again proved a terrible business. They were to sleep at Mouzon, but
although the march was a short one, the effort they must needs make
appeared more than they could accomplish. They were unable to rise
without groaning, to such a point were their weary limbs stiffened by
the slightest rest. Several men whose feet were bleeding took off their
boots to be able to resume the march. Dysentery was still wreaking
havoc among them; they had gone but a thousand yards or so when a first
man fell and was pushed against the wayside bank. Farther on two others
sank down beside a hedge, and it was night before an old woman came
along and succoured them. Those who kept up were tottering, leaning
on sticks which the Prussians, possibly in a spirit of derision, had
allowed them to cut on the verge of a little wood. They had become a
mere band of beggars covered with sores, emaciated, and scarce able
to breathe. Yet their custodians continued treating them with great
brutality; those who stepped aside even to satisfy a want of nature
were whacked into the ranks again. The escort-platoon in the rear had
orders to drive on the laggards at the bayonet's point. A sergeant
having refused to go any farther, the captain commanded two of his
men to catch hold of him under the arms, and drag him along till he
consented to walk afresh. Especially were the captives tortured by that
bald-headed little officer, whose face they longed to slap, and who
abused his knowledge of French to insult them in their own language, in
curt galling phrases, as cutting as the lashes of a whip.

'Oh! how I should like to hold him,' Maurice passionately repeated,
'hold him, and drain him of all his blood, drop by drop.'

The young fellow could no longer endure it all; he suffered, however,
far more from the anger he was compelled to restrain than from physical
exhaustion. Everything exasperated him, even those jarring calls of the
Prussian trumpets at which, in his enervated condition, he could have
howled like a dog. He felt that he should be unable to accomplish this
cruel journey without getting his skull cracked. Even now in passing
through the smallest hamlets he experienced intense suffering at sight
of the women who looked at him with so deep an expression of pity. What
would it be then when they got to Germany, and the townsfolk scrambled
to see them, and greeted them, as they greeted the other prisoners,
with insulting laughter? He pictured the cattle-trucks in which they
would be heaped together, the nauseating abominations and tortures of
the road, the dreary life in the fortresses under the snow-laden sky of
winter. No, no! rather death at once, rather the risk of leaving his
skin at the turn of a road on the soil of France than rot over yonder,
in some black casemate, possibly for long months.

'Listen,' said he, in a low voice to Jean, who was walking beside him,
'we'll wait till we pass a wood, and then we'll jump aside and slip
between the trees. The Belgian frontier isn't far, we shall surely find
some one or other to guide us.'

Jean shuddered; despite the feeling of revolt which was making him also
dream of escape, he yet retained his calmer, more practical mind. 'You
are mad,' he said. 'They would fire on us, and we should both be shot.'

But there was a chance that they might not be hit, retorted Maurice;
besides, even supposing they were shot down, well, so much the better.

'But supposing we escaped,' continued Jean, 'what would become of us in
our uniforms? You can see very well that the country is covered with
Prussian pickets. It would, at any rate, be necessary to have some
other clothes. Yes, it's too dangerous, youngster. I can't let you do
anything so foolish.'

It became necessary that he should restrain the young fellow, and
whilst he strove to calm him with chiding but affectionate words, he
caught hold of his arm and pressed it closely to his side, so that
they appeared to be mutually supporting one another. They had taken
but a few steps, however, when some words exchanged in an undertone
behind them made them turn their heads. The whisperers were Chouteau
and Loubet, who had started from the peninsula that morning at the
same time as themselves, and whom they had hitherto avoided. The two
rascals were now at their heels, however, and Chouteau must have heard
what Maurice had said of trying to escape through a plantation, for he
adopted the idea on his own account. 'I say,' he muttered, craning his
head forward so that they felt his breath on their necks, 'we'll join
you. That idea of sloping's a capital one. Some of the comrades have
already gone off, and we certainly can't let ourselves be dragged like
so many dogs to the country where these pigs live. Is it agreed, eh?
Shall we four fellows take a breath of fresh air?'

Maurice was again growing feverish, and Jean turned round to say to the
tempter: 'Well, if you're in a hurry, you can go on in front. What do
you hope for?'

Under the corporal's searching gaze, Chouteau became disconcerted, and
imprudently let the cat out of the bag. 'Well! it would be easier if
there were four of us,' said he. 'One or two would always manage to get
off.'

Thereupon, with an energetic shake of the head, Jean altogether
declined taking part in the venture. He mistrusted Monsieur Chouteau,
said he, and feared some act of treachery. However, he had to exert all
his authority over Maurice to prevent the young fellow from yielding to
his desire, for just then an opportunity presented itself; they were
passing a very leafy little wood, which was merely separated from the
road by a field thickly dotted with bushes. To gallop across that field
and disappear in the thickets, would not that mean safety and freedom?

Loubet had so far said nothing. Firmly resolved, however, not to go and
moulder in Germany, he was sniffing the air with his restless nose,
and watching for the favourable moment with those sharp eyes of his,
like the crafty fellow he was. Doubtless he relied on his legs and his
artfulness, which had so far always helped him out of his scrapes. And
all at once he made up his mind. 'Ah! dash it! I've had enough. I'm
off.'

At one bound he had sprung into the neighbouring field, and Chouteau,
following his example, galloped off beside him. Two men of the escort
at once started in pursuit, without either of them thinking of stopping
the runaways with a bullet. It was all over so quickly that at the
first moment one could hardly understand what had happened. However,
it seemed as though Loubet, who had taken a zigzag course through the
bushes, would certainly escape, whereas Chouteau, who was less nimble,
already appeared on the point of being recaptured. But with a supreme
effort he all at once gained ground, and, on overtaking his comrade,
contrived to trip him up. And then, whilst the two Prussians were
springing upon the prostrate man to hold him down, the other bounded
into the wood and disappeared. A few shots were fired after him, the
escort suddenly remembering its needle-guns, and a _battue_ was even
attempted among the trees, but with no result.

Meanwhile the two German soldiers were belabouring the prostrate
Loubet. The captain had rushed to the spot, quite beside himself, and
shouted that an example must be made; at which encouragement the men
continued raining such savage kicks and blows with the butts of their
guns upon the recaptured prisoner, that, on being raised from the
ground, he was found to have his skull split and an arm broken. Before
they reached Mouzon he expired in the little cart of a peasant, who had
been willing to take him up.

'There, you see,' Jean contented himself with muttering in Maurice's
ear.

They both darted towards the impenetrable wood a glance which expressed
all their hatred of the bandit who was now galloping off in liberty;
and they ended by feeling full of pity for the poor devil, his victim;
a lickerish tooth, no doubt, not of much value certainly, but all the
same good company, full of expedients, and by no means a fool. Yet his
fate had shown that no matter how artful a man might be, he inevitably
found his master and came to grief at last.

In spite of this terrible lesson, however, Maurice, on reaching Mouzon,
was still haunted by that fixed idea of escaping. They were all so
frightfully weary on their arrival that the Prussians had to help them
pitch the few tents which were placed at their disposal. The camp was
formed near the town, on some low, marshy ground, and the worst was
that another column having occupied the same spot on the previous day,
it was covered with filth, to protect themselves from which the men had
to spread out a number of large flat stones, which they luckily found
in a heap, near by. The evening proved less trying, as the watchfulness
of the Prussians relaxed somewhat when their captain had gone off to
take up his quarters at an inn. The sentries began by letting some
children throw apples and pears to the prisoners, and at last even
allowed the inhabitants of the neighbourhood to enter the camp, so that
there was soon quite a little crowd of improvised hawkers there, men
and women, selling bread, wine, and even cigars. All those who had any
money ate, drank, and smoked, and in the pale twilight the scene was
like some corner of a village market, full of noisy animation.

Maurice, however, seated behind one of the tents, was growing more and
more excited, again and again saying to Jean: 'I cannot stand it any
longer. I shall bolt as soon as it is dark. To-morrow we shall be going
farther and farther away from the frontier, and it will then be too
late.'

'All right, we'll try it then,' at last replied Jean, unable to resist
the young fellow's entreaties any longer, and giving way, on his own
side, to this same haunting idea of escape. 'We shall soon see if we
leave our skins behind us.'

From that moment, however, he began scanning all the vendors around
him. Some comrades had procured blouses and pants, and it was rumoured
that some charitable folks of Mouzon had got together large stocks of
clothes in view of facilitating the escape of the captives. Jean's
attention was almost immediately attracted by a pretty girl, a tall
stag-eyed blonde of some sixteen summers, who had on her arm a basket,
in which three loaves of bread were to be seen. She did not call out
what she had for sale like the others did, but stepped along in a
hesitating way, with a smile which, although engaging, was somewhat
tinged with anxiety. Jean gazed steadily in her face, and at last
their eyes met, and for a moment commingled. Then the pretty girl
came forward, still smiling in her embarrassed way: 'Do you want some
bread?' she asked.

Jean did not answer, but questioned her with a wink. And as she nodded
her head in an affirmative way, he popped the question in a very low
voice: 'There are some clothes?'

'Yes, under the loaves,' she answered, thereupon making up her mind to
call out: 'Bread! bread! Who'll buy bread?'

When Maurice, however, wished to slip twenty francs into her hand,
she hastily withdrew it, and ran off, leaving them the basket. Still,
before she disappeared, they saw her turn round and dart on them the
tender, sympathetic laugh of her lovely eyes.

Although they had the basket they were still as perplexed as ever. They
had strayed from their tent, and were so bewildered that they could
not find it again. Where should they stow themselves away? How could
they change their clothes? It seemed to them that everyone was prying
into that basket, which Jean was carrying in such an awkward manner,
and could plainly detect what it contained. At last, however, they made
up their minds, and entered the first empty tent they came upon, where
in desperate haste each of them divested himself of his regimentals
and slipped on a pair of trousers and a blouse. They placed their
uniforms under the loaves in the basket and left the latter in the
tent. However, they had only found one cap among the garments provided,
and this Jean had compelled Maurice to put on. For his own part, he
was bareheaded, and, exaggerating the danger, he fancied himself lost.
So he was still lingering there, wondering how he could obtain any
headgear, when the idea suddenly came to him to buy the hat of a dirty
old man whom he saw selling cigars. 'Three sous apiece, Brussels
cigars, five sous a couple, Brussels cigars!'

There had been no customs' service on the frontier, since the battle of
Sedan, so that Belgian articles were flooding the country-side without
let or hindrance. The ragged old fellow had already realised a handsome
profit, but he nevertheless manifested exorbitant pretensions when he
understood why Jean wished to buy his hat, a greasy bit of felt with a
hole in the crown. A couple of five-franc pieces had to be handed him
before he would part with it, and even then he whimpered that he should
certainly catch cold.

Another idea, however, had just occurred to Jean, that of purchasing
the remainder of the old fellow's stock in trade, the three dozen
cigars or so which he was still hawking through the camp. And having
accomplished this, the corporal in his turn began walking about, with
the old hat drawn over his eyes, whilst in a drawling voice he called:
'Three sous a couple, three sous a couple, Brussels cigars!'

This meant salvation, and he signed to Maurice to walk on before him.
The young fellow, by great good fortune, had just picked up an umbrella
dropped or forgotten by one of the hawkers, and as a few drops of rain
were falling, he quietly opened it so that it might screen him whilst
passing the line of sentinels.

'Three sous a couple, three sous a couple, Brussels cigars!' cried
Jean, who in a few minutes had rid himself of his stock. The other
prisoners laughed and pressed around him; here at all events, said
they, was a reasonable dealer who didn't rob poor folks! Attracted too
by the cheapness of the cigars some of the Prussians even approached,
and Jean had to supply them. He manœuvred so as to pass the guarded
camp-line, and eventually sold his two last cigars to a big-bearded
Prussian sergeant, who did not speak a word of French.

'Don't walk so quick, dash it all!' he repeated as he walked on behind
Maurice; 'you'll get us caught if you do.'

Their legs were almost running away with them, and only a great effort
induced them to pause for a moment on reaching a crossway, where some
clusters of people were standing outside an inn. Some French gentlemen
were there, peaceably chatting with several German soldiers; and Jean
and Maurice pretended to listen and even ventured to say a few words
about the rain, which it seemed likely would fall heavily during the
night. Meantime, a fat gentleman, who was among the persons present,
looked at them so persistently that they trembled. As he ended,
however, by smiling in a good-natured way, they ventured to ask him in
an undertone: 'Is the road to Belgium guarded, sir?'

'Yes, but go through that wood and then bear to the left, across the
fields.'

When they found themselves in the wood, amid the deep, dark silence
of the motionless trees, when they could no longer hear a sound, when
nothing more stirred and they believed that they were really saved, a
feeling of extraordinary emotion threw them into one another's arms.
Maurice wept, sobbing violently, whilst tears slowly gathered in
Jean's eyes and trickled down his cheeks. Their nerves were relaxing
after their prolonged torments, they hopefully thought that perhaps
suffering would now take some compassion on them and torture them no
longer. And meantime they clasped each other closely in a distracted
embrace, fraught with the fraternity born of all that they had suffered
together; and the kiss that they exchanged seemed to them the most
loving, the most ardent of their life, a kiss such as they would never
receive from a woman, the kiss of immortal friendship exchanged in the
absolute certainty that their two hearts no longer formed but one, for
ever and ever more.

'Youngster,' resumed Jean in a trembling voice, when they had ceased
clasping one another, 'it's already a good deal to be here, but we are
not at the end of the job. We must take our bearings a little.'

Although he was not acquainted with this point of the frontier, Maurice
declared that they need only go on before them; and thereupon gliding
along, one behind the other, they stealthily made their way to the
verge of the plantations. Here they remembered the directions given
them by the obliging fat gentleman, and resolved to turn to the left
and cut across the stubble. But they almost at once came upon a road
edged with poplars, and perceived the watchfire of a Prussian picket
barring the way. A sentinel's bayonet glistened in the firelight; the
other men were chatting and finishing their evening meal. At this sight
Jean and Maurice at once retraced their steps and again plunged into
the wood, with the fear of being pursued. They fancied indeed they
could hear voices and footsteps behind them, and continued beating
about the thickets during more than an hour, losing all idea of the
directions they took, turning round and round, at times breaking into
a gallop like hares scampering under the bushes, and at others stopping
short and perspiring with anguish in front of some motionless oak trees
which they mistook for Prussians. And at last they once more debouched
into the road lined with poplars, at ten paces or so from the sentinel,
and near the other men who were now quietly warming themselves around
the watchfire.

'No luck!' growled Maurice, 'it's an enchanted wood.'

This time, however, they had been heard. They had broken a few twigs in
passing, and some stones were rolling away. And as, upon hearing the
sentinel's '_Wer da_?' they immediately took to their heels without
answering, the picket rushed to arms and fired in their direction,
riddling the thicket with bullets.

'Curse it!' swore Jean in a hollow voice, restraining a cry of pain.
The calf of his left leg had received a stinging blow, not unlike the
cut of a whip, but so violent that it had thrown him to the ground
against a tree.

'Are you hit?' asked Maurice anxiously.

'Yes, in the leg--it's done for.'

They both listened again, panting, with the fear of hearing the tumult
of pursuit at their heels. But no further shots were fired, and nothing
more stirred in the great quivering silence, which was falling around
them again. The Prussians evidently did not care to venture among the
trees. However, in trying to set himself erect Jean was hardly able to
restrain a groan. Maurice held him up, and asked:

'Can you walk?'

'I'm afraid not.' He, as a rule so calm, was now becoming enraged. He
clenched his fists, and felt inclined to hit himself: 'Ah! good Lord!
how fearfully unlucky to get one's leg damaged when there's so much
running to be done! I may just as well fling myself on a rubbish heap
at once! Go on by yourself.'

Maurice, however, contented himself with answering gaily: 'How silly
you are!'

He had taken his friend by the arm and was now helping him along, both
of them being eager to get away. By an heroic effort they had managed
to take a few steps, when they again halted, alarmed at seeing a house
in front of them, a little farm, so it seemed, on the verge of the
wood. There was no light in any of the windows, the yard-gate was
wide open, and the building looked black and empty. And when they had
mustered sufficient courage to enter the yard, they were astonished
to find a horse standing near the house, saddled and bridled, but with
nothing to show why or how it had come there. Perhaps its master would
soon return; perhaps he was lying behind some bush with his head split.
But whatever the truth was, they never learned it.

A new plan, however, had suddenly dawned on Maurice's mind and quite
inspirited him. 'Listen,' said he, 'the frontier is too far away;
and besides, we should really require a guide to reach it. But if we
went to Remilly now, to uncle Fouchard's, I'm sure that I could take
you there with my eyes shut, for I know all the lanes and by-ways. Is
it agreed, eh? I'll hoist you on to this horse, and we'll get uncle
Fouchard to take us in.'

Before starting, however, he wished to examine Jean's leg. There
were two holes in it, so that the bullet must have passed out again,
probably after fracturing the tibia. Fortunately, the hæmorrhage was
but slight, and Maurice contented himself with binding his handkerchief
tightly round the calf of the leg.

'Go on by yourself!' repeated Jean.

'Be quiet, you silly!'

When Jean was firmly perched on the saddle Maurice took hold of the
horse's bridle and they started off. It must now have been about eleven
o'clock, and he hoped to accomplish the journey in three hours, even
should he have to walk the horse the entire distance. But all at once
he relapsed into despair at thought of a difficulty which had not
previously occurred to him. How would they be able to cross over to the
left bank of the Meuse? The bridge at Mouzon must certainly be guarded.
At last he remembered that there was a ferry lower down at Villers, and
deciding to chance it, in the hope that they would at last meet with a
little luck, he directed his course towards that village through the
meadows and ploughed fields on the right bank. All went fairly well at
first; they merely had to avoid a cavalry patrol, which they escaped
by remaining motionless for a quarter of an hour or so, in the shadow
thrown by a wall. The only worry was that, the rain having begun to
fall again, walking became very difficult for Maurice, who had to
trudge through the heavy soil of the drenched fields, beside the horse,
which was fortunately a good-natured, docile animal. At Villers luck
did at first declare itself in their favour, for, although the hour was
late, the ferryman had but a few minutes before brought a Bavarian
officer across the river, and was able to take them aboard at once,
and land them on the opposite bank without difficulty. It was only at
the village of Villers that their terrible troubles began, for they
here narrowly missed falling into the clutches of the sentries who were
posted at intervals right along the road to Remilly. They, therefore,
again had to take to the fields and trust to the chances of the little
lanes and narrow pathways, which often were scarcely practicable.
Occasionally some trivial obstacle would compel them to take a most
circuitous course; still they contrived to make their way over ditches
and through hedges, and at times even forced a passage through some
thick plantation.

Seized with fever amid the drizzling rain, Jean had sunk across the
saddle in a semi-conscious state, clinging with both hands to the
horse's mane, whilst Maurice, who had slipped the reins round his right
arm, had to support his friend's legs in order to prevent him from
falling. Over more than a league of country, during nearly a couple
of hours, was this exhausting march kept up, amid incessant jolting
and slipping, both the horse and the men losing their balance again
and again, and almost toppling over together. They became a picture
of abject wretchedness; all three of them were covered with mud, the
animal's legs trembled, the man he carried lay upon him inert, like
a corpse that had just given up the ghost, whilst if the other man,
distracted and haggard, still managed to trudge along, it was solely
through an effort of his fraternal love. The dawn was breaking; it was
about five o'clock when they at last arrived at Remilly.

In the yard of his little farmhouse overlooking the village, near the
outlet of the defile of Haraucourt, old Fouchard was already loading
his cart with two sheep which he had slaughtered the previous day. The
sight of his nephew in so sorry a plight upset him to such a point
that after the first words of explanation he brutally exclaimed: 'Let
you stay here, you and your friend? To have a lot of worry with the
Prussians; no, no, indeed! I'd rather kick the bucket at once.'

All the same, he did not dare to prevent Prosper and Maurice from
taking Jean off the horse and laying him on the large table in the
living-room. The wounded man was still unconscious, and Silvine went to
fetch her own bolster and slipped it under his head. Meanwhile uncle
Fouchard continued growling, exasperated at seeing this fellow on his
table, which, said he, was by no means the proper place for him. And
he asked them why they did not at once take him to the ambulance, since
they were lucky enough to have an ambulance at Remilly, in the disused
school-house, which had once formed part of an old convent. It stood
near the church and contained a large and commodious gallery.

'Take him to the ambulance!' protested Maurice, in his turn, 'for the
Prussians to send him to Germany as soon as he's cured, since all the
wounded belong to them! Are you joking with me, uncle? I certainly
didn't bring him here to give him back to them.'

Things were getting unpleasant, and Fouchard talked of turning them out
of the house, when all at once Henriette's name was mentioned.

'Eh, what--what about Henriette?' asked the young man.

He ended by learning that his sister had been at Remilly since a couple
of days, having become so terribly depressed by her bereavement that
she now found life at Sedan, where she had lived so happily with her
husband, quite unbearable. A chance meeting with Dr. Dalichamp of
Raucourt, whom she knew, had induced her to come and stay in a little
room at Fouchard's, with a view of giving all her time to the wounded
at the neighbouring ambulance. This occupation, she said, would divert
her thoughts. She paid for her board, and was the source of many little
comforts at the farm, so that the old man looked on her with a kindly
eye. Everything was first-rate when he was making money.

'Oh, so my sister's here!' repeated Maurice. 'So that's what Monsieur
Delaherche meant by that wave of the arm which I couldn't understand.
Well, as she's here, it will all be easy. We shall stay.'

Thereupon, despite his fatigue, he himself resolved to go and fetch
her from the ambulance where she had spent the night, and his uncle
meantime grew the more angry because he could not take himself off
with his cart and his two sheep, to ply his calling as an itinerant
butcher through the surrounding villages, until this annoying affair
was settled.

When Maurice came back with Henriette, they surprised old Fouchard
carefully examining the horse which had carried Jean to the farm and
which Prosper had just led into the stable. The animal was no doubt
tired out, but it was a sturdy beast, and Fouchard liked the look of
it. Thereupon, Maurice told him with a laugh that he might keep it
if it pleased him, whilst Henriette drew him aside and explained that
Jean would pay for his lodging, and that she herself would take charge
of him and nurse him in the little room behind the cowhouse, where
certainly no Prussian would go to look for him. The old man remained
sullen, hardly believing as yet that he would derive any real profit
from the business; still, he ended by climbing into his cart and
driving off, leaving Henriette free to do as she pleased.

With the assistance of Silvine and Prosper, Henriette then got the room
ready, and had Jean carried to it and laid in a clean, comfortable bed.
Opening his eyes, the corporal looked round him, but seemed to see
nobody, and merely stammered a few incoherent words. Maurice was now
quite overwhelmed by the reaction following on his exhausting march;
however, whilst he was finishing a bit of meat and drinking a glass of
wine, Dr. Dalichamp came in, as was his custom every morning, prior to
visiting the ambulance; and, thereupon, the young fellow, anxious to
know what injury Jean had received, found strength enough to follow the
doctor and his sister to the bedside.

M. Dalichamp was a short man with a big round head. His hair and
fringe of beard were getting grey; his ruddy face, like the faces of
the peasants, with whom he mixed, had become hardened by his constant
life in the open air, for he was always on the road to alleviate
some suffering or other. His keen eyes, obstinate nose, and kindly
mouth told what his life had been--the life of a thoroughly worthy,
charitable man, inclined, at times, to be rather headstrong. He was
not, as a doctor, endowed with genius, but long practice had made him a
first-rate healer.

'I'm much afraid that amputation will be necessary,' he muttered, when
he had examined Jean, who was still dozing; whereupon Maurice and
Henriette were greatly grieved. However, the doctor added, 'Perhaps we
may manage to save that leg, but in that case he will need very careful
nursing, and it will be a long job. At present he is in such a state
of physical and moral prostration that the only thing is to let him
sleep. We'll see how he is to-morrow.' Then, having dressed the wound,
he interested himself in Maurice, whom he had formerly known as a lad.
'And you, my brave fellow, you would be better in bed than on that
chair,' he said.

The young man was gazing fixedly in front of him, with his eyes afar,
as though he did not hear. Fever was mounting to his brain in the
intoxication of his fatigue, an extraordinary nervous excitement, the
outcome of all the sufferings, all the disgusting experiences he had
passed through since the outset of the campaign. The sight of his
agonising friend, the consciousness of his own defeat, the idea that he
was unarmed, good for nothing, having nothing left him but his skin,
the thought that so many heroic efforts had merely resulted in such
misery--all filled him with a frantic longing to rebel against Destiny.
At last he spoke: 'No, no! it is not finished yet! No, indeed! I must
go away. Since he must lie there now for weeks and perhaps for months,
I cannot stay. I must go away at once. You will help me, doctor, won't
you? You'll find me some means of escaping and getting back to Paris?'

Henriette, who was trembling, caught him in her arms. 'What is that you
say? Weak as you are, after suffering so dreadfully? But I mean to keep
you--I will not let you go! Haven't you paid your debt to France? Think
of me a little--think that I should be all alone, and that now I have
only you left me!'

Their tears mingled. They embraced distractedly, with that tender
adoring affection which unites twins more closely than others, as
though it originated prior even to birth. Far from becoming calmer,
however, Maurice grew still more excited. 'I assure you that I _must_
go!' he stammered. 'They are waiting for me. I should die of anguish if
I did not go! You cannot imagine how my brain boils at the thought of
remaining here in peace and quietness. I tell you that it cannot end
like this--that we must avenge ourselves--on whom or what I know not,
but, at any rate, obtain vengeance for so many misfortunes, so that we
may yet have the courage to live!'

Dr. Dalichamp, who had been watching the scene with keen interest, made
Henriette a sign not to answer. Maurice would no doubt be calmer when
he had slept; and he slept indeed all through that day and through
the following night--in all more than twenty hours--without moving a
finger. However, when he awoke the next morning, his resolution to
go away came back, unshakeable. His fever had subsided, but he was
gloomy, restless, eager to escape from all the tempting inducements to
a quiet life that he divined around him. His tearful sister realised
that it would be useless to insist. And Dr. Dalichamp, when he came
that day, promised to facilitate his flight by means of the papers of
an ambulance assistant, who had recently died at Raucourt: Maurice was
to don the grey blouse with the red-cross badge, and go off through
Belgium to make his way back to Paris, which was still open.

He did not leave the farm all that day, but hid himself there, waiting
for the night. He scarcely opened his mouth, and then only to ascertain
if he could induce Prosper to go away with him. 'Aren't you tempted to
go and see the Prussians again?' he asked.

The ex-Chasseur d'Afrique, who was finishing some bread and cheese, set
his fist on the table with his knife upraised.

'Well, for what we saw of them it's hardly worth while,' he answered.
'Since cavalrymen are nowadays good for nothing except to get
themselves killed when it's all over, why should I go back? 'Pon my
word, no, they disgusted me too much in not giving me any decent work.'
There was a pause, and then he resumed, doubtless in order to silence
the voice of his soldier's heart: 'Besides, there's too much work to
be done here, now. The ploughing is just coming on, later on there'll
be the sowing. We must think of the soil, too, eh? It's all very well
to fight, but what would become of us if we didn't plough? You will
understand very well that I can't turn the work up. Not that old
Fouchard's a good master, for I don't expect I shall ever see any of
his brass, but the horses are beginning to know and like me, and this
morning, 'pon my word, whilst I was up yonder in the old enclosure, I
looked down on that cursed Sedan, and felt quite comforted at finding
myself with my horses, driving my plough all alone, in the sunshine.'

Dr. Dalichamp arrived in his gig at nightfall. He wished to drive
Maurice to the frontier himself. Old Fouchard, delighted to find that,
at any rate, one of the men was taking himself off, went to watch on
the road, so as to make sure that no patrol was lurking there; whilst
Silvine repaired some rents in the old ambulance blouse with the
red-cross badge. Before starting, the doctor again examined Jean's
leg, and as yet he could not promise to save it. The wounded man was
still in a somnolent state, recognising nobody, and not saying a word.
And thus it seemed as though Maurice must go off without exchanging a
farewell with his comrade. On leaning forward to embrace him, however,
he suddenly saw him open his eyes, and move his lips. 'You are going?'
asked Jean in a weak voice, adding, as the others expressed their
astonishment: 'Oh! I heard you very well, though I couldn't stir. But
since you are going, old man, take all the money with you. It's in my
trousers' pocket.'

Each of them now had about a couple of hundred francs left of the
treasury money, which they had shared together. 'The money!' exclaimed
Maurice; 'but you need it more than I do. My legs are all right! With
a couple of hundred francs I've ample to take me to Paris and get my
skull cracked, which, by the way, won't cost me anything. Well, all the
same, till we meet again, old man, and thanks for all your kindness and
good counsel, for, if it hadn't been for you, I should certainly be
lying at the edge of some field like a dead dog.'

Jean silenced him with a gesture. 'You don't owe me anything--we are
quits,' said he; 'the Prussians would have picked _me_ up over there,
if you hadn't carried me away on your back. And again, the other day,
too, you saved me from their clutches. That's twice you've paid me, and
it's rather my turn to risk my life for _you_. Ah! I shall be anxious
now at not having you with me any longer.' His voice was trembling, and
tears started from his eyes: 'Kiss me, youngster.'

And they kissed; and, as it had been in the wood on the night of their
escape, their embrace was instinct with the fraternity born of the
dangers that they had incurred together, during those few weeks of
heroic life in common, which had united them far more closely than
years of ordinary friendship could have done. The days of starvation,
the sleepless nights, the excessive fatigues, the constant peril of
death--with all of these was their emotion fraught. Can two hearts
ever take themselves back when by a mutual gift they have thus been
blended together? Nevertheless, the kiss which they had exchanged
amid the darkness of the trees had partaken of the new hope that
flight had opened to them; whereas this kiss, now, quivered with the
anguish of parting. Would they meet again, some day? And how--in what
circumstances of grief or joy?

Dr. Dalichamp, who had climbed into his gig again, was already calling
Maurice. Then, with all his soul, the young fellow at last embraced
his sister, Henriette, who, extremely pale in the black garments of
her widowhood, was looking at him and silently weeping. 'I confide my
brother to you,' said he; 'take good care of him, and love him, as I
love him myself!'



CHAPTER IV

DARK DAYS--BAZAINE THE TRAITOR--THE TIDE OF WAR


Jean's room, a large chamber with a tiled floor and lime-washed walls,
had formerly been used as a fruitery. You could still detect there the
pleasant scent of apples and pears, and the only furniture was an iron
bedstead, a deal table and two chairs, together with an old walnut
wardrobe, wonderfully deep and containing a multitude of things. The
quietness was profoundly soothing; only a few faint sounds from the
adjacent cowhouse could be heard, the occasional lowing of cattle and
the muffled stamping of their hoofs. The bright sunshine came in by the
window, which faced the south. Merely a strip of slope could be seen,
a cornfield skirted by a little wood. And this mysterious closed room
was so hidden away from every eye that no stranger could even have
suspected its existence.

Henriette immediately settled how things were to be managed. In view
of avoiding suspicions it was arranged that only she and the doctor
should have access to Jean. Silvine was never to enter the room unless
she were called--for instance, at an early hour in the morning when the
two women tidied the place; after which the door remained as though
walled up, throughout the day. If the wounded man should need anyone
at night-time, he would merely have to knock on the wall, for the room
occupied by Henriette was adjacent. And thus it came to pass that
after many weeks of life amid a violent multitude, Jean suddenly found
himself separated from the world, seeing no one but the doctor and that
gentle young woman whose light footsteps were inaudible. And whilst she
ministered to his wants with an air of infinite goodness, he again saw
her as he had espied her on the first occasion, at Sedan, looking like
an apparition, with small and delicate features save that her mouth was
somewhat large, and with hair the hue of ripened grain.

During the earlier days the wounded man's fever was so intense that
Henriette scarcely left him. Dr. Dalichamp dropped in every morning,
under pretence of fetching her to go to the ambulance with him; and
he would then examine Jean's leg and dress it. After fracturing the
tibia, the bullet had passed out again, and the doctor was astonished
at the bad appearance of the wound, and was afraid there might be some
splinter there--though in probing he was unable to detect any--which
would necessitate an excision of the bone. He had spoken on the subject
to Jean, but the latter revolted at the thought of having his leg
shortened and going lame all the rest of his life: no, no, indeed, he
would rather die at once than become a cripple. The doctor therefore
simply kept the wound under observation, dressing it with lint
soaked in olive oil and phenic acid, after inserting a gutta-percha
drainage-tube, so that the pus might flow away. At the same time,
however, he warned Jean that if he did not perform an operation the
cure would probably take a very long time. Yet it happened that the
fever abated during the second week, when the state of the wound also
became more favourable--at least so long as the patient remained quite
still.

Henriette's intercourse with Jean was then regulated in a systematic
way. Habits came to them both; it seemed to them as though they had
never lived otherwise, as though they would go on living like that
for ever. She gave him all the time that she did not devote to the
ambulance, saw that he ate and drank at regular hours, and helped
him to turn over with a strength of wrist that would never have been
suspected in a woman with such slender arms. At times they chatted,
but during the earlier period they more often remained together
without speaking. Yet they never seemed to be bored. It was a very
calm, reposeful life for both of them--for him crippled by the battle,
and for her in her widow's gown, and with her heart crushed by her
bereavement. He had felt somewhat intimidated at first, for he was
fully conscious that she was his superior, almost a lady, whereas he
had never been anything but a mere peasant and soldier. He could barely
read and write. However, he had felt more at his ease on finding that
she treated him like an equal, without any display of pride. And this
emboldened him to show himself as he really was, intelligent after
a fashion, thanks to his sober common-sense. To his astonishment,
moreover, he would often feel less coarse and heavy than formerly,
full of new ideas that he had never dreamt of before. Was this the
outcome of the abominable life that he had been leading for two months
past? It was as though he were emerging refined from all his physical
and moral sufferings. He regained, however, a still greater measure
of self-possession on realising that she did not know much more than
he did. Her mother's death had turned her when very young into a
little housewife, with three men, as she put it, to take care of--her
grandfather, her father, and her brother--so that she had not had
much time for schooling. Reading, writing, a rudimentary knowledge of
spelling and cyphering--beyond that she did not go. And, therefore, if
she still somewhat intimidated Jean, if she still appeared to him to
be above all others of her sex, it was simply because he knew her to
be superlatively good, endowed with extraordinary courage, albeit she
appeared to be merely a retiring little woman taking her pleasure in
the petty duties of life.

They agreed together at once, whilst chatting about Maurice. If she
thus devoted herself to Jean it was indeed because she looked upon him
as Maurice's brother and friend, as the worthy protector who had helped
and succoured him, and to whom she in her turn was paying a debt of
gratitude. She was indeed full of gratitude, of affection which grew
and grew as she learnt to know him better, simple and sensible as he
was, with a sound, sober head; and he, whom she nursed as though he
were a child, was on his side contracting a debt of infinite gratitude
towards her and would have kissed her hands for each cup of broth that
she brought to him. The bond of affectionate sympathy uniting them grew
closer every day in the profound solitude in which they lived, with
the same anxieties to trouble them. When they had exhausted Jean's
reminiscences, the particulars which she was never weary of asking for
respecting that woeful march from Rheims to Sedan, the same question
invariably came back again: What was Maurice doing? Why did he not
write? Was Paris completely invested, since no more news had reached
them? They had so far received but one letter from the young fellow,
written from Rouen three days after he had left them, and in this he
had explained how, after a most circuitous journey, he had just reached
that town, in view of making his way to Paris. And there had been
nothing further for an entire week--he was now altogether silent.

When Dr. Dalichamp had dressed Jean's leg in the morning he liked to
linger there for a few minutes. And he even dropped in occasionally
of an evening, when he would stay for a longer time. He was their only
link with the world, that vast outside world, now all topsy-turvy with
catastrophes. The only news they obtained came through him. He had an
ardent, patriotic heart, which overflowed with anger and grief at the
news of each defeat; and he spoke of little else but the invading march
of the Prussians, who since the battle of Sedan had been gradually
spreading over France like the waves of some black, rising sea. Each
day brought its grief, and the doctor, quite overwhelmed, would often
linger on one of the two chairs beside the bed, relating with trembling
gestures how the situation was becoming more and more serious. He
often had his pockets full of Belgian newspapers, which he left behind
him. And thus after the lapse of weeks the echoes of each successive
disaster penetrated to that lonely room, drawing the two poor suffering
creatures shut up there yet closer together, in the bonds of a common
anguish.

And it was in this wise that Henriette read to Jean, from sundry old
newspapers, an account of the events which had taken place around
Metz--the great, heroic battles, which at an interval of one day on
each occasion had been thrice renewed. These battles were already
five weeks old, but Jean was still ignorant of them, and listened
to the accounts in the newspapers with his heart oppressed at
finding that the same misery and defeat, that had caused him so much
suffering, had befallen his comrades over yonder. Whilst Henriette
clearly articulated each sentence in the somewhat singsong voice of
an attentive school-girl, the melancholy story slowly unfolded itself
amid the quivering silence of the room. After Frœschweiler, after
Spichern, at the moment when the vanquished First Corps was carrying
off the Fifth in its rout, such consternation prevailed that the other
corps, écheloned from Metz to Bitche, wavered and fell back, eventually
concentrating in advance of the intrenched camp of Metz, on the right
bank of the Moselle. But how much precious time had been lost in
accomplishing this junction of forces when the retreat on Paris, now
bound to prove a difficult operation, ought to have been hastened with
all despatch! The Emperor had been obliged to surrender the supreme
command to Marshal Bazaine, to whom every one looked for victory, and
then on August 14 came the battle of Borny,[40] when the army was
attacked just as it was at last making up its mind to cross over to
the left bank of the stream. It had two German armies against it--that
of Steinmetz, motionless in front of the intrenched camp which it was
threatening, and that of Frederick Charles, which, after crossing the
river higher up, was approaching along the left bank to cut Bazaine
off from the rest of France. The first shots were only fired at three
in the afternoon and the victory proved a barren one, for although the
French corps remained in possession of their positions, they found
themselves immobilised on the two banks of the Moselle, whilst the
turning movement of the second German army was completed. Then on the
16th came Rézonville: all the corps at last landed on the left bank
of the river, the third and fourth alone lagging behind, belated by
the frightful block at the intersection of the roads of Etain and
Mars-la-Tour which had been intercepted early in the morning by an
audacious attack of the Prussian cavalry and artillery. A slowly
fought, confused battle was this engagement of Rézonville, which up to
two o'clock in the afternoon Bazaine might yet have won, since he had
but a handful of men to overthrow, but which he ended by losing through
his inexplicable dread of being cut off from Metz. And it was also a
battle of immense extent, spread over leagues of hills and plains,
where the French, attacked in front and in flank, performed prodigies
of valour to avoid marching forward, giving the enemy the requisite
time to concentrate, and themselves helping on the Prussian plan, which
was to force them back upon the other bank of the river. At last, on
the 18th, after the French had returned to positions in advance of the
intrenched camp, there came St. Privât, the supreme struggle, a line of
attack over eight miles long, two hundred thousand Germans, with seven
hundred guns against one hundred and twenty thousand Frenchmen with
only five hundred guns, the Germans facing Germany, the French facing
France, as though the invaders had become the invaded, in the singular
displacement of forces that had taken place. And after two o'clock the
fight became a most terrible _mêlée_, the Prussian Guard repulsed,
cut to pieces, Bazaine long victorious, strong in the unshakeable
firmness of his left wing, until towards evening his weaker right wing
was obliged to abandon St. Privât, amidst horrible carnage, carrying
away with it the entire army, beaten, thrown back under Metz, enclosed
henceforth in a circle of iron.

At each moment, whilst Henriette was reading, Jean interrupted her to
say: 'And to think we others had been expecting Bazaine ever since
leaving Rheims!'

The marshal's despatch of the 19th, the morrow of the battle of St.
Privât, in which he spoke of resuming his movement of retreat by way
of Montmédy--that despatch which had determined the forward march of
the army of Châlons--appeared to be simply the commonplace report of
a beaten general, desirous of attenuating his defeat. Later on, but
only on the 29th, when the news of the approach of an army of succour
had reached him through the Prussian lines, he certainly did attempt a
last effort, at Noiseville, on the right bank of the Moselle, but so
feebly that on September 1, the very day when the army of Châlons was
crushed at Sedan, that of Metz fell back, definitely paralysed, dead
so to say for France. And the marshal, who, so far, had proved himself
merely an indifferent captain, neglecting to march on when the roads
were open, but afterwards really hemmed in by superior forces, was now,
under the sway of political preoccupations, on the point of becoming a
conspirator and a traitor.

In the newspapers, however, that Dr. Dalichamp brought with him,
Bazaine still figured as the great man, the brave soldier from whom
France yet awaited salvation. Jean asked Henriette to read him certain
passages over again, so that he might clearly understand how it was
that the third German army, commanded by the Crown Prince of Prussia,
had been able to pursue them, whilst the first and the second were
blockading Metz, both of them so strong in men and guns that it had
been possible to draw and detach from them that fourth army,[41] which,
under the orders of the Crown Prince of Saxony, had given the finishing
stroke to the disaster of Sedan. Then, having at last grasped these
facts, on the bed of pain to which his wound confined him, he forced
himself despite everything to be hopeful: 'So that's why we weren't
the stronger,' said he. 'But no matter, there are figures given there:
Bazaine has a hundred thousand men, three hundred thousand rifles,
and more than five hundred guns; of course he means to deal them some
crushing blow of his invention.'

Henriette nodded, falling in with his opinion so as not to sadden him.
She could not follow all these complicated movements of troops, but
she felt that misfortune was inevitable. As a rule her voice remained
quite clear; she could have gone on reading for hours, simply happy at
the thought that she was interesting him. But at times, whilst perusing
some narrative of slaughter, she all at once began to stammer and her
eyes filled with a sudden flow of tears. Doubtless she had just thought
of her husband shot down over yonder, and kicked against the wall by
the Bavarian officer.

'If it grieves you too much, you mustn't read any more battles to me,'
said Jean in surprise.

But, gentle and complaisant, she at once recovered her self-possession:
'No, no; excuse me, I assure you that it interests me too.'

One evening, during the early days of October, whilst a violent wind
was blowing out of doors, she came back from the ambulance and entered
the room in a state of great emotion: 'Here's a letter from Maurice!'
she exclaimed. 'The doctor received it to-day and has just given it to
me!'

They both had been growing more and more anxious each morning on
finding that the young man still gave no sign of life; and now that for
a whole week rumours had been circulating that Paris was completely
invested they were quite in despair at receiving no tidings, wondering
in their anxiety what could have become of him after his departure from
Rouen. His silence was now explained to them, however; the letter which
Henriette brought home with her, written to Dr. Dalichamp from Paris,
on September 18, the very day when the last trains left for Havre, had
made a tremendous round, only reaching its destination by a miracle,
after going astray a score of times.

'Ah! the dear fellow!' exclaimed Jean in delight. 'Make haste and read
it to me.'

The wind was increasing in violence, and the window was rattling as
though it were being battered with a ram. Henriette placed the lamp on
the table near the bed, and, seated so close to Jean that her wavy hair
brushed against his, she began to read Maurice's letter. It was very
snug and pleasant in that quiet room whilst the tempest was raging out
of doors.

In the letter, which was a long one, covering eight pages, Maurice
began by explaining that immediately on his arrival in Paris, on
September 16, he had been fortunate enough to get enrolled in a Line
regiment. Then he reverted to the past, and in extremely feverish
language detailed all that he had learnt of the events of that terrible
month: Paris growing calmer after the woeful stupor of Weissenburg and
Frœschweiler, then swiftly indulging in the hope of revenge, falling
into fresh illusions, believing in Bazaine as a commander, in the
_levée en masse_, the imaginary victories, the wholesale slaughtering
of Prussian troops which even ministers themselves announced in the
Chamber of Deputies. And, all at once, he explained how, on September
3, the thunderbolt of Sedan had fallen upon Paris: every hope
shattered, the ignorant, confiding city overwhelmed by the crushing
blow of destiny; the shouts of 'Dethronement! Dethronement!' bursting
forth on the Boulevards that same evening; the short, lugubrious night
sitting of the Corps Législatif at which Jules Favre had read out
his proposal for the deposition which the people demanded; then, on
the morrow, September 4, the Downfall of a world, the Second Empire
carried away amid the smash-up of its vices and its faults; the
entire population in the streets, a torrent of half a million of men
filling the Place de la Concorde, in the broad sunshine, and flowing
at last across the bridge to the gates of the Corps Législatif, which
were protected merely by a handful of soldiers who raised the butts
of their guns in the air. Then the crowd bursting the doors open
and invading the Chamber, whence Jules Favre, Gambetta, and other
deputies of the Left soon started to proclaim the Republic at the
Hôtel-de-Ville, whilst a little door of the Louvre, facing the Place
Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, was being set ajar to give egress to the
Empress-Regent, who came forth clad in black, accompanied by a single
female friend, both of them trembling, fleeing, cowering in a cab which
jolted them away, afar from those Tuileries through which the crowd was
now streaming. And on that same day Napoleon III. had quitted the inn
at Bouillon, where he had spent his first night of exile, on the way to
Wilhelmshohe.

With a thoughtful expression on his face Jean interrupted Henriette:
'So we now have a Republic, then. So much the better if it helps us to
lick the Prussians.' However, he shook his head doubtfully, for during
his peasant life he had always been told bad things of the Republic.
Besides, it seemed to him that they all ought to agree together, and
unite in presence of the enemy. Yet it was certainly necessary that
there should be a new government of some kind, since the Empire was
shown to be rotten, and nobody would tolerate it any longer.

Then Henriette read the end of the letter, which mentioned the approach
of the German armies. On September 13, the day when a delegation of
the Government of National Defence had established its quarters at
Tours, they had advanced as near as Lagny, on the east of Paris. On
the 14th and 15th they were almost at the city gates, at Créteil and
Joinville-le-Pont. Yet on the 18th, on the morning when he had written,
Maurice still refused to believe in the possibility of completely
investing Paris, swayed as he once more was by superb confidence,
regarding the projected siege as an insolent, hazardous attempt, which
would break down before three weeks were over; relying, too, on the
armies of succour which the provinces would undoubtedly send, without
mentioning the army of Metz, which he imagined to be already on the
march by way of Verdun and Rheims. Nevertheless, the links of the iron
chain had met, and encompassed Paris; and now, separated from the whole
world, the city had become but the great prison of two millions of
living beings, whence came no sound, nothing but a death-like silence.

'Ah! my God!' murmured Henriette with anguish at her heart. 'How long
will it all last, and shall we ever see him again?'

A squall was bending the trees afar off, and drawing groan after groan
from the old timbers of the farmhouse. If the winter should prove a
severe one, how the poor soldiers would suffer, starving and tireless,
and fighting in the snow!

'All the same,' concluded Jean, 'it's a very nice letter, and it's
pleasant to have heard from him! One must never despair.'

Then, day by day, the month of October went by, with the sky ever grey
and mournful, and the wind merely abating, to come back before long
with darker and darker flights of clouds. Jean's wound was cicatrising
very, very slowly; the drainage-tube did not yet discharge the healthy
pus which would have enabled the doctor to remove it, and the wounded
man had become greatly enfeebled, but still obstinately refused to
undergo any operation, for fear lest he should remain a cripple.
And the long hours of resigned waiting which sudden fits of anxiety
occasionally disturbed now seemed to lull that little room to sleep;
that little, lonely room which the news of the world reached but at
long intervals and even then distantly, vaguely, like the visions one
tries to recall on awaking from a nightmare. The abominable war was
continuing somewhere yonder, with its massacres and disasters, but the
exact truth they never learned; they heard nothing but the loud, hollow
clamour of slaughtered France. And now the wind was carrying the leaves
away under the livid sky, and there were long deep spells of silence
over the country-side, athwart which only sped the cawing of the crows,
presaging a bitter winter.

The ambulance, which Henriette seldom left except to keep Jean company,
had now become a frequent subject of conversation between them. He
questioned her when she came in of an evening, learnt to know each of
her charges, wished to be informed which of them were dying and which
were getting well; and she, with her heart full of all these matters,
did not cease speaking of them but recounted in great detail all that
she did during the day. 'Ah!' she frequently repeated, 'the poor
children, the poor children!'

This was not the ambulance of raging battle, the ambulance where fresh
blood flowed, and where the flesh amputated by the surgeon was ruddy
and healthy. It was the ambulance infected by hospital gangrene,
reeking of fever and death, damp with the exhalations of the patients
who were slowly attaining convalescence and of those who were dying by
inches. Dr. Dalichamp had had the greatest difficulty in procuring the
necessary beds, mattresses, and sheets; in order to provide for his
patients, to supply them with bread, meat and dried vegetables, not
to mention compresses, bandages and other appliances, he was forced
to accomplish a fresh miracle every day. As the Prussians, now in
possession of the military hospital of Sedan, refused him everything,
even chloroform, he obtained all his supplies from Belgium. Yet he
tended German as well as French wounded, and among others a dozen
Bavarians who had been picked up at Bazeilles. The foes who had rushed
so frantically at one another's throats were now lying side by side
reconciled by their common sufferings. And what an abode of horror
and wretchedness that ambulance was--established in two long rooms of
the disused school-house, each containing some fifty beds over which
streamed the broad pale light admitted by the lofty windows!

Ten days after the battle some more wounded men had been brought
thither, forgotten ones who had been discovered in out-of-the-way
corners. Four of them had remained since the fight in an empty house
at Balan, without any medical attendance, living no one knew how,
but probably by the charity of some neighbour; and their wounds were
swarming with maggots, and they died poisoned by their filthy sores.
A purulence which nothing could check was wafted hither and thither,
emptying rows of beds. At the very door an odour of necrosis caught you
at the throat. The wounds were suppurating, drop after drop of fœtid
pus was exuding from the drainage-tubes. It was often necessary to open
the healing flesh again in order to extract splinters of bone, the
presence of which had not been previously suspected. Then an abscess
would form, some flux which broke out in another part of the body.
Exhausted and emaciated, ashen pale, the poor wretches endured every
torture. Some of them, prostrate, scarce breathing, lay all day long
upon their backs with their eyelids closed and blackened, like corpses
already half-decomposed. Others, denied the boon of sleep, agitated by
restless insomnia, bathed in sweat, grew wildly excited as though the
catastrophe had struck them mad. But whether they were violent or calm,
as soon as the shivering of the infectious fever seized them, they were
doomed--the end came, the poison triumphed, flying from one to another
and carrying them all off in the same stream, as it were, of victorious
gangrene.

But there was especially one awful room, the infernal room as it
was called, set apart for those whom dysentery, typhus, and variola
had attacked. There were many who had the black pox, and these were
restless, cried out in ceaseless delirium, and rose up erect in their
beds looking like spectres. Others, wounded in the lungs, racked by
frightful coughs, were dying of pneumonia. Others again, who howled,
obtained no relief except from the refreshing cold water which was
allowed to trickle on their wounds. And the hour when their wounds
were dressed was the hour which they all waited for, the only time
when a little calmness was restored, when the beds were aired, when
the sufferers, stiffened by remaining so long without moving, were
eased by a change of position. And this was also the dreaded hour,
for not a day went by but the doctor, whilst examining the sores, was
grieved to notice some bluey specks, the marks of invading gangrene on
some poor devil's skin. The operation would take place on the morrow.
Another bit of leg or arm was cut away. And sometimes the gangrene
ascended yet higher, and amputation had to be repeated, until the whole
limb had been lopped off. Then perhaps the sufferer's entire body was
attacked, became covered with the livid spots of typhus, and he had to
be removed, staggering, dizzy, and haggard, into the inferno where he
succumbed, his flesh already dead, exhaling a corpse-like smell before
he even began to agonise.

Every evening on her return home, Henriette answered Jean's questions
in the same tremulous tone of emotion: 'Ah, the poor children, the poor
children!'

And the particulars she gave were ever the same; each day brought
similar torments in that inferno. An arm had been amputated at the
shoulder, a foot had been cut off, the resection of a humerus had
been performed; but would these means suffice to arrest gangrene or
purulent infection? Another man, too, had been buried, more frequently
a Frenchman, at times a German. Not a day went by but a coffin, formed
of four planks hastily knocked together, left the school-house in the
twilight, accompanied by a single ambulance attendant, and often by
Henriette herself, unwilling as she was that a fellow-creature should
be poked away under the ground like a dog. Two trenches had been dug in
the little cemetery of Remilly; and they all slept there side by side,
the Germans in the trench on the left, the French in that on the right,
reconciled together under the sod.

Though he had never seen them, Jean had ended by becoming interested in
some of the wounded and would ask for news of them: 'And how is "Poor
child" getting on to-day?'

'Poor child' was a little infantryman, a soldier of the 5th of the
Line, who had volunteered for the war and was not yet twenty years
of age. The nickname of 'Poor child' had stuck to him because he
incessantly employed it in referring to himself; and one day on being
asked the reason of this, he had answered that his mother had always
called him in that fashion. And indeed he was a poor child, for he was
dying of pleurisy, brought on by a wound in the left side.

'Ah! the dear lad,' said Henriette, who felt quite a motherly affection
for him: 'he's not at all well, he coughed all day. It pains my heart
to hear him.'

'And your bear--your Gutmann?' resumed Jean with a faint smile. 'Is the
doctor more hopeful?'

'Yes, perhaps he will be saved, but he suffers horribly.'

Great as was their compassion, neither of them could speak of Gutmann
without a kind of emotional gaiety. On the very first day that the
young woman had gone to the ambulance, she had been thunderstruck at
sight of this Bavarian soldier, in whom she recognised the red-haired,
red-bearded man, with big blue eyes and square-shaped nose, who had
carried her off in his arms at Bazeilles, whilst her husband was being
shot. He also recognised her, but he could not speak, for a bullet,
penetrating by the back of the neck, had carried away half of his
tongue. And after recoiling with horror during the first two days,
shuddering involuntarily each time that she approached his bed, she had
been conquered by the despairing, gentle glances with which he watched
her. Was he no longer then the monster with blood-splashed hair,
and eyes inverted with rage, who haunted her with such a frightful
recollection? She had to make an effort to recognise him in this
unfortunate man with such a good-natured air, who proved so docile
too, amid his atrocious sufferings. The nature of his affliction, one
of by no means frequent occurrence, his sudden distressing infirmity,
touched the entire ambulance with compassion. They were not even sure
that his name was Gutmann, he was simply called so because the only
sound he could manage to utter was a grunt of two syllables which
formed something like that name. With regard to other matters, it