ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 1.
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES
ALBERT M. C. McMASTER, B.A.
A. E. HENDERSON, B.A.
MME. QUESADA and Others
A STUDY BY POL. NEVEUX
BOULE DE SUIF
THE LANCER'S WIFE
TWO LITTLE SOLDIERS
A COUP D'ETAT
LIEUTENANT LARE'S MARRIAGE
"I entered literary life as a meteor, and I shall leave it like a
thunderbolt." These words of Maupassant to Jose Maria de Heredia on the
occasion of a memorable meeting are, in spite of their morbid solemnity,
not an inexact summing up of the brief career during which, for ten
years, the writer, by turns undaunted and sorrowful, with the fertility
of a master hand produced poetry, novels, romances and travels, only to
sink prematurely into the abyss of madness and death. . . . .
In the month of April, 1880, an article appeared in the "Le Gaulois"
announcing the publication of the Soirees de Medan. It was signed by a
name as yet unknown: Guy de Maupassant. After a juvenile diatribe against
romanticism and a passionate attack on languorous literature, the writer
extolled the study of real life, and announced the publication of the new
work. It was picturesque and charming. In the quiet of evening, on an
island, in the Seine, beneath poplars instead of the Neapolitan cypresses
dear to the friends of Boccaccio, amid the continuous murmur of the
valley, and no longer to the sound of the Pyrennean streams that murmured
a faint accompaniment to the tales of Marguerite's cavaliers, the master
and his disciples took turns in narrating some striking or pathetic
episode of the war. And the issue, in collaboration, of these tales in
one volume, in which the master jostled elbows with his pupils, took on
the appearance of a manifesto, the tone of a challenge, or the utterance
of a creed.
In fact, however, the beginnings had been much more simple, and they had
confined themselves, beneath the trees of Medan, to deciding on a general
title for the work. Zola had contributed the manuscript of the "Attaque
du Moulin," and it was at Maupassant's house that the five young men gave
in their contributions. Each one read his story, Maupassant being the
last. When he had finished Boule de Suif, with a spontaneous impulse,
with an emotion they never forgot, filled with enthusiasm at this
revelation, they all rose and, without superfluous words, acclaimed him
as a master.
He undertook to write the article for the Gaulois and, in cooperation
with his friends, he worded it in the terms with which we are familiar,
amplifying and embellishing it, yielding to an inborn taste for
mystification which his youth rendered excusable. The essential point, he
said, is to "unmoor" criticism.
It was unmoored. The following day Wolff wrote a polemical dissertation
in the Figaro and carried away his colleagues. The volume was a brilliant
success, thanks to Boule de Suif. Despite the novelty, the honesty of
effort, on the part of all, no mention was made of the other stories.
Relegated to the second rank, they passed without notice. From his first
battle, Maupassant was master of the field in literature.
At once the entire press took him up and said what was appropriate
regarding the budding celebrity. Biographers and reporters sought
information concerning his life. As it was very simple and perfectly
straightforward, they resorted to invention. And thus it is that at the
present day Maupassant appears to us like one of those ancient heroes
whose origin and death are veiled in mystery.
I will not dwell on Guy de Maupassant's younger days. His relatives, his
old friends, he himself, here and there in his works, have furnished us
in their letters enough valuable revelations and touching remembrances of
the years preceding his literary debut. His worthy biographer, H. Edouard
Maynial, after collecting intelligently all the writings, condensing and
comparing them, has been able to give us some definite information
regarding that early period.
I will simply recall that he was born on the 5th of August, 1850, near
Dieppe, in the castle of Miromesnil which he describes in Une Vie. . . .
Maupassant, like Flaubert, was a Norman, through his mother, and through
his place of birth he belonged to that strange and adventurous race,
whose heroic and long voyages on tramp trading ships he liked to recall.
And just as the author of "Education sentimentale" seems to have
inherited in the paternal line the shrewd realism of Champagne, so de
Maupassant appears to have inherited from his Lorraine ancestors their
indestructible discipline and cold lucidity.
His childhood was passed at Etretat, his beautiful childhood; it was
there that his instincts were awakened in the unfoldment of his
prehistoric soul. Years went by in an ecstasy of physical happiness. The
delight of running at full speed through fields of gorse, the charm of
voyages of discovery in hollows and ravines, games beneath the dark
hedges, a passion for going to sea with the fishermen and, on nights when
there was no moon, for dreaming on their boats of imaginary voyages.
Mme. de Maupassant, who had guided her son's early reading, and had gazed
with him at the sublime spectacle of nature, put, off as long as possible
the hour of separation. One day, however, she had to take the child to
the little seminary at Yvetot. Later, he became a student at the college
at Rouen, and became a literary correspondent of Louis Bouilhet. It was
at the latter's house on those Sundays in winter when the Norman rain
drowned the sound of the bells and dashed against the window panes that
the school boy learned to write poetry.
Vacation took the rhetorician back to the north of Normandy. Now it was
shooting at Saint Julien l'Hospitalier, across fields, bogs, and through
the woods. From that time on he sealed his pact with the earth, and those
"deep and delicate roots" which attached him to his native soil began to
grow. It was of Normandy, broad, fresh and virile, that he would
presently demand his inspiration, fervent and eager as a boy's love; it
was in her that he would take refuge when, weary of life, he would
implore a truce, or when he simply wished to work and revive his energies
in old-time joys. It was at this time that was born in him that
voluptuous love of the sea, which in later days could alone withdraw him
from the world, calm him, console him.
In 1870 he lived in the country, then he came to Paris to live; for, the
family fortunes having dwindled, he had to look for a position. For
several years he was a clerk in the Ministry of Marine, where he turned
over musty papers, in the uninteresting company of the clerks of the
Then he went into the department of Public Instruction, where
bureaucratic servility is less intolerable. The daily duties are
certainly scarcely more onerous and he had as chiefs, or colleagues,
Xavier Charmes and Leon Dierx, Henry Roujon and Rene Billotte, but his
office looked out on a beautiful melancholy garden with immense plane
trees around which black circles of crows gathered in winter.
Maupassant made two divisions of his spare hours, one for boating, and
the other for literature. Every evening in spring, every free day, he ran
down to the river whose mysterious current veiled in fog or sparkling in
the sun called to him and bewitched him. In the islands in the Seine
between Chatou and Port-Marly, on the banks of Sartrouville and Triel he
was long noted among the population of boatmen, who have now vanished,
for his unwearying biceps, his cynical gaiety of good-fellowship, his
unfailing practical jokes, his broad witticisms. Sometimes he would row
with frantic speed, free and joyous, through the glowing sunlight on the
stream; sometimes, he would wander along the coast, questioning the
sailors, chatting with the ravageurs, or junk gatherers, or stretched at
full length amid the irises and tansy he would lie for hours watching the
frail insects that play on the surface of the stream, water spiders, or
white butterflies, dragon flies, chasing each other amid the willow
leaves, or frogs asleep on the lily-pads.
The rest of his life was taken up by his work. Without ever becoming
despondent, silent and persistent, he accumulated manuscripts, poetry,
criticisms, plays, romances and novels. Every week he docilely submitted
his work to the great Flaubert, the childhood friend of his mother and
his uncle Alfred Le Poittevin. The master had consented to assist the
young man, to reveal to him the secrets that make chefs-d'oeuvre
immortal. It was he who compelled him to make copious research and to use
direct observation and who inculcated in him a horror of vulgarity and a
contempt for facility.
Maupassant himself tells us of those severe initiations in the Rue
Murillo, or in the tent at Croisset; he has recalled the implacable
didactics of his old master, his tender brutality, the paternal advice of
his generous and candid heart. For seven years Flaubert slashed,
pulverized, the awkward attempts of his pupil whose success remained
Suddenly, in a flight of spontaneous perfection, he wrote Boule de Suif.
His master's joy was great and overwhelming. He died two months later.
Until the end Maupassant remained illuminated by the reflection of the
good, vanished giant, by that touching reflection that comes from the
dead to those souls they have so profoundly stirred. The worship of
Flaubert was a religion from which nothing could distract him, neither
work, nor glory, nor slow moving waves, nor balmy nights.
At the end of his short life, while his mind was still clear: he wrote to
a friend: "I am always thinking of my poor Flaubert, and I say to myself
that I should like to die if I were sure that anyone would think of me in
the same manner."
During these long years of his novitiate Maupassant had entered the
social literary circles. He would remain silent, preoccupied; and if
anyone, astonished at his silence, asked him about his plans he answered
simply: "I am learning my trade." However, under the pseudonym of Guy de
Valmont, he had sent some articles to the newspapers, and, later, with
the approval and by the advice of Flaubert, he published, in the
"Republique des Lettres," poems signed by his name.
These poems, overflowing with sensuality, where the hymn to the Earth
describes the transports of physical possession, where the impatience of
love expresses itself in loud melancholy appeals like the calls of
animals in the spring nights, are valuable chiefly inasmuch as they
reveal the creature of instinct, the fawn escaped from his native
forests, that Maupassant was in his early youth. But they add nothing to
his glory. They are the "rhymes of a prose writer" as Jules Lemaitre
said. To mould the expression of his thought according to the strictest
laws, and to "narrow it down" to some extent, such was his aim. Following
the example of one of his comrades of Medan, being readily carried away
by precision of style and the rhythm of sentences, by the imperious rule
of the ballad, of the pantoum or the chant royal, Maupassant also desired
to write in metrical lines. However, he never liked this collection that
he often regretted having published. His encounters with prosody had left
him with that monotonous weariness that the horseman and the fencer feel
after a period in the riding school, or a bout with the foils.
Such, in very broad lines, is the story of Maupassant's literary
The day following the publication of "Boule de Suif," his reputation
began to grow rapidly. The quality of his story was unrivalled, but at
the same time it must be acknowledged that there were some who, for the
sake of discussion, desired to place a young reputation in opposition to
the triumphant brutality of Zola.
From this time on, Maupassant, at the solicitation of the entire press,
set to work and wrote story after story. His talent, free from all
influences, his individuality, are not disputed for a moment. With a
quick step, steady and alert, he advanced to fame, a fame of which he
himself was not aware, but which was so universal, that no contemporary
author during his life ever experienced the same. The "meteor" sent out
its light and its rays were prolonged without limit, in article after
article, volume on volume.
He was now rich and famous . . . . He is esteemed all the more as they
believe him to be rich and happy. But they do not know that this young
fellow with the sunburnt face, thick neck and salient muscles whom they
invariably compare to a young bull at liberty, and whose love affairs
they whisper, is ill, very ill. At the very moment that success came to
him, the malady that never afterwards left him came also, and, seated
motionless at his side, gazed at him with its threatening countenance. He
suffered from terrible headaches, followed by nights of insomnia. He had
nervous attacks, which he soothed with narcotics and anesthetics, which
he used freely. His sight, which had troubled him at intervals, became
affected, and a celebrated oculist spoke of abnormality, asymetry of the
pupils. The famous young man trembled in secret and was haunted by all
kinds of terrors.
The reader is charmed at the saneness of this revived art and yet, here
and there, he is surprised to discover, amid descriptions of nature that
are full of humanity, disquieting flights towards the supernatural,
distressing conjurations, veiled at first, of the most commonplace, the
most vertiginous shuddering fits of fear, as old as the world and as
eternal as the unknown. But, instead of being alarmed, he thinks that the
author must be gifted with infallible intuition to follow out thus the
taints in his characters, even through their most dangerous mazes. The
reader does not know that these hallucinations which he describes so
minutely were experienced by Maupassant himself; he does not know that
the fear is in himself, the anguish of fear "which is not caused by the
presence of danger, or of inevitable death, but by certain abnormal
conditions, by certain mysterious influences in presence of vague
dangers," the "fear of fear, the dread of that horrible sensation of
How can one explain these physical sufferings and this morbid distress
that were known for some time to his intimates alone? Alas! the
explanation is only too simple. All his life, consciously or
unconsciously, Maupassant fought this malady, hidden as yet, which was
latent in him.
As his malady began to take a more definite form, he turned his steps
towards the south, only visiting Paris to see his physicians and
publishers. In the old port of Antibes beyond the causeway of Cannes, his
yacht, Bel Ami, which he cherished as a brother, lay at anchor and
awaited him. He took it to the white cities of the Genoese Gulf, towards
the palm trees of Hyeres, or the red bay trees of Antheor.
After several tragic weeks in which, from instinct, he made a desperate
fight, on the 1st of January, 1892, he felt he was hopelessly vanquished,
and in a moment of supreme clearness of intellect, like Gerard de Nerval,
he attempted suicide. Less fortunate than the author of Sylvia, he was
unsuccessful. But his mind, henceforth "indifferent to all unhappiness,"
had entered into eternal darkness.
He was taken back to Paris and placed in Dr. Meuriot's sanatorium, where,
after eighteen months of mechanical existence, the "meteor" quietly
BOULE DE SUIF
For several days in succession fragments of a defeated army had passed
through the town. They were mere disorganized bands, not disciplined
forces. The men wore long, dirty beards and tattered uniforms; they
advanced in listless fashion, without a flag, without a leader. All
seemed exhausted, worn out, incapable of thought or resolve, marching
onward merely by force of habit, and dropping to the ground with fatigue
the moment they halted. One saw, in particular, many enlisted men,
peaceful citizens, men who lived quietly on their income, bending beneath
the weight of their rifles; and little active volunteers, easily
frightened but full of enthusiasm, as eager to attack as they were ready
to take to flight; and amid these, a sprinkling of red-breeched soldiers,
the pitiful remnant of a division cut down in a great battle; somber
artillerymen, side by side with nondescript foot-soldiers; and, here and
there, the gleaming helmet of a heavy-footed dragoon who had difficulty
in keeping up with the quicker pace of the soldiers of the line. Legions
of irregulars with high-sounding names "Avengers of Defeat," "Citizens of
the Tomb," "Brethren in Death"—passed in their turn, looking like
banditti. Their leaders, former drapers or grain merchants, or tallow or
soap chandlers—warriors by force of circumstances, officers by
reason of their mustachios or their money—covered with weapons,
flannel and gold lace, spoke in an impressive manner, discussed plans of
campaign, and behaved as though they alone bore the fortunes of dying
France on their braggart shoulders; though, in truth, they frequently
were afraid of their own men—scoundrels often brave beyond measure,
but pillagers and debauchees.
Rumor had it that the Prussians were about to enter Rouen.
The members of the National Guard, who for the past two months had been
reconnoitering with the utmost caution in the neighboring woods,
occasionally shooting their own sentinels, and making ready for fight
whenever a rabbit rustled in the undergrowth, had now returned to their
homes. Their arms, their uniforms, all the death-dealing paraphernalia
with which they had terrified all the milestones along the highroad for
eight miles round, had suddenly and marvellously disappeared.
The last of the French soldiers had just crossed the Seine on their way
to Pont-Audemer, through Saint-Sever and Bourg-Achard, and in their rear
the vanquished general, powerless to do aught with the forlorn remnants
of his army, himself dismayed at the final overthrow of a nation
accustomed to victory and disastrously beaten despite its legendary
bravery, walked between two orderlies.
Then a profound calm, a shuddering, silent dread, settled on the city.
Many a round-paunched citizen, emasculated by years devoted to business,
anxiously awaited the conquerors, trembling lest his roasting-jacks or
kitchen knives should be looked upon as weapons.
Life seemed to have stopped short; the shops were shut, the streets
deserted. Now and then an inhabitant, awed by the silence, glided swiftly
by in the shadow of the walls. The anguish of suspense made men even
desire the arrival of the enemy.
In the afternoon of the day following the departure of the French troops,
a number of uhlans, coming no one knew whence, passed rapidly through the
town. A little later on, a black mass descended St. Catherine's Hill,
while two other invading bodies appeared respectively on the Darnetal and
the Boisguillaume roads. The advance guards of the three corps arrived at
precisely the same moment at the Square of the Hotel de Ville, and the
German army poured through all the adjacent streets, its battalions
making the pavement ring with their firm, measured tread.
Orders shouted in an unknown, guttural tongue rose to the windows of the
seemingly dead, deserted houses; while behind the fast-closed shutters
eager eyes peered forth at the victors-masters now of the city, its
fortunes, and its lives, by "right of war." The inhabitants, in their
darkened rooms, were possessed by that terror which follows in the wake
of cataclysms, of deadly upheavals of the earth, against which all human
skill and strength are vain. For the same thing happens whenever the
established order of things is upset, when security no longer exists,
when all those rights usually protected by the law of man or of Nature
are at the mercy of unreasoning, savage force. The earthquake crushing a
whole nation under falling roofs; the flood let loose, and engulfing in
its swirling depths the corpses of drowned peasants, along with dead oxen
and beams torn from shattered houses; or the army, covered with glory,
murdering those who defend themselves, making prisoners of the rest,
pillaging in the name of the Sword, and giving thanks to God to the
thunder of cannon—all these are appalling scourges, which destroy
all belief in eternal justice, all that confidence we have been taught to
feel in the protection of Heaven and the reason of man.
Small detachments of soldiers knocked at each door, and then disappeared
within the houses; for the vanquished saw they would have to be civil to
At the end of a short time, once the first terror had subsided, calm was
again restored. In many houses the Prussian officer ate at the same table
with the family. He was often well-bred, and, out of politeness,
expressed sympathy with France and repugnance at being compelled to take
part in the war. This sentiment was received with gratitude; besides, his
protection might be needful some day or other. By the exercise of tact
the number of men quartered in one's house might be reduced; and why
should one provoke the hostility of a person on whom one's whole welfare
depended? Such conduct would savor less of bravery than of
fool-hardiness. And foolhardiness is no longer a failing of the citizens
of Rouen as it was in the days when their city earned renown by its
heroic defenses. Last of all-final argument based on the national
politeness—the folk of Rouen said to one another that it was only
right to be civil in one's own house, provided there was no public
exhibition of familiarity with the foreigner. Out of doors, therefore,
citizen and soldier did not know each other; but in the house both
chatted freely, and each evening the German remained a little longer
warming himself at the hospitable hearth.
Even the town itself resumed by degrees its ordinary aspect. The French
seldom walked abroad, but the streets swarmed with Prussian soldiers.
Moreover, the officers of the Blue Hussars, who arrogantly dragged their
instruments of death along the pavements, seemed to hold the simple
townsmen in but little more contempt than did the French cavalry officers
who had drunk at the same cafes the year before.
But there was something in the air, a something strange and subtle, an
intolerable foreign atmosphere like a penetrating odor—the odor of
invasion. It permeated dwellings and places of public resort, changed the
taste of food, made one imagine one's self in far-distant lands, amid
dangerous, barbaric tribes.
The conquerors exacted money, much money. The inhabitants paid what was
asked; they were rich. But, the wealthier a Norman tradesman becomes, the
more he suffers at having to part with anything that belongs to him, at
having to see any portion of his substance pass into the hands of
Nevertheless, within six or seven miles of the town, along the course of
the river as it flows onward to Croisset, Dieppedalle and Biessart,
boat-men and fishermen often hauled to the surface of the water the body
of a German, bloated in his uniform, killed by a blow from knife or club,
his head crushed by a stone, or perchance pushed from some bridge into
the stream below. The mud of the river-bed swallowed up these obscure
acts of vengeance—savage, yet legitimate; these unrecorded deeds of
bravery; these silent attacks fraught with greater danger than battles
fought in broad day, and surrounded, moreover, with no halo of romance.
For hatred of the foreigner ever arms a few intrepid souls, ready to die
for an idea.
At last, as the invaders, though subjecting the town to the strictest
discipline, had not committed any of the deeds of horror with which they
had been credited while on their triumphal march, the people grew bolder,
and the necessities of business again animated the breasts of the local
merchants. Some of these had important commercial interests at Havre
—occupied at present by the French army—and wished to attempt
to reach that port by overland route to Dieppe, taking the boat from
Through the influence of the German officers whose acquaintance they had
made, they obtained a permit to leave town from the general in command.
A large four-horse coach having, therefore, been engaged for the journey,
and ten passengers having given in their names to the proprietor, they
decided to start on a certain Tuesday morning before daybreak, to avoid
attracting a crowd.
The ground had been frozen hard for some time-past, and about three
o'clock on Monday afternoon—large black clouds from the north shed
their burden of snow uninterruptedly all through that evening and night.
At half-past four in the morning the travellers met in the courtyard of
the Hotel de Normandie, where they were to take their seats in the coach.
They were still half asleep, and shivering with cold under their wraps.
They could see one another but indistinctly in the darkness, and the
mountain of heavy winter wraps in which each was swathed made them look
like a gathering of obese priests in their long cassocks. But two men
recognized each other, a third accosted them, and the three began to
talk. "I am bringing my wife," said one. "So am I." "And I, too." The
first speaker added: "We shall not return to Rouen, and if the Prussians
approach Havre we will cross to England." All three, it turned out, had
made the same plans, being of similar disposition and temperament.
Still the horses were not harnessed. A small lantern carried by a
stable-boy emerged now and then from one dark doorway to disappear
immediately in another. The stamping of horses' hoofs, deadened by the
dung and straw of the stable, was heard from time to time, and from
inside the building issued a man's voice, talking to the animals and
swearing at them. A faint tinkle of bells showed that the harness was
being got ready; this tinkle soon developed into a continuous jingling,
louder or softer according to the movements of the horse, sometimes
stopping altogether, then breaking out in a sudden peal accompanied by a
pawing of the ground by an iron-shod hoof.
The door suddenly closed. All noise ceased.
The frozen townsmen were silent; they remained motionless, stiff with
A thick curtain of glistening white flakes fell ceaselessly to the
ground; it obliterated all outlines, enveloped all objects in an icy
mantle of foam; nothing was to be heard throughout the length and breadth
of the silent, winter-bound city save the vague, nameless rustle of
falling snow—a sensation rather than a sound—the gentle
mingling of light atoms which seemed to fill all space, to cover the
The man reappeared with his lantern, leading by a rope a
melancholy-looking horse, evidently being led out against his
inclination. The hostler placed him beside the pole, fastened the traces,
and spent some time in walking round him to make sure that the harness
was all right; for he could use only one hand, the other being engaged in
holding the lantern. As he was about to fetch the second horse he noticed
the motionless group of travellers, already white with snow, and said to
them: "Why don't you get inside the coach? You'd be under shelter, at
This did not seem to have occurred to them, and they at once took his
advice. The three men seated their wives at the far end of the coach,
then got in themselves; lastly the other vague, snow-shrouded forms
clambered to the remaining places without a word.
The floor was covered with straw, into which the feet sank. The ladies at
the far end, having brought with them little copper foot-warmers heated
by means of a kind of chemical fuel, proceeded to light these, and spent
some time in expatiating in low tones on their advantages, saying over
and over again things which they had all known for a long time.
At last, six horses instead of four having been harnessed to the
diligence, on account of the heavy roads, a voice outside asked: "Is
every one there?" To which a voice from the interior replied: "Yes," and
they set out.
The vehicle moved slowly, slowly, at a snail's pace; the wheels sank into
the snow; the entire body of the coach creaked and groaned; the horses
slipped, puffed, steamed, and the coachman's long whip cracked
incessantly, flying hither and thither, coiling up, then flinging out its
length like a slender serpent, as it lashed some rounded flank, which
instantly grew tense as it strained in further effort.
But the day grew apace. Those light flakes which one traveller, a native
of Rouen, had compared to a rain of cotton fell no longer. A murky light
filtered through dark, heavy clouds, which made the country more
dazzlingly white by contrast, a whiteness broken sometimes by a row of
tall trees spangled with hoarfrost, or by a cottage roof hooded in snow.
Within the coach the passengers eyed one another curiously in the dim
light of dawn.
Right at the back, in the best seats of all, Monsieur and Madame Loiseau,
wholesale wine merchants of the Rue Grand-Pont, slumbered opposite each
other. Formerly clerk to a merchant who had failed in business, Loiseau
had bought his master's interest, and made a fortune for himself. He sold
very bad wine at a very low price to the retail-dealers in the country,
and had the reputation, among his friends and acquaintances, of being a
shrewd rascal a true Norman, full of quips and wiles. So well established
was his character as a cheat that, in the mouths of the citizens of
Rouen, the very name of Loiseau became a byword for sharp practice.
Above and beyond this, Loiseau was noted for his practical jokes of every
description—his tricks, good or ill-natured; and no one could
mention his name without adding at once: "He's an extraordinary
man—Loiseau." He was undersized and potbellied, had a florid face
with grayish whiskers.
His wife-tall, strong, determined, with a loud voice and decided manner
—represented the spirit of order and arithmetic in the business
house which Loiseau enlivened by his jovial activity.
Beside them, dignified in bearing, belonging to a superior caste, sat
Monsieur Carre-Lamadon, a man of considerable importance, a king in the
cotton trade, proprietor of three spinning-mills, officer of the Legion
of Honor, and member of the General Council. During the whole time the
Empire was in the ascendancy he remained the chief of the well-disposed
Opposition, merely in order to command a higher value for his devotion
when he should rally to the cause which he meanwhile opposed with
"courteous weapons," to use his own expression.
Madame Carre-Lamadon, much younger than her husband, was the consolation
of all the officers of good family quartered at Rouen. Pretty, slender,
graceful, she sat opposite her husband, curled up in her furs, and gazing
mournfully at the sorry interior of the coach.
Her neighbors, the Comte and Comtesse Hubert de Breville, bore one of the
noblest and most ancient names in Normandy. The count, a nobleman
advanced in years and of aristocratic bearing, strove to enhance by every
artifice of the toilet, his natural resemblance to King Henry IV, who,
according to a legend of which the family were inordinately proud, had
been the favored lover of a De Breville lady, and father of her child
—the frail one's husband having, in recognition of this fact, been
made a count and governor of a province.
A colleague of Monsieur Carre-Lamadon in the General Council, Count
Hubert represented the Orleanist party in his department. The story of
his marriage with the daughter of a small shipowner at Nantes had always
remained more or less of a mystery. But as the countess had an air of
unmistakable breeding, entertained faultlessly, and was even supposed to
have been loved by a son of Louis-Philippe, the nobility vied with one
another in doing her honor, and her drawing-room remained the most select
in the whole countryside—the only one which retained the old spirit
of gallantry, and to which access was not easy.
The fortune of the Brevilles, all in real estate, amounted, it was said,
to five hundred thousand francs a year.
These six people occupied the farther end of the coach, and represented
Society—with an income—the strong, established society of
good people with religion and principle.
It happened by chance that all the women were seated on the same side;
and the countess had, moreover, as neighbors two nuns, who spent the time
in fingering their long rosaries and murmuring paternosters and aves. One
of them was old, and so deeply pitted with smallpox that she looked for
all the world as if she had received a charge of shot full in the face.
The other, of sickly appearance, had a pretty but wasted countenance, and
a narrow, consumptive chest, sapped by that devouring faith which is the
making of martyrs and visionaries.
A man and woman, sitting opposite the two nuns, attracted all eyes.
The man—a well-known character—was Cornudet, the democrat,
the terror of all respectable people. For the past twenty years his big
red beard had been on terms of intimate acquaintance with the tankards of
all the republican cafes. With the help of his comrades and brethren he
had dissipated a respectable fortune left him by his father, an
old-established confectioner, and he now impatiently awaited the
Republic, that he might at last be rewarded with the post he had earned
by his revolutionary orgies. On the fourth of September—possibly as
the result of a practical joke—he was led to believe that he had
been appointed prefect; but when he attempted to take up the duties of
the position the clerks in charge of the office refused to recognize his
authority, and he was compelled in consequence to retire. A good sort of
fellow in other respects, inoffensive and obliging, he had thrown himself
zealously into the work of making an organized defence of the town. He
had had pits dug in the level country, young forest trees felled, and
traps set on all the roads; then at the approach of the enemy, thoroughly
satisfied with his preparations, he had hastily returned to the town. He
thought he might now do more good at Havre, where new intrenchments would
soon be necessary.
The woman, who belonged to the courtesan class, was celebrated for an
embonpoint unusual for her age, which had earned for her the sobriquet of
"Boule de Suif" (Tallow Ball). Short and round, fat as a pig, with puffy
fingers constricted at the joints, looking like rows of short sausages;
with a shiny, tightly-stretched skin and an enormous bust filling out the
bodice of her dress, she was yet attractive and much sought after, owing
to her fresh and pleasing appearance. Her face was like a crimson apple,
a peony-bud just bursting into bloom; she had two magnificent dark eyes,
fringed with thick, heavy lashes, which cast a shadow into their depths;
her mouth was small, ripe, kissable, and was furnished with the tiniest
of white teeth.
As soon as she was recognized the respectable matrons of the party began
to whisper among themselves, and the words "hussy" and "public scandal"
were uttered so loudly that Boule de Suif raised her head. She forthwith
cast such a challenging, bold look at her neighbors that a sudden silence
fell on the company, and all lowered their eyes, with the exception of
Loiseau, who watched her with evident interest.
But conversation was soon resumed among the three ladies, whom the
presence of this girl had suddenly drawn together in the bonds of
friendship—one might almost say in those of intimacy. They decided
that they ought to combine, as it were, in their dignity as wives in face
of this shameless hussy; for legitimized love always despises its
The three men, also, brought together by a certain conservative instinct
awakened by the presence of Cornudet, spoke of money matters in a tone
expressive of contempt for the poor. Count Hubert related the losses he
had sustained at the hands of the Prussians, spoke of the cattle which
had been stolen from him, the crops which had been ruined, with the easy
manner of a nobleman who was also a tenfold millionaire, and whom such
reverses would scarcely inconvenience for a single year. Monsieur
Carre-Lamadon, a man of wide experience in the cotton industry, had taken
care to send six hundred thousand francs to England as provision against
the rainy day he was always anticipating. As for Loiseau, he had managed
to sell to the French commissariat department all the wines he had in
stock, so that the state now owed him a considerable sum, which he hoped
to receive at Havre.
And all three eyed one another in friendly, well-disposed fashion.
Although of varying social status, they were united in the brotherhood of
money—in that vast freemasonry made up of those who possess, who
can jingle gold wherever they choose to put their hands into their
The coach went along so slowly that at ten o'clock in the morning it had
not covered twelve miles. Three times the men of the party got out and
climbed the hills on foot. The passengers were becoming uneasy, for they
had counted on lunching at Totes, and it seemed now as if they would
hardly arrive there before nightfall. Every one was eagerly looking out
for an inn by the roadside, when, suddenly, the coach foundered in a
snowdrift, and it took two hours to extricate it.
As appetites increased, their spirits fell; no inn, no wine shop could be
discovered, the approach of the Prussians and the transit of the starving
French troops having frightened away all business.
The men sought food in the farmhouses beside the road, but could not find
so much as a crust of bread; for the suspicious peasant invariably hid
his stores for fear of being pillaged by the soldiers, who, being
entirely without food, would take violent possession of everything they
About one o'clock Loiseau announced that he positively had a big hollow
in his stomach. They had all been suffering in the same way for some
time, and the increasing gnawings of hunger had put an end to all
Now and then some one yawned, another followed his example, and each in
turn, according to his character, breeding and social position, yawned
either quietly or noisily, placing his hand before the gaping void whence
issued breath condensed into vapor.
Several times Boule de Suif stooped, as if searching for something under
her petticoats. She would hesitate a moment, look at her neighbors, and
then quietly sit upright again. All faces were pale and drawn. Loiseau
declared he would give a thousand francs for a knuckle of ham. His wife
made an involuntary and quickly checked gesture of protest. It always
hurt her to hear of money being squandered, and she could not even
understand jokes on such a subject.
"As a matter of fact, I don't feel well," said the count. "Why did I not
think of bringing provisions?" Each one reproached himself in similar
Cornudet, however, had a bottle of rum, which he offered to his
neighbors. They all coldly refused except Loiseau, who took a sip, and
returned the bottle with thanks, saying: "That's good stuff; it warms one
up, and cheats the appetite." The alcohol put him in good humor, and he
proposed they should do as the sailors did in the song: eat the fattest
of the passengers. This indirect allusion to Boule de Suif shocked the
respectable members of the party. No one replied; only Cornudet smiled.
The two good sisters had ceased to mumble their rosary, and, with hands
enfolded in their wide sleeves, sat motionless, their eyes steadfastly
cast down, doubtless offering up as a sacrifice to Heaven the suffering
it had sent them.
At last, at three o'clock, as they were in the midst of an apparently
limitless plain, with not a single village in sight, Boule de Suif
stooped quickly, and drew from underneath the seat a large basket covered
with a white napkin.
From this she extracted first of all a small earthenware plate and a
silver drinking cup, then an enormous dish containing two whole chickens
cut into joints and imbedded in jelly. The basket was seen to contain
other good things: pies, fruit, dainties of all sorts-provisions, in
fine, for a three days' journey, rendering their owner independent of
wayside inns. The necks of four bottles protruded from among the food.
She took a chicken wing, and began to eat it daintily, together with one
of those rolls called in Normandy "Regence."
All looks were directed toward her. An odor of food filled the air,
causing nostrils to dilate, mouths to water, and jaws to contract
painfully. The scorn of the ladies for this disreputable female grew
positively ferocious; they would have liked to kill her, or throw, her
and her drinking cup, her basket, and her provisions, out of the coach
into the snow of the road below.
But Loiseau's gaze was fixed greedily on the dish of chicken. He said:
"Well, well, this lady had more forethought than the rest of us. Some
people think of everything."
She looked up at him.
"Would you like some, sir? It is hard to go on fasting all day."
"Upon my soul, I can't refuse; I cannot hold out another minute. All is
fair in war time, is it not, madame?" And, casting a glance on those
around, he added:
"At times like this it is very pleasant to meet with obliging people."
He spread a newspaper over his knees to avoid soiling his trousers, and,
with a pocketknife he always carried, helped himself to a chicken leg
coated with jelly, which he thereupon proceeded to devour.
Then Boule le Suif, in low, humble tones, invited the nuns to partake of
her repast. They both accepted the offer unhesitatingly, and after a few
stammered words of thanks began to eat quickly, without raising their
eyes. Neither did Cornudet refuse his neighbor's offer, and, in
combination with the nuns, a sort of table was formed by opening out the
newspaper over the four pairs of knees.
Mouths kept opening and shutting, ferociously masticating and devouring
the food. Loiseau, in his corner, was hard at work, and in low tones
urged his wife to follow his example. She held out for a long time, but
overstrained Nature gave way at last. Her husband, assuming his politest
manner, asked their "charming companion" if he might be allowed to offer
Madame Loiseau a small helping.
"Why, certainly, sir," she replied, with an amiable smile, holding out
When the first bottle of claret was opened some embarrassment was caused
by the fact that there was only one drinking cup, but this was passed
from one to another, after being wiped. Cornudet alone, doubtless in a
spirit of gallantry, raised to his own lips that part of the rim which
was still moist from those of his fair neighbor.
Then, surrounded by people who were eating, and well-nigh suffocated by
the odor of food, the Comte and Comtesse de Breville and Monsieur and
Madame Carre-Lamadon endured that hateful form of torture which has
perpetuated the name of Tantalus. All at once the manufacturer's young
wife heaved a sigh which made every one turn and look at her; she was
white as the snow without; her eyes closed, her head fell forward; she
had fainted. Her husband, beside himself, implored the help of his
neighbors. No one seemed to know what to do until the elder of the two
nuns, raising the patient's head, placed Boule de Suif's drinking cup to
her lips, and made her swallow a few drops of wine. The pretty invalid
moved, opened her eyes, smiled, and declared in a feeble voice that she
was all right again. But, to prevent a recurrence of the catastrophe, the
nun made her drink a cupful of claret, adding: "It's just hunger
—that's what is wrong with you."
Then Boule de Suif, blushing and embarrassed, stammered, looking at the
four passengers who were still fasting:
"'Mon Dieu', if I might offer these ladies and gentlemen——"
She stopped short, fearing a snub. But Loiseau continued:
"Hang it all, in such a case as this we are all brothers and sisters and
ought to assist each other. Come, come, ladies, don't stand on ceremony,
for goodness' sake! Do we even know whether we shall find a house in
which to pass the night? At our present rate of going we sha'n't be at
Totes till midday to-morrow."
They hesitated, no one daring to be the first to accept. But the count
settled the question. He turned toward the abashed girl, and in his most
distinguished manner said:
"We accept gratefully, madame."
As usual, it was only the first step that cost. This Rubicon once
crossed, they set to work with a will. The basket was emptied. It still
contained a pate de foie gras, a lark pie, a piece of smoked tongue,
Crassane pears, Pont-Leveque gingerbread, fancy cakes, and a cup full of
pickled gherkins and onions—Boule de Suif, like all women, being
very fond of indigestible things.
They could not eat this girl's provisions without speaking to her. So
they began to talk, stiffly at first; then, as she seemed by no means
forward, with greater freedom. Mesdames de Breville and Carre-Lamadon,
who were accomplished women of the world, were gracious and tactful. The
countess especially displayed that amiable condescension characteristic
of great ladies whom no contact with baser mortals can sully, and was
absolutely charming. But the sturdy Madame Loiseau, who had the soul of a
gendarme, continued morose, speaking little and eating much.
Conversation naturally turned on the war. Terrible stories were told
about the Prussians, deeds of bravery were recounted of the French; and
all these people who were fleeing themselves were ready to pay homage to
the courage of their compatriots. Personal experiences soon followed, and
Bottle le Suif related with genuine emotion, and with that warmth of
language not uncommon in women of her class and temperament, how it came
about that she had left Rouen.
"I thought at first that I should be able to stay," she said. "My house
was well stocked with provisions, and it seemed better to put up with
feeding a few soldiers than to banish myself goodness knows where. But
when I saw these Prussians it was too much for me! My blood boiled with
rage; I wept the whole day for very shame. Oh, if only I had been a man!
I looked at them from my window—the fat swine, with their pointed
helmets!—and my maid held my hands to keep me from throwing my
furniture down on them. Then some of them were quartered on me; I flew at
the throat of the first one who entered. They are just as easy to
strangle as other men! And I'd have been the death of that one if I
hadn't been dragged away from him by my hair. I had to hide after that.
And as soon as I could get an opportunity I left the place, and here I
She was warmly congratulated. She rose in the estimation of her
companions, who had not been so brave; and Cornudet listened to her with
the approving and benevolent smile of an apostle, the smile a priest
might wear in listening to a devotee praising God; for long-bearded
democrats of his type have a monopoly of patriotism, just as priests have
a monopoly of religion. He held forth in turn, with dogmatic
self-assurance, in the style of the proclamations daily pasted on the
walls of the town, winding up with a specimen of stump oratory in which
he reviled "that besotted fool of a Louis-Napoleon."
But Boule de Suif was indignant, for she was an ardent Bonapartist. She
turned as red as a cherry, and stammered in her wrath: "I'd just like to
have seen you in his place—you and your sort! There would have been
a nice mix-up. Oh, yes! It was you who betrayed that man. It would be
impossible to live in France if we were governed by such rascals as you!"
Cornudet, unmoved by this tirade, still smiled a superior, contemptuous
smile; and one felt that high words were impending, when the count
interposed, and, not without difficulty, succeeded in calming the
exasperated woman, saying that all sincere opinions ought to be
respected. But the countess and the manufacturer's wife, imbued with the
unreasoning hatred of the upper classes for the Republic, and instinct,
moreover, with the affection felt by all women for the pomp and
circumstance of despotic government, were drawn, in spite of themselves,
toward this dignified young woman, whose opinions coincided so closely
with their own.
The basket was empty. The ten people had finished its contents without
difficulty amid general regret that it did not hold more. Conversation
went on a little longer, though it flagged somewhat after the passengers
had finished eating.
Night fell, the darkness grew deeper and deeper, and the cold made Boule
de Suif shiver, in spite of her plumpness. So Madame de Breville offered
her her foot-warmer, the fuel of which had been several times renewed
since the morning, and she accepted the offer at once, for her feet were
icy cold. Mesdames Carre-Lamadon and Loiseau gave theirs to the nuns.
The driver lighted his lanterns. They cast a bright gleam on a cloud of
vapor which hovered over the sweating flanks of the horses, and on the
roadside snow, which seemed to unroll as they went along in the changing
light of the lamps.
All was now indistinguishable in the coach; but suddenly a movement
occurred in the corner occupied by Boule de Suif and Cornudet; and
Loiseau, peering into the gloom, fancied he saw the big, bearded democrat
move hastily to one side, as if he had received a well-directed, though
noiseless, blow in the dark.
Tiny lights glimmered ahead. It was Totes. The coach had been on the road
eleven hours, which, with the three hours allotted the horses in four
periods for feeding and breathing, made fourteen. It entered the town,
and stopped before the Hotel du Commerce.
The coach door opened; a well-known noise made all the travellers start;
it was the clanging of a scabbard, on the pavement; then a voice called
out something in German.
Although the coach had come to a standstill, no one got out; it looked as
if they were afraid of being murdered the moment they left their seats.
Thereupon the driver appeared, holding in his hand one of his lanterns,
which cast a sudden glow on the interior of the coach, lighting up the
double row of startled faces, mouths agape, and eyes wide open in
surprise and terror.
Beside the driver stood in the full light a German officer, a tall young
man, fair and slender, tightly encased in his uniform like a woman in her
corset, his flat shiny cap, tilted to one side of his head, making him
look like an English hotel runner. His exaggerated mustache, long and
straight and tapering to a point at either end in a single blond hair
that could hardly be seen, seemed to weigh down the corners of his mouth
and give a droop to his lips.
In Alsatian French he requested the travellers to alight, saying stiffly:
"Kindly get down, ladies and gentlemen."
The two nuns were the first to obey, manifesting the docility of holy
women accustomed to submission on every occasion. Next appeared the count
and countess, followed by the manufacturer and his wife, after whom came
Loiseau, pushing his larger and better half before him.
"Good-day, sir," he said to the officer as he put his foot to the ground,
acting on an impulse born of prudence rather than of politeness. The
other, insolent like all in authority, merely stared without replying.
Boule de Suif and Cornudet, though near the door, were the last to
alight, grave and dignified before the enemy. The stout girl tried to
control herself and appear calm; the democrat stroked his long russet
beard with a somewhat trembling hand. Both strove to maintain their
dignity, knowing well that at such a time each individual is always
looked upon as more or less typical of his nation; and, also, resenting
the complaisant attitude of their companions, Boule de Suif tried to wear
a bolder front than her neighbors, the virtuous women, while he, feeling
that it was incumbent on him to set a good example, kept up the attitude
of resistance which he had first assumed when he undertook to mine the
high roads round Rouen.
They entered the spacious kitchen of the inn, and the German, having
demanded the passports signed by the general in command, in which were
mentioned the name, description and profession of each traveller,
inspected them all minutely, comparing their appearance with the written
Then he said brusquely: "All right," and turned on his heel.
They breathed freely, All were still hungry; so supper was ordered. Half
an hour was required for its preparation, and while two servants were
apparently engaged in getting it ready the travellers went to look at
their rooms. These all opened off a long corridor, at the end of which
was a glazed door with a number on it.
They were just about to take their seats at table when the innkeeper
appeared in person. He was a former horse dealer—a large, asthmatic
individual, always wheezing, coughing, and clearing his throat. Follenvie
was his patronymic.
"Mademoiselle Elisabeth Rousset?"
Boule de Suif started, and turned round.
"That is my name."
"Mademoiselle, the Prussian officer wishes to speak to you immediately."
"Yes; if you are Mademoiselle Elisabeth Rousset."
She hesitated, reflected a moment, and then declared roundly:
"That may be; but I'm not going."
They moved restlessly around her; every one wondered and speculated as to
the cause of this order. The count approached:
"You are wrong, madame, for your refusal may bring trouble not only on
yourself but also on all your companions. It never pays to resist those
in authority. Your compliance with this request cannot possibly be
fraught with any danger; it has probably been made because some formality
or other was forgotten."
All added their voices to that of the count; Boule de Suif was begged,
urged, lectured, and at last convinced; every one was afraid of the
complications which might result from headstrong action on her part. She
"I am doing it for your sakes, remember that!"
The countess took her hand.
"And we are grateful to you."
She left the room. All waited for her return before commencing the meal.
Each was distressed that he or she had not been sent for rather than this
impulsive, quick-tempered girl, and each mentally rehearsed platitudes in
case of being summoned also.
But at the end of ten minutes she reappeared breathing hard, crimson with
"Oh! the scoundrel! the scoundrel!" she stammered.
All were anxious to know what had happened; but she declined to enlighten
them, and when the count pressed the point, she silenced him with much
"No; the matter has nothing to do with you, and I cannot speak of it."
Then they took their places round a high soup tureen, from which issued
an odor of cabbage. In spite of this coincidence, the supper was
cheerful. The cider was good; the Loiseaus and the nuns drank it from
motives of economy. The others ordered wine; Cornudet demanded beer. He
had his own fashion of uncorking the bottle and making the beer foam,
gazing at it as he inclined his glass and then raised it to a position
between the lamp and his eye that he might judge of its color. When he
drank, his great beard, which matched the color of his favorite beverage,
seemed to tremble with affection; his eyes positively squinted in the
endeavor not to lose sight of the beloved glass, and he looked for all
the world as if he were fulfilling the only function for which he was
born. He seemed to have established in his mind an affinity between the
two great passions of his life—pale ale and revolution—and
assuredly he could not taste the one without dreaming of the other.
Monsieur and Madame Follenvie dined at the end of the table. The man,
wheezing like a broken-down locomotive, was too short-winded to talk when
he was eating. But the wife was not silent a moment; she told how the
Prussians had impressed her on their arrival, what they did, what they
said; execrating them in the first place because they cost her money, and
in the second because she had two sons in the army. She addressed herself
principally to the countess, flattered at the opportunity of talking to a
lady of quality.
Then she lowered her voice, and began to broach delicate subjects. Her
husband interrupted her from time to time, saying:
"You would do well to hold your tongue, Madame Follenvie."
But she took no notice of him, and went on:
"Yes, madame, these Germans do nothing but eat potatoes and pork, and
then pork and potatoes. And don't imagine for a moment that they are
clean! No, indeed! And if only you saw them drilling for hours, indeed
for days, together; they all collect in a field, then they do nothing but
march backward and forward, and wheel this way and that. If only they
would cultivate the land, or remain at home and work on their high roads!
Really, madame, these soldiers are of no earthly use! Poor people have to
feed and keep them, only in order that they may learn how to kill! True,
I am only an old woman with no education, but when I see them wearing
themselves out marching about from morning till night, I say to myself:
When there are people who make discoveries that are of use to people, why
should others take so much trouble to do harm? Really, now, isn't it a
terrible thing to kill people, whether they are Prussians, or English, or
Poles, or French? If we revenge ourselves on any one who injures us we do
wrong, and are punished for it; but when our sons are shot down like
partridges, that is all right, and decorations are given to the man who
kills the most. No, indeed, I shall never be able to understand it."
Cornudet raised his voice:
"War is a barbarous proceeding when we attack a peaceful neighbor, but it
is a sacred duty when undertaken in defence of one's country."
The old woman looked down:
"Yes; it's another matter when one acts in self-defence; but would it not
be better to kill all the kings, seeing that they make war just to amuse
Cornudet's eyes kindled.
"Bravo, citizens!" he said.
Monsieur Carre-Lamadon was reflecting profoundly. Although an ardent
admirer of great generals, the peasant woman's sturdy common sense made
him reflect on the wealth which might accrue to a country by the
employment of so many idle hands now maintained at a great expense, of so
much unproductive force, if they were employed in those great industrial
enterprises which it will take centuries to complete.
But Loiseau, leaving his seat, went over to the innkeeper and began
chatting in a low voice. The big man chuckled, coughed, sputtered; his
enormous carcass shook with merriment at the pleasantries of the other;
and he ended by buying six casks of claret from Loiseau to be delivered
in spring, after the departure of the Prussians.
The moment supper was over every one went to bed, worn out with fatigue.
But Loiseau, who had been making his observations on the sly, sent his
wife to bed, and amused himself by placing first his ear, and then his
eye, to the bedroom keyhole, in order to discover what he called "the
mysteries of the corridor."
At the end of about an hour he heard a rustling, peeped out quickly, and
caught sight of Boule de Suif, looking more rotund than ever in a
dressing-gown of blue cashmere trimmed with white lace. She held a candle
in her hand, and directed her steps to the numbered door at the end of
the corridor. But one of the side doors was partly opened, and when, at
the end of a few minutes, she returned, Cornudet, in his shirt-sleeves,
followed her. They spoke in low tones, then stopped short. Boule de Suif
seemed to be stoutly denying him admission to her room. Unfortunately,
Loiseau could not at first hear what they said; but toward the end of the
conversation they raised their voices, and he caught a few words.
Cornudet was loudly insistent.
"How silly you are! What does it matter to you?" he said.
She seemed indignant, and replied:
"No, my good man, there are times when one does not do that sort of
thing; besides, in this place it would be shameful."
Apparently he did not understand, and asked the reason. Then she lost her
temper and her caution, and, raising her voice still higher, said:
"Why? Can't you understand why? When there are Prussians in the house!
Perhaps even in the very next room!"
He was silent. The patriotic shame of this wanton, who would not suffer
herself to be caressed in the neighborhood of the enemy, must have roused
his dormant dignity, for after bestowing on her a simple kiss he crept
softly back to his room. Loiseau, much edified, capered round the bedroom
before taking his place beside his slumbering spouse.
Then silence reigned throughout the house. But soon there arose from some
remote part—it might easily have been either cellar or
attic—a stertorous, monotonous, regular snoring, a dull, prolonged
rumbling, varied by tremors like those of a boiler under pressure of
steam. Monsieur Follenvie had gone to sleep.
As they had decided on starting at eight o'clock the next morning, every
one was in the kitchen at that hour; but the coach, its roof covered with
snow, stood by itself in the middle of the yard, without either horses or
driver. They sought the latter in the stables, coach-houses and barns
—but in vain. So the men of the party resolved to scour the country
for him, and sallied forth. They found them selves in the square, with
the church at the farther side, and to right and left low-roofed houses
where there were some Prussian soldiers. The first soldier they saw was
peeling potatoes. The second, farther on, was washing out a barber's
shop. An other, bearded to the eyes, was fondling a crying infant, and
dandling it on his knees to quiet it; and the stout peasant women, whose
men-folk were for the most part at the war, were, by means of signs,
telling their obedient conquerors what work they were to do: chop wood,
prepare soup, grind coffee; one of them even was doing the washing for
his hostess, an infirm old grandmother.
The count, astonished at what he saw, questioned the beadle who was
coming out of the presbytery. The old man answered:
"Oh, those men are not at all a bad sort; they are not Prussians, I am
told; they come from somewhere farther off, I don't exactly know where.
And they have all left wives and children behind them; they are not fond
of war either, you may be sure! I am sure they are mourning for the men
where they come from, just as we do here; and the war causes them just as
much unhappiness as it does us. As a matter of fact, things are not so
very bad here just now, because the soldiers do no harm, and work just as
if they were in their own homes. You see, sir, poor folk always help one
another; it is the great ones of this world who make war."
Cornudet indignant at the friendly understanding established between
conquerors and conquered, withdrew, preferring to shut himself up in the
"They are repeopling the country," jested Loiseau.
"They are undoing the harm they have done," said Monsieur Carre-Lamadon
But they could not find the coach driver. At last he was discovered in
the village cafe, fraternizing cordially with the officer's orderly.
"Were you not told to harness the horses at eight o'clock?" demanded the
"Oh, yes; but I've had different orders since."
"Not to harness at all."
"Who gave you such orders?"
"Why, the Prussian officer."
"I don't know. Go and ask him. I am forbidden to harness the horses, so I
don't harness them—that's all."
"Did he tell you so himself?"
"No, sir; the innkeeper gave me the order from him."
"Last evening, just as I was going to bed."
The three men returned in a very uneasy frame of mind.
They asked for Monsieur Follenvie, but the servant replied that on
account of his asthma he never got up before ten o'clock. They were
strictly forbidden to rouse him earlier, except in case of fire.
They wished to see the officer, but that also was impossible, although he
lodged in the inn. Monsieur Follenvie alone was authorized to interview
him on civil matters. So they waited. The women returned to their rooms,
and occupied themselves with trivial matters.
Cornudet settled down beside the tall kitchen fireplace, before a blazing
fire. He had a small table and a jug of beer placed beside him, and he
smoked his pipe—a pipe which enjoyed among democrats a
consideration almost equal to his own, as though it had served its
country in serving Cornudet. It was a fine meerschaum, admirably colored
to a black the shade of its owner's teeth, but sweet-smelling, gracefully
curved, at home in its master's hand, and completing his physiognomy. And
Cornudet sat motionless, his eyes fixed now on the dancing flames, now on
the froth which crowned his beer; and after each draught he passed his
long, thin fingers with an air of satisfaction through his long, greasy
hair, as he sucked the foam from his mustache.
Loiseau, under pretence of stretching his legs, went out to see if he
could sell wine to the country dealers. The count and the manufacturer
began to talk politics. They forecast the future of France. One believed
in the Orleans dynasty, the other in an unknown savior—a hero who
should rise up in the last extremity: a Du Guesclin, perhaps a Joan of
Arc? or another Napoleon the First? Ah! if only the Prince Imperial were
not so young! Cornudet, listening to them, smiled like a man who holds
the keys of destiny in his hands. His pipe perfumed the whole kitchen.
As the clock struck ten, Monsieur Follenvie appeared. He was immediately
surrounded and questioned, but could only repeat, three or four times in
succession, and without variation, the words:
"The officer said to me, just like this: 'Monsieur Follenvie, you will
forbid them to harness up the coach for those travellers to-morrow. They
are not to start without an order from me. You hear? That is
Then they asked to see the officer. The count sent him his card, on which
Monsieur Carre-Lamadon also inscribed his name and titles. The Prussian
sent word that the two men would be admitted to see him after his
luncheon—that is to say, about one o'clock.
The ladies reappeared, and they all ate a little, in spite of their
anxiety. Boule de Suif appeared ill and very much worried.
They were finishing their coffee when the orderly came to fetch the
Loiseau joined the other two; but when they tried to get Cornudet to
accompany them, by way of adding greater solemnity to the occasion, he
declared proudly that he would never have anything to do with the
Germans, and, resuming his seat in the chimney corner, he called for
another jug of beer.
The three men went upstairs, and were ushered into the best room in the
inn, where the officer received them lolling at his ease in an armchair,
his feet on the mantelpiece, smoking a long porcelain pipe, and enveloped
in a gorgeous dressing-gown, doubtless stolen from the deserted dwelling
of some citizen destitute of taste in dress. He neither rose, greeted
them, nor even glanced in their direction. He afforded a fine example of
that insolence of bearing which seems natural to the victorious soldier.
After the lapse of a few moments he said in his halting French:
"What do you want?"
"We wish to start on our journey," said the count.
"May I ask the reason of your refusal?"
"Because I don't choose."
"I would respectfully call your attention, monsieur, to the fact that
your general in command gave us a permit to proceed to Dieppe; and I do
not think we have done anything to deserve this harshness at your hands."
"I don't choose—that's all. You may go."
They bowed, and retired.
The afternoon was wretched. They could not understand the caprice of this
German, and the strangest ideas came into their heads. They all
congregated in the kitchen, and talked the subject to death, imagining
all kinds of unlikely things. Perhaps they were to be kept as hostages
—but for what reason? or to be extradited as prisoners of war? or
possibly they were to be held for ransom? They were panic-stricken at
this last supposition. The richest among them were the most alarmed,
seeing themselves forced to empty bags of gold into the insolent
soldier's hands in order to buy back their lives. They racked their
brains for plausible lies whereby they might conceal the fact that they
were rich, and pass themselves off as poor—very poor. Loiseau took
off his watch chain, and put it in his pocket. The approach of night
increased their apprehension. The lamp was lighted, and as it wanted yet
two hours to dinner Madame Loiseau proposed a game of trente et un. It
would distract their thoughts. The rest agreed, and Cornudet himself
joined the party, first putting out his pipe for politeness' sake.
The count shuffled the cards—dealt—and Boule de Suif had thirty-one
to start with; soon the interest of the game assuaged the anxiety of the
players. But Cornudet noticed that Loiseau and his wife were in league to
They were about to sit down to dinner when Monsieur Follenvie appeared,
and in his grating voice announced:
"The Prussian officer sends to ask Mademoiselle Elisabeth Rousset if she
has changed her mind yet."
Boule de Suif stood still, pale as death. Then, suddenly turning crimson
with anger, she gasped out:
"Kindly tell that scoundrel, that cur, that carrion of a Prussian, that I
will never consent—you understand?—never, never, never!"
The fat innkeeper left the room. Then Boule de Suif was surrounded,
questioned, entreated on all sides to reveal the mystery of her visit to
the officer. She refused at first; but her wrath soon got the better of
"What does he want? He wants to make me his mistress!" she cried.
No one was shocked at the word, so great was the general indignation.
Cornudet broke his jug as he banged it down on the table. A loud outcry
arose against this base soldier. All were furious. They drew together in
common resistance against the foe, as if some part of the sacrifice
exacted of Boule de Suif had been demanded of each. The count declared,
with supreme disgust, that those people behaved like ancient barbarians.
The women, above all, manifested a lively and tender sympathy for Boule
de Suif. The nuns, who appeared only at meals, cast down their eyes, and
They dined, however, as soon as the first indignant outburst had
subsided; but they spoke little and thought much.
The ladies went to bed early; and the men, having lighted their pipes,
proposed a game of ecarte, in which Monsieur Follenvie was invited to
join, the travellers hoping to question him skillfully as to the best
means of vanquishing the officer's obduracy. But he thought of nothing
but his cards, would listen to nothing, reply to nothing, and repeated,
time after time: "Attend to the game, gentlemen! attend to the game!" So
absorbed was his attention that he even forgot to expectorate. The
consequence was that his chest gave forth rumbling sounds like those of
an organ. His wheezing lungs struck every note of the asthmatic scale,
from deep, hollow tones to a shrill, hoarse piping resembling that of a
young cock trying to crow.
He refused to go to bed when his wife, overcome with sleep, came to fetch
him. So she went off alone, for she was an early bird, always up with the
sun; while he was addicted to late hours, ever ready to spend the night
with friends. He merely said: "Put my egg-nogg by the fire," and went on
with the game. When the other men saw that nothing was to be got out of
him they declared it was time to retire, and each sought his bed.
They rose fairly early the next morning, with a vague hope of being
allowed to start, a greater desire than ever to do so, and a terror at
having to spend another day in this wretched little inn.
Alas! the horses remained in the stable, the driver was invisible. They
spent their time, for want of something better to do, in wandering round
Luncheon was a gloomy affair; and there was a general coolness toward
Boule de Suif, for night, which brings counsel, had somewhat modified the
judgment of her companions. In the cold light of the morning they almost
bore a grudge against the girl for not having secretly sought out the
Prussian, that the rest of the party might receive a joyful surprise when
they awoke. What more simple?
Besides, who would have been the wiser? She might have saved appearances
by telling the officer that she had taken pity on their distress. Such a
step would be of so little consequence to her.
But no one as yet confessed to such thoughts.
In the afternoon, seeing that they were all bored to death, the count
proposed a walk in the neighborhood of the village. Each one wrapped
himself up well, and the little party set out, leaving behind only
Cornudet, who preferred to sit over the fire, and the two nuns, who were
in the habit of spending their day in the church or at the presbytery.
The cold, which grew more intense each day, almost froze the noses and
ears of the pedestrians, their feet began to pain them so that each step
was a penance, and when they reached the open country it looked so
mournful and depressing in its limitless mantle of white that they all
hastily retraced their steps, with bodies benumbed and hearts heavy.
The four women walked in front, and the three men followed a little in
Loiseau, who saw perfectly well how matters stood, asked suddenly "if
that trollop were going to keep them waiting much longer in this
Godforsaken spot." The count, always courteous, replied that they could
not exact so painful a sacrifice from any woman, and that the first move
must come from herself. Monsieur Carre-Lamadon remarked that if the
French, as they talked of doing, made a counter attack by way of Dieppe,
their encounter with the enemy must inevitably take place at Totes. This
reflection made the other two anxious.
"Supposing we escape on foot?" said Loiseau.
The count shrugged his shoulders.
"How can you think of such a thing, in this snow? And with our wives?
Besides, we should be pursued at once, overtaken in ten minutes, and
brought back as prisoners at the mercy of the soldiery."
This was true enough; they were silent.
The ladies talked of dress, but a certain constraint seemed to prevail
Suddenly, at the end of the street, the officer appeared. His tall,
wasp-like, uniformed figure was outlined against the snow which bounded
the horizon, and he walked, knees apart, with that motion peculiar to
soldiers, who are always anxious not to soil their carefully polished
He bowed as he passed the ladies, then glanced scornfully at the men, who
had sufficient dignity not to raise their hats, though Loiseau made a
movement to do so.
Boule de Suif flushed crimson to the ears, and the three married women
felt unutterably humiliated at being met thus by the soldier in company
with the girl whom he had treated with such scant ceremony.
Then they began to talk about him, his figure, and his face. Madame
Carre-Lamadon, who had known many officers and judged them as a
connoisseur, thought him not at all bad-looking; she even regretted that
he was not a Frenchman, because in that case he would have made a very
handsome hussar, with whom all the women would assuredly have fallen in
When they were once more within doors they did not know what to do with
themselves. Sharp words even were exchanged apropos of the merest
trifles. The silent dinner was quickly over, and each one went to bed
early in the hope of sleeping, and thus killing time.
They came down next morning with tired faces and irritable tempers; the
women scarcely spoke to Boule de Suif.
A church bell summoned the faithful to a baptism. Boule de Suif had a
child being brought up by peasants at Yvetot. She did not see him once a
year, and never thought of him; but the idea of the child who was about
to be baptized induced a sudden wave of tenderness for her own, and she
insisted on being present at the ceremony.
As soon as she had gone out, the rest of the company looked at one
another and then drew their chairs together; for they realized that they
must decide on some course of action. Loiseau had an inspiration: he
proposed that they should ask the officer to detain Boule de Suif only,
and to let the rest depart on their way.
Monsieur Follenvie was intrusted with this commission, but he returned to
them almost immediately. The German, who knew human nature, had shown him
the door. He intended to keep all the travellers until his condition had
been complied with.
Whereupon Madame Loiseau's vulgar temperament broke bounds.
"We're not going to die of old age here!" she cried. "Since it's that
vixen's trade to behave so with men I don't see that she has any right to
refuse one more than another. I may as well tell you she took any lovers
she could get at Rouen—even coachmen! Yes, indeed, madame—the
coachman at the prefecture! I know it for a fact, for he buys his wine of
us. And now that it is a question of getting us out of a difficulty she
puts on virtuous airs, the drab! For my part, I think this officer has
behaved very well. Why, there were three others of us, any one of whom he
would undoubtedly have preferred. But no, he contents himself with the
girl who is common property. He respects married women. Just think. He is
master here. He had only to say: 'I wish it!' and he might have taken us
by force, with the help of his soldiers."
The two other women shuddered; the eyes of pretty Madame Carre-Lamadon
glistened, and she grew pale, as if the officer were indeed in the act of
laying violent hands on her.
The men, who had been discussing the subject among themselves, drew near.
Loiseau, in a state of furious resentment, was for delivering up "that
miserable woman," bound hand and foot, into the enemy's power. But the
count, descended from three generations of ambassadors, and endowed,
moreover, with the lineaments of a diplomat, was in favor of more tactful
"We must persuade her," he said.
Then they laid their plans.
The women drew together; they lowered their voices, and the discussion
became general, each giving his or her opinion. But the conversation was
not in the least coarse. The ladies, in particular, were adepts at
delicate phrases and charming subtleties of expression to describe the
most improper things. A stranger would have understood none of their
allusions, so guarded was the language they employed. But, seeing that
the thin veneer of modesty with which every woman of the world is
furnished goes but a very little way below the surface, they began rather
to enjoy this unedifying episode, and at bottom were hugely delighted
—feeling themselves in their element, furthering the schemes of
lawless love with the gusto of a gourmand cook who prepares supper for
Their gaiety returned of itself, so amusing at last did the whole
business seem to them. The count uttered several rather risky witticisms,
but so tactfully were they said that his audience could not help smiling.
Loiseau in turn made some considerably broader jokes, but no one took
offence; and the thought expressed with such brutal directness by his
wife was uppermost in the minds of all: "Since it's the girl's trade, why
should she refuse this man more than another?" Dainty Madame
Carre-Lamadon seemed to think even that in Boule de Suif's place she
would be less inclined to refuse him than another.
The blockade was as carefully arranged as if they were investing a
fortress. Each agreed on the role which he or she was to play, the
arguments to be used, the maneuvers to be executed. They decided on the
plan of campaign, the stratagems they were to employ, and the surprise
attacks which were to reduce this human citadel and force it to receive
the enemy within its walls.
But Cornudet remained apart from the rest, taking no share in the plot.
So absorbed was the attention of all that Boule de Suif's entrance was
almost unnoticed. But the count whispered a gentle "Hush!" which made the
others look up. She was there. They suddenly stopped talking, and a vague
embarrassment prevented them for a few moments from addressing her. But
the countess, more practiced than the others in the wiles of the
drawing-room, asked her:
"Was the baptism interesting?"
The girl, still under the stress of emotion, told what she had seen and
heard, described the faces, the attitudes of those present, and even the
appearance of the church. She concluded with the words:
"It does one good to pray sometimes."
Until lunch time the ladies contented themselves with being pleasant to
her, so as to increase her confidence and make her amenable to their
As soon as they took their seats at table the attack began. First they
opened a vague conversation on the subject of self-sacrifice. Ancient
examples were quoted: Judith and Holofernes; then, irrationally enough,
Lucrece and Sextus; Cleopatra and the hostile generals whom she reduced
to abject slavery by a surrender of her charms. Next was recounted an
extraordinary story, born of the imagination of these ignorant
millionaires, which told how the matrons of Rome seduced Hannibal, his
lieutenants, and all his mercenaries at Capua. They held up to admiration
all those women who from time to time have arrested the victorious
progress of conquerors, made of their bodies a field of battle, a means
of ruling, a weapon; who have vanquished by their heroic caresses hideous
or detested beings, and sacrificed their chastity to vengeance and
All was said with due restraint and regard for propriety, the effect
heightened now and then by an outburst of forced enthusiasm calculated to
A listener would have thought at last that the one role of woman on earth
was a perpetual sacrifice of her person, a continual abandonment of
herself to the caprices of a hostile soldiery.
The two nuns seemed to hear nothing, and to be lost in thought. Boule de
Suif also was silent.
During the whole afternoon she was left to her reflections. But instead
of calling her "madame" as they had done hitherto, her companions
addressed her simply as "mademoiselle," without exactly knowing why, but
as if desirous of making her descend a step in the esteem she had won,
and forcing her to realize her degraded position.
Just as soup was served, Monsieur Follenvie reappeared, repeating his
phrase of the evening before:
"The Prussian officer sends to ask if Mademoiselle Elisabeth Rousset has
changed her mind."
Boule de Suif answered briefly:
But at dinner the coalition weakened. Loiseau made three unfortunate
remarks. Each was cudgeling his brains for further examples of
self-sacrifice, and could find none, when the countess, possibly without
ulterior motive, and moved simply by a vague desire to do homage to
religion, began to question the elder of the two nuns on the most
striking facts in the lives of the saints. Now, it fell out that many of
these had committed acts which would be crimes in our eyes, but the
Church readily pardons such deeds when they are accomplished for the
glory of God or the good of mankind. This was a powerful argument, and
the countess made the most of it. Then, whether by reason of a tacit
understanding, a thinly veiled act of complaisance such as those who wear
the ecclesiastical habit excel in, or whether merely as the result of
sheer stupidity—a stupidity admirably adapted to further their
designs—the old nun rendered formidable aid to the conspirator.
They had thought her timid; she proved herself bold, talkative, bigoted.
She was not troubled by the ins and outs of casuistry; her doctrines were
as iron bars; her faith knew no doubt; her conscience no scruples. She
looked on Abraham's sacrifice as natural enough, for she herself would
not have hesitated to kill both father and mother if she had received a
divine order to that effect; and nothing, in her opinion, could displease
our Lord, provided the motive were praiseworthy. The countess, putting to
good use the consecrated authority of her unexpected ally, led her on to
make a lengthy and edifying paraphrase of that axiom enunciated by a
certain school of moralists: "The end justifies the means."
"Then, sister," she asked, "you think God accepts all methods, and
pardons the act when the motive is pure?"
"Undoubtedly, madame. An action reprehensible in itself often derives
merit from the thought which inspires it."
And in this wise they talked on, fathoming the wishes of God, predicting
His judgments, describing Him as interested in matters which assuredly
concern Him but little.
All was said with the utmost care and discretion, but every word uttered
by the holy woman in her nun's garb weakened the indignant resistance of
the courtesan. Then the conversation drifted somewhat, and the nun began
to talk of the convents of her order, of her Superior, of herself, and of
her fragile little neighbor, Sister St. Nicephore. They had been sent for
from Havre to nurse the hundreds of soldiers who were in hospitals,
stricken with smallpox. She described these wretched invalids and their
malady. And, while they themselves were detained on their way by the
caprices of the Prussian officer, scores of Frenchmen might be dying,
whom they would otherwise have saved! For the nursing of soldiers was the
old nun's specialty; she had been in the Crimea, in Italy, in Austria;
and as she told the story of her campaigns she revealed herself as one of
those holy sisters of the fife and drum who seem designed by nature to
follow camps, to snatch the wounded from amid the strife of battle, and
to quell with a word, more effectually than any general, the rough and
insubordinate troopers—a masterful woman, her seamed and pitted
face itself an image of the devastations of war.
No one spoke when she had finished for fear of spoiling the excellent
effect of her words.
As soon as the meal was over the travellers retired to their rooms,
whence they emerged the following day at a late hour of the morning.
Luncheon passed off quietly. The seed sown the preceding evening was
being given time to germinate and bring forth fruit.
In the afternoon the countess proposed a walk; then the count, as had
been arranged beforehand, took Boule de Suif's arm, and walked with her
at some distance behind the rest.
He began talking to her in that familiar, paternal, slightly contemptuous
tone which men of his class adopt in speaking to women like her, calling
her "my dear child," and talking down to her from the height of his
exalted social position and stainless reputation. He came straight to the
"So you prefer to leave us here, exposed like yourself to all the
violence which would follow on a repulse of the Prussian troops, rather
than consent to surrender yourself, as you have done so many times in
The girl did not reply.
He tried kindness, argument, sentiment. He still bore himself as count,
even while adopting, when desirable, an attitude of gallantry, and making
pretty—nay, even tender—speeches. He exalted the service she
would render them, spoke of their gratitude; then, suddenly, using the
"And you know, my dear, he could boast then of having made a conquest of
a pretty girl such as he won't often find in his own country."
Boule de Suif did not answer, and joined the rest of the party.
As soon as they returned she went to her room, and was seen no more. The
general anxiety was at its height. What would she do? If she still
resisted, how awkward for them all!
The dinner hour struck; they waited for her in vain. At last Monsieur
Follenvie entered, announcing that Mademoiselle Rousset was not well, and
that they might sit down to table. They all pricked up their ears. The
count drew near the innkeeper, and whispered:
"Is it all right?"
Out of regard for propriety he said nothing to his companions, but merely
nodded slightly toward them. A great sigh of relief went up from all
breasts; every face was lighted up with joy.
"By Gad!" shouted Loiseau, "I'll stand champagne all round if there's any
to be found in this place." And great was Madame Loiseau's dismay when
the proprietor came back with four bottles in his hands. They had all
suddenly become talkative and merry; a lively joy filled all hearts. The
count seemed to perceive for the first time that Madame Carre-Lamadon was
charming; the manufacturer paid compliments to the countess. The
conversation was animated, sprightly, witty, and, although many of the
jokes were in the worst possible taste, all the company were amused by
them, and none offended—indignation being dependent, like other
emotions, on surroundings. And the mental atmosphere had gradually become
filled with gross imaginings and unclean thoughts.
At dessert even the women indulged in discreetly worded allusions. Their
glances were full of meaning; they had drunk much. The count, who even in
his moments of relaxation preserved a dignified demeanor, hit on a
much-appreciated comparison of the condition of things with the
termination of a winter spent in the icy solitude of the North Pole and
the joy of shipwrecked mariners who at last perceive a southward track
opening out before their eyes.
Loiseau, fairly in his element, rose to his feet, holding aloft a glass
"I drink to our deliverance!" he shouted.
All stood up, and greeted the toast with acclamation. Even the two good
sisters yielded to the solicitations of the ladies, and consented to
moisten their lips with the foaming wine, which they had never before
tasted. They declared it was like effervescent lemonade, but with a
"It is a pity," said Loiseau, "that we have no piano; we might have had a
Cornudet had not spoken a word or made a movement; he seemed plunged in
serious thought, and now and then tugged furiously at his great beard, as
if trying to add still further to its length. At last, toward midnight,
when they were about to separate, Loiseau, whose gait was far from
steady, suddenly slapped him on the back, saying thickly:
"You're not jolly to-night; why are you so silent, old man?"
Cornudet threw back his head, cast one swift and scornful glance over the
assemblage, and answered:
"I tell you all, you have done an infamous thing!"
He rose, reached the door, and repeating: "Infamous!" disappeared.
A chill fell on all. Loiseau himself looked foolish and disconcerted for
a moment, but soon recovered his aplomb, and, writhing with laughter,
"Really, you are all too green for anything!"
Pressed for an explanation, he related the "mysteries of the corridor,"
whereat his listeners were hugely amused. The ladies could hardly contain
their delight. The count and Monsieur Carre-Lamadon laughed till they
cried. They could scarcely believe their ears.
"What! you are sure? He wanted——"
"I tell you I saw it with my own eyes."
"And she refused?"
"Because the Prussian was in the next room!"
"Surely you are mistaken?"
"I swear I'm telling you the truth."
The count was choking with laughter. The manufacturer held his sides.
"So you may well imagine he doesn't think this evening's business at all
And all three began to laugh again, choking, coughing, almost ill with
Then they separated. But Madame Loiseau, who was nothing if not spiteful,
remarked to her husband as they were on the way to bed that "that
stuck-up little minx of a Carre-Lamadon had laughed on the wrong side of
her mouth all the evening."
"You know," she said, "when women run after uniforms it's all the same to
them whether the men who wear them are French or Prussian. It's perfectly
The next morning the snow showed dazzling white tinder a clear winter
sun. The coach, ready at last, waited before the door; while a flock of
white pigeons, with pink eyes spotted in the centres with black, puffed
out their white feathers and walked sedately between the legs of the six
horses, picking at the steaming manure.
The driver, wrapped in his sheepskin coat, was smoking a pipe on the box,
and all the passengers, radiant with delight at their approaching
departure, were putting up provisions for the remainder of the journey.
They were waiting only for Boule de Suif. At last she appeared.
She seemed rather shamefaced and embarrassed, and advanced with timid
step toward her companions, who with one accord turned aside as if they
had not seen her. The count, with much dignity, took his wife by the arm,
and removed her from the unclean contact.
The girl stood still, stupefied with astonishment; then, plucking up
courage, accosted the manufacturer's wife with a humble "Good-morning,
madame," to which the other replied merely with a slight and insolent
nod, accompanied by a look of outraged virtue. Every one suddenly
appeared extremely busy, and kept as far from Boule de Suif as if tier
skirts had been infected with some deadly disease. Then they hurried to
the coach, followed by the despised courtesan, who, arriving last of all,
silently took the place she had occupied during the first part of the
The rest seemed neither to see nor to know her—all save Madame
Loiseau, who, glancing contemptuously in her direction, remarked, half
aloud, to her husband:
"What a mercy I am not sitting beside that creature!"
The lumbering vehicle started on its way, and the journey began afresh.
At first no one spoke. Boule de Suif dared not even raise her eyes. She
felt at once indignant with her neighbors, and humiliated at having
yielded to the Prussian into whose arms they had so hypocritically cast
But the countess, turning toward Madame Carre-Lamadon, soon broke the
"I think you know Madame d'Etrelles?"
"Yes; she is a friend of mine."
"Such a charming woman!"
"Delightful! Exceptionally talented, and an artist to the finger tips.
She sings marvellously and draws to perfection."
The manufacturer was chatting with the count, and amid the clatter of the
window-panes a word of their conversation was now and then
Loiseau, who had abstracted from the inn the timeworn pack of cards,
thick with the grease of five years' contact with half-wiped-off tables,
started a game of bezique with his wife.
The good sisters, taking up simultaneously the long rosaries hanging from
their waists, made the sign of the cross, and began to mutter in unison
interminable prayers, their lips moving ever more and more swiftly, as if
they sought which should outdistance the other in the race of orisons;
from time to time they kissed a medal, and crossed themselves anew, then
resumed their rapid and unintelligible murmur.
Cornudet sat still, lost in thought.
Ah the end of three hours Loiseau gathered up the cards, and remarked
that he was hungry.
His wife thereupon produced a parcel tied with string, from which she
extracted a piece of cold veal. This she cut into neat, thin slices, and
both began to eat.
"We may as well do the same," said the countess. The rest agreed, and she
unpacked the provisions which had been prepared for herself, the count,
and the Carre-Lamadons. In one of those oval dishes, the lids of which
are decorated with an earthenware hare, by way of showing that a game pie
lies within, was a succulent delicacy consisting of the brown flesh of
the game larded with streaks of bacon and flavored with other meats
chopped fine. A solid wedge of Gruyere cheese, which had been wrapped in
a newspaper, bore the imprint: "Items of News," on its rich, oily
The two good sisters brought to light a hunk of sausage smelling strongly
of garlic; and Cornudet, plunging both hands at once into the capacious
pockets of his loose overcoat, produced from one four hard-boiled eggs
and from the other a crust of bread. He removed the shells, threw them
into the straw beneath his feet, and began to devour the eggs, letting
morsels of the bright yellow yolk fall in his mighty beard, where they
looked like stars.
Boule de Suif, in the haste and confusion of her departure, had not
thought of anything, and, stifling with rage, she watched all these
people placidly eating. At first, ill-suppressed wrath shook her whole
person, and she opened her lips to shriek the truth at them, to overwhelm
them with a volley of insults; but she could not utter a word, so choked
was she with indignation.
No one looked at her, no one thought of her. She felt herself swallowed
up in the scorn of these virtuous creatures, who had first sacrificed,
then rejected her as a thing useless and unclean. Then she remembered her
big basket full of the good things they had so greedily devoured: the two
chickens coated in jelly, the pies, the pears, the four bottles of
claret; and her fury broke forth like a cord that is overstrained, and
she was on the verge of tears. She made terrible efforts at self-control,
drew herself up, swallowed the sobs which choked her; but the tears rose
nevertheless, shone at the brink of her eyelids, and soon two heavy drops
coursed slowly down her cheeks. Others followed more quickly, like water
filtering from a rock, and fell, one after another, on her rounded bosom.
She sat upright, with a fixed expression, her face pale and rigid, hoping
desperately that no one saw her give way.
But the countess noticed that she was weeping, and with a sign drew her
husband's attention to the fact. He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say:
"Well, what of it? It's not my fault." Madame Loiseau chuckled
triumphantly, and murmured:
"She's weeping for shame."
The two nuns had betaken themselves once more to their prayers, first
wrapping the remainder of their sausage in paper:
Then Cornudet, who was digesting his eggs, stretched his long legs under
the opposite seat, threw himself back, folded his arms, smiled like a man
who had just thought of a good joke, and began to whistle the
The faces of his neighbors clouded; the popular air evidently did not
find favor with them; they grew nervous and irritable, and seemed ready
to howl as a dog does at the sound of a barrel-organ. Cornudet saw the
discomfort he was creating, and whistled the louder; sometimes he even
hummed the words:
Amour sacre de la patrie,
Conduis, soutiens, nos bras vengeurs,
Liberte, liberte cherie,
Combats avec tes defenseurs!
The coach progressed more swiftly, the snow being harder now; and all the
way to Dieppe, during the long, dreary hours of the journey, first in the
gathering dusk, then in the thick darkness, raising his voice above the
rumbling of the vehicle, Cornudet continued with fierce obstinacy his
vengeful and monotonous whistling, forcing his weary and
exasperated-hearers to follow the song from end to end, to recall every
word of every line, as each was repeated over and over again with
And Boule de Suif still wept, and sometimes a sob she could not restrain
was heard in the darkness between two verses of the song.
Besieged Paris was in the throes of famine. Even the sparrows on the
roofs and the rats in the sewers were growing scarce. People were eating
anything they could get.
As Monsieur Morissot, watchmaker by profession and idler for the nonce,
was strolling along the boulevard one bright January morning, his hands
in his trousers pockets and stomach empty, he suddenly came face to face
with an acquaintance—Monsieur Sauvage, a fishing chum.
Before the war broke out Morissot had been in the habit, every Sunday
morning, of setting forth with a bamboo rod in his hand and a tin box on
his back. He took the Argenteuil train, got out at Colombes, and walked
thence to the Ile Marante. The moment he arrived at this place of his
dreams he began fishing, and fished till nightfall.
Every Sunday he met in this very spot Monsieur Sauvage, a stout, jolly,
little man, a draper in the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, and also an ardent
fisherman. They often spent half the day side by side, rod in hand and
feet dangling over the water, and a warm friendship had sprung up between
Some days they did not speak; at other times they chatted; but they
understood each other perfectly without the aid of words, having similar
tastes and feelings.
In the spring, about ten o'clock in the morning, when the early sun
caused a light mist to float on the water and gently warmed the backs of
the two enthusiastic anglers, Morissot would occasionally remark to his
"My, but it's pleasant here."
To which the other would reply:
"I can't imagine anything better!"
And these few words sufficed to make them understand and appreciate each
In the autumn, toward the close of day, when the setting sun shed a
blood-red glow over the western sky, and the reflection of the crimson
clouds tinged the whole river with red, brought a glow to the faces of
the two friends, and gilded the trees, whose leaves were already turning
at the first chill touch of winter, Monsieur Sauvage would sometimes
smile at Morissot, and say:
"What a glorious spectacle!"
And Morissot would answer, without taking his eyes from his float:
"This is much better than the boulevard, isn't it?"
As soon as they recognized each other they shook hands cordially,
affected at the thought of meeting under such changed circumstances.
Monsieur Sauvage, with a sigh, murmured:
"These are sad times!"
Morissot shook his head mournfully.
"And such weather! This is the first fine day of the year."
The sky was, in fact, of a bright, cloudless blue.
They walked along, side by side, reflective and sad.
"And to think of the fishing!" said Morissot. "What good times we used to
"When shall we be able to fish again?" asked Monsieur Sauvage.
They entered a small cafe and took an absinthe together, then resumed
their walk along the pavement.
Morissot stopped suddenly.
"Shall we have another absinthe?" he said.
"If you like," agreed Monsieur Sauvage.
And they entered another wine shop.
They were quite unsteady when they came out, owing to the effect of the
alcohol on their empty stomachs. It was a fine, mild day, and a gentle
breeze fanned their faces.
The fresh air completed the effect of the alcohol on Monsieur Sauvage. He
stopped suddenly, saying:
"Suppose we go there?"
"Why, to the old place. The French outposts are close to Colombes. I know
Colonel Dumoulin, and we shall easily get leave to pass."
Morissot trembled with desire.
"Very well. I agree."
And they separated, to fetch their rods and lines.
An hour later they were walking side by side on the-highroad. Presently
they reached the villa occupied by the colonel. He smiled at their
request, and granted it. They resumed their walk, furnished with a
Soon they left the outposts behind them, made their way through deserted
Colombes, and found themselves on the outskirts of the small vineyards
which border the Seine. It was about eleven o'clock.
Before them lay the village of Argenteuil, apparently lifeless. The
heights of Orgement and Sannois dominated the landscape. The great plain,
extending as far as Nanterre, was empty, quite empty-a waste of
dun-colored soil and bare cherry trees.
Monsieur Sauvage, pointing to the heights, murmured:
"The Prussians are up yonder!"
And the sight of the deserted country filled the two friends with vague
The Prussians! They had never seen them as yet, but they had felt their
presence in the neighborhood of Paris for months past—ruining
France, pillaging, massacring, starving them. And a kind of superstitious
terror mingled with the hatred they already felt toward this unknown,
"Suppose we were to meet any of them?" said Morissot.
"We'd offer them some fish," replied Monsieur Sauvage, with that Parisian
light-heartedness which nothing can wholly quench.
Still, they hesitated to show themselves in the open country, overawed by
the utter silence which reigned around them.
At last Monsieur Sauvage said boldly:
"Come, we'll make a start; only let us be careful!"
And they made their way through one of the vineyards, bent double,
creeping along beneath the cover afforded by the vines, with eye and ear
A strip of bare ground remained to be crossed before they could gain the
river bank. They ran across this, and, as soon as they were at the
water's edge, concealed themselves among the dry reeds.
Morissot placed his ear to the ground, to ascertain, if possible, whether
footsteps were coming their way. He heard nothing. They seemed to be
Their confidence was restored, and they began to fish.
Before them the deserted Ile Marante hid them from the farther shore. The
little restaurant was closed, and looked as if it had been deserted for
Monsieur Sauvage caught the first gudgeon, Monsieur Morissot the second,
and almost every moment one or other raised his line with a little,
glittering, silvery fish wriggling at the end; they were having excellent
They slipped their catch gently into a close-meshed bag lying at their
feet; they were filled with joy—the joy of once more indulging in a
pastime of which they had long been deprived.
The sun poured its rays on their backs; they no longer heard anything or
thought of anything. They ignored the rest of the world; they were
But suddenly a rumbling sound, which seemed to come from the bowels of
the earth, shook the ground beneath them: the cannon were resuming their
Morissot turned his head and could see toward the left, beyond the banks
of the river, the formidable outline of Mont-Valerien, from whose summit
arose a white puff of smoke.
The next instant a second puff followed the first, and in a few moments a
fresh detonation made the earth tremble.
Others followed, and minute by minute the mountain gave forth its deadly
breath and a white puff of smoke, which rose slowly into the peaceful
heaven and floated above the summit of the cliff.
Monsieur Sauvage shrugged his shoulders.
"They are at it again!" he said.
Morissot, who was anxiously watching his float bobbing up and down, was
suddenly seized with the angry impatience of a peaceful man toward the
madmen who were firing thus, and remarked indignantly:
"What fools they are to kill one another like that!"
"They're worse than animals," replied Monsieur Sauvage.
And Morissot, who had just caught a bleak, declared:
"And to think that it will be just the same so long as there are
"The Republic would not have declared war," interposed Monsieur Sauvage.
Morissot interrupted him:
"Under a king we have foreign wars; under a republic we have civil war."
And the two began placidly discussing political problems with the sound
common sense of peaceful, matter-of-fact citizens—agreeing on one
point: that they would never be free. And Mont-Valerien thundered
ceaselessly, demolishing the houses of the French with its cannon balls,
grinding lives of men to powder, destroying many a dream, many a
cherished hope, many a prospective happiness; ruthlessly causing endless
woe and suffering in the hearts of wives, of daughters, of mothers, in
"Such is life!" declared Monsieur Sauvage.
"Say, rather, such is death!" replied Morissot, laughing.
But they suddenly trembled with alarm at the sound of footsteps behind
them, and, turning round, they perceived close at hand four tall, bearded
men, dressed after the manner of livery servants and wearing flat caps on
their heads. They were covering the two anglers with their rifles.
The rods slipped from their owners' grasp and floated away down the
In the space of a few seconds they were seized, bound, thrown into a
boat, and taken across to the Ile Marante.
And behind the house they had thought deserted were about a score of
A shaggy-looking giant, who was bestriding a chair and smoking a long
clay pipe, addressed them in excellent French with the words:
"Well, gentlemen, have you had good luck with your fishing?"
Then a soldier deposited at the officer's feet the bag full of fish,
which he had taken care to bring away. The Prussian smiled.
"Not bad, I see. But we have something else to talk about. Listen to me,
and don't be alarmed:
"You must know that, in my eyes, you are two spies sent to reconnoitre me
and my movements. Naturally, I capture you and I shoot you. You pretended
to be fishing, the better to disguise your real errand. You have fallen
into my hands, and must take the consequences. Such is war.
"But as you came here through the outposts you must have a password for
your return. Tell me that password and I will let you go."
The two friends, pale as death, stood silently side by side, a slight
fluttering of the hands alone betraying their emotion.
"No one will ever know," continued the officer. "You will return
peacefully to your homes, and the secret will disappear with you. If you
refuse, it means death-instant death. Choose!"
They stood motionless, and did not open their lips.
The Prussian, perfectly calm, went on, with hand outstretched toward the
"Just think that in five minutes you will be at the bottom of that water.
In five minutes! You have relations, I presume?"
Mont-Valerien still thundered.
The two fishermen remained silent. The German turned and gave an order in
his own language. Then he moved his chair a little way off, that he might
not be so near the prisoners, and a dozen men stepped forward, rifle in
hand, and took up a position, twenty paces off.
"I give you one minute," said the officer; "not a second longer."
Then he rose quickly, went over to the two Frenchmen, took Morissot by
the arm, led him a short distance off, and said in a low voice:
"Quick! the password! Your friend will know nothing. I will pretend to
Morissot answered not a word.
Then the Prussian took Monsieur Sauvage aside in like manner, and made
him the same proposal.
Monsieur Sauvage made no reply.
Again they stood side by side.
The officer issued his orders; the soldiers raised their rifles.
Then by chance Morissot's eyes fell on the bag full of gudgeon lying in
the grass a few feet from him.
A ray of sunlight made the still quivering fish glisten like silver. And
Morissot's heart sank. Despite his efforts at self-control his eyes
filled with tears.
"Good-by, Monsieur Sauvage," he faltered.
"Good-by, Monsieur Morissot," replied Sauvage.
They shook hands, trembling from head to foot with a dread beyond their
The officer cried:
The twelve shots were as one.
Monsieur Sauvage fell forward instantaneously. Morissot, being the
taller, swayed slightly and fell across his friend with face turned
skyward and blood oozing from a rent in the breast of his coat.
The German issued fresh orders.
His men dispersed, and presently returned with ropes and large stones,
which they attached to the feet of the two friends; then they carried
them to the river bank.
Mont-Valerien, its summit now enshrouded in smoke, still continued to
Two soldiers took Morissot by the head and the feet; two others did the
same with Sauvage. The bodies, swung lustily by strong hands, were cast
to a distance, and, describing a curve, fell feet foremost into the
The water splashed high, foamed, eddied, then grew calm; tiny waves
lapped the shore.
A few streaks of blood flecked the surface of the river.
The officer, calm throughout, remarked, with grim humor:
"It's the fishes' turn now!"
Then he retraced his way to the house.
Suddenly he caught sight of the net full of gudgeons, lying forgotten in
the grass. He picked it up, examined it, smiled, and called:
A white-aproned soldier responded to the summons, and the Prussian,
tossing him the catch of the two murdered men, said:
"Have these fish fried for me at once, while they are still alive;
they'll make a tasty dish."
Then he resumed his pipe.
THE LANCER'S WIFE
It was after Bourbaki's defeat in the east of France. The army, broken
up, decimated, and worn out, had been obliged to retreat into Switzerland
after that terrible campaign, and it was only its short duration that
saved a hundred and fifty thousand men from certain death. Hunger, the
terrible cold, forced marches in the snow without boots, over bad
mountain roads, had caused us 'francs-tireurs', especially, the greatest
suffering, for we were without tents, and almost without food, always in
the van when we were marching toward Belfort, and in the rear when
returning by the Jura. Of our little band that had numbered twelve
hundred men on the first of January, there remained only twenty-two pale,
thin, ragged wretches, when we at length succeeded in reaching Swiss
There we were safe, and could rest. Everybody knows what sympathy was
shown to the unfortunate French army, and how well it was cared for. We
all gained fresh life, and those who had been rich and happy before the
war declared that they had never experienced a greater feeling of comfort
than they did then. Just think. We actually had something to eat every
day, and could sleep every night.
Meanwhile, the war continued in the east of France, which had been
excluded from the armistice. Besancon still kept the enemy in check, and
the latter had their revenge by ravaging Franche Comte. Sometimes we
heard that they had approached quite close to the frontier, and we saw
Swiss troops, who were to form a line of observation between us and them,
set out on their march.
That pained us in the end, and, as we regained health and strength, the
longing to fight took possession of us. It was disgraceful and irritating
to know that within two or three leagues of us the Germans were
victorious and insolent, to feel that we were protected by our captivity,
and to feel that on that account we were powerless against them.
One day our captain took five or six of us aside, and spoke to us about
it, long and furiously. He was a fine fellow, that captain. He had been a
sublieutenant in the Zouaves, was tall and thin and as hard as steel, and
during the whole campaign he had cut out their work for the Germans. He
fretted in inactivity, and could not accustom himself to the idea of
being a prisoner and of doing nothing.
"Confound it!" he said to us, "does it not pain you to know that there is
a number of uhlans within two hours of us? Does it not almost drive you
mad to know that those beggarly wretches are walking about as masters in
our mountains, when six determined men might kill a whole spitful any
day? I cannot endure it any longer, and I must go there."
"But how can you manage it, captain?"
"How? It is not very difficult! Just as if we had not done a thing or two
within the last six months, and got out of woods that were guarded by
very different men from the Swiss. The day that you wish to cross over
into France, I will undertake to get you there."
"That may be; but what shall we do in France without any arms?"
"Without arms? We will get them over yonder, by Jove!"
"You are forgetting the treaty," another soldier said; "we shall run the
risk of doing the Swiss an injury, if Manteuffel learns that they have
allowed prisoners to return to France."
"Come," said the captain, "those are all bad reasons. I mean to go and
kill some Prussians; that is all I care about. If you do not wish to do
as I do, well and good; only say so at once. I can quite well go by
myself; I do not require anybody's company."
Naturally we all protested, and, as it was quite impossible to make the
captain alter his mind, we felt obliged to promise to go with him. We
liked him too much to leave him in the lurch, as he never failed us in
any extremity; and so the expedition was decided on.
The captain had a plan of his own, that he had been cogitating over for
some time. A man in that part of the country whom he knew was going to
lend him a cart and six suits of peasants' clothes. We could hide under
some straw at the bottom of the wagon, which would be loaded with Gruyere
cheese, which he was supposed to be going to sell in France. The captain
told the sentinels that he was taking two friends with him to protect his
goods, in case any one should try to rob him, which did not seem an
extraordinary precaution. A Swiss officer seemed to look at the wagon in
a knowing manner, but that was in order to impress his soldiers. In a
word, neither officers nor men could make it out.
"Get up," the captain said to the horses, as he cracked his whip, while
our three men quietly smoked their pipes. I was half suffocated in my
box, which only admitted the air through those holes in front, and at the
same time I was nearly frozen, for it was terribly cold.
"Get up," the captain said again, and the wagon loaded with Gruyere
cheese entered France.
The Prussian lines were very badly guarded, as the enemy trusted to the
watchfulness of the Swiss. The sergeant spoke North German, while our
captain spoke the bad German of the Four Cantons, and so they could not
understand each other. The sergeant, however, pretended to be very
intelligent; and, in order to make us believe that he understood us, they
allowed us to continue our journey; and, after travelling for seven
hours, being continually stopped in the same manner, we arrived at a
small village of the Jura in ruins, at nightfall.
What were we going to do? Our only arms were the captain's whip, our
uniforms our peasants' blouses, and our food the Gruyere cheese. Our sole
wealth consisted in our ammunition, packages of cartridges which we had
stowed away inside some of the large cheeses. We had about a thousand of
them, just two hundred each, but we needed rifles, and they must be
chassepots. Luckily, however, the captain was a bold man of an inventive
mind, and this was the plan that he hit upon:
While three of us remained hidden in a cellar in the abandoned village,
he continued his journey as far as Besancon with the empty wagon and one
man. The town was invested, but one can always make one's way into a town
among the hills by crossing the tableland till within about ten miles of
the walls, and then following paths and ravines on foot. They left their
wagon at Omans, among the Germans, and escaped out of it at night on
foot; so as to gain the heights which border the River Doubs; the next
day they entered Besancon, where there were plenty of chassepots. There
were nearly forty thousand of them left in the arsenal, and General
Roland, a brave marine, laughed at the captain's daring project, but let
him have six rifles and wished him "good luck." There he had also found
his wife, who had been through all the war with us before the campaign in
the East, and who had been only prevented by illness from continuing with
Bourbaki's army. She had recovered, however, in spite of the cold, which
was growing more and more intense, and in spite of the numberless
privations that awaited her, she persisted in accompanying her husband.
He was obliged to give way to her, and they all three, the captain, his
wife, and our comrade, started on their expedition.
Going was nothing in comparison to returning. They were obliged to travel
by night, so as to avoid meeting anybody, as the possession of six rifles
would have made them liable to suspicion. But, in spite of everything, a
week after leaving us, the captain and his two men were back with us
again. The campaign was about to begin.
The first night of his arrival he began it himself, and, under pretext of
examining the surrounding country, he went along the high road.
I must tell you that the little village which served as our fortress was
a small collection of poor, badly built houses, which had been deserted
long before. It lay on a steep slope, which terminated in a wooded plain.
The country people sell the wood; they send it down the slopes, which are
called coulees, locally, and which lead down to the plain, and there they
stack it into piles, which they sell thrice a year to the wood merchants.
The spot where this market is held in indicated by two small houses by
the side of the highroad, which serve for public houses. The captain had
gone down there by way of one of these coulees.
He had been gone about half an hour, and we were on the lookout at the
top of the ravine, when we heard a shot. The captain had ordered us not
to stir, and only to come to him when we heard him blow his trumpet. It
was made of a goat's horn, and could be heard a league off; but it gave
no sound, and, in spite of our cruel anxiety, we were obliged to wait in
silence, with our rifles by our side.
It is nothing to go down these coulees; one just lets one's self slide
down; but it is more difficult to get up again; one has to scramble up by
catching hold of the hanging branches of the trees, and sometimes on all
fours, by sheer strength. A whole mortal hour passed, and he did not
come; nothing moved in the brushwood. The captain's wife began to grow
impatient. What could he be doing? Why did he not call us? Did the shot
that we had heard proceed from an enemy, and had he killed or wounded our
leader, her husband? They did not know what to think, but I myself
fancied either that he was dead or that his enterprise was successful;
and I was merely anxious and curious to know what he had done.
Suddenly we heard the sound of his trumpet, and we were much surprised
that instead of coming from below, as we had expected, it came from the
village behind us. What did that mean? It was a mystery to us, but the
same idea struck us all, that he had been killed, and that the Prussians
were blowing the trumpet to draw us into an ambush. We therefore returned
to the cottage, keeping a careful lookout with our fingers on the
trigger, and hiding under the branches; but his wife, in spite of our
entreaties, rushed on, leaping like a tigress. She thought that she had
to avenge her husband, and had fixed the bayonet to her rifle, and we
lost sight of her at the moment that we heard the trumpet again; and, a
few moments later, we heard her calling out to us:
"Come on! come on! He is alive! It is he!"
We hastened on, and saw the captain smoking his pipe at the entrance of
the village, but strangely enough, he was on horseback.
"Ah! ah!" he said to us, "you see that there is something to be done
here. Here I am on horseback already; I knocked over an uhlan yonder, and
took his horse; I suppose they were guarding the wood, but it was by
drinking and swilling in clover. One of them, the sentry at the door, had
not time to see me before I gave him a sugarplum in his stomach, and
then, before the others could come out, I jumped on the horse and was off
like a shot. Eight or ten of them followed me, I think; but I took the
crossroads through the woods. I have got scratched and torn a bit, but
here I am, and now, my good fellows, attention, and take care! Those
brigands will not rest until they have caught us, and we must receive
them with rifle bullets. Come along; let us take up our posts!"
We set out. One of us took up his position a good way from the village on
the crossroads; I was posted at the entrance of the main street, where
the road from the level country enters the village, while the two others,
the captain and his wife, were in the middle of the village, near the
church, whose tower-served for an observatory and citadel.
We had not been in our places long before we heard a shot, followed by
another, and then two, then three. The first was evidently a chassepot
—one recognized it by the sharp report, which sounds like the crack
of a whip—while the other three came from the lancers' carbines.
The captain was furious. He had given orders to the outpost to let the
enemy pass and merely to follow them at a distance if they marched toward
the village, and to join me when they had gone well between the houses.
Then they were to appear suddenly, take the patrol between two fires, and
not allow a single man to escape; for, posted as we were, the six of us
could have hemmed in ten Prussians, if needful.
"That confounded Piedelot has roused them," the captain said, "and they
will not venture to come on blindfolded any longer. And then I am quite
sure that he has managed to get a shot into himself somewhere or other,
for we hear nothing of him. It serves him right; why did he not obey
orders?" And then, after a moment, he grumbled in his beard: "After all I
am sorry for the poor fellow; he is so brave, and shoots so well!"
The captain was right in his conjectures. We waited until evening,
without seeing the uhlans; they had retreated after the first attack; but
unfortunately we had not seen Piedelot, either. Was he dead or a
prisoner? When night came, the captain proposed that we should go out and
look for him, and so the three of us started. At the crossroads we found
a broken rifle and some blood, while the ground was trampled down; but we
did not find either a wounded man or a dead body, although we searched
every thicket, and at midnight we returned without having discovered
anything of our unfortunate comrade.
"It is very strange," the captain growled. "They must have killed him and
thrown him into the bushes somewhere; they cannot possibly have taken him
prisoner, as he would have called out for help. I cannot understand it at
all." Just as he said that, bright flames shot up in the direction of the
inn on the high road, which illuminated the sky.
"Scoundrels! cowards!" he shouted. "I will bet that they have set fire to
the two houses on the marketplace, in order to have their revenge, and
then they will scuttle off without saying a word. They will be satisfied
with having killed a man and set fire to two houses. All right. It shall
not pass over like that. We must go for them; they will not like to leave
their illuminations in order to fight."
"It would be a great stroke of luck if we could set Piedelot free at the
same time," some one said.
The five of us set off, full of rage and hope. In twenty minutes we had
got to the bottom of the coulee, and had not yet seen any one when we
were within a hundred yards of the inn. The fire was behind the house,
and all we saw of it was the reflection above the roof. However, we were
walking rather slowly, as we were afraid of an ambush, when suddenly we
heard Piedelot's well-known voice. It had a strange sound, however; for
it was at the same time—dull and vibrating, stifled and clear, as
if he were calling out as loud as he could with a bit of rag stuffed into
his mouth. He seemed to be hoarse and gasping, and the unlucky fellow
kept exclaiming: "Help! Help!"
We sent all thoughts of prudence to the devil, and in two bounds we were
at the back of the inn, where a terrible sight met our eyes.
Piedelot was being burned alive. He was writhing in the midst of a heap
of fagots, tied to a stake, and the flames were licking him with their
burning tongues. When he saw us, his tongue seemed to stick in his
throat; he drooped his head, and seemed as if he were going to die. It
was only the affair of a moment to upset the burning pile, to scatter the
embers, and to cut the ropes that fastened him.
Poor fellow! In what a terrible state we found him. The evening before he
had had his left arm broken, and it seemed as if he had been badly beaten
since then, for his whole body was covered with wounds, bruises and
blood. The flames had also begun their work on him, and he had two large
burns, one on his loins and the other on his right thigh, and his beard
and hair were scorched. Poor Piedelot!
No one knows the terrible rage we felt at this sight! We would have
rushed headlong at a hundred thousand Prussians; our thirst for vengeance
was intense. But the cowards had run away, leaving their crime behind
them. Where could we find them now? Meanwhile, however, the captain's
wife was looking after Piedelot, and dressing his wounds as best she
could, while the captain himself shook hands with him excitedly, and in a
few minutes he came to himself.
"Good-morning, captain; good-morning, all of you," he said. "Ah! the
scoundrels, the wretches! Why, twenty of them came to surprise us."
"Twenty, do you say?"
"Yes; there was a whole band of them, and that is why I disobeyed orders,
captain, and fired on them, for they would have killed you all, and I
preferred to stop them. That frightened them, and they did not venture to
go farther than the crossroads. They were such cowards. Four of them shot
at me at twenty yards, as if I had been a target, and then they slashed
me with their swords. My arm was broken, so that I could only use my
bayonet with one hand."
"But why did you not call for help?"
"I took good care not to do that, for you would all have come; and you
would neither have been able to defend me nor yourselves, being only five
"You know that we should not have allowed you to have been taken, poor
"I preferred to die by myself, don't you see! I did not want to bring you
here, for it would have been a mere ambush."
"Well, we will not talk about it any more. Do you feel rather easier?"
"No, I am suffocating. I know that I cannot live much longer. The brutes!
They tied me to a tree, and beat me till I was half dead, and then they
shook my broken arm; but I did not make a sound. I would rather have
bitten my tongue out than have called out before them. Now I can tell
what I am suffering and shed tears; it does one good. Thank you, my kind
"Poor Piedelot! But we will avenge you, you may be sure!"
"Yes, yes; I want you to do that. There is, in particular, a woman among
them who passes as the wife of the lancer whom the captain killed
yesterday. She is dressed like a lancer, and she tortured me the most
yesterday, and suggested burning me; and it was she who set fire to the
wood. Oh! the wretch, the brute! Ah! how I am suffering! My loins, my
arms!" and he fell back gasping and exhausted, writhing in his terrible
agony, while the captain's wife wiped the perspiration from his forehead,
and we all shed tears of grief and rage, as if we had been children. I
will not describe the end to you; he died half an hour later, previously
telling us in what direction the enemy had gone. When he was dead we gave
ourselves time to bury him, and then we set out in pursuit of them, with
our hearts full of fury and hatred.
"We will throw ourselves on the whole Prussian army, if it be necessary,"
the captain said; "but we will avenge Piedelot. We must catch those
scoundrels. Let us swear to die, rather than not to find them; and if I
am killed first, these are my orders: All the prisoners that you take are
to be shot immediately, and as for the lancer's wife, she is to be
tortured before she is put to death."
"She must not be shot, because she is a woman," the captain's wife said.
"If you survive, I am sure that you would not shoot a woman. Torturing
her will be quite sufficient; but if you are killed in this pursuit, I
want one thing, and that is to fight with her; I will kill her with my
own hands, and the others can do what they like with her if she kills
"We will outrage her! We will burn her! We will tear her to pieces!
Piedelot shall be avenged!
"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!"
The next morning we unexpectedly fell on an outpost of uhlans four
leagues away. Surprised by our sudden attack, they were not able to mount
their horses, nor even to defend themselves; and in a few moments we had
five prisoner, corresponding to our own number. The captain questioned
them, and from their answers we felt certain that they were the same whom
we had encountered the previous day. Then a very curious operation took
place. One of us was told off to ascertain their sex, and nothing can
describe our joy when we discovered what we were seeking among them, the
female executioner who had tortured our friend.
The four others were shot on the spot, with their backs to us and close
to the muzzles of our rifles; and then we turned our attention to the
woman. What were we going to do with her? I must acknowledge that we were
all of us in favor of shooting her. Hatred, and the wish to avenge
Piedelot, had extinguished all pity in us, and we had forgotten that we
were going to shoot a woman, but a woman reminded us of it, the captain's
wife; at her entreaties, therefore, we determined to keep her a prisoner.
The captain's poor wife was to be severely punished for this act of
The next day we heard that the armistice had been extended to the eastern
part of France, and we had to put an end to our little campaign. Two of
us, who belonged to the neighborhood, returned home, so there were only
four of us, all told: the captain, his wife, and two men. We belonged to
Besancon, which was still being besieged in spite of the armistice.
"Let us stop here," said the captain. "I cannot believe that the war is
going to end like this. The devil take it! Surely there are men still
left in France; and now is the time to prove what they are made of. The
spring is coming on, and the armistice is only a trap laid for the
Prussians. During the time that it lasts, a new army will be raised, and
some fine morning we shall fall upon them again. We shall be ready, and
we have a hostage—let us remain here."
We fixed our quarters there. It was terribly cold, and we did not go out
much, and somebody had always to keep the female prisoner in sight.
She was sullen, and never said anything, or else spoke of her husband,
whom the captain had killed. She looked at him continually with fierce
eyes, and we felt that she was tortured by a wild longing for revenge.
That seemed to us to be the most suitable punishment for the terrible
torments that she had made Piedelot suffer, for impotent vengeance is
such intense pain!
Alas! we who knew how to avenge our comrade ought to have thought that
this woman would know how to avenge her husband, and have been on our
guard. It is true that one of us kept watch every night, and that at
first we tied her by a long rope to the great oak bench that was fastened
to the wall. But, by and by, as she had never tried to escape, in spite
of her hatred for us, we relaxed our extreme prudence, and allowed her to
sleep somewhere else except on the bench, and without being tied. What
had we to fear? She was at the end of the room, a man was on guard at the
door, and between her and the sentinel the captain's wife and two other
men used to lie. She was alone and unarmed against four, so there could
be no danger.
One night when we were asleep, and the captain was on guard, the lancer's
wife was lying more quietly in her corner than usual, and she had even
smiled for the first time since she had been our prisoner during the
evening. Suddenly, however, in the middle of the night, we were all
awakened by a terrible cry. We got up, groping about, and at once
stumbled over a furious couple who were rolling about and fighting on the
ground. It was the captain and the lancer's wife. We threw ourselves on
them, and separated them in a moment. She was shouting and laughing, and
he seemed to have the death rattle. All this took place in the dark. Two
of us held her, and when a light was struck a terrible sight met our
eyes. The captain was lying on the floor in a pool of blood, with an
enormous gash in his throat, and his sword bayonet, that had been taken
from his rifle, was sticking in the red, gaping wound. A few minutes
afterward he died, without having been able to utter a word.
His wife did not shed a tear. Her eyes were dry, her throat was
contracted, and she looked at the lancer's wife steadfastly, and with a
calm ferocity that inspired fear.
"This woman belongs to me," she said to us suddenly. "You swore to me not
a week ago to let me kill her as I chose, if she killed my husband; and
you must keep your oath. You must fasten her securely to the fireplace,
upright against the back of it, and then you can go where you like, but
far from here. I will take my revenge on her myself. Leave the captain's
body, and we three, he, she and I, will remain here."
We obeyed, and went away. She promised to write to us to Geneva, as we
were returning thither.
Two days later I received the following letter, dated the day after we
had left, that had been written at an inn on the high road:
"MY FRIEND: I am writing to you, according to my promise. For the moment
I am at the inn, where I have just handed my prisoner over to a Prussian
"I must tell you, my friend, that this poor woman has left two children
in Germany. She had followed her husband, whom she adored, as she did not
wish him to be exposed to the risks of war by himself, and as her
children were with their grandparents. I have learned all this since
yesterday, and it has turned my ideas of vengeance into more humane
feelings. At the very moment when I felt pleasure in insulting this
woman, and in threatening her with the most fearful torments, in
recalling Piedelot, who had been burned alive, and in threatening her
with a similar death, she looked at me coldly, and said:
"'What have you got to reproach me with, Frenchwoman? You think that you
will do right in avenging your husband's death, is not that so?'
"'Yes,' I replied.
"'Very well, then; in killing him, I did what you are going to do in
burning me. I avenged my husband, for your husband killed him.'
"'Well,' I replied, 'as you approve of this vengeance, prepare to endure
"'I do not fear it.'
"And in fact she did not seem to have lost courage. Her face was calm,
and she looked at me without trembling, while I brought wood and dried
leaves together, and feverishly threw on to them the powder from some
cartridges, which was to make her funeral pile the more cruel.
"I hesitated in my thoughts of persecution for a moment. But the captain
was there, pale and covered with blood, and he seemed to be looking at me
with his large, glassy eyes, and I applied myself to my work again after
kissing his pale lips. Suddenly, however, on raising my head, I saw that
she was crying, and I felt rather surprised.
"'So you are frightened?' I said to her.
"'No, but when I saw you kiss your husband, I thought of mine, of all
whom I love.'
"She continued to sob, but stopping suddenly, she said to me in broken
words and in a low voice:
"'Have you any children?'
"A shiver rare over me, for I guessed that this poor woman had some. She
asked me to look in a pocketbook which was in her bosom, and in it I saw
two photographs of quite young children, a boy and a girl, with those
kind, gentle, chubby faces that German children have. In it there were
also two locks of light hair and a letter in a large, childish hand, and
beginning with German words which meant:
"'My dear little mother.
"'I could not restrain my tears, my dear friend, and so I untied her, and
without venturing to look at the face of my poor dead husband, who was
not to be avenged, I went with her as far as the inn. She is free; I have
just left her, and she kissed me with tears. I am going upstairs to my
husband; come as soon as possible, my dear friend, to look for our two
I set off with all speed, and when I arrived there was a Prussian patrol
at the cottage; and when I asked what it all meant, I was told that there
was a captain of francs-tireurs and his wife inside, both dead. I gave
their names; they saw that I knew them, and I begged to be allowed to
arrange their funeral.
"Somebody has already undertaken it," was the reply. "Go in if you wish
to, as you know them. You can settle about their funeral with their
I went in. The captain and his wife were lying side by side on a bed, and
were covered by a sheet. I raised it, and saw that the woman had
inflicted a similar wound in her throat to that from which her husband
At the side of the bed there sat, watching and weeping, the woman who had
been mentioned to me as their best friend. It was the lancer's wife.
There was not a sound in the forest save the indistinct, fluttering sound
of the snow falling on the trees. It had been snowing since noon; a
little fine snow, that covered the branches as with frozen moss, and
spread a silvery covering over the dead leaves in the ditches, and
covered the roads with a white, yielding carpet, and made still more
intense the boundless silence of this ocean of trees.
Before the door of the forester's dwelling a young woman, her arms bare
to the elbow, was chopping wood with a hatchet on a block of stone. She
was tall, slender, strong-a true girl of the woods, daughter and wife of
A voice called from within the house:
"We are alone to-night, Berthine; you must come in. It is getting dark,
and there may be Prussians or wolves about."
"I've just finished, mother," replied the young woman, splitting as she
spoke an immense log of wood with strong, deft blows, which expanded her
chest each time she raised her arms to strike. "Here I am; there's no
need to be afraid; it's quite light still."
Then she gathered up her sticks and logs, piled them in the chimney
corner, went back to close the great oaken shutters, and finally came in,
drawing behind her the heavy bolts of the door.
Her mother, a wrinkled old woman whom age had rendered timid, was
spinning by the fireside.
"I am uneasy," she said, "when your father's not here. Two women are not
"Oh," said the younger woman, "I'd cheerfully kill a wolf or a Prussian
if it came to that."
And she glanced at a heavy revolver hanging above the hearth.
Her husband had been called upon to serve in the army at the beginning of
the Prussian invasion, and the two women had remained alone with the old
father, a keeper named Nicolas Pichon, sometimes called Long-legs, who
refused obstinately to leave his home and take refuge in the town.
This town was Rethel, an ancient stronghold built on a rock. Its
inhabitants were patriotic, and had made up their minds to resist the
invaders, to fortify their native place, and, if need be, to stand a
siege as in the good old days. Twice already, under Henri IV and under
Louis XIV, the people of Rethel had distinguished themselves by their
heroic defence of their town. They would do as much now, by gad! or else
be slaughtered within their own walls.
They had, therefore, bought cannon and rifles, organized a militia, and
formed themselves into battalions and companies, and now spent their time
drilling all day long in the square. All-bakers, grocers, butchers,
lawyers, carpenters, booksellers, chemists-took their turn at military
training at regular hours of the day, under the auspices of Monsieur
Lavigne, a former noncommissioned officer in the dragoons, now a draper,
having married the daughter and inherited the business of Monsieur
He had taken the rank of commanding officer in Rethel, and, seeing that
all the young men had gone off to the war, he had enlisted all the others
who were in favor of resisting an attack. Fat men now invariably walked
the streets at a rapid pace, to reduce their weight and improve their
breathing, and weak men carried weights to strengthen their muscles.
And they awaited the Prussians. But the Prussians did not appear. They
were not far off, however, for twice already their scouts had penetrated
as far as the forest dwelling of Nicolas Pichon, called Long-legs.
The old keeper, who could run like a fox, had come and warned the town.
The guns had been got ready, but the enemy had not shown themselves.
Long-legs' dwelling served as an outpost in the Aveline forest. Twice a
week the old man went to the town for provisions and brought the citizens
news of the outlying district.
On this particular day he had gone to announce the fact that a small
detachment of German infantry had halted at his house the day before,
about two o'clock in the afternoon, and had left again almost
immediately. The noncommissioned officer in charge spoke French.
When the old man set out like this he took with him his dogs—two
powerful animals with the jaws of lions-as a safeguard against the
wolves, which were beginning to get fierce, and he left directions with
the two women to barricade themselves securely within their dwelling as
soon as night fell.
The younger feared nothing, but her mother was always apprehensive, and
"We'll come to grief one of these days. You see if we don't!"
This evening she was, if possible, more nervous than ever.
"Do you know what time your father will be back?" she asked.
"Oh, not before eleven, for certain. When he dines with the commandant
he's always late."
And Berthine was hanging her pot over the fire to warm the soup when she
suddenly stood still, listening attentively to a sound that had reached
her through the chimney.
"There are people walking in the wood," she said; "seven or eight men at
The terrified old woman stopped her spinning wheel, and gasped:
"Oh, my God! And your father not here!"
She had scarcely finished speaking when a succession of violent blows
shook the door.
As the woman made no reply, a loud, guttural voice shouted:
"Open the door!"
After a brief silence the same voice repeated:
"Open the door or I'll break it down!"
Berthine took the heavy revolver from its hook, slipped it into the
pocket of her skirt, and, putting her ear to the door, asked:
"Who are you?" demanded the young woman. "What do you want?".
"The detachment that came here the other day," replied the voice.
"My men and I have lost our way in the forest since morning. Open the
door or I'll break it down!"
The forester's daughter had no choice; she shot back the heavy bolts,
threw open the ponderous shutter, and perceived in the wan light of the
snow six men, six Prussian soldiers, the same who had visited the house
the day before.
"What are you doing here at this time of night?" she asked dauntlessly.
"I lost my bearings," replied the officer; "lost them completely. Then I
recognized this house. I've eaten nothing since morning, nor my men
"But I'm quite alone with my mother this evening," said Berthine.
"Never mind," replied the soldier, who seemed a decent sort of fellow.
"We won't do you any harm, but you must give us something to eat. We are
nearly dead with hunger and fatigue."
Then the girl moved aside.
"Come in;" she said.
Then entered, covered with snow, their helmets sprinkled with a
creamy-looking froth, which gave them the appearance of meringues. They
seemed utterly worn out.
The young woman pointed to the wooden benches on either side of the large
"Sit down," she said, "and I'll make you some soup. You certainly look
tired out, and no mistake."
Then she bolted the door afresh.
She put more water in the pot, added butter and potatoes; then, taking
down a piece of bacon from a hook in the chimney earner, cut it in two
and slipped half of it into the pot.
The six men watched her movements with hungry eyes. They had placed their
rifles and helmets in a corner and waited for supper, as well behaved as
children on a school bench.
The old mother had resumed her spinning, casting from time to time a
furtive and uneasy glance at the soldiers. Nothing was to be heard save
the humming of the wheel, the crackling of the fire, and the singing of
the water in the pot.
But suddenly a strange noise—a sound like the harsh breathing of
some wild animal sniffing under the door-startled the occupants of the
The German officer sprang toward the rifles. Berthine stopped him with a
gesture, and said, smilingly:
"It's only the wolves. They are like you—prowling hungry through
The incredulous man wanted to see with his own eyes, and as soon as the
door was opened he perceived two large grayish animals disappearing with
long, swinging trot into the darkness.
He returned to his seat, muttering:
"I wouldn't have believed it!"
And he waited quietly till supper was ready.
The men devoured their meal voraciously, with mouths stretched to their
ears that they might swallow the more. Their round eyes opened at the
same time as their jaws, and as the soup coursed down their throats it
made a noise like the gurgling of water in a rainpipe.
The two women watched in silence the movements of the big red beards. The
potatoes seemed to be engulfed in these moving fleeces.
But, as they were thirsty, the forester's daughter went down to the
cellar to draw them some cider. She was gone some time. The cellar was
small, with an arched ceiling, and had served, so people said, both as
prison and as hiding-place during the Revolution. It was approached by
means of a narrow, winding staircase, closed by a trap-door at the
farther end of the kitchen.
When Berthine returned she was smiling mysteriously to herself. She gave
the Germans her jug of cider.
Then she and her mother supped apart, at the other end of the kitchen.
The soldiers had finished eating, and were all six falling asleep as they
sat round the table. Every now and then a forehead fell with a thud on
the board, and the man, awakened suddenly, sat upright again.
Berthine said to the officer:
"Go and lie down, all of you, round the fire. There's lots of room for
six. I'm going up to my room with my mother."
And the two women went upstairs. They could be heard locking the door and
walking about overhead for a time; then they were silent.
The Prussians lay down on the floor, with their feet to the fire and
their heads resting on their rolled-up cloaks. Soon all six snored loudly
and uninterruptedly in six different keys.
They had been sleeping for some time when a shot rang out so loudly that
it seemed directed against the very wall's of the house. The soldiers
rose hastily. Two-then three-more shots were fired.
The door opened hastily, and Berthine appeared, barefooted and only half
dressed, with her candle in her hand and a scared look on her face.
"There are the French," she stammered; "at least two hundred of them. If
they find you here they'll burn the house down. For God's sake, hurry
down into the cellar, and don't make a 'sound, whatever you do. If you
make any noise we are lost."
"We'll go, we'll go," replied the terrified officer. "Which is the way?"
The young woman hurriedly raised the small, square trap-door, and the six
men disappeared one after another down the narrow, winding staircase,
feeling their way as they went.
But as soon as the spike of the out of the last helmet was out of sight
Berthine lowered the heavy oaken lid—thick as a wall, hard as
steel, furnished with the hinges and bolts of a prison cell—shot
the two heavy bolts, and began to laugh long and silently, possessed with
a mad longing to dance above the heads of her prisoners.
They made no sound, inclosed in the cellar as in a strong-box, obtaining
air only from a small, iron-barred vent-hole.
Berthine lighted her fire again, hung the pot over it, and prepared more
soup, saying to herself:
"Father will be tired to-night."
Then she sat and waited. The heavy pendulum of the clock swung to and fro
with a monotonous tick.
Every now and then the young woman cast an impatient glance at the dial-a
glance which seemed to say:
"I wish he'd be quick!"
But soon there was a sound of voices beneath her feet. Low, confused
words reached her through the masonry which roofed the cellar. The
Prussians were beginning to suspect the trick she had played them, and
presently the officer came up the narrow staircase, and knocked at the
"Open the door!" he cried.
"What do you want?" she said, rising from her seat and approaching the
"Open the door!"
"I won't do any such thing!"
"Open it or I'll break it down!" shouted the man angrily.
"Hammer away, my good man! Hammer away!"
He struck with the butt-end of his gun at the closed oaken door. But it
would have resisted a battering-ram.
The forester's daughter heard him go down the stairs again. Then the
soldiers came one after another and tried their strength against the
trapdoor. But, finding their efforts useless, they all returned to the
cellar and began to talk among themselves.
The young woman heard them for a short time, then she rose, opened the
door of the house; looked out into the night, and listened.
A sound of distant barking reached her ear. She whistled just as a
huntsman would, and almost immediately two great dogs emerged from the
darkness, and bounded to her side. She held them tight, and shouted at
the top of her voice:
A far-off voice replied:
She waited a few seconds, then repeated:
The voice, nearer now, replied:
"Don't go in front of the vent-hole!" shouted his daughter. "There are
Prussians in the cellar!"
Suddenly the man's tall figure could be seen to the left, standing
between two tree trunks.
"Prussians in the cellar?" he asked anxiously. "What are they doing?"
The young woman laughed.
"They are the same as were here yesterday. They lost their way, and I've
given them free lodgings in the cellar."
She told the story of how she had alarmed them by firing the revolver,
and had shut them up in the cellar.
The man, still serious, asked:
"But what am I to do with them at this time of night?"
"Go and fetch Monsieur Lavigne with his men," she replied. "He'll take
them prisoners. He'll be delighted."
Her father smiled.
"So he will-delighted."
"Here's some soup for you," said his daughter. "Eat it quick, and then be
The old keeper sat down at the table, and began to eat his soup, having
first filled two plates and put them on the floor for the dogs.
The Prussians, hearing voices, were silent.
Long-legs set off a quarter of an hour later, and Berthine, with her head
between her hands, waited.
The prisoners began to make themselves heard again. They shouted, called,
and beat furiously with the butts of their muskets against the rigid
trap-door of the cellar.
Then they fired shots through the vent-hole, hoping, no doubt, to be
heard by any German detachment which chanced to be passing that way.
The forester's daughter did not stir, but the noise irritated and
unnerved her. Blind anger rose in her heart against the prisoners; she
would have been only too glad to kill them all, and so silence them.
Then, as her impatience grew, she watched the clock, counting the minutes
as they passed.
Her father had been gone an hour and a half. He must have reached the
town by now. She conjured up a vision of him telling the story to
Monsieur Lavigne, who grew pale with emotion, and rang for his servant to
bring him his arms and uniform. She fancied she could bear the drum as it
sounded the call to arms. Frightened faces appeared at the windows. The
citizen-soldiers emerged from their houses half dressed, out of breath,
buckling on their belts, and hurrying to the commandant's house.
Then the troop of soldiers, with Long-legs at its head, set forth through
the night and the snow toward the forest.
She looked at the clock. "They may be here in an hour."
A nervous impatience possessed her. The minutes seemed interminable.
Would the time never come?
At last the clock marked the moment she had fixed on for their arrival.
And she opened the door to listen for their approach. She perceived a
shadowy form creeping toward the house. She was afraid, and cried out.
But it was her father.
"They have sent me," he said, "to see if there is any change in the state
Then he gave a shrill whistle. Soon a dark mass loomed up under the
trees; the advance guard, composed of ten men.
"Don't go in front of the vent-hole!" repeated Long-legs at intervals.
And the first arrivals pointed out the much-dreaded vent-hole to those
who came after.
At last the main body of the troop arrived, in all two hundred men, each
carrying two hundred cartridges.
Monsieur Lavigne, in a state of intense excitement, posted them in such a
fashion as to surround the whole house, save for a large space left
vacant in front of the little hole on a level with the ground, through
which the cellar derived its supply of air.
Monsieur Lavigne struck the trap-door a blow with his foot, and called:
"I wish to speak to the Prussian officer!"
The German did not reply.
"The Prussian officer!" again shouted the commandant.
Still no response. For the space of twenty minutes Monsieur Lavigne
called on this silent officer to surrender with bag and baggage,
promising him that all lives should be spared, and that he and his men
should be accorded military honors. But he could extort no sign, either
of consent or of defiance. The situation became a puzzling one.
The citizen-soldiers kicked their heels in the snow, slapping their arms
across their chest, as cabdrivers do, to warm themselves, and gazing at
the vent-hole with a growing and childish desire to pass in front of it.
At last one of them took the risk-a man named Potdevin, who was fleet of
limb. He ran like a deer across the zone of danger. The experiment
succeeded. The prisoners gave no sign of life.
A voice cried:
"There's no one there!"
And another soldier crossed the open space before the dangerous
vent-hole. Then this hazardous sport developed into a game. Every minute
a man ran swiftly from one side to the other, like a boy playing
baseball, kicking up the snow behind him as he ran. They had lighted big
fires of dead wood at which to warm themselves, and the, figures of the
runners were illumined by the flames as they passed rapidly from the camp
on the right to that on the left.
Some one shouted:
"It's your turn now, Maloison."
Maloison was a fat baker, whose corpulent person served to point many a
joke among his comrades.
He hesitated. They chaffed him. Then, nerving himself to the effort, he
set off at a little, waddling gait, which shook his fat paunch and made
the whole detachment laugh till they cried.
"Bravo, bravo, Maloison!" they shouted for his encouragement.
He had accomplished about two-thirds of his journey when a long, crimson
flame shot forth from the vent-hole. A loud report followed, and the fat
baker fell face forward to the ground, uttering a frightful scream. No
one went to his assistance. Then he was seen to drag himself, groaning,
on all-fours through the snow until he was beyond danger, when he
He was shot in the upper part of the thigh.
After the first surprise and fright were over they laughed at him again.
But Monsieur Lavigne appeared on the threshold of the forester's
dwelling. He had formed his plan of attack. He called in a loud voice "I
want Planchut, the plumber, and his workmen."
Three men approached.
"Take the eavestroughs from the roof."
In a quarter of an hour they brought the commandant thirty yards of
Next, with infinite precaution, he had a small round hole drilled in the
trap-door; then, making a conduit with the troughs from the pump to this
opening, he said, with an air of extreme satisfaction:
"Now we'll give these German gentlemen something to drink."
A shout of frenzied admiration, mingled with uproarious laughter, burst
from his followers. And the commandant organized relays of men, who were
to relieve one another every five minutes. Then he commanded:
And, the pump handle having been set in motion, a stream of water
trickled throughout the length of the piping, and flowed from step to
step down the cellar stairs with a gentle, gurgling sound.
An hour passed, then two, then three. The commandant, in a state of
feverish agitation, walked up and down the kitchen, putting his ear to
the ground every now and then to discover, if possible, what the enemy
were doing and whether they would soon capitulate.
The enemy was astir now. They could be heard moving the casks about,
talking, splashing through the water.
Then, about eight o'clock in the morning, a voice came from the vent-hole
"I want to speak to the French officer."
Lavigne replied from the window, taking care not to put his head out too
"Do you surrender?"
"Then put your rifles outside."
A rifle immediately protruded from the hole, and fell into the snow, then
another and another, until all were disposed of. And the voice which had
spoken before said:
"I have no more. Be quick! I am drowned."
"Stop pumping!" ordered the commandant.
And the pump handle hung motionless.
Then, having filled the kitchen with armed and waiting soldiers, he
slowly raised the oaken trapdoor.
Four heads appeared, soaking wet, four fair heads with long, sandy hair,
and one after another the six Germans emerged—scared, shivering and
dripping from head to foot.
They were seized and bound. Then, as the French feared a surprise, they
set off at once in two convoys, one in charge of the prisoners, and the
other conducting Maloison on a mattress borne on poles.
They made a triumphal entry into Rethel.
Monsieur Lavigne was decorated as a reward for having captured a Prussian
advance guard, and the fat baker received the military medal for wounds
received at the hands of the enemy.
TWO LITTLE SOLDIERS
Every Sunday, as soon as they were free, the little soldiers would go for
a walk. They turned to the right on leaving the barracks, crossed
Courbevoie with rapid strides, as though on a forced march; then, as the
houses grew scarcer, they slowed down and followed the dusty road which
leads to Bezons.
They were small and thin, lost in their ill-fitting capes, too large and
too long, whose sleeves covered their hands; their ample red trousers
fell in folds around their ankles. Under the high, stiff shako one could
just barely perceive two thin, hollow-cheeked Breton faces, with their
calm, naive blue eyes. They never spoke during their journey, going
straight before them, the same idea in each one's mind taking the place
of conversation. For at the entrance of the little forest of Champioux
they had found a spot which reminded them of home, and they did not feel
happy anywhere else.
At the crossing of the Colombes and Chatou roads, when they arrived under
the trees, they would take off their heavy, oppressive headgear and wipe
They always stopped for a while on the bridge at Bezons, and looked at
the Seine. They stood there several minutes, bending over the railing,
watching the white sails, which perhaps reminded them of their home, and
of the fishing smacks leaving for the open.
As soon as they had crossed the Seine, they would purchase provisions at
the delicatessen, the baker's, and the wine merchant's. A piece of
bologna, four cents' worth of bread, and a quart of wine, made up the
luncheon which they carried away, wrapped up in their handkerchiefs. But
as soon as they were out of the village their gait would slacken and they
would begin to talk.
Before them was a plain with a few clumps of trees, which led to the
woods, a little forest which seemed to remind them of that other forest
at Kermarivan. The wheat and oat fields bordered on the narrow path, and
Jean Kerderen said each time to Luc Le Ganidec:
"It's just like home, just like Plounivon."
"Yes, it's just like home."
And they went on, side by side, their minds full of dim memories of home.
They saw the fields, the hedges, the forests, and beaches.
Each time they stopped near a large stone on the edge of the private
estate, because it reminded them of the dolmen of Locneuven.
As soon as they reached the first clump of trees, Luc Le Ganidec would
cut off a small stick, and, whittling it slowly, would walk on, thinking
of the folks at home.
Jean Kerderen carried the provisions.
From time to time Luc would mention a name, or allude to some boyish
prank which would give them food for plenty of thought. And the home
country, so dear and so distant, would little by little gain possession
of their minds, sending them back through space, to the well-known forms
and noises, to the familiar scenery, with the fragrance of its green
fields and sea air. They no longer noticed the smells of the city. And in
their dreams they saw their friends leaving, perhaps forever, for the
dangerous fishing grounds.
They were walking slowly, Luc Le Ganidec and Jean Kerderen, contented and
sad, haunted by a sweet sorrow, the slow and penetrating sorrow of a
captive animal which remembers the days of its freedom.
And when Luc had finished whittling his stick, they came to a little
nook, where every Sunday they took their meal. They found the two bricks,
which they had hidden in a hedge, and they made a little fire of dry
branches and roasted their sausages on the ends of their knives.
When their last crumb of bread had been eaten and the last drop of wine
had been drunk, they stretched themselves out on the grass side by side,
without speaking, their half-closed eyes looking away in the distance,
their hands clasped as in prayer, their red-trousered legs mingling with
the bright colors of the wild flowers.
Towards noon they glanced, from time to time, towards the village of
Bezons, for the dairy maid would soon be coming. Every Sunday she would
pass in front of them on the way to milk her cow, the only cow in the
neighborhood which was sent out to pasture.
Soon they would see the girl, coming through the fields, and it pleased
them to watch the sparkling sunbeams reflected from her shining pail.
They never spoke of her. They were just glad to see her, without
She was a tall, strapping girl, freckled and tanned by the open
air—a girl typical of the Parisian suburbs.
Once, on noticing that they were always sitting in the same place, she
said to them:
"Do you always come here?"
Luc Le Ganidec, more daring than his friend, stammered:
"Yes, we come here for our rest."
That was all. But the following Sunday, on seeing them, she smiled with
the kindly smile of a woman who understood their shyness, and she asked:
"What are you doing here? Are you watching the grass grow?"
Luc, cheered up, smiled: "P'raps."
She continued: "It's not growing fast, is it?"
He answered, still laughing: "Not exactly."
She went on. But when she came back with her pail full of milk, she
stopped before them and said:
"Want some? It will remind you of home."
She had, perhaps instinctively, guessed and touched the right spot.
Both were moved. Then not without difficulty, she poured some milk into
the bottle in which they had brought their wine. Luc started to drink,
carefully watching lest he should take more than his share. Then he
passed the bottle to Jean. She stood before them, her hands on her hips,
her pail at her feet, enjoying the pleasure that she was giving them.
Then she went on, saying: "Well, bye-bye until next Sunday!"
For a long time they watched her tall form as it receded in the distance,
blending with the background, and finally disappeared.
The following week as they left the barracks, Jean said to Luc:
"Don't you think we ought to buy her something good?"
They were sorely perplexed by the problem of choosing something to bring
to the dairy maid. Luc was in favor of bringing her some chitterlings;
but Jean, who had a sweet tooth, thought that candy would be the best
thing. He won, and so they went to a grocery to buy two sous' worth, of
red and white candies.
This time they ate more quickly than usual, excited by anticipation.
Jean was the first one to notice her. "There she is," he said; and Luc
answered: "Yes, there she is."
She smiled when she saw them, and cried:
"Well, how are you to-day?"
They both answered together:
"All right! How's everything with you?"
Then she started to talk of simple things which might interest them; of
the weather, of the crops, of her masters.
They didn't dare to offer their candies, which were slowly melting in
Jean's pocket. Finally Luc, growing bolder, murmured:
"We have brought you something."
She asked: "Let's see it."
Then Jean, blushing to the tips of his ears, reached in his pocket, and
drawing out the little paper bag, handed it to her.
She began to eat the little sweet dainties. The two soldiers sat in front
of her, moved and delighted.
At last she went to do her milking, and when she came back she again gave
them some milk.
They thought of her all through the week and often spoke of her: The
following Sunday she sat beside them for a longer time.
The three of them sat there, side by side, their eyes looking far away in
the distance, their hands clasped over their knees, and they told each
other little incidents and little details of the villages where they were
born, while the cow, waiting to be milked, stretched her heavy head
toward the girl and mooed.
Soon the girl consented to eat with them and to take a sip of wine. Often
she brought them plums pocket for plums were now ripe. Her presence
enlivened the little Breton soldiers, who chattered away like two birds.
One Tuesday something unusual happened to Luc Le Ganidec; he asked for
leave and did not return until ten o'clock at night.
Jean, worried and racked his brain to account for his friend's having
The following Friday, Luc borrowed ten sons from one of his friends, and
once more asked and obtained leave for several hours.
When he started out with Jean on Sunday he seemed queer, disturbed,
changed. Kerderen did not understand; he vaguely suspected something, but
he could not guess what it might be.
They went straight to the usual place, and lunched slowly. Neither was
Soon the girl appeared. They watched her approach as they always did.
When she was near, Luc arose and went towards her. She placed her pail on
the ground and kissed him. She kissed him passionately, throwing her arms
around his neck, without paying attention to Jean, without even noticing
that he was there.
Poor Jean was dazed, so dazed that he could not understand. His mind was
upset and his heart broken, without his even realizing why.
Then the girl sat down beside Luc, and they started to chat.
Jean was not looking at them. He understood now why his friend had gone
out twice during the week. He felt the pain and the sting which treachery
and deceit leave in their wake.
Luc and the girl went together to attend to the cow.
Jean followed them with his eyes. He saw them disappear side by side, the
red trousers of his friend making a scarlet spot against the white road.
It was Luc who sank the stake to which the cow was tethered. The girl
stooped down to milk the cow, while he absent-mindedly stroked the
animal's glossy neck. Then they left the pail in the grass and
disappeared in the woods.
Jean could no longer see anything but the wall of leaves through which
they had passed. He was unmanned so that he did not have strength to
stand. He stayed there, motionless, bewildered and grieving-simple,
passionate grief. He wanted to weep, to run away, to hide somewhere,
never to see anyone again.
Then he saw them coming back again. They were walking slowly, hand in
hand, as village lovers do. Luc was carrying the pail.
After kissing him again, the girl went on, nodding carelessly to Jean.
She did not offer him any milk that day.
The two little soldiers sat side by side, motionless as always, silent
and quiet, their calm faces in no way betraying the trouble in their
hearts. The sun shone down on them. From time to time they could hear the
plaintive lowing of the cow. At the usual time they arose to return.
Luc was whittling a stick. Jean carried the empty bottle. He left it at
the wine merchant's in Bezons. Then they stopped on the bridge, as they
did every Sunday, and watched the water flowing by.
Jean leaned over the railing, farther and farther, as though he had seen
something in the stream which hypnotized him. Luc said to him:
"What's the matter? Do you want a drink?"
He had hardly said the last word when Jean's head carried away the rest
of his body, and the little blue and red soldier fell like a shot and
disappeared in the water.
Luc, paralyzed with horror, tried vainly to shout for help. In the
distance he saw something move; then his friend's head bobbed up out of
the water only to disappear again.
Farther down he again noticed a hand, just one hand, which appeared and
again went out of sight. That was all.
The boatmen who had rushed to the scene found the body that day.
Luc ran back to the barracks, crazed, and with eyes and voice full
of tears, he related the accident: "He leaned—he—he was leaning
—so far over—that his head carried him away—and—he—fell
Emotion choked him so that he could say no more. If he had only known.
For a month the hot sun has been parching the fields. Nature is expanding
beneath its rays; the fields are green as far as the eye can see. The big
azure dome of the sky is unclouded. The farms of Normandy, scattered over
the plains and surrounded by a belt of tall beeches, look, from a
distance, like little woods. On closer view, after lowering the
worm-eaten wooden bars, you imagine yourself in an immense garden, for
all the ancient apple-trees, as gnarled as the peasants themselves, are
in bloom. The sweet scent of their blossoms mingles with the heavy smell
of the earth and the penetrating odor of the stables. It is noon. The
family is eating under the shade of a pear tree planted in front of the
door; father, mother, the four children, and the help—two women and
three men are all there. All are silent. The soup is eaten and then a
dish of potatoes fried with bacon is brought on.
From time to time one of the women gets up and takes a pitcher down to
the cellar to fetch more cider.
The man, a big fellow about forty years old, is watching a grape vine,
still bare, which is winding and twisting like a snake along the side of
At last he says: "Father's vine is budding early this year. Perhaps we
may get something from it."
The woman then turns round and looks, without saying a word.
This vine is planted on the spot where their father had been shot.
It was during the war of 1870. The Prussians were occupying the whole
country. General Faidherbe, with the Northern Division of the army, was
The Prussians had established their headquarters at this farm. The old
farmer to whom it belonged, Father Pierre Milon, had received and
quartered them to the best of his ability.
For a month the German vanguard had been in this village. The French
remained motionless, ten leagues away; and yet, every night, some of the
Of all the isolated scouts, of all those who were sent to the outposts,
in groups of not more than three, not one ever returned.
They were picked up the next morning in a field or in a ditch. Even their
horses were found along the roads with their throats cut.
These murders seemed to be done by the same men, who could never be
The country was terrorized. Farmers were shot on suspicion, women were
imprisoned; children were frightened in order to try and obtain
information. Nothing could be ascertained.
But, one morning, Father Milon was found stretched out in the barn, with
a sword gash across his face.
Two Uhlans were found dead about a mile and a half from the farm. One of
them was still holding his bloody sword in his hand. He had fought, tried
to defend himself. A court-martial was immediately held in the open air,
in front of the farm. The old man was brought before it.
He was sixty-eight years old, small, thin, bent, with two big hands
resembling the claws of a crab. His colorless hair was sparse and thin,
like the down of a young duck, allowing patches of his scalp to be seen.
The brown and wrinkled skin of his neck showed big veins which
disappeared behind his jaws and came out again at the temples. He had the
reputation of being miserly and hard to deal with.
They stood him up between four soldiers, in front of the kitchen table,
which had been dragged outside. Five officers and the colonel seated
themselves opposite him.
The colonel spoke in French:
"Father Milon, since we have been here we have only had praise for you.
You have always been obliging and even attentive to us. But to-day a
terrible accusation is hanging over you, and you must clear the matter
up. How did you receive that wound on your face?"
The peasant answered nothing.
The colonel continued:
"Your silence accuses you, Father Milon. But I want you to answer me! Do
you understand? Do you know who killed the two Uhlans who were found this
morning near Calvaire?"
The old man answered clearly
The colonel, surprised, was silent for a minute, looking straight at the
prisoner. Father Milon stood impassive, with the stupid look of the
peasant, his eyes lowered as though he were talking to the priest. Just
one thing betrayed an uneasy mind; he was continually swallowing his
saliva, with a visible effort, as though his throat were terribly
The man's family, his son Jean, his daughter-in-law and his two
grandchildren were standing a few feet behind him, bewildered and
The colonel went on:
"Do you also know who killed all the scouts who have been found dead, for
a month, throughout the country, every morning?"
The old man answered with the same stupid look:
"You killed them all?"
"Uh huh! I did."
"You alone? All alone?"
"Tell me how you did it."
This time the man seemed moved; the necessity for talking any length of
time annoyed him visibly. He stammered:
"I dunno! I simply did it."
The colonel continued:
"I warn you that you will have to tell me everything. You might as well
make up your mind right away. How did you begin?"
The man cast a troubled look toward his family, standing close behind
him. He hesitated a minute longer, and then suddenly made up his mind to
obey the order.
"I was coming home one night at about ten o'clock, the night after you
got here. You and your soldiers had taken more than fifty ecus worth of
forage from me, as well as a cow and two sheep. I said to myself: 'As
much as they take from you; just so much will you make them pay back.'
And then I had other things on my mind which I will tell you. Just then I
noticed one of your soldiers who was smoking his pipe by the ditch behind
the barn. I went and got my scythe and crept up slowly behind him, so
that he couldn't hear me. And I cut his head off with one single blow,
just as I would a blade of grass, before he could say 'Booh!' If you
should look at the bottom of the pond, you will find him tied up in a
potato-sack, with a stone fastened to it.
"I got an idea. I took all his clothes, from his boots to his cap, and
hid them away in the little wood behind the yard."
The old man stopped. The officers remained speechless, looking at each
other. The questioning began again, and this is what they learned.
Once this murder committed, the man had lived with this one thought:
"Kill the Prussians!" He hated them with the blind, fierce hate of the
greedy yet patriotic peasant. He had his idea, as he said. He waited
He was allowed to go and come as he pleased, because he had shown himself
so humble, submissive and obliging to the invaders. Each night he saw the
outposts leave. One night he followed them, having heard the name of the
village to which the men were going, and having learned the few words of
German which he needed for his plan through associating with the
He left through the back yard, slipped into the woods, found the dead
man's clothes and put them on. Then he began to crawl through the fields,
following along the hedges in order to keep out of sight, listening to
the slightest noises, as wary as a poacher.
As soon as he thought the time ripe, he approached the road and hid
behind a bush. He waited for a while. Finally, toward midnight, he heard
the sound of a galloping horse. The man put his ear to the ground in
order to make sure that only one horseman was approaching, then he got
An Uhlan came galloping along, carrying des patches. As he went, he was
all eyes and ears. When he was only a few feet away, Father Milon dragged
himself across the road, moaning: "Hilfe! Hilfe!" ( Help! Help!) The
horseman stopped, and recognizing a German, he thought he was wounded and
dismounted, coming nearer without any suspicion, and just as he was
leaning over the unknown man, he received, in the pit of his stomach, a
heavy thrust from the long curved blade of the sabre. He dropped without
suffering pain, quivering only in the final throes. Then the farmer,
radiant with the silent joy of an old peasant, got up again, and, for his
own pleasure, cut the dead man's throat. He then dragged the body to the
ditch and threw it in.
The horse quietly awaited its master. Father Milon mounted him and
started galloping across the plains.
About an hour later he noticed two more Uhlans who were returning home,
side by side. He rode straight for them, once more crying "Hilfe! Hilfe!"
The Prussians, recognizing the uniform, let him approach without
distrust. The old man passed between them like a cannon-ball, felling
them both, one with his sabre and the other with a revolver.
Then he killed the horses, German horses! After that he quickly returned
to the woods and hid one of the horses. He left his uniform there and
again put on his old clothes; then going back into bed, he slept until
For four days he did not go out, waiting for the inquest to be
terminated; but on the fifth day he went out again and killed two more
soldiers by the same stratagem. From that time on he did not stop. Each
night he wandered about in search of adventure, killing Prussians,
sometimes here and sometimes there, galloping through deserted fields, in
the moonlight, a lost Uhlan, a hunter of men. Then, his task
accomplished, leaving behind him the bodies lying along the roads, the
old farmer would return and hide his horse and uniform.
He went, toward noon, to carry oats and water quietly to his mount, and
he fed it well as he required from it a great amount of work.
But one of those whom he had attacked the night before, in defending
himself slashed the old peasant across the face with his sabre.
However, he had killed them both. He had come back and hidden the horse
and put on his ordinary clothes again; but as he reached home he began to
feel faint, and had dragged himself as far as the stable, being unable to
reach the house.
They had found him there, bleeding, on the straw.
When he had finished his tale, he suddenly lifted up his head and looked
proudly at the Prussian officers.
The colonel, who was gnawing at his mustache, asked:
"You have nothing else to say?"
"Nothing more; I have finished my task; I killed sixteen, not one more or
"Do you know that you are going to die?"
"I haven't asked for mercy."
"Have you been a soldier?"
"Yes, I served my time. And then, you had killed my father, who was a
soldier of the first Emperor. And last month you killed my youngest son,
Francois, near Evreux. I owed you one for that; I paid. We are quits."
The officers were looking at each other.
The old man continued:
"Eight for my father, eight for the boy—we are quits. I did not
seek any quarrel with you. I don't know you. I don't even know where you
come from. And here you are, ordering me about in my home as though it
were your own. I took my revenge upon the others. I'm not sorry."
And, straightening up his bent back, the old man folded his arms in the
attitude of a modest hero.
The Prussians talked in a low tone for a long time. One of them, a
captain, who had also lost his son the previous month, was defending the
poor wretch. Then the colonel arose and, approaching Father Milon, said
in a low voice:
"Listen, old man, there is perhaps a way of saving your life, it is
But the man was not listening, and, his eyes fixed on the hated officer,
while the wind played with the downy hair on his head, he distorted his
slashed face, giving it a truly terrible expression, and, swelling out
his chest, he spat, as hard as he could, right in the Prussian's face.
The colonel, furious, raised his hand, and for the second time the man
spat in his face.
All the officers had jumped up and were shrieking orders at the same
In less than a minute the old man, still impassive, was pushed up against
the wall and shot, looking smilingly the while toward Jean, his eldest
son, his daughter-in-law and his two grandchildren, who witnessed this
scene in dumb terror.
A COUP D'ETAT
Paris had just heard of the disaster at Sedan. A republic had been
declared. All France was wavering on the brink of this madness which
lasted until after the Commune. From one end of the country to the other
everybody was playing soldier.
Cap-makers became colonels, fulfilling the duties of generals; revolvers
and swords were displayed around big, peaceful stomachs wrapped in
flaming red belts; little tradesmen became warriors commanding battalions
of brawling volunteers, and swearing like pirates in order to give
themselves some prestige.
The sole fact of handling firearms crazed these people, who up to that
time had only handled scales, and made them, without any reason,
dangerous to all. Innocent people were shot to prove that they knew how
to kill; in forests which had never seen a Prussian, stray dogs, grazing
cows and browsing horses were killed.
Each one thought himself called upon to play a great part in military
affairs. The cafes of the smallest villages, full of uniformed tradesmen,
looked like barracks or hospitals.
The town of Canneville was still in ignorance of the maddening news from
the army and the capital; nevertheless, great excitement had prevailed
for the last month, the opposing parties finding themselves face to face.
The mayor, Viscount de Varnetot, a thin, little old man, a conservative,
who had recently, from ambition, gone over to the Empire, had seen a
determined opponent arise in Dr. Massarel, a big, full-blooded man,
leader of the Republican party of the neighborhood, a high official in
the local masonic lodge, president of the Agricultural Society and of the
firemen's banquet and the organizer of the rural militia which was to
save the country.
In two weeks, he had managed to gather together sixty-three volunteers,
fathers of families, prudent farmers and town merchants, and every
morning he would drill them in the square in front of the town-hall.
When, perchance, the mayor would come to the municipal building,
Commander Massarel, girt with pistols, would pass proudly in front of his
troop, his sword in his hand, and make all of them cry: "Long live the
Fatherland!" And it had been noticed that this cry excited the little
viscount, who probably saw in it a menace, a threat, as well as the
odious memory of the great Revolution.
On the morning of the fifth of September, the doctor, in full uniform,
his revolver on the table, was giving a consultation to an old couple, a
farmer who had been suffering from varicose veins for the last seven
years and had waited until his wife had them also, before he would
consult the doctor, when the postman brought in the paper.
M. Massarel opened it, grew pale, suddenly rose, and lifting his hands to
heaven in a gesture of exaltation, began to shout at the top of his voice
before the two frightened country folks:
"Long live the Republic! long live the Republic! long live the Republic!"
Then he fell back in his chair, weak from emotion.
And as the peasant resumed: "It started with the ants, which began to run
up and down my legs—-" Dr. Massarel exclaimed:
"Shut up! I haven't got time to bother with your nonsense. The Republic
has been proclaimed, the emperor has been taken prisoner, France is
saved! Long live the Republic!"
Running to the door, he howled:
"Celeste, quick, Celeste!"
The servant, affrighted, hastened in; he was trying to talk so rapidly,
that he could only stammer:
"My boots, my sword, my cartridge-box and the Spanish dagger which is on
my night-table! Hasten!"
As the persistent peasant, taking advantage of a moment's silence,
continued, "I seemed to get big lumps which hurt me when I walk," the
physician, exasperated, roared:
"Shut up and get out! If you had washed your feet it would not have
Then, grabbing him by the collar, he yelled at him:
"Can't you understand that we are a republic, you brass-plated idiot!"
But professional sentiment soon calmed him, and he pushed the bewildered
couple out, saying:
"Come back to-morrow, come back to-morrow, my friends. I haven't any time
As he equipped himself from head to foot, he gave a series of important
orders to his servant:
"Run over to Lieutenant Picart and to Second Lieutenant Pommel, and tell
them that I am expecting them here immediately. Also send me Torchebeuf
with his drum. Quick! quick!"
When Celeste had gone out, he sat down and thought over the situation and
the difficulties which he would have to surmount.
The three men arrived together in their working clothes. The commandant,
who expected to see them in uniform, felt a little shocked.
"Don't you people know anything? The emperor has been taken prisoner, the
Republic has been proclaimed. We must act. My position is delicate, I
might even say dangerous."
He reflected for a few moments before his bewildered subordinates, then
"We must act and not hesitate; minutes count as hours in times like
these. All depends on the promptness of our decision. You, Picart, go to
the cure and order him to ring the alarm-bell, in order to get together
the people, to whom I am going to announce the news. You, Torchebeuf beat
the tattoo throughout the whole neighborhood as far as the hamlets of
Gerisaie and Salmare, in order to assemble the militia in the public
square. You, Pommel, get your uniform on quickly, just the coat and cap.
We are going to the town-hall to demand Monsieur de Varnetot to surrender
his powers to me. Do you understand?"
"Now carry out those orders quickly. I will go over to your house with
you, Pommel, since we shall act together."
Five minutes later, the commandant and his subordinates, armed to the
teeth, appeared on the square, just as the little Viscount de Varnetot,
his legs encased in gaiters as for a hunting party, his gun on his
shoulder, was coming down the other street at double-quick time, followed
by his three green-coated guards, their swords at their sides and their
guns swung over their shoulders.
While the doctor stopped, bewildered, the four men entered the town-hall
and closed the door behind them.
"They have outstripped us," muttered the physician, "we must now wait for
reenforcements. There is nothing to do for the present."
Lieutenant Picart now appeared on the scene.
"The priest refuses to obey," he said. "He has even locked himself in the
church with the sexton and beadle."
On the other side of the square, opposite the white, tightly closed
town-hall, stood the church, silent and dark, with its massive oak door
studded with iron.
But just as the perplexed inhabitants were sticking their heads out of
the windows or coming out on their doorsteps, the drum suddenly began to
be heard, and Torchebeuf appeared, furiously beating the tattoo. He
crossed the square running, and disappeared along the road leading to the
The commandant drew his sword, and advanced alone to half way between the
two buildings behind which the enemy had intrenched itself, and, waving
his sword over his head, he roared with all his might:
"Long live the Republic! Death to traitors!"
Then he returned to his officers.
The butcher, the baker and the druggist, much disturbed, were anxiously
pulling down their shades and closing their shops. The grocer alone kept
However, the militia were arriving by degrees, each man in a different
uniform, but all wearing a black cap with gold braid, the cap being the
principal part of the outfit. They were armed with old rusty guns, the
old guns which had hung for thirty years on the kitchen wall; and they
looked a good deal like an army of tramps.
When he had about thirty men about him, the commandant, in a few words,
outlined the situation to them. Then, turning to his staff: "Let us act,"
The villagers were gathering together and talking the matter over.
The doctor quickly decided on a plan of campaign.
"Lieutenant Picart, you will advance under the windows of this town-hall
and summon Monsieur de Varnetot, in the name of the Republic, to hand the
keys over to me."
But the lieutenant, a master mason, refused:
"You're smart, you are. I don't care to get killed, thank you. Those
people in there shoot straight, don't you forget it. Do your errands
The commandant grew very red.
"I command you to go in the name of discipline!"
The lieutenant rebelled:
"I'm not going to have my beauty spoiled without knowing why."
All the notables, gathered in a group near by, began to laugh. One of
"You are right, Picart, this isn't the right time."
The doctor then muttered:
And, leaving his sword and his revolver in the hands of a soldier, he
advanced slowly, his eye fastened on the windows, expecting any minute to
see a gun trained on him.
When he was within a few feet of the building, the doors at both ends,
leading into the two schools, opened and a flood of children ran out,
boys from one side, girls from the ether, and began to play around the
doctor, in the big empty square, screeching and screaming, and making so
much noise that he could not make himself heard.
As soon as the last child was out of the building, the two doors closed
Most of the youngsters finally dispersed, and the commandant called in a
"Monsieur de Varnetot!"
A window on the first floor opened and M. de Varnetot appeared.
The commandant continued:
"Monsieur, you know that great events have just taken place which have
changed the entire aspect of the government. The one which you
represented no longer exists. The one which I represent is taking
control. Under these painful, but decisive circumstances, I come, in the
name of the new Republic, to ask you to turn over to me the office which
you held under the former government."
M. de Varnetot answered:
"Doctor, I am the mayor of Canneville, duly appointed, and I shall remain
mayor of Canneville until I have been dismissed by a decree from my
superiors. As mayor, I am in my place in the townhall, and here I stay.
Anyhow, just try to get me out."
He closed the window.
The commandant returned to his troop. But before giving any information,
eyeing Lieutenant Picart from head to foot, he exclaimed:
"You're a great one, you are! You're a fine specimen of manhood! You're a
disgrace to the army! I degrade you."
"I don't give a——!"
He turned away and mingled with a group of townspeople.
Then the doctor hesitated. What could he do? Attack? But would his men
obey orders? And then, did he have the right to do so?
An idea struck him. He ran to the telegraph office, opposite the
town-hall, and sent off three telegrams:
To the new republican government in Paris.
To the new prefect of the Seine-Inferieure, at Rouen.
To the new republican sub-prefect at Dieppe.
He explained the situation, pointed out the danger which the town would
run if it should remain in the hands of the royalist mayor; offered his
faithful services, asked for orders and signed, putting all his titles
after his name.
Then he returned to his battalion, and, drawing ten francs from his
pocket, he cried: "Here, my friends, go eat and drink; only leave me a
detachment of ten men to guard against anybody's leaving the town-hall."
But ex-Lieutenant Picart, who had been talking with the watchmaker, heard
him; he began to laugh, and exclaimed: "By Jove, if they come out, it'll
give you a chance to get in. Otherwise I can see you standing out there
for the rest of your life!"
The doctor did not reply, and he went to luncheon.
In the afternoon, he disposed his men about the town as though they were
in immediate danger of an ambush.
Several times he passed in front of the town-hall and of the church
without noticing anything suspicious; the two buildings looked as though
The butcher, the baker and the druggist once more opened up their stores.
Everybody was talking about the affair. If the emperor were a prisoner,
there must have been some kind of treason. They did not know exactly
which of the republics had returned to power.
Toward nine o'clock, the doctor, alone, noiselessly approached the
entrance of the public building, persuaded that the enemy must have gone
to bed; and, as he was preparing to batter down the door with a pick-axe,
the deep voice of a sentry suddenly called:
"Who goes there?"
And M. Massarel retreated as fast as his legs could carry him.
Day broke without any change in the situation.
Armed militia occupied the square. All the citizens had gathered around
this troop awaiting developments. Even neighboring villagers had come to
Then the doctor, seeing that his reputation was at stake, resolved to put
an end to the matter in one way or another; and he was about to take some
measures, undoubtedly energetic ones, when the door of the telegraph
station opened and the little servant of the postmistress appeared,
holding in her hands two papers.
First she went to the commandant and gave him one of the despatches; then
she crossed the empty square, confused at seeing the eyes of everyone on
her, and lowering her head and running along with little quick steps, she
went and knocked softly at the door of the barricaded house, as though
ignorant of the fact that those behind it were armed.
The door opened wide enough to let a man's hand reach out and receive the
message; and the young girl returned blushing, ready to cry at being thus
stared at by the whole countryside.
In a clear voice, the doctor cried:
"Silence, if you please."
When the populace had quieted down, he continued proudly:
"Here is the communication which I have received from the government."
And lifting the telegram he read:
Former mayor dismissed. Inform him immediately, More orders
For the sub-prefect:
He was-triumphant; his heart was throbbing with joy and his hands were
trembling; but Picart, his former subordinate, cried to him from a
"That's all right; but supposing the others don't come out, what good is
the telegram going to do you?"
M. Massarel grew pale. He had not thought of that; if the others did not
come out, he would now have to take some decisive step. It was not only
his right, but his duty.
He looked anxiously at the town-hall, hoping to see the door open and his
adversary give in.
The door remained closed. What could he do? The crowd was growing and
closing around the militia. They were laughing.
One thought especially tortured the doctor. If he attacked, he would have
to march at the head of his men; and as, with him dead, all strife would
cease, it was at him and him only that M. de Varnetot and his three
guards would aim. And they were good shots, very good shots, as Picart
had just said. But an idea struck him and, turning to Pommel, he ordered:
"Run quickly to the druggist and ask him to lend me a towel and a stick."
The lieutenant hastened.
He would make a flag of truce, a white flag, at the sight of which the
royalist heart of the mayor would perhaps rejoice.
Pommel returned with the cloth and a broom-stick. With some twine they
completed the flag, and M. Massarel, grasping it in both hands and
holding it in front of him, again advanced in the direction of the
town-hall. When he was opposite the door, he once more called: "Monsieur
de Varnetot!" The door suddenly opened and M. de Varnetot and his three
guards appeared on the threshold.
Instinctively the doctor stepped back; then he bowed courteously to his
enemy, and, choking with emotion, he announced: "I have come, monsieur,
to make you acquainted with the orders which I have received."
The nobleman, without returning the bow, answered: "I resign, monsieur,
but understand that it is neither through fear of, nor obedience to, the
odious government which has usurped the power." And, emphasizing every
word, he declared: "I do not wish to appear, for a single day, to serve
the Republic. That's all."
Massarel, stunned, answered nothing; and M. de Varnetot, walking quickly,
disappeared around the corner of the square, still followed by his
The doctor, puffed up with pride, returned to the crowd. As soon as he
was near enough to make himself heard, he cried: "Hurrah! hurrah! Victory
crowns the Republic everywhere."
There was no outburst of joy.
The doctor continued: "We are free, you are free, independent! Be proud!"
The motionless villagers were looking at him without any signs of triumph
shining in their eyes.
He looked at them, indignant at their indifference, thinking of what he
could say or do in order to make an impression to electrify this calm
peasantry, to fulfill his mission as a leader.
He had an inspiration and, turning to Pommel, he ordered: "Lieutenant, go
get me the bust of the ex-emperor which is in the meeting room of the
municipal council, and bring it here with a chair."
The man presently reappeared, carrying on his right shoulder the plaster
Bonaparte, and holding in his left hand a cane-seated chair.
M. Massarel went towards him, took the chair, placed the white bust on
it, then stepping back a few steps, he addressed it in a loud voice:
"Tyrant, tyrant, you have fallen down in the mud. The dying fatherland
was in its death throes under your oppression. Vengeful Destiny has
struck you. Defeat and shame have pursued you; you fall conquered, a
prisoner of the Prussians; and from the ruins of your crumbling empire,
the young and glorious Republic arises, lifting from the ground your
He waited for applause. Not a sound greeted his listening ear. The
peasants, nonplussed, kept silent; and the white, placid, well-groomed
statue seemed to look at M. Massarel with its plaster smile, ineffaceable
Thus they stood, face to face, Napoleon on his chair, the physician
standing three feet away. Anger seized the commandant. What could he do
to move this crowd and definitely to win over public opinion?
He happened to carry his hand to his stomach, and he felt, under his red
belt, the butt of his revolver.
Not another inspiration, not another word cane to his mind. Then, he drew
his weapon, stepped back a few steps and shot the former monarch.
The bullet made a little black hole: like a spot, in his forehead. No
sensation was created. M. Massarel shot a second time and made a second
hole, then a third time, then, without stopping, he shot off the three
remaining shots. Napoleon's forehead was blown away in a white powder,
but his eyes, nose and pointed mustache remained intact.
Then in exasperation, the doctor kicked the chair over, and placing one
foot on what remained of the bust in the position of a conqueror, he
turned to the amazed public and yelled: "Thus may all traitors die!"
As no enthusiasm was, as yet, visible, the spectators appearing to be
dumb with astonishment, the commandant cried to the militia: "You may go
home now." And he himself walked rapidly, almost ran, towards his house.
As soon as he appeared, the servant told him that some patients had been
waiting in his office for over three hours. He hastened in. They were the
same two peasants as a few days before, who had returned at daybreak,
obstinate and patient.
The old man immediately began his explanation:
"It began with ants, which seemed to be crawling up and down my
LIEUTENANT LARE'S MARRIAGE
Since the beginning of the campaign Lieutenant Lare had taken two cannon
from the Prussians. His general had said: "Thank you, lieutenant," and
had given him the cross of honor.
As he was as cautious as he was brave, wary, inventive, wily and
resourceful, he was entrusted with a hundred soldiers and he organized a
company of scouts who saved the army on several occasions during a
But the invading army entered by every frontier like a surging sea. Great
waves of men arrived one after the other, scattering all around them a
scum of freebooters. General Carrel's brigade, separated from its
division, retreated continually, fighting each day, but remaining almost
intact, thanks to the vigilance and agility of Lieutenant Lare, who
seemed to be everywhere at the same moment, baffling all the enemy's
cunning, frustrating their plans, misleading their Uhlans and killing
One morning the general sent for him.
"Lieutenant," said he, "here is a dispatch from General de Lacere, who
will be destroyed if we do not go to his aid by sunrise to-morrow. He is
at Blainville, eight leagues from here. You will start at nightfall with
three hundred men, whom you will echelon along the road. I will follow
you two hours later. Study the road carefully; I fear we may meet a
division of the enemy."
It had been freezing hard for a week. At two o'clock it began to snow,
and by night the ground was covered and heavy white swirls concealed
objects hard by.
At six o'clock the detachment set out.
Two men walked alone as scouts about three yards ahead. Then came a
platoon of ten men commanded by the lieutenant himself. The rest followed
them in two long columns. To the right and left of the little band, at a
distance of about three hundred feet on either side, some soldiers
marched in pairs.
The snow, which was still falling, covered them with a white powder in
the darkness, and as it did not melt on their uniforms, they were hardly
distinguishable in the night amid the dead whiteness of the landscape.
From time to time they halted. One heard nothing but that indescribable,
nameless flutter of falling snow—a sensation rather than a sound, a
vague, ominous murmur. A command was given in a low tone and when the
troop resumed its march it left in its wake a sort of white phantom
standing in the snow. It gradually grew fainter and finally disappeared.
It was the echelons who were to lead the army.
The scouts slackened their pace. Something was ahead of them.
"Turn to the right," said the lieutenant; "it is the Ronfi wood; the
chateau is more to the left."
Presently the command "Halt" was passed along. The detachment stopped and
waited for the lieutenant, who, accompanied by only ten men, had
undertaken a reconnoitering expedition to the chateau.
They advanced, creeping under the trees. Suddenly they all remained
motionless. Around them was a dead silence. Then, quite near them, a
little clear, musical young voice was heard amid the stillness of the
"Father, we shall get lost in the snow. We shall never reach Blainville."
A deeper voice replied:
"Never fear, little daughter; I know the country as well as I know my
The lieutenant said a few words and four men moved away silently, like
All at once a woman's shrill cry was heard through the darkness. Two
prisoners were brought back, an old man and a young girl. The lieutenant
questioned them, still in a low tone:
"Butler to Comte de Ronfi."
"Is this your daughter?"
"What does she do?"
"She is laundress at the chateau."
"Where are you going?"
"We are making our escape."
"Twelve Uhlans passed by this evening. They shot three keepers and hanged
the gardener. I was alarmed on account of the little one."
"Whither are you bound?"
"Because there is a French army there."
"Do you know the way?"
"Well then, follow us."
They rejoined the column and resumed their march across country. The old
man walked in silence beside the lieutenant, his daughter walking at his
side. All at once she stopped.
"Father," she said, "I am so tired I cannot go any farther."
And she sat down. She was shaking with cold and seemed about to lose
consciousness. Her father wanted to carry her, but he was too old and too
"Lieutenant," said he, sobbing, "we shall only impede your march. France
before all. Leave us here."
The officer had given a command. Some men had started off. They came back
with branches they had cut, and in a minute a litter was ready. The whole
detachment had joined them by this time.
"Here is a woman dying of cold," said the lieutenant. "Who will give his
cape to cover her?"
Two hundred capes were taken off. The young girl was wrapped up in these
warm soldiers' capes, gently laid in the litter, and then four' hardy
shoulders lifted her up, and like an Eastern queen borne by her slaves
she was placed in the center of the detachment of soldiers, who resumed
their march with more energy, more courage, more cheerfulness, animated
by the presence of a woman, that sovereign inspiration that has stirred
the old French blood to so many deeds of valor.
At the end of an hour they halted again and every one lay down in the
snow. Over yonder on the level country a big, dark shadow was moving. It
looked like some weird monster stretching itself out like a serpent, then
suddenly coiling itself into a mass, darting forth again, then back, and
then forward again without ceasing. Some whispered orders were passed
around among the soldiers, and an occasional little, dry, metallic click
was heard. The moving object suddenly came nearer, and twelve Uhlans were
seen approaching at a gallop, one behind the other, having lost their way
in the darkness. A brilliant flash suddenly revealed to them two hundred
mete lying on the ground before them. A rapid fire was heard, which died
away in the snowy silence, and all the twelve fell to the ground, their
horses with them.
After a long rest the march was resumed. The old man whom they had
captured acted as guide.
Presently a voice far off in the distance cried out: "Who goes there?"
Another voice nearer by gave the countersign.
They made another halt; some conferences took place. It had stopped
snowing. A cold wind was driving the clouds, and innumerable stars were
sparkling in the sky behind them, gradually paling in the rosy light of
A staff officer came forward to receive the detachment. But when he asked
who was being carried in the litter, the form stirred; two little hands
moved aside the big blue army capes and, rosy as the dawn, with two eyes
that were brighter than the stars that had just faded from sight, and a
smile as radiant as the morn, a dainty face appeared.
"It is I, monsieur."
The soldiers, wild with delight, clapped their hands and bore the young
girl in triumph into the midst of the camp, that was just getting to
arms. Presently General Carrel arrived on the scene. At nine o'clock the
Prussians made an attack. They beat a retreat at noon.
That evening, as Lieutenant Lare, overcome by fatigue, was sleeping on a
bundle of straw, he was sent for by the general. He found the commanding
officer in his tent, chatting with the old man whom they had come across
during the night. As soon as he entered the tent the general took his
hand, and addressing the stranger, said:
"My dear comte, this is the young man of whom you were telling me just
now; he is one of my best officers."
He smiled, lowered his tone, and added:
Then, turning to the astonished lieutenant, he presented "Comte de
The old man took both his hands, saying:
"My dear lieutenant, you have saved my daughter's life. I have only one
way of thanking you. You may come in a few months to tell me—if you
One year later, on the very same day, Captain Lare and Miss
Louise-Hortense-Genevieve de Ronfi-Quedissac were married in the church
of St. Thomas Aquinas.
She brought a dowry of six thousand francs, and was said to be the
prettiest bride that had been seen that year.
The shadows of a balmy night were slowly falling. The women remained in
the drawing-room of the villa. The men, seated, or astride of garden
chairs, were smoking outside the door of the house, around a table laden
with cups and liqueur glasses.
Their lighted cigars shone like eyes in the darkness, which was gradually
becoming more dense. They had been talking about a frightful accident
which had occurred the night before—two men and three women drowned
in the river before the eyes of the guests.
General de G——remarked:
"Yes, these things are affecting, but they are not horrible.
"Horrible, that well-known word, means much more than terrible. A
frightful accident like this affects, upsets, terrifies; it does not
horrify. In order that we should experience horror, something more is
needed than emotion, something more than the spectacle of a dreadful
death; there must be a shuddering sense of mystery, or a sensation of
abnormal terror, more than natural. A man who dies, even under the most
tragic circumstances, does not excite horror; a field of battle is not
horrible; blood is not horrible; the vilest crimes are rarely horrible.
"Here are two personal examples which have shown me what is the meaning
"It was during the war of 1870. We were retreating toward Pont-Audemer,
after having passed through Rouen. The army, consisting of about twenty
thousand men, twenty thousand routed men, disbanded, demoralized,
exhausted, were going to disband at Havre.
"The earth was covered with snow. The night was falling. They had not
eaten anything since the day before. They were fleeing rapidly, the
Prussians not being far off.
"All the Norman country, sombre, dotted with the shadows of the trees
surrounding the farms, stretched out beneath a black, heavy, threatening
"Nothing else could be heard in the wan twilight but the confused sound,
undefined though rapid, of a marching throng, an endless tramping,
mingled with the vague clink of tin bowls or swords. The men, bent,
round-shouldered, dirty, in many cases even in rags, dragged themselves
along, hurried through the snow, with a long, broken-backed stride.
"The skin of their hands froze to the butt ends of their muskets, for it
was freezing hard that night. I frequently saw a little soldier take off
his shoes in order to walk barefoot, as his shoes hurt his weary feet;
and at every step he left a track of blood. Then, after some time, he
would sit down in a field for a few minutes' rest, and he never got up
again. Every man who sat down was a dead man.
"Should we have left behind us those poor, exhausted soldiers, who fondly
counted on being able to start afresh as soon as they had somewhat
refreshed their stiffened legs? But scarcely had they ceased to move, and
to make their almost frozen blood circulate in their veins, than an
unconquerable torpor congealed them, nailed them to the ground, closed
their eyes, and paralyzed in one second this overworked human mechanism.
And they gradually sank down, their foreheads on their knees, without,
however, falling over, for their loins and their limbs became as hard and
immovable as wood, impossible to bend or to stand upright.
"And the rest of us, more robust, kept straggling on, chilled to the
marrow, advancing by a kind of inertia through the night, through the
snow, through that cold and deadly country, crushed by pain, by defeat,
by despair, above all overcome by the abominable sensation of
abandonment, of the end, of death, of nothingness.
"I saw two gendarmes holding by the arm a curious-looking little man,
old, beardless, of truly surprising aspect.
"They were looking for an officer, believing that they had caught a spy.
The word 'spy' at once spread through the midst of the stragglers, and
they gathered in a group round the prisoner. A voice exclaimed: 'He must
be shot!' And all these soldiers who were falling from utter prostration,
only holding themselves on their feet by leaning on their guns, felt all
of a sudden that thrill of furious and bestial anger which urges on a mob
"I wanted to speak. I was at that time in command of a battalion; but
they no longer recognized the authority of their commanding officers;
they would even have shot me.
"One of the gendarmes said: 'He has been following us for the three last
days. He has been asking information from every one about the
I took it on myself to question this person.
"What are you doing? What do you want? Why are you accompanying the
"He stammered out some words in some unintelligible dialect. He was,
indeed, a strange being, with narrow shoulders, a sly look, and such an
agitated air in my presence that I really no longer doubted that he was a
spy. He seemed very aged and feeble. He kept looking at me from under his
eyes with a humble, stupid, crafty air.
"The men all round us exclaimed.
"'To the wall! To the wall!'
"I said to the gendarmes:
"'Will you be responsible for the prisoner?'
"I had not ceased speaking when a terrible shove threw me on my back, and
in a second I saw the man seized by the furious soldiers, thrown down,
struck, dragged along the side of the road, and flung against a tree. He
fell in the snow, nearly dead already.
"And immediately they shot him. The soldiers fired at him, reloaded their
guns, fired again with the desperate energy of brutes. They fought with
each other to have a shot at him, filed off in front of the corpse, and
kept on firing at him, as people at a funeral keep sprinkling holy water
in front of a coffin.
"But suddenly a cry arose of 'The Prussians! the Prussians!'
"And all along the horizon I heard the great noise of this panic-stricken
army in full flight.
"A panic, the result of these shots fired at this vagabond, had filled
his very executioners with terror; and, without realizing that they were
themselves the originators of the scare, they fled and disappeared in the
"I remained alone with the corpse, except for the two gendarmes whose
duty compelled them to stay with me.
"They lifted up the riddled mass of bruised and bleeding flesh.
"'He must be searched,' I said. And I handed them a box of taper matches
which I had in my pocket. One of the soldiers had another box. I was
standing between the two.
"The gendarme who was examining the body announced:
"'Clothed in a blue blouse, a white shirt, trousers, and a pair of
"The first match went out; we lighted a second. The man continued, as he
turned out his pockets:
"'A horn-handled pocketknife, check handkerchief, a snuffbox, a bit of
pack thread, a piece of bread.'
"The second match went out; we lighted a third. The gendarme, after
having felt the corpse for a long time, said:
"'That is all.'
"'Strip him. We shall perhaps find something next his skin."
"And in order that the two soldiers might help each other in this task, I
stood between them to hold the lighted match. By the rapid and speedily
extinguished flame of the match, I saw them take off the garments one by
one, and expose to view that bleeding bundle of flesh, still warm, though
"And suddenly one of them exclaimed:
"'Good God, general, it is a woman!'
"I cannot describe to you the strange and poignant sensation of pain that
moved my heart. I could not believe it, and I knelt down in the snow
before this shapeless pulp of flesh to see for myself: it was a woman.
"The two gendarmes, speechless and stunned, waited for me to give my
opinion on the matter. But I did not know what to think, what theory to
"Then the brigadier slowly drawled out:
"'Perhaps she came to look for a son of hers in the artillery, whom she
had not heard from.'
"And the other chimed in:
"'Perhaps, indeed, that is so.'
"And I, who had seen some very terrible things in my time, began to cry.
And I felt, in the presence of this corpse, on that icy cold night, in
the midst of that gloomy plain; at the sight of this mystery, at the
sight of this murdered stranger, the meaning of that word 'horror.'
"I had the same sensation last year, while interrogating one of the
survivors of the Flatters Mission, an Algerian sharpshooter.
"You know the details of that atrocious drama. It is possible, however,
that you are unacquainted with one of them.
"The colonel travelled through the desert into the Soudan, and passed
through the immense territory of the Touaregs, who, in that great ocean
of sand which stretches from the Atlantic to Egypt and from the Soudan to
Algeria, are a kind of pirates, resembling those who ravaged the seas in
"The guides who accompanied the column belonged to the tribe of the
Chambaa, of Ouargla.
"Now, one day we encamped in the middle of the desert, and the Arabs
declared that, as the spring was still some distance away, they would go
with all their camels to look for water.
"One man alone warned the colonel that he had been betrayed. Flatters did
not believe this, and accompanied the convoy with the engineers, the
doctors, and nearly all his officers.
"They were massacred round the spring, and all the camels were captured.
"The captain of the Arab Intelligence Department at Ouargla, who had
remained in the camp, took command of the survivors, spahis and
sharpshooters, and they began to retreat, leaving behind them the baggage
and provisions, for want of camels to carry them.
"Then they started on their journey through this solitude without shade
and boundless, beneath the devouring sun, which burned them from morning
"One tribe came to tender its submission and brought dates as a tribute.
The dates were poisoned. Nearly all the Frenchmen died, and, among them,
the last officer.
"There now only remained a few spahis with their quartermaster, Pobeguin,
and some native sharpshooters of the Chambaa tribe. They had still two
camels left. They disappeared one night, along with two, Arabs.
"Then the survivors understood that they would be obliged to eat each
other, and as soon as they discovered the flight of the two men with the
two camels, those who remained separated, and proceeded to march, one by
one, through the soft sand, under the glare of a scorching sun, at a
distance of more than a gunshot from each other.
"So they went on all day, and when they reached a spring each of them
came to drink at it in turn, as soon as each solitary marcher had moved
forward the number of yards arranged upon. And thus they continued
marching the whole day, raising everywhere they passed, in that level,
burnt up expanse, those little columns of dust which, from a distance,
indicate those who are trudging through the desert.
"But one morning one of the travellers suddenly turned round and
approached the man behind him. And they all stopped to look.
"The man toward whom the famished soldier drew near did not flee, but lay
flat on the ground, and took aim at the one who was coming toward him.
When he believed he was within gunshot, he fired. The other was not hit,
and he continued then to advance, and levelling his gun, in turn, he
killed his comrade.
"Then from all directions the others rushed to seek their share. And he
who had killed the fallen man, cutting the corpse into pieces,
"And they once more placed themselves at fixed distances, these
irreconcilable allies, preparing for the next murder which would bring
"For two days they lived on this human flesh which they divided between
them. Then, becoming famished again, he who had killed the first man
began killing afresh. And again, like a butcher, he cut up the corpse and
offered it to his comrades, keeping only his own portion of it.
"And so this retreat of cannibals continued.
"The last Frenchman, Pobeguin, was massacred at the side of a well, the
very night before the supplies arrived.
"Do you understand now what I mean by the horrible?"
This was the story told us a few nights ago by General de
I was sitting on the pier of the small port of Obernon, near the village
of Salis, looking at Antibes, bathed in the setting sun. I had never
before seen anything so wonderful and so beautiful.
The small town, enclosed by its massive ramparts, built by Monsieur de
Vauban, extended into the open sea, in the middle of the immense Gulf of
Nice. The great waves, coming in from the ocean, broke at its feet,
surrounding it with a wreath of foam; and beyond the ramparts the houses
climbed up the hill, one after the other, as far as the two towers, which
rose up into the sky, like the peaks of an ancient helmet. And these two
towers were outlined against the milky whiteness of the Alps, that
enormous distant wall of snow which enclosed the entire horizon.
Between the white foam at the foot of the walls and the white snow on the
sky-line the little city, dazzling against the bluish background of the
nearest mountain ranges, presented to the rays of the setting sun a
pyramid of red-roofed houses, whose facades were also white, but so
different one from another that they seemed to be of all tints.
And the sky above the Alps was itself of a blue that was almost white, as
if the snow had tinted it; some silvery clouds were floating just over
the pale summits, and on the other side of the gulf Nice, lying close to
the water, stretched like a white thread between the sea and the
mountain. Two great sails, driven by a strong breeze, seemed to skim over
the waves. I looked upon all this, astounded.
This view was one of those sweet, rare, delightful things that seem to
permeate you and are unforgettable, like the memory of a great happiness.
One sees, thinks, suffers, is moved and loves with the eyes. He who can
feel with the eye experiences the same keen, exquisite and deep pleasure
in looking at men and things as the man with the delicate and sensitive
ear, whose soul music overwhelms.
I turned to my companion, M. Martini, a pureblooded Southerner.
"This is certainly one of the rarest sights which it has been vouchsafed
to me to admire.
"I have seen Mont Saint-Michel, that monstrous granite jewel, rise out of
the sand at sunrise.
"I have seen, in the Sahara, Lake Raianechergui, fifty kilometers long,
shining under a moon as brilliant as our sun and breathing up toward it a
white cloud, like a mist of milk.
"I have seen, in the Lipari Islands, the weird sulphur crater of the
Volcanello, a giant flower which smokes and burns, an enormous yellow
flower, opening out in the midst of the sea, whose stem is a volcano.
"But I have seen nothing more wonderful than Antibes, standing against
the Alps in the setting sun.
"And I know not how it is that memories of antiquity haunt me; verses of
Homer come into my mind; this is a city of the ancient East, a city of
the odyssey; this is Troy, although Troy was very far from the sea."
M. Martini drew the Sarty guide-book out of his pocket and read: "This
city was originally a colony founded by the Phocians of Marseilles, about
340 B.C. They gave it the Greek name of Antipolis, meaning counter-city,
city opposite another, because it is in fact opposite to Nice, another
colony from Marseilles.
"After the Gauls were conquered, the Romans turned Antibes into a
municipal city, its inhabitants receiving the rights of Roman
"We know by an epigram of Martial that at this time——"
I interrupted him:
"I don't care what she was. I tell you that I see down there a city of
the Odyssey. The coast of Asia and the coast of Europe resemble each
other in their shores, and there is no city on the other coast of the
Mediterranean which awakens in me the memories of the heroic age as this
A footstep caused me to turn my head; a woman, a large, dark woman, was
walking along the road which skirts the sea in going to the cape.
"That is Madame Parisse, you know," muttered Monsieur Martini, dwelling
on the final syllable.
No, I did not know, but that name, mentioned carelessly, that name of the
Trojan shepherd, confirmed me in my dream.
However, I asked: "Who is this Madame Parisse?"
He seemed astonished that I did not know the story.
I assured him that I did not know it, and I looked after the woman, who
passed by without seeing us, dreaming, walking with steady and slow step,
as doubtless the ladies of old walked.
She was perhaps thirty-five years old and still very beautiful, though a
And Monsieur Martini told me the following story:
Mademoiselle Combelombe was married, one year before the war of 1870, to
Monsieur Parisse, a government official. She was then a handsome young
girl, as slender and lively as she has now become stout and sad.
Unwillingly she had accepted Monsieur Parisse, one of those little fat
men with short legs, who trip along, with trousers that are always too
After the war Antibes was garrisoned by a single battalion commanded by
Monsieur Jean de Carmelin, a young officer decorated during the war, and
who had just received his four stripes.
As he found life exceedingly tedious in this fortress this stuffy
mole-hole enclosed by its enormous double walls, he often strolled out to
the cape, a kind of park or pine wood shaken by all the winds from the
There he met Madame Parisse, who also came out in the summer evenings to
get the fresh air under the trees. How did they come to love each other?
Who knows? They met, they looked at each other, and when out of sight
they doubtless thought of each other. The image of the young woman with
the brown eyes, the black hair, the pale skin, this fresh, handsome
Southerner, who displayed her teeth in smiling, floated before the eyes
of the officer as he continued his promenade, chewing his cigar instead
of smoking it; and the image of the commanding officer, in his
close-fitting coat, covered with gold lace, and his red trousers, and a
little blond mustache, would pass before the eyes of Madame Parisse, when
her husband, half shaven and ill-clad, short-legged and big-bellied, came
home to supper in the evening.
As they met so often, they perhaps smiled at the next meeting; then,
seeing each other again and again, they felt as if they knew each other.
He certainly bowed to her. And she, surprised, bowed in return, but very,
very slightly, just enough not to appear impolite. But after two weeks
she returned his salutation from a distance, even before they were side
He spoke to her. Of what? Doubtless of the setting sun. They admired it
together, looking for it in each other's eyes more often than on the
horizon. And every evening for two weeks this was the commonplace and
persistent pretext for a few minutes' chat.
Then they ventured to take a few steps together, talking of anything that
came into their minds, but their eyes were already saying to each other a
thousand more intimate things, those secret, charming things that are
reflected in the gentle emotion of the glance, and that cause the heart
to beat, for they are a better revelation of the soul than the spoken
And then he would take her hand, murmuring those words which the woman
divines, without seeming to hear them.
And it was agreed between them that they would love each other without
evidencing it by anything sensual or brutal.
She would have remained indefinitely at this stage of intimacy, but he
wanted more. And every day he urged her more hotly to give in to his
She resisted, would not hear of it, seemed determined not to give way.
But one evening she said to him casually: "My husband has just gone to
Marseilles. He will be away four days."
Jean de Carmelin threw himself at her feet, imploring her to open her
door to him that very night at eleven o'clock. But she would not listen
to him, and went home, appearing to be annoyed.
The commandant was in a bad humor all the evening, and the next morning
at dawn he went out on the ramparts in a rage, going from one exercise
field to the other, dealing out punishment to the officers and men as one
might fling stones into a crowd,
On going in to breakfast he found an envelope under his napkin with these
four words: "To-night at ten." And he gave one hundred sous without any
reason to the waiter.
The day seemed endless to him. He passed part of it in curling his hair
and perfuming himself.
As he was sitting down to the dinner-table another envelope was handed to
him, and in it he found the following telegram:
"My Love: Business completed. I return this evening on the nine
The commandant let loose such a vehement oath that the waiter dropped the
soup-tureen on the floor.
What should he do? He certainly wanted her, that very, evening at
whatever cost; and he would have her. He would resort to any means, even
to arresting and imprisoning the husband. Then a mad thought struck him.
Calling for paper, he wrote the following note:
MADAME: He will not come back this evening, I swear it to
you,—and I shall be, you know where, at ten o'clock. Fear nothing.
I will answer for everything, on my honor as an officer.
JEAN DE CARMELIN.
And having sent off this letter, he quietly ate his dinner.
Toward eight o'clock he sent for Captain Gribois, the second in command,
and said, rolling between his fingers the crumpled telegram of Monsieur
"Captain, I have just received a telegram of a very singular nature,
which it is impossible for me to communicate to you. You will immediately
have all the gates of the city closed and guarded, so that no one, mind
me, no one, will either enter or leave before six in the morning. You
will also have men patrol the streets, who will compel the inhabitants to
retire to their houses at nine o'clock. Any one found outside beyond that
time will be conducted to his home 'manu militari'. If your men meet me
this night they will at once go out of my way, appearing not to know me.
You understand me?"
"I hold you responsible for the execution of my orders, my dear captain."
"Would you like to have a glass of chartreuse?"
"With great pleasure, commandant."
They clinked glasses drank down the brown liquor and Captain Gribois left
The train from Marseilles arrived at the station at nine o'clock sharp,
left two passengers on the platform and went on toward Nice.
One of them, tall and thin, was Monsieur Saribe, the oil merchant, and
the other, short and fat, was Monsieur Parisse.
Together they set out, with their valises, to reach the city, one
But on arriving at the gate of the port the guards crossed their
bayonets, commanding them to retire.
Frightened, surprised, cowed with astonishment, they retired to
deliberate; then, after having taken counsel one with the other, they
came back cautiously to parley, giving their names.
But the soldiers evidently had strict orders, for they threatened to
shoot; and the two scared travellers ran off, throwing away their
valises, which impeded their flight.
Making the tour of the ramparts, they presented themselves at the gate on
the route to Cannes. This likewise was closed and guarded by a menacing
sentinel. Messrs. Saribe and Parisse, like the prudent men they were,
desisted from their efforts and went back to the station for shelter,
since it was not safe to be near the fortifications after sundown.
The station agent, surprised and sleepy, permitted them to stay till
morning in the waiting-room.
And they sat there side by side, in the dark, on the green velvet sofa,
too scared to think of sleeping.
It was a long and weary night for them.
At half-past six in the morning they were informed that the gates were
open and that people could now enter Antibes.
They set out for the city, but failed to find their abandoned valises on
When they passed through the gates of the city, still somewhat anxious,
the Commandant de Carmelin, with sly glance and mustache curled up, came
himself to look at them and question them.
Then he bowed to them politely, excusing himself for having caused them a
bad night. But he had to carry out orders.
The people of Antibes were scared to death. Some spoke of a surprise
planned by the Italians, others of the landing of the prince imperial and
others again believed that there was an Orleanist conspiracy. The truth
was suspected only later, when it became known that the battalion of the
commandant had been sent away, to a distance and that Monsieur de
Carmelin had been severely punished.
Monsieur Martini had finished his story. Madame Parisse returned, her
promenade being ended. She passed gravely near me, with her eyes fixed on
the Alps, whose summits now gleamed rosy in the last rays of the setting
I longed to speak to her, this poor, sad woman, who would ever be
thinking of that night of love, now long past, and of the bold man who
for the sake of a kiss from her had dared to put a city into a state of
siege and to compromise his whole future.
And to-day he had probably forgotten her, if he did not relate this
audacious, comical and tender farce to his comrades over their cups.
Had she seen him again? Did she still love him? And I thought: Here is an
instance of modern love, grotesque and yet heroic. The Homer who should
sing of this new Helen and the adventure of her Menelaus must be gifted
with the soul of a Paul de Kock. And yet the hero of this deserted woman
was brave, daring, handsome, strong as Achilles and more cunning than
Major Graf Von Farlsberg, the Prussian commandant, was reading his
newspaper as he lay back in a great easy-chair, with his booted feet on
the beautiful marble mantelpiece where his spurs had made two holes,
which had grown deeper every day during the three months that he had been
in the chateau of Uville.
A cup of coffee was smoking on a small inlaid table, which was stained
with liqueur, burned by cigars, notched by the penknife of the victorious
officer, who occasionally would stop while sharpening a pencil, to jot
down figures, or to make a drawing on it, just as it took his fancy.
When he had read his letters and the German newspapers, which his orderly
had brought him, he got up, and after throwing three or four enormous
pieces of green wood on the fire, for these gentlemen were gradually
cutting down the park in order to keep themselves warm, he went to the
window. The rain was descending in torrents, a regular Normandy rain,
which looked as if it were being poured out by some furious person, a
slanting rain, opaque as a curtain, which formed a kind of wall with
diagonal stripes, and which deluged everything, a rain such as one
frequently experiences in the neighborhood of Rouen, which is the
watering-pot of France.
For a long time the officer looked at the sodden turf and at the swollen
Andelle beyond it, which was overflowing its banks; he was drumming a
waltz with his fingers on the window-panes, when a noise made him turn
round. It was his second in command, Captain Baron van Kelweinstein.
The major was a giant, with broad shoulders and a long, fan-like beard,
which hung down like a curtain to his chest. His whole solemn person
suggested the idea of a military peacock, a peacock who was carrying his
tail spread out on his breast. He had cold, gentle blue eyes, and a scar
from a swordcut, which he had received in the war with Austria; he was
said to be an honorable man, as well as a brave officer.
The captain, a short, red-faced man, was tightly belted in at the waist,
his red hair was cropped quite close to his head, and in certain lights
he almost looked as if he had been rubbed over with phosphorus. He had
lost two front teeth one night, though he could not quite remember how,
and this sometimes made him speak unintelligibly, and he had a bald patch
on top of his head surrounded by a fringe of curly, bright golden hair,
which made him look like a monk.
The commandant shook hands with him and drank his cup of coffee (the
sixth that morning), while he listened to his subordinate's report of
what had occurred; and then they both went to the window and declared
that it was a very unpleasant outlook. The major, who was a quiet man,
with a wife at home, could accommodate himself to everything; but the
captain, who led a fast life, who was in the habit of frequenting low
resorts, and enjoying women's society, was angry at having to be shut up
for three months in that wretched hole.
There was a knock at the door, and when the commandant said, "Come in,"
one of the orderlies appeared, and by his mere presence announced that
breakfast was ready. In the dining-room they met three other officers of
lower rank—a lieutenant, Otto von Grossling, and two sub-lieutenants,
Fritz Scheuneberg and Baron von Eyrick, a very short, fair-haired man,
who was proud and brutal toward men, harsh toward prisoners and as
explosive as gunpowder.
Since he had been in France his comrades had called him nothing but
Mademoiselle Fifi. They had given him that nickname on account of his
dandified style and small waist, which looked as if he wore corsets; of
his pale face, on which his budding mustache scarcely showed, and on
account of the habit he had acquired of employing the French expression,
'Fi, fi donc', which he pronounced with a slight whistle when he wished
to express his sovereign contempt for persons or things.
The dining-room of the chateau was a magnificent long room, whose fine
old mirrors, that were cracked by pistol bullets, and whose Flemish
tapestry, which was cut to ribbons, and hanging in rags in places from
sword-cuts, told too well what Mademoiselle Fifi's occupation was during
his spare time.
There were three family portraits on the walls a steel-clad knight, a
cardinal and a judge, who were all smoking long porcelain pipes, which
had been inserted into holes in the canvas, while a lady in a long,
pointed waist proudly exhibited a pair of enormous mustaches, drawn with
charcoal. The officers ate their breakfast almost in silence in that
mutilated room, which looked dull in the rain and melancholy in its
dilapidated condition, although its old oak floor had become as solid as
the stone floor of an inn.
When they had finished eating and were smoking and drinking, they began,
as usual, to berate the dull life they were leading. The bottles of
brandy and of liqueur passed from hand to hand, and all sat back in their
chairs and took repeated sips from their glasses, scarcely removing from
their mouths the long, curved stems, which terminated in china bowls,
painted in a manner to delight a Hottentot.
As soon as their glasses were empty they filled them again, with a
gesture of resigned weariness, but Mademoiselle Fifi emptied his every
minute, and a soldier immediately gave him another. They were enveloped
in a cloud of strong tobacco smoke, and seemed to be sunk in a state of
drowsy, stupid intoxication, that condition of stupid intoxication of men
who have nothing to do, when suddenly the baron sat up and said:
"Heavens! This cannot go on; we must think of something to do." And on
hearing this, Lieutenant Otto and Sub-lieutenant Fritz, who preeminently
possessed the serious, heavy German countenance, said: "What, captain?"
He thought for a few moments and then replied: "What? Why, we must get up
some entertainment, if the commandant will allow us." "What sort of an
entertainment, captain?" the major asked, taking his pipe out of his
mouth. "I will arrange all that, commandant," the baron said. "I will
send Le Devoir to Rouen, and he will bring back some ladies. I know where
they can be found, We will have supper here, as all the materials are at
hand and; at least, we shall have a jolly evening."
Graf von Farlsberg shrugged his shoulders with a smile: "You must surely
be mad, my friend."
But all the other officers had risen and surrounded their chief, saying:
"Let the captain have his way, commandant; it is terribly dull here." And
the major ended by yielding. "Very well," he replied, and the baron
immediately sent for Le Devoir. He was an old non-commissioned officer,
who had never been seen to smile, but who carried out all the orders of
his superiors to the letter, no matter what they might be. He stood
there, with an impassive face, while he received the baron's
instructions, and then went out, and five minutes later a large military
wagon, covered with tarpaulin, galloped off as fast as four horses could
draw it in the pouring rain. The officers all seemed to awaken from their
lethargy, their looks brightened, and they began to talk.
Although it was raining as hard as ever, the major declared that it was
not so dark, and Lieutenant von Grossling said with conviction that the
sky was clearing up, while Mademoiselle Fifi did not seem to be able to
keep still. He got up and sat down again, and his bright eyes seemed to
be looking for something to destroy. Suddenly, looking at the lady with
the mustaches, the young fellow pulled out his revolver and said: "You
shall not see it." And without leaving his seat he aimed, and with two
successive bullets cut out both the eyes of the portrait.
"Let us make a mine!" he then exclaimed, and the conversation was
suddenly interrupted, as if they had found some fresh and powerful
subject of interest. The mine was his invention, his method of
destruction, and his favorite amusement.
When he left the chateau, the lawful owner, Comte Fernand d'Amoys
d'Uville, had not had time to carry away or to hide anything except the
plate, which had been stowed away in a hole made in one of the walls. As
he was very rich and had good taste, the large drawing-room, which opened
into the dining-room, looked like a gallery in a museum, before his
Expensive oil paintings, water colors and drawings hung against the
walls, while on the tables, on the hanging shelves and in elegant glass
cupboards there were a thousand ornaments: small vases, statuettes,
groups of Dresden china and grotesque Chinese figures, old ivory and
Venetian glass, which filled the large room with their costly and
Scarcely anything was left now; not that the things had been stolen, for
the major would not have allowed that, but Mademoiselle Fifi would every
now and then have a mine, and on those occasions all the officers
thoroughly enjoyed themselves for five minutes. The little marquis went
into the drawing-room to get what he wanted, and he brought back a small,
delicate china teapot, which he filled with gunpowder, and carefully
introduced a piece of punk through the spout. This he lighted and took
his infernal machine into the next room, but he came back immediately and
shut the door. The Germans all stood expectant, their faces full of
childish, smiling curiosity, and as soon as the explosion had shaken the
chateau, they all rushed in at once.
Mademoiselle Fifi, who got in first, clapped his hands in delight at the
sight of a terra-cotta Venus, whose head had been blown off, and each
picked up pieces of porcelain and wondered at the strange shape of the
fragments, while the major was looking with a paternal eye at the large
drawing-room, which had been wrecked after the fashion of a Nero, and was
strewn with the fragments of works of art. He went out first and said
with a smile: "That was a great success this time."
But there was such a cloud of smoke in the dining-room, mingled with the
tobacco smoke, that they could not breathe, so the commandant opened the
window, and all the officers, who had returned for a last glass of
cognac, went up to it.
The moist air blew into the room, bringing with it a sort of powdery
spray, which sprinkled their beards. They looked at the tall trees which
were dripping with rain, at the broad valley which was covered with mist,
and at the church spire in the distance, which rose up like a gray point
in the beating rain.
The bells had not rung since their arrival. That was the only resistance
which the invaders had met with in the neighborhood. The parish priest
had not refused to take in and to feed the Prussian soldiers; he had
several times even drunk a bottle of beer or claret with the hostile
commandant, who often employed him as a benevolent intermediary; but it
was no use to ask him for a single stroke of the bells; he would sooner
have allowed himself to be shot. That was his way of protesting against
the invasion, a peaceful and silent protest, the only one, he said, which
was suitable to a priest, who was a man of mildness, and not of blood;
and every one, for twenty-five miles round, praised Abbe Chantavoine's
firmness and heroism in venturing to proclaim the public mourning by the
obstinate silence of his church bells.
The whole village, enthusiastic at his resistance, was ready to back up
their pastor and to risk anything, for they looked upon that silent
protest as the safeguard of the national honor. It seemed to the peasants
that thus they deserved better of their country than Belfort and
Strassburg, that they had set an equally valuable example, and that the
name of their little village would become immortalized by that; but, with
that exception, they refused their Prussian conquerors nothing.
The commandant and his officers laughed among themselves at this
inoffensive courage, and as the people in the whole country round showed
themselves obliging and compliant toward them, they willingly tolerated
their silent patriotism. Little Baron Wilhelm alone would have liked to
have forced them to ring the bells. He was very angry at his superior's
politic compliance with the priest's scruples, and every day begged the
commandant to allow him to sound "ding-dong, ding-dong," just once, only
just once, just by way of a joke. And he asked it in the coaxing, tender
voice of some loved woman who is bent on obtaining her wish, but the
commandant would not yield, and to console himself, Mademoiselle Fifi
made a mine in the Chateau d'Uville.
The five men stood there together for five minutes, breathing in the
moist air, and at last Lieutenant Fritz said with a laugh: "The ladies
will certainly not have fine weather for their drive." Then they
separated, each to his duty, while the captain had plenty to do in
arranging for the dinner.
When they met again toward evening they began to laugh at seeing each
other as spick and span and smart as on the day of a grand review. The
commandant's hair did not look so gray as it was in the morning, and the
captain had shaved, leaving only his mustache, which made him look as if
he had a streak of fire under his nose.
In spite of the rain, they left the window open, and one of them went to
listen from time to time; and at a quarter past six the baron said he
heard a rumbling in the distance. They all rushed down, and presently the
wagon drove up at a gallop with its four horses steaming and blowing, and
splashed with mud to their girths. Five women dismounted, five handsome
girls whom a comrade of the captain, to whom Le Devoir had presented his
card, had selected with care.
They had not required much pressing, as they had got to know the
Prussians in the three months during which they had had to do with them,
and so they resigned themselves to the men as they did to the state of
They went at once into the dining-room, which looked still more dismal in
its dilapidated condition when it was lighted up; while the table covered
with choice dishes, the beautiful china and glass, and the plate, which
had been found in the hole in the wall where its owner had hidden it,
gave it the appearance of a bandits' inn, where they were supping after
committing a robbery in the place. The captain was radiant, and put his
arm round the women as if he were familiar with them; and when the three
young men wanted to appropriate one each, he opposed them
authoritatively, reserving to himself the right to apportion them justly,
according to their several ranks, so as not to offend the higher powers.
Therefore, to avoid all discussion, jarring, and suspicion of partiality,
he placed them all in a row according to height, and addressing the
tallest, he said in a voice of command:
"What is your name?" "Pamela," she replied, raising her voice. And then
he said: "Number One, called Pamela, is adjudged to the commandant."
Then, having kissed Blondina, the second, as a sign of proprietorship, he
proffered stout Amanda to Lieutenant Otto; Eva, "the Tomato," to
Sub-lieutenant Fritz, and Rachel, the shortest of them all, a very young,
dark girl, with eyes as black as ink, a Jewess, whose snub nose proved
the rule which allots hooked noses to all her race, to the youngest
officer, frail Count Wilhelm d'Eyrick.
They were all pretty and plump, without any distinctive features, and all
had a similarity of complexion and figure.
The three young men wished to carry off their prizes immediately, under
the pretext that they might wish to freshen their toilets; but the
captain wisely opposed this, for he said they were quite fit to sit down
to dinner, and his experience in such matters carried the day. There were
only many kisses, expectant kisses.
Suddenly Rachel choked, and began to cough until the tears came into her
eyes, while smoke came through her nostrils. Under pretence of kissing
her, the count had blown a whiff of tobacco into her mouth. She did not
fly into a rage and did not say a word, but she looked at her tormentor
with latent hatred in her dark eyes.
They sat down to dinner. The commandant seemed delighted; he made Pamela
sit on his right, and Blondina on his left, and said, as he unfolded his
table napkin: "That was a delightful idea of yours, captain."
Lieutenants Otto and Fritz, who were as polite as if they had been with
fashionable ladies, rather intimidated their guests, but Baron von
Kelweinstein beamed, made obscene remarks and seemed on fire with his
crown of red hair. He paid the women compliments in French of the Rhine,
and sputtered out gallant remarks, only fit for a low pothouse, from
between his two broken teeth.
They did not understand him, however, and their intelligence did not seem
to be awakened until he uttered foul words and broad expressions, which
were mangled by his accent. Then they all began to laugh at once like
crazy women and fell against each other, repeating the words, which the
baron then began to say all wrong, in order that he might have the
pleasure of hearing them say dirty things. They gave him as much of that
stuff as he wanted, for they were drunk after the first bottle of wine,
and resuming their usual habits and manners, they kissed the officers to
right and left of them, pinched their arms, uttered wild cries, drank out
of every glass and sang French couplets and bits of German songs which
they had picked up in their daily intercourse with the enemy.
Soon the men themselves became very unrestrained, shouted and broke the
plates and dishes, while the soldiers behind them waited on them
stolidly. The commandant was the only one who kept any restraint upon
Mademoiselle Fifi had taken Rachel on his knee, and, getting excited, at
one moment he kissed the little black curls on her neck and at another he
pinched her furiously and made her scream, for he was seized by a species
of ferocity, and tormented by his desire to hurt her. He often held her
close to him and pressed a long kiss on the Jewess' rosy mouth until she
lost her breath, and at last he bit her until a stream of blood ran down
her chin and on to her bodice.
For the second time she looked him full in the face, and as she bathed
the wound, she said: "You will have to pay for, that!" But he merely
laughed a hard laugh and said: "I will pay."
At dessert champagne was served, and the commandant rose, and in the same
voice in which he would have drunk to the health of the Empress Augusta,
he drank: "To our ladies!" And a series of toasts began, toasts worthy of
the lowest soldiers and of drunkards, mingled with obscene jokes, which
were made still more brutal by their ignorance of the language. They got
up, one after the other, trying to say something witty, forcing
themselves to be funny, and the women, who were so drunk that they almost
fell off their chairs, with vacant looks and clammy tongues applauded
madly each time.
The captain, who no doubt wished to impart an appearance of gallantry to
the orgy, raised his glass again and said: "To our victories over
hearts." and, thereupon Lieutenant Otto, who was a species of bear from
the Black Forest, jumped up, inflamed and saturated with drink, and
suddenly seized by an access of alcoholic patriotism, he cried: "To our
victories over France!"
Drunk as they were, the women were silent, but Rachel turned round,
trembling, and said: "See here, I know some Frenchmen in whose presence
you would not dare say that." But the little count, still holding her on
his knee, began to laugh, for the wine had made him very merry, and said:
"Ha! ha! ha! I have never met any of them myself. As soon as we show
ourselves, they run away!" The girl, who was in a terrible rage, shouted
into his face: "You are lying, you dirty scoundrel!"
For a moment he looked at her steadily with his bright eyes upon her, as
he had looked at the portrait before he destroyed it with bullets from
his revolver, and then he began to laugh: "Ah! yes, talk about them, my
dear! Should we be here now if they were brave?" And, getting excited, he
exclaimed: "We are the masters! France belongs to us!" She made one
spring from his knee and threw herself into her chair, while he arose,
held out his glass over the table and repeated: "France and the French,
the woods, the fields and the houses of France belong to us!"
The others, who were quite drunk, and who were suddenly seized by
military enthusiasm, the enthusiasm of brutes, seized their glasses, and
shouting, "Long live Prussia!" they emptied them at a draught.
The girls did not protest, for they were reduced to silence and were
afraid. Even Rachel did not say a word, as she had no reply to make. Then
the little marquis put his champagne glass, which had just been refilled,
on the head of the Jewess and exclaimed: "All the women in France belong
to us also!"
At that she got up so quickly that the glass upset, spilling the
amber-colored wine on her black hair as if to baptize her, and broke into
a hundred fragments, as it fell to the floor. Her lips trembling, she
defied the looks of the officer, who was still laughing, and stammered
out in a voice choked with rage:
"That—that—that—is not true—for you shall not
have the women of France!"
He sat down again so as to laugh at his ease; and, trying to speak with
the Parisian accent, he said: "She is good, very good! Then why did you
come here, my dear?" She was thunderstruck and made no reply for a
moment, for in her agitation she did not understand him at first, but as
soon as she grasped his meaning she said to him indignantly and
vehemently: "I! I! I am not a woman, I am only a strumpet, and that is
all that Prussians want."
Almost before she had finished he slapped her full in the face; but as he
was raising his hand again, as if to strike her, she seized a small
dessert knife with a silver blade from the table and, almost mad with
rage, stabbed him right in the hollow of his neck. Something that he was
going to say was cut short in his throat, and he sat there with his mouth
half open and a terrible look in his eyes.
All the officers shouted in horror and leaped up tumultuously; but,
throwing her chair between the legs of Lieutenant Otto, who fell down at
full length, she ran to the window, opened it before they could seize her
and jumped out into the night and the pouring rain.
In two minutes Mademoiselle Fifi was dead, and Fritz and Otto drew their
swords and wanted to kill the women, who threw themselves at their feet
and clung to their knees. With some difficulty the major stopped the
slaughter and had the four terrified girls locked up in a room under the
care of two soldiers, and then he organized the pursuit of the fugitive
as carefully as if he were about to engage in a skirmish, feeling quite
sure that she would be caught.
The table, which had been cleared immediately, now served as a bed on
which to lay out the lieutenant, and the four officers stood at the
windows, rigid and sobered with the stern faces of soldiers on duty, and
tried to pierce through the darkness of the night amid the steady torrent
of rain. Suddenly a shot was heard and then another, a long way off; and
for four hours they heard from time to time near or distant reports and
rallying cries, strange words of challenge, uttered in guttural voices.
In the morning they all returned. Two soldiers had been killed and three
others wounded by their comrades in the ardor of that chase and in the
confusion of that nocturnal pursuit, but they had not caught Rachel.
Then the inhabitants of the district were terrorized, the houses were
turned topsy-turvy, the country was scoured and beaten up, over and over
again, but the Jewess did not seem to have left a single trace of her
passage behind her.
When the general was told of it he gave orders to hush up the affair, so
as not to set a bad example to the army, but he severely censured the
commandant, who in turn punished his inferiors. The general had said:
"One does not go to war in order to amuse one's self and to caress
prostitutes." Graf von Farlsberg, in his exasperation, made up his mind
to have his revenge on the district, but as he required a pretext for
showing severity, he sent for the priest and ordered him to have the bell
tolled at the funeral of Baron von Eyrick.
Contrary to all expectation, the priest showed himself humble and most
respectful, and when Mademoiselle Fifi's body left the Chateau d'Uville
on its way to the cemetery, carried by soldiers, preceded, surrounded and
followed by soldiers who marched with loaded rifles, for the first time
the bell sounded its funeral knell in a lively manner, as if a friendly
hand were caressing it. At night it rang again, and the next day, and
every day; it rang as much as any one could desire. Sometimes even it
would start at night and sound gently through the darkness, seized with a
strange joy, awakened one could not tell why. All the peasants in the
neighborhood declared that it was bewitched, and nobody except the priest
and the sacristan would now go near the church tower. And they went
because a poor girl was living there in grief and solitude and provided
for secretly by those two men.
She remained there until the German troops departed, and then one evening
the priest borrowed the baker's cart and himself drove his prisoner to
Rouen. When they got there he embraced her, and she quickly went back on
foot to the establishment from which she had come, where the
proprietress, who thought that she was dead, was very glad to see her.
A short time afterward a patriot who had no prejudices, and who liked her
because of her bold deed, and who afterward loved her for herself,
married her and made her a lady quite as good as many others.
The war was over. The Germans occupied France. The whole country was
pulsating like a conquered wrestler beneath the knee of his victorious
The first trains from Paris, distracted, starving, despairing Paris, were
making their way to the new frontiers, slowly passing through the country
districts and the villages. The passengers gazed through the windows at
the ravaged fields and burned hamlets. Prussian soldiers, in their black
helmets with brass spikes, were smoking their pipes astride their chairs
in front of the houses which were still left standing. Others were
working or talking just as if they were members of the families. As you
passed through the different towns you saw entire regiments drilling in
the squares, and, in spite of the rumble of the carriage-wheels, you
could every moment hear the hoarse words of command.
M. Dubuis, who during the entire siege had served as one of the National
Guard in Paris, was going to join his wife and daughter, whom he had
prudently sent away to Switzerland before the invasion.
Famine and hardship had not diminished his big paunch so characteristic
of the rich, peace-loving merchant. He had gone through the terrible
events of the past year with sorrowful resignation and bitter complaints
at the savagery of men. Now that he was journeying to the frontier at the
close of the war, he saw the Prussians for the first time, although he
had done his duty on the ramparts and mounted guard on many a cold night.
He stared with mingled fear and anger at those bearded armed men,
installed all over French soil as if they were at home, and he felt in
his soul a kind of fever of impotent patriotism, at the same time also
the great need of that new instinct of prudence which since then has,
never left us. In the same railway carriage were two Englishmen, who had
come to the country as sightseers and were gazing about them with looks
of quiet curiosity. They were both also stout, and kept chatting in their
own language, sometimes referring to their guidebook, and reading aloud
the names of the places indicated.
Suddenly the train stopped at a little village station, and a Prussian
officer jumped up with a great clatter of his sabre on the double
footboard of the railway carriage. He was tall, wore a tight-fitting
uniform, and had whiskers up to his eyes. His red hair seemed to be on
fire, and his long mustache, of a paler hue, stuck out on both sides of
his face, which it seemed to cut in two.
The Englishmen at once began staring, at him with smiles of newly
awakened interest, while M. Dubuis made a show of reading a newspaper. He
sat concealed in his corner like a thief in presence of a gendarme.
The train started again. The Englishmen went on chatting and looking out
for the exact scene of different battles; and all of a sudden, as one of
them stretched out his arm toward the horizon as he pointed out a
village, the Prussian officer remarked in French, extending his long legs
and lolling backward:
"I killed a dozen Frenchmen in that village and took more than a hundred
The Englishmen, quite interested, immediately asked:
"Ha! and what is the name of this village?"
The Prussian replied:
"Pharsbourg." He added: "We caught those French scoundrels by the ears."
And he glanced toward M. Dubuis, laughing conceitedly into his mustache.
The train rolled on, still passing through hamlets occupied by the
victorious army. German soldiers could be seen along the roads, on the
edges of fields, standing in front of gates or chatting outside cafes.
They covered the soil like African locusts.
The officer said, with a wave of his hand:
"If I had been in command, I'd have taken Paris, burned everything,
killed everybody. No more France!"
The Englishman, through politeness, replied simply:
He went on:
"In twenty years all Europe, all of it, will belong to us. Prussia is
more than a match for all of them."
The Englishmen, getting uneasy, no longer replied. Their faces, which had
become impassive, seemed made of wax behind their long whiskers. Then the
Prussian officer began to laugh. And still, lolling back, he began to
sneer. He sneered at the downfall of France, insulted the prostrate
enemy; he sneered at Austria, which had been recently conquered; he
sneered at the valiant but fruitless defence of the departments; he
sneered at the Garde Mobile and at the useless artillery. He announced
that Bismarck was going to build a city of iron with the captured cannon.
And suddenly he placed his boots against the thigh of M. Dubuis, who
turned away his eyes, reddening to the roots of his hair.
The Englishmen seemed to have become indifferent to all that was going
on, as if they were suddenly shut up in their own island, far from the
din of the world.
The officer took out his pipe, and looking fixedly at the Frenchman,
"You haven't any tobacco—have you?"
M. Dubuis replied:
The German resumed:
"You might go and buy some for me when the train stops."
And he began laughing afresh as he added:
"I'll give you the price of a drink."
The train whistled, and slackened its pace. They passed a station that
had been burned down; and then they stopped altogether.
The German opened the carriage door, and, catching M. Dubuis by the arm,
"Go and do what I told you—quick, quick!"
A Prussian detachment occupied the station. Other soldiers were standing
behind wooden gratings, looking on. The engine was getting up steam
before starting off again. Then M. Dubuis hurriedly jumped on the
platform, and, in spite of the warnings of the station master, dashed
into the adjoining compartment.
He was alone! He tore open his waistcoat, his heart was beating so
rapidly, and, gasping for breath, he wiped the perspiration from his
The train drew up at another station. And suddenly the officer appeared
at the carriage door and jumped in, followed close behind by the two
Englishmen, who were impelled by curiosity. The German sat facing the
Frenchman, and, laughing still, said:
"You did not want to do what I asked you?"
M. Dubuis replied:
The train had just left the station.
The officer said:
"I'll cut off your mustache to fill my pipe with."
And he put out his hand toward the Frenchman's face.
The Englishmen stared at them, retaining their previous impassive manner.
The German had already pulled out a few hairs, and was still tugging at
the mustache, when M. Dubuis, with a back stroke of his hand, flung aside
the officer's arm, and, seizing him by the collar, threw him down on the
seat. Then, excited to a pitch of fury, his temples swollen and his eyes
glaring, he kept throttling the officer with one hand, while with the
other clenched he began to strike him violent blows in the face. The
Prussian struggled, tried to draw his sword, to clinch with his
adversary, who was on top of him. But M. Dubuis crushed him with his
enormous weight and kept punching him without taking breath or knowing
where his blows fell. Blood flowed down the face of the German, who,
choking and with a rattling in his throat, spat out his broken teeth and
vainly strove to shake off this infuriated man who was killing him.
The Englishmen had got on their feet and came closer in order to see
better. They remained standing, full of mirth and curiosity, ready to bet
for, or against, either combatant.
Suddenly M. Dubuis, exhausted by his violent efforts, rose and resumed
his seat without uttering a word.
The Prussian did not attack him, for the savage assault had terrified and
astonished the officer as well as causing him suffering. When he was able
to breathe freely, he said:
"Unless you give me satisfaction with pistols I will kill you."
M. Dubuis replied:
"Whenever you like. I'm quite ready."
The German said:
"Here is the town of Strasbourg. I'll get two officers to be my seconds,
and there will be time before the train leaves the station."
M. Dubuis, who was puffing as hard as the engine, said to the Englishmen:
"Will you be my seconds?" They both answered together:
And the train stopped.
In a minute the Prussian had found two comrades, who brought pistols, and
they made their way toward the ramparts.
The Englishmen were continually looking at their watches, shuffling their
feet and hurrying on with the preparations, uneasy lest they should be
too late for the train.
M. Dubuis had never fired a pistol in his life.
They made him stand twenty paces away from his enemy. He was asked:
"Are you ready?"
While he was answering, "Yes, monsieur," he noticed that one of the
Englishmen had opened his umbrella in order to keep off the rays of the
A voice gave the signal:
M. Dubuis fired at random without delay, and he was amazed to see the
Prussian opposite him stagger, lift up his arms and fall forward, dead.
He had killed the officer.
One of the Englishmen exclaimed: "Ah!" He was quivering with delight,
with satisfied curiosity and joyous impatience. The other, who still kept
his watch in his hand, seized M. Dubuis' arm and hurried him in
double-quick time toward the station, his fellow-countryman marking time
as he ran beside them, with closed fists, his elbows at his sides, "One,
two; one, two!"
And all three, running abreast rapidly, made their way to the station
like three grotesque figures in a comic newspaper.
The train was on the point of starting. They sprang into their carriage.
Then the Englishmen, taking off their travelling caps, waved them three
times over their heads, exclaiming:
"Hip! hip! hip! hurrah!"
And gravely, one after the other, they extended their right hands to M.
Dubuis and then went back and sat down in their own corner.