Original Short Stories, Volume 1.
Guy de Maupassant
Part 2 out of 4
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
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 arid 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
"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,
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 untiring persistency.
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
"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, victorious
"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
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 other
"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
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
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
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 friends."
"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 room.
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
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
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 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
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
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--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
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