[Several] Works by Emile Zola
Part 10 out of 12
dignity of his costume, she shook him, pinched him, shouted, "Oh,
get along with ye, Chamberlain!" and ended by an accompaniment of
swinging kicks behind. Oh, those kicks! How heartily she rained
them on the Tuileries and the majesty of the imperial court,
throning on high above an abject and trembling people. That's what
she thought of society! That was her revenge! It was an affair of
unconscious hereditary spite; it had come to her in her blood. Then
when once the chamberlain was undressed and his coat lay spread on
the ground she shrieked, "Jump!" And he jumped. She shrieked,
"Spit!" And he spat. With a shriek she bade him walk on the gold,
on the eagles, on the decorations, and he walked on them. Hi tiddly
hi ti! Nothing was left; everything was going to pieces. She
smashed a chamberlain just as she smashed a flask or a comfit box,
and she made filth of him, reduced him to a heap of mud at a street
Meanwhile the goldsmiths had failed to keep their promise, and the
bed was not delivered till one day about the middle of January.
Muffat was just then in Normandy, whither he had gone to sell a last
stray shred of property, but Nana demanded four thousand francs
forthwith. He was not due in Paris till the day after tomorrow, but
when his business was once finished he hastened his return and
without even paying a flying visit in the Rue Miromesnil came direct
to the Avenue de Villiers. Ten o'clock was striking. As he had a
key of a little door opening on the Rue Cardinet, he went up
unhindered. In the drawing room upstairs Zoe, who was polishing the
bronzes, stood dumfounded at sight of him, and not knowing how to
stop him, she began with much circumlocution, informing him that M.
Venot, looking utterly beside himself, had been searching for him
since yesterday and that he had already come twice to beg her to
send Monsieur to his house if Monsieur arrived at Madame's before
going home. Muffat listened to her without in the least
understanding the meaning of her recital; then he noticed her
agitation and was seized by a sudden fit of jealousy of which he no
longer believed himself capable. He threw himself against the
bedroom door, for he heard the sound of laughter within. The door
gave; its two flaps flew asunder, while Zoe withdrew, shrugging her
shoulders. So much the worse for Madame! As Madame was bidding
good-by to her wits, she might arrange matters for herself.
And on the threshold Muffat uttered a cry at the sight that was
presented to his view.
"My God! My God!"
The renovated bedroom was resplendent in all its royal luxury.
Silver buttons gleamed like bright stars on the tea-rose velvet of
the hangings. These last were of that pink flesh tint which the
skies assume on fine evenings, when Venus lights her fires on the
horizon against the clear background of fading daylight. The golden
cords and tassels hanging in corners and the gold lace-work
surrounding the panels were like little flames of ruddy strands of
loosened hair, and they half covered the wide nakedness of the room
while they emphasized its pale, voluptuous tone. Then over against
him there was the gold and silver bed, which shone in all the fresh
splendor of its chiseled workmanship, a throne this of sufficient
extent for Nana to display the outstretched glory of her naked
limbs, an altar of Byzantine sumptuousness, worthy of the almighty
puissance of Nana's sex, which at this very hour lay nudely
displayed there in the religious immodesty befitting an idol of all
men's worship. And close by, beneath the snowy reflections of her
bosom and amid the triumph of the goddess, lay wallowing a shameful,
decrepit thing, a comic and lamentable ruin, the Marquis de Chouard
in his nightshirt.
The count had clasped his hands together and, shaken by a paroxysmal
shuddering, he kept crying:
"My God! My God!"
It was for the Marquis de Chouard, then, that the golden roses
flourished on the side panels, those bunches of golden roses
blooming among the golden leaves; it was for him that the Cupids
leaned forth with amorous, roguish laughter from their tumbling ring
on the silver trelliswork. And it was for him that the faun at his
feet discovered the nymph sleeping, tired with dalliance, the figure
of Night copied down to the exaggerated thighs--which caused her to
be recognizable of all--from Nana's renowned nudity. Cast there
like the rag of something human which has been spoiled and dissolved
by sixty years of debauchery, he suggested the charnelhouse amid the
glory of the woman's dazzling contours. Seeing the door open, he
had risen up, smitten with sudden terror as became an infirm old
man. This last night of passion had rendered him imbecile; he was
entering on his second childhood; and, his speech failing him, he
remained in an attitude of flight, half-paralyzed, stammering,
shivering, his nightshirt half up his skeleton shape, and one leg
outside the clothes, a livid leg, covered with gray hair. Despite
her vexation Nana could not keep from laughing.
"Do lie down! Stuff yourself into the bed," she said, pulling him
back and burying him under the coverlet, as though he were some
filthy thing she could not show anyone.
Then she sprang up to shut the door again. She was decidedly never
lucky with her little rough. He was always coming when least
wanted. And why had he gone to fetch money in Normandy? The old
man had brought her the four thousand francs, and she had let him
have his will of her. She pushed back the two flaps of the door and
"So much the worse for you! It's your fault. Is that the way to
come into a room? I've had enough of this sort of thing. Ta ta!"
Muffat remained standing before the closed door, thunderstruck by
what he had just seen. His shuddering fit increased. It mounted
from his feet to his heart and brain. Then like a tree shaken by a
mighty wind, he swayed to and fro and dropped on his knees, all his
muscles giving way under him. And with hands despairingly
outstretched he stammered:
"This is more than I can bear, my God! More than I can bear!"
He had accepted every situation but he could do so no longer. He
had come to the end of his strength and was plunged in the dark void
where man and his reason are together overthrown. In an extravagant
access of faith he raised his hands ever higher and higher,
searching for heaven, calling on God.
"Oh no, I do not desire it! Oh, come to me, my God! Succor me;
nay, let me die sooner! Oh no, not that man, my God! It is over;
take me, carry me away, that I may not see, that I may not feel any
longer! Oh, I belong to you, my God! Our Father which art in
And burning with faith, he continued his supplication, and an ardent
prayer escaped from his lips. But someone touched him on the
shoulder. He lifted his eyes; it was M. Venot. He was surprised to
find him praying before that closed door. Then as though God
Himself had responded to his appeal, the count flung his arms round
the little old gentleman's neck. At last he could weep, and he
burst out sobbing and repeated:
"My brother, my brother."
All his suffering humanity found comfort in that cry. He drenched
M. Venot's face with tears; he kissed him, uttering fragmentary
"Oh, my brother, how I am suffering! You only are left me, my
brother. Take me away forever--oh, for mercy's sake, take me away!"
Then M. Venot pressed him to his bosom and called him "brother"
also. But he had a fresh blow in store for him. Since yesterday he
had been searching for him in order to inform him that the Countess
Sabine, in a supreme fit of moral aberration, had but now taken
flight with the manager of one of the departments in a large, fancy
emporium. It was a fearful scandal, and all Paris was already
talking about it. Seeing him under the influence of such religious
exaltation, Venot felt the opportunity to be favorable and at once
told him of the meanly tragic shipwreck of his house. The count was
not touched thereby. His wife had gone? That meant nothing to him;
they would see what would happen later on. And again he was seized
with anguish, and gazing with a look of terror at the door, the
walls, the ceiling, he continued pouring forth his single
"Take me away! I cannot bear it any longer! Take me away!"
M. Venot took him away as though he had been a child. From that day
forth Muffat belonged to him entirely; he again became strictly
attentive to the duties of religion; his life was utterly blasted.
He had resigned his position as chamberlain out of respect for the
outraged modesty of the Tuileries, and soon Estelle, his daughter,
brought an action against him for the recovery of a sum of sixty
thousand francs, a legacy left her by an aunt to which she ought to
have succeeded at the time of her marriage. Ruined and living
narrowly on the remains of his great fortune, he let himself be
gradually devoured by the countess, who ate up the husks Nana had
rejected. Sabine was indeed ruined by the example of promiscuity
set her by her husband's intercourse with the wanton. She was prone
to every excess and proved the ultimate ruin and destruction of his
very hearth. After sundry adventures she had returned home, and he
had taken her back in a spirit of Christian resignation and
forgiveness. She haunted him as his living disgrace, but he grew
more and more indifferent and at last ceased suffering from these
distresses. Heaven took him out of his wife's hands in order to
restore him to the arms of God, and so the voluptuous pleasures he
had enjoyed with Nana were prolonged in religious ecstasies,
accompanied by the old stammering utterances, the old prayers and
despairs, the old fits of humility which befit an accursed creature
who is crushed beneath the mire whence he sprang. In the recesses
of churches, his knees chilled by the pavement, he would once more
experience the delights of the past, and his muscles would twitch,
and his brain would whirl deliciously, and the satisfaction of the
obscure necessities of his existence would be the same as of old.
On the evening of the final rupture Mignon presented himself at the
house in the Avenue de Villiers. He was growing accustomed to
Fauchery and was beginning at last to find the presence of his
wife's husband infinitely advantageous to him. He would leave all
the little household cares to the journalist and would trust him in
the active superintendence of all their affairs. Nay, he devoted
the money gained by his dramatic successes to the daily expenditure
of the family, and as, on his part, Fauchery behaved sensibly,
avoiding ridiculous jealousy and proving not less pliant than Mignon
himself whenever Rose found her opportunity, the mutual
understanding between the two men constantly improved. In fact,
they were happy in a partnership which was so fertile in all kinds
of amenities, and they settled down side by side and adopted a
family arrangement which no longer proved a stumbling block. The
whole thing was conducted according to rule; it suited admirably,
and each man vied with the other in his efforts for the common
happiness. That very evening Mignon had come by Fauchery's advice
to see if he could not steal Nana's lady's maid from her, the
journalist having formed a high opinion of the woman's extraordinary
intelligence. Rose was in despair; for a month past she had been
falling into the hands of inexperienced girls who were causing her
continual embarrassment. When Zoe received him at the door he
forthwith pushed her into the dining room. But at his opening
sentence she smiled. The thing was impossible, she said, for she
was leaving Madame and establishing herself on her own account. And
she added with an expression of discreet vanity that she was daily
receiving offers, that the ladies were fighting for her and that Mme
Blanche would give a pile of gold to have her back.
Zoe was taking the Tricon's establishment. It was an old project
and had been long brooded over. It was her ambition to make her
fortune thereby, and she was investing all her savings in it. She
was full of great ideas and meditated increasing the business and
hiring a house and combining all the delights within its walls. It
was with this in view that she had tried to entice Satin, a little
pig at that moment dying in hospital, so terribly had she done for
Mignon still insisted with his offer and spoke of the risks run in
the commercial life, but Zoe, without entering into explanations
about the exact nature of her establishment, smiled a pinched smile,
as though she had just put a sweetmeat in her mouth, and was content
"Oh, luxuries always pay. You see, I've been with others quite long
enough, and now I want others to be with me."
And a fierce look set her lip curling. At last she would be
"Madame," and for the sake of earning a few louis all those women
whose slops she had emptied during the last fifteen years would
prostrate themselves before her.
Mignon wished to be announced, and Zoe left him for a moment after
remarking that Madame had passed a miserable day. He had only been
at the house once before, and he did not know it at all. The dining
room with its Gobelin tapestry, its sideboard and its plate filled
him with astonishment. He opened the doors familiarly and visited
the drawing room and the winter garden, returning thence into the
hall. This overwhelming luxury, this gilded furniture, these silks
and velvets, gradually filled him with such a feeling of admiration
that it set his heart beating. When Zoe came down to fetch him she
offered to show him the other rooms, the dressing room, that is to
say, and the bedroom. In the latter Mignon's feelings overcame him;
he was carried away by them; they filled him with tender enthusiasm.
That damned Nana was simply stupefying him, and yet he thought he
knew a thing or two. Amid the downfall of the house and the
servants' wild, wasteful race to destruction, massed-up riches still
filled every gaping hole and overtopped every ruined wall. And
Mignon, as he viewed this lordly monument of wealth, began recalling
to mind the various great works he had seen. Near Marseilles they
had shown him an aqueduct, the stone arches of which bestrode an
abyss, a Cyclopean work which cost millions of money and ten years
of intense labor. At Cherbourg he had seen the new harbor with its
enormous works, where hundreds of men sweated in the sun while
cranes filled the sea with huge squares of rock and built up a wall
where a workman now and again remained crushed into bloody pulp.
But all that now struck him as insignificant. Nana excited him far
more. Viewing the fruit of her labors, he once more experienced the
feelings of respect that had overcome him one festal evening in a
sugar refiner's chateau. This chateau had been erected for the
refiner, and its palatial proportions and royal splendor had been
paid for by a single material--sugar. It was with something quite
different, with a little laughable folly, a little delicate nudity--
it was with this shameful trifle, which is so powerful as to move
the universe, that she alone, without workmen, without the
inventions of engineers, had shaken Paris to its foundations and had
built up a fortune on the bodies of dead men.
"Oh, by God, what an implement!"
Mignon let the words escape him in his ecstasy, for he felt a return
of personal gratitude.
Nana had gradually lapsed into a most mournful condition. To begin
with, the meeting of the marquis and the count had given her a
severe fit of feverish nervousness, which verged at times on
laughter. Then the thought of this old man going away half dead in
a cab and of her poor rough, whom she would never set eyes on again
now that she had driven him so wild, brought on what looked like the
beginnings of melancholia. After that she grew vexed to hear about
Satin's illness. The girl had disappeared about a fortnight ago and
was now ready to die at Lariboisiere, to such a damnable state had
Mme Robert reduced her. When she ordered the horses to be put to in
order that she might have a last sight of this vile little wretch
Zoe had just quietly given her a week's notice. The announcement
drove her to desperation at once! It seemed to her she was losing a
member of her own family. Great heavens! What was to become of her
when left alone? And she besought Zoe to stay, and the latter, much
flattered by Madame's despair, ended by kissing her to show that she
was not going away in anger. No, she had positively to go: the
heart could have no voice in matters of business.
But that day was one of annoyances. Nana was thoroughly disgusted
and gave up the idea of going out. She was dragging herself wearily
about the little drawing room when Labordette came up to tell her of
a splendid chance of buying magnificent lace and in the course of
his remarks casually let slip the information that Georges was dead.
The announcement froze her.
"Zizi dead!" she cried.
And involuntarily her eyes sought the pink stain on the carpet, but
it had vanished at last; passing footsteps had worn it away.
Meanwhile Labordette entered into particulars. It was not exactly
known how he died. Some spoke of a wound reopening, others of
suicide. The lad had plunged, they said, into a tank at Les
Fondettes. Nana kept repeating:
She had been choking with grief since morning, and now she burst out
sobbing and thus sought relief. Hers was an infinite sorrow: it
overwhelmed her with its depth and immensity. Labordette wanted to
comfort her as touching Georges, but she silenced him with a gesture
and blurted out:
"It isn't only he; it's everything, everything. I'm very wretched.
Oh yes, I know! They'll again be saying I'm a hussy. To think of
the mother mourning down there and of the poor man who was groaning
in front of my door this morning and of all the other people that
are now ruined after running through all they had with me! That's
it; punish Nana; punish the beastly thing! Oh, I've got a broad
back! I can hear them as if I were actually there! 'That dirty
wench who lies with everybody and cleans out some and drives others
to death and causes a whole heap of people pain!'"
She was obliged to pause, for tears choked her utterance, and in her
anguish she flung herself athwart a divan and buried her face in a
cushion. The miseries she felt to be around her, miseries of which
she was the cause, overwhelmed her with a warm, continuous stream of
self-pitying tears, and her voice failed as she uttered a little
girl's broken plaint:
"Oh, I'm wretched! Oh, I'm wretched! I can't go on like this: it's
choking me. It's too hard to be misunderstood and to see them all
siding against you because they're stronger. However, when you've
got nothing to reproach yourself with and your conscious is clear,
why, then I say, 'I won't have it! I won't have it!'"
In her anger she began rebeling against circumstances, and getting
up, she dried her eyes, and walked about in much agitation.
"I won't have it! They can say what they like, but it's not my
fault! Am I a bad lot, eh? I give away all I've got; I wouldn't
crush a fly! It's they who are bad! Yes, it's they! I never
wanted to be horrid to them. And they came dangling after me, and
today they're kicking the bucket and begging and going to ruin on
Then she paused in front of Labordette and tapped his shoulders.
"Look here," she said, "you were there all along; now speak the
truth: did I urge them on? Weren't there always a dozen of 'em
squabbling who could invent the dirtiest trick? They used to
disgust me, they did! I did all I knew not to copy them: I was
afraid to. Look here, I'll give you a single instance: they all
wanted to marry me! A pretty notion, eh? Yes, dear boy, I could
have been countess or baroness a dozen times over and more, if I'd
consented. Well now, I refused because I was reasonable. Oh yes, I
saved 'em some crimes and other foul acts! They'd have stolen,
murdered, killed father and mother. I had only to say one word, and
I didn't say it. You see what I've got for it today. There's
Daguenet, for instance; I married that chap off! I made a position
for the beggarly fellow after keeping him gratis for weeks! And I
met him yesterday, and he looks the other way! Oh, get along, you
swine! I'm less dirty than you!"
She had begun pacing about again, and now she brought her fist
violently down on a round table.
"By God it isn't fair! Society's all wrong. They come down on the
women when it's the men who want you to do things. Yes, I can tell
you this now: when I used to go with them--see? I didn't enjoy it;
no, I didn't enjoy it one bit. It bored me, on my honor. Well
then, I ask you whether I've got anything to do with it! Yes, they
bored me to death! If it hadn't been for them and what they made of
me, dear boy, I should be in a convent saying my prayers to the good
God, for I've always had my share of religion. Dash it, after all,
if they have dropped their money and their lives over it, what do I
care? It's their fault. I've had nothing to do with it!"
"Certainly not," said Labordette with conviction.
Zoe ushered in Mignon, and Nana received him smilingly. She had
cried a good deal, but it was all over now. Still glowing with
enthusiasm, he complimented her on her installation, but she let him
see that she had had enough of her mansion and that now she had
other projects and would sell everything up one of these days. Then
as he excused himself for calling on the ground that he had come
about a benefit performance in aid of old Bose, who was tied to his
armchair by paralysis, she expressed extreme pity and took two
boxes. Meanwhile Zoe announced that the carriage was waiting for
Madame, and she asked for her hat and as she tied the strings told
them about poor, dear Satin's mishap, adding:
"I'm going to the hospital. Nobody ever loved me as she did. Oh,
they're quite right when they accuse the men of heartlessness! Who
knows? Perhaps I shan't see her alive. Never mind, I shall ask to
see her: I want to give her a kiss."
Labordette and Mignon smiled, and as Nana was no longer melancholy
she smiled too. Those two fellows didn't count; they could enter
into her feelings. And they both stood and admired her in silent
abstraction while she finished buttoning her gloves. She alone kept
her feet amid the heaped-up riches of her mansion, while a whole
generation of men lay stricken down before her. Like those antique
monsters whose redoubtable domains were covered with skeletons, she
rested her feet on human skulls. She was ringed round with
catastrophes. There was the furious immolation of Vandeuvres; the
melancholy state of Foucarmont, who was lost in the China seas; the
smashup of Steiner, who now had to live like an honest man; the
satisfied idiocy of La Faloise, and the tragic shipwreck of the
Muffats. Finally there was the white corpse of Georges, over which
Philippe was now watching, for he had come out of prison but
yesterday. She had finished her labor of ruin and death. The fly
that had flown up from the ordure of the slums, bringing with it the
leaven of social rottenness, had poisoned all these men by merely
alighting on them. It was well done--it was just. She had avenged
the beggars and the wastrels from whose caste she issued. And
while, metaphorically speaking, her sex rose in a halo of glory and
beamed over prostrate victims like a mounting sun shining brightly
over a field of carnage, the actual woman remained as unconscious as
a splendid animal, and in her ignorance of her mission was the good-
natured courtesan to the last. She was still big; she was still
plump; her health was excellent, her spirits capital. But this went
for nothing now, for her house struck her as ridiculous. It was too
small; it was full of furniture which got in her way. It was a
wretched business, and the long and the short of the matter was she
would have to make a fresh start. In fact, she was meditating
something much better, and so she went off to kiss Satin for the
last time. She was in all her finery and looked clean and solid and
as brand new as if she had never seen service before.
Nana suddenly disappeared. It was a fresh plunge, an escapade, a
flight into barbarous regions. Before her departure she had treated
herself to a new sensation: she had held a sale and had made a clean
sweep of everything--house, furniture, jewelry, nay, even dresses
and linen. Prices were cited--the five days' sale produced more
than six hundred thousand francs. For the last time Paris had seen
her in a fairy piece. It was called Melusine, and it played at the
Theatre de la Gaite, which the penniless Bordenave had taken out of
sheer audacity. Here she again found herself in company with
Prulliere and Fontan. Her part was simply spectacular, but it was
the great attraction of the piece, consisting, as it did, of three
POSES PLASTIQUES, each of which represented the same dumb and
puissant fairy. Then one fine morning amid his grand success, when
Bordenave, who was mad after advertisement, kept firing the Parisian
imagination with colossal posters, it became known that she must
have started for Cairo the previous day. She had simply had a few
words with her manager. Something had been said which did not
please her; the whole thing was the caprice of a woman who is too
rich to let herself be annoyed. Besides, she had indulged an old
infatuation, for she had long meditated visiting the Turks.
Months passed--she began to be forgotten. When her name was
mentioned among the ladies and gentlemen, the strangest stories were
told, and everybody gave the most contradictory and at the same time
prodigious information. She had made a conquest of the viceroy; she
was reigning, in the recesses of a palace, over two hundred slaves
whose heads she now and then cut off for the sake of a little
amusement. No, not at all! She had ruined herself with a great big
nigger! A filthy passion this, which had left her wallowing without
a chemise to her back in the crapulous debauchery of Cairo. A
fortnight later much astonishment was produced when someone swore to
having met her in Russia. A legend began to be formed: she was the
mistress of a prince, and her diamonds were mentioned. All the
women were soon acquainted with them from the current descriptions,
but nobody could cite the precise source of all this information.
There were finger rings, earrings, bracelets, a REVIERE of
phenomenal width, a queenly diadem surmounted by a central brilliant
the size of one's thumb. In the retirement of those faraway
countries she began to gleam forth as mysteriously as a gem-laden
idol. People now mentioned her without laughing, for they were full
of meditative respect for this fortune acquired among the
One evening in July toward eight o'clock, Lucy, while getting out of
her carriage in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, noticed Caroline
Hequet, who had come out on foot to order something at a neighboring
tradesman's. Lucy called her and at once burst out with:
"Have you dined? Are you disengaged? Oh, then come with me, my
dear. Nana's back."
The other got in at once, and Lucy continued:
"And you know, my dear, she may be dead while we're gossiping."
"Dead! What an idea!" cried Caroline in stupefaction. "And where
is she? And what's it of?"
"At the Grand Hotel, of smallpox. Oh, it's a long story!"
Lucy had bidden her coachman drive fast, and while the horses
trotted rapidly along the Rue Royale and the boulevards, she told
what had happened to Nana in jerky, breathless sentences.
"You can't imagine it. Nana plumps down out of Russia. I don't
know why--some dispute with her prince. She leaves her traps at the
station; she lands at her aunt's--you remember the old thing. Well,
and then she finds her baby dying of smallpox. The baby dies next
day, and she has a row with the aunt about some money she ought to
have sent, of which the other one has never seen a sou. Seems the
child died of that: in fact, it was neglected and badly cared for.
Very well; Nana slopes, goes to a hotel, then meets Mignon just as
she was thinking of her traps. She has all sorts of queer feelings,
shivers, wants to be sick, and Mignon takes her back to her place
and promises to look after her affairs. Isn't it odd, eh? Doesn't
it all happen pat? But this is the best part of the story: Rose
finds out about Nana's illness and gets indignant at the idea of her
being alone in furnished apartments. So she rushes off, crying, to
look after her. You remember how they used to detest one another--
like regular furies! Well then, my dear, Rose has had Nana
transported to the Grand Hotel, so that she should, at any rate, die
in a smart place, and now she's already passed three nights there
and is free to die of it after. It's Labordette who told me all
about it. Accordingly I wanted to see for myself--"
"Yes, yes," interrupted Caroline in great excitement "We'll go up to
They had arrived at their destination. On the boulevard the
coachman had had to rein in his horses amid a block of carriages and
people on foot. During the day the Corps Legislatif had voted for
war, and now a crowd was streaming down all the streets, flowing
along all the pavements, invading the middle of the roadway. Beyond
the Madeleine the sun had set behind a blood-red cloud, which cast a
reflection as of a great fire and set the lofty windows flaming.
Twilight was falling, and the hour was oppressively melancholy, for
now the avenues were darkening away into the distance but were not
as yet dotted over by the bright sparks of the gas lamps. And among
the marching crowds distant voices swelled and grew ever louder, and
eyes gleamed from pale faces, while a great spreading wind of
anguish and stupor set every head whirling.
"Here's Mignon," said Lucy. "He'll give us news."
Mignon was standing under the vast porch of the Grand Hotel. He
looked nervous and was gazing at the crowd. After Lucy's first few
questions he grew impatient and cried out:
"How should I know? These last two days I haven't been able to tear
Rose away from up there. It's getting stupid, when all's said, for
her to be risking her life like that! She'll be charming if she
gets over it, with holes in her face! It'll suit us to a tee!"
The idea that Rose might lose her beauty was exasperating him. He
was giving up Nana in the most downright fashion, and he could not
in the least understand these stupid feminine devotions. But
Fauchery was crossing the boulevard, and he, too, came up anxiously
and asked for news. The two men egged each other on. They
addressed one another familiarly in these days.
"Always the same business, my sonny," declared Mignon. "You ought
to go upstairs; you would force her to follow you."
"Come now, you're kind, you are!" said the journalist. "Why don't
you go upstairs yourself?"
Then as Lucy began asking for Nana's number, they besought her to
make Rose come down; otherwise they would end by getting angry.
Nevertheless, Lucy and Caroline did not go up at once. They had
caught sight of Fontan strolling about with his hands in his pockets
and greatly amused by the quaint expressions of the mob. When he
became aware that Nana was lying ill upstairs he affected sentiment
"The poor girl! I'll go and shake her by the hand. What's the
matter with her, eh?"
"Smallpox," replied Mignon.
The actor had already taken a step or two in the direction of the
court, but he came back and simply murmured with a shiver:
"Oh, damn it!"
The smallpox was no joke. Fontan had been near having it when he
was five years old, while Mignon gave them an account of one of his
nieces who had died of it. As to Fauchery, he could speak of it
from personal experience, for he still bore marks of it in the shape
of three little lumps at the base of his nose, which he showed them.
And when Mignon again egged him on to the ascent, on the pretext
that you never had it twice, he violently combated this theory and
with infinite abuse of the doctors instanced various cases. But
Lucy and Caroline interrupted them, for the growing multitude filled
them with astonishment.
"Just look! Just look what a lot of people!" The night was
deepening, and in the distance the gas lamps were being lit one by
one. Meanwhile interested spectators became visible at windows,
while under the trees the human flood grew every minute more dense,
till it ran in one enormous stream from the Madeleine to the
Bastille. Carriages rolled slowly along. A roaring sound went up
from this compact and as yet inarticulate mass. Each member of it
had come out, impelled by the desire to form a crowd, and was now
trampling along, steeping himself in the pervading fever. But a
great movement caused the mob to flow asunder. Among the jostling,
scattering groups a band of men in workmen's caps and white blouses
had come in sight, uttering a rhythmical cry which suggested the
beat of hammers upon an anvil.
"To Ber-lin! To Ber-lin! To Ber-lin!" And the crowd stared in
gloomy distrust yet felt themselves already possessed and inspired
by heroic imaginings, as though a military band were passing.
"Oh yes, go and get your throats cut!" muttered Mignon, overcome by
an access of philosophy.
But Fontan thought it very fine, indeed, and spoke of enlisting.
When the enemy was on the frontier all citizens ought to rise up in
defense of the fatherland! And with that he assumed an attitude
suggestive of Bonaparte at Austerlitz.
"Look here, are you coining up with us?" Lucy asked him.
"Oh dear, no! To catch something horrid?" he said.
On a bench in front of the Grand Hotel a man sat hiding his face in
a handkerchief. On arriving Fauchery had indicated him to Mignon
with a wink of the eye. Well, he was still there; yes, he was
always there. And the journalist detained the two women also in
order to point him out to them. When the man lifted his head they
recognized him; an exclamation escaped them. It was the Count
Muffat, and he was giving an upward glance at one of the windows.
"You know, he's been waiting there since this morning," Mignon
informed them. "I saw him at six o'clock, and he hasn't moved
since. Directly Labordette spoke about it he came there with his
handkerchief up to his face. Every half-hour he comes dragging
himself to where we're standing to ask if the person upstairs is
doing better, and then he goes back and sits down. Hang it, that
room isn't healthy! It's all very well being fond of people, but
one doesn't want to kick the bucket."
The count sat with uplifted eyes and did not seem conscious of what
was going on around him. Doubtless he was ignorant of the
declaration of war, and he neither felt nor saw the crowd.
"Look, here he comes!" said Fauchery. "Now you'll see."
The count had, in fact, quitted his bench and was entering the lofty
porch. But the porter, who was getting to know his face at last,
did not give him time to put his question. He said sharply:
"She's dead, monsieur, this very minute."
Nana dead! It was a blow to them all. Without a word Muffat had
gone back to the bench, his face still buried in his handkerchief.
The others burst into exclamations, but they were cut short, for a
fresh band passed by, howling, "A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"
Nana dead! Hang it, and such a fine girl too! Mignon sighed and
looked relieved, for at last Rose would come down. A chill fell on
the company. Fontan, meditating a tragic role, had assumed a look
of woe and was drawing down the corners of his mouth and rolling his
eyes askance, while Fauchery chewed his cigar nervously, for despite
his cheap journalistic chaff he was really touched. Nevertheless,
the two women continued to give vent to their feelings of surprise.
The last time Lucy had seen her was at the Gaite; Blanche, too, had
seen her in Melusine. Oh, how stunning it was, my dear, when she
appeared in the depths of the crystal grot! The gentlemen
remembered the occasion perfectly. Fontan had played the Prince
Cocorico. And their memories once stirred up, they launched into
interminable particulars. How ripping she looked with that rich
coloring of hers in the crystal grot! Didn't she, now? She didn't
say a word: the authors had even deprived her of a line or two,
because it was superfluous. No, never a word! It was grander that
way, and she drove her public wild by simply showing herself. You
wouldn't find another body like hers! Such shoulders as she had,
and such legs and such a figure! Strange that she should be dead!
You know, above her tights she had nothing on but a golden girdle
which hardly concealed her behind and in front. All round her the
grotto, which was entirely of glass, shone like day. Cascades of
diamonds were flowing down; strings of brilliant pearls glistened
among the stalactites in the vault overhead, and amid the
transparent atmosphere and flowing fountain water, which was crossed
by a wide ray of electric light, she gleamed like the sun with that
flamelike skin and hair of hers. Paris would always picture her
thus--would see her shining high up among crystal glass like the
good God Himself. No, it was too stupid to let herself die under
such conditions! She must be looking pretty by this time in that
room up there!
"And what a lot of pleasures bloody well wasted!" said Mignon in
melancholy tones, as became a man who did not like to see good and
useful things lost.
He sounded Lucy and Caroline in order to find out if they were going
up after all. Of course they were going up; their curiosity had
increased. Just then Blanche arrived, out of breath and much
exasperated at the way the crowds were blocking the pavement, and
when she heard the news there was a fresh outburst of exclamations,
and with a great rustling of skirts the ladies moved toward the
staircase. Mignon followed them, crying out:
"Tell Rose that I'm waiting for her. She'll come at once, eh?"
"They do not exactly know whether the contagion is to be feared at
the beginning or near the end," Fontan was explaining to Fauchery.
"A medical I know was assuring me that the hours immediately
following death are particularly dangerous. There are miasmatic
exhalations then. Ah, but I do regret this sudden ending; I should
have been so glad to shake hands with her for the last time.
"What good would it do you now?" said the journalist.
"Yes, what good?" the two others repeated.
The crowd was still on the increase. In the bright light thrown
from shop-windows and beneath the wavering glare of the gas two
living streams were distinguishable as they flowed along the
pavement, innumerable hats apparently drifting on their surface. At
that hour the popular fever was gaining ground rapidly, and people
were flinging themselves in the wake of the bands of men in blouses.
A constant forward movement seemed to sweep the roadway, and the cry
kept recurring; obstinately, abruptly, there rang from thousands of
"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"
The room on the fourth floor upstairs cost twelve francs a day,
since Rose had wanted something decent and yet not luxurious, for
sumptuousness is not necessary when one is suffering. Hung with
Louis XIII cretonne, which was adorned with a pattern of large
flowers, the room was furnished with the mahogany commonly found in
hotels. On the floor there was a red carpet variegated with black
foliage. Heavy silence reigned save for an occasional whispering
sound caused by voices in the corridor.
"I assure you we're lost. The waiter told us to turn to the right.
What a barrack of a house!"
"Wait a bit; we must have a look. Room number 401; room number
"Oh, it's this way: 405, 403. We ought to be there. Ah, at last,
401! This way! Hush now, hush!"
The voices were silent. Then there was a slight coughing and a
moment or so of mental preparation. Then the door opened slowly,
and Lucy entered, followed by Caroline and Blanche. But they
stopped directly; there were already five women in the room; Gaga
was lying back in the solitary armchair, which was a red velvet
Voltaire. In front of the fireplace Simonne and Clarisse were now
standing talking to Lea de Horn, who was seated, while by the bed,
to the left of the door, Rose Mignon, perched on the edge of a
chest, sat gazing fixedly at the body where it lay hidden in the
shadow of the curtains. All the others had their hats and gloves on
and looked as if they were paying a call: she alone sat there with
bare hands and untidy hair and cheeks rendered pale by three nights
of watching. She felt stupid in the face of this sudden death, and
her eyes were swollen with weeping. A shaded lamp standing on the
corner of the chest of drawers threw a bright flood of light over
"What a sad misfortune, is it not?" whispered Lucy as she shook
hands with Rose. "We wanted to bid her good-by."
And she turned round and tried to catch sight of her, but the lamp
was too far off, and she did not dare bring it nearer. On the bed
lay stretched a gray mass, but only the ruddy chignon was
distinguishable and a pale blotch which might be the face. Lucy
"I never saw her since that time at the Gaite, when she was at the
end of the grotto."
At this Rose awoke from her stupor and smiled as she said:
"Ah, she's changed; she's changed."
Then she once more lapsed into contemplation and neither moved nor
spoke. Perhaps they would be able to look at her presently! And
with that the three women joined the others in front of the
fireplace. Simonne and Clarisse were discussing the dead woman's
diamonds in low tones. Well, did they really exist--those diamonds?
Nobody had seen them; it must be a bit of humbug. But Lea de Horn
knew someone who knew all about them. Oh, they were monster stones!
Besides, they weren't all; she had brought back lots of other
precious property from Russia--embroidered stuffs, for instance,
valuable knickknacks, a gold dinner service, nay, even furniture.
"Yes, my dear, fifty-two boxes, enormous cases some of them, three
truckloads of them!" They were all lying at the station. "Wasn't
it hard lines, eh?--to die without even having time to unpack one's
traps?" Then she had a lot of tin, besides--something like a
million! Lucy asked who was going to inherit it all. Oh, distant
relations--the aunt, without doubt! It would be a pretty surprise
for that old body. She knew nothing about it yet, for the sick
woman had obstinately refused to let them warn her, for she still
owed her a grudge over her little boy's death. Thereupon they were
all moved to pity about the little boy, and they remembered seeing
him at the races. Oh, it was a wretchedly sickly baby; it looked so
old and so sad. In fact, it was one of those poor brats who never
asked to be born!
"He's happier under the ground," said Blanche.
"Bah, and so's she!" added Caroline. "Life isn't so funny!"
In that gloomy room melancholy ideas began to take possession of
their imaginations. They felt frightened. It was silly to stand
talking so long, but a longing to see her kept them rooted to the
spot. It was very hot--the lamp glass threw a round, moonlike patch
of light upon the ceiling, but the rest of the room was drowned in
steamy darkness. Under the bed a deep plate full of phenol exhaled
an insipid smell. And every few moments tiny gusts of wind swelled
the window curtains. The window opened on the boulevard, whence
rose a dull roaring sound.
"Did she suffer much?" asked Lucy, who was absorbed in contemplation
of the clock, the design of which represented the three Graces as
nude young women, smiling like opera dancers.
Gaga seemed to wake up.
"My word, yes! I was present when she died. I promise you it was
not at all pleasant to see. Why, she was taken with a shuddering
But she was unable to proceed with her explanation, for a cry arose
"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"
And Lucy, who felt suffocated, flung wide the window and leaned upon
the sill. It was pleasant there; the air came fresh from the starry
sky. Opposite her the windows were all aglow with light, and the
gas sent dancing reflections over the gilt lettering of the shop
Beneath these, again, a most amusing scene presented itself. The
streams of people were discernible rolling torrentwise along the
sidewalks and in the roadway, where there was a confused procession
of carriages. Everywhere there were vast moving shadows in which
lanterns and lampposts gleamed like sparks. But the band which now
came roaring by carried torches, and a red glow streamed down from
the direction of the Madeleine, crossed the mob like a trail of fire
and spread out over the heads in the distance like a vivid
reflection of a burning house. Lucy called Blanche and Caroline,
forgetting where she was and shouting:
"Do come! You get a capital view from this window!"
They all three leaned out, greatly interested. The trees got in
their way, and occasionally the torches disappeared under the
foliage. They tried to catch a glimpse of the men of their own
party below, but a protruding balcony hid the door, and they could
only make out Count Muffat, who looked like a dark parcel thrown
down on the bench where he sat. He was still burying his face in
his handkerchief. A carriage had stopped in front, and yet another
woman hurried up, in whom Lucy recognized Maria Blond. She was not
alone; a stout man got down after her.
"It's that thief of a Steiner," said Caroline. "How is it they
haven't sent him back to Cologne yet? I want to see how he looks
when he comes in."
They turned round, but when after the lapse of ten minutes Maria
Blond appeared, she was alone. She had twice mistaken the
staircase. And when Lucy, in some astonishment, questioned her:
"What, he?" she said. "My dear, don't you go fancying that he'll
come upstairs! It's a great wonder he's escorted me as far as the
door. There are nearly a dozen of them smoking cigars."
As a matter of fact, all the gentlemen were meeting downstairs.
They had come strolling thither in order to have a look at the
boulevards, and they hailed one another and commented loudly on that
poor girl's death. Then they began discussing politics and
strategy. Bordenave, Daguenet, Labordette, Prulliere and others,
besides, had swollen the group, and now they were all listening to
Fontan, who was explaining his plan for taking Berlin within a week.
Meanwhile Maria Blond was touched as she stood by the bedside and
murmured, as the others had done before her:
"Poor pet! The last time I saw her was in the grotto at the Gaite."
"Ah, she's changed; she's changed!" Rose Mignon repeated with a
smile of gloomiest dejection.
Two more women arrived. These were Tatan Nene and Louise Violaine.
They had been wandering about the Grand Hotel for twenty minutes
past, bandied from waiter to waiter, and had ascended and descended
more than thirty flights of stairs amid a perfect stampede of
travelers who were hurrying to leave Paris amid the panic caused by
the war and the excitement on the boulevards. Accordingly they just
dropped down on chairs when they came in, for they were too tired to
think about the dead. At that moment a loud noise came from the
room next door, where people were pushing trunks about and striking
against furniture to an accompaniment of strident, outlandish
syllables. It was a young Austrian couple, and Gaga told how during
her agony the neighbors had played a game of catch as catch can and
how, as only an unused door divided the two rooms, they had heard
them laughing and kissing when one or the other was caught.
"Come, it's time we were off," said Clarisse. "We shan't bring her
to life again. Are you coming, Simonne?"
They all looked at the bed out of the corners of their eyes, but
they did not budge an inch. Nevertheless, they began getting ready
and gave their skirts various little pats. Lucy was again leaning
out of window. She was alone now, and a sorrowful feeling began
little by little to overpower her, as though an intense wave of
melancholy had mounted up from the howling mob. Torches still kept
passing, shaking out clouds of sparks, and far away in the distance
the various bands stretched into the shadows, surging unquietly to
and fro like flocks being driven to the slaughterhouse at night. A
dizzy feeling emanated from these confused masses as the human flood
rolled them along--a dizzy feeling, a sense of terror and all the
pity of the massacres to come. The people were going wild; their
voices broke; they were drunk with a fever of excitement which sent
them rushing toward the unknown "out there" beyond the dark wall of
"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"
Lucy turned round. She leaned her back against the window, and her
face was very pale.
"Good God! What's to become of us?"
The ladies shook their heads. They were serious and very anxious
about the turn events were taking.
"For my part," said Caroline Hequet in her decisive way, "I start
for London the day after tomorrow. Mamma's already over there
getting a house ready for me. I'm certainly not going to let myself
be massacred in Paris."
Her mother, as became a prudent woman, had invested all her
daughters' money in foreign lands. One never knows how a war may
end! But Maria Blond grew vexed at this. She was a patriot and
spoke of following the army.
"There's a coward for you! Yes, if they wanted me I should put on
man's clothes just to have a good shot at those pigs of Prussians!
And if we all die after? What of that? Our wretched skins aren't
Blanche de Sivry was exasperated.
"Please don't speak ill of the Prussians! They are just like other
men, and they're not always running after the women, like your
Frenchmen. They've just expelled the little Prussian who was with
me. He was an awfully rich fellow and so gentle: he couldn't have
hurt a soul. It's disgraceful; I'm ruined by it. And, you know,
you mustn't say a word or I go and find him out in Germany!"
After that, while the two were at loggerheads, Gaga began murmuring
in dolorous tones:
"It's all over with me; my luck's always bad. It's only a week ago
that I finished paying for my little house at Juvisy. Ah, God knows
what trouble it cost me! I had to go to Lili for help! And now
here's the war declared, and the Prussians'll come and they'll burn
everything. How am I to begin again at my time of life, I should
like to know?"
"Bah!" said Clarisse. "I don't care a damn about it. I shall
always find what I want."
"Certainly you will," added Simonne. "It'll be a joke. Perhaps,
after all, it'll be good biz."
And her smile hinted what she thought. Tatan Nene and Louise
Violaine were of her opinion. The former told them that she had
enjoyed the most roaring jolly good times with soldiers. Oh, they
were good fellows and would have done any mortal thing for the
girls. But as the ladies had raised their voices unduly Rose
Mignon, still sitting on the chest by the bed, silenced them with a
softly whispered "Hush!" They stood quite still at this and glanced
obliquely toward the dead woman, as though this request for silence
had emanated from the very shadows of the curtains. In the heavy,
peaceful stillness which ensued, a void, deathly stillness which
made them conscious of the stiff dead body lying stretched close by
them, the cries of the mob burst forth:
"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"
But soon they forgot. Lea de Horn, who had a political salon where
former ministers of Louis Philippe were wont to indulge in delicate
epigrams, shrugged her shoulders and continued the conversation in a
"What a mistake this war is! What a bloodthirsty piece of
At this Lucy forthwith took up the cudgels for the empire. She had
been the mistress of a prince of the imperial house, and its defense
became a point of family honor with her.
"Do leave them alone, my dear. We couldn't let ourselves be further
insulted! Why, this war concerns the honor of France. Oh, you know
I don't say that because of the prince. He WAS just mean! Just
imagine, at night when he was going to bed he hid his gold in his
boots, and when we played at bezique he used beans, because one day
I pounced down on the stakes for fun. But that doesn't prevent my
being fair. The emperor was right."
Lea shook her head with an air of superiority, as became a woman who
was repeating the opinions of important personages. Then raising
"This is the end of all things. They're out of their minds at the
Tuileries. France ought to have driven them out yesterday. Don't
They all violently interrupted her. What was up with her? Was she
mad about the emperor? Were people not happy? Was business doing
badly? Paris would never enjoy itself so thoroughly again.
Gaga was beside herself; she woke up and was very indignant.
"Be quiet! It's idiotic! You don't know what you're saying. I--
I've seen Louis Philippe's reign: it was full of beggars and misers,
my dear. And then came '48! Oh, it was a pretty disgusting
business was their republic! After February I was simply dying of
starvation--yes, I, Gaga. Oh, if only you'd been through it all you
would go down on your knees before the emperor, for he's been a
father to us; yes, a father to us."
She had to be soothed but continued with pious fervor:
"O my God, do Thy best to give the emperor the victory. Preserve
the empire to us!"
They all repeated this aspiration, and Blanche confessed that she
burned candles for the emperor. Caroline had been smitten by him
and for two whole months had walked where he was likely to pass but
had failed to attract his attention. And with that the others burst
forth into furious denunciations of the Republicans and talked of
exterminating them on the frontiers so that Napoleon III, after
having beaten the enemy, might reign peacefully amid universal
"That dirty Bismarck--there's another cad for you!" Maria Blond
"To think that I should have known him!" cried Simonne. "If only I
could have foreseen, I'm the one that would have put some poison in
But Blanche, on whose heart the expulsion of her Prussian still
weighed, ventured to defend Bismarck. Perhaps he wasn't such a bad
sort. To every man his trade!
"You know," she added, "he adores women."
"What the hell has that got to do with us?" said Clarisse. "We
don't want to cuddle him, eh?"
"There's always too many men of that sort!" declared Louise Violaine
gravely. "It's better to do without 'em than to mix oneself up with
And the discussion continued, and they stripped Bismarck, and, in
her Bonapartist zeal, each of them gave him a sounding kick, while
Tatan Nene kept saying:
"Bismarck! Why, they've simply driven me crazy with the chap! Oh,
I hate him! I didn't know that there Bismarck! One can't know
"Never mind," said Lea de Horn by way of conclusion, "that Bismarck
will give us a jolly good threshing."
But she could not continue. The ladies were all down on her at
once. Eh, what? A threshing? It was Bismarck they were going to
escort home with blows from the butt ends of their muskets. What
was this bad Frenchwoman going to say next?
"Hush," whispered Rose, for so much noise hurt her.
The cold influence of the corpse once more overcame them, and they
all paused together. They were embarrassed; the dead woman was
before them again; a dull thread of coming ill possessed them. On
the boulevard the cry was passing, hoarse and wild:
"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"
Presently, when they were making up their minds to go, a voice was
heard calling from the passage:
Gaga opened the door in astonishment and disappeared for a moment.
When she returned:
"My dear," she said, "it's Fauchery. He's out there at the end of
the corridor. He won't come any further, and he's beside himself
because you still stay near that body."
Mignon had at last succeeded in urging the journalist upstairs.
Lucy, who was still at the window, leaned out and caught sight of
the gentlemen out on the pavement. They were looking up, making
energetic signals to her. Mignon was shaking his fists in
exasperation, and Steiner, Fontan, Bordenave and the rest were
stretching out their arms with looks of anxious reproach, while
Daguenet simply stood smoking a cigar with his hands behind his
back, so as not to compromise himself.
"It's true, dear," said Lucy, leaving the window open; "I promised
to make you come down. They're all calling us now."
Rose slowly and painfully left the chest.
"I'm coming down; I'm coming down," she whispered. "It's very
certain she no longer needs me. They're going to send in a Sister
And she turned round, searching for her hat and shawl. Mechanically
she filled a basin of water on the toilet table and while washing
her hands and face continued:
"I don't know! It's been a great blow to me. We used scarcely to
be nice to one another. Ah well! You see I'm quite silly over it
now. Oh! I've got all sorts of strange ideas--I want to die myself--
I feel the end of the world's coming. Yes, I need air."
The corpse was beginning to poison the atmosphere of the room. And
after long heedlessness there ensued a panic.
"Let's be off; let's be off, my little pets!" Gaga kept saying. "It
isn't wholesome here."
They went briskly out, casting a last glance at the bed as they
passed it. But while Lucy, Blanche and Caroline still remained
behind, Rose gave a final look round, for she wanted to leave the
room in order. She drew a curtain across the window, and then it
occurred to her that the lamp was not the proper thing and that a
taper should take its place. So she lit one of the copper
candelabra on the chimney piece and placed it on the night table
beside the corpse. A brilliant light suddenly illumined the dead
woman's face. The women were horror-struck. They shuddered and
"Ah, she's changed; she's changed!" murmured Rose Mignon, who was
the last to remain.
She went away; she shut the door. Nana was left alone with upturned
face in the light cast by the candle. She was fruit of the charnel
house, a heap of matter and blood, a shovelful of corrupted flesh
thrown down on the pillow. The pustules had invaded the whole of
the face, so that each touched its neighbor. Fading and sunken,
they had assumed the grayish hue of mud; and on that formless pulp,
where the features had ceased to be traceable, they already
resembled some decaying damp from the grave. One eye, the left eye,
had completely foundered among bubbling purulence, and the other,
which remained half open, looked like a deep, black, ruinous hole.
The nose was still suppurating. Quite a reddish crush was peeling
from one of the cheeks and invading the mouth, which it distorted
into a horrible grin. And over this loathsome and grotesque mask of
death the hair, the beautiful hair, still blazed like sunlight and
flowed downward in rippling gold. Venus was rotting. It seemed as
though the poison she had assimilated in the gutters and on the
carrion tolerated by the roadside, the leaven with which she had
poisoned a whole people, had but now remounted to her face and
turned it to corruption.
The room was empty. A great despairing breath came up from the
boulevard and swelled the curtain.
"A BERLIN! A BERLIN! A BERLIN!"
THE MILLER'S DAUGHTER
Pere Merlier's mill, one beautiful summer evening, was arranged for
a grand fete. In the courtyard were three tables, placed end to
end, which awaited the guests. Everyone knew that Francoise,
Merlier's daughter, was that night to be betrothed to Dominique, a
young man who was accused of idleness but whom the fair sex for
three leagues around gazed at with sparkling eyes, such a fine
appearance had he.
Pere Merlier's mill was pleasing to look upon. It stood exactly in
the center of Rocreuse, where the highway made an elbow. The
village had but one street, with two rows of huts, a row on each
side of the road; but at the elbow meadows spread out, and huge
trees which lined the banks of the Morelle covered the extremity of
the valley with lordly shade. There was not, in all Lorraine, a
corner of nature more adorable. To the right and to the left thick
woods, centenarian forests, towered up from gentle slopes, filling
the horizon with a sea of verdure, while toward the south the plain
stretched away, of marvelous fertility, displaying as far as the eye
could reach patches of ground divided by green hedges. But what
constituted the special charm of Rocreuse was the coolness of that
cut of verdure in the most sultry days of July and August. The
Morelle descended from the forests of Gagny and seemed to have
gathered the cold from the foliage beneath which it flowed for
leagues; it brought with it the murmuring sounds, the icy and
concentrated shade of the woods. And it was not the sole source of
coolness: all sorts of flowing streams gurgled through the forest;
at each step springs bubbled up; one felt, on following the narrow
pathways, that there must exist subterranean lakes which pierced
through beneath the moss and availed themselves of the smallest
crevices at the feet of trees or between the rocks to burst forth in
crystalline fountains. The whispering voices of these brooks were
so numerous and so loud that they drowned the song of the
bullfinches. It was like some enchanted park with cascades falling
from every portion.
Below the meadows were damp. Gigantic chestnut trees cast dark
shadows. On the borders of the meadows long hedges of poplars
exhibited in lines their rustling branches. Two avenues of enormous
plane trees stretched across the fields toward the ancient Chateau
de Gagny, then a mass of ruins. In this constantly watered district
the grass grew to an extraordinary height. It resembled a garden
between two wooded hills, a natural garden, of which the meadows
were the lawns, the giant trees marking the colossal flower beds.
When the sun's rays at noon poured straight downward the shadows
assumed a bluish tint; scorched grass slept in the heat, while an
icy shiver passed beneath the foliage.
And there it was that Pere Merlier's mill enlivened with its
ticktack a corner of wild verdure. The structure, built of plaster
and planks, seemed as old as the world. It dipped partially in the
Morelle, which rounded at that point into a transparent basin. A
sluice had been made, and the water fell from a height of several
meters upon the mill wheel, which cracked as it turned, with the
asthmatic cough of a faithful servant grown old in the house. When
Pere Merlier was advised to change it he shook his head, saying that
a new wheel would be lazier and would not so well understand the
work, and he mended the old one with whatever he could put his hands
on: cask staves, rusty iron, zinc and lead. The wheel appeared
gayer than ever for it, with its profile grown odd, all plumed with
grass and moss. When the water beat upon it with its silvery flood
it was covered with pearls; its strange carcass wore a sparkling
attire of necklaces of mother-of-pearl.
The part of the mill which dipped in the Morelle had the air of a
barbaric arch stranded there. A full half of the structure was
built on piles. The water flowed beneath the floor, and deep places
were there, renowned throughout the district for the enormous eels
and crayfish caught in them. Below the fall the basin was as clear
as a mirror, and when the wheel did not cover it with foam schools
of huge fish could be seen swimming with the slowness of a squadron.
Broken steps led down to the river near a stake to which a boat was
moored. A wooden gallery passed above the wheel. Windows opened,
pierced irregularly. It was a pell-mell of corners, of little
walls, of constructions added too late, of beams and of roofs, which
gave the mill the aspect of an old, dismantled citadel. But ivy had
grown; all sorts of clinging plants stopped the too-wide chinks and
threw a green cloak over the ancient building. The young ladies who
passed by sketched Pere Merlier's mill in their albums.
On the side facing the highway the structure was more solid. A
stone gateway opened upon the wide courtyard, which was bordered to
the right and to the left by sheds and stables. Beside a well an
immense elm covered half the courtyard with its shadow. In the
background the building displayed the four windows of its second
story, surmounted by a pigeon house. Pere Merlier's sole vanity was
to have this front plastered every ten years. It had just received
a new coating and dazzled the village when the sun shone on it at
For twenty years Pere Merlier had been mayor of Rocreuse. He was
esteemed for the fortune he had acquired. His wealth was estimated
at something like eighty thousand francs, amassed sou by sou. When
he married Madeleine Guillard, who brought him the mill as her
dowry, he possessed only his two arms. But Madeleine never repented
of her choice, so briskly did he manage the business. Now his wife
was dead, and he remained a widower with his daughter Francoise.
Certainly he might have rested, allowed the mill wheel to slumber in
the moss, but that would have been too dull for him, and in his eyes
the building would have seemed dead. He toiled on for pleasure.
Pere Merlier was a tall old man with a long, still face, who never
laughed but who possessed, notwithstanding, a very gay heart. He
had been chosen mayor because of his money and also on account of
the imposing air he could assume during a marriage ceremony.
Francoise Merlier was just eighteen. She did not pass for one of
the handsome girls of the district, as she was not robust. Up to
her fifteenth year she had been even ugly.
The Rocreuse people had not been able to understand why the daughter
of Pere and Mere Merlier, both of whom had always enjoyed excellent
health, grew ill and with an air of regret. But at fifteen, though
yet delicate, her little face became one of the prettiest in the
world. She had black hair, black eyes, and was as rosy as a peach;
her lips constantly wore a smile; there were dimples in her cheeks,
and her fair forehead seemed crowned with sunlight. Although not
considered robust in the district, she was far from thin; the idea
was simply that she could not lift a sack of grain, but she would
become plump as she grew older--she would eventually be as round and
dainty as a quail. Her father's long periods of silence had made
her thoughtful very young. If she smiled constantly it was to
please others. By nature she was serious.
Of course all the young men of the district paid court to her, more
on account of her ecus than her pretty ways. At last she made a
choice which scandalized the community.
On the opposite bank of the Morelle lived a tall youth named
Dominique Penquer. He did not belong to Rocreuse. Ten years before
he had arrived from Belgium as the heir of his uncle, who had left
him a small property upon the very border of the forest of Gagny,
just opposite the mill, a few gunshots distant. He had come to sell
this property, he said, and return home. But the district charmed
him, it appeared, for he did not quit it. He was seen cultivating
his little field, gathering a few vegetables upon which he
subsisted. He fished and hunted; many times the forest guards
nearly caught him and were on the point of drawing up proces-verbaux
against him. This free existence, the resources of which the
peasants could not clearly discover, at length gave him a bad
reputation. He was vaguely styled a poacher. At any rate, he was
lazy, for he was often found asleep on the grass when he should have
been at work. The hut he inhabited beneath the last trees on the
edge of the forest did not seem at all like the dwelling of an
honest young fellow. If he had had dealings with the wolves of the
ruins of Gagny the old women would not have been the least bit
surprised. Nevertheless, the young girls sometimes risked defending
him, for this doubtful man was superb; supple and tall as a poplar,
he had a very white skin, with flaxen hair and beard which gleamed
like gold in the sun.
One fine morning Francoise declared to Pere Merlier that she loved
Dominique and would never wed any other man.
It may well be imagined what a blow this was to Pere Merlier. He
said nothing, according to his custom, but his face grew thoughtful
and his internal gaiety no longer sparkled in his eyes. He looked
gruff for a week. Francoise also was exceedingly grave. What
tormented Pere Merlier was to find out how this rogue of a poacher
had managed to fascinate his daughter. Dominique had never visited
the mill. The miller watched and saw the gallant on the other side
of the Morelle, stretched out upon the grass and feigning to be
asleep. Francoise could see him from her chamber window.
Everything was plain: they had fallen in love by casting sheep's
eyes at each other over the mill wheel.
Another week went by. Francoise became more and more grave. Pere
Merlier still said nothing. Then one evening he himself silently
brought in Dominique. Francoise at that moment was setting the
table. She did not seem astonished; she contented herself with
putting on an additional plate, knife and fork, but the little
dimples were again seen in her cheeks, and her smile reappeared.
That morning Pere Merlier had sought out Dominique in his hut on the
border of the wood.
There the two men had talked for three hours with doors and windows
closed. What was the purport of their conversation no one ever
knew. Certain it was, however, that Pere Merlier, on taking his
departure, already called Dominique his son-in-law. Without doubt
the old man had found the youth he had gone to seek a worthy youth
in the lazy fellow who stretched himself out upon the grass to make
the girls fall in love with him.
All Rocreuse clamored. The women at the doors had plenty to say on
the subject of the folly of Pere Merlier, who had thus introduced a
reprobate into his house. The miller let people talk on. Perhaps
he remembered his own marriage. He was without a sou when he wedded
Madeleine and her mill; this, however, had not prevented him from
making a good husband. Besides, Dominique cut short the gossip by
going so vigorously to work that all the district was amazed. The
miller's assistant had just been drawn to serve as a soldier, and
Dominique would not suffer another to be engaged. He carried the
sacks, drove the cart, fought with the old mill wheel when it
refused to turn, and all this with such good will that people came
to see him out of curiosity. Pere Merlier had his silent laugh. He
was excessively proud of having formed a correct estimate of this
youth. There is nothing like love to give courage to young folks.
Amid all these heavy labors Francoise and Dominique adored each
other. They did not indulge in lovers' talks, but there was a
smiling gentleness in their glances.
Up to that time Pere Merlier had not spoken a single word on the
subject of marriage, and they respected this silence, awaiting the
old man's will. Finally one day toward the middle of July he caused
three tables to be placed in the courtyard, beneath the great elm,
and invited his friends of Rocreuse to come in the evening and drink
a glass of wine with him.
When the courtyard was full and all had their glasses in their
hands, Pere Merlier raised his very high and said:
"I have the pleasure to announce to you that Francoise will wed this
young fellow here in a month, on Saint Louis's Day."
Then they drank noisily. Everybody smiled. But Pere Merlier, again
lifting his voice, exclaimed:
"Dominique, embrace your fiancee. It is your right."
They embraced, blushing to the tips of their ears, while all the
guests laughed joyously. It was a genuine fete. They emptied a
small cask of wine. Then when all were gone but intimate friends
the conversation was carried on without noise. The night had
fallen, a starry and cloudless night. Dominique and Francoise,
seated side by side on a bench, said nothing.
An old peasant spoke of the war the emperor had declared against
Prussia. All the village lads had already departed. On the
preceding day troops had again passed through the place. There was
going to be hard fighting.
"Bah!" said Pere Merlier with the selfishness of a happy man.
"Dominique is a foreigner; he will not go to the war. And if the
Prussians come here he will be on hand to defend his wife!"
The idea that the Prussians might come there seemed a good joke.
They were going to receive a sound whipping, and the affair would
soon be over.
"I have afready seen them; I have already seen them," repeated the
old peasant in a hollow voice.
There was silence. Then they drank again. Francoise and Dominique
had heard nothing; they had gently taken each other by the hand
behind the bench, so that nobody could see them, and it seemed so
delightful that they remained where they were, their eyes plunged
into the depths of the shadows.
What a warm and superb night it was! The village slumbered on both
edges of the white highway in infantile quietude. From time to time
was heard the crowing of some chanticleer aroused too soon. From
the huge wood near by came long breaths, which passed over the roofs
like caresses. The meadows, with their dark shadows, assumed a
mysterious and dreamy majesty, while all the springs, all the
flowing waters which gurgled in the darkness, seemed to be the cool
and rhythmical respiration of the sleeping country. Occasionally
the ancient mill wheel, lost in a doze, appeared to dream like those
old watchdogs that bark while snoring; it cracked; it talked to
itself, rocked by the fall of the Morelle, the surface of which gave
forth the musical and continuous sound of an organ pipe. Never had
more profound peace descended upon a happier corner of nature.
THE ATTACK ON THE MILL
A month later, on the day preceding that of Saint Louis, Rocreuse
was in a state of terror. The Prussians had beaten the emperor and
were advancing by forced marches toward the village. For a week
past people who hurried along the highway had been announcing them
thus: "They are at Lormiere--they are at Novelles!" And on hearing
that they were drawing near so rapidly, Rocreuse every morning
expected to see them descend from the wood of Gagny. They did not
come, however, and that increased the fright. They would surely
fall upon the village during the night and slaughter everybody.
That morning, a little before sunrise, there was an alarm. The
inhabitants were awakened by the loud tramp of men on the highway.
The women were already on their knees, making the sign of the cross,
when some of the people, peering cautiously through the partially
opened windows, recognized the red pantaloons. It was a French
detachment. The captain immediately asked for the mayor of the
district and remained at the mill after having talked with Pere
The sun rose gaily that morning. It would be hot at noon. Over the
wood floated a golden brightness, while in the distance white vapors
arose from the meadows. The neat and pretty village awoke amid the
fresh air, and the country, with its river and its springs, had the
moist sweetness of a bouquet. But that beautiful day caused nobody
to smile. The captain was seen to take a turn around the mill,
examine the neighboring houses, pass to the other side of the
Morelle and from there study the district with a field glass; Pere
Merlier, who accompanied him, seemed to be giving him explanations.
Then the captain posted soldiers behind the walls, behind the trees
and in the ditches. The main body of the detachment encamped in the
courtyard of the mill. Was there going to be a battle? When Pere
Merlier returned he was questioned. He nodded his head without
speaking. Yes, there was going to be a battle!
Francoise and Dominique were in the courtyard; they looked at him.
At last he took his pipe from his mouth and said:
"Ah, my poor young ones, you cannot get married tomorrow!"
Dominique, his lips pressed together, with an angry frown on his
forehead, at times raised himself on tiptoe and fixed his eyes upon
the wood of Gagny, as if he wished to see the Prussians arrive.
Francoise, very pale and serious, came and went, furnishing the
soldiers with what they needed. The troops were making soup in a
corner of the courtyard; they joked while waiting for it to get
The captain was delighted. He had visited the chambers and the huge
hall of the mill which looked out upon the river. Now, seated
beside the well, he was conversing with Pere Merlier.
"Your mill is a real fortress," he said. "We can hold it without
difficulty until evening. The bandits are late. They ought to be
The miller was grave. He saw his mill burning like a torch, but he
uttered no complaint, thinking such a course useless. He merely
"You had better hide the boat behind the wheel; there is a place
there just fit for that purpose. Perhaps it will be useful to have
The captain gave the requisite order. This officer was a handsome
man of forty; he was tall and had an amiable countenance. The sight
of Francoise and Dominique seemed to please him. He contemplated
them as if he had forgotten the coming struggle. He followed
Francoise with his eyes, and his look told plainly that he thought
her charming. Then turning toward Dominique, he asked suddenly:
"Why are you not in the army, my good fellow?"
"I am a foreigner," answered the young man.
The captain evidently did not attach much weight to this reason. He
winked his eye and smiled. Francoise was more agreeable company
than a cannon. On seeing him smile, Dominique added:
"I am a foreigner, but I can put a ball in an apple at five hundred
meters. There is my hunting gun behind you."
"You may have use for it," responded the captain dryly.
Francoise had approached, somewhat agitated. Without heeding the
strangers present Dominique took and grasped in his the two hands
she extended to him, as if to put herself under his protection. The
captain smiled again but said not a word. He remained seated, his
sword across his knees and his eyes plunged into space, lost in a
It was already ten o'clock. The heat had become very great. A
heavy silence prevailed. In the courtyard, in the shadows of the
sheds, the soldiers had begun to eat their soup. Not a sound came
from the village; all its inhabitants had barricaded the doors and
windows of their houses. A dog, alone upon the highway, howled.
From the neighboring forests and meadows, swooning in the heat, came
a prolonged and distant voice made up of all the scattered breaths.
A cuckoo sang. Then the silence grew more intense.
Suddenly in that slumbering air a shot was heard. The captain
leaped briskly to his feet; the soldiers left their plates of soup,
yet half full. In a few seconds everybody was at the post of duty;
from bottom to top the mill was occupied. Meanwhile the captain,
who had gone out upon the road, had discovered nothing; to the right
and to the left the highway stretched out, empty and white. A
second shot was heard, and still nothing visible, not even a shadow.
But as he was returning the captain perceived in the direction of
Gagny, between two trees, a light puff of smoke whirling away like
thistledown. The wood was calm and peaceful.
"The bandits have thrown themselves into the forest," he muttered.
"They know we are here."
Then the firing continued, growing more and more vigorous, between
the French soldiers posted around the mill and the Prussians hidden
behind the trees. The balls whistled above the Morelle without
damaging either side. The fusillade was irregular, the shots coming
from every bush, and still only the little puffs of smoke, tossed
gently by the breeze, were seen. This lasted nearly two hours. The
officer hummed a tune with an air of indifference. Francoise and
Dominique, who had remained in the courtyard, raised themselves on
tiptoe and looked over a low wall. They were particularly
interested in a little soldier posted on the shore of the Morelle,
behind the remains of an old bateau; he stretched himself out flat
on the ground, watched, fired and then glided into a ditch a trifle
farther back to reload his gun; and his movements were so droll, so
tricky and so supple, that they smiled as they looked at him. He
must have perceived the head of a Prussian, for he arose quickly and
brought his weapon to his shoulder, but before he could fire he
uttered a cry, fell and rolled into the ditch, where for an instant
his legs twitched convulsively like the claws of a chicken just
killed. The little soldier had received a ball full in the breast.
He was the first man slain. Instinctively Francoise seized
Dominique's hand and clasped it with a nervous contraction.
"Move away," said the captain. "You are within range of the balls."
At that moment a sharp little thud was heard in the old elm, and a
fragment of a branch came whirling down. But the two young folks
did not stir; they were nailed to the spot by anxiety to see what
was going on. On the edge of the wood a Prussian had suddenly come
out from behind a tree as from a theater stage entrance, beating the
air with his hands and falling backward. Nothing further moved; the
two corpses seemed asleep in the broad sunlight; not a living soul
was seen in the scorching country. Even the crack of the fusillade
had ceased. The Morelle alone whispered in its clear tones.
Pere Merlier looked at the captain with an air of surprise, as if to
ask him if the struggle was over.
"They are getting ready for something worse," muttered the officer.
"Don't trust appearances. Move away from there."
He had not finished speaking when there was a terrible discharge of
musketry. The great elm was riddled, and a host of leaves shot into
the air. The Prussians had happily fired too high. Dominique
dragged, almost carried, Francoise away, while Pere Merlier followed
"Go down into the cellar; the walls are solid!"
But they did not heed him; they entered the huge hall where ten
soldiers were waiting in silence, watching through the chinks in the
closed window shutters. The captain was alone in the courtyard,
crouching behind the little wall, while the furious discharges
continued. Without, the soldiers he had posted gave ground only
foot by foot. However, they re-entered one by one, crawling, when
the enemy had dislodged them from their hiding places. Their orders
were to gain time and not show themselves, that the Prussians might
remain in ignorance as to what force was before them. Another hour
went by. As a sergeant arrived, saying that but two or three more
men remained without, the captain glanced at his watch, muttering:
"Half-past two o'clock. We must hold the position four hours
He caused the great gate of the courtyard to be closed, and every
preparation was made for an energetic resistance. As the Prussians
were on the opposite side of the Morelle, an immediate assault was
not to be feared. There was a bridge two kilometers away, but they
evidently were not aware of its existence, and it was hardly likely
that they would attempt to ford the river. The officer, therefore,
simply ordered the highway to be watched. Every effort would be
made in the direction of the country.
Again the fusillade had ceased. The mill seemed dead beneath the
glowing sun. Not a shutter was open; no sound came from the
interior. At length, little by little, the Prussians showed
themselves at the edge of the forest of Gagny. They stretched their
necks and grew bold. In the mill several soldiers had already
raised their guns to their shoulders, but the captain cried:
"No, no; wait. Let them come nearer."
They were exceedingly prudent, gazing at the mill with a suspicious
air. The silent and somber old structure with its curtains of ivy
filled them with uneasiness. Nevertheless, they advanced. When
fifty of them were in the opposite meadow the officer uttered the
A crash was heard; isolated shots followed. Francoise, all of a
tremble, had mechanically put her hands to her ears. Dominique,
behind the soldiers, looked on; when the smoke had somewhat lifted
he saw three Prussians stretched upon their backs in the center of
the meadow. The others had thrown themselves behind the willows and
poplars. Then the siege began.
For more than an hour the mill was riddled with balls. They dashed
against the old walls like hail. When they struck the stones they
were heard to flatten and fall into the water. They buried
themselves in the wood with a hollow sound. Occasionally a sharp
crack announced that the mill wheel had been hit. The soldiers in
the interior were careful of their shots; they fired only when they
could take aim. From time to time the captain consulted his watch.
As a ball broke a shutter and plowed into the ceiling he said to
"Four o'clock. We shall never be able to hold out!"
Little by little the terrible fusillade weakened the old mill. A
shutter fell into the water, pierced like a bit of lace, and it was
necessary to replace it with a mattress. Pere Merlier constantly
exposed himself to ascertain the extent of the damage done to his
poor wheel, the cracking of which made his heart ache. All would be
over with it this time; never could he repair it. Dominique had
implored Francoise to withdraw, but she refused to leave him; she
was seated behind a huge oaken clothespress, which protected her. A
ball, however, struck the clothespress, the sides of which gave
forth a hollow sound. Then Dominique placed himself in front of
Francoise. He had not yet fired a shot; he held his gun in his hand
but was unable to approach the windows, which were altogether
occupied by the soldiers. At each discharge the floor shook.
"Attention! Attention!" suddenly cried the captain.
He had just seen a great dark mass emerge from the wood.
Immediately a formidable platoon fire opened. It was like a
waterspout passing over the mill. Another shutter was shattered,
and through the gaping opening of the window the balls entered. Two
soldiers rolled upon the floor. One of them lay like a stone; they
pushed the body against the wall because it was in the way. The
other twisted in agony, begging his comrades to finish him, but they
paid no attention to him. The balls entered in a constant stream;
each man took care of himself and strove to find a loophole through
which to return the fire. A third soldier was hit; he uttered not a
word; he fell on the edge of a table, with eyes fixed and haggard.
Opposite these dead men Francoise, stricken with horror, had
mechanically pushed away her chair to sit on the floor against the
wall; she thought she would take up less room there and not be in so
much danger. Meanwhile the soldiers had collected all the
mattresses of the household and partially stopped up the windows
with them. The hall was filled with wrecks, with broken weapons and
"Five o'clock," said the captain. "Keep up your courige! They are
about to try to cross the river!"
At that moment Francoise uttered a cry. A ball which had ricocheted
had grazed her forehead. Several drops of blood appeared.
Dominique stared at her; then, approaching the window, he fired his
first shot. Once started, he did not stop. He loaded and fired
without heeding what was passing around him, but from time to time
he glanced at Francoise. He was very deliberate and aimed with
care. The Prussians, keeping beside the poplars, attempted the
passage of the Morelle, as the captain had predicted, but as soon as
a man strove to cross he fell, shot in the head by Dominique. The
captain, who had his eyes on the young man, was amazed. He
complimented him, saying that he should be glad to have many such
skillful marksmen. Dominique did not hear him. A ball cut his
shoulder; another wounded his arm, but he continued to fire.
There were two more dead men. The mangled mattresses no longer
stopped the windows. The last discharge seemed as if it would have
carried away the mill. The position had ceased to be tenable.
Nevertheless, the captain said firmly:
"Hold your ground for half an hour more!"
Now he counted the minutes. He had promised his chiefs to hold the
enemy in check there until evening, and he would not give an inch
before the hour he had fixed on for the retreat. He preserved his
amiable air and smiled upon Francoise to reassure her. He had
picked up the gun of a dead soldier and himself was firing.
Only four soldiers remained in the hall. The Prussians appeared in
a body on the other side of the Morelle, and it was clear that they
intended speedily to cross the river. A few minutes more elapsed.
The stubborn captain would not order the retreat. Just then a
sergeant hastened to him and said:
"They are upon the highway; they will take us in the rear!"
The Prussians must have found the bridge. The captain pulled out
his watch and looked at it.
"Five minutes longer," he said. "They cannot get here before that
Then at six o'clock exactly he at last consented to lead his men out
through a little door which opened into a lane. From there they
threw themselves into a ditch; they gained the forest of Sauval.
Before taking his departure the captain bowed very politely to Pere
Merlier and made his excuses, adding:
"Amuse them! We will return!"
Dominique was now alone in the hall. He was still firing, hearing
nothing, understanding nothing. He felt only the need of defending
Francoise. He had not the least suspicion in the world that the
soldiers had retreated. He aimed and killed his man at every shot.
Suddenly there was a loud noise. The Prussians had entered the
courtyard from behind. Dominique fired a last; shot, and they fell
upon him while his gun was yet smoking.
Four men held him. Others vociferated around him in a frightful
language. They were ready to slaughter him on the spot. Francoise,
with a supplicating look, had cast herself before him. But an
officer entered and ordered the prisoner to be delivered up to him.
After exchanging a few words in German with the soldiers he turned
toward Dominique and said to him roughly in very good French:
"You will be shot in two hours!"
It was a settled rule of the German staff that every Frenchman, not
belonging to the regular army, taken with arms in his hands should
be shot. The militia companies themselves were not recognized as
belligerents. By thus making terrible examples of the peasants who
defended their homes, the Germans hoped to prevent the levy en
masse, which they feared.
The officer, a tall, lean man of fifty, briefly questioned
Dominique. Although he spoke remarkably pure French he had a
stiffness altogether Prussian.
"Do you belong to this district?" he asked.
"No; I am a Belgian," answered the young man.
"Why then did you take up arms? The fighting did not concern you!"
Dominique made no reply. At that moment the officer saw Francoise
who was standing by, very pale, listening; upon her white forehead
her slight wound had put a red bar. He looked at the young folks,
one after the other, seemed to understand matters and contented
himself with adding:
"You do not deny having fired, do you?"
"I fired as often as I could!" responded Dominique tranquilly.
This confession was useless, for he was black with powder, covered
with sweat and stained with a few drops of blood which had flowed
from the scratch on his shoulder.
"Very well," said the officer. "You will be shot in two hours!"
Francoise did not cry out. She clasped her hands and raised them
with a gesture of mute despair. The officer noticed this gesture.
Two soldiers had taken Dominique to a neighboring apartment, where
they were to keep watch over him. The young girl had fallen upon a
chair, totally overcome; she could not weep; she was suffocating.
The officer had continued to examine her. At last he spoke to her.
"Is that young man your brother?" he demanded.
She shook her head negatively. The German stood stiffly on his feet
with out a smile. Then after a short silence he again asked:
"Has he lived long in the district?"
She nodded affirmatively.
"In that case, he ought to be thoroughly acquainted with the
This time she spoke.
"He is thoroughly acquainted with them, monsieur," she said, looking
at him with considerable surprise.
He said nothing further to her but turned upon his heel, demanding
that the mayor of the village should be brought to him. But
Francoise had arisen with a slight blush on her countenance;
thinking that she had seized the aim of the officer's questions, she
had recovered hope. She herself ran to find her father.
Pere Merlier, as soon as the firing had ceased, had quickly
descended to the wooden gallery to examine his wheel. He adored his
daughter; he had a solid friendship for Dominique, his future son-
in-law, but his wheel also held a large place in his heart. Since
the two young ones, as he called them, had come safe and sound out
of the fight, he thought of his other tenderness, which had suffered
greatly. Bent over the huge wooden carcass, he was studying its
wounds with a sad air. Five buckets were shattered to pieces; the
central framework was riddled. He thrust his fingers in the bullet
holes to measure their depth; he thought how he could repair all
these injuries. Francoise found him already stopping up the clefts
with rubbish and moss.
"Father," she said, "you are wanted."
And she wept at last as she told him what she had just heard. Pere
Merlier tossed his head. People were not shot in such a summary
fashion. The matter must be looked after. He re-entered the mill
with his silent and tranquil air. When the officer demanded of him
provisions for his men he replied that the inhabitants of Rocreuse
were not accustomed to be treated roughly and that nothing would be
obtained from them if violence were employed. He would see to
everything but on condition that he was not interfered with. The
officer at first seemed irritated by his calm tone; then he gave way
before the old man's short and clear words. He even called him back
and asked him:
"What is the name of that wood opposite?"
"The forest of Sauval."
"What is its extent?"
The miller looked at him fixedly.
"I do not know," he answered.
And he went away. An hour later the contribution of war in
provisions and money, demanded by the officer, was in the courtyard
of the mill. Night came on. Francoise watched with anxiety the
movements of the soldiers. She hung about the room in which
Dominique was imprisoned. Toward seven o'clock she experienced a
poignant emotion. She saw the officer enter the prisoner's
apartment and for a quarter of an hour heard their voices in loud
conversation. For an instant the officer reappeared upon the
threshold to give an order in German, which she did not understand,
but when twelve men ranged themselves in the courtyard, their guns
on their shoulders, she trembled and felt as if about to faint. All
then was over: the execution was going to take place. The twelve
men stood there ten minutes, Dominique's voice continuing to be
raised in a tone of violent refusal. Finally the officer came out,
saying, as he roughly shut the door:
"Very well; reflect. I give you until tomorrow morning.'
And with a gesture he ordered the twelve men to break ranks.
Francoise was stupefied. Pere Merlier, who had been smoking his
pipe and looking at the platoon simply with an air of curiosity,
took her by the arm with paternal gentleness. He led her to her
"Be calm," he said, "and try to sleep. Tomorrow, when it is light,
we will see what can be done."
As he withdrew he prudently locked her in. It was his opinion that
women were good for nothing and that they spoiled everything when
they took a hand in a serious affair. But Francoise did not retire.
She sat for a long while upon the side of her bed, listening to the
noises of the house. The German soldiers encamped in the courtyard
sang and laughed; they must have been eating and drinking until
eleven o'clock, for the racket did not cease an instant. In the
mill itself heavy footsteps resounded from time to time, without
doubt those of the sentinels who were being relieved. But she was
interested most by the sounds she could distinguish in the apartment
beneath her chamber. Many times she stretched herself out at full
length and put her ear to the floor. That apartment was the one in
which Dominique was confined. He must have been walking back and
forth from the window to the wall, for she long heard the regular
cadence of his steps. Then deep silence ensued; he had doubtless
seated himself. Finally every noise ceased and all was as if
asleep. When slumber appeared to her to have settled on the house
she opened her window as gently as possible and leaned her elbows on
Without, the night had a warm serenity. The slender crescent of the
moon, which was sinking behind the forest of Sauval, lit up the
country with the glimmer of a night lamp. The lengthened shadows of
the tall trees barred the meadows with black, while the grass in
uncovered spots assumed the softness of greenish velvet. But
Francoise did not pause to admire the mysterious charms of the
night. She examined the country, searching for the sentinels whom
the Germans had posted obliquely. She clearly saw their shadows
extending like the rounds of a ladder along the Morelle. Only one
was before the mill, on the other shore of the river, beside a
willow, the branches of which dipped in the water. Francoise saw
him plainly. He was a tall man and was standing motionless, his
face turned toward the sky with the dreamy air of a shepherd.
When she had carefully inspected the locality she again seated
herself on her bed. She remained there an hour, deeply absorbed.
Then she listened once more: there was not a sound in the mill. She
returned to the window and glanced out, but doubtless one of the
horns of the moon, which was still visible behind the trees, made
her uneasy, for she resumed her waiting attitude. At last she
thought the proper time had come. The night was as black as jet;
she could no longer see the sentinel opposite; the country spread
out like a pool of ink. She strained her ear for an instant and
made her decision. Passing near the window was an iron ladder, the
bars fastened to the wall, which mounted from the wheel to the
garret and formerly enabled the millers to reach certain machinery;
afterward the mechanism had been altered, and for a long while the
ladder had been hidden under the thick ivy which covered that side
of the mill.
Francoise bravely climbed out of her window and grasped one of the
bars of the ladder. She began to descend. Her skirts embarrassed
her greatly. Suddenly a stone was detached from the wall and fell
into the Morelle with a loud splash. She stopped with an icy shiver
of fear. Then she realized that the waterfall with its continuous
roar would drown every noise she might make, and she descended more
courageously, feeling the ivy with her foot, assuring herself that
the rounds were firm. When she was at the height of the chamber
which served as Dominique's prison she paused. An unforeseen
difficulty nearly caused her to lose all her courage: the window of
the chamber was not directly below that of her apartment. She hung
off from the ladder, but when she stretched out her arm her hand
encountered only the wall. Must she, then, ascend without pushing
her plan to completion? Her arms were fatigued; the murmur of the
Morelle beneath her commenced to make her dizzy. Then she tore from
the wall little fragments of plaster and threw them against
Dominique's window. He did not hear; he was doubtless asleep. She
crumbled more plaster from the wall, scraping the skin off her
fingers. She was utterly exhausted; she felt herself falling
backward, when Dominique at last softly opened the window.
"It is I!" she murmured. "Catch me quickly; I'm falling!"
It was the first time that she had addressed him familiarly.
Leaning out, he seized her and drew her into the chamber. There she
gave vent to a flood of tears, stifling her sobs that she might not
be heard. Then by a supreme effort she calmed herself.
"Are you guarded?" she asked in a low voice.
Dominique, still stupefied at seeing her thus, nodded his head
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