Part 3 out of 31
At last he says: "Father's vine is budding early this year. Perhaps we
may get something from it."
The woman then turns round and looks, without saying a word.
This vine is planted on the spot where their father had been shot.
It was during the war of 1870. The Prussians were occupying the whole
country. General Faidherbe, with the Northern Division of the army, was
The Prussians had established their headquarters at this farm. The old
farmer to whom it belonged, Father Pierre Milon, had received and
quartered them to the best of his ability.
For a month the German vanguard had been in this village. The French
remained motionless, ten leagues away; and yet, every night, some of the
Of all the isolated scouts, of all those who were sent to the outposts,
in groups of not more than three, not one ever returned.
They were picked up the next morning in a field or in a ditch. Even
their horses were found along the roads with their throats cut.
These murders seemed to be done by the same men, who could never be
The country was terrorized. Farmers were shot on suspicion, women were
imprisoned; children were frightened in order to try and obtain
information. Nothing could be ascertained.
But, one morning, Father Milon was found stretched out in the barn, with
a sword gash across his face.
Two Uhlans were found dead about a mile and a half from the farm. One of
them was still holding his bloody sword in his hand. He had fought,
tried to defend himself. A court-martial was immediately held in the
open air, in front of the farm. The old man was brought before it.
He was sixty-eight years old, small, thin, bent, with two big hands
resembling the claws of a crab. His colorless hair was sparse and thin,
like the down of a young duck, allowing patches of his scalp to be seen.
The brown and wrinkled skin of his neck showed big veins which
disappeared behind his jaws and came out again at the temples. He had
the reputation of being miserly and hard to deal with.
They stood him up between four soldiers, in front of the kitchen table,
which had been dragged outside. Five officers and the colonel seated
themselves opposite him.
The colonel spoke in French:
"Father Milon, since we have been here we have only had praise for you.
You have always been obliging and even attentive to us. But to-day a
terrible accusation is hanging over you, and you must clear the matter
up. How did you receive that wound on your face?"
The peasant answered nothing.
The colonel continued:
"Your silence accuses you, Father Milon. But I want you to answer me!
Do you understand? Do you know who killed the two Uhlans who were found
this morning near Calvaire?"
The old man answered clearly
The colonel, surprised, was silent for a minute, looking straight at the
prisoner. Father Milon stood impassive, with the stupid look of the
peasant, his eyes lowered as though he were talking to the priest. Just
one thing betrayed an uneasy mind; he was continually swallowing his
saliva, with a visible effort, as though his throat were terribly
The man's family, his son Jean, his daughter-in-law and his two
grandchildren were standing a few feet behind him, bewildered and
The colonel went on:
"Do you also know who killed all the scouts who have been found dead, for
a month, throughout the country, every morning?"
The old man answered with the same stupid look:
"You killed them all?"
"Uh huh! I did."
"You alone? All alone?"
"Tell me how you did it."
This time the man seemed moved; the necessity for talking any length of
time annoyed him visibly. He stammered:
"I dunno! I simply did it."
The colonel continued:
"I warn you that you will have to tell me everything. You might as well
make up your mind right away. How did you begin?"
The man cast a troubled look toward his family, standing close behind
him. He hesitated a minute longer, and then suddenly made up his mind to
obey the order.
"I was coming home one night at about ten o'clock, the night after you
got here. You and your soldiers had taken more than fifty ecus worth of
forage from me, as well as a cow and two sheep. I said to myself: 'As
much as they take from you; just so much will you make them pay back.'
And then I had other things on my mind which I will tell you. Just then
I noticed one of your soldiers who was smoking his pipe by the ditch
behind the barn. I went and got my scythe and crept up slowly behind
him, so that he couldn't hear me. And I cut his head off with one single
blow, just as I would a blade of grass, before he could say 'Booh!' If
you should look at the bottom of the pond, you will find him tied up in a
potato-sack, with a stone fastened to it.
"I got an idea. I took all his clothes, from his boots to his cap, and
hid them away in the little wood behind the yard."
The old man stopped. The officers remained speechless, looking at each
other. The questioning began again, and this is what they learned.
Once this murder committed, the man had lived with this one thought:
"Kill the Prussians!" He hated them with the blind, fierce hate of the
greedy yet patriotic peasant. He had his idea, as he said. He waited
He was allowed to go and come as he pleased, because he had shown himself
so humble, submissive and obliging to the invaders. Each night he saw
the outposts leave. One night he followed them, having heard the name of
the village to which the men were going, and having learned the few words
of German which he needed for his plan through associating with the
He left through the back yard, slipped into the woods, found the dead
man's clothes and put them on. Then he began to crawl through the
fields, following along the hedges in order to keep out of sight,
listening to the slightest noises, as wary as a poacher.
As soon as he thought the time ripe, he approached the road and hid
behind a bush. He waited for a while. Finally, toward midnight, he
heard the sound of a galloping horse. The man put his ear to the ground
in order to make sure that only one horseman was approaching, then he got
An Uhlan came galloping along, carrying des patches. As he went, he was
all eyes and ears. When he was only a few feet away, Father Milon dragged
himself across the road, moaning: "Hilfe! Hilfe!" ( Help! Help!) The
horseman stopped, and recognizing a German, he thought he was wounded and
dismounted, coming nearer without any suspicion, and just as he was
leaning over the unknown man, he received, in the pit of his stomach, a
heavy thrust from the long curved blade of the sabre. He dropped without
suffering pain, quivering only in the final throes. Then the farmer,
radiant with the silent joy of an old peasant, got up again, and, for his
own pleasure, cut the dead man's throat. He then dragged the body to the
ditch and threw it in.
The horse quietly awaited its master. Father Milon mounted him and
started galloping across the plains.
About an hour later he noticed two more Uhlans who were returning home,
side by side. He rode straight for them, once more crying "Hilfe!
The Prussians, recognizing the uniform, let him approach without
distrust. The old man passed between them like a cannon-ball, felling
them both, one with his sabre and the other with a revolver.
Then he killed the horses, German horses! After that he quickly returned
to the woods and hid one of the horses. He left his uniform there and
again put on his old clothes; then going back into bed, he slept until
For four days he did not go out, waiting for the inquest to be
terminated; but on the fifth day he went out again and killed two more
soldiers by the same stratagem. From that time on he did not stop.
Each night he wandered about in search of adventure, killing Prussians,
sometimes here and sometimes there, galloping through deserted fields,
in the moonlight, a lost Uhlan, a hunter of men. Then, his task
accomplished, leaving behind him the bodies lying along the roads, the
old farmer would return and hide his horse and uniform.
He went, toward noon, to carry oats and water quietly to his mount, and
he fed it well as he required from it a great amount of work.
But one of those whom he had attacked the night before, in defending
himself slashed the old peasant across the face with his sabre.
However, he had killed them both. He had come back and hidden the horse
and put on his ordinary clothes again; but as he reached home he began to
feel faint, and had dragged himself as far as the stable, being unable to
reach the house.
They had found him there, bleeding, on the straw.
When he had finished his tale, he suddenly lifted up his head and looked
proudly at the Prussian officers.
The colonel, who was gnawing at his mustache, asked:
"You have nothing else to say?"
"Nothing more; I have finished my task; I killed sixteen, not one more or
"Do you know that you are going to die?"
"I haven't asked for mercy."
"Have you been a soldier?"
"Yes, I served my time. And then, you had killed my father, who was a
soldier of the first Emperor. And last month you killed my youngest son,
Francois, near Evreux. I owed you one for that; I paid. We are quits."
The officers were looking at each other.
The old man continued:
"Eight for my father, eight for the boy--we are quits. I did not seek
any quarrel with you. I don't know you. I don't even know where you
come from. And here you are, ordering me about in my home as though it
were your own. I took my revenge upon the others. I'm not sorry."
And, straightening up his bent back, the old man folded his arms in the
attitude of a modest hero.
The Prussians talked in a low tone for a long time. One of them, a
captain, who had also lost his son the previous month, was defending the
poor wretch. Then the colonel arose and, approaching Father Milon, said
in a low voice:
"Listen, old man, there is perhaps a way of saving your life, it is to--"
But the man was not listening, and, his eyes fixed on the hated officer,
while the wind played with the downy hair on his head, he distorted his
slashed face, giving it a truly terrible expression, and, swelling out
his chest, he spat, as hard as he could, right in the Prussian's face.
The colonel, furious, raised his hand, and for the second time the man
spat in his face.
All the officers had jumped up and were shrieking orders at the same
In less than a minute the old man, still impassive, was pushed up against
the wall and shot, looking smilingly the while toward Jean, his eldest
son, his daughter-in-law and his two grandchildren, who witnessed this
scene in dumb terror.
A COUP D'ETAT
Paris had just heard of the disaster at Sedan. A republic had been
declared. All France was wavering on the brink of this madness which
lasted until after the Commune. From one end of the country to the other
everybody was playing soldier.
Cap-makers became colonels, fulfilling the duties of generals; revolvers
and swords were displayed around big, peaceful stomachs wrapped in
flaming red belts; little tradesmen became warriors commanding battalions
of brawling volunteers, and swearing like pirates in order to give
themselves some prestige.
The sole fact of handling firearms crazed these people, who up to that
time had only handled scales, and made them, without any reason,
dangerous to all. Innocent people were shot to prove that they knew how
to kill; in forests which had never seen a Prussian, stray dogs, grazing
cows and browsing horses were killed.
Each one thought himself called upon to play a great part in military
affairs. The cafes of the smallest villages, full of uniformed
tradesmen, looked like barracks or hospitals.
The town of Canneville was still in ignorance of the maddening news from
the army and the capital; nevertheless, great excitement had prevailed
for the last month, the opposing parties finding themselves face to face.
The mayor, Viscount de Varnetot, a thin, little old man, a conservative,
who had recently, from ambition, gone over to the Empire, had seen a
determined opponent arise in Dr. Massarel, a big, full-blooded man,
leader of the Republican party of the neighborhood, a high official in
the local masonic lodge, president of the Agricultural Society and of the
firemen's banquet and the organizer of the rural militia which was to
save the country.
In two weeks, he had managed to gather together sixty-three volunteers,
fathers of families, prudent farmers and town merchants, and every
morning he would drill them in the square in front of the town-hall.
When, perchance, the mayor would come to the municipal building,
Commander Massarel, girt with pistols, would pass proudly in front of his
troop, his sword in his hand, and make all of them cry: "Long live the
Fatherland!" And it had been noticed that this cry excited the little
viscount, who probably saw in it a menace, a threat, as well as the
odious memory of the great Revolution.
On the morning of the fifth of September, the doctor, in full uniform,
his revolver on the table, was giving a consultation to an old couple, a
farmer who had been suffering from varicose veins for the last seven
years and had waited until his wife had them also, before he would
consult the doctor, when the postman brought in the paper.
M. Massarel opened it, grew pale, suddenly rose, and lifting his hands to
heaven in a gesture of exaltation, began to shout at the top of his voice
before the two frightened country folks:
"Long live the Republic! long live the Republic! long live the
Then he fell back in his chair, weak from emotion.
And as the peasant resumed: "It started with the ants, which began to run
up and down my legs---" Dr. Massarel exclaimed:
"Shut up! I haven't got time to bother with your nonsense. The Republic
has been proclaimed, the emperor has been taken prisoner, France is
saved! Long live the Republic!"
Running to the door, he howled:
"Celeste, quick, Celeste!"
The servant, affrighted, hastened in; he was trying to talk so rapidly,
that he could only stammer:
"My boots, my sword, my cartridge-box and the Spanish dagger which is on
my night-table! Hasten!"
As the persistent peasant, taking advantage of a moment's silence,
continued, "I seemed to get big lumps which hurt me when I walk," the
physician, exasperated, roared:
"Shut up and get out! If you had washed your feet it would not have
Then, grabbing him by the collar, he yelled at him:
"Can't you understand that we are a republic, you brass-plated idiot!"
But professional sentiment soon calmed him, and he pushed the bewildered
couple out, saying:
"Come back to-morrow, come back to-morrow, my friends. I haven't any
As he equipped himself from head to foot, he gave a series of important
orders to his servant:
"Run over to Lieutenant Picart and to Second Lieutenant Pommel, and tell
them that I am expecting them here immediately. Also send me Torchebeuf
with his drum. Quick! quick!"
When Celeste had gone out, he sat down and thought over the situation and
the difficulties which he would have to surmount.
The three men arrived together in their working clothes. The commandant,
who expected to see them in uniform, felt a little shocked.
"Don't you people know anything? The emperor has been taken prisoner,
the Republic has been proclaimed. We must act. My position is delicate,
I might even say dangerous."
He reflected for a few moments before his bewildered subordinates, then
"We must act and not hesitate; minutes count as hours in times like
these. All depends on the promptness of our decision. You, Picart, go
to the cure and order him to ring the alarm-bell, in order to get
together the people, to whom I am going to announce the news. You,
Torchebeuf beat the tattoo throughout the whole neighborhood as far as
the hamlets of Gerisaie and Salmare, in order to assemble the militia in
the public square. You, Pommel, get your uniform on quickly, just the
coat and cap. We are going to the town-hall to demand Monsieur de
Varnetot to surrender his powers to me. Do you understand?"
"Now carry out those orders quickly. I will go over to your house with
you, Pommel, since we shall act together."
Five minutes later, the commandant and his subordinates, armed to the
teeth, appeared on the square, just as the little Viscount de Varnetot,
his legs encased in gaiters as for a hunting party, his gun on his
shoulder, was coming down the other street at double-quick time, followed
by his three green-coated guards, their swords at their sides and their
guns swung over their shoulders.
While the doctor stopped, bewildered, the four men entered the town-hall
and closed the door behind them.
"They have outstripped us," muttered the physician, "we must now wait for
reenforcements. There is nothing to do for the present."
Lieutenant Picart now appeared on the scene.
"The priest refuses to obey," he said. "He has even locked himself in
the church with the sexton and beadle."
On the other side of the square, opposite the white, tightly closed town-
hall, stood the church, silent and dark, with its massive oak door
studded with iron.
But just as the perplexed inhabitants were sticking their heads out of
the windows or coming out on their doorsteps, the drum suddenly began to
be heard, and Torchebeuf appeared, furiously beating the tattoo. He
crossed the square running, and disappeared along the road leading to the
The commandant drew his sword, and advanced alone to half way between the
two buildings behind which the enemy had intrenched itself, and, waving
his sword over his head, he roared with all his might:
"Long live the Republic! Death to traitors!"
Then he returned to his officers.
The butcher, the baker and the druggist, much disturbed, were anxiously
pulling down their shades and closing their shops. The grocer alone kept
However, the militia were arriving by degrees, each man in a different
uniform, but all wearing a black cap with gold braid, the cap being the
principal part of the outfit. They were armed with old rusty guns, the
old guns which had hung for thirty years on the kitchen wall; and they
looked a good deal like an army of tramps.
When he had about thirty men about him, the commandant, in a few words,
outlined the situation to them. Then, turning to his staff: "Let us
act," he said.
The villagers were gathering together and talking the matter over.
The doctor quickly decided on a plan of campaign.
"Lieutenant Picart, you will advance under the windows of this town-hall
and summon Monsieur de Varnetot, in the name of the Republic, to hand the
keys over to me."
But the lieutenant, a master mason, refused:
"You're smart, you are. I don't care to get killed, thank you. Those
people in there shoot straight, don't you forget it. Do your errands
The commandant grew very red.
"I command you to go in the name of discipline!"
The lieutenant rebelled:
"I'm not going to have my beauty spoiled without knowing why."
All the notables, gathered in a group near by, began to laugh. One of
"You are right, Picart, this isn't the right time."
The doctor then muttered:
And, leaving his sword and his revolver in the hands of a soldier, he
advanced slowly, his eye fastened on the windows, expecting any minute to
see a gun trained on him.
When he was within a few feet of the building, the doors at both ends,
leading into the two schools, opened and a flood of children ran out,
boys from one side, girls from the ether, and began to play around the
doctor, in the big empty square, screeching and screaming, and making so
much noise that he could not make himself heard.
As soon as the last child was out of the building, the two doors closed
Most of the youngsters finally dispersed, and the commandant called in a
"Monsieur de Varnetot!"
A window on the first floor opened and M. de Varnetot appeared.
The commandant continued:
"Monsieur, you know that great events have just taken place which have
changed the entire aspect of the government. The one which you
represented no longer exists. The one which I represent is taking
control. Under these painful, but decisive circumstances, I come, in the
name of the new Republic, to ask you to turn over to me the office which
you held under the former government."
M. de Varnetot answered:
"Doctor, I am the mayor of Canneville, duly appointed, and I shall remain
mayor of Canneville until I have been dismissed by a decree from my
superiors. As mayor, I am in my place in the townhall, and here I stay.
Anyhow, just try to get me out."
He closed the window.
The commandant returned to his troop. But before giving any information,
eyeing Lieutenant Picart from head to foot, he exclaimed:
"You're a great one, you are! You're a fine specimen of manhood! You're
a disgrace to the army! I degrade you."
"I don't give a ----!"
He turned away and mingled with a group of townspeople.
Then the doctor hesitated. What could he do? Attack? But would his men
obey orders? And then, did he have the right to do so?
An idea struck him. He ran to the telegraph office, opposite the town-
hall, and sent off three telegrams:
To the new republican government in Paris.
To the new prefect of the Seine-Inferieure, at Rouen.
To the new republican sub-prefect at Dieppe.
He explained the situation, pointed out the danger which the town would
run if it should remain in the hands of the royalist mayor; offered his
faithful services, asked for orders and signed, putting all his titles
after his name.
Then he returned to his battalion, and, drawing ten francs from his
pocket, he cried: "Here, my friends, go eat and drink; only leave me a
detachment of ten men to guard against anybody's leaving the town-hall."
But ex-Lieutenant Picart, who had been talking with the watchmaker, heard
him; he began to laugh, and exclaimed: "By Jove, if they come out, it'll
give you a chance to get in. Otherwise I can see you standing out there
for the rest of your life!"
The doctor did not reply, and he went to luncheon.
In the afternoon, he disposed his men about the town as though they were
in immediate danger of an ambush.
Several times he passed in front of the town-hall and of the church
without noticing anything suspicious; the two buildings looked as though
The butcher, the baker and the druggist once more opened up their stores.
Everybody was talking about the affair. If the emperor were a prisoner,
there must have been some kind of treason. They did not know exactly
which of the republics had returned to power.
Toward nine o'clock, the doctor, alone, noiselessly approached the
entrance of the public building, persuaded that the enemy must have gone
to bed; and, as he was preparing to batter down the door with a pick-axe,
the deep voice of a sentry suddenly called:
"Who goes there?"
And M. Massarel retreated as fast as his legs could carry him.
Day broke without any change in the situation.
Armed militia occupied the square. All the citizens had gathered around
this troop awaiting developments. Even neighboring villagers had come to
Then the doctor, seeing that his reputation was at stake, resolved to put
an end to the matter in one way or another; and he was about to take some
measures, undoubtedly energetic ones, when the door of the telegraph
station opened and the little servant of the postmistress appeared,
holding in her hands two papers.
First she went to the commandant and gave him one of the despatches; then
she crossed the empty square, confused at seeing the eyes of everyone on
her, and lowering her head and running along with little quick steps, she
went and knocked softly at the door of the barricaded house, as though
ignorant of the fact that those behind it were armed.
The door opened wide enough to let a man's hand reach out and receive the
message; and the young girl returned blushing, ready to cry at being thus
stared at by the whole countryside.
In a clear voice, the doctor cried:
"Silence, if you please."
When the populace had quieted down, he continued proudly:
"Here is the communication which I have received from the government."
And lifting the telegram he read:
Former mayor dismissed. Inform him immediately, More orders
For the sub-prefect:
He was-triumphant; his heart was throbbing with joy and his hands were
trembling; but Picart, his former subordinate, cried to him from a
"That's all right; but supposing the others don't come out, what good is
the telegram going to do you?"
M. Massarel grew pale. He had not thought of that; if the others did not
come out, he would now have to take some decisive step. It was not only
his right, but his duty.
He looked anxiously at the town-hall, hoping to see the door open and his
adversary give in.
The door remained closed. What could he do? The crowd was growing and
closing around the militia. They were laughing.
One thought especially tortured the doctor. If he attacked, he would
have to march at the head of his men; and as, with him dead, all strife
would cease, it was at him and him only that M. de Varnetot and his three
guards would aim. And they were good shots, very good shots, as Picart
had just said. But an idea struck him and, turning to Pommel, he
"Run quickly to the druggist and ask him to lend me a towel and a stick."
The lieutenant hastened.
He would make a flag of truce, a white flag, at the sight of which the
royalist heart of the mayor would perhaps rejoice.
Pommel returned with the cloth and a broom-stick. With some twine they
completed the flag, and M. Massarel, grasping it in both hands and
holding it in front of him, again advanced in the direction of the town-
hall. When he was opposite the door, he once more called: "Monsieur de
Varnetot!" The door suddenly opened and M. de Varnetot and his three
guards appeared on the threshold.
Instinctively the doctor stepped back; then he bowed courteously to his
enemy, and, choking with emotion, he announced: "I have come, monsieur,
to make you acquainted with the orders which I have received."
The nobleman, without returning the bow, answered: "I resign, monsieur,
but understand that it is neither through fear of, nor obedience to, the
odious government which has usurped the power." And, emphasizing every
word, he declared: "I do not wish to appear, for a single day, to serve
the Republic. That's all."
Massarel, stunned, answered nothing; and M. de Varnetot, walking quickly,
disappeared around the corner of the square, still followed by his
The doctor, puffed up with pride, returned to the crowd. As soon as he
was near enough to make himself heard, he cried: "Hurrah! hurrah!
Victory crowns the Republic everywhere."
There was no outburst of joy.
The doctor continued: "We are free, you are free, independent! Be
The motionless villagers were looking at him without any signs of triumph
shining in their eyes.
He looked at them, indignant at their indifference, thinking of what he
could say or do in order to make an impression to electrify this calm
peasantry, to fulfill his mission as a leader.
He had an inspiration and, turning to Pommel, he ordered: "Lieutenant, go
get me the bust of the ex-emperor which is in the meeting room of the
municipal council, and bring it here with a chair."
The man presently reappeared, carrying on his right shoulder the plaster
Bonaparte, and holding in his left hand a cane-seated chair.
M. Massarel went towards him, took the chair, placed the white bust on
it, then stepping back a few steps, he addressed it in a loud voice:
"Tyrant, tyrant, you have fallen down in the mud. The dying fatherland
was in its death throes under your oppression. Vengeful Destiny has
struck you. Defeat and shame have pursued you; you fall conquered, a
prisoner of the Prussians; and from the ruins of your crumbling empire,
the young and glorious Republic arises, lifting from the ground your
He waited for applause. Not a sound greeted his listening ear. The
peasants, nonplussed, kept silent; and the white, placid, well-groomed
statue seemed to look at M. Massarel with its plaster smile, ineffaceable
Thus they stood, face to face, Napoleon on his chair, the physician
standing three feet away. Anger seized the commandant. What could he do
to move this crowd and definitely to win over public opinion?
He happened to carry his hand to his stomach, and he felt, under his red
belt, the butt of his revolver.
Not another inspiration, not another word cane to his mind. Then, he
drew his weapon, stepped back a few steps and shot the former monarch.
The bullet made a little black hole: like a spot, in his forehead. No
sensation was created. M. Massarel shot a second time and made a second
hole, then a third time, then, without stopping, he shot off the three
remaining shots. Napoleon's forehead was blown away in a white powder,
but his eyes, nose and pointed mustache remained intact.
Then in exasperation, the doctor kicked the chair over, and placing one
foot on what remained of the bust in the position of a conqueror, he
turned to the amazed public and yelled: "Thus may all traitors die!"
As no enthusiasm was, as yet, visible, the spectators appearing to be
dumb with astonishment, the commandant cried to the militia: "You may go
home now." And he himself walked rapidly, almost ran, towards his house.
As soon as he appeared, the servant told him that some patients had been
waiting in his office for over three hours. He hastened in. They were
the same two peasants as a few days before, who had returned at daybreak,
obstinate and patient.
The old man immediately began his explanation:
"It began with ants, which seemed to be crawling up and down my legs----"
LIEUTENANT LARE'S MARRIAGE
Since the beginning of the campaign Lieutenant Lare had taken two cannon
from the Prussians. His general had said: "Thank you, lieutenant," and
had given him the cross of honor.
As he was as cautious as he was brave, wary, inventive, wily and
resourceful, he was entrusted with a hundred soldiers and he organized a
company of scouts who saved the army on several occasions during a
But the invading army entered by every frontier like a surging sea.
Great waves of men arrived one after the other, scattering all around
them a scum of freebooters. General Carrel's brigade, separated from its
division, retreated continually, fighting each day, but remaining almost
intact, thanks to the vigilance and agility of Lieutenant Lare, who
seemed to be everywhere at the same moment, baffling all the enemy's
cunning, frustrating their plans, misleading their Uhlans and killing
One morning the general sent for him.
"Lieutenant," said he, "here is a dispatch from General de Lacere, who
will be destroyed if we do not go to his aid by sunrise to-morrow. He is
at Blainville, eight leagues from here. You will start at nightfall with
three hundred men, whom you will echelon along the road. I will follow
you two hours later. Study the road carefully; I fear we may meet a
division of the enemy."
It had been freezing hard for a week. At two o'clock it began to snow,
and by night the ground was covered and heavy white swirls concealed
objects hard by.
At six o'clock the detachment set out.
Two men walked alone as scouts about three yards ahead. Then came a
platoon of ten men commanded by the lieutenant himself. The rest
followed them in two long columns. To the right and left of the little
band, at a distance of about three hundred feet on either side, some
soldiers marched in pairs.
The snow, which was still falling, covered them with a white powder in
the darkness, and as it did not melt on their uniforms, they were hardly
distinguishable in the night amid the dead whiteness of the landscape.
From time to time they halted. One heard nothing but that indescribable,
nameless flutter of falling snow--a sensation rather than a sound, a
vague, ominous murmur. A command was given in a low tone and when the
troop resumed its march it left in its wake a sort of white phantom
standing in the snow. It gradually grew fainter and finally disappeared.
It was the echelons who were to lead the army.
The scouts slackened their pace. Something was ahead of them.
"Turn to the right," said the lieutenant; "it is the Ronfi wood; the
chateau is more to the left."
Presently the command "Halt" was passed along. The detachment stopped
and waited for the lieutenant, who, accompanied by only ten men, had
undertaken a reconnoitering expedition to the chateau.
They advanced, creeping under the trees. Suddenly they all remained
motionless. Around them was a dead silence. Then, quite near them, a
little clear, musical young voice was heard amid the stillness of the
"Father, we shall get lost in the snow. We shall never reach
A deeper voice replied:
"Never fear, little daughter; I know the country as well as I know my
The lieutenant said a few words and four men moved away silently, like
All at once a woman's shrill cry was heard through the darkness. Two
prisoners were brought back, an old man and a young girl. The lieutenant
questioned them, still in a low tone:
"Butler to Comte de Ronfi."
"Is this your daughter?"
"What does she do?"
"She is laundress at the chateau."
"Where are you going?"
"We are making our escape."
"Twelve Uhlans passed by this evening. They shot three keepers and
hanged the gardener. I was alarmed on account of the little one."
"Whither are you bound?"
"Because there is a French army there."
"Do you know the way?"
"Well then, follow us."
They rejoined the column and resumed their march across country. The old
man walked in silence beside the lieutenant, his daughter walking at his
side. All at once she stopped.
"Father," she said, "I am so tired I cannot go any farther."
And she sat down. She was shaking with cold and seemed about to lose
consciousness. Her father wanted to carry her, but he was too old and
"Lieutenant," said he, sobbing, "we shall only impede your march. France
before all. Leave us here."
The officer had given a command. Some men had started off. They came
back with branches they had cut, and in a minute a litter was ready. The
whole detachment had joined them by this time.
"Here is a woman dying of cold," said the lieutenant. "Who will give his
cape to cover her?"
Two hundred capes were taken off. The young girl was wrapped up in these
warm soldiers' capes, gently laid in the litter, and then four' hardy
shoulders lifted her up, and like an Eastern queen borne by her slaves
she was placed in the center of the detachment of soldiers, who resumed
their march with more energy, more courage, more cheerfulness, animated
by the presence of a woman, that sovereign inspiration that has stirred
the old French blood to so many deeds of valor.
At the end of an hour they halted again and every one lay down in the
snow. Over yonder on the level country a big, dark shadow was moving.
It looked like some weird monster stretching itself out like a serpent,
then suddenly coiling itself into a mass, darting forth again, then back,
and then forward again without ceasing. Some whispered orders were
passed around among the soldiers, and an occasional little, dry, metallic
click was heard. The moving object suddenly came nearer, and twelve
Uhlans were seen approaching at a gallop, one behind the other, having
lost their way in the darkness. A brilliant flash suddenly revealed to
them two hundred mete lying on the ground before them. A rapid fire was
heard, which died away in the snowy silence, and all the twelve fell to
the ground, their horses with them.
After a long rest the march was resumed. The old man whom they had
captured acted as guide.
Presently a voice far off in the distance cried out: "Who goes there?"
Another voice nearer by gave the countersign.
They made another halt; some conferences took place. It had stopped
snowing. A cold wind was driving the clouds, and innumerable stars were
sparkling in the sky behind them, gradually paling in the rosy light of
A staff officer came forward to receive the detachment. But when he
asked who was being carried in the litter, the form stirred; two little
hands moved aside the big blue army capes and, rosy as the dawn, with two
eyes that were brighter than the stars that had just faded from sight,
and a smile as radiant as the morn, a dainty face appeared.
"It is I, monsieur."
The soldiers, wild with delight, clapped their hands and bore the young
girl in triumph into the midst of the camp, that was just getting to
arms. Presently General Carrel arrived on the scene. At nine o'clock
the Prussians made an attack. They beat a retreat at noon.
That evening, as Lieutenant Lare, overcome by fatigue, was sleeping on a
bundle of straw, he was sent for by the general. He found the commanding
officer in his tent, chatting with the old man whom they had come across
during the night. As soon as he entered the tent the general took his
hand, and addressing the stranger, said:
"My dear comte, this is the young man of whom you were telling me just
now; he is one of my best officers."
He smiled, lowered his tone, and added:
Then, turning to the astonished lieutenant, he presented "Comte de Ronfi-
The old man took both his hands, saying:
"My dear lieutenant, you have saved my daughter's life. I have only one
way of thanking you. You may come in a few months to tell me--if you
One year later, on the very same day, Captain Lare and Miss Louise-
Hortense-Genevieve de Ronfi-Quedissac were married in the church of St.
She brought a dowry of six thousand francs, and was said to be the
prettiest bride that had been seen that year.
The shadows of a balmy night were slowly falling. The women remained in
the drawing-room of the villa. The men, seated, or astride of garden
chairs, were smoking outside the door of the house, around a table laden
with cups and liqueur glasses.
Their lighted cigars shone like eyes in the darkness, which was gradually
becoming more dense. They had been talking about a frightful accident
which had occurred the night before--two men and three women drowned in
the river before the eyes of the guests.
General de G---- remarked:
"Yes, these things are affecting, but they are not horrible.
"Horrible, that well-known word, means much more than terrible.
A frightful accident like this affects, upsets, terrifies; it does not
horrify. In order that we should experience horror, something more is
needed than emotion, something more than the spectacle of a dreadful
death; there must be a shuddering sense of mystery, or a sensation of
abnormal terror, more than natural. A man who dies, even under the most
tragic circumstances, does not excite horror; a field of battle is not
horrible; blood is not horrible; the vilest crimes are rarely horrible.
"Here are two personal examples which have shown me what is the meaning
"It was during the war of 1870. We were retreating toward Pont-Audemer,
after having passed through Rouen. The army, consisting of about twenty
thousand men, twenty thousand routed men, disbanded, demoralized,
exhausted, were going to disband at Havre.
"The earth was covered with snow. The night was falling. They had not
eaten anything since the day before. They were fleeing rapidly, the
Prussians not being far off.
"All the Norman country, sombre, dotted with the shadows of the trees
surrounding the farms, stretched out beneath a black, heavy, threatening
"Nothing else could be heard in the wan twilight but the confused sound,
undefined though rapid, of a marching throng, an endless tramping,
mingled with the vague clink of tin bowls or swords. The men, bent,
round-shouldered, dirty, in many cases even in rags, dragged themselves
along, hurried through the snow, with a long, broken-backed stride.
"The skin of their hands froze to the butt ends of their muskets, for it
was freezing hard that night. I frequently saw a little soldier take off
his shoes in order to walk barefoot, as his shoes hurt his weary feet;
and at every step he left a track of blood. Then, after some time, he
would sit down in a field for a few minutes' rest, and he never got up
again. Every man who sat down was a dead man.
"Should we have left behind us those poor, exhausted soldiers, who fondly
counted on being able to start afresh as soon as they had somewhat
refreshed their stiffened legs? But scarcely had they ceased to move,
and to make their almost frozen blood circulate in their veins, than an
unconquerable torpor congealed them, nailed them to the ground, closed
their eyes, and paralyzed in one second this overworked human mechanism.
And they gradually sank down, their foreheads on their knees, without,
however, falling over, for their loins and their limbs became as hard and
immovable as wood, impossible to bend or to stand upright.
"And the rest of us, more robust, kept straggling on, chilled to the
marrow, advancing by a kind of inertia through the night, through the
snow, through that cold and deadly country, crushed by pain, by defeat,
by despair, above all overcome by the abominable sensation of
abandonment, of the end, of death, of nothingness.
"I saw two gendarmes holding by the arm a curious-looking little man,
old, beardless, of truly surprising aspect.
"They were looking for an officer, believing that they had caught a spy.
The word 'spy' at once spread through the midst of the stragglers, and
they gathered in a group round the prisoner. A voice exclaimed: 'He must
be shot!' And all these soldiers who were falling from utter
prostration, only holding themselves on their feet by leaning on their
guns, felt all of a sudden that thrill of furious and bestial anger which
urges on a mob to massacre.
"I wanted to speak. I was at that time in command of a battalion; but
they no longer recognized the authority of their commanding officers;
they would even have shot me.
"One of the gendarmes said: 'He has been following us for the three last
days. He has been asking information from every one about the
I took it on myself to question this person.
"What are you doing? What do you want? Why are you accompanying the
"He stammered out some words in some unintelligible dialect. He was,
indeed, a strange being, with narrow shoulders, a sly look, and such an
agitated air in my presence that I really no longer doubted that he was a
spy. He seemed very aged and feeble. He kept looking at me from under
his eyes with a humble, stupid, crafty air.
"The men all round us exclaimed.
"'To the wall! To the wall!'
"I said to the gendarmes:
"'Will you be responsible for the prisoner?'
"I had not ceased speaking when a terrible shove threw me on my back, and
in a second I saw the man seized by the furious soldiers, thrown down,
struck, dragged along the side of the road, and flung against a tree. He
fell in the snow, nearly dead already.
"And immediately they shot him. The soldiers fired at him, reloaded
their guns, fired again with the desperate energy of brutes. They fought
with each other to have a shot at him, filed off in front of the corpse,
and kept on firing at him, as people at a funeral keep sprinkling holy
water in front of a coffin.
"But suddenly a cry arose of 'The Prussians! the Prussians!'
"And all along the horizon I heard the great noise of this panic-stricken
army in full flight.
"A panic, the result of these shots fired at this vagabond, had filled
his very executioners with terror; and, without realizing that they were
themselves the originators of the scare, they fled and disappeared in the
"I remained alone with the corpse, except for the two gendarmes whose
duty compelled them to stay with me.
"They lifted up the riddled mass of bruised and bleeding flesh.
"'He must be searched,' I said. And I handed them a box of taper matches
which I had in my pocket. One of the soldiers had another box. I was
standing between the two.
"The gendarme who was examining the body announced:
"'Clothed in a blue blouse, a white shirt, trousers, and a pair of
"The first match went out; we lighted a second. The man continued, as he
turned out his pockets:
"'A horn-handled pocketknife, check handkerchief, a snuffbox, a bit of
pack thread, a piece of bread.'
"The second match went out; we lighted a third. The gendarme, after
having felt the corpse for a long time, said:
"'That is all.'
"'Strip him. We shall perhaps find something next his skin."
"And in order that the two soldiers might help each other in this task, I
stood between them to hold the lighted match. By the rapid and speedily
extinguished flame of the match, I saw them take off the garments one by
one, and expose to view that bleeding bundle of flesh, still warm, though
"And suddenly one of them exclaimed:
"'Good God, general, it is a woman!'
"I cannot describe to you the strange and poignant sensation of pain that
moved my heart. I could not believe it, and I knelt down in the snow
before this shapeless pulp of flesh to see for myself: it was a woman.
"The two gendarmes, speechless and stunned, waited for me to give my
opinion on the matter. But I did not know what to think, what theory to
"Then the brigadier slowly drawled out:
"'Perhaps she came to look for a son of hers in the artillery, whom she
had not heard from.'
"And the other chimed in:
"'Perhaps, indeed, that is so.'
"And I, who had seen some very terrible things in my time, began to cry.
And I felt, in the presence of this corpse, on that icy cold night, in
the midst of that gloomy plain; at the sight of this mystery, at the
sight of this murdered stranger, the meaning of that word 'horror.'
"I had the same sensation last year, while interrogating one of the
survivors of the Flatters Mission, an Algerian sharpshooter.
"You know the details of that atrocious drama. It is possible, however,
that you are unacquainted with one of them.
"The colonel travelled through the desert into the Soudan, and passed
through the immense territory of the Touaregs, who, in that great ocean
of sand which stretches from the Atlantic to Egypt and from the Soudan to
Algeria, are a kind of pirates, resembling those who ravaged the seas in
"The guides who accompanied the column belonged to the tribe of the
Chambaa, of Ouargla.
"Now, one day we encamped in the middle of the desert, and the Arabs
declared that, as the spring was still some distance away, they would go
with all their camels to look for water.
"One man alone warned the colonel that he had been betrayed. Flatters
did not believe this, and accompanied the convoy with the engineers, the
doctors, and nearly all his officers.
"They were massacred round the spring, and all the camels were captured.
"The captain of the Arab Intelligence Department at Ouargla, who had
remained in the camp, took command of the survivors, spahis and
sharpshooters, and they began to retreat, leaving behind them the baggage
and provisions, for want of camels to carry them.
"Then they started on their journey through this solitude without shade
and boundless, beneath the devouring sun, which burned them from morning
"One tribe came to tender its submission and brought dates as a tribute.
The dates were poisoned. Nearly all the Frenchmen died, and, among them,
the last officer.
"There now only remained a few spahis with their quartermaster, Pobeguin,
and some native sharpshooters of the Chambaa tribe. They had still two
camels left. They disappeared one night, along with two, Arabs.
"Then the survivors understood that they would be obliged to eat each
other, and as soon as they discovered the flight of the two men with the
two camels, those who remained separated, and proceeded to march, one by
one, through the soft sand, under the glare of a scorching sun, at a
distance of more than a gunshot from each other.
"So they went on all day, and when they reached a spring each of them
came to drink at it in turn, as soon as each solitary marcher had moved
forward the number of yards arranged upon. And thus they continued
marching the whole day, raising everywhere they passed, in that level,
burntup expanse, those little columns of dust which, from a distance,
indicate those who are trudging through the desert.
"But one morning one of the travellers suddenly turned round and
approached the man behind him. And they all stopped to look.
"The man toward whom the famished soldier drew near did not flee, but lay
flat on the ground, and took aim at the one who was coming toward him.
When he believed he was within gunshot, he fired. The other was not hit,
and he continued then to advance, and levelling his gun, in turn, he
killed his comrade.
"Then from all directions the others rushed to seek their share. And he
who had killed the fallen man, cutting the corpse into pieces,
"And they once more placed themselves at fixed distances, these
irreconcilable allies, preparing for the next murder which would bring
"For two days they lived on this human flesh which they divided between
them. Then, becoming famished again, he who had killed the first man
began killing afresh. And again, like a butcher, he cut up the corpse
and offered it to his comrades, keeping only his own portion of it.
"And so this retreat of cannibals continued.
"The last Frenchman, Pobeguin, was massacred at the side of a well, the
very night before the supplies arrived.
"Do you understand now what I mean by the horrible?"
This was the story told us a few nights ago by General de G----.
I was sitting on the pier of the small port of Obernon, near the village
of Salis, looking at Antibes, bathed in the setting sun. I had never
before seen anything so wonderful and so beautiful.
The small town, enclosed by its massive ramparts, built by Monsieur de
Vauban, extended into the open sea, in the middle of the immense Gulf of
Nice. The great waves, coming in from the ocean, broke at its feet,
surrounding it with a wreath of foam; and beyond the ramparts the houses
climbed up the hill, one after the other, as far as the two towers, which
rose up into the sky, like the peaks of an ancient helmet. And these two
towers were outlined against the milky whiteness of the Alps, that
enormous distant wall of snow which enclosed the entire horizon.
Between the white foam at the foot of the walls and the white snow on the
sky-line the little city, dazzling against the bluish background of the
nearest mountain ranges, presented to the rays of the setting sun a
pyramid of red-roofed houses, whose facades were also white, but so
different one from another that they seemed to be of all tints.
And the sky above the Alps was itself of a blue that was almost white, as
if the snow had tinted it; some silvery clouds were floating just over
the pale summits, and on the other side of the gulf Nice, lying close to
the water, stretched like a white thread between the sea and the
mountain. Two great sails, driven by a strong breeze, seemed to skim
over the waves. I looked upon all this, astounded.
This view was one of those sweet, rare, delightful things that seem to
permeate you and are unforgettable, like the memory of a great happiness.
One sees, thinks, suffers, is moved and loves with the eyes. He who can
feel with the eye experiences the same keen, exquisite and deep pleasure
in looking at men and things as the man with the delicate and sensitive
ear, whose soul music overwhelms.
I turned to my companion, M. Martini, a pureblooded Southerner.
"This is certainly one of the rarest sights which it has been vouchsafed
to me to admire.
"I have seen Mont Saint-Michel, that monstrous granite jewel, rise out of
the sand at sunrise.
"I have seen, in the Sahara, Lake Raianechergui, fifty kilometers long,
shining under a moon as brilliant as our sun and breathing up toward it a
white cloud, like a mist of milk.
"I have seen, in the Lipari Islands, the weird sulphur crater of the
Volcanello, a giant flower which smokes and burns, an enormous yellow
flower, opening out in the midst of the sea, whose stem is a volcano.
"But I have seen nothing more wonderful than Antibes, standing against
the Alps in the setting sun.
"And I know not how it is that memories of antiquity haunt me; verses of
Homer come into my mind; this is a city of the ancient East, a city of
the odyssey; this is Troy, although Troy was very far from the sea."
M. Martini drew the Sarty guide-book out of his pocket and read: "This
city was originally a colony founded by the Phocians of Marseilles, about
340 B.C. They gave it the Greek name of Antipolis, meaning counter-
city, city opposite another, because it is in fact opposite to Nice,
another colony from Marseilles.
"After the Gauls were conquered, the Romans turned Antibes into a
municipal city, its inhabitants receiving the rights of Roman
"We know by an epigram of Martial that at this time----"
I interrupted him:
"I don't care what she was. I tell you that I see down there a city of
the Odyssey. The coast of Asia and the coast of Europe resemble each
other in their shores, and there is no city on the other coast of the
Mediterranean which awakens in me the memories of the heroic age as this
A footstep caused me to turn my head; a woman, a large, dark woman, was
walking along the road which skirts the sea in going to the cape.
"That is Madame Parisse, you know," muttered Monsieur Martini, dwelling
on the final syllable.
No, I did not know, but that name, mentioned carelessly, that name of the
Trojan shepherd, confirmed me in my dream.
However, I asked: "Who is this Madame Parisse?"
He seemed astonished that I did not know the story.
I assured him that I did not know it, and I looked after the woman, who
passed by without seeing us, dreaming, walking with steady and slow step,
as doubtless the ladies of old walked.
She was perhaps thirty-five years old and still very beautiful, though a
And Monsieur Martini told me the following story:
Mademoiselle Combelombe was married, one year before the war of 1870, to
Monsieur Parisse, a government official. She was then a handsome young
girl, as slender and lively as she has now become stout and sad.
Unwillingly she had accepted Monsieur Parisse, one of those little fat
men with short legs, who trip along, with trousers that are always too
After the war Antibes was garrisoned by a single battalion commanded by
Monsieur Jean de Carmelin, a young officer decorated during the war, and
who had just received his four stripes.
As he found life exceedingly tedious in this fortress this stuffy mole-
hole enclosed by its enormous double walls, he often strolled out to the
cape, a kind of park or pine wood shaken by all the winds from the sea.
There he met Madame Parisse, who also came out in the summer evenings to
get the fresh air under the trees. How did they come to love each other?
Who knows? They met, they looked at each other, and when out of sight
they doubtless thought of each other. The image of the young woman with
the brown eyes, the black hair, the pale skin, this fresh, handsome
Southerner, who displayed her teeth in smiling, floated before the eyes
of the officer as he continued his promenade, chewing his cigar instead
of smoking it; and the image of the commanding officer, in his close-
fitting coat, covered with gold lace, and his red trousers, and a little
blond mustache, would pass before the eyes of Madame Parisse, when her
husband, half shaven and ill-clad, short-legged and big-bellied, came
home to supper in the evening.
As they met so often, they perhaps smiled at the next meeting; then,
seeing each other again and again, they felt as if they knew each other.
He certainly bowed to her. And she, surprised, bowed in return, but
very, very slightly, just enough not to appear impolite. But after two
weeks she returned his salutation from a distance, even before they were
side by side.
He spoke to her. Of what? Doubtless of the setting sun. They admired
it together, looking for it in each other's eyes more often than on the
horizon. And every evening for two weeks this was the commonplace and
persistent pretext for a few minutes' chat.
Then they ventured to take a few steps together, talking of anything that
came into their minds, but their eyes were already saying to each other a
thousand more intimate things, those secret, charming things that are
reflected in the gentle emotion of the glance, and that cause the heart
to beat, for they are a better revelation of the soul than the spoken
And then he would take her hand, murmuring those words which the woman
divines, without seeming to hear them.
And it was agreed between them that they would love each other without
evidencing it by anything sensual or brutal.
She would have remained indefinitely at this stage of intimacy, but he
wanted more. And every day he urged her more hotly to give in to his
She resisted, would not hear of it, seemed determined not to give way.
But one evening she said to him casually: "My husband has just gone to
Marseilles. He will be away four days."
Jean de Carmelin threw himself at her feet, imploring her to open her
door to him that very night at eleven o'clock. But she would not listen
to him, and went home, appearing to be annoyed.
The commandant was in a bad humor all the evening, and the next morning
at dawn he went out on the ramparts in a rage, going from one exercise
field to the other, dealing out punishment to the officers and men as one
might fling stones into a crowd,
On going in to breakfast he found an envelope under his napkin with these
four words: "To-night at ten." And he gave one hundred sous without any
reason to the waiter.
The day seemed endless to him. He passed part of it in curling his hair
and perfuming himself.
As he was sitting down to the dinner-table another envelope was handed to
him, and in it he found the following telegram:
"My Love: Business completed. I return this evening on the nine
The commandant let loose such a vehement oath that the waiter dropped the
soup-tureen on the floor.
What should he do? He certainly wanted her, that very, evening at
whatever cost; and he would have her. He would resort to any means, even
to arresting and imprisoning the husband. Then a mad thought struck him.
Calling for paper, he wrote the following note:
MADAME: He will not come back this evening, I swear it to you,--and
I shall be, you know where, at ten o'clock. Fear nothing. I will
answer for everything, on my honor as an officer.
JEAN DE CARMELIN.
And having sent off this letter, he quietly ate his dinner.
Toward eight o'clock he sent for Captain Gribois, the second in command,
and said, rolling between his fingers the crumpled telegram of Monsieur
"Captain, I have just received a telegram of a very singular nature,
which it is impossible for me to communicate to you. You will
immediately have all the gates of the city closed and guarded, so that no
one, mind me, no one, will either enter or leave before six in the
morning. You will also have men patrol the streets, who will compel the
inhabitants to retire to their houses at nine o'clock. Any one found
outside beyond that time will be conducted to his home 'manu militari'.
If your men meet me this night they will at once go out of my way,
appearing not to know me. You understand me?"
"I hold you responsible for the execution of my orders, my dear captain."
"Would you like to have a glass of chartreuse?"
"With great pleasure, commandant."
They clinked glasses drank down the brown liquor and Captain Gribois left
The train from Marseilles arrived at the station at nine o'clock sharp,
left two passengers on the platform and went on toward Nice.
One of them, tall and thin, was Monsieur Saribe, the oil merchant, and
the other, short and fat, was Monsieur Parisse.
Together they set out, with their valises, to reach the city, one
But on arriving at the gate of the port the guards crossed their
bayonets, commanding them to retire.
Frightened, surprised, cowed with astonishment, they retired to
deliberate; then, after having taken counsel one with the other, they
came back cautiously to parley, giving their names.
But the soldiers evidently had strict orders, for they threatened to
shoot; and the two scared travellers ran off, throwing away their
valises, which impeded their flight.
Making the tour of the ramparts, they presented themselves at the gate on
the route to Cannes. This likewise was closed and guarded by a menacing
sentinel. Messrs. Saribe and Parisse, like the prudent men they were,
desisted from their efforts and went back to the station for shelter,
since it was not safe to be near the fortifications after sundown.
The station agent, surprised and sleepy, permitted them to stay till
morning in the waiting-room.
And they sat there side by side, in the dark, on the green velvet sofa,
too scared to think of sleeping.
It was a long and weary night for them.
At half-past six in the morning they were informed that the gates were
open and that people could now enter Antibes.
They set out for the city, but failed to find their abandoned valises on
When they passed through the gates of the city, still somewhat anxious,
the Commandant de Carmelin, with sly glance and mustache curled up, came
himself to look at them and question them.
Then he bowed to them politely, excusing himself for having caused them a
bad night. But he had to carry out orders.
The people of Antibes were scared to death. Some spoke of a surprise
planned by the Italians, others of the landing of the prince imperial and
others again believed that there was an Orleanist conspiracy. The truth
was suspected only later, when it became known that the battalion of the
commandant had been sent away, to a distance and that Monsieur de
Carmelin had been severely punished.
Monsieur Martini had finished his story. Madame Parisse returned, her
promenade being ended. She passed gravely near me, with her eyes fixed
on the Alps, whose summits now gleamed rosy in the last rays of the
I longed to speak to her, this poor, sad woman, who would ever be
thinking of that night of love, now long past, and of the bold man who
for the sake of a kiss from her had dared to put a city into a state of
siege and to compromise his whole future.
And to-day he had probably forgotten her, if he did not relate this
audacious, comical and tender farce to his comrades over their cups.
Had she seen him again? Did she still love him? And I thought: Here is
an instance of modern love, grotesque and yet heroic. The Homer who
should sing of this new Helen and the adventure of her Menelaus must be
gifted with the soul of a Paul de Kock. And yet the hero of this
deserted woman was brave, daring, handsome, strong as Achilles and more
cunning than Ulysses.
Major Graf Von Farlsberg, the Prussian commandant, was reading his
newspaper as he lay back in a great easy-chair, with his booted feet on
the beautiful marble mantelpiece where his spurs had made two holes,
which had grown deeper every day during the three months that he had been
in the chateau of Uville.
A cup of coffee was smoking on a small inlaid table, which was stained
with liqueur, burned by cigars, notched by the penknife of the victorious
officer, who occasionally would stop while sharpening a pencil, to jot
down figures, or to make a drawing on it, just as it took his fancy.
When he had read his letters and the German newspapers, which his orderly
had brought him, he got up, and after throwing three or four enormous
pieces of green wood on the fire, for these gentlemen were gradually
cutting down the park in order to keep themselves warm, he went to the
window. The rain was descending in torrents, a regular Normandy rain,
which looked as if it were being poured out by some furious person, a
slanting rain, opaque as a curtain, which formed a kind of wall with
diagonal stripes, and which deluged everything, a rain such as one
frequently experiences in the neighborhood of Rouen, which is the
watering-pot of France.
For a long time the officer looked at the sodden turf and at the swollen
Andelle beyond it, which was overflowing its banks; he was drumming a
waltz with his fingers on the window-panes, when a noise made him turn
round. It was his second in command, Captain Baron van Kelweinstein.
The major was a giant, with broad shoulders and a long, fan-like beard,
which hung down like a curtain to his chest. His whole solemn person
suggested the idea of a military peacock, a peacock who was carrying his
tail spread out on his breast. He had cold, gentle blue eyes, and a scar
from a swordcut, which he had received in the war with Austria; he was
said to be an honorable man, as well as a brave officer.
The captain, a short, red-faced man, was tightly belted in at the waist,
his red hair was cropped quite close to his head, and in certain lights
he almost looked as if he had been rubbed over with phosphorus. He had
lost two front teeth one night, though he could not quite remember how,
and this sometimes made him speak unintelligibly, and he had a bald patch
on top of his head surrounded by a fringe of curly, bright golden hair,
which made him look like a monk.
The commandant shook hands with him and drank his cup of coffee (the
sixth that morning), while he listened to his subordinate's report of
what had occurred; and then they both went to the window and declared
that it was a very unpleasant outlook. The major, who was a quiet man,
with a wife at home, could accommodate himself to everything; but the
captain, who led a fast life, who was in the habit of frequenting low
resorts, and enjoying women's society, was angry at having to be shut up
for three months in that wretched hole.
There was a knock at the door, and when the commandant said, "Come in,"
one of the orderlies appeared, and by his mere presence announced that
breakfast was ready. In the dining-room they met three other officers of
lower rank--a lieutenant, Otto von Grossling, and two sub-lieutenants,
Fritz Scheuneberg and Baron von Eyrick, a very short, fair-haired man,
who was proud and brutal toward men, harsh toward prisoners and as
explosive as gunpowder.
Since he had been in France his comrades had called him nothing but
Mademoiselle Fifi. They had given him that nickname on account of his
dandified style and small waist, which looked as if he wore corsets; of
his pale face, on which his budding mustache scarcely showed, and on
account of the habit he had acquired of employing the French expression,
'Fi, fi donc', which he pronounced with a slight whistle when he wished
to express his sovereign contempt for persons or things.
The dining-room of the chateau was a magnificent long room, whose fine
old mirrors, that were cracked by pistol bullets, and whose Flemish
tapestry, which was cut to ribbons, and hanging in rags in places from
sword-cuts, told too well what Mademoiselle Fifi's occupation was during
his spare time.
There were three family portraits on the walls a steel-clad knight, a
cardinal and a judge, who were all smoking long porcelain pipes, which
had been inserted into holes in the canvas, while a lady in a long,
pointed waist proudly exhibited a pair of enormous mustaches, drawn with
charcoal. The officers ate their breakfast almost in silence in that
mutilated room, which looked dull in the rain and melancholy in its
dilapidated condition, although its old oak floor had become as solid as
the stone floor of an inn.
When they had finished eating and were smoking and drinking, they began,
as usual, to berate the dull life they were leading. The bottles of
brandy and of liqueur passed from hand to hand, and all sat back in their
chairs and took repeated sips from their glasses, scarcely removing from
their mouths the long, curved stems, which terminated in china bowls,
painted in a manner to delight a Hottentot.
As soon as their glasses were empty they filled them again, with a
gesture of resigned weariness, but Mademoiselle Fifi emptied his every
minute, and a soldier immediately gave him another. They were enveloped
in a cloud of strong tobacco smoke, and seemed to be sunk in a state of
drowsy, stupid intoxication, that condition of stupid intoxication of men
who have nothing to do, when suddenly the baron sat up and said:
"Heavens! This cannot go on; we must think of something to do." And on
hearing this, Lieutenant Otto and Sub-lieutenant Fritz, who preeminently
possessed the serious, heavy German countenance, said: "What, captain?"
He thought for a few moments and then replied: "What? Why, we must get
up some entertainment, if the commandant will allow us." "What sort of
an entertainment, captain?" the major asked, taking his pipe out of his
mouth. "I will arrange all that, commandant," the baron said. "I will
send Le Devoir to Rouen, and he will bring back some ladies. I know
where they can be found, We will have supper here, as all the materials
are at hand and; at least, we shall have a jolly evening."
Graf von Farlsberg shrugged his shoulders with a smile: "You must surely
be mad, my friend."
But all the other officers had risen and surrounded their chief, saying:
"Let the captain have his way, commandant; it is terribly dull here."
And the major ended by yielding. "Very well," he replied, and the baron
immediately sent for Le Devoir. He was an old non-commissioned officer,
who had never been seen to smile, but who carried out all the orders of
his superiors to the letter, no matter what they might be. He stood
there, with an impassive face, while he received the baron's
instructions, and then went out, and five minutes later a large military
wagon, covered with tarpaulin, galloped off as fast as four horses could
draw it in the pouring rain. The officers all seemed to awaken from
their lethargy, their looks brightened, and they began to talk.
Although it was raining as hard as ever, the major declared that it was
not so dark, and Lieutenant von Grossling said with conviction that the
sky was clearing up, while Mademoiselle Fifi did not seem to be able to
keep still. He got up and sat down again, and his bright eyes seemed to
be looking for something to destroy. Suddenly, looking at the lady with
the mustaches, the young fellow pulled out his revolver and said: "You
shall not see it." And without leaving his seat he aimed, and with two
successive bullets cut out both the eyes of the portrait.
"Let us make a mine!" he then exclaimed, and the conversation was
suddenly interrupted, as if they had found some fresh and powerful
subject of interest. The mine was his invention, his method of
destruction, and his favorite amusement.
When he left the chateau, the lawful owner, Comte Fernand d'Amoys
d'Uville, had not had time to carry away or to hide anything except the
plate, which had been stowed away in a hole made in one of the walls. As
he was very rich and had good taste, the large drawing-room, which opened
into the dining-room, looked like a gallery in a museum, before his
Expensive oil paintings, water colors and drawings hung against the
walls, while on the tables, on the hanging shelves and in elegant glass
cupboards there were a thousand ornaments: small vases, statuettes,
groups of Dresden china and grotesque Chinese figures, old ivory and
Venetian glass, which filled the large room with their costly and
Scarcely anything was left now; not that the things had been stolen, for
the major would not have allowed that, but Mademoiselle Fifi would every
now and then have a mine, and on those occasions all the officers
thoroughly enjoyed themselves for five minutes. The little marquis went
into the drawing-room to get what he wanted, and he brought back a small,
delicate china teapot, which he filled with gunpowder, and carefully
introduced a piece of punk through the spout. This he lighted and took
his infernal machine into the next room, but he came back immediately and
shut the door. The Germans all stood expectant, their faces full of
childish, smiling curiosity, and as soon as the explosion had shaken the
chateau, they all rushed in at once.
Mademoiselle Fifi, who got in first, clapped his hands in delight at the
sight of a terra-cotta Venus, whose head had been blown off, and each
picked up pieces of porcelain and wondered at the strange shape of the
fragments, while the major was looking with a paternal eye at the large
drawing-room, which had been wrecked after the fashion of a Nero, and was
strewn with the fragments of works of art. He went out first and said
with a smile: "That was a great success this time."
But there was such a cloud of smoke in the dining-room, mingled with the
tobacco smoke, that they could not breathe, so the commandant opened the
window, and all the officers, who had returned for a last glass of
cognac, went up to it.
The moist air blew into the room, bringing with it a sort of powdery
spray, which sprinkled their beards. They looked at the tall trees which
were dripping with rain, at the broad valley which was covered with mist,
and at the church spire in the distance, which rose up like a gray point
in the beating rain.
The bells had not rung since their arrival. That was the only resistance
which the invaders had met with in the neighborhood. The parish priest
had not refused to take in and to feed the Prussian soldiers; he had
several times even drunk a bottle of beer or claret with the hostile
commandant, who often employed him as a benevolent intermediary; but it
was no use to ask him for a single stroke of the bells; he would sooner
have allowed himself to be shot. That was his way of protesting against
the invasion, a peaceful and silent protest, the only one, he said, which
was suitable to a priest, who was a man of mildness, and not of blood;
and every one, for twenty-five miles round, praised Abbe Chantavoine's
firmness and heroism in venturing to proclaim the public mourning by the
obstinate silence of his church bells.
The whole village, enthusiastic at his resistance, was ready to back up
their pastor and to risk anything, for they looked upon that silent
protest as the safeguard of the national honor. It seemed to the
peasants that thus they deserved better of their country than Belfort and
Strassburg, that they had set an equally valuable example, and that the
name of their little village would become immortalized by that; but, with
that exception, they refused their Prussian conquerors nothing.
The commandant and his officers laughed among themselves at this
inoffensive courage, and as the people in the whole country round showed
themselves obliging and compliant toward them, they willingly tolerated
their silent patriotism. Little Baron Wilhelm alone would have liked to
have forced them to ring the bells. He was very angry at his superior's
politic compliance with the priest's scruples, and every day begged the
commandant to allow him to sound "ding-dong, ding-dong," just once, only
just once, just by way of a joke. And he asked it in the coaxing, tender
voice of some loved woman who is bent on obtaining her wish, but the
commandant would not yield, and to console himself, Mademoiselle Fifi
made a mine in the Chateau d'Uville.
The five men stood there together for five minutes, breathing in the
moist air, and at last Lieutenant Fritz said with a laugh: "The ladies
will certainly not have fine weather for their drive." Then they
separated, each to his duty, while the captain had plenty to do in
arranging for the dinner.
When they met again toward evening they began to laugh at seeing each
other as spick and span and smart as on the day of a grand review. The
commandant's hair did not look so gray as it was in the morning, and the
captain had shaved, leaving only his mustache, which made him look as if
he had a streak of fire under his nose.
In spite of the rain, they left the window open, and one of them went to
listen from time to time; and at a quarter past six the baron said he
heard a rumbling in the distance. They all rushed down, and presently
the wagon drove up at a gallop with its four horses steaming and blowing,
and splashed with mud to their girths. Five women dismounted, five
handsome girls whom a comrade of the captain, to whom Le Devoir had
presented his card, had selected with care.
They had not required much pressing, as they had got to know the
Prussians in the three months during which they had had to do with them,
and so they resigned themselves to the men as they did to the state of
They went at once into the dining-room, which looked still more dismal in
its dilapidated condition when it was lighted up; while the table covered
with choice dishes, the beautiful china and glass, and the plate, which
had been found in the hole in the wall where its owner had hidden it,
gave it the appearance of a bandits' inn, where they were supping after
committing a robbery in the place. The captain was radiant, and put his
arm round the women as if he were familiar with them; and when the three
young men wanted to appropriate one each, he opposed them
authoritatively, reserving to himself the right to apportion them justly,
according to their several ranks, so as not to offend the higher powers.
Therefore, to avoid all discussion, jarring, and suspicion of partiality,
he placed them all in a row according to height, and addressing the
tallest, he said in a voice of command:
"What is your name?" "Pamela," she replied, raising her voice. And then
he said: "Number One, called Pamela, is adjudged to the commandant."
Then, having kissed Blondina, the second, as a sign of proprietorship, he
proffered stout Amanda to Lieutenant Otto; Eva, "the Tomato," to Sub-
lieutenant Fritz, and Rachel, the shortest of them all, a very young,
dark girl, with eyes as black as ink, a Jewess, whose snub nose proved
the rule which allots hooked noses to all her race, to the youngest
officer, frail Count Wilhelm d'Eyrick.
They were all pretty and plump, without any distinctive features, and all
had a similarity of complexion and figure.
The three young men wished to carry off their prizes immediately, under
the pretext that they might wish to freshen their toilets; but the
captain wisely opposed this, for he said they were quite fit to sit down
to dinner, and his experience in such matters carried the day. There
were only many kisses, expectant kisses.
Suddenly Rachel choked, and began to cough until the tears came into her
eyes, while smoke came through her nostrils. Under pretence of kissing
her, the count had blown a whiff of tobacco into her mouth. She did not
fly into a rage and did not say a word, but she looked at her tormentor
with latent hatred in her dark eyes.
They sat down to dinner. The commandant seemed delighted; he made Pamela
sit on his right, and Blondina on his left, and said, as he unfolded his
table napkin: "That was a delightful idea of yours, captain."
Lieutenants Otto and Fritz, who were as polite as if they had been with
fashionable ladies, rather intimidated their guests, but Baron von
Kelweinstein beamed, made obscene remarks and seemed on fire with his
crown of red hair. He paid the women compliments in French of the Rhine,
and sputtered out gallant remarks, only fit for a low pothouse, from
between his two broken teeth.
They did not understand him, however, and their intelligence did not seem
to be awakened until he uttered foul words and broad expressions, which
were mangled by his accent. Then they all began to laugh at once like
crazy women and fell against each other, repeating the words, which the
baron then began to say all wrong, in order that he might have the
pleasure of hearing them say dirty things. They gave him as much of that
stuff as he wanted, for they were drunk after the first bottle of wine,
and resuming their usual habits and manners, they kissed the officers to
right and left of them, pinched their arms, uttered wild cries, drank out
of every glass and sang French couplets and bits of German songs which
they had picked up in their daily intercourse with the enemy.
Soon the men themselves became very unrestrained, shouted and broke the
plates and dishes, while the soldiers behind them waited on them
stolidly. The commandant was the only one who kept any restraint upon
Mademoiselle Fifi had taken Rachel on his knee, and, getting excited, at
one moment he kissed the little black curls on her neck and at another he
pinched her furiously and made her scream, for he was seized by a species
of ferocity, and tormented by his desire to hurt her. He often held her
close to him and pressed a long kiss on the Jewess' rosy mouth until she
lost her breath, and at last he bit her until a stream of blood ran down
her chin and on to her bodice.
For the second time she looked him full in the face, and as she bathed
the wound, she said: "You will have to pay for, that!" But he merely
laughed a hard laugh and said: "I will pay."
At dessert champagne was served, and the commandant rose, and in the same
voice in which he would have drunk to the health of the Empress Augusta,
he drank: "To our ladies!" And a series of toasts began, toasts worthy
of the lowest soldiers and of drunkards, mingled with obscene jokes,
which were made still more brutal by their ignorance of the language.
They got up, one after the other, trying to say something witty, forcing
themselves to be funny, and the women, who were so drunk that they almost
fell off their chairs, with vacant looks and clammy tongues applauded
madly each time.
The captain, who no doubt wished to impart an appearance of gallantry to
the orgy, raised his glass again and said: "To our victories over hearts."
and, thereupon Lieutenant Otto, who was a species of bear from the Black
Forest, jumped up, inflamed and saturated with drink, and suddenly seized
by an access of alcoholic patriotism, he cried: "To our victories over
Drunk as they were, the women were silent, but Rachel turned round,
trembling, and said: "See here, I know some Frenchmen in whose presence
you would not dare say that." But the little count, still holding her on
his knee, began to laugh, for the wine had made him very merry, and said:
"Ha! ha! ha! I have never met any of them myself. As soon as we show
ourselves, they run away!" The girl, who was in a terrible rage, shouted
into his face: "You are lying, you dirty scoundrel!"
For a moment he looked at her steadily with his bright eyes upon her, as
he had looked at the portrait before he destroyed it with bullets from
his revolver, and then he began to laugh: "Ah! yes, talk about them, my
dear! Should we be here now if they were brave?" And, getting excited,
he exclaimed: "We are the masters! France belongs to us!" She made one
spring from his knee and threw herself into her chair, while he arose,
held out his glass over the table and repeated: "France and the French,
the woods, the fields and the houses of France belong to us!"
The others, who were quite drunk, and who were suddenly seized by
military enthusiasm, the enthusiasm of brutes, seized their glasses, and
shouting, "Long live Prussia!" they emptied them at a draught.
The girls did not protest, for they were reduced to silence and were
afraid. Even Rachel did not say a word, as she had no reply to make.
Then the little marquis put his champagne glass, which had just been
refilled, on the head of the Jewess and exclaimed: "All the women in
France belong to us also!"
At that she got up so quickly that the glass upset, spilling the amber-
colored wine on her black hair as if to baptize her, and broke into a
hundred fragments, as it fell to the floor. Her lips trembling, she
defied the looks of the officer, who was still laughing, and stammered
out in a voice choked with rage:
"That--that--that--is not true--for you shall not have the women of
He sat down again so as to laugh at his ease; and, trying to speak with
the Parisian accent, he said: "She is good, very good! Then why did you
come here, my dear?" She was thunderstruck and made no reply for a
moment, for in her agitation she did not understand him at first, but as
soon as she grasped his meaning she said to him indignantly and
vehemently: "I! I! I am not a woman, I am only a strumpet, and that is
all that Prussians want."
Almost before she had finished he slapped her full in the face; but as he
was raising his hand again, as if to strike her, she seized a small
dessert knife with a silver blade from the table and, almost mad with
rage, stabbed him right in the hollow of his neck. Something that he was
going to say was cut short in his throat, and he sat there with his mouth
half open and a terrible look in his eyes.
All the officers shouted in horror and leaped up tumultuously; but,
throwing her chair between the legs of Lieutenant Otto, who fell down at
full length, she ran to the window, opened it before they could seize her
and jumped out into the night and the pouring rain.
In two minutes Mademoiselle Fifi was dead, and Fritz and Otto drew their
swords and wanted to kill the women, who threw themselves at their feet
and clung to their knees. With some difficulty the major stopped the
slaughter and had the four terrified girls locked up in a room under the
care of two soldiers, and then he organized the pursuit of the fugitive
as carefully as if he were about to engage in a skirmish, feeling quite
sure that she would be caught.
The table, which had been cleared immediately, now served as a bed on
which to lay out the lieutenant, and the four officers stood at the
windows, rigid and sobered with the stern faces of soldiers on duty, and
tried to pierce through the darkness of the night amid the steady torrent
of rain. Suddenly a shot was heard and then another, a long way off; and
for four hours they heard from time to time near or distant reports and
rallying cries, strange words of challenge, uttered in guttural voices.
In the morning they all returned. Two soldiers had been killed and three
others wounded by their comrades in the ardor of that chase and in the
confusion of that nocturnal pursuit, but they had not caught Rachel.
Then the inhabitants of the district were terrorized, the houses were
turned topsy-turvy, the country was scoured and beaten up, over and over
again, but the Jewess did not seem to have left a single trace of her
passage behind her.
When the general was told of it he gave orders to hush up the affair, so
as not to set a bad example to the army, but he severely censured the
commandant, who in turn punished his inferiors. The general had said:
"One does not go to war in order to amuse one's self and to caress
prostitutes." Graf von Farlsberg, in his exasperation, made up his mind
to have his revenge on the district, but as he required a pretext for
showing severity, he sent for the priest and ordered him to have the bell
tolled at the funeral of Baron von Eyrick.
Contrary to all expectation, the priest showed himself humble and most
respectful, and when Mademoiselle Fifi's body left the Chateau d'Uville
on its way to the cemetery, carried by soldiers, preceded, surrounded and
followed by soldiers who marched with loaded rifles, for the first time
the bell sounded its funeral knell in a lively manner, as if a friendly
hand were caressing it. At night it rang again, and the next day, and
every day; it rang as much as any one could desire. Sometimes even it
would start at night and sound gently through the darkness, seized with a
strange joy, awakened one could not tell why. All the peasants in the
neighborhood declared that it was bewitched, and nobody except the priest
and the sacristan would now go near the church tower. And they went
because a poor girl was living there in grief and solitude and provided
for secretly by those two men.
She remained there until the German troops departed, and then one evening
the priest borrowed the baker's cart and himself drove his prisoner to
Rouen. When they got there he embraced her, and she quickly went back on
foot to the establishment from which she had come, where the
proprietress, who thought that she was dead, was very glad to see her.
A short time afterward a patriot who had no prejudices, and who liked her
because of her bold deed, and who afterward loved her for herself,
married her and made her a lady quite as good as many others.