IN WHICH MATTERS GO SO FAR THAT THE INHABITANTS OF QUIQUENDONE,
THE READER, AND EVEN THE AUTHOR, DEMAND AN IMMEDIATE DENOUEMENT.
The last incident proves to what a
pitch of excitement the Quiquendonians had been wrought.
The two oldest friends in the town, and the most gentle before
the advent of the epidemic, to reach this degree of
violence! And that, too, only a few minutes after
their old mutual sympathy, their amiable instincts,
their contemplative habit, had been restored at the
summit of the tower!
On learning what was going on, Doctor
Ox could not contain his joy. He resisted the
arguments which Ygene, who saw what a serious turn
affairs were taking, addressed to him. Besides,
both of them were infected by the general fury.
They were not less excited than the rest of the population,
and they ended by quarrelling as violently as the
burgomaster and the counsellor.
Besides, one question eclipsed all
others, and the intended duels were postponed to the
issue of the Virgamenian difficulty. No man had
the right to shed his blood uselessly, when it belonged,
to the last drop, to his country in danger. The
affair was, in short, a grave one, and there was no
withdrawing from it.
The Burgomaster Van Tricasse, despite
the warlike ardour with which he was filled, had not
thought it best to throw himself upon the enemy without
warning him. He had, therefore, through the medium
of the rural policeman, Hottering, sent to demand
reparation of the Virgamenians for the offence committed,
in 1195, on the Quiquendonian territory.
The authorities of Virgamen could
not at first imagine of what the envoy spoke, and
the latter, despite his official character, was conducted
back to the frontier very cavalierly.
Van Tricasse then sent one of the
aides-de-camp of the confectioner-general, citizen
Hildevert Shuman, a manufacturer of barley-sugar,
a very firm and energetic man, who carried to the
authorities of Virgamen the original minute of the
indictment drawn up in 1195 by order of the Burgomaster
Natalis Van Tricasse.
The authorities of Virgamen burst
out laughing, and served the aide-de-camp in the same
manner as the rural policeman.
The burgomaster then assembled the
dignitaries of the town.
A letter, remarkably and vigorously
drawn up, was written as an ultimatum; the cause of
quarrel was plainly stated, and a delay of twenty-four
hours was accorded to the guilty city in which to
repair the outrage done to Quiquendone.
The letter was sent off, and returned
a few hours afterwards, torn to bits, which made so
many fresh insults. The Virgamenians knew of
old the forbearance and equanimity of the Quiquendonians,
and made sport of them and their demand, of their casus
belli and their ultimatum.
There was only one thing left to do, to
have recourse to arms, to invoke the God of battles,
and, after the Prussian fashion, to hurl themselves
upon the Virgamenians Before the latter could be prepared.
This decision was made by the council
in solemn conclave, in which cries, objurgations,
and menacing gestures were mingled with unexampled
violence. An assembly of idiots, a congress of
madmen, a club of maniacs, would not have been more
As soon as the declaration of war
was known, General Jean Orbideck assembled his troops,
perhaps two thousand three hundred and ninety-three
combatants from a population of two thousand three
hundred and ninety-three souls. The women, the
children, the old men, were joined with the able-bodied
males. The guns of the town had been put under
requisition. Five had been found, two of which
were without cocks, and these had been distributed
to the advance-guard. The artillery was composed
of the old culverin of the chateau, taken in 1339
at the attack on Quesnoy, one of the first occasions
of the use of cannon in history, and which had not
been fired off for five centuries. Happily for
those who were appointed to take it in charge there
were no projectiles with which to load it; but such
as it was, this engine might well impose on the enemy.
As for side-arms, they had been taken from the museum
of antiquities, flint hatchets, helmets,
Frankish battle-axes, javelins, halberds, rapiers,
and so on; and also in those domestic arsenals commonly
known as “cupboards” and “kitchens.”
But courage, the right, hatred of the foreigner, the
yearning for vengeance, were to take the place of more
perfect engines, and to replace at least
it was hoped so the modern mitrailleuses
The troops were passed in review.
Not a citizen failed at the roll-call. General
Orbideck, whose seat on horseback was far from firm,
and whose steed was a vicious beast, was thrown three
times in front of the army; but he got up again without
injury, and this was regarded as a favourable omen.
The burgomaster, the counsellor, the civil commissary,
the chief justice, the school-teacher, the banker,
the rector, in short, all the notabilities
of the town, marched at the head. There
were no tears shed, either by mothers, sisters, or
daughters. They urged on their husbands, fathers,
brothers, to the combat, and even followed them and
formed the rear-guard, under the orders of the courageous
Madame Van Tricasse.
The crier, Jean Mistrol, blew his
trumpet; the army moved off, and directed itself,
with ferocious cries, towards the Oudenarde gate.
At the moment when the head of the
column was about to pass the walls of the town, a
man threw himself before it.
“Stop! stop! Fools that
you are!” he cried. “Suspend your
blows! Let me shut the valve! You are not
changed in nature! You are good citizens, quiet
and peaceable! If you are so excited, it is my
master, Doctor Ox’s, fault! It is an experiment!
Under the pretext of lighting your streets with oxyhydric
gas, he has saturated ”
The assistant was beside himself;
but he could not finish. At the instant that
the doctor’s secret was about to escape his lips,
Doctor Ox himself pounced upon the unhappy Ygene in
an indescribable rage, and shut his mouth by blows
with his fist.
It was a battle. The burgomaster,
the counsellor, the dignitaries, who had stopped short
on Ygene’s sudden appearance, carried away in
turn by their exasperation, rushed upon the two strangers,
without waiting to hear either the one or the other.
Doctor Ox and his assistant, beaten
and lashed, were about to be dragged, by order of
Van Tricasse, to the round-house, when,