Read PART THIRD II. of The Downfall, free online book, by Emile Zola, on ReadCentral.com.

The crush was so great as the column of prisoners was leaving Torcy that Maurice, who had stopped a moment to buy some tobacco, was parted from Jean, and with all his efforts was unable thereafter to catch up with his regiment through the dense masses of men that filled the road.  When he at last reached the bridge that spans the canal which intersects the peninsula of Iges at its base, he found himself in a mixed company of chasseurs d’Afrique and troops of the infanterie de marine.

There were two pieces of artillery stationed at the bridge, their muzzles turned upon the interior of the peninsula; it was a place easy of access, but from which exit would seem to be attended with some difficulties.  Immediately beyond the canal was a comfortable house, where the Prussians had established a post, commanded by a captain, upon which devolved the duty of receiving and guarding the prisoners.  The formalities observed were not excessive; they merely counted the men, as if they had been sheep, as they came streaming in a huddle across the bridge, without troubling themselves overmuch about uniforms or organizations, after which the prisoners were free of the fields and at liberty to select their dwelling-place wherever chance and the road they were on might direct.

The first thing that Maurice did was to address a question to a Bavarian officer, who was seated astride upon a chair, enjoying a tranquil smoke.

“The 106th of the line, sir, can you tell me where I shall find it?”

Either the officer was unlike most German officers and did not understand French, or thought it a good joke to mystify a poor devil of a soldier.  He smiled and raised his hand, indicating by his motion that the other was to keep following the road he was pursuing.

Although Maurice had spent a good part of his life in the neighborhood he had never before been on the peninsula; he proceeded to explore his new surroundings, as a mariner might do when cast by a tempest on the shore of a desolate island.  He first skirted the Tour a Glaire, a very handsome country-place, whose small park, situated as it was on the bank of the Meuse, possessed a peculiarly attractive charm.  After that the road ran parallel with the river, of which the sluggish current flowed on the right hand at the foot of high, steep banks.  The way from there was a gradually ascending one, until it wound around the gentle eminence that occupied the central portion of the peninsula, and there were abandoned quarries there and excavations in the ground, in which a network of narrow paths had their termination.  A little further on was a mill, seated on the border of the stream.  Then the road curved and pursued a descending course until it entered the village of Iges, which was built on the hillside and connected by a ferry with the further shore, just opposite the rope-walk at Saint-Albert.  Last of all came meadows and cultivated fields, a broad expanse of level, treeless country, around which the river swept in a wide, circling bend.  In vain had Maurice scrutinized every inch of uneven ground on the hillside; all he could distinguish there was cavalry and artillery, preparing their quarters for the night.  He made further inquiries, applying among others to a corporal of chasseurs d’Afrique, who could give him no information.  The prospect for finding his regiment looked bad; night was coming down, and, leg-weary and disheartened, he seated himself for a moment on a stone by the wayside.

As he sat there, abandoning himself to the sensation of loneliness and despair that crept over him, he beheld before him, across the Meuse, the accursed fields where he had fought the day but one before.  Bitter memories rose to his mind, in the fading light of that day of gloom and rain, as he surveyed the saturated, miry expanse of country that rose from the river’s bank and was lost on the horizon.  The defile of Saint-Albert, the narrow road by which the Prussians had gained their rear, ran along the bend of the stream as far as the white cliffs of the quarries of Montimont.  The summits of the trees in the wood of la Falizette rose in rounded, fleecy masses over the rising ground of Seugnon.  Directly before his eyes, a little to the left, was Saint-Menges, the road from which descended by a gentle slope and ended at the ferry; there, too, were the mamelon of Hattoy in the center, and Illy, in the far distance, in the background, and Fleigneux, almost hidden in its shallow vale, and Floing, less remote, on the right.  He recognized the plateau where he had spent interminable hours among the cabbages, and the éminences that the reserve artillery had struggled so gallantly to hold, where he had seen Honore meet his death on his dismounted gun.  And it was as if the baleful scene were again before him with all its abominations, steeping his mind in horror and disgust, until he was sick at heart.

The reflection that soon it would be quite dark and it would not do to loiter there, however, caused him to resume his researches.  He said to himself that perhaps the regiment was encamped somewhere beyond the village on the low ground, but the only ones he encountered there were some prowlers, and he decided to make the circuit of the peninsula, following the bend of the stream.  As he was passing through a field of potatoes he was sufficiently thoughtful to dig a few of the tubers and put them in his pockets; they were not ripe, but he had nothing better, for Jean, as luck would have it, had insisted on carrying both the two loaves of bread that Delaherche had given them when they left his house.  He was somewhat surprised at the number of horses he met with, roaming about the uncultivated lands, that fell off in an easy descent from the central elevation to the Meuse, in the direction of Donchery.  Why should they have brought all those animals with them? how were they to be fed?  And now it was night in earnest, and quite dark, when he came to a small piece of woods on the water’s brink, in which he was surprised to find the cent-gardes of the Emperor’s escort, providing for their creature comforts and drying themselves before roaring fires.  These gentlemen, who had a separate encampment to themselves, had comfortable tents; their kettles were boiling merrily, there was a milch cow tied to a tree.  It did not take Maurice long to see that he was not regarded with favor in that quarter, poor devil of an infantryman that he was, with his ragged, mud-stained uniform.  They graciously accorded him permission to roast his potatoes in the ashes of their fires, however, and he withdrew to the shelter of a tree, some hundred yards away, to eat them.  It was no longer raining; the sky was clear, the stars were shining brilliantly in the dark blue vault.  He saw that he should have to spend the night in the open air and defer his researches until the morrow.  He was so utterly used up that he could go no further; the trees would afford him some protection in case it came on to rain again.

The strangeness of his situation, however, and the thought of his vast prison house, open to the winds of heaven, would not let him sleep.  It had been an extremely clever move on the part of the Prussians to select that place of confinement for the eighty thousand men who constituted the remnant of the army of Chalons.  The peninsula was approximately three miles long by one wide, affording abundant space for the broken fragments of the vanquished host, and Maurice could not fail to observe that it was surrounded on every side by water, the bend of the Meuse encircling it on the north, east and west, while on the south, at the base, connecting the two arms of the loop at the point where they drew together most closely, was the canal.  Here alone was an outlet, the bridge, that was defended by two guns; wherefore it may be seen that the guarding of the camp was a comparatively easy task, notwithstanding its great extent.  He had already taken note of the chain of sentries on the farther bank, a soldier being stationed by the waterside at every fifty paces, with orders to fire on any man who should attempt to escape by swimming.  In the rear the different posts were connected by patrols of uhlans, while further in the distance, scattered over the broad fields, were the dark lines of the Prussian regiments; a threefold living, moving wall, immuring the captive army.

Maurice, in his sleeplessness, lay gazing with wide-open eyes into the blackness of the night, illuminated here and there by the smoldering watch-fires; the motionless forms of the sentinels were dimly visible beyond the pale ribbon of the Meuse.  Erect they stood, duskier spots against the dusky shadows, beneath the faint light of the twinkling stars, and at regular intervals their guttural call came to his ears, a menacing watch-cry that was drowned in the hoarse murmur of the river in the distance.  At sound of those unmelodious phrases in a foreign tongue, rising on the still air of a starlit night in the sunny land of France, the vision of the past again rose before him:  all that he had beheld in memory an hour before, the plateau of Illy cumbered still with dead, the accursed country round about Sedan that had been the scene of such dire disaster; and resting on the ground in that cool, damp corner of a wood, his head pillowed on a root, he again yielded to the feeling of despair that had overwhelmed him the day before while lying on Delaherche’s sofa.  And that which, intensifying the suffering of his wounded pride, now harassed and tortured him, was the question of the morrow, the feverish longing to know how deep had been their fall, how great the wreck and ruin sustained by their world of yesterday.  The Emperor had surrendered his sword to King William; was not, therefore, the abominable war ended?  But he recalled the remark he had heard made by two of the Bavarians of the guard who had escorted the prisoners to Iges:  “We’re all in France, we’re all bound for Paris!” In his semi-somnolent, dreamy state the vision of what was to be suddenly rose before his eyes:  the empire overturned and swept away amid a howl of universal execration, the republic proclaimed with an outburst of patriotic fervor, while the legend of ’92 would incite men to emulate the glorious past, and, flocking to the standards, drive from the country’s soil the hated foreigner with armies of brave volunteers.  He reflected confusedly upon all the aspects of the case, and speculations followed one another in swift succession through his poor wearied brain:  the harsh terms imposed by the victors, the bitterness of defeat, the determination of the vanquished to resist even to the last drop of blood, the fate of those eighty thousand men, his companions, who were to be captives for weeks, months, years, perhaps, first on the peninsula and afterward in German fortresses.  The foundations were giving way, and everything was going down, down to the bottomless depths of perdition.

The call of the sentinels, now loud, now low, seemed to sound more faintly in his ears and to be receding in the distance, when suddenly, as he turned on his hard couch, a shot rent the deep silence.  A hollow groan rose on the calm air of night, there was a splashing in the water, the brief struggle of one who sinks to rise no more.  It was some poor wretch who had attempted to escape by swimming the Meuse and had received a bullet in his brain.

The next morning Maurice was up and stirring with the sun.  The sky was cloudless; he was desirous to rejoin Jean and his other comrades of the company with the least possible delay.  For a moment he had an idea of going to see what there was in the interior of the peninsula, then resolved he would first complete its circuit.  And on reaching the canal his eyes were greeted with the sight of the 106th ­or rather what was left of it ­a thousand men, encamped along the river bank among some waste lands, with no protection save a row of slender poplars.  If he had only turned to the left the night before instead of pursuing a straight course he could have been with his regiment at once.  And he noticed that almost all the line regiments were collected along that part of the bank that extends from the Tour a Glaire to the Chateau of Villette ­another bourgeois country place, situated more in the direction of Donchery and surrounded by a few hovels ­all of them having selected their bivouac near the bridge, sole issue from their prison, as sheep will instinctively huddle together close to the door of their fold, knowing that sooner or later it will be opened for them.

Jean uttered a cry of pleasure.  “Ah, so it’s you, at last!  I had begun to think you were in the river.”

He was there with what remained of the squad, Pache and Lapoulle, Loubet and Chouteau.  The last named had slept under doorways in Sedan until the attention of the Prussian provost guard had finally restored them to their regiment.  The corporal, moreover, was the only surviving officer of the company, death having taken away Sergeant Sapin, Lieutenant Rochas and Captain Beaudoin, and although the victors had abolished distinction of rank among the prisoners, deciding that obedience was due to the German officers alone, the four men had, nevertheless, rallied to him, knowing him to be a leader of prudence and experience, upon whom they could rely in circumstances of difficulty.  Thus it was that peace and harmony reigned among them that morning, notwithstanding the stupidity of some and the evil designs of others.  In the first place, the night before he had found them a place to sleep in that was comparatively dry, where they had stretched themselves on the ground, the only thing they had left in the way of protection from the weather being the half of a shelter-tent.  After that he had managed to secure some wood and a kettle, in which Loubet made coffee for them, the comforting warmth of which had fortified their stomachs.  The rain had ceased, the day gave promise of being bright and warm, they had a small supply of biscuit and bacon left, and then, as Chouteau said, it was a comfort to have no orders to obey, to have their fill of loafing.  They were prisoners, it was true, but there was plenty of room to move about.  Moreover, they would be away from there in two or three days.  Under these circumstances the day, which was Sunday, the 4th, passed pleasantly enough.

Maurice, whose courage had returned to him now that he was with the comrades once more, found nothing to annoy him except the Prussian bands, which played all the afternoon beyond the canal.  Toward evening there was vocal music, and the men sang in chorus.  They could be seen outside the chain of sentries, walking to and fro in little groups and singing solemn melodies in a loud, ringing voice in honor of the Sabbath.

“Confound those bands!” Maurice at last impatiently exclaimed.  “They will drive me wild!”

Jean, whose nerves were less susceptible, shrugged his shoulders.

Dame! they have reason to feel good; and then perhaps they think it affords us pleasure.  It hasn’t been such a bad day; don’t let’s find fault.”

As night approached, however, the rain began to fall again.  Some of the men had taken possession of what few unoccupied houses there were on the peninsula, others were provided with tents that they erected, but by far the greater number, without shelter of any sort, destitute of blankets even, were compelled to pass the night in the open air, exposed to the pouring rain.

About one o’clock Maurice, who had been sleeping soundly as a result of his fatigue, awoke and found himself in the middle of a miniature lake.  The trenches, swollen by the heavy downpour, had overflowed and inundated the ground where he lay.  Chouteau’s and Loubet’s wrath vented itself in a volley of malédictions, while Pache shook Lapoulle, who, unmindful of his ducking, slept through it all as if he was never to wake again.  Then Jean, remembering the row of poplars on the bank of the canal, collected his little band and ran thither for shelter; and there they passed the remainder of that wretched night, crouching with their backs to the trees, their legs doubled under them, so as to expose as little of their persons as might be to the big drops.

The next day, and the day succeeding it, the weather was truly detestable, what with the continual showers, that came down so copiously and at such frequent intervals that the men’s clothing had not time to dry on their backs.  They were threatened with famine, too; there was not a biscuit left in camp, and the coffee and bacon were exhausted.  During those two days, Monday and Tuesday, they existed on potatoes that they dug in the adjacent fields, and even those vegetables had become so scarce toward the end of the second day that those soldiers who had money paid as high as five sous apiece for them.  It was true that the bugles sounded the call for “distribution”; the corporal had nearly run his legs off trying to be the first to reach a great shed near the Tour a Glaire, where it was reported that rations of bread were to be issued, but on the occasion of a first visit he had waited there three hours and gone away empty-handed, and on a second had become involved in a quarrel with a Bavarian.  It was well known that the French officers were themselves in deep distress and powerless to assist their men; had the German staff driven the vanquished army out there in the mud and rain with the intention of letting them starve to death?  Not the first step seemed to have been taken, not an effort had been made, to provide for the subsistence of those eighty thousand men in that hell on earth that the soldiers subsequently christened Camp Misery, a name that the bravest of them could never hear mentioned in later days without a shudder.

On his return from his wearisome and fruitless expedition to the shed, Jean forgot his usual placidity and gave way to anger.

“What do they mean by calling us up when there’s nothing for us?  I’ll be hanged if I’ll put myself out for them another time!”

And yet, whenever there was a call, he hurried off again.  It was inhuman to sound the bugles thus, merely because regulations prescribed certain calls at certain hours, and it had another effect that was near breaking Maurice’s heart.  Every time that the trumpets sounded the French horses, that were running free on the other side of the canal, came rushing up and dashed into the water to rejoin their squadron, as excited at the well-known sound as they would be at the touch of the spur; but in their exhausted condition they were swept away by the current and few attained the shore.  It was a cruel sight to see their struggles; they were drowned in great numbers, and their bodies, decomposing and swelling in the hot sunshine, drifted on the bosom of the canal.  As for those of them that got to land, they seemed as if stricken with sudden madness, galloping wildly off and hiding among the waste places of the peninsula.

“More bones for the crows to pick!” sorrowfully said Maurice, remembering the great droves of horses that he had encountered on a previous occasion.  “If we remain here a few days we shall all be devouring one another.  Poor brutes!”

The night between Tuesday and Wednesday was most terrible of all, and Jean, who was beginning to feel seriously alarmed for Maurice’s feverish state, made him wrap himself in an old blanket that they had purchased from a zouave for ten francs, while he, with no protection save his water-soaked capote, cheerfully took the drenching of the deluge which that night pelted down without cessation.  Their position under the poplars had become untenable; it was a streaming river of mud, the water rested in deep puddles on the surface of the saturated ground.  What was worst of all was that they had to suffer on an empty stomach, the evening meal of the six men having consisted of two beets which they had been compelled to eat raw, having no dry wood to make a fire with, and the sweet taste and refreshing coolness of the vegetables had quickly been succeeded by an intolerable burning sensation.  Some cases of dysentery had appeared among the men, caused by fatigue, improper food and the persistent humidity of the atmosphere.  More than ten times that night did Jean stretch forth his hand to see that Maurice had not uncovered himself in the movements of his slumber, and thus he kept watch and ward over his friend ­his back supported by the same tree-trunk, his legs in a pool of water ­with tenderness unspeakable.  Since the day that on the plateau of Illy his comrade had carried him off in his arms and saved him from the Prussians he had repaid the debt a hundred-fold.  He stopped not to reason on it; it was the free gift of all his being, the total forgetfulness of self for love of the other, the finest, most delicate, grandest exhibition of friendship possible, and that, too, in a peasant, whose lot had always been the lowly one of a tiller of the soil and who had never risen far above the earth, who could not find words to express what he felt, acting purely from instinct, in all simplicity of soul.  Many a time already he had taken the food from his mouth, as the men of the squad were wont to say; now he would have divested himself of his skin if with it he might have covered the other, to protect his shoulders, to warm his feet.  And in the midst of the savage egoism that surrounded them, among that aggregation of suffering humanity whose worst appetites were inflamed and intensified by hunger, he perhaps owed it to his complete abnegation of self that he had preserved thus far his tranquillity of mind and his vigorous health, for he among them all, his great strength unimpaired, alone maintained his composure and something like a level head.

After that distressful night Jean determined to carry into execution a plan that he had been reflecting over since the day previous.

“See here, little one, we can get nothing to eat, and everyone seems to have forgotten us here in this beastly hole; now unless we want to die the death of dogs, it behooves us to stir about a bit.  How are your legs?”

The sun had come out again, fortunately, and Maurice was warmed and comforted.

“Oh, my legs are all right!”

“Then we’ll start off on an exploring expedition.  We’ve money in our pockets, and the deuce is in it if we can’t find something to buy.  And we won’t bother our heads about the others; they don’t deserve it.  Let them take care of themselves.”

The truth was that Loubet and Chouteau had disgusted him by their trickiness and low selfishness, stealing whatever they could lay hands on and never dividing with their comrades, while no good was to be got out of Lapoulle, the brute, and Pache, the sniveling devotee.

The pair, therefore, Maurice and Jean, started out by the road along the Meuse which the former had traversed once before, on the night of his arrival.  At the Tour a Glaire the park and dwelling-house presented a sorrowful spectacle of pillage and devastation, the trim lawns cut up and destroyed, the trees felled, the mansion dismantled.  A ragged, dirty crew of soldiers, with hollow cheeks and eyes preternaturally bright from fever, had taken possession of the place and were living like beasts in the filthy chambers, not daring to leave their quarters for a moment lest someone else might come along and occupy them.  A little further on they passed the cavalry and artillery, encamped on the hillsides, once so conspicuous by reason of the neatness and jauntiness of their appearance, now run to seed like all the rest, their organization gone, demoralized by that terrible, torturing hunger that drove the horses wild and sent the men straggling through the fields in plundering bands.  Below them, to the right, they beheld an apparently interminable line of artillerymen and chasseurs d’Afrique defiling slowly before the mill; the miller was selling them flour, measuring out two handfuls into their handkerchiefs for a franc.  The prospect of the long wait that lay before them, should they take their place at the end of the line, determined them to pass on, in the hope that some better opportunity would present itself at the village of Iges; but great was their consternation when they reached it to find the little place as bare and empty as an Algerian village through which has passed a swarm of locusts; not a crumb, not a fragment of anything eatable, neither bread, nor meat, nor vegetables, the wretched inhabitants utterly destitute.  General Lebrun was said to be there, closeted with the mayor.  He had been endeavoring, ineffectually, to arrange for an issue of bonds, redeemable at the close of the war, in order to facilitate the victualing of the troops.  Money had ceased to have any value when there was nothing that it could purchase.  The day before two francs had been paid for a biscuit, seven francs for a bottle of wine, a small glass of brandy was twenty sous, a pipeful of tobacco ten sous.  And now officers, sword in hand, had to stand guard before the general’s house and the neighboring hovels, for bands of marauders were constantly passing, breaking down doors and stealing even the oil from the lamps and drinking it.

Three zouaves invited Maurice and Jean to join them.  Five would do the work more effectually than three.

“Come along.  There are horses dying in plenty, and if we can but get some dry wood ­”

Then they fell to work on the miserable cabin of a poor peasant, smashing the closet doors, tearing the thatch from the roof.  Some officers, who came up on a run, threatened them with their revolvers and put them to flight.

Jean, who saw that the few villagers who had remained at Iges were no better off than the soldiers, perceived he had made a mistake in passing the mill without buying some flour.

“There may be some left; we had best go back.”

But Maurice was so reduced from inanition and was beginning to suffer so from fatigue that he left him behind in a sheltered nook among the quarries, seated on a fragment of rock, his face turned upon the wide horizon of Sedan.  He, after waiting in line for two long hours, finally returned with some flour wrapped in a piece of rag.  And they ate it uncooked, dipping it up in their hands, unable to devise any other way.  It was not so very bad; It had no particular flavor, only the insipid taste of dough.  Their breakfast, such as it was, did them some good, however.  They were even so fortunate as to discover a little pool of rain-water, comparatively pure, in a hollow of a rock, at which they quenched their thirst with great satisfaction.

But when Jean proposed that they should spend the remainder of the afternoon there, Maurice negatived the motion with a great display of violence.

“No, no; not here!  I should be ill if I were to have that scene before my eyes for any length of time ­” With a hand that trembled he pointed to the remote horizon, the hill of Hattoy, the plateaux of Floing and Illy, the wood of la Garenne, those abhorred, detested fields of slaughter and defeat.  “While you were away just now I was obliged to turn my back on it, else I should have broken out and howled with rage.  Yes, I should have howled like a dog tormented by boys ­you can’t imagine how it hurts me; it drives me crazy!”

Jean looked at him in surprise; he could not understand that pride, sensitive as a raw sore, that made defeat so bitter to him; he was alarmed to behold in his eyes that wandering, flighty look that he had seen there before.  He affected to treat the matter lightly.

“Good! we’ll seek another country; that’s easy enough to do.”

Then they wandered as long as daylight lasted, wherever the paths they took conducted them.  They visited the level portion of the peninsula in the hope of finding more potatoes there, but the artillerymen had obtained a plow and turned up the ground, and not a single potato had escaped their sharp eyes.  They retraced their steps, and again they passed through throngs of listless, glassy-eyed, starving soldiers, strewing the ground with their debilitated forms, falling by hundreds in the bright sunshine from sheer exhaustion.  They were themselves many times overcome by fatigue and forced to sit down and rest; then their deep-seated sensation of suffering would bring them to their feet again and they would recommence their wandering, like animals impelled by instinct to move on perpetually in quest of pasturage.  It seemed to them to last for years, and yet the moments sped by rapidly.  In the more inland region, over Donchery way, they received a fright from the horses and sought the protection of a wall, where they remained a long time, too exhausted to rise, watching with vague, lack-luster eyes the wild course of the crazed beasts as they raced athwart the red western sky where the sun was sinking.

As Maurice had foreseen, the thousands of horses that shared the captivity of the army, and for which it was impossible to provide forage, constituted a peril that grew greater day by day.  At first they had nibbled the vegetation and gnawed the bark off trees, then had attacked the fences and whatever wooden structures they came across, and now they seemed ready to devour one another.  It was a frequent occurrence to see one of them throw himself upon another and tear out great tufts from his mane or tail, which he would grind between his teeth, slavering meanwhile at the mouth profusely.  But it was at night that they became most terrible, as if they were visited by visions of terror in the darkness.  They collected in droves, and, attracted by the straw, made furious rushes upon what few tents there were, overturning and demolishing them.  It was to no purpose that the men built great fires to keep them away; the device only served to madden them the more.  Their shrill cries were so full of anguish, so dreadful to the ear, that they might have been mistaken for the howls of wild beasts.  Were they driven away, they returned, more numerous and fiercer than before.  Scarce a moment passed but out in the darkness could be heard the shriek of anguish of some unfortunate soldier whom the crazed beasts had crushed in their wild stampede.

The sun was still above the horizon when Jean and Maurice, on their way back to the camp, were astonished by meeting with the four men of the squad, lurking in a ditch, apparently for no good purpose.  Loubet hailed them at once, and Chouteau constituted himself spokesman: 

“We are considering ways and means for dining this evening.  We shall die if we go on this way; it is thirty-six hours since we have had anything to put in our stomach ­so, as there are horses plenty, and horse-meat isn’t such bad eating ­”

“You’ll join us, won’t you, corporal?” said Loubet, interrupting, “for, with such a big, strong animal to handle, the more of us there are the better it will be.  See, there is one, off yonder, that we’ve been keeping an eye on for the last hour; that big bay that is in such a bad way.  He’ll be all the easier to finish.”

And he pointed to a horse that was dying of starvation, on the edge of what had once been a field of beets.  He had fallen on his flank, and every now and then would raise his head and look about him pleadingly, with a deep inhalation that sounded like a sigh.

“Ah, how long we have to wait!” grumbled Lapoulle, who was suffering torment from his fierce appetite.  “I’ll go and kill him ­shall I?”

But Loubet stopped him.  Much obliged! and have the Prussians down on them, who had given notice that death would be the penalty for killing a horse, fearing that the carcass would breed a pestilence.  They must wait until it was dark.  And that was the reason why the four men were lurking in the ditch, waiting, with glistening, hungry eyes fixed on the dying brute.

“Corporal,” asked Pache, in a voice that faltered a little, “you have lots of ideas in your head; couldn’t you kill him painlessly?”

Jean refused the cruel task with a gesture of disgust.  What, kill that poor beast that was even then in its death agony! oh, no, no!  His first impulse had been to fly and take Maurice with him, that neither of them might be concerned in the revolting butchery; but looking at his companion and beholding him so pale and faint, he reproached himself for such an excess of sensibility.  What were animals created for after all, mon Dieu, unless to afford sustenance to man!  They could not allow themselves to starve when there was food within reach.  And it rejoiced him to see Maurice cheer up a little at the prospect of eating; he said in his easy, good-natured way: 

“Faith, you’re wrong there; I’ve no ideas in my head, and if he has got to be killed without pain ­”

“Oh! that’s all one to me,” interrupted Lapoulle.  “I’ll show you.”

The two newcomers seated themselves in the ditch and joined the others in their expectancy.  Now and again one of the men would rise and make certain that the horse was still there, its neck outstretched to catch the cool exhalations of the Meuse and the last rays of the setting sun, as if bidding farewell to life.  And when at last twilight crept slowly o’er the scene the six men were erect upon their feet, impatient that night was so tardy in its coming, casting furtive, frightened looks about them to see they were not observed.

“Ah, zut!” exclaimed Chouteau, “the time is come!”

Objects were still discernible in the fields by the uncertain, mysterious light “between dog and wolf,” and Lapoulle went forward first, followed by the five others.  He had taken from the ditch a large, rounded boulder, and, with it in his two brawny hands, rushing upon the horse, commenced to batter at his skull as with a club.  At the second blow, however, the horse, stung by the pain, attempted to get on his feet.  Chouteau and Loubet had thrown themselves across his legs and were endeavoring to hold him down, shouting to the others to help them.  The poor brute’s cries were almost human in their accent of terror and distress; he struggled desperately to shake off his assailants, and would have broken them like a reed had he not been half dead with inanition.  The movements of his head prevented the blows from taking effect; Lapoulle was unable to despatch him.

Nom de Dieu! how hard his bones are!  Hold him, somebody, until I finish him.”

Jean and Maurice stood looking at the scene in silent horror; they heard not Chouteau’s appeals for assistance; were powerless to raise a hand.  And Pache, in a sudden outburst of piety and pity, dropped on his knees, joined his hands, and began to mumble the prayers that are repeated at the bedside of the dying.

“Merciful God, have pity on him.  Let him, good Lord, depart in peace ­”

Again Lapoulle struck ineffectually, with no other effect than to destroy an ear of the wretched creature, that threw back its head and gave utterance to a loud, shrill scream.

“Hold on!” growled Chouteau; “this won’t do; he’ll get us all in the lockup.  We must end the matter.  Hold him fast, Loubet.”

He took from his pocket a penknife, a small affair of which the blade was scarcely longer than a man’s finger, and casting himself prone on the animal’s body and passing an arm about its neck, began to hack away at the live flesh, cutting away great morsels, until he found and severed the artery.  He leaped quickly to one side; the blood spurted forth in a torrent, as when the plug is removed from a fountain, while the feet stirred feebly and convulsive movements ran along the skin, succeeding one another like waves of the sea.  It was near five minutes before the horse was dead.  His great eyes, dilated wide and filled with melancholy and affright, were fixed upon the wan-visaged men who stood waiting for him to die; then they grew dim and the light died from out them.

“Merciful God,” muttered Pache, still on his knees, “keep him in thy holy protection ­succor him, Lord, and grant him eternal rest.”

Afterward, when the creature’s movements had ceased, they were at a loss to know where the best cut lay and how they were to get at it.  Loubet, who was something of a Jack-of-all-trades, showed them what was to be done in order to secure the loin, but as he was a tyro at the butchering business and, moreover, had only his small penknife to work with, he quickly lost his way amid the warm, quivering flesh.  And Lapoulle, in his impatience, having attempted to be of assistance by making an incision in the belly, for which there was no necessity whatever, the scene of bloodshed became truly sickening.  They wallowed in the gore and entrails that covered the ground about them, like a pack of ravening wolves collected around the carcass of their prey, fleshing their keen fangs in it.

“I don’t know what cut that may be,” Loubet said at last, rising to his feet with a huge lump of meat in his hands, “but by the time we’ve eaten it, I don’t believe any of us will be hungry.”

Jean and Maurice had averted their eyes in horror from the disgusting spectacle; still, however, the pangs of hunger were gnawing at their vitals, and when the band slunk rapidly away, so as not to be caught in the vicinity of the incriminating carcass, they followed it.  Chouteau had discovered three large beets, that had somehow been overlooked by previous visitors to the field, and carried them off with him.  Loubet had loaded the meat on Lapoulle’s shoulders so as to have his own arms free, while Pache carried the kettle that belonged to the squad, which they had brought with them on the chance of finding something to cook in it.  And the six men ran as if their lives were at stake, never stopping to take breath, as if they heard the pursuers at their heels.

Suddenly Loubet brought the others to a halt.

“It’s idiotic to run like this; let’s decide where we shall go to cook the stuff.”

Jean, who was beginning to recover his self-possession, proposed the quarries.  They were only three hundred yards distant, and in them were secret recesses in abundance where they could kindle a fire without being seen.  When they reached the spot, however, difficulties of every description presented themselves.  First, there was the question of wood; fortunately a laborer, who had been repairing the road, had gone home and left his wheelbarrow behind him; Lapoulle quickly reduced it to fragments with the heel of his boot.  Then there was no water to be had that was fit to drink; the hot sunshine had dried up all the pools of rain-water.  True there was a pump at the Tour a Glaire, but that was too far away, and besides it was never accessible before midnight; the men forming in long lines with their bowls and porringers, only too happy when, after waiting for hours, they could escape from the jam with their supply of the precious fluid unspilled.  As for the few wells in the neighborhood, they had been dry for the last two days, and the bucket brought up nothing save mud and slime.  Their sole resource appeared to be the water of the Meuse, which was parted from them by the road.

“I’ll take the kettle and go and fill it,” said Jean.

The others objected.

“No, no!  We don’t want to be poisoned; it is full of dead bodies!”

They spoke the truth.  The Meuse was constantly bringing down corpses of men and horses; they could be seen floating with the current at any moment of the day, swollen and of a greenish hue, in the early stages of decomposition.  Often they were caught in the weeds and bushes on the bank, where they remained to poison the atmosphere, swinging to the tide with a gentle, tremulous motion that imparted to them a semblance of life.  Nearly every soldier who had drunk that abominable water had suffered from nausea and colic, often succeeded afterward by dysentery.  It seemed as if they must make up their mind to use it, however, as there was no other; Maurice explained that there would be no danger in drinking it after it was boiled.

“Very well, then; I’ll go,” said Jean.  And he started, taking Lapoulle with him to carry the kettle.

By the time they got the kettle filled and on the fire it was quite dark.  Loubet had peeled the beets and thrown them into the water to cook ­a feast fit for the gods, he declared it would be ­and fed the fire with fragments of the wheelbarrow, for they were all suffering so from hunger that they could have eaten the meat before the pot began to boil.  Their huge shadows danced fantastically in the firelight on the rocky walls of the quarry.  Then they found it impossible longer to restrain their appetite, and threw themselves upon the unclean mess, tearing the flesh with eager, trembling fingers and dividing it among them, too impatient even to make use of the knife.  But, famishing as they were, their stomachs revolted; they felt the want of salt, they could not swallow that tasteless, sickening broth, those chunks of half-cooked, viscid meat that had a taste like clay.  Some among them had a fit of vomiting.  Pache was very ill.  Chouteau and Loubet heaped malédictions on that infernal old nag, that had caused them such trouble to get him to the pot and then given them the colic.  Lapoulle was the only one among them who ate abundantly, but he was in a very bad way that night when, with his three comrades, he returned to their resting-place under the poplars by the canal.

On their way back to camp Maurice, without uttering a word, took advantage of the darkness to seize Jean by the arm and drag him into a by-path.  Their comrades inspired him with unconquerable disgust; he thought he should like to go and sleep in the little wood where he had spent his first night on the peninsula.  It was a good idea, and Jean commended it highly when he had laid himself down on the warm, dry ground, under the shelter of the dense foliage.  They remained there until the sun was high in the heavens, and enjoyed a sound, refreshing slumber, which restored to them something of their strength.

The following day was Thursday, but they had ceased to note the days; they were simply glad to observe that the weather seemed to be coming off fine again.  Jean overcame Maurice’s repugnance and prevailed on him to return to the canal, to see if their regiment was not to move that day.  Not a day passed now but detachments of prisoners, a thousand to twelve hundred strong, were sent off to the fortresses in Germany.  The day but one before they had seen, drawn up in front of the Prussian headquarters, a column of officers of various grades, who were going to Pont-a-Mousson, there to take the railway.  Everyone was possessed with a wild, feverish longing to get away from that camp where they had seen such suffering.  Ah! if it but might be their turn!  And when they found the 106th still encamped on the bank of the canal, in the inevitable disorder consequent upon such distress, their courage failed them and they despaired.

Jean and Maurice that day thought they saw a prospect of obtaining something to eat.  All the morning a lively traffic had been going on between the prisoners and the Bavarians on the other side of the canal; the former would wrap their money in a handkerchief and toss it across to the opposite shore, the latter would return the handkerchief with a loaf of coarse brown bread, or a plug of their common, damp tobacco.  Even soldiers who had no money were not debarred from participating in this commerce, employing, instead of currency, their white uniform gloves, for which the Germans appeared to have a weakness.  For two hours packages were flying across the canal in its entire length under this primitive system of exchanges.  But when Maurice dispatched his cravat with a five-franc piece tied in it to the other bank, the Bavarian who was to return him a loaf of bread gave it, whether from awkwardness or malice, such an ineffectual toss that it fell in the water.  The incident elicited shouts of laughter from the Germans.  Twice again Maurice repeated the experiment, and twice his loaf went to feed the fishes.  At last the Prussian officers, attracted by the uproar, came running up and prohibited their men from selling anything to the prisoners, threatening them with dire penalties and punishments in case of disobedience.  The traffic came to a sudden end, and Jean had hard work to pacify Maurice, who shook his fists at the scamps, shouting to them to give him back his five-franc pieces.

This was another terrible day, notwithstanding the warm, bright sunshine.  Twice the bugle sounded and sent Jean hurrying off to the shed whence rations were supposed to be issued, but on each occasion he only got his toes trod on and his ribs racked in the crush.  The Prussians, whose organization was so wonderfully complete, continued to manifest the same brutal inattention to the necessities of the vanquished army.  On the representations of Generals Douay and Lebrun, they had indeed sent in a few sheep as well as some wagon-loads of bread, but so little care was taken to guard them that the sheep were carried off bodily and the wagons pillaged as soon as they reached the bridge, the consequence of which was that the troops who were encamped a hundred yards further on were no better off than before; it was only the worst element, the plunderers and bummers, who benefited by the provision trains.  And thereon Jean, who, as he said, saw how the trick was done, brought Maurice with him to the bridge to keep an eye on the victuals.

It was four o’clock, and they had not had a morsel to eat all that beautiful bright Thursday, when suddenly their eyes were gladdened by the sight of Delaherche.  A few among the citizens of Sedan had with infinite difficulty obtained permission to visit the prisoners, to whom they carried provisions, and Maurice had on several occasions expressed his surprise at his failure to receive any tidings of his sister.  As soon as they recognized Delaherche in the distance, carrying a large basket and with a loaf of bread under either arm, they darted forward fast as their legs could carry them, but even thus they were too late; a crowding, jostling mob closed in, and in the confusion the dazed manufacturer was relieved of his basket and one of his loaves, which vanished from his sight so expeditiously that he was never able to tell the manner of their disappearance.

“Ah, my poor friends!” he stammered, utterly crestfallen in his bewilderment and stupefaction, he who but a moment before had come through the gate with a smile on his lips and an air of good-fellowship, magnanimously forgetting his superior advantages in his desire for popularity.

Jean had taken possession of the remaining loaf and saved it from the hungry crew, and while he and Maurice, seated by the roadside, were making great inroads in it, Delaherche opened his budget of news for their benefit.  His wife, the Lord be praised! was very well, but he was greatly alarmed for the colonel, who had sunk into a condition of deep prostration, although his mother continued to bear him company from morning until night.

“And my sister?” Maurice inquired.

“Ah, yes! your sister; true.  She insisted on coming with me; it was she who brought the two loaves of bread.  She had to remain over yonder, though, on the other side of the canal; the sentries wouldn’t let her pass the gate.  You know the Prussians have strictly prohibited the presence of women in the peninsula.”

Then he spoke of Henriette, and of her fruitless attempts to see her brother and come to his assistance.  Once in Sedan chance had brought her face to face with Cousin Gunther, the man who was captain in the Prussian Guards.  He had passed her with his haughty, supercilious air, pretending not to recognize her.  She, also, with a sensation of loathing, as if she were in the presence of one of her husband’s murderers, had hurried on with quickened steps; then, with a sudden change of purpose for which she could not account, had turned back and told him all the manner of Weiss’s death, in harsh accents of reproach.  And he, thus learning how horribly a relative had met his fate, had taken the matter coolly; it was the fortune of war; the same thing might have happened to himself.  His face, rendered stoically impassive by the discipline of the soldier, had barely betrayed the faintest evidence of interest.  After that, when she informed him that her brother was a prisoner and besought him to use his influence to obtain for her an opportunity of seeing him, he had excused himself on the ground that he was powerless in the matter; the instructions were explicit and might not be disobeyed.  He appeared to place the regimental orderly book on a par with the Bible.  She left him with the clearly defined impression that he believed he was in the country for the sole purpose of sitting in judgment on the French people, with all the intolerance and arrogance of the hereditary enemy, swollen by his personal hatred for the nation whom it had devolved on him to chastise.

“And now,” said Delaherche in conclusion, “you won’t have to go to bed supperless to-night; you have had a little something to eat.  The worst is that I am afraid I shall not be able to secure another pass.”

He asked them if there was anything he could do for them outside, and obligingly consented to take charge of some pencil-written letters confided to him by other soldiers, for the Bavarians had more than once been seen to laugh as they lighted their pipes with missives which they had promised to forward.  Then, when Jean and Maurice had accompanied him to the gate, he exclaimed: 

“Look! over yonder, there’s Henriette!  Don’t you see her waving her handkerchief?”

True enough, among the crowd beyond the line of sentinels they distinguished a little, thin, pale face, a white dot that trembled in the sunshine.  Both were deeply affected, and, with moist eyes, raising their hands above their head, answered her salutation by waving them frantically in the air.

The following day was Friday, and it was then that Maurice felt that his cup of horror was full to overflowing.  After another night of tranquil slumber in the little wood he was so fortunate as to secure another meal, Jean having come across an old woman at the Chateau of Villette who was selling bread at ten francs the pound.  But that day they witnessed a spectacle of which the horror remained imprinted on their minds for many weeks and months.

The day before Chouteau had noticed that Pache had ceased complaining and was going about with a careless, satisfied air, as a man might do who had dined well.  He immediately jumped at the conclusion that the sly fox must have a concealed treasure somewhere, the more so that he had seen him absent himself for near an hour that morning and come back with a smile lurking on his face and his mouth filled with unswallowed food.  It must be that he had had a windfall, had probably joined some marauding party and laid in a stock of provisions.  And Chouteau labored with Loubet and Lapoulle to stir up bad feeling against the comrade, with the latter more particularly. Hein! wasn’t he a dirty dog, if he had something to eat, not to go snacks with the comrades!  He ought to have a lesson that he would remember, for his selfishness.

“To-night we’ll keep a watch on him, don’t you see.  We’ll learn whether he dares to stuff himself on the sly, when so many poor devils are starving all around him.”

“Yes, yes, that’s the talk! we’ll follow him,” Lapoulle angrily declared.  “We’ll see about it!”

He doubled his fists; he was like a crazy man whenever the subject of eating was mentioned in his presence.  His enormous appetite caused him to suffer more than the others; his torment at times was such that he had been known to stuff his mouth with grass.  For more than thirty-six hours, since the night when they had supped on horseflesh and he had contracted a terrible dysentery in consequence, he had been without food, for he was so little able to look out for himself that, notwithstanding his bovine strength, whenever he joined the others in a marauding raid he never got his share of the booty.  He would have been willing to give his blood for a pound of bread.

As it was beginning to be dark Pache stealthily made his way to the Tour a Glaire and slipped into the park, while the three others cautiously followed him at a distance.

“It won’t do to let him suspect anything,” said Chouteau.  “Be on your guard in case he should look around.”

But when he had advanced another hundred paces Pache evidently had no idea there was anyone near, for he began to hurry forward at a swift gait, not so much as casting a look behind.  They had no difficulty in tracking him to the adjacent quarries, where they fell on him as he was in the act of removing two great flat stones, to take from the cavity beneath part of a loaf of bread.  It was the last of his store; he had enough left for one more meal.

“You dirty, sniveling priest’s whelp!” roared Lapoulle, “so that is why you sneak away from us!  Give me that; it’s my share!”

Why should he give his bread?  Weak and puny as he was, his slight form dilated with anger, while he clutched the loaf against his bosom with all the strength he could master.  For he also was hungry.

“Let me alone.  It’s mine.”

Then, at sight of Lapoulle’s raised fist, he broke away and ran, sliding down the steep banks of the quarries, making his way across the bare fields in the direction of Donchery, the three others after him in hot pursuit.  He gained on them, however, being lighter than they, and possessed by such overmastering fear, so determined to hold on to what was his property, that his speed seemed to rival the wind.  He had already covered more than half a mile and was approaching the little wood on the margin of the stream when he encountered Jean and Maurice, who were on their way back to their resting-place for the night.  He addressed them an appealing, distressful cry as he passed; while they, astounded by the wild hunt that went fleeting by, stood motionless at the edge of a field, and thus it was that they beheld the ensuing tragedy.

As luck would have it, Pache tripped over a stone and fell.  In an instant the others were on top of him ­shouting, swearing, their passion roused to such a pitch of frenzy that they were like wolves that had run down their prey.

“Give me that,” yelled Lapoulle, “or by G-d I’ll kill you!”

And he had raised his fist again when Chouteau, taking from his pocket the penknife with which he had slaughtered the horse and opening it, placed it in his hand.

“Here, take it! the knife!”

But Jean meantime had come hurrying up, desirous to prevent the mischief he saw brewing, losing his wits like the rest of them, indiscreetly speaking of putting them all in the guardhouse; whereon Loubet, with an ugly laugh, told him he must be a Prussian, since they had no longer any commanders, and the Prussians were the only ones who issued orders.

Nom de Dieu!” Lapoulle repeated, “will you give me that?”

Despite the terror that blanched his cheeks Pache hugged the bread more closely to his bosom, with the obstinacy of the peasant who never cedes a jot or tittle of that which is his.

“No!”

Then in a second all was over; the brute drove the knife into the other’s throat with such violence that the wretched man did not even utter a cry.  His arms relaxed, the bread fell to the ground, into the pool of blood that had spurted from the wound.

At sight of the imbecile, uncalled-for murder, Maurice, who had until then been a silent spectator of the scene, appeared as if stricken by a sudden fit of madness.  He raved and gesticulated, shaking his fist in the face of the three men and calling them murderers, assassins, with a violence that shook his frame from head to foot.  But Lapoulle seemed not even to hear him.  Squatted on the ground beside the corpse, he was devouring the bloodstained bread, an expression of stupid ferocity on his face, with a loud grinding of his great jaws, while Chouteau and Loubet, seeing him thus terrible in the gratification of his wild-beast appetite, did not even dare claim their portion.

By this time night had fallen, a pleasant night with a clear sky thick-set with stars, and Maurice and Jean, who had regained the shelter of their little wood, presently perceived Lapoulle wandering up and down the river bank.  The two others had vanished, had doubtless returned to the encampment by the canal, their mind troubled by reason of the corpse they left behind them.  He, on the other hand, seemed to dread going to rejoin the comrades.  When he was more himself and his brutish, sluggish intellect showed him the full extent of his crime, he had evidently experienced a twinge of anguish that made motion a necessity, and not daring to return to the interior of the peninsula, where he would have to face the body of his victim, had sought the bank of the stream, where he was now tramping to and fro with uneven, faltering steps.  What was going on within the recesses of that darkened mind that guided the actions of that creature, so degraded as to be scarce higher than the animal?  Was it the awakening of remorse? or only the fear lest his crime might be discovered?  He could not remain there; he paced his beat as a wild beast shambles up and down its cage, with a sudden and ever-increasing longing to fly, a longing that ached and pained like a physical hurt, from which he felt he should die, could he do nothing to satisfy it.  Quick, quick, he must fly, must fly at once, from that prison where he had slain a fellow-being.  And yet, the coward in him, it may be, gaining the supremacy, he threw himself on the ground, and for a long time lay crouched among the herbage.

And Maurice said to Jean in his horror and disgust: 

“See here, I cannot remain longer in this place; I tell you plainly I should go mad.  I am surprised that the physical part of me holds out as it does; my bodily health is not so bad, but the mind is going; yes! it is going, I am certain of it.  If you leave me another day in this hell I am lost.  I beg you, let us go away, let us start at once!”

And he went on to propound the wildest schemes for getting away.  They would swim the Meuse, would cast themselves on the sentries and strangle them with a cord he had in his pocket, or would beat out their brains with rocks, or would buy them over with the money they had left and don their uniform to pass through the Prussian lines.

“My dear boy, be silent!” Jean sadly answered; “it frightens me to hear you talk so wildly.  Is there any reason in what you say, are any of your plans feasible?  Wait; to-morrow we’ll see about it.  Be silent!”

He, although his heart, no less than his friend’s, was wrung by the horrors that surrounded them on every side, had preserved his mental balance amid the debilitating effects of famine, among the grisly visions of that existence than which none could approach more nearly the depth of human misery.  And as his companion’s frenzy continued to increase and he talked of casting himself into the Meuse, he was obliged to restrain him, even to the point of using violence, scolding and supplicating, tears standing in his eyes.  Then suddenly he said: 

“See! look there!”

A splash was heard coming from the river, and they saw it was Lapoulle, who had finally decided to attempt to escape by the stream, first removing his capote in order that it might not hinder his movements; and his white shirt made a spot of brightness that was distinctly visible upon the dusky bosom of the moving water.  He was swimming up-stream with a leisurely movement, doubtless on the lookout for a place where he might land with safety, while on the opposite shore there was no difficulty in discerning the shadowy forms of the sentries, erect and motionless in the semi-obscurity.  There came a sudden flash that tore the black veil of night, a report that went with bellowing echoes and spent itself among the rocks of Montimont.  The water boiled and bubbled for an instant, as it does under the wild efforts of an unpracticed oarsman.  And that was all; Lapoulle’s body, the white spot on the dusky stream, floated away, lifeless, upon the tide.

The next day, which was Saturday, Jean aroused Maurice as soon as it was day and they returned to the camp of the 106th, with the hope that they might move that day, but there were no orders; it seemed as though the regiment’s existence were forgotten.  Many of the troops had been sent away, the peninsula was being depopulated, and sickness was terribly prevalent among those who were left behind.  For eight long days disease had been germinating in that hell on earth; the rains had ceased, but the blazing, scorching sunlight had only wrought a change of evils.  The excessive heat completed the exhaustion of the men and gave to the numerous cases of dysentery an alarmingly epidemic character.  The excreta of that army of sick poisoned the air with their noxious emanations.  No one could approach the Meuse or the canal, owing to the overpowering stench that rose from the bodies of drowned soldiers and horses that lay festering among the weeds.  And the horses, that dropped in the fields from inanition, were decomposing so rapidly and forming such a fruitful source of pestilence that the Prussians, commencing to be alarmed on their own account, had provided picks and shovels and forced the prisoners to bury them.

That day, however, was the last on which they suffered from famine.  As their numbers were so greatly reduced and provisions kept pouring in from every quarter, they passed at a single bound from the extreme of destitution to the most abundant plenty.  Bread, meat, and wine, even, were to be had without stint; eating went on from morning till night, until they were ready to drop.  Darkness descended, and they were eating still; in some quarters the gorging was continued until the next morning.  To many it proved fatal.

That whole day Jean made it his sole business to keep watch over Maurice, who he saw was ripe for some rash action.  He had been drinking; he spoke of his intention of cuffing a Prussian officer in order that he might be sent away.  And at night Jean, having discovered an unoccupied corner in the cellar of one of the outbuildings at the Tour a Glaire, thought it advisable to go and sleep there with his companion, thinking that a good night’s rest would do him good, but it turned out to be the worst night in all their experience, a night of terror during which neither of them closed an eye.  The cellar was inhabited by other soldiers; lying in the same corner were two who were dying of dysentery, and as soon as it was fairly dark they commenced to relieve their sufferings by moans and inarticulate cries, a hideous death-rattle that went on uninterruptedly until morning.  These sounds finally became so horrific there in the intense darkness, that the others who were resting there, wishing to sleep, allowed their anger to get the better of them and shouted to the dying men to be silent.  They did not hear; the rattle went on, drowning all other sounds, while from without came the drunken clamor of those who were eating and drinking still, with insatiable appetite.

Then commenced for Maurice a period of agony unspeakable.  He would have fled from the awful sounds that brought the cold sweat of anguish in great drops to his brow, but when he arose and attempted to grope his way out he trod on the limbs of those extended there, and finally fell to the ground, a living man immured there in the darkness with the dying.  He made no further effort to escape from this last trial.  The entire frightful disaster arose before his mind, from the time of their departure from Rheims to the crushing defeat of Sedan.  It seemed to him that in that night, in the inky blackness of that cellar, where the groans of two dying soldiers drove sleep from the eyelids of their comrades, the ordeal of the army of Chalons had reached its climax.  At each of the stations of its passion the army of despair, the expiatory band, driven forward to the sacrifice, had spent its life-blood in atonement for the faults of others; and now, unhonored amid disaster, covered with contumely, it was enduring martyrdom in that cruel scourging, the severity of which it had done nothing to deserve.  He felt it was too much; he was heartsick with rage and grief, hungering for justice, burning with a fierce desire to be avenged on destiny.

When daylight appeared one of the soldiers was dead, the other was lingering on in protracted agony.

“Come along, little one,” Jean gently said; “we’ll go and get a breath of fresh air; it will do us good.”

But when the pair emerged into the pure, warm morning air and, pursuing the river bank, were near the village of Iges, Maurice grew flightier still, and extending his hand toward the vast expanse of sunlit battlefield, the plateau of Illy in front of them, Saint-Menges to the left, the wood of la Garenne to the right, he cried: 

“No, I cannot, I cannot bear to look on it!  The sight pierces my heart and drives me mad.  Take me away, oh! take me away, at once, at once!”

It was Sunday once more; the bells were pealing from the steeples of Sedan, while the music of a German military band floated on the air in the distance.  There were still no orders for their regiment to move, and Jean, alarmed to see Maurice’s deliriousness increasing, determined to attempt the execution of a plan that he had been maturing in his mind for the last twenty-four hours.  On the road before the tents of the Prussians another regiment, the 5th of the line, was drawn up in readiness for departure.  Great confusion prevailed in the column, and an officer, whose knowledge of the French language was imperfect, had been unable to complete the roster of the prisoners.  Then the two friends, having first torn from their uniform coat the collar and buttons in order that the number might not betray their identity, quietly took their place in the ranks and soon had the satisfaction of crossing the bridge and leaving the chain of sentries behind them.  The same idea must have presented itself to Loubet and Chouteau, for they caught sight of them somewhat further to the rear, peering anxiously about them with the guilty eyes of murderers.

Ah, what comfort there was for them in that first blissful moment!  Outside their prison the sunlight was brighter, the air more bracing; it was like a resurrection, a bright renewal of all their hopes.  Whatever evil fortune might have in store for them, they dreaded it not; they snapped their fingers at it in their delight at having seen the last of the horrors of Camp Misery.