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BALL-OF-FAT

 

For many days now the fag-end of the army had been straggling through the townThey were not troopsbut a disbanded hordeThe beards of the men were long and filthytheir uniforms in tattersand they advanced at an easy pace without flag or regimentAll seemed worn-out and back-brokenincapable of a thought or a resolutionmarching by habit solely and falling from fatigue as soon as they stoppedIn shortthey were a mobilizedpacific peoplebending under the weight of the gunsome little squads on the alerteasy to take alarm and prompt in enthusiasmready to attack or to fleeand in the midst of themsome red breechesthe remains of a division broken up in a great battlesome somber artillery men in line with these varied kinds of foot soldiersandsometimes the brilliant helmet of a dragoon on foot who followed with difficulty the shortest march of the lines

Some legions of free-shootersunder the heroic names ofAvengers of the Defeat,”“Citizens of the Tomb,”“Partakers of Death,”passed in their turn with the air of bandits

Their leaders were former cloth or grain merchantsexmerchants in tallow or soapwarriors of circumstanceelected officers on account of their escutcheons and the length of their mustachescovered with arms and with braidspeaking in constrained voicesdiscussing plans of campaignand pretending to carry agonized France alone on their swaggering shouldersbut sometimes fearing their own soldiersprison-birdsthat were often brave at first and later proved to be plunderers and debauchees

It was said that the Prussians were going to enter Rouen

The National Guard who for two months had been carefully reconnoitering in the neighboring woodsshooting sometimes their own sentinelsand ready for a combat whenever a little wolf stirred in the thickethad now returned to their firesidesTheir armstheir uniformsall the murderous accoutrements with which they had lately struck fear into the national heart for three leagues in every directionhad suddenly disappeared

The last French soldiers finally came across the Seine to reach the Audemer bridge through Saint-Sever and Bourg-Achardandmarching behindon footbetween two officers of ordnancethe Generalin despairunable to do anything with these incongruous tattershimself lost in the breaking-up of a people accustomed to conquer and disastrously beatenin spite of his legendary bravery

A profound calma frightfulsilent expectancy had spread over the cityMany of the heavy citizensemasculated by commerceanxiously awaited the conquerorstrembling lest their roasting spits or kitchen knives be considered arms

All life seemed stoppedshops were closed the streets dumbSometimes an inhabitantintimidated by this silencemoved rapidly along next the walls The agony of waiting made them wish the enemy would come

In the afternoon of the day which followed the departure of the French troopssome uhlanscoming from one knows not wherecrossed the town with celerityThena little latera black mass descended the side of StCatharinewhile two other invading bands appeared by the way of Darnetal and BoisguillaumeThe advance guard of the three bodies joined one another at the same moment in Hotel de Ville square andby all the neighboring streetsthe German army continued to arrivespreading out its battalionsmaking the pavement re-sound under their hardrhythmic step

Some orders of the commanderin a foreign guttural voicereached the houses which seemed dead and desertedwhile behind closed shutterseyes were watching these victorious menmasters of the city of fortunesof livesthrough therights of war.”The inhabitantsshut up in their roomswere visited with the kind of excitement that a cataclysmor some fatal upheaval of the earthbrings to usagainst which all force is uselessFor the same sensation is produced each time that the established order of things is overturnedwhen security no longer existsand all that protect the laws of man and of nature find themselves at the mercy of unreasoningferocious brutalityThe trembling of the earth crushing the houses and burying an entire peoplea river overflowing its banks and carrying in its course the drowned peasantscarcasses of beevesand girders snatched from roofsor a glorious army massacring those trying to defend themselvesleading others prisonerspillaging in the name of the sword and thanking God to the sound of the cannonall are alike frightful scourges which disconnect all belief in eternal justiceall the confidence that we have in the protection of Heaven and the reason of man

Some detachments rapped at each doorthen disappeared into the housesIt was occupation after invasionThen the duty commences for the conquered to show themselves gracious toward the conquerors

After some timeas soon as the first terror disappearsa new calm is establishedIn many familiesthe Prussian officer eats at the tableHe is sometimes well bred andthrough politenesspities Franceand speaks of his repugnance in taking part in this affairOne is grateful to him for this sentimentthenone may besome day or otherin need of his protectionBy treat-ing him wellone hasperhapsa less number of men to feedAnd why should we wound anyone on whom we are entirely dependentTo act thus would be less bravery than temerityAnd temerity is no longer a fault of the commoner of Rouenas it was at the time of the heroic defensewhen their city became famousFinal-lyeach told himself that the highest judgment of French urbanity required that they be allowed to be polite to the strange soldier in the houseprovided they did not show themselves familiar with him in publicOutside they would not make themselves known to each otherbut at home they could chat freelyand the German might remain longer each evening warming his feet at their hearthstones

The town even took onlittle by littleits ordinary aspectThe French scarcely went outbut the Prussian soldiers grumbled in the streetsIn shortthe officers of the Blue Hussarswho dragged with arrogance their great weapons of death up and down the pavementseemed to have no more grievous scorn for the simple citizens than the officers or the sportsmen whothe year beforedrank in the same cafes

There was neverthelesssomething in the airsomething subtle and unknowna strangeintolerable atmosphere like a penetrating odorthe odor of invasionIt filled the dwellings and the public placeschanged the taste of the foodgave the impression of being on a journeyfar awayamong barbarous and dangerous tribes

The conquerors exacted moneymuch moneyThe inhabitants always paid and they were rich enough to do itBut the richer a trading Norman becomes the more he suffers at every outlayat each part of his fortune that he sees pass from his hands into those of another

Thereforetwo or three leagues below the townfollowing the course of the river toward CroissetDieppedalleor Biessart mariners and fishermen often picked up the swollen corpse of a German in uniform from the bottom of the riverkilled by the blow of a knifethe head crushed with a stoneor perhaps thrown into the water by a push from the high bridgeThe slime of the river bed buried these obscure vengeancessavagebut legitimateunknown heroismsmute attacks more perilous than the battles of broad dayand without the echoing sound of glory

For hatred of the foreigner always arouses some intrepid oneswho are ready to die for an idea

Finallyas soon as the invaders had brought the town quite under subjection with their inflexible disciplinewithout having been guilty of any of the horrors for which they were famous along their triumphal line of marchpeople began to take courageand the need of trade put new heart into the commerce of the countrySome had large interests at Havrewhich the French army occupiedand they wished to try and reach this port by going to Dieppe by land and there embarking

They used their influence with the German soldiers with whom they had an acquaintanceand finally an authorization of departure was obtained from the General-in-chief

Thena large diligencewith four horseshaving been engaged for this journeyand ten persons having engaged seats in itit was resolved to set out on Tuesday morning before daylightin order to escape observation

For some time beforethe frost had been hardening the earth and on Mondaytoward three o'clockgreat black clouds coming from the north brought the snow which fell without interruption during the evening and all night

At half past four in the morningthe travelers met in the courtyard of Hotel Normandiewhere they were to take the carriage

They were still full of sleepand shivering with cold under their wrapsThey could only see each other dimly in the obscure lightand the accumulation of heavy winter garments made them all resemble fat cu-rates in long cassocksOnly two of the men were acquainteda third accosted them and they chatted:“I'm going to take my wife,” said one.“I too,”said another.“And I,”said the thirdThe first added:“We shall not return to Rouenand if the Prussians approach Havrewe shall go over to England.”All had the same projectsbeing of the same mind

As yet the horses were not harnessedA little lanterncarried by a stable boywent out one door from time to timeto immediately appear at anotherThe feet of the horses striking the floor could be heardalthough deadened by the straw and litterand the voice of a man talking to the beastssometimes swearingcame from the end of the building A light tinkling of bells announced that they were taking down the harnessthis murmur soon became a clear and continuous rhythm by the movement of the animalstopping sometimesthen breaking into a brusque shake which was accompanied by the dull stamp of a sabot upon the hard earth

The door suddenly closedAll noise ceasedThe frozen citizens were silentthey remained immovable and stiff

A curtain of uninterrupted white flakes constantly sparkled in its descent to the groundIt effaced formsand powdered everything with a downy mossAnd nothing could be heard in the great silenceThe town was calmand buried under the wintry frostas this fall of snowunnamable and floatinga sensation rather than a soundtrembling atoms which only seem to fill all space),came to cover the earth

The man reappeared with his lanternpulling at the end of a rope a sad horse which would not come willinglyHe placed him against the polefastened the traceswalked about a long time adjusting the harnessfor he had the use of but one handthe other carrying the lanternAs he went for the second horsehe noticed the travelersmotionlessalready white with snowand said to them:“Why not get into the carriageYou will be under coverat least.”

They had evidently not thought of itand they hastened to do soThe three men installed their wives at the back and then followed themThen the other formsundecided and veiledtook in their turn the last places without exchanging a word

The floor was covered with strawin which the feet ensconced themselvesThe ladies at the back having brought little copper foot stoveswith a carbon firelighted them and for some timein low voicesenumerated the advantages of the appliancesrepeating things that they had known for a long time

Finallythe carriage was harnessed with six horses instead of fourbecause the traveling was very badand a voice called out

Is everybody aboard?”

And a voice within answered:“Yes.”

They were offThe carriage moved slowlyslowly for a little wayThe wheels were imbedded in the snowthe whole body groaned with heavy cracking soundsthe horses glistenedpuffedand smokedand the great whip of the driver snapped without ceasinghovering about on all sidesknotting and unrolling itself like a thin serpentlashing brusquely some horse on the reboundwhich then put forth its most violent effort

Now the day was imperceptibly dawningThe light flakeswhich one of the travelersa Rouenese by birthsaid looked like a shower of cottonno longer fellA faint light filtered through the great dull cloudswhich rendered more brilliant the white of the fieldswhere appeared a line of great trees clothed in whitenessor a chimney with a cap of snow

In the carriageeach looked at the others curiouslyin the sad light of this dawn

At the backin the best placesMrLoiseauwholesale merchant of wineof Grand-Pont streetand MrsLoiseau were sleeping opposite each otherLoiseau had bought out his former patron who failed in businessand made his fortuneHe sold bad wine at a good price to small retailers in the country and passed among his friends and acquaintances as a knavish wag a true Norman full of deceit and joviality

His reputation as a sharper was so well established that one evening at the residence of the prefectMrTournelauthor of some fables and songsof keensatirical minda local celebrityhaving proposed to some ladieswho seemed to be getting a little sleepythat they make up a game ofLoiseau tricksthe joke traversed the rooms of the prefectreached those of the townand thenin the months to comemade many a face in the province expand with laughter

Loiseau was especially known for his love of farce of every kindfor his jokesgood and badand no one could ever talk with him without thinking:“He is invaluablethis Loiseau.”Of tall figurehis balloonshaped front was surmounted by a ruddy face surrounded by gray whiskers

His wifelargestrongand resolutewith a quickdecisive manner was the order and arithmetic of this house of commercewhile he was the life of it through his joyous activity

Beside themMrCarré-Lamadon held himself with great dignityas if belonging to a superior castea considerable manin cottonsproprietor of three millsofficer of the Legion of Honorand member of the General CouncilHe had remainedduring the Empirechief of the friendly oppositionfamous for making the Emperor pay dearer for rallying to the cause than if he had combated it with blunted armsaccording to his own storyMadame Carré-Lamadonmuch younger than her husbandwas the consolation of officers of good family sent to Rouen in garrisonShe sat opposite her husbandvery daintypetiteand prettywrapped closely in furs and looking with sad eyes at the interior of the carriage

Her neighborsthe Count and Countess Hubert de Brevillebore the name of one of the most ancient and noble families of NormandyThe Countan old gentle-man of good figureaccentuatedby the artifices of his toilettehis resemblance to King Henry IV.,whofollowing a glorious legend of the familyhad impregnated one of the De Breville ladieswhose husbandfor this reasonwas made a count and governor of the province

A colleague of MrCarré-Lamadon in the General CouncilCount Hubert represented the Orléans party in the Department

The story of his marriage with the daughter of a little captain of a privateer had always remained a mysteryBut as the Countess had a grand air received better than anyoneand passed for having been loved by the son of Louis Philippeall the nobility did her honorand her salon remained the first in the countrythe only one which preserved the old gallantryand to which the entrée was difficultThe fortune of the Brevilles amountedit was saidto five hundred thousand francs in incomeall in good securities

These six persons formed the foundation of the carriage companythe society sideserene and stronghonestestablished peoplewho had both religion and principles

By a strange chanceall the women were upon the same seatand the Countess had for neighbors two sisters who picked at long strings of beads and muttered some paters and AvesOne was old and as pitted with smallpox as if she had received a broadside of grapeshot full in the faceThe othervery sadhad a pretty face and a disease of the lungswhichadded to their devoted faithillumined them and made them appear like martyrs

Opposite these two devotees were a man and a woman who attracted the notice of allThe manwell knownwas Cornudet the democratthe terror of respectable peopleFor twenty years he had soaked his great red beard in the books of all the democratic cafésHe had consumed with his friends and confrères a rather pretty fortune left him by his fatherall old confectionerand he awaited the establishing of the Republic with impatiencethat he might have the position he merited by his great expendituresOn the fourth of Septemberby some joke perhapshe believed himself elected prefectbut when he went to assume the dutiesthe clerks of the office were masters of the place and refused to recognize himobliging him to retreatRather a good bacheloron the wholeinoffensive and serviceablehe had busied himselfwith incomparable ardorin organizing the defense against the PrussiansHe had dug holes in all the plainscut down young trees from the neighboring forestssown snares over all routes andat the approach of the enemytook himself quickly back to the townHe now thought he could be of more use in Havre where more entrenchments would be necessary

The womanone of those called a coquettewas celebrated for her embonpointwhich had given her the nickname ofBall-of-Fat.”Smallroundand fat as lardwith puffy fingers choked at the phalangeslike chaplets of short sausageswith a stretched and shining skinan enormous bosom which shook under her dressshe wasneverthelesspleasing and sought afteron ac-count of a certain freshness and breeziness of dispositionHer face was a round applea peony bud ready to pop into bloomand inside that opened two great black eyesshaded with thick brows that cast a shadow with-inand belowa charming mouthhumid for kissingfurnished with shiningmicroscopic baby teeth She wasit was saidfull of admirable qualities

As soon as she was recognizeda whisper went around among the honest womenand the wordsprostituteandpublic shamewere whispered so loud that she raised her headThen she threw at her neighbors such a provokingcourageous look that a great silence reignedand everybody looked down except Loiseauwho watched her with an exhilarated air

And immediately conversation began among the three ladieswhom the presence of this girl had suddenly rendered friendlyalmost intimateIt seemed to them they should bring their married dignity into union in opposition to that sold without shamefor legal love always takes on a tone of contempt for its free confrère

The three menalso drawn together by an instinct of preservation at the sight of Cornudettalked money with a certain high tone of disdain for the poorCount Hubert talked of the havoc which the Prussians had causedthe losses which resulted from being robbed of cattle and from destroyed cropswith the assurance of a great lordten times millionaire whom these ravages would scarcely cramp for a yearMrCarré-Lamadonlargely experienced in the cotton industryhad had need of sending six hundred thousand francs to Englandas a trifle in reserve if it should be neededAs for Loiseauhe had arranged with the French administration to sell them all the wines that remained in his cellarson ac-count of which the State owed him a formidable sumwhich he counted on collecting at Havre

And all three threw toward each other swift and amicable glances

Although in different conditionsthey felt themselves to be brothers through moneythat grand freemasonry of those who possess itand make the gold rattle by putting their hands in their trousers'pockets

The carriage went so slowly that at ten o'clock in the morning they had not gone four leaguesThe men had got down three times to climb hills on footThey began to be disturbed because they should be now taking breakfast at

 begun to watch for an inn along the routewhen the carriage foundered in a snowdriftand it took two hours to extricate it

Growing appetites troubled their mindsand no eating-houseno wine shop showed itselfthe approach of the Prussians and the passage of the troops having frightened away all these industries

The gentlemen ran to the farms along the way for provisionsbut they did not even find breadfor the defiant peasant had concealed his stores for fear of being pillaged by the soldiers whohaving nothing to put between their teethtook by force whatever they discovered

Toward one o'clock in the afternoonLoiseau announced that there was a decided hollow in his stomachEverybody suffered with himand the violent need of eatingever increasinghad killed conversation

From time to time some one yawnedanother immediately imitated himand eachin his turnin accordance with his characterhis knowledge of life and his social positionopened his mouth with carelessness or modestyplacing his hand quickly before the yawning hole from whence issued a vapor

Ball-of-Fatafter many attemptsbent down as if seeking something under her skirtsShe hesitated a secondlooked at her neighborsthen sat up again tranquillyThe faces were pale and drawnLoiseau affirmed that he would give a thousand francs for a small hamHis wife made a gestureas if in protestbut she kept quietShe was always troubled when anyone spoke of squandering moneyand could not comprehend any pleasantry on the subject.“The fact is,”said the Count,“I cannot understand why I did not think to bring some provisions with me.”Each reproached himself in the same way

HoweverCornudet had a flask full of rumHe offered itit was refused coldlyLoiseau alone accepted two swallowsand then passed back the flask sayingby way of thanks:“It is good all the sameit is warming and checks the appetite.”The alcohol put him in good-humor and he proposed that they do as they did on the little ship in the songeat the fattest of the passengersThis indirect allusion to Ball-of-Fat choked the well-bred peopleThey said nothingCornudet alone laughedThe two good sisters had ceased to mumble their rosaries andwith their hands enfolded in their great sleevesheld themselves immovableobstinately lowering their eyeswithout doubt offering to Heaven the suffering it had brought upon them

Finally at three o'clockwhen they found themselves in the midst of an interminable plainwithout a single village in sightBall-of-Fat bending down quickly drew from under the seat a large basket covered with a white napkin

At first she brought out a little china plate and a silver cupthen a large dish in which there were two whole chickenscut up and imbedded in their own

fruitsand sweetmeatsprovisions for three days if they should not see the kitchen of an innFour necks of bottles were seen among the packages of foodShe took a wing of a chicken and began to eat it delicatelywith one of those little biscuits calledRegencein Normandy

All looks were turned in her directionThen the odor spreadenlarging the nostrils and making the mouth waterbesides causing a painful contraction of the jaw behind the earsThe scorn of the women for this girl became ferociousas if they had a desire to kill her and throw her out of the carriage into the snowherher silver cupher basketprovisions and all

But Loiseau with his eyes devoured the dish of chickenHe said:“Fortunately Madame had more precaution than weThere are some people who know how to think ahead always.”

She turned toward himsaying:“If you would like some of itsirIt Is hard to go without breakfast so long.”

He saluted her and replied:“FaithI frankly cannot refuseI can stand it no longerEverything goes in time of wardoes it notMadame?”And then casting a comprehensive glance aroundhe added:“In moments like thisone can but be pleased to find people who are obliging

He had a newspaper which he spread out on his kneesthat no spot might come to his pantaloonsand upon the point of a knife that he always carried in his pockethe took up a leg all glistening with jellyput it between his teeth and masticated it with a satisfaction so evident that there ran through the carriage a great sigh of distress

Then Ball-of-Fatin a sweet and humble voiceproposed that the two sisters partake of her collation They both accepted instantly andwithout raising their eyesbegan to eat very quicklyafter stammering their thanksCornudet no longer refused the offers of his neighborand they formed with the sisters a sort of tableby spreading out some newspapers upon their knees

The mouths opened and shut without ceasing they masticatedswallowedgulping ferociouslyLoiseau in his corner was working hard andin a low voicewas trying to induce his wife to follow his exampleShe resisted for a long timethenwhen a drawn sensation ran through her bodyshe yieldedHer husbandrounding his phraseasked theircharming companionif he might be allowed to offer a little piece to Madame Loiseau

She replied:“Whyyescertainlysir,”with an amiable smileas she passed the dish

An embarrassing thing confronted them when they opened the first bottle of Bordeauxthey had but one cupEach passed it after having tastedCornudet alonefor politeness without doubtplaced his lips at the spot left humid by his fair neighbor

Thensurrounded by people eatingsuffocated by the odors of the foodthe Count and Countess de Brevilleas well as Madame and MCarré-Lamadonwere suffering that odious torment which has preserved the name of TantalusSuddenly the young wife of the manufacturer gave forth such a sigh that all heads were turned in her directionshe was as white as the snow withouther eyes closedher head droopedshe had lost consciousness Her husbandmuch excitedimplored the help of everybodyEach lost his head completelyuntil the elder of the two sistersholding the head of the suffererslipped Ball-of-Fat's cup between her lips and forced her to swallow a few drops of wineThe pretty little lady revivedopened her eyessmiledand declared in a dying voice that she felt very well nowButin order that the attack might not returnthe sister urged her to drink a full glass of Bordeauxand added:“It is just hungernothing more.”

Then Ball-of-Batblushing and embarrassedlooked at the four travelers who had fasted and stammered:“Goodness knowsif I cared to offer anything to these gentlemen and ladiesI would—”Then she was silentas if fearing an insultLoiseau took up the word:“Ahcertainlyin times like these all the world are brothers and ought to aid each otherComeladieswithout ceremonywhy the devil not acceptWe do not know whether we shall even find a house where we can pass the nightAt the pace we are going nowwe

They still hesitatedno one daring to assume the responsibility of aYes.”The Count decided the questionHe turned toward the fatintimidated girl andtaking on a grand air of condescensionhe said to her

We accept with gratitudeMadame.”

It is the first step that countsThe Rubicon passedone lends himself to

pearsa loaf of hard breadsome wafers and a full cup of pickled gherkins and onionsof which crudities Ball-of-Fatlike all womenwas extremely fond

They could not eat this girl's provisions without speaking to herAnd so they chatted with reserve at firstthenas she carried herself wellwith more abandonThe ladies De Breville and Carré-Lamadonwho were acquainted with all the ins and outs of good-breed-ingwere gracious with a certain delicacyThe Countessespeciallyshowed that amiable condescension of very noble ladies who do not fear being spoiled by contact with anyoneand was charmingBut the great Madame Loiseauwho had the soul of a plebeian remained crabbedsaying little and eating much

The conversation was about the warnaturallyThey related the horrible deeds of the Prussians the brave acts of the Frenchand all of themalthough running awaydid homage to those who stayed behindThen personal stories began to be toldand Ball-of-Fat relatedwith sincere emotionand in the heated words that such girls sometimes use in expressing their natural feelingshow she had left Rouen

I believed at first that I could remain,”she said.“I had my house full of provisionsand I preferred to feed a few soldiers rather than expatriate myselfto go I knew not whereBut as soon as I saw themthose Prussiansthat was too much for meThey made my blood boil with angerand I wept for very shame all day longOhif I were only a manI watched them from my windowsthe great porkers with their pointed helmetsand my maid held my hands to keep me from throwing the furniture down upon themThen one of them came to lodge at my houseI sprang at his throat the first thingthey are no more difficult to strangle than other peopleAnd I should have put an end to that one then and there had they not pulled me away by the hairAfter thatit was necessary to keep out of sightAnd finallywhen I found an opportunityI left town and-here I am!”

They congratulated herShe grew in the estimation of her companionswho had not shown themselves so hot-brainedand Cornudetwhile listening to hertook on the approvingbenevolent smile of an apostleas a priest would if he heard a devotee praise Godfor the long-bearded democrats have a monopoly of patriotismas the men in cassocks have a religionIn his turn he spokein a doctrinal tonewith the emphasis of a proclamation such as we see pasted on the walls about townand finished by a bit of eloquence whereby he gave thatscamp of a Badingueta good lashing

Then Ball-of-Fat was angryfor she was a Bona-partistShe grew redder than a cherry andstammering with indignationsaid

I would like to have seen you in his place you other peopleThen everything would have been quite rightohyesIt is you who have betrayed this manOne would never have had to leave France if it had been governed by blackguards like you!”

Cornudetundisturbedpreserved a disdainfulsuperior smilebut all felt that the high note had been struckuntil the Countnot without some difficultycalmed the exasperated girl and proclaimed with a manner of authority that all sincere opinions should be respectedBut the Countess and the manufacturer's wifewho had in their souls an unreasonable hatred for the people that favor a Republicand the same instinctive tenderness that all women have for a decorativedespotic governmentfelt themselves drawnin spite of themselvestoward this prostitute so full of dignitywhose sentiments so strongly resembled their own

The basket was emptyBy ten o'clock they had easily exhausted the contents and regretted that there was not moreConversation continued for some timebut a little more coldly since they had finished eating

The night fellthe darkness little by little became profoundand the coldfelt more during digestionmade BallofFat shiver in spite of her plumpnessThen Madame de Breville offered her the little footstovein which the fuel had been renewed many times since morningshe accepted it immediatelyfor her feet were becoming numb with coldThe ladies Carré-Lamadon and Loiseau gave theirs to the two religious sisters

The driver had lighted his lanternsThey shone out with lively glimmer showing a cloud of foam beyondthe sweat of the horsesandon both sides of the waythe snow seemed to roll itself along under the moving reflection of the lights

Inside the carriage one could distinguish nothingBut a sudden movement seemed to be made between Ball-of-Fat and Cornudetand Loiseauwhose eye penetrated the shadowbelieved that he saw the bigbearded man start back quickly as if he had received a swiftnoiseless blow

Then some twinkling points of fire appeared in the distance along the

hours given to resting and feeding the horsesmade thirteenThey en-tered the town and stopped before the Hotel of Commerce

The carriage door openedA wellknown sound gave the travelers a startit was the scabbard of a sword hitting the groundImmediately a German voice was heard in the darkness

Although the diligence was not movingno one offered to alightfearing some one might be waiting to murder them as they stepped outThen the conductor appearedholding in his hand one of the lanterns which lighted the carriage to its depthand showed the two rows of frightened faceswhose mouths were open and whose eyes were wide with surprise and fear

Outside beside the driverin plain sightstood a German officeran excessively tall young manthin and blondsqueezed into his uniform like a girl in a corsetand wearing on his head a flatoilclotn cap which made him resemble the porter of an English hotelHis enormous mustacheof long straight hairsgrowing gradually thin at each side and terminating in a single blond thread so fine that one could not perceive where it endedseemed to weigh heavily on the corners of his mouth anddrawing down the cheeksleft a decided wrinkle about the lips

In Alsatian Frenchhe invited the travelers to come insaying in a suave tone:“Will you descendgentlemen and ladies?”

The two good sisters were the first to obeywith the docility of saints accustomed ever to submissionThe Count and Countess then appearedfollowed by the manufacturer and his wifethen Loiseaupushing ahead of him his larger halfThe lastnamedas he set foot on the earthsaid to the officer:“Good eveningsir,”more as a measure of prudence than politenessThe officerinsolent as all powerful people usually arelooked at him without a word

Ball-of-Fat and Cornudetalthough nearest the doorwere the last to descendgrave and haughty before the enemyThe fat girl tried to control herself and be calmThe democrat waved a tragic hand and his long beard seemed to tremble a little and grow redderThey wished to preserve their dignitycomprehending that in such meetings as these they represented in some degree their great countryand somewhat disgusted with the docility of her companionsthe fat girl tried to show more pride than her neighborsthe honest womenandas she felt that some one should set an exampleshe continued her attitude of resistance assumed at the beginning of the journey

They entered the vast kitchen of the innand the Germanhaving demanded their traveling papers signed by the Generalinchiefin which the namethe descriptionand profession of each traveler was mentioned),and having examined them all criticallycomparing the people and their signaturessaid:“It is quite right,”and went out

Then they breathedThey were still hungry and supper was orderedA half hour was necessary to pre-pare itand while two servants were attending to this they went to their roomsThey found them along a corridor which terminated in a large glazed door

Finallythey sat down at tablewhen the proprietor of the inn himself appearedHe was a former horse merchanta largeasthmatic manwith a constant wheezing and rattling in his throatHis father had left him the name of FollenvieHe asked

Is Miss Elizabeth Rousset here?”

BallofFat started as she answered:“It is I.”

The Prussian officer wishes to speak with you immediately.”

With me?”

Yesthat isif you are Miss Elizabeth Rousset.”

She was disturbedand reflecting for an instantdeclared flatly

That is my namebut I shall not go.”

A stir was felt around hereach discussed and tried to think of the cause of this orderThe Count approached hersaying

You are wrongMadamefor your refusal may lead to considerable difficultynot only for yourselfbut for all your companionsIt is never worth while to resist those in powerThis request cannot assuredly bring any dangerit iswithout doubtabout some forgotten formality.”

Everybody agreed with himaskingbeggingbe seeching her to goand at last they convinced her that it was bestthey all feared the complications that might result from disobedienceShe finally said

It is for you that I do thisyou understand.”

The Countess took her by the handsaying:“And we are grateful to you for it.”

She went outThey waited before sitting down at table

Each one regretted not having been sent for in the place of this violentirascible girland mentally pre-pared some platitudesin case they should be called in their turn

But at the end of ten minutes she reappearedout of breathred to suffocationand exasperatedShe stammered:“Ohthe rascalthe rascal!”

All gathered around to learn somethingbut she said nothingand when the Count insistedshe responded with great dignity:“Noit does not concern youI can say nothing.”

Then they all seated themselves around a high soup tureenwhence came the odor of cabbageIn spite of alarmthe supper was gayThe cider was goodthe beverage Loiseau and the good sisters took as a means of economyThe others called for wineCornudet demanded beerHe had a special fashion of uncorking the bottlemaking froth on the liquidcarefully filling the glass and then holding it before the light to better appreciate the colorWhen he drankhis great beardwhich still kept some of the foam of his beloved beverageseemed to tremble with tendernesshis eyes were squintedin order not to lose sight of his tippleand he had the unique air of fulfilling the function for which he was bornOne would say that there was in his mind a meetinglike that of affinitiesbetween the two great passions that occupied his life-Pale Ale and Revolutionsand assuredly he could not taste the one without thinking of the other

Mrand MrsFollenvie dined at the end of the tableThe manrattling like a crackled locomotivehad too much trouble in breathing to talk while eatingbut his wife was never silentShe told all her impressions at the arrival of the Prussianswhat they didwhat they saidreviling them because they cost her some moneyand because she had two sons in the armyShe ad-dressed herself especially to the Countessflattered by being able to talk with a lady of quality

When she lowered her voice to say some delicate thingher husband would interruptfrom time to timewith:“You had better keep silentMadame Follenvie.”But she paid no attentioncontinuing in this fashion

YesMadamethose people there not only eat our potatoes and porkbut our pork and potatoesAnd it must not be believed that they are at all proper-ohnosuch filthy things they dosaving the respect I owe to youAnd if you could see them exercise for hours in the daythey are all there in the fieldmarching aheadthen marching backturning here and turning thereThey might be cultivating the landor at least working on the roads of their own countryBut noMadamethese military men are profitable to no onePoor people have to feed themor perhaps be murderedI am only an old woman without educationit is truebut when I see some endangering their constitutions by raging from morning to nightI say:“When there are so many people found to be uselesshow unnecessary it is for others to take so much trouble to be nuisancesTrulyis it not an abomination to kill peoplewhether they be Prussianor Englishor Polishor FrenchIf one man revenges himself upon another who has done him some in-juryit is wicked and he is punishedbut when they ex-terminate our boysas if they were gamewith gunsthey give decorationsindeedto the one who destroys the mostNowyou seeI can never understand thatnever!”

Cornudet raised his voice:“War is a barbarity when one attacks a peaceable neighborbut a sacred duty when one defends his country.”

The old woman lowered her head

Yeswhen one defends himselfit is another thingbut why not make it a duty to kill all the kings who make these wars for their pleasure?”

Cornudet's eyes flashed.“Bravomy countrywoman!”said he

MrCarré-Lamadon reflected profoundlyAlthough he was prejudiced as a Captain of Industrythe good sense of this peasant woman made him think of the opulence that would be brought into the country were the idle and consequently mischievous handsand the troops which were now maintained in unproductivenessemployed in some great industrial work that it would require centuries to achieve

Loiseauleaving his placewent to speak with the innkeeper in a low tone of voiceThe great man laughedshookand squeakedhis corpulence quivered with joy at the jokes of his neighborand he bought of him six cases of wine for springafter the Prussians had gone

As soon as supper was finishedas they were worn out with fatiguethey retired

HoweverLoiseauwho had observed thingsafter getting his wife to bedglued his eye and then his ear to a hole in the wallto try and discover what are known asthe mysteries of the corridor.”

At the end of about an hourhe heard a gropingandlooking quicklyhe perceived BallofFatwho appeared still more plump in a blue cashmere negligee trimmed with white laceShe had a candle in her hand and was directing her steps toward the great door at the end of the corridorBut a door at the side openedand when she returned at the end of some minutes Cornudetin his suspendersfollowed herThey spoke lowthen they stoppedBallofFat seemed to be defending the entrance to her room with energyLoiseauunfortunatelycould not hear all their wordsbut final-lyas they raised their voiceshe was able to catch a fewCornudet insisted with vivacityHe said:“Comenowyou are a silly womanwhat harm can be done?”

She had an indignant air in responding:“Nomy dearthere are moments when such things are out of placeHere it would be a shame.”

He doubtless did not comprehend and asked whyThen she cried outraising her voice still more

Whyyou do not see whyWhen there are Prussians in the housein the very next roomperhaps?”

He was silentThis patriotic shame of the harlotwho would not suffer his caress so near the enemymust have awakened the latent dignity in his heartfor after simply kissing herhe went back to his own door with a bound

Loiseaumuch excitedleft the aperturecut a ca-per in his roomput on his pajamasturned back the clothes that covered the bony carcass of his companionwhom he awakened with a kissmurmuring:“Do you love medearie?”

Then all the house was stillAnd immediately there arose somewherefrom an uncertain quarterwhich might be the cellar but was quite as likely to be the garreta powerful snoringmonotonous and regulara heavyprolonged soundlike a great kettle under pressureMrFollenvie was asleep

As they had decided that they would set out at eight o'clock the next morningthey all collected in the kitchenBut the carriagethe roof of which was covered with snowstood undisturbed in the courtyardwithout horses and without a conductorThey sought him in vain in the stablesin the hayand in the coach-houseThen they resolved to scour the townand started outThey found themselves in a squarewith a church at one endand some low houses on either side where they perceived some Prussian soldiersThe first one they saw was paring potatoesThe secondfurther offwas cleaning the hairdresser's shopAnotherbearded to the eyeswas tending a troublesome bratcradling it and trying to appease itand the great peasant womenwhose husbands wereaway in the army,”indicated by signs to their obedient conquerors the work they wished to have donecutting woodcooking the soupgrinding the coffeeor what notOne of them even washed the linen of his hostessan impotent old grandmother

The Countastonishedasked questions of the beadle who came out of the rectoryThe old man responded

Ohthose men are not wickedthey are not the Prussians we hear aboutThey are from far offI know not whereand they have left wives and children in their countryit is not amusing to themthis warI can tell youI am sure they also weep for their homesand that it makes as much sorrow among them as it does among usHerenowthere is not so much unhappiness for the momentbecause the soldiers do no harm and they work as if they were in their own homesYou seesiramong poor people it is necessary that they aid one anotherThese are the great traits which war develops.”

Cornudetindignant at the cordial relations between the conquerorsand the conqueredpreferred to shut himself up in the innLoiseau had a joke for the occasion:“They will repeople the land.”

MrCarré-Lamadon had a serious word:“They try to make amends.”

But they did not find the driverFinallythey discovered him in a café of the villagesitting at table fraternally with the officer of ordnanceThe Count called out to him

Were you not ordered to be ready at eight o'clock?”

Wellyesbut another order has been given me since.”

By whom?”

Faiththe Prussian commander.”

What was it?”

Not to harness at all.”

Why?”

I know nothing about itGo and ask himThey tell me not to harnessand I don't harnessThat's all.”

Did he give you the order himself?”

Nosirthe innkeeper gave the order for him.”

When was that?”

Last eveningas I was going to bed.”

The three men returnedmuch disturbedThey asked for MrFollenviebut the servant answered that that gentlemanbecause of his asthmanever rose before ten o'clockAnd he had given strict orders not to be wakened before thatexcept in case of fire

They wished to see the officerbut that was absolutely impossiblesincewhile he lodged at the innMrFollenvie alone was authorized to speak to him upon civil affairsSo they waitedThe women went up to their rooms again and occupied themselves with futile tasks

Cornudet installed himself near the great chimney in the kitchenwhere there was a good fire burningHe ordered one of the little tables to be brought from the café,then a can of beerhe then drew out his pipewhich plays among democrats a part almost equal to his ownbecause in serving Cornudet it was serving its countryIt was a superb pipean admirably colored meerschaumas black as the teeth of its masterbut perfumedcurvedglisteningeasy to the handcompleting his physiognomyAnd he remained motionlesshis eyes as much fixed upon the flame of the fire as upon his favorite tipple and its frothy crownand each time that he drankhe passed his longthin fingers through his scantygray hairwith an air of satisfactionafter which he sucked in his mustache fringed with foam

Loiseauunder the pretext of streching his legswent to place some wine among the retailers of the countryThe Count and the manufacturer began to talk politicsThey could foresee the future of FranceOne of them believed in an Orléans the other in some unknown savior for the countrya hero who would reveal himself when all were in despaira Guesclinor a Joan of Arcperhapsor would it be another Napoleon FirstAhif the Prince Imperial were not so young

Cornudet listened to them and smiled like one who holds the word of destinyHis pipe perfumed the kitchen

As ten o'clock struckMrFollenvie appearedThey asked him hurried questionsbut he could only repeat two or three times without variationthese words

The officer said to me:‘MrFollenvieyou see to it that the carriage is not harnessed for those travelers tomorrowI do not wish them to leave without my orderThat is sufficient.’”

Then they wished to see the officerThe Conut sent him his cardon which MrCarré-Lamadon wrote his name and all his titlesThe Prussian sent back word that he would meet the two gentlemen after he had lunchedthat is to sayabout one o'clock

The ladies reappeared and ate a little somethingdespite their disquietBallof-Fat seemed ill and prodigiously troubled

They were finishing their coffee when the word came that the officer was ready to meet the gentlemenLoiseau joined thembut when they tried to enlist Cor-nudetto give more solemnity to their proceedingshe declared proudly that he would have nothing to do with the Germansand he betook himself to his chimney corner and ordered another liter of beer

The three men mounted the staircase and were introduced to the best room of the innwhere the officer received themstretched out in an armchairhis feet on the mantelpiecesmoking a longporcelain pipeand enveloped in a flamboyant dressinggownappropriatedwithout doubtfrom some dwelling belonging to a common citizen of bad tasteHe did not risenor greet them in any waynot even looking at themIt was a magnificent display of natural blackguardism transformed into the military victor

At the expiration of some momentshe asked:“What is it you wish?”

The Count became spokesman:“We desire to go on our waysir.”

No.”

May I ask the cause of this refusal?”

Because I do not wish it.”

ButI would respectfully observe to yousirthat your Generalinchief gave us permission to go to Dieppeand I know of nothing we have done to merit your severity.”

I do not wish itthat is allyou can go.”

All three having bowedretired

The afternoon was lamentableThey could not understand this caprice of the Germanand the most singular ideas would come into their heads to trouble themEverybody staved in the kitchen and discussed the situation endlesslyimagining all sorts of unlikely thingsPerhaps they would be retained as hostagesbut to what end?—or taken prisonersor rather a considerable ransom might be demandedAt this thought a panic prevailedThe richest were the most frightenedalready seeing themselves constrained to pay for their lives with sacks of gold poured into the hands of this insolent soldierThey racked their brains to think of some acceptable falsehoods to conceal their riches and make them pass themselves off for poor peoplevery poor peopleLoiseau took off the chain to his watch and hid it away in his pocketThe falling night increased their apprehensionsThe lamp was lightedand as there was still two hours before dinnerMadame Loiseau proposed a game of ThirtyoneIt would be a diversionThey acceptedCornudet himselfhaving smoked out his pipetook part for politeness

The Count shuffled the cardsdealtand BallofFat had thirty-one at the outsetand immediately the interest was great enough to appease the fear that haunted their mindsThen Cornudet perceived that the house of Loiseau was given to tricks

As they were going to the dinner tableMrFollenvie again appearedandin wheezingrattling voiceannounced

The Prussian officer orders me to ask Miss Elizabeth Rousset if she has yet changed her mind.”

Ballof-Fat remained standing and was palethen suddenly becoming crimsonsuch a stifling anger took possession of her that she could not speakBut finally she flashed out:“You may say to the dirty beastthat idiotthat carrion of a Prussianthat I shall never change ityou understandnevernevernever!”

The great innkeeper went outThen Ball-of-Fat was immediately surroundedquestionedand solicited by all to disclose the mystery of his visitShe resistedat firstbut soon becoming exasperatedshe said:“What does he wantYou really want to know what he wantsHe wants to sleep with me.”

Everybody was choked for wordsand indignation was rifeCornudet broke his glassso violently didhe bring his fist down upon the tableThere was a clamor of censure against this ignoble soldiera blast of angera union of all for resistanceas if a demand had been made on each one of the party for the sacrifice exacted of herThe Count declared with disgust that those people conducted themselves after the fashion of the ancient barbariansThe womenespeciallyshowed to BallofFat a most energetic and tender commiserationThe good sisters who only showed themselves at mealtimelowered their heads and said nothing

They all dinedneverthelesswhen the first furore had abatedBut there was little conversationthey were thinking

The ladies retired earlyand the menall smokingorganized a game at cards to which MrFollenvie was invitedas they intended to put a few casual questions to him on the subject of conquering the resistance of this officerBut he thought of nothing but the cards andwithout listening or answeringwould keep repeating:“To the gamesirsto the game.”His attention was so taken that he even forgot to expectoratewhich must have put him some points to the good with the organ in his breastHis whistling lungs ran the whole asthmatic scalefrom deepprofound tones to the sharp rustiness of a young cock essaying to crow

He even refused to retire when his wifewho had fallen asleep previouslycame to look for himShe went away alonefor she was anearly bird,”always up with the sunwhile her husband was anight owl,”al-ways ready to pass the night with his friendsHe cried out to her:“Leave my creamed chicken before the fire!”and then went on with his gameWhen they saw that they could get nothing from himthey declared that it was time to stopand each sought his bed

They all rose rather early the next daywith an undefined hope of getting awaywhich desire the terror of passing another day in that horrible inn greatly in-creased

Alasthe horses remained in the stable and the driver was invisible For want of better employmentthey went out and walked around the carriage

The breakfast was very doleful and it became apparent that a coldness had arisen toward Ball-ofFatand that the nightwhich brings counselhad slightly modified their judgmentsThey almost wished now that the Prussian had secretly found this girlin order to give her companions a pleasant surprise in the morningWhat could be more simple Besideswho would know anything about itShe could save appearances by telling the officer that she took pity on their distressTo herit would make so little difference

No one had avowed these thoughts yet

In the afternoonas they were almost perishing from ennuithe Count proposed that they take a walk around the villageEach wrapped up warmly and the little party set out with the exception of Cornudetwho preferred to remain near the fire and the good sisterswho passed their time in the church or at the curate's

The coldgrowing more intense every day cruelly pinched their noses and earstheir feet became so numb that each step was tortureand when they came to a field it seemed to them frightfully sad under this limitless whiteso that everybody returned immediatelywith hearts hard pressed and souls congealed

The four women walked ahead the three gentlemen followed just behind Loiseau who understood the situationasked suddenly if they thought that girl there was going to keep them long in such a place as thisThe Countalways courteous said that they could not exact from a woman a sacrifice so hard unless it should come of her own willMrCarré-Lamadon remarked that if the French made their return through Dieppeas

made the two others anxious

If we could only get away on foot,”said Loiseau

The Count shrugged his shoulders:“How can we think of it in this snow and with our wives?” he said.“And thenwe should be pursued and caught in ten minutes and led back prisoners at the mercy of these soldiers.”

It was trueand they were silent

The ladies talked of their clothesbut a certain constraint seemed to disunite themSuddenly at the end of the streetthe officer appearedHis tallwasp-like figure in uniform was outlined upon the horizon formed by the snow and he was marching with knees aparta gait particularly militarywhich is affected that they may not spot their carefully blackened boots

He bowed in passing near the ladies and looked disdainfully at the men who preserved their dignity by not seeing him except Loiseauwho made a motion toward raising his hat

Ball-ofFat reddened to the earsand the three married women resented the great humiliation of being thus met by this soldier in the company of this girl whom he had treated so cavalierly

But they spoke of himof his figure and his faceMadame Carré-Lamadon who had known many officers and considered herself a connoisseur of themfound this one not at all badshe regretted even that he was not Frenchbecause he would make such a pretty hussarone all the women would rave over

Again in the houseno one knew what to doSome sharp wordsevenwere said about things very insignificantThe dinner was silentand almost immediately after iteach one went to his room to kill time in sleep

They descended the next morning with weary faces and exasperated heartsThe women scarcely spoke to Ball-of-Fat

A bell began to ringIt was for a baptismThe fat girl had a child being brought up among the peasants of YvetotShe had not seen it for a yearor thought of itbut now the idea of a child being baptized threw into her heart a sudden and violent tenderness for her own and she strongly wished to be present at the ceremony

As soon as she was goneeverybody looked at each otherthen pulled their chairs togetherfor they thought that finally something should be decided uponLoiseau had an inspirationit was to hold Ball-ofFat alone and let the others go

MrFollenvie was charged with the commissionbut he returned almost immediately for the Germanwho understood human naturehad put him outHe pretended that he would retain everybody so long as his desire was not satisfied

Then the commonplace nature of MrsLoiseatu burst out with

Wellwe are not going to stay here to die of old ageSince it is the trade of this creature to accommodate herself to all kinds I fail to see how she has the right to refuse one more than anotherI can tell you she has received all she could find in Roueneven the coach-menYesMadame the prefect's coachmanI know him very well for he bought his wine at our houseAnd to think that today we should be drawn into this embarrassment by this affected womanthis minxFor my partI find that this officer conducts himself very wellHe has perhaps suffered privations for a long timeand doubtless he would have preferred us threebut no he is contented with common propertyHe respects married womenAnd we must remember too that he is master He has only to sayI wish,’and he could take us by force with his soldiers.”

The two women had a cold shiver Pretty MrsCarré-Lamadon's eyes grew brilliant and she became a little paleas if she saw herself already taken by force by the officer

The men met and discussed the situationLoiseaufuriouswas for deliveringthe wretch bound hand and foot to the enemyBut the Countdescended through three generations of ambassadorsand endowed with the temperament of a diplomatist was the advocate of ingenuity

It is best to decide upon something,” said heThen they conspired

The women kept togetherthe tone of their voices was lowered each gave advice and the discussion was generalEverything was very harmoniousThe ladies especially found delicate shades and charming subtleties of expression for saying the most unusual thingsA stranger would have understood nothingso great was the precaution of language observedBut the light edge of modestywith which every woman of the world is barbedonly covers the surface they blossom out in a scandalous adventure of this kindbeing deeply amused and feeling themselves in their elementmixing love with sensuality as a greedy cook prepares supper for his master

Even gaiety returnedso funny did the whole story seem to them at lastThe Count found some of the jokes a little off colorbut they were so well told that he was forced to smileIn his turnLoiseau came out with some still boldertalesand yet nobody was woundedThe brutal thoughtexpressed by his wifedominated all minds:“Since it is her tradewhy should she refuse this one more than another?”The genteel MrsCarré-Lamadon seemed to think that in her placeshe would refuse this one less than some others

They prepared the blockade at lengthas if they were about to surround a

bearsome maneuvers that he would endeavor to put into executionThey decided on the plan of attackthe ruse to employthe surprise of assault that should force this living citadel to receive the enemy in her room

Cornudet remained apart from the restand was a stranger to the whole affair

So entirely were their minds distracted that they did not hear Ball-of-Fat enterThe Count uttered a lightSsh!”Which turned all eyes in her directionThere she wasThe abrupt silence and a certain embarrassment hindered them from speaking to her at firstThe Countessmore accustomed to the duplicity of society than the othersfinally inquired

Was it very amusingthat baptism?”

The fat girlfilled with emotiontold them all about itthe facesthe attitudesand even the appearance of the churchShe added:“It is good to pray sometimes.”

And up to the time for luncheon these ladies continued to be amiable toward herin order to increase her docility and her confidence in their counselAt the table they commenced the approachThis was in the shape of a vague conversation upon devotionThey cited ancient examplesJudith and Holophernesthenwithout reasonLucrece and Sextusand Cleopatra obliging all the generals of the enemy to pass by her couch and reducing them in servility to slavesThen they brought out a fantastic storyhatched in the imagination of these ignorant millionaireswhere the women of Rome went to Capua for the purpose of lulling Hannibal to sleep in their arms and his lieutenants and phalanxes of mercenaries as wellThey cited all the women who have been taken by conquering armiesmaking a battlefield of their bodiesmaking them also a weaponand a means of successand all those hideous and detestable beings who have conquered by their heroic caressesand sacrificed their chastity to vengeance or a beloved causeThey even spoke in veiled terms of that great English family which allowed one of its women to be inoculated with a horrible and contagious disease in order to transmit it to Bonapartewho was miraculously saved by a sudden illness at the hour of the fatal rendezvous

And all this was related in an agreeabletemperate fashionexcept as it was enlivened by the enthusiasm deemed proper to excite emulation

One might finally have believed that the sole duty of woman here below was a sacrifice of her personand a continual abandonment to soldierly caprices

The two good sisters seemed not to hearlost as they were in profound thoughtBallofFat said nothing

During the whole afternoon they let her reflectButin the place of calling herMadame as they had up to this timethey simply called herMademoisellewithout knowing exactly whyas if they had a desire to put her down a degree in their esteemwhich she had taken by stormand make her feel her shameful situation

The moment supper was servedMrFollenvie appeared with his old phrase:“The Prussian officer orders me to ask if Miss Elizabeth Rousset has yet changed her mind.”

Ball-of-Fat responded dryly:“Nosir.”

But at dinner the coalition weakenedLoiseau made three unhappy remarksEach one beat his wits for new examples but found nothingwhen the Countesswithout premeditationperhaps feeling some vague need of rendering homage to religionasked the elder of the good sisters to tell them some great deeds in the lives of the saintsIt appeared that many of their acts would have been considered crimes in our eyesbut the Church gave absolution of them readilysince they were done for the glory of Godor for the good of allIt was a powerful argumentthe Countess made the most of it

Thus it may be by one of those tacit understandingsor the veiled complacency in which anyone who wears the ecclesiastical garb excelsit may be simply from the effect of a happy unintelligencea helpful stupiditybut in fact the religious sister lent a formidable support to the conspiracyThey had thought her timidbut she showed herself courageousverboseeven vio-lentShe was not troubled by the chatter of the casuisther doctrine seemed a bar of ironher faith never hesitatedher conscience had no scruplesShe found the sacrifice of Abraham perfectly simplefor she would immediately kill fathar or mother on an order from on highAnd nothingin her opinioncould displease the Lordif the intention was laudableThe Countess put to use the authority of her unwitting accomplice and added to it the edifying paraphrase and axiom of Jesuit morals:“The need justifies the means.”

Then she asked her:“Thenmy sisterdo you think that God accepts intentionsand pardons the deed when the motive is pure?”

Who could doubt itMadameAn action blamable in itself often becomes meritorious by the thought it springs from.”

And they continued thusunraveling the will of Godforeseeing his decisionsmaking themselves interested in things thatin truththey would never think of noticingAll this was guardedskillfuldiscreetBut each word of the saintly sister in a cap helped to break down the resistance of the unworthy courtesanThen the conversation changed a littlethe woman of the chaplet speaking of the houses of her orderof her Superiorof herselfof her dainty neighborthe dear sister SaintNicephoreThey had been called to the hospitals of Havre to care for the hundreds of soldiers stricken with smallpoxThey depicted these miserable creaturesgiving details of the maladyAnd while they were stoppeden routeby the caprice of this Prussian officera great number of Frenchmen might die whom perhaps they could have savedIt was a specialty with hercaring for soldiersShe had been in Crimeain Italyin Austriaandin telling of her campaignsshe revealed herself as one of those religious aids to drums and trumpetswho seem made to follow campspick up the wounded in the thick of battleandbetter than an officersubdue with a word great bands of undisciplined recruitsA truegood sister of the rataplanwhose ravaged facemarked with innumerable scarsappeared the image of the devastation of war

No one could speak after herso excellent seemed the effect of her words

As soon as the repast was ended they quickly went up to their roomswith the purpose of not coming down the next day until late in the morning

The luncheon was quietThey had given the grain of seed time to germinate and bear fruitThe Countess proposed that they take a walk in the afternoonThe Countbeing agreeably inclinedgave an arm to Ball-of-Fat and walked behind the others with herHe talked to her in a familiarpaternal tonea little disdainfulafter the manner of men having girls in their employcalling hermy dear child,”from the height of his social positionof his undisputed honorHe reached the vital part of the question at once

Then you prefer to leave us hereexposed to the violences which follow a defeatrather than consent to a favor which you have so often given in your life?”

BallofFat answered nothing

Then he tried to reach her through gentlenessreasonand then the sentimentsHe knew how to remain The Count,”even while showing himself gallant or complimentaryor very amiable if it became necessaryHe exalted the service that she would render them and spoke of her appreciationthen suddenly became gaily familiarand said

And you knowmy dearit would be something for him to boast of that he had known a pretty girlsomething it is difficult to find in his country.”

Ball-of-Fat did not answer but joined the rest of the partyAs soon as they entered the house she went to her room and did not appear againThe disquiet was extremeWhat were they to doIf she continued to resistwhat an embarrassment

The dinner hour struckThey waited in vainMrFollenvie finally entered and said that Miss Rousset was indisposedand would not be at the tableEverybody pricked up his earsThe Count went to the innkeeper and said in a low voice

Is he in there?”

Yes.”

For conveniencehe said nothing to his companionsbut made a slight sign with his headImmediately a great sigh of relief went up from every breast and a light appeared in their facesLoiseau cried out

Holy ChristopherI pay for the champagneif there is any to be found in the establishment.”And MrsLoiseau was pained to see the proprietor return with four quart bottles in his hands

Each one had suddenly become communicative and buoyantA wanton joy filled their heartsThe Count suddenly perceived that MrsCarré-Lamadon was charmingthe manufacturer paid compliments to the CountessThe conversation was livelygayfull of touches

Suddenly Loiseauwith anxious face and hand up-raisedcalled out:“Silence!”Everybody was silentsurprisedalready frightenedThen he listened intently and said:“S-s-sh!”his two eyes and his hands raised to-ward the ceilinglisteningand then continuingin his natural voice:“All rightAll goes well!”

They failed to comprehend at firstbut soon all laughedAt the end of a quarter of an hour he began the same farce againrenewing it occasionally during the whole afternoonAnd he pretended to call some one in the story abovegiving him advice in a double meaningdrawn from the fountain-head-the mind of a commercial travelerFor some moments he would assume a sad airbreathing in a whisper:“Poor girl!”Then he would murmur between his teethwith an appearance of rage:“UghThat scamp of a Prussian.”Sometimesat a moment when no more was thought about ithe would sayin an affected voicemany times over:“Enoughenough!”and addas if speaking to himself,“If we could only see her againit isn't necessary that he should kill herthe wretch!”

Although these jokes were in deplorable tastethey amused all and wounded no onefor indignationlike other thingsdepends upon its surroundingsand the atmosphere which had been gradually created around them was charged with sensual thoughts

At the dessert the women themselves made some delicate and discreet allusionsTheir eyes glistenedthey had drunk muchThe Countwho preservedeven in his flightshis grand appearance of gravitymade a comparisonmuch relishedupon the subject of those wintering at the poleand the joy of shipwrecked sailors who saw an opening toward the south

Loiseau suddenly arosea glass of champagne in his handand said:“I drink to our deliverance.”Everybody was on his feetthey shouted in agreementEven the two good sisters consented to touch their lips to the froth of the wine which they had never before tastedThey declared that it tasted like charged lemonade only much nicer

Loiseau resumed:“It is unfortunate that we have no pianofor we might make up a quadrille.”

Cornudet had not said a wordnor made a gesturehe appeared plunged in very grave thoughtsand made sometimes a furious motionso that his great beard seemed to wish to free itselfFinallytoward midnightas they were separatingLoiseauwho was staggeringtouched him suddenly on the stomach and said to him in a stammer:“You are not very funnythis eveningyou have said nothingcitizen!”Then Cornudet raised his head brusquely andcasting a brilliantterrible glance around the company said:“ I tell you all that you have been guilty of infamy!”He rosewent to the doorand again repeated:“InfamyI say!”and disappeared

This made a coldness at firstLoiseauinterlocutorwas stupefiedbut he recovered immediately and laughed heartily as he said:“He is very greenmy friendsHe is very green.”And thenas they did not comprehendhe told them about themysteries of the corridor.”Then there was a return of gaietyThe women behaved like lunaticsThe Count and MrCarré-Lamadon wept from the force of their laughterThey could not believe it

How is thatAre you sure?”

I tell you I saw it.”

And she refused—”

Yesbecause the Prussian officer was in the next room.”

Impossible!”

I swear it!”

The Count was stifled with laughterThe industrial gentleman held his sides with both handsLoiseau continued

And now you understand why he saw nothing funny this eveningNonothing at all!”And the three started out half illsuffocated

They separatedBut MrsLoiseauwho was of a spiteful natureremarked to her husband as they were getting into bedthatthat grisette of a little Carré-Lamadom was yellow with envy all the evening.“You know,” she continued,“how some women will take to a uniformwhether it be French or PrussianIt is all the same to themOhwhat a pity!”

And all nightin the darkness of the corridorthere were to be heard light noiseslike whisperings and walking in bare feetand imperceptible creakingsThey did not go to sleep until latethat is surefor there were threads of light shining under the doors for a long timeThe champagne had its effectthey say it troubles sleep

The next day a clear winter's sun made the snow very brilliantThe diligencealready harnessedwaited before the doorwhile an army of white pigeonsin their thick plumagewith rosecolored eyeswith a black spot in the centerwalked up and down gravely among the legs of the six horsesseeking their livelihood in the manure there scattered

The driverenveloped in his sheepskinhad a lighted pipe under the seatand all the travelersradiantwere rapidly packing some provisions for the rest of the journeyThey were only waiting for BallofFatFinally she appeared

She seemed a little troubledashamed And she advanced timidly toward her companionswho allwith one motion turned as if they had not seen herThe Conutwith dignitytook the arm of his wife and re-moved her from this impure contact

The fat girl stoppedhalf stupefiedthenplucking up courageshe approached the manufacturer's wife withGood morningMadame,”humbly murmuredThe lady made a slight bow of the head which she accompanied with a look of outraged virtueEverybody seemed busyand kept themselves as far from her as if she had had some infectious disease in her skirts Then they hurried into the carriagewhere she came lastalone and where she took the place she had occupied during the first part of the journey

They seemed not to see her or know heralthough Madame LoiseauLooking at her from afarsaid to her husband in a halftone:“HappilyI don' t have to sit be-side her.”

The heavy carriage began to move and the remainder of the journey commencedNo one spoke at firstBallofFat dared not raise her eyesShe felt indignant toward all her neighborsand at the same time humiliated at having yielded to the foul kisses of this Prussianinto whose arms they had hypocritically thrown her

Then the Countessturning toward MrsCarréLamadonbroke the difficult silence

I believe you know Madame d'Etrelles?”

Yesshe is one of my friends.”

What a charming woman!”

DelightfulA very gentle natureand well educatedbesidesthen she is an artist to the tips of her fingerssings beautifullyand draws to perfection.”

The manufacturer chatted with the Countand in the midst of the rattling of the glassan occasional word escaped such ascoupon-premiun-limit-expiration.”

Loiseauwho had pilfered the old pack of cards from the inngreasy through five years of contact with tables badly cleanedbegan a game of bezique with his wife

The good sisters took from their belt the long rosary which hung theremade together the sign of the crossand suddenly began to move their lips in a lively murmuras if they were going through the whole of the Oremus.”And from time to time they kissed a medalmade the sigh anewthen recommenced their mutteringwhich was rapid and continued

Cornudet sat motionlessthinking

At the end of three hours on the wayLoiseau put up the cards and said:“I am hungry.”

His wife drew out a package from whence she brought a piece of cold vealShe cut it evenly in thin pieces and they both began to eat

Suppose we do the same,”said the Countess

They consented to it and she undid the provisions prepared for the two couplesIt was in one of those dishes whose lid is decorated with a china hare

rivers of lard cross the brown flesh of the gamemixed with some other viands hashed fineA beautiful square of Gruyère cheesewrapped in a piece of newspaperpreserved the imprintdivers things upon the unctuous plate

The two good sisters unrolled a big sausage which smelled of garlicand Cornudet plunged his two hands into the vast pockets of his overcoatat the same timeand drew out four hard eggs and a piece of breadHe removed the shells and threw them in the straw under his feetthen he began to eat the eggsletting fall on his vast beard some bits of clear yellowwhich looked like stars caught there

Ball-ofFatin the haste and distraction of her rising had not thought of anything and she looked at them exasperatedsuffocating with rageat all of them eating so placidlyA tumultuous anger swept over her at firstand she opened her mouth to cry out at them to hurl at them a flood of injury which mounted to her lipsbut she could hot speakher exasperation strangled her

No one looked at her or thought of herShe felt herself drowned in the scorn of these honest scoundrelswho had first sacrificed her and then rejected herlike some improper or useless articleShe thought of her great basket full of good things which they had greedily devouredof her two chickens shining

and her fury suddenly fallingas a cord drawn too tightly breaksshe felt ready to weepShe made terrible efforts to prevent itmaking ugly facesswallowing her sobs as children dobut the tears came and glistened in the corners of her eyesand then two great dropsdetaching themselves from the restrolled slowly down like little streams of water that filter through rockand falling regularlyrebounded upon her breastShe sits erecther eyes fixedher face rigid and palehoping that no one will notice her

But the Countess perceives her and tells her husband by a signHe shrugs his shouldersas much as to say

What would you have me doit is not my fault.”

MrsLoiseau indulged in a mute laugh of triumph and murmured

She weeps for shame.”

The two good sisters began to pray againafter having wrapped in a paper the remainder of their sausage

Then Cornudetwho was digesting his eggsex-tended his legs to the seat oppositecrossed themfolded his armssmiled like a man who is watching a good farceand began to whistle theMarseillaise.”

All faces grew darkThe popular song assuredly did not please his neighborsThey became nervous and agitatedhaving an appearance of wishing to howllike dogswhen they hear a barbarous organHe perceived this but did not stopSometimes he would hum the words

Sacred love of country

Helpsustain th'avenging arm

Libertysweet Liberty

Ever fightwith no alarm.”

They traveled fastthe snow being harderBut as far as Dieppeduring the longsad hours of the journeyacross the jolts in the roadthrough the falling night in the profound darkness of the carriagehe continued his vengefulmonotonous whistling with a ferocious obstinacycontraining his neighbors to follow the song from one end to the otherand to recall the words that be-longed to each measure

And BallofFat wept continuallyand sometimes a sobwhich she was not able to restrainechoed between the two rows of people in the shadows

 


 

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