The Conscript - A Story of the French war of 1813
by Emile Erckmann
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I went every morning then to Quatre-Vents, and passed my days with Catharine. We were very sorrowful, but very glad to see each other. We loved one another even more than before, if that were possible. Catharine sometimes tried to sing as in the good old times; but suddenly she would burst into tears. Then we wept together, and Aunt Gredel would rail at the wars which brought misery to every one. She said that the Council of Revision deserved to be hung; that they were all robbers, banded together to poison our lives. It solaced us a little to hear her talk thus, and we thought she was right.

I returned to the city about eight or nine o'clock in the evening, when they closed the gates, and as I passed, I saw the small inns full of conscripts and old returned soldiers drinking together. The conscripts always paid; the others, with dirty police caps cocked over their ears, red noses, and horse-hair stocks in place of shirt-collars, twisted their mustaches and related with majestic air their battles, their marches, and their duels. One can imagine nothing viler than those holes, full of smoke, cob-webs hanging on the black beams, those old sworders and young men drinking, shouting, and beating the tables like crazy people; and behind, in the shadow, old Annette Schnaps or Marie Hering—her old wig stuck back on her head, her comb with only three teeth remaining, crosswise, in it—gazing on the scene, or emptying a mug to the health of the braves.

It was sad to see the sons of peasants, honest and laborious fellows, leading such an existence; but no one thought of working, and any one of them would have given his life for two farthings. Worn out with shouting, drinking, and internal grief, they ended by falling asleep over the table, while the old fellows emptied their cups, singing:

"'Tis glory calls us on!"

I saw these things, and I blessed heaven for having given me, in my wretchedness, kind hearts to keep up my courage, and prevent my falling into such hands.

This state of affairs lasted until the twenty-fifth of January. For some days a great number of Italian conscripts—Piedmontese and Genoese—had been arriving in the city; some stout and fat as Savoyards fed upon chestnuts—their cocked hats on their curly heads; their linsey-woolsey pantaloons dyed a dark green, and their short vests also of wool, but brick-red, fastened around their waists by a leather belt. They wore enormous shoes, and ate their cheese seated along the old market-place. Others were dried up, lean, brown, shivering in their long cassocks, seeing nothing but snow upon the roofs and gazing with their large, black, mournful eyes upon the women who passed. They were exercised every day in marching, and were going to fill up the skeleton of the Sixth regiment of the line at Mayence, and were then resting for a while in the infantry barracks.

The captain of the recruits, who was named Vidal, lodged over our room. He was a square-built, solid, very strong-looking man, and was, too, very kind and civil. He came to us to have his watch repaired, and when he learned that I was a conscript and was afraid I should never return, he encouraged me, saying that it was all habit; that at the end of five or six months one fights and marches as he eats his dinner; and that many so accustom themselves to shooting at people that they consider themselves unhappy when they are deprived of that amusement.

But his mode of reasoning was not to my taste; the more so as I saw five or six large grains of powder on one of his cheeks, which had entered deeply, and as he explained to me that they came from a shot which a Russian fired almost under his nose, such a life disgusted me more and more, and as several days had already passed without news, I began to think they had forgotten me, as they did Jacob, of Chevre Hof, of whose extraordinary luck every one yet talks. Aunt Gredel herself said to me every time I went there, "Well, well! they will let us alone after all!" When, on the morning of the twenty-fifth of January, as I was about starting for Quatre-Vents, Monsieur Goulden, who was working at his bench with a thoughtful air, turned to me with tears in his eyes and said:

"Listen, Joseph! I wanted to let you have one night more of quiet sleep; but you must know now, my child, that yesterday evening the brigadier of the gendarmes brought me your marching orders. You go with the Piedmontese and Genoese and five or six young men of the city—young Klipfel, young Loerig, Jean Leger, and Gaspard Zebede. You go to Mayence."

I felt my knees give way as he spoke, and I sat down unable to speak. Monsieur Goulden took my marching orders, beautifully written, out of a drawer, and began to read them slowly. All that I remember is that Joseph Bertha, native of Dabo, Canton of Phalsbourg, Arrondissement of Sarrebourg, was incorporated in the Sixth regiment of the line, and that he was to join his corps the twenty-ninth of January at Mayence.

This letter produced as bad an effect on me as if I had known nothing of it before. It seemed something new, and I grew angry.

Monsieur Goulden, after a moment's silence, added:

"The Italians start to-day at eleven."

Then, as if awakening from a horrible dream, I cried:

"But shall I not see Catharine again?"

"Yes, Joseph, yes," said he, in a trembling voice. "I notified Mother Gredel and Catharine, and thus, my boy, they will come, and you can embrace them before leaving."

I saw his grief, and it made me sadder yet, so that I had a hard struggle to keep myself from bursting into tears.

He continued after a pause:

"You need not be anxious about anything, Joseph. I have prepared all beforehand; and when you return, if it please God to keep me so long in this world, you will find me always the same. I am beginning to grow old, and my greatest happiness would be to keep you for a son, for I found you good-hearted and honest. I would have given you what I possess, and we would have been happy together. Catharine and you would have been my children. But since it is otherwise, let us be resigned. It is only for a little while. You will be sent back, I am sure. They will soon see that you cannot make long marches."

While he spoke, I sat silently sobbing, my face buried in my hands.

At last he arose and took from a closet a soldier's knapsack of cowskin, which he placed upon the table. I looked at him, thinking of nothing but the pain of parting.

"Here is your knapsack," he added; "and I have put in it all that you require; two linen shirts, two flannel waistcoats, and all the rest. You will receive at Mayence two soldier's shirts,—all that you will need; but I have made for you some shoes, for nothing is worse than those given the soldiers, which are almost always of horse-hide and chafe the feet fearfully. You are none too strong in your leg, my poor boy. Well, well, that is all."

He placed the knapsack upon the table and sat down.

Without, we heard the Italians making ready to depart. Above us Captain Vidal was giving his orders. He had his horse at the barracks of the gendarmerie, and was telling his orderly to see that he was well rubbed and had received his hay.

All this bustle and movement produced a strange effect upon me, and I could not yet realize that I must quit the city. As I was thus in the greatest distress, the door opened and Catharine entered weeping, while Mother Gredel cried out:

"I told you you should have fled to Switzerland; that these rogues would finish by carrying you off. I told you so, and you would not believe me."

"Mother Gredel," replied Monsieur Goulden, "to go to do his duty is not so great an evil as to be despised by honest people. Instead of all these cries and reproaches, which serve no good purpose, you would do better to comfort and encourage Joseph."

"Ah!" said she; "I do not reproach him, although this is terrible."

Catharine did not leave me; she sat by me and we embraced each other, and she said, pressing my arm:

"You will return?"

"Yes, yes," said I, in a low voice. "And you—you will always think of me; you will not love another?"

She answered, sobbing:

"No, no! I will never love any but you."

This lasted a quarter of an hour, when the door opened and Captain Vidal entered, his cloak rolled like a hunting-horn over his shoulder.

"Well," said he, "well; how goes our young man?"

"Here he is," answered Monsieur Goulden.

"Ah!" remarked the captain; "you are making yourself miserable. It is natural. I remember when I departed for the army. We have all a home."

Then, raising his voice, he said:

"Come, come, young man, courage! We are no longer children."

He looked at Catharine.

"I see all," said he to Monsieur Goulden. "I can understand why he does not want to go."

The drums beat in the street and he added:

"We have yet twenty minutes before starting," and, throwing a glance at me, "Do not fail to be at the first call, young man," said he, pressing Monsieur Goulden's hand.

He went out, and we heard his horse pawing at the door.

The morning was overcast, and grief overwhelmed me. I could not leave Catharine.

Suddenly the roll beat. The drums were all collected in the square. Monsieur Goulden, taking the knapsack by its straps, said in a grave voice:

"Joseph, now the last embrace: it is time to go."

I stood up, pale as ashes. He fastened the knapsack to my shoulders. Catharine sat sobbing, her face covered with her apron. Aunt Gredel looked on with lips compressed.

The roll continued for a time, then suddenly ceased.

"The call is about commencing," said Monsieur Goulden, embracing me. Then the fountains of his heart burst forth; tears sprang to his eyes; and calling me his child, his son, he whispered, "Courage!"

Aunt Gredel seated herself again, and as I bent toward her, taking my head between her hands, she sobbed:

"I always loved you, Joseph; ever since you were a baby. You never gave me cause of grief—and now you must go. O God! O God!"

I wept no longer.

When Aunt Gredel released me, I looked a moment at Catharine, who stood motionless. I rushed to her and threw myself on her neck. She still kept her seat. Then I turned quickly to go, when she cried, in heart-breaking tones:

"O Joseph! Joseph!"

I looked back. We threw ourselves into each other's arms, and for some minutes remained so, sobbing. Her strength seemed to leave her, and I placed her in the arm-chair, and rushed out of the house.

I was already on the square, in the midst of the Italians and of a crowd of people crying for their sons or brothers. I saw nothing; I heard nothing.

When the roll of the drums began again, I looked around, and saw that I was between Klipfel and Furst, all three with our knapsacks on our backs. Their parents stood before us, weeping as if at their funeral. To the right, near the town-hall, Captain Vidal, on his little gray horse, was conversing with two infantry officers. The sergeants called the roll, and we answered. They called Zebede, Furst, Klipfel, Bertha; we answered like the others. Then the captain gave the word, "March!" and we went, two abreast, toward the French gate.

At the corner of Spitz's bakery, an old woman cried, in a choking voice, from a window:

"Kasper! Kasper!"

It was Zebede's grandmother. His lips trembled. He waved his hand without replying, and passed on with downcast face.

I shuddered at the thought of passing my home. As we neared it, my knees trembled, and I heard some one call at the window; but I turned my head toward the "Red Ox," and the rattle of the drums drowned the voices.

The children ran after us, shouting:

"There goes Joseph! there goes Klipfel!"

Under the French gate, the men on guard, drawn up in line on each side, gazed on us as we passed at shoulder arms. We passed the outposts, and the drum ceased playing as we turned to the right. Nothing was heard but the plash of footsteps in the mud, for the snow was melting.

We had passed the farm-house of Gerberhoff, and were going to the great bridge, when I heard some one call me. It was the captain, who cried from his horse:

"Very well done, young man; I am satisfied with you."

Hearing this, I could not help again bursting into tears, and the big Furst, too, wept, as we marched along; the others, pale as marble, said nothing. At the bridge, Zebede took out his pipe to smoke. In front of us, the Italians talked and laughed among themselves; their three weeks of service had accustomed them to this life.

Once on the way to Metting, more than a league from the city, as we began to descend, Klipfel touched me on the shoulder, and whispered:

"Look yonder."

I looked, and saw Phalsbourg far beneath us; the barracks, the magazines, the steeple whence I had seen Catharine's home six weeks before, with old Brainstein—all were in the gray distance, with the woods all around. I would have stopped a few moments, but the squad marched on, and I had to keep pace with them. We entered Metting.


That same day we went as far as Bitche; the next, to Hornbach; then to Kaiserslautern. It began to snow again.

How often during that long march did I sigh for the thick cloak of Monsieur Goulden, and his double-soled shoes.

We passed through innumerable villages, sometimes on the mountains, sometimes in the plains. As we entered each little town, the drums began to beat, and we marched with heads erect, marking the step, trying to assume the mien of old soldiers. The people looked out of their little windows, or came to the doors, saying, "There go the conscripts!"

At night we halted, glad to rest our weary feet—I, especially. I cannot say that my leg hurt me, but my feet! I had never undergone such fatigue. With our billet for lodging we had the right to a corner of the fire, but our hosts also gave us a place at the table. We had nearly always buttermilk and potatoes, and often fresh cheese or a dish of sauerkraut. The children came to look at us, and the old women asked us from what place we came, and what our business was before we left home. The young girls looked sorrowfully at us, thinking of their sweethearts, who had gone five, six, or seven months before. Then they would take us to their son's bed. With what pleasure I stretched out my tired limbs! How I wished to sleep all our twelve hours' halt! But early in the morning, at daybreak, the rattling of the drums awoke me. I gazed at the brown rafters of the ceiling, the window-panes covered with frost, and asked myself where I was. Then my heart would grow cold, as I thought that I was at Bitche—at Kaiserslautern—that I was a conscript; and I had to dress fast as I could, catch up my knapsack, and answer the roll-call.

"A good journey to you!" said the hostess, awakened so early in the morning.

"Thank you," replied the conscript.

And we marched on.

Yes! a good journey to you! They will not see you again, poor wretch! How many others have followed the same road!

I will never forget how at Kaiserslautern, the second day of our march, having unstrapped my knapsack to take out a white shirt, I discovered, beneath, a little pocket, and opening it I found fifty-four francs in six-livre pieces. On the paper wrapped around them were these words, written by Monsieur Goulden:

"While you are at the wars, be always good and honest. Think of your friends and of those for whom you would be willing to sacrifice your life, and treat the enemy with humanity that they may so treat our soldiers. May Heaven guide you, and protect you in your dangers! You will find some money enclosed; for it is a good thing, when far from home and all who love you, to have a little of it. Write to us as often as you can. I embrace you, my child, and press you to my heart."

As I read this, the tears forced themselves to my eyes, and I thought, "Thou are not wholly abandoned, Joseph: fond hearts are yearning toward you. Never forget their kind counsels."

At last, on the fifth day, about ten o'clock in the evening, we entered Mayence. As long as I live I will remember it. It was terribly cold. We had begun our march at early dawn, and long before reaching the city, had passed through villages filled with soldiers—cavalry, infantry, dragoons in their short jackets—some digging holes in the ice to get water for their horses, others dragging bundles of forage to the doors of the stables; powder-wagons, carts full of cannon-balls, all white with frost, stood on every side; couriers, detachments of artillery, pontoon-trains, were coming and going over the white ground; and no more attention was paid to us than if we were not in existence.

Captain Vidal, to warm himself, had dismounted and marched with us on foot. The officers and sergeants hastened us on. Five or six Italians had fallen behind and remained in the villages, no longer able to advance. My feet wore sore and burning, and at the last halt I could scarcely rise to resume the march. The others from Phalsbourg, however, kept bravely on.

Night had fallen; the sky sparkled with stars. Every one gazed forward, and said to his comrade, "We are nearing it! we are nearing it!" for along the horizon a dark line of seeming cloud, glittering here and there with flashing points, told that a great city lay before us.

At last we entered the advanced works, and passed through the zigzag earthen bastions. Then we dressed our ranks and marked the step, as we usually did when approaching a town. At the corner of a sort of demilune we saw the frozen fosse of the city, and the brick ramparts towering above, and opposite us an old, dark gate, with the drawbridge raised. Above stood a sentinel, who, with his musket raised, cried out:

"Who goes there?"

The captain, going forward alone, replied:


"What regiment?"

"Recruits for the Sixth of the Line."

A silence ensued. Then the drawbridge was lowered, and the guard turned out and examined us, one of them carrying a great torch. Captain Vidal, a few paces in advance of us, spoke to the commandant of the post, who called out at length:

"Pass when you please."

Our drums began to beat, but the captain ordered them to cease, and we crossed a long bridge and passed through a second gate like the first. Then we were in the streets of the city, which were paved with smooth round stones. Every one tried his best to march steadily; for, although it was night, all the inns and shops along the way were opened and their large windows were shining, and hundreds of people were passing to and fro as if it were broad day.

We turned five or six corners and soon arrived in a little open place before a high barrack, where we were ordered to halt.

There was a shed at the corner of the barrack, and in it a cantiniere seated behind a small table, under a great tri-colored umbrella from which hung two lanterns.

Several officers came up as soon as we halted: they were the Commandant Gemeau and some others whom I have since known. They pressed our captain's hand laughing, then looked at us and ordered the roll to be called. After that, we each received a ration of bread and a billet for lodging. We were told that roll-call would take place the next morning at eight o'clock for the distribution of arms, and then, we were ordered to break ranks, while the officers turned up a street to the left and went into a great coffee-house, the entrance of which was approached by a flight of fifteen steps.

But we, with our billets for lodging—what were we to do with them in the middle of such a city, and, above all, the Italians, who did not know a word either of German or French?

My first idea was to see the cantiniere under her umbrella. She was an old Alsatian, round and chubby, and, when I asked for the Capougner-Strasse, she replied:

"What will you pay for?"

I was obliged to take a glass of brandy with her; then she said:

"Look just opposite there; if you turn the first corner to the right, you will find the Capougner-Strasse. Good-evening, conscript."

She laughed.

Big Furst and Zebede were also billeted in the Capougner-Strasse, and we set out, glad enough to be able to limp together through the strange city.

Furst found his house first, but it was shut; and while he was knocking at the door, I found mine, which had a light in two windows. I pushed at the door, it opened, and I entered a dark alley, whence came a smell of fresh bread, which was very welcome. Zebede had to go farther on.

I called out in the alley:

"Is any one here?"

Just then an old woman appeared with a candle at the top of a wooden staircase.

"What do you want?" she asked.

I told her that I was billeted at her house. She came downstairs, and, looking at my billet, told me in German to follow her.

I ascended the stairs. Passing an open door, I saw two men naked to the waist at work before an oven. I was, then, at a baker's, and her having so much work accounted for the old woman being up so late. She wore a cap with black ribbons, a large blue apron, and her arms were bare to the elbows; she, too, had been working, and seemed very sorrowful. She led me into a good-sized room with a porcelain stove and a bed at the farther end.

"You come late," she said.

"We were marching all day," I replied, "and I am fainting with hunger and weariness."

She looked at me and I heard her say:

"Poor child! poor child! Well, take off your shoes and put on these sabots."

Then she made me sit before the stove, and asked:

"Are your feet sore?"

"Yes, they have been so for three days."

She put the candle upon the table and went out. I took off my coat and shoes. My feet were blistered and bleeding, and pained me horribly, and I felt for the moment as if it would almost be better to die at once than continue in such suffering.

This thought had more than once arisen to my mind in the march, but now, before that good fire, I felt so worn, so miserable, that I would gladly have lain myself down to sleep forever, notwithstanding Catharine, Aunt Gredel, and all who loved me. Truly, I needed God's assistance.

While these thoughts were running through my head, the door opened, and a tall, stout man, gray-haired, but yet strong and healthy, entered. He was one of those I had seen at work below, and held in his hands a bottle of wine and two glasses.

"Good-evening!" said he, gravely and kindly.

I looked up. The old woman was behind him. She was carrying a little wooden tub, which she placed on the floor near my chair.

"Take a foot-bath," said she; "it will do you good."

This kindness on the part of a stranger affected me more than I cared to show, and I thought: "There are kind people in the world." I took off my stockings; my feet were bleeding, and the good old dame repeated, as she gazed at them:

"Poor child! poor child!"

The man asked me whence I came. I told him from Phalsbourg in Lorraine. Then he told his wife to bring some bread, adding that, after we had taken a glass of wine together, he would leave me to the repose I needed so much.

He pushed the table before me, as I sat with my feet in the bath, and we each drained a glass of good white wine. The old woman returned with some hot bread, over which she had spread fresh, half-melted butter. Then I knew how hungry I was. I was almost ill. The good people saw my eagerness for food; for the woman said:

"Before eating, my child, you must take your feet out of the bath."

She knelt down and dried my feet with her apron before I knew what she was about to do. I cried:

"Good Heavens! madame; you treat me as if I were your son."

She replied, after a moment's mournful silence:

"We have a son in the army."

Her voice trembled as she spoke, and my heart bled within me. I thought of Catharine and Aunt Gredel, and could not speak again. I ate and drank with a pleasure I never before felt in doing so. The two old people sat gazing kindly on me, and, when I had finished, the man said:

"Yes, we have a son in the army; he went to Russia last year, and we have not since heard from him. These wars are terrible!"

He spoke dreamily, as if to himself, all the while walking up and down the room, his hands crossed behind his back. My eyes began to close when he said suddenly:

"Come, wife. Good-night, conscript."

They went out together, she carrying the tub.

"God reward you," I cried, "and bring your son safe home!"

In a minute I was undressed, and, sinking on the bed, I was almost immediately buried in a deep sleep.


The next morning I awoke at about seven o'clock. A trumpet was sounding the recall at the corner of the street; horses, wagons, and men and women on foot were hurrying past the house. My feet were yet somewhat sore, but nothing to what they had been; and when I had dressed, I felt like a new man, and thought to myself:

"Joseph, if this continues, you will soon be a soldier. It is only the first step that costs."

I dressed in this cheerful mood. The baker's wife had put my shoes to dry before the fire, after filling them with hot ashes to keep them from growing hard. They were well greased and shining.

Then I buckled on my knapsack, and hurried out, without having time to thank those good people—a duty I intended to fulfil after roll-call. At the end of the street—on the square—many of our Italians were already waiting, shivering around the fountain. Furst, Klipfel, and Zebede arrived a moment after.

Cannon and their caissons covered one entire side of the square. Horses were being brought to water, led by hussars and dragoons. Opposite us were cavalry barracks, high as the church at Phalsbourg, while around the other three sides rose old houses with sculptured gables, like those at Saverne, but much larger. I had never seen anything like all this, and while I stood gazing around, the drums began to beat, and each man took his place in the ranks, and we were informed, first in Italian and then in French, that we were about to receive our arms, and each one was ordered to stand forth as his name was called.

The wagons containing the arms now came up, and the call began. Each received a cartouche-box, a sabre, a bayonet, and a musket. We put them on as well as we could, over our blouses, coats or great-coats, and we looked, with our hats, our caps, and our arms, like a veritable band of banditti. My musket was so long and heavy that I could scarcely carry it; and the Sergeant Pinto showed me how to buckle on the cartouche-box. He was a fine fellow, Pinto.

So many belts crossing my chest made me feel as if I could scarcely breathe, and I saw at once that my miseries had not yet ended.

After the arms, an ammunition-wagon advanced, and they distributed fifty rounds of cartridges to each man. This was no pleasant augury. Then, instead of ordering us to break ranks and return to our lodgings, Captain Vidal drew his sabre and shouted:

"By file right—march!"

The drums began to beat. I was grieved at not being able to thank my hosts for their kindness, and thought that they would consider me ungrateful. But that did not prevent my following the line of march.

We passed through a long winding street, and soon found ourselves without the glacis, and near the frozen Rhine. Across the river high hills appeared, and on the hills, old, gray, ruined castles, like those of Haut-Bas and Geroldseck in the Vosges.

The battalion descended to the river-bank, and crossed upon the ice. The scene was magnificent—dazzling. We were not alone on the ice; five or six hundred paces before us there was a train of powder wagons guarded by artillerymen on the way to Frankfort. Crossing the river we continued our march for five hours through the mountains. Sometimes we discovered villages in the defiles; and Zebede, who was next to me, said:

"As we had to leave home, I would rather go as a soldier than otherwise. At least we shall see something new every day, and, if we are lucky enough ever to return, how much we will have to talk of!"

"Yes," said I; "but I would like better to have less to talk about, and to live quietly, toiling on my own account and not on account of others, who remain safe at home while we climb about here on the ice."

"You do not care for glory," said he; "and yet glory is something."

And I answered him:

"Glory is not for such as we, Zebede; it is for others who live well, eat well, and sleep well. They have dancings and rejoicings, as we see by the gazettes, and glory too in the bargain, when we have won it by dint of sweat, fasting and broken bones. But poor wretches like us, forced away from home, when at last they return, after losing their habits of labor and industry, and, mayhap a limb, get but little of your glory. Many a one, among their old friends—no better men than they—who were not, perhaps so good workmen, have made money during the conscript's seven years of war, have opened a shop, married their sweethearts, had pretty children, are men of position—city councillors—notables. And when the others, who have returned from seeking glory by killing their fellow-men, pass by with their chevrons on their arms, those old friends turn a cold shoulder upon them, and if the soldier has a red nose through drinking brandy which was necessary to keep his blood warm in the rain, the snow, the forced march, while they were drinking good wine, they say—'There goes a drunkard!' and the poor conscript, who only asked to be let stay at home and work, becomes a sort of beggar. This is what I think about the matter, Zebede; I cannot see the justice of all this, and I would rather have these friends of glory go fight themselves, and leave us to remain in peace at home."

"Well," he replied, "I think much as you do, but, as we are forced to fight, it is as well to say that we are fighting for glory. If we go about looking miserable, people will laugh at us."

Conversing thus, we reached a large river, which, the sergeant told us, was the Main, and near it, upon our road, was a little village. We did not know the name of the village, but there we halted.

We entered the houses, and those who could bought some brandy, wine, and bread. Those who had no money crunched their ration of biscuits, and gazed wistfully at their more fortunate comrades.

About five in the evening we arrived at Frankfort, which is a city yet older than Mayence, and full of Jews. They took us to a place called Saxenhausen, where the Tenth Hussars and the Baden Chasseurs were in barracks,—old buildings which were formerly a hospital, as I was told and believe, for within there was a large yard, with arches under the walls; beneath these arches the horses were stabled, and in the rooms above, the men.

We arrived at this place after passing through innumerable little streets, so narrow that we could scarcely see the stars between the chimneys. Captain Florentin, and the two lieutenants, Clavel and Bretonville, were awaiting us. After roll-call our sergeants led us by detachments to the rooms above the Chasseurs. They were great halls with little windows, and between the windows were the beds.

Sergeant Pinto hung his lantern to the pillar in the middle; each man placed his piece in the rack, and then took off his knapsack, his blouse and his shoes, without speaking. Zebede was my bed-fellow. God knows we were sleepy enough. Twenty minutes after, we were buried in slumber.


At Frankfort I learned to understand military life. Up to that time I had been but a simple conscript, then I became a soldier. I do not speak merely of drill,—the way of turning the head right or left, measuring the steps, lifting the hand to the height of the first or second band to load, aiming, recovering arms at the word of command—that is only an affair of a month or two, if a man really desires to learn; but I speak of discipline—of remembering that the corporal is always in the right when he speaks to a private soldier, the sergeant when he speaks to the corporal, the sergeant-major when speaking to the sergeant, the second lieutenant when he orders the sergeant-major, and so on to the Marshal of France—even if the superior asserts that two and two make five, or that the moon shines at midday.

This is very difficult to learn; but there is one thing that assists you immensely, and that is a sort of placard hung up in every room in the barracks, and which is from time to time read to you. This placard presupposes everything that a soldier might wish to do, as, for instance, to return home, to refuse to serve, to resist his officer, and always ends by speaking of death, or at least five years with a ball and chain.

The day after our arrival at Frankfort I wrote to Monsieur Goulden, to Catharine, and to Aunt Gredel. You may imagine how sadly. It seemed to me, in addressing them, that I was yet at home. I told them of the hardships I had undergone, of the good luck that had happened to me at Mayence, and the courage it required not to drop behind in the march. I told them that I was in good health, for which I thanked God, and that I was even stronger than before I left home, and sent them a thousand remembrances. Our Phalsbourg conscripts, who saw me writing, made me add a few words for each of their families. I wrote also to Mayence, to the good couple of the Capougner-Strasse, who had been so kind to me, telling them how I was forced to march without being able to thank them, and asking their forgiveness for so doing.

That day, in the afternoon, we received our uniforms. Dozens of Jews made their appearance and bought our old clothes. I kept only my shoes and stockings. The Italians had great difficulty in making these respectable merchants comprehend their wishes, but the Genoese were as cunning as the Jews, and their bargainings lasted until night. Our corporals received more than one glass of wine; it was policy to make friends of them, for morning and evening they taught us the drill in the snow-covered yard. The cantiniere Christine was always at her post with a warming-pan under her feet. She took young men of good family into special favor, and the young men of good family were all those who spent their money freely. Poor fools! How many of them parted with their last sou in return for her miserable flattery! When that was gone they were mere beggars; but vanity rules all, from the conscripts to the generals.

All this time recruits were constantly arriving from France, and ambulances full of wounded from Poland. What a sight was that before the hospital Saint Esprit on the other side of the river! It was a procession without an end. All these poor wretches were frost-bitten; some had their noses, some their ears frozen, others an arm, others a leg! They were laid in the snow to prevent them from dropping to pieces. Others got out of the carts clinging and holding on, and looked at you like wild beasts, their eyes sunk in their heads, their hair bristling up: the gypsies who sleep in nooks in the woods would have had pity on them; and yet these were the best off, because they escaped from the carnage, while thousands of their comrades had perished in the snow, or on the battle-field. Klipfel, Zebede, Furst, and I often went to see these poor wretches, and never did we see men so miserably clad. Some wore jackets which once belonged to Cossacks, crushed shakos, women's dresses, and many had only handkerchiefs wound round their feet in lieu of shoes and stockings. They gave us a history of the retreat from Moscow, and then we knew that the twenty-ninth bulletin told only truth.

These stories enraged our men against the Russians. Many said, "If the war would only begin again, they would have a hard job of it then: it is not over! it is not over!" I was at times almost overcome with wrath after hearing some tale of horror; and sometimes I thought to myself, "Joseph, are you not losing your wits? These Russians are defending their families, their homes, all that man holds most dear. We hate them for defending themselves; we would have despised them had they not done so."

But about this time an extraordinary event occurred.

You must know that my comrade, Zebede, was the son of the gravedigger of Phalsbourg, and sometimes between ourselves we called him "Gravedigger." This he took in good part from us; but one evening after drill, as he was crossing the yard, a hussar cried out:

"Halloo, Gravedigger! help me to drag in these bundles of straw."

Zebede, turning about, replied:

"My name is not Gravedigger, and you can drag in your own straw. Do you take me for a fool?"

Then the other cried in a still louder tone:

"Conscript, you had better come, or beware!"

Zebede, with his great hooked nose, his gray eyes and thin lips, never bore too good a character for mildness. He went up to the hussar and asked:

"What is that you say?"

"I tell you to take up those bundles of straw, and quickly, too. Do you hear, conscript?"

He was quite an old man, with mustaches and red, bushy whiskers. Zebede seized one of the latter, but received two blows in the face. Nevertheless, a fist-full of the whisker remained in his grasp, and, as the dispute had attracted a crowd to the spot, the hussar shook his finger, saying:

"You will hear from me to-morrow, conscript."

"Very good," returned Zebede; "we shall see. You will probably hear from me too, veteran."

He came immediately after to tell me all this, and I, knowing that he had never handled a weapon more warlike than a pickaxe, could not help trembling for him.

"Listen, Zebede," I said; "all that there now remains for you to do, since you do not want to desert, is to ask pardon of this old fellow; for those veterans all know some fearful tricks of fence which they have brought from Egypt or Spain, or somewhere else. If you wish, I will lend you a crown to pay for a bottle of wine to make up the quarrel."

But he, knitting his brows, would hear none of this.

"Rather than beg his pardon," said he, "I would go and hang myself. I laugh him and his comrades to scorn. If he has tricks of fence, I have a long arm, that will drive my sabre through his bones as easily as his will penetrate my flesh."

The thought of the blows made him insensible to reason; and soon Chazy, the maitre d'armes, Corporal Fleury, Furst, and Leger came in. They all said that Zebede was in the right, and the maitre d'armes added that blood alone could wash out the stain of a blow; that the honor of the recruits required Zebede to fight.

Zebede answered proudly that the men of Phalsbourg had never feared the sight of a little blood, and that he was ready. Then the maitre d'armes went to see our Captain, Florentin, who was one of the most magnificent men imaginable—tall, well-formed, broad-shouldered, with regular features, and the Cross, which the Emperor had himself given him at Eylau. The captain even went further than the maitre d'armes; he thought it would set the conscripts a good example, and that if Zebede refused to fight he would be unworthy to remain in the Third Battalion of the Sixth of the Line.

All that night I could not close my eyes. I heard the deep breathing of my poor comrade as he slept, and I thought: "Poor Zebede! another day, and you will breathe no more." I shuddered to think how near I was to a man so near death. At last, as day broke, I fell asleep, when suddenly I felt a cold blast of wind strike me. I opened my eyes, and there I saw the old hussar. He had lifted up the coverlet of our bed, and said as I awoke:

"Up, sluggard! I will show you what manner of man you struck."

Zebede rose tranquilly, saying:

"I was asleep, veteran; I was asleep."

The other, hearing himself thus mockingly called "veteran," would have fallen upon my comrade in his bed; but two tall fellows who served him as seconds held him back, and, besides, the Phalsbourg men were there.

"Quick, quick! Hurry!" cried the old hussar.

But Zebede dressed himself calmly, without any haste. After a moment's silence, he said:

"Have we permission to go outside our quarters, old fellows?"

"There is room enough for us in the yard," replied one of the hussars.

Zebede put on his great-coat, and, turning to me, said:

"Joseph and you, Klipfel, I choose for my seconds."

But I shook my head.

"Well, then, Furst," said he.

The whole party descended the stairs together. I thought Zebede was lost, and thought it hard, that not only must the Russians seek our lives, but that we must seek each other's.

All the men in the room crowded to the windows. I alone remained behind upon my bed. At the end of five minutes the clash of sabres made my heart almost cease to beat; the blood seemed no longer to flow through my veins.

But this did not last long; for suddenly Klipfel exclaimed, "Touched!"

Then I made my way—I know not how—to a window, and, looking over the heads of the others, saw the old hussar leaning against the wall, and Zebede rising, his sabre all dripping with blood. He had fallen upon his knees during the fight, and, while the old man's sword pierced the air just above his shoulder, he plunged his blade into the hussar's breast. If he had not slipped, he himself would have been run through and through.

The hussar sank at the foot of the wall. His seconds lifted him in their arms, while Zebede pale as a corpse, gazed at his bloody sabre, and Klipfel handed him his cloak. Almost immediately the reveille was sounded, and we went off to morning call.

These events happened on the eighteenth of February. The same day we received orders to pack our knapsacks, and left Frankfort for Seligenstadt, where we remained until the eighth of March, by which time all the recruits were well instructed in the use of the musket and the school of the platoon. From Seligenstadt we went to Schweinheim, and on the twenty-fourth of March, 1813, joined the division at Aschaffenbourg, where Marshal Ney passed us in review.

The captain of the company was named Florentin; the lieutenant, Bretonville; the commandant of the battalion, Gemeau; the captain, Vidal; the colonel, Zapfel; the general of brigade, Ladoucette; and the general of division, Souham. These are things that every soldier should know.


The melting of the snows began about the middle of March. I remember that during the great review of Aschaffenbourg, on a large open space whence one saw the Main as far as eye could reach, the rain never ceased to fall from ten o'clock in the morning till three o'clock in the afternoon. We had on our left a castle, from the windows of which people looked out quite at their ease, while the water ran into our shoes. On the right the river rushed, foaming, seen dimly as if through a mist. Every moment, to keep us brightened up, the order rang out:

"Carry arms! Shoulder arms!"

The Marshal advanced slowly, surrounded by his staff. What consoled Zebede was, that we were about to see "the bravest of the brave." I thought "If I could only get a place at the corner of a good fire, I would gladly forego that pleasure."

At last he arrived in front of us, and I can yet see him, his chapeau dripping with rain, his blue coat covered with embroidery and decorations, and his great boots. He was a handsome, florid man, with a short nose and sparkling eyes. He did not seem at all haughty; for, as he passed our company, who presented arms, he turned suddenly in his saddle and said:

"Hold! It is Florentin!"

Then the captain stood erect, not knowing what to reply. It seemed that the Marshal and he had been common soldiers together in the time of the Republic. The captain at last answered:

"Yes, Marshal; it is Sebastian Florentin."

"Faith, Florentin," said the Marshal, stretching him arm toward Russia, "I am glad to see you again. I thought we had left you there."

All our company felt honored, and Zebede said: "That is what I call a man. I would spill my blood for him."

I could not see why Zebede should wish to spill his blood because the Marshal had spoken a few words to an old comrade.

That's all I remember of Aschaffenbourg.

In the evening we went in again to eat our soup at Schweinheim, a place rich in wines, hemp, and corn, where almost everybody looked at us with unfriendly eyes.

We lodged by threes or fours in the houses, like so many bailiff's men, and had meat every day, either beef, mutton, or bacon.

Our bread was very good, as was also our wine. But many of our men pretended to find fault with everything, thinking thus to pass for people of consequence. They were mistaken; for more than once I heard the citizens say in German:

"Those fellows, in their own country, were only beggars. If they returned to France, they would find nothing but potatoes to live upon."

And the citizens were quite right; and I always found that people so difficult to please abroad were but poor wretches at home. For my part, I was well content to meet such good fare. Two conscripts from St.-Die were with me at the village-postmaster's: his horses had almost all been taken for our cavalry. This could not have put him into a good humor; but he said nothing, and smoked his pipe behind the stove from morning till night. His wife was a tall, strong woman, and his two daughters were very pretty; they were afraid of us, and ran away when we returned from drill, or from mounting guard at the end of the village.

On the evening of the fourth day, as we were finishing our supper, an old man in a great-coat came in. His hair was white, and his mien and appearance neat and respectable. He saluted us, and then said to the master of the house, in German:

"These are recruits?"

"Yes, Monsieur Stenger," replied the other, "we will never be rid of them. If I could poison them all, it would be a good deed."

I turned quietly, and said:

"I understand German: do not speak in such a manner."

The postmaster's pipe fell from his hand.

"You are very imprudent in your speech, Monsieur Kalkreuth," said the old man; "if others beside this young man had understood you, you know what would happen."

"It is only my way of talking," replied the postmaster. "What can you expect? When everything is taken from you—when you are robbed, year after year—it is but natural that you should at last speak bitterly."

The old man, who was none other than the pastor of Schweinheim, then said to me:

"Monsieur, your manner of acting is that of an honest man; believe me that Monsieur Kalkreuth is incapable of such a deed—of doing evil even to our enemies."

"I do believe it, sir," I replied, "or I should not eat so heartily of these sausages."

The postmaster, hearing these words, began to laugh, and, in the excess of his joy, cried:

"I would never have thought that a Frenchman could have made me laugh."

My two comrades were ordered for guard duty; they went, but I alone remained. Then the postmaster went after a bottle of old wine, and seated himself at the table to drink with me, which I gladly agreed to. From that day until our departure, these people had every confidence in me. Every evening we chatted at the corner of the fire; the pastor came, and even the young girls would come downstairs to listen. They were of fair and light complexion, with blue eyes; one was perhaps eighteen, the other twenty; I thought I saw in them a resemblance to Catharine, and this made my heart beat.

They knew that I had a sweetheart at home, because I could not help telling them so, and this made them pity me.

The postmaster complained bitterly of the French, the pastor said they were a vain, immoral nation, and that on that account all Germany would soon rise against us; that they were weary of the evil doings of our soldiers and the cupidity of our generals, and had formed the Tugend-Bund[1] to oppose us.

[1] League of virtue.

"At first," said he, "you talked to us of liberty: we liked to hear that, and our good wishes were rather for your armies than those of the King of Prussia and Emperor of Austria; you made war upon our soldiers and not upon us; you upheld ideas which every one thought great and just, and so you did not quarrel with peoples but only with their masters. To-day it is very different; all Germany is flying to arms; all her youth are rising, and it is we who talk of Liberty, of Virtue and of Justice to France. He who has them on his side is ever the stronger, because he has against him only the evil-minded of all nations, and has with him youth, courage, great ideas,—everything which lifts the soul above thoughts of self, and which urges man to sacrifice his life without regret. You have long had all this, but you wanted it no longer. Long ago, I well remember, your generals fought for Liberty, slept on straw, in barns, like simple soldiers; they were men of might and terror; now they must have their sofas; they are more noble than our nobles and richer than our bankers. So it comes to pass that war, once so grand—once an art, a sacrifice—once devotion to one's country—has become a trade, for sale at more than one market. It is, to be sure, very noble yet, since epaulettes are yet worn, but there is a difference between fighting for immortal ideas and fighting merely to enrich one's self.

"It is now our turn to talk of Liberty and Country; and this is the reason why I think this war will be a sorrowful one for you. All thinking men, from simple students to professors of theology, are rising against you in arms. You have the greatest general of the world at your head, but we have eternal justice. You believe you have the Saxons, the Bavarians, the Badeners and the Hessians on your side; undeceive yourselves; the children of old Germany well know that the greatest crime, the greatest shame, is to fight against our brothers. Let kings make alliances; the people are against you in spite of them; they are defending their lives, their Fatherland—all that God makes us love and that we cannot betray without crime. All are ready to assail you; the Austrians would massacre you if they could, notwithstanding the marriage of Marie Louise with your Emperor; men begin to see that the interests of Kings are not the interests of all mankind, and that the greatest genius cannot change the nature of things."

Thus would the pastor discourse gravely; but I did not then fully understand what he meant, and I thought, "Words are only words; and bullets are bullets. If we only encounter students and professors of theology, all will go well, and discipline will keep the Hessians and Bavarians and Saxons from turning against us, as it forces us Frenchmen to fight, little as we may like it. Does not the soldier obey the corporal, the corporal the sergeant, and so on to the marshal, who does what the King wishes? One can see very well that this pastor never served in a regiment, for if he did he would know that ideas are nothing and orders everything; but I do not care to contradict him, for then the postmaster would bring me no more wine after supper. Let them think as they please. All that I hope is that we shall have only theologians to fight."

While we used to chat thus, suddenly, on the morning of the twenty-seventh of March, the order for our departure came. The battalion rested that night at Lauterbach, the next at Neukirchen, and we did nothing but march, march, march. Those who did not grow accustomed to carrying the knapsack could not complain of want of practice. How we travelled! I no longer sweated under my fifty cartridges in my cartouche-box, my knapsack on my back and my musket on my shoulder, and I do not know if I limped.

We were not the only ones in motion; all were marching; everywhere we met regiments on the road, detachments of cavalry, long lines of cannon, ammunition trains—all advancing toward Erfurt, as after a heavy rain thousands of streams, by thousands of channels, seek the river.

Our sergeants keep repeating, "We are nearing them! there will be hot work soon;" and we thought, "So much the better!" that those beggarly Prussians and Russians had drawn their fate upon themselves. If they had remained quiet we would have been yet in France.

These thoughts embittered us all toward the enemy, and as we met everywhere people who seemed to rejoice alone in fighting, Klipfel and Zebede talked only of the pleasure it would give them to meet the Prussians; and I, not to seem less courageous than they, adopted the same strain.

On the eighth of April, the battalion entered Erfurt, and I will never forget how, when we broke ranks before the barracks, a package of letters was handed to the sergeant of the company. Among the number was one for me, and I recognized Catharine's writing at once. This affected me so that it made my knees tremble. Zebede took my musket, telling me to read it, for he, too, was glad to hear from home.

I put it in my pocket, and all our Phalsbourg men followed me to hear it, but I only commenced when I was quietly seated on my bed in the barracks, while they crowded around. Tears rolled down my cheeks as she told me how she remembered and prayed for the far-off conscript.

My comrades, as I read, exclaimed:

"And we are sure that there are some at home to pray for us, too."

One spoke of his mother, another of his sisters, and another of his sweetheart.

At the end of the letter, Monsieur Goulden added a few words, telling me that all our friends were well, and that I should take courage, for our troubles could not last forever. He charged me to be sure to tell my comrades that their friends thought of them and complained of not having received a word from them.

This letter was a consolation to us all. We knew that before many days passed we must be on the field of battle, and it seemed a last farewell from home for at least half of us. Many were never to hear again from their parents, friends, or those who loved them in this world.


But, as Sergeant Pinto said, all we had yet seen was but the prelude to the ball; the dance was now about to commence.

Meanwhile we did duty at the citadel with a battalion of the Twenty-seventh, and from the top of the ramparts we saw all the environs covered with troops, some bivouacking, others quartered in the villages.

The sergeant had formed a particular friendship for me, and on the eighteenth, on relieving guard at Warthau gate, he said:

"Fusilier Bertha, the Emperor has arrived."

I had yet heard nothing of this, and replied, respectfully:

"I have just had a little glass with the sapper Merlin, sergeant, who was on duty last night at the general's quarters, and he said nothing of it."

Then he, closing his eye, said, with a peculiar expression:

"Everything is moving; I feel his presence in the air. You do not yet understand this, conscript, but he is here; everything says so. Before he came, we were lame, crippled; only a wing of the army seemed able to move at once. But now, look there, see those couriers galloping over the road; all is life. The dance is beginning: the dance is beginning! Kaiserliks and the Cossacks do not need spectacles to see that he is with us; they will feel him presently."

And the sergeant's laugh rang hoarsely from beneath his long mustaches. I had a presentiment that great misfortunes might be coming upon me, yet I was forced to put a good face upon it. But the sergeant was right, for that very day, about three in the afternoon, all the troops stationed around the city were in motion, and at five we were put under arms. The Marshal Prince of Moskowa entered the town surrounded by the officers and generals who composed his staff, and, almost immediately after, the gray-haired Souham followed and passed us in review upon the square. Then he spoke in a loud, clear voice so that every one could hear:

"Soldiers!" said he, "you will form part of the advance-guard of the Third corps. Try to remember that you are Frenchmen. Vive l'Empereur!"

All shouted "Vive l'Empereur!" till the echoes rang again, while the general departed with Colonel Zapfel.

That night we were relieved by the Hessians, and left Erfurt with the Tenth hussars and a regiment of chasseurs. At six or seven in the morning we were before the city of Weimar, and saw the sun rising on its gardens, its churches, and its houses, as well as on an old castle to the right. Here we bivouacked, and the hussars went forward to reconnoitre the town. About nine, while we were breakfasting, suddenly we heard the rattle of musketry and carbines. Our hussars had encountered the Prussian hussars in the streets, and they were firing on each other. But it was so far off that we saw nothing of the combat.

At the end of an hour the hussars returned, having lost two men. Thus began the campaign.

We remained five days in our camp, while the whole Third corps were coming up. As we were the advance-guard, we started again by way of Suiza and Warthau. Then we saw the enemy; Cossacks who kept ever beyond the range of our guns, and the farther they retired the greater grew our courage.

But it annoyed me to hear Zebede constantly exclaiming in a tone of ill-humor:

"Will they never stop; never make a stand!"

I thought that if they kept retreating we could ask nothing better. We would gain all we wanted without loss of life or suffering.

But at last they halted on the farther side of the broad and deep river, and I saw a great number posted near the bank to cut us to pieces if we should cross unsupported.

It was the twenty-ninth of April, and growing late. Never did I see a more glorious sunset. On the opposite side of the river stretched a wide plain as far as the eye could reach, and on this, sharply outlined against the glowing sky, stood horsemen, with their shakos drooping forward, their green jackets, little cartridge-boxes slung under the arm, and their sky-blue trousers; behind them glittered thousands of lances, and Sergeant Pinto recognized them as the Russian cavalry and Cossacks. He knew the river, too, which, he said, was the Saale.

We went as near as we could to the water to exchange shots with the horsemen, but they retired and at last disappeared entirely under the blood-red sky. We made our bivouac along the river, and posted our sentries. On our left was a large village; a detachment was sent to it to purchase meat; for since the arrival of the Emperor we had orders to pay for everything.

During the night other regiments of the division came up; they, too, bivouacked along the bank, and their long lines of fires, reflected in the ever-moving waters, glared grandly through the darkness.

No one felt inclined to sleep. Zebede, Klipfel, Furst, and I messed together, and we chatted as we lay around our fire:

"To-morrow we will have it hot enough, if we attempt to cross the river! Our friends in Phalsbourg, over their warm suppers, scarcely think of us lying here, with nothing but a piece of cow-beef to eat, a river flowing beside us, the damp earth beneath, and only the sky for a roof, without speaking of the sabre-cuts and bayonet-thrusts our friends yonder have in store for us."

"Bah!" said Klipfel; "this is life. I would not pass my days otherwise. To enjoy life we must be well to-day, sick to-morrow; then we appreciate the pleasure of the change from pain to ease. As for shots and sabre-strokes, with God's aid, we will give as good as we take!"

"Yes," said Zebede, lighting his pipe, "when I lose my place in the ranks, it will not be for the want of striking hard at the Russians!"

So we lay wakeful for two or three hours. Leger lay stretched out in his great-coat, his feet to the fire, asleep, when the sentinel cried:

"Who goes there?"


"What regiment?"

"Sixth of the Line."

It was Marshal Ney and General Brenier, with engineer and artillery officers, and guns. The Marshal replied "Sixth of the Line," because he knew beforehand that we were there, and this little fact rejoiced us and made us feel very proud. We saw him pass on horseback with General Souham and five or six other officers of high grade, and although it was night we could see them distinctly, for the sky was covered with stars and the moon shone bright; it was almost as light as day.

They stopped at a bend of the river and posted six guns, and immediately after a pontoon train arrived with oak planks and all things necessary for throwing two bridges across. Our hussars scoured the banks collecting boats, and the artillerymen stood at their pieces to sweep down any who might try to hinder the work. For a long while we watched their labor, while again and again we heard the sentry's "Qui vive!" It was the regiments of the Third corps arriving.

At daybreak I fell asleep, and Klipfel had to shake me to arouse me. On every side they were beating the reveille; the bridges were finished, and we were going to cross the Saale.

A heavy dew had fallen, and each man hastened to wipe his musket, to roll up his great-coat and buckle it on his knapsack. One assisted the other, and we were soon in the ranks. It might have been four o'clock in the morning, and everything seemed gray in the mist that arose from the river. Already two battalions were crossing on the bridges, the officers and colors in the centre. Then the artillery and caissons crossed.

Captain Florentin had just ordered us to renew our primings, when General Souham, General Chemineau, Colonel Zapfel, and our commandant arrived. The battalion began its march. I looked forward expecting to see the Russians coming on at a gallop, but nothing stirred.

As each regiment reached the farther bank it formed a square with ordered arms. At five o'clock the entire division had passed. The sun dispersed the mist, and we saw, about three-fourths of a league to our right, an old city with its pointed roofs, slated clock-tower, surmounted by a cross, and, farther away, a castle; it was Weissenfels.

Between us and the city was a deep valley. Marshal Ney, who had just come up, wished to reconnoitre this before advancing into it. Two companies of the Twenty-seventh were deployed as skirmishers and the squares moved onward in common time, with the officers, sappers, and drums in the centre, the cannon in the intervals and the caissons in the rear.

We all mistrusted this valley—the more so since we had seen, the evening before, a mass of cavalry, which could not have retired beyond the great plain that lay before us. Notwithstanding our distrust, it made us feel very proud and brave to see ourselves drawn up in our long ranks—our muskets loaded, the colors advanced, the generals in the rear full of confidence—to see our masses thus moving onward without hurry, but calmly marking the step; yes, it was enough to make our hearts beat high with pride and hope! And I said to myself: "Perhaps at sight of us the enemy will fly, which will be the best for them and for us."

I was in the second rank, behind Zebede, and from time to time I glanced at the other square, which was moving on the same line with us, in the centre of which I saw the Marshal and his staff, all trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on ahead.

The skirmishers had by this time reached the ravine, which was bordered with brambles and hedges. I had already seen a movement on its farther side, like the motion of a cornfield in the wind, and the thought struck me that the Russians, with their lances and sabres, were there, although I could scarcely believe it. But when our skirmishers reached the hedges, the fusillade began, and I saw clearly the glitter of their lances. At the same instant a flash like lightning gleamed in front of us, followed by a fierce report. The Russians had their cannon with them; they had opened on us. I know not what noise made me turn my head, and there I saw an empty space in the ranks to my left.

At the same time Colonel Zapfel said quietly:

"Close up the ranks!"

And Captain Florentin repeated:

"Close up the ranks!"

All this was done so quickly that I had no time for thought. But fifty paces farther on another flash shone out; there was another murmur in the ranks—as if a fierce wind was passing—and another vacant space, this time to the right.

And thus, after every shot from the Russians, the colonel said, "Close up the ranks!" and I knew that each time he spoke there was a breach in the living wall! It was no pleasant thing to think of, but still we marched on toward the valley. At last I did not dare to think at all, when General Chemineau, who had entered our square, cried in a terrible voice:


I looked forward, and saw a mass of Russians coming down upon us.

"Front rank, kneel! Fix bayonets! Ready!" cried the general.

As Zebede knelt, I was now, so to speak, in the front rank. On came the line of horses, each rider bending over his saddle-bow, with sabre flashing in his hand. Then again the general's voice was heard behind us, calm, tranquil, giving orders as coolly as on parade:

"Attention for the command of fire! Aim! Fire!"

The four squares fired together; it seemed as if the skies were falling in the crash. When the smoke lifted, we saw the Russians broken and flying; but our artillery opened, and the cannon-balls sped faster than they.

"Charge!" shouted the general.

Never in my life did such a wild joy possess me. On every side the cry of Vive l'Empereur! shook the air, and in my excitement I shouted like the others. But we could not pursue them far, and soon we were again moving calmly on. We thought the fight was ended; but when within two or three hundred paces of the ravine, we heard the rush of horses, and again the general cried:

"Halt! Kneel! Fix bayonets!"

On came the Russians from the valley like a whirlwind; the earth shook beneath their weight; we heard no more orders, but each man knew that he must fire into the mass, and the file-firing began, rattling like the drums in a grand review. Those who have not seen a battle can form but little idea of the excitement, the confusion, and yet the order of such a moment. A few of the Russians neared us; we saw their forms appear a moment through the smoke, and then saw them no more. In a few moments more the ringing voice of General Chemineau arose, sounding above the crash and rattle:

"Cease firing!"

We scarcely dared obey. Each one hastened to deliver a final shot; then the smoke slowly lifted, and we saw a mass of cavalry ascending the farther side of the ravine.

The squares deployed at once into columns; the drums beat the charge; our artillery still continued its fire; we rushed on, shouting:

"Forward! forward! Vive l'Empereur!"

We descended the ravine, over heaps of horses and Russians; some dead, some writhing upon the earth, and we ascended the slope toward Weissenfels at a quick step. The Cossacks and chasseurs bent forward in their saddles, their cartridge-boxes dangling behind them, galloping before us in full flight. The battle was won.

But as we reached the gardens of the city, they posted their cannon, which they had brought off with them, behind a sort of orchard, and reopened upon us, a ball carrying away both the axe and head of the sapper, Merlin. The corporal of sappers, Thome, had his arm fractured by a piece of the axe, and they were compelled to amputate his arm at Weissenfels. Then we started toward them on a run, for the sooner we reached them the less time they would have for firing.

We entered the city at three places, marching through hedges, gardens, hop-fields, and climbing over walls. The marshals and generals followed after. Our regiment entered by an avenue bordered with poplars, which ran along the cemetery, and, as we debouched in the public square another column came through the main street.

There we halted, and the Marshal, without losing a moment, despatched the Twenty-seventh to take a bridge and cut off the enemy's retreat. During this time the rest of the division arrived, and was drawn up in the square. The burgomaster and councillors of Weissenfels were already on the steps of the town-hall to bid us welcome.

When we were re-formed, the Marshal-Prince of Moskowa passed before the front of our battalion and said joyfully:

"Well done! I am satisfied with you! The Emperor will know of your conduct!"

He could not help laughing at the way we rushed on the guns. General Souham cried:

"Things go bravely on!"

He replied:

"Yes, yes; 'tis in the blood! 'tis in the blood."

The battalion remained there until the next day. We were lodged with the citizens, who were afraid of us and gave us all we asked. The Twenty-seventh returned in the evening and was quartered in the old chateau. We were very tired. After smoking two or three pipes together, chatting about our glory, Zebede, Klipfel and I went together to the shop of a joiner and slept on a heap of shavings, and remained there until midnight, when they beat the reveille. We rose; the joiner gave us some brandy, and we went out. The rain was falling in torrents. That night the battalion went to bivouac before the village of Clepen, two hours' march from Weissenfels.

Other detachments came and rejoined us. The Emperor had arrived at Weissenfels, and all the Third corps were to follow us. We talked only of this all the day; but the day after, at five in the morning, we set off again in the advance.

Before us rolled a river called the Rippach. Instead of turning aside to take the bridge, we forded it where we were. The water reached our waists; and I thought, as I pulled my shoes out of the mud, "If any one had told me this in the days when I was afraid of catching a cold in the head at M. Goulden's, and when I changed my stockings twice a week, I should never have believed it. Well, strange things happen to one in this life."

As we passed down the other bank of the river in the rushes, we discovered a band of Cossacks observing us from the heights to the left. They followed slowly, without daring to attack us, and so we kept on until it was broad day, when suddenly a terrific fusillade and the thunder of heavy guns made us turn our heads toward Clepen. The commandant, on horseback, looked over the tops of the reeds.

The sounds of conflict lasted a considerable time, and Sergeant Pinto said:

"The division is advancing; it is attacked."

The Cossacks gazed, too, toward the fight, and at the end of an hour disappeared. Then we saw the division advancing in column in the plain to the right, driving before them the masses of Russian cavalry.

"Forward!" cried the commandant.

We ran, without knowing why, along the river bank, until we reached an old bridge where the Rippach and Gruna met. Here we were to intercept the enemy: but the Cossacks had discovered our design, and their whole army fell back behind the Gruna, which they forded, and, the division rejoining us, we learned that Marshal Bessieres had been killed by a cannon-ball.

We left the bridge to bivouac before the village of Gorschen. The rumor that a great battle was approaching ran through the ranks, and they said that all that had passed was only a trial to see how the recruits would act under fire. One may imagine the reflections of a thoughtful man under such circumstances, among such hare-brained fellows as Furst, Zebede, and Klipfel, who seemed to rejoice at the prospect, as if it could bring them aught else than bullet-wounds or sabre-cuts. All night long I thought of Catharine, and prayed God to preserve my life and my hands, which are so needful for poor people to gain their bread.


We lighted our fires on the hill before Gross Gorschen and a detachment descended to the village and brought back five or six old cows to make soup of. But we were so worn out that many would rather sleep than eat. Other regiments arrived with cannon and munitions. About eleven o'clock there were from ten to twelve thousand men there and two thousand and more in the village—all Souham's division. The general and his ordnance officers were quartered in an old mill to the left, near a stream called Floss-Graben. The line of sentries were stretched along the base of the hill a musket-shot off. At length I fell asleep, but I awoke every hour, and behind us, toward the road leading from the old bridge of Poserna to Lutzen and Leipzig, I heard the rolling of wagons, of artillery and caissons, rising and falling through the silence.

Sergeant Pinto did not sleep; he sat smoking his pipe and drying his feet at the fire. Every time one of us moved, he would try to talk and say:

"Well, conscript?"

But they pretended not to hear him, and turned over, gaping, to sleep again.

The clock of Gross-Gorschen was striking six when I awoke. I was sore and weary yet. Nevertheless, I sat up and tried to warm myself, for I was very cold. The fires were smoking, and almost extinguished. Nothing of them remained but the ashes and a few embers. The sergeant, erect, was gazing over the vast plain where the sun shot a few long lines of gold, and, seeing me awake, put a coal in his pipe and said:

"Well, fusilier Bertha, we are now in the rearguard."

I did not know what he meant.

"That astonishes you," he continued; "but we have not stirred, while the army has made a half-wheel. Yesterday it was before us in the Rippach; now it is behind us, near Lutzen; and, instead of being in the front we are in rear; so that now," said he, closing an eye and drawing two long puffs of his pipe, "we are the last, instead of the foremost."

"And what do we gain by it?" I asked.

"We gain the honor of first reaching Leipzig, and falling on the Prussians," he replied. "You will understand this by and by, conscript."

I stood up, and looked around. I saw before us a wide, marshy plain, traversed by the Gruna-Bach and the Floss-Graben. A few hills arose along these streams, and beyond ran a large river, which the sergeant told me was the Elster. The morning mist hung over all.

Turning around, I saw behind us in the valley the point of the clock-tower of Gross-Gorschen, and farther on, to the right and left, five or six little villages built in the hollows between the hills, for it is a country of hills, and the villages of Kaya, Eisdorf, Starsiedel, Rahna, Klein-Gorschen and Gross-Gorschen, which I knew before, are between them, on the borders of little lakes, where poplars, willows and aspens grow. Gross-Gorschen, where we bivouacked, was farthest advanced in the plain, toward the Elster; Kaya was farthest off, and behind it passed the high-road from Lutzen to Leipzig. We saw no fires on the hills save those of our division; but the entire corps occupied the villages scattered in our rear, and head-quarters were at Kaya.

At seven o'clock the drums and the trumpets of the artillery sounded the reveille. We went down to the village, some to look for wood, others for straw or hay. Ammunition-wagons came up, and bread and cartridges were distributed. There we were to remain, to let the army march by upon Leipzig; this was why Sergeant Pinto said we would be in the rear-guard.

Two cantinieres arrived from the village; and, as I had yet a few crowns remaining, I offered Klipfel and Zebede a glass of brandy each, to counteract the effects of the fogs of the night. I also presumed to offer one to Sergeant Pinto, who accepted it, saying that bread and brandy warmed the heart.

We felt quite happy, and no one suspected the horrors the day was to bring forth. We thought the Russians and the Prussians were seeking us behind the Gruna-Bach; but they knew well where we were. And suddenly, about ten o'clock, General Souham, mounted, arrived with his officers. I was sentry near the stacks of arms, and I think I can now see him, as he rode to the top of the hill, with his gray hair and white-bordered hat; and as he took out his field-glass, and, after an earnest gaze, returned quickly, and ordered the drums to beat the recall. The sentries at once fell into the ranks, and Zebede, who had the eyes of a falcon, said:

"I see yonder, near the Elster, masses of men forming and advancing in good order, and others coming from the marshes by the three bridges. We are lost if all those fall upon our rear!"

"A battle is beginning," said Sergeant Pinto, shading his eyes with his hands, "or I know nothing of war. Those beggarly Prussians and Russians want to take us on the flank with their whole force, as we defile on Leipzig, so as to cut us in two. It is well thought of on their part. We are always teaching them the art of war."

"But what will we do?" asked Klipfel.

"Our part is simple," answered the sergeant. "We are here twelve to fifteen thousand men, with old Souham, who never gave an enemy an inch. We will stand here like a wall, one to six or seven, until the Emperor is informed how matters stand, and sends us aid. There go the staff officers now."

It was true; five or six officers were galloping over the plain of Lutzen toward Leipzig. They sped like the wind, and I prayed to God to have them reach the Emperor in time to send the whole army to our assistance; for there was something horrible in the certainty that we were about to perish, and I would not wish my greatest enemy in such a position as ours was then.

Sergeant Pinto continued:

"You will have a chance now, conscripts; and if any of you come out alive, they will have something to boast of. Look at those blue lines advancing, with their muskets on their shoulders, along Floss-Graben. Each of those lines is a regiment. There are thirty of them. That makes sixty thousand Prussians, without counting those lines of horsemen, each of which is a squadron. Those advancing to their left, near Rippach, glittering in the sun, are the dragoons and cuirassiers of the Russian Imperial Guard. There are eighteen or twenty thousand of them, and I first saw them at Austerlitz, where we fixed them finely. Those masses of lances in the rear are Cossacks. We will have a hundred thousand men on our hands in an hour. This is a fight to win the cross in, and if one does not get it now he can never hope to do so!"

"Do you think so, sergeant?" said Zebede, whose ideas were never very clear, and who already imagined he held the cross in his fingers, while his eyes glittered with excitement.

"It will be hand to hand," replied the sergeant; "and suppose that in the melee, you see a colonel or a flag near you, spring on him or it; never mind sabres or bayonets; seize them, and then your name goes on the list."

As he spoke, I remembered that the Mayor of Phalsbourg had received the cross for having gone to meet the Empress Marie Louise in carriages garlanded with flowers, singing old songs, and I thought his method much preferable to that of Sergeant Pinto.

But I had not time to think more, for the drama beat on all sides, and each one ran to where the arms of his company were stacked and seized his musket. Our officers formed us, great guns came at a gallop from the village, and were posted on the brow of the hill a little to the rear, so that the slope served them as a species of redoubt. Farther away, in the villages of Rahna, of Kaya, and of Klein-Gorschen, all was motion, but we were the first the Prussians would fall upon.

The enemy halted about twice a cannon-shot off, and the cavalry swarmed by hundreds up the hill to reconnoitre us. I was in utter despair as I gazed on their immense masses swarming on both sides of the river, the advanced lines of which were already beginning to form in columns, and I said to myself, "This time, Joseph, all is over, all is lost; there is no help for it; all you can do is to revenge yourself, defend yourself, to fight pitilessly, and die."

While these thoughts were passing through my head, General Chemineau galloped along our front, crying:

"Form square."

The officers on the right, on the left, in advance, in the rear, took up the word and it passed from right to left; four squares of four battalions each were formed. I found myself in the third, on one of the interior sides, a circumstance which in some degree reassured me; for I thought that the Prussians, who were advancing in three columns, would first attack those directly opposite them. But scarcely had the thought struck me when a hail of cannon-shot from the guns which the Prussians had massed on a hill to the left, swept through us just as at Weissenfels; and that was not all. They had thirty pieces of artillery playing upon us. One can imagine from this what gaps they made. The balls shrieked sometimes over our heads, sometimes through the ranks, and then again struck the earth, which they scattered over us.

Our heavy guns replied to their fire with a vigor which kept us from hearing one half the hissing and roaring of theirs, but could not silence it, and the horrible cry of "Close up the ranks! Close up the ranks!" was ever sounding in our ears.

We were enveloped in smoke without having fired a shot, and I said to myself, "if we stay here another quarter of an hour we shall all be massacred without having a chance to defend ourselves," which seemed to me fearful, when the head of the Prussian columns appeared between the hills, moving forward with a deep, hoarse murmur, like the noise of an inundation. Then the three first sides of our square, the second and the third obliquing to the right and left fired. God only knows how many Prussians fell. But instead of stopping they rushed on, shouting like wolves, "Vaterland! Vaterland!" and we fired again into their very bosoms.

Then began the work of death in earnest. Bayonet-thrust, sabre-stroke, blows from the butt-end of our pieces, crashed on all sides. They tried to crush us by mere weight of numbers, and came on like furious bulls. A battalion rushed upon us, thrusting with their bayonets; we returned their blows without leaving the ranks, and they were swept away almost to a man by two cannon which were in position fifty paces in our rear.

They were the last who tried to break our squares. They turned and fled down the hill-side, and we were loading our guns to kill every man of them, when their pieces again opened fire, and we heard a great noise on our right. It was their cavalry charging under cover of their fire. I could not see the fight, for it was at the other end of the division, but their heavy guns swept us off by dozens as we stood inactive. General Chemineau had his thigh broken; we could not hold out much longer when the order was given to retreat, which we did with a pleasure easily understood!

We retired to Gross-Gorschen, pursued by the Prussians, both sides maintaining a constant fire. The two thousand men in the village checked the enemy while we ascended the opposite slope to gain Klein-Gorschen. But the Prussian cavalry came on once more to cut off our retreat and keep us under the fire of their artillery. Then my blood boiled with anger, and I heard Zebede cry, "Let us fight our way to the top rather than remain here!"

To do this was fearfully dangerous, for their regiments of hussars and chasseurs advanced in good order to charge. Still we kept retreating, when a voice on the top of the ridge cried: "Halt!" and at the same moment the hussars, who were already rushing down upon us, received a terrific discharge of case and grape-shot, which swept them down by hundreds. It was Girard's division, who had come to our assistance from Ivlein-Gorschen and had placed sixteen pieces in position to open upon them. The hussars fled faster than they came, and the six squares of Girard's division united with ours at Klein-Gorschen, to check the Prussian infantry, which still continued to advance, the three first columns in front and three others, equally strong, supporting them.

We had lost Gross-Gorschen, but now, between Ivlein-Gorschen and Rahna the battle raged more fiercely than ever.

I thought now of nothing but vengeance. I was wild with excitement and wrath against those who sought to kill me. I felt a sort of hatred against those Prussians whose shouts and insolent manner disgusted me. I was, nevertheless, very glad to see Zebede near me yet, and as we stood awaiting new attacks, with our arms resting on the ground, I pressed his hand.

"We have escaped narrowly enough," said he. "God grant the Emperor may soon arrive, and with cannon, for they are twenty times stronger than we."

He no longer spoke of winning the cross.

I looked around to see if the sergeant was with us yet, and saw him calmly wiping his bayonet; not a feature showed any trace of excitement—that encouraged me. I would have wished to know if Klipfel and Furst were unhurt, but the command, "Carry arms!" made me think of myself.

The three first columns of the enemy had halted on the hill of Gross-Gorschen to await their supports. The village in the valley between us was on fire, the flames bursting from the thatched roofs and the smoke rising to the sky, and to the left across the ploughed field we saw a long line of cannon coming down to open upon us.

It might have been mid-day when the six columns began their march and deployed masses of hussars and cavalry on both sides of Gross-Gorschen. Our artillery, placed behind the squares on the top of the ridge, opened a terrible fire on the Prussian gunners, who replied all along their line.

Our drums began to beat in the squares to give warning that the enemy were approaching, but their rattle was like the buzz of a fly in the storm, while in the valley the Prussians shouted all together, "Vaterland! Vaterland!"

Their fire by battalion, as they climbed the hill, enveloped us in smoke—as the wind blew toward us—and hindered us from seeing them. Nevertheless, we began our file-firing. We heard and saw nothing but the noise and smoke of battle for the next quarter of an hour, when suddenly the Prussian hussars were in our square. I know not how it happened, but there they were on their little horses, sabring us without mercy. We fought with our bayonets; we shouted; they slashed, and fired their pistols. The carnage was horrible. Zebede, Sergeant Pinto, and some twenty of the company held together. I shall see all my life long the pale-faced, long-mustached hussars, the straps of their shakos tight under their jaws, whose horses reared and neighed as they dashed over the heaps of dead and wounded. I remember the cries, French and German in a horrid mixture, that arose; how they called us "Schweinpelz" and how old Pinto never ceased to cry, "Strike bravely, my boys; strike bravely!"

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