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The Conscript - A Story of the French war of 1813
by Emile Erckmann
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I never knew how we escaped; we ran at random through the smoke, and dashed through the midst of sabres and flying bullets. I only remember that Zebede every moment cried out to me, "Come on! come on!" and that at last we found ourselves on a hill-side behind a square which yet held firm, with Sergeant Pinto and seven or eight others of the company.

We were covered with blood, and looked like butchers.

"Load!" cried the sergeant.

Then I saw blood and hair on my bayonet, and I knew that in my fury I must have given some terrible blows. In a moment old Pinto said, "The regiment is totally routed; the beggarly Prussians have sabred half of it; we shall find the remainder by and by. Now," he cried, "we must keep the enemy out of the village. By file, left! March!"

We descended a little stairway which led to one of the gardens of Klein-Gorschen, and entering a house, the sergeant barricaded the door leading to the fields with a heavy kitchen table; then he showed us the door opening on the street, telling us, "Here is our way of retreat." This done, we went to the floor above, and found a pretty large room, with two windows looking out upon the village, and two upon the hill, which was still covered with smoke and resounding with the crash of musketry and artillery. At one end in an alcove was a broken bedstead, and near it a cradle. The people of the house had no doubt fled at the beginning of the battle, but a dog, with ears erect and flashing eyes, glared at us from beneath the curtains. All this comes back to me like a dream.

The sergeant opened the window and fired at two or three Prussian hussars who were already advancing down the street. Zebede and the others standing behind him stood ready. I looked toward the hill to see if the squares had yet remained unbroken, and I saw them retreating in good order, firing as they went from all four sides on the masses of cavalry which surrounded them completely. Through the smoke I could perceive the colonel on horseback, sabre in hand, and by him the colors, so torn by shot that they were mere rags hanging on the staff.

Beyond, on the left, a column of the enemy were debouching from the road and marching on Klein-Gorschen. This column evidently designed cutting off our retreat on the village, but hundreds of disbanded soldiers like us had arrived, and were pouring in from all sides, some turning ever and anon to fire, others wounded, trying to crawl to some place of shelter. They took possession of the houses, and, as the column approached, musketry rattled upon them from all the windows. This checked the enemy, and at the same moment the divisions of Brenier and Marchand, which the Prince of Moskowa had despatched to our assistance, began to deploy to the right. We heard afterward that Marshal Ney had followed the Emperor in the direction of Leipzig and came back on hearing the sound of cannon.

The Prussians halted, and the firing ceased on both sides. Our squares and columns began to climb the hills again, opposite Starsiedel, and the defenders of the village rushed from the houses to join their regiments. Ours had become mingled with two or three others; and, when the reinforcing divisions halted before Kaya, we could scarcely find our places. The roll was called, and of our company but forty-two men remained; Furst and Leger were dead, but Zebede, Klipfel, and I were unhurt.

But, unluckily, the battle was not yet over, for the Prussians, flushed with victory, were already making their dispositions to attack us at Kaya; reinforcements were hurrying to them, and it seemed that, for so great a general, the Emperor had made a gross blunder in stretching his lines to Leipzig, and leaving us to be overpowered by an army of over a hundred thousand men.

As we were re-forming behind Brenier's division, eighteen thousand veterans of the Prussian guard charged up the hill, carrying the shakos of our killed on their bayonets in token of victory. Once more the fight began, the mass of Russian cavalry, which we had seen glittering in the sun in the morning, came down on our flank,—on the left, between Klein-Gorschen and Starsiedel,—but the Sixth corps had arrived in time to cover it, and stood the shock like a castle wall. Once more shouts, groans, the clashing of sabre against bayonet, the crash of musketry and thunder of cannon shook the sky, while the plain was hidden in a cloud of smoke, through which we could see the glitter of helmets, cuirasses, and thousands of lances.

We were retiring, when something passed along our front like a flash of lightning. It was Marshal Ney surrounded by his staff. I never saw such a countenance; his eyes sparkled and his lips trembled with rage. In a second's time he had dashed along the lines, and drew up in front of our columns. The retreat stopped at once; he called us on, and, as if led by a kind of fascination, we dashed on to meet the Prussians, cheering like madmen as we went. But the Prussian line stood firm; they fought hard to keep the victory they had won, and besides were constantly receiving reinforcements, while we were worn out with five hours' fighting.

Our battalion was now in the second line, and the enemy's shot passed over our heads; but a horrible din made my flesh creep; it was the rattling of the grape-shot among the bayonets.

In the midst of shouts, orders, and the whistling of bullets, we again began to fall back over heaps of dead; our first division re-entered Klein-Gorschen, and once more the fight was hand to hand. In the main street of the village nothing was seen or heard but shots and blows, and generals, mounted, fought sword in hand like private soldiers.

This lasted some minutes; we in the ranks, said, "all is well, all is well, now we are advancing;" but again they were reinforced, and we were obliged to continue our retreat, and unhappily in such haste that many did not stop until they reached Kaya. This village was on the ridge and the last before reaching Lutzen. It is a long, narrow lane of houses, separated from each other by little gardens, stables and bee-hives. If the enemy forced us to Kaya, our army was cut in two. I recalled the words of M. Goulden—"If unluckily the allies get the best of us, they will revenge themselves on us in our own country for all we have been doing to them the last ten years." The battle seemed irretrievably lost, for Marshal Ney himself, in the centre of a square, was retreating; and many soldiers, to get away from the melee, were carrying off wounded officers on their muskets. Everything looked gloomy, indeed.

I entered Kaya on the right of the village, leaping over hedges, and creeping under the fences which separated the gardens, and was turning the corner of a street, when I saw some fifty officers on the brow of a hill before me, and behind them masses of artillery galloping at full speed along the Leipzig road. Then I saw the Emperor himself, a little in advance of the others; he was seated, as if in an arm-chair, on his white horse, and I could see him well, beneath the clear sky, motionless and looking at the battle through his field-glass.

My heart beat gladly; I cried "Vive l'Empereur!" with all my strength, and rushed along the main street of Kaya. I was one of the first to enter, and I saw the inhabitants of the village, men, women, and children, hastening to the cellars for protection.

Many to whom I have related the foregoing have sneered at me for running so fast; but I can only reply that when Michel Ney retreated, it was high time for Joseph Bertha to do so too.

Klipfel, Zebede, Sergeant Pinto, and the others of the company had not yet arrived when masses of black smoke arose above the roofs; shattered tiles fell into the streets, and shot buried themselves an the walls, or crashed through the beams with a horrible noise.

At the same time, our soldiers rushed in through the lanes, over the hedges and fences, turning from time to time to fire on the enemy. Men of all arms were mingled, some without shakos or knapsacks, their clothes torn and covered with blood; but they retreated furiously, and were nearly all mere children, boys of fifteen or twenty; but courage is inborn in the French people.

The Prussians—led by old officers who shouted "Forwaerts! Forwaerts!"—followed like packs of wolves, but we turned and opened fire from the hedges, and fences, and houses. How many of them bit the dust I know not, but others always supplied the places of those who fell. Hundreds of balls whistled by our ears and flattened themselves on the stone walls; the plaster was broken from the walls, and the thatch hung from the rafters, and as I turned for the twentieth time to fire, my musket dropped from my hand; I stooped to lift it, but I fell too: I had received a shot in the left shoulder and the blood ran like warm water down my breast. I tried to rise, but all that I could do was to seat myself against the wall while the blood continued to run down even to my thighs, and I shuddered at the thought that I was to die there.

Still the fight went on.

Fearful that another bullet might reach me, I crawled to the corner of a house, and fell into a little trench which brought water from the street to the garden. My left arm was heavy as lead; my head swam; I still heard the firing, but it seemed a dream, and I closed my eyes.

When I again opened them, night was coming on, and the Prussians filled the village. In the garden, before me, was an old general, with white hair, on a tall brown horse. He shouted in a trumpet-like voice to bring on the cannon, and officers hurried away with his orders. Near him, standing on a little wall, two surgeons were bandaging his arm. Behind, on the other side, was a little Russian officer, whose plume of green feathers almost covered his hat. I saw all this at a glance—the old man with his large nose and broad forehead, his quick glancing eyes, and bold air; the others around him; the surgeon, a little bald man with spectacles, and five or six hundred paces away, between two houses, our soldiers re-forming.

The firing had ceased, but between Klein-Gorschen and Kaya terrible cries arose, and I could hear the heavy rumbling of artillery, neighing of horses, cries and shouts of drivers, and cracking of whips. Without knowing why, I dragged myself to the wall, and scarcely had I done so, when two sixteen pounders, each drawn by six horses, turned the corner of the street. The artillery-men beat the horses with all their strength, and the wheels rolled over the heaps of dead and wounded as if they were going over straw. Now I knew whence came the cries I had heard, and my hair stood on end with horror.

"Here!" cried the old man in German; "aim yonder, between those two houses near the fountain."

The two guns were turned at once; the old man, his left arm in a sling, cantered up the street, and I heard him say, in short, quick tones, to the young officer as he passed where I lay:

"Tell the Emperor Alexander that I am at Kaya. The battle is won if I am reinforced. Let them not discuss the matter, but send help at once. Napoleon is coming, and in half an hour we will have him upon us with his Guard. I will stand, let it cost what it may. But in God's name do not lose a minute, and the victory is ours!"

The young man set off at a gallop, and at the same moment a voice near me whispered:

"That old wretch is Bluecher. Ah, scoundrel! if I only had my gun!"

Turning my head, I saw an old sergeant, withered and thin, with long wrinkles in his cheeks, sitting against the door of the house, supporting himself with his hands on the ground, as with a pair of crutches, for a ball had passed through him from side to side. His yellow eyes followed the Prussian general; his hooked nose seemed to droop like the beak of an eagle over his thick mustache, and his look was fierce and proud.

"If I had my musket," he repeated, "I would show you whether the battle is won."

We were the only two living beings among heaps of dead.

I thought that perhaps I should be buried in the morning with the others, in the garden opposite us, and that I would never again see Catharine; the tears ran down my cheeks, and I could not help murmuring:

"Now all is indeed ended!"

The sergeant gazed at me and, seeing that I was yet so young, said kindly:

"What is the matter with you, conscript?"

"A ball in the shoulder, mon sergeant."

"In the shoulder! That is better than one through the body. You will get over it."

And after a moment's thought he continued:

"Fear nothing. You will see home again!"

I thought that he pitied my youth and wished to console me; but my chest seemed crushed, and I could not hope.

The sergeant said no more, only from time to time he raised his head to see if our columns were coming. He swore between his teeth and ended by falling at length upon the ground, saying:

"My business is done! But the villain has paid for it!"

He gazed at the hedge opposite, where a Prussian grenadier was stretched, cold and stiff, the old sergeant's bayonet yet in his body.

It might then have been six in the evening. The enemy filled all the houses, gardens, orchards, the main streets and the alleys. I was cold and had dropped my head forward upon my knees, when the roll of artillery called me again to my senses. The two pieces in the garden and many others posted behind them threw their broad flashes through the darkness, while Russians and Prussians crowded through the street. But all this was as nothing in comparison to the fire of the French, from the hill opposite the village, while the constant glare showed the Young Guard coming on at the double-quick, generals and colonels on horseback in the midst of the bayonets, waving their swords and cheering them on, while the twenty-four guns the Emperor had sent to support the movement thundered behind. The old wall against which I leaned shook to its foundations. In the street the balls mowed down the enemy like grass before the scythe. It was their turn to close up the ranks.

I also heard the enemy's artillery replying behind us, and I thought, "Heaven grant that the French win the day; then their suffering wounded will be taken care of, instead of these Prussians and Cossacks first looking after their own, and leaving us all to perish."

I paid no further attention to the sergeant, I only looked at the Prussian gunners loading their guns, aiming and firing them, cursing them all the time from the bottom of my heart, but all the time listening to the inspiring shouts of "Vive l'Empereur!" ringing out in the momentary silence between the reports of the guns.

In about twenty minutes the Russians and Prussians were forced to fall back; going in crowds by the narrow passage where we were; the shouts of "Vive l'Empereur!" grew nearer and nearer. The cannoneers at the pieces before me loaded and fired at their utmost speed, when three or four grape-shots fell among them and broke the wheel of one of their guns, besides killing two and wounding another of their men. I felt a hand seize my arm. It was the old sergeant. His eyes were glazing in death, but he laughed scornfully and savagely. The roof of our shelter fell in; the walls bent, but we cared not, we only saw the defeat of the enemy and heard the shouts of our men nearer and nearer, when the old sergeant gasped in my ear:

"Here he is!"

He rose to his knees, supporting himself with one hand, while with the other he waved his hat in the air, and cried in a ringing voice:

"Vive l'Empereur!"

Then he fell on his face to the earth and moved no more.

And I, raising myself too from the ground, saw Napoleon, riding calmly through the hail of shot—-his hat pulled down over his large head—his gray great-coat open, a broad red ribbon crossing his white vest—there he rode, calm and imperturbable, his face lit up with the reflection from the bayonets. None stood their ground before him; the Prussian artillerymen abandoned their pieces and sprang over the garden-hedge, despite the cries of their officers who sought to keep them back.



All this I saw—it seems graved with fire on my memory, but from that moment I can remember no more of the battle, for in that certainty of victory I lost consciousness and fell like a corpse in the midst of corpses.



XIV

When sense returned it was night and all was silent around. Clouds were scudding across the sky, and the moon shone down upon the abandoned village, the broken guns, and the pale upturned faces of the dead, as calmly as for ages she had looked on the flowing water, the waving grass, and the rustling leaves which fall in autumn. Men are but insects in the midst of creation; lives but drops in the ocean of eternity, and none so truly feel their insignificance as the dying.

I could not move from where I lay in the intensest pain. My right arm alone could I stir, and raising myself with difficulty upon my elbow, I saw the dead heaped along the street, their white faces shining like snow in the moonlight. The mouths and eyes of some were wide open, others lay on their faces, their knapsacks and cartridge-boxes on their backs and their hands grasping their muskets. The sight thrilled me with horror, and my teeth chattered.

I would have cried for help, but my voice was no louder than that of a sobbing child. But my feeble cry awoke others, and groans and shrieks arose on all sides. The wounded thought succor was coming, and all who could cried piteously. These cries lasted some time; then all was silent, and I only heard a horse neigh painfully on the other side of the hedge. The poor animal tried to rise, and I saw its head and long neck appear; then it fell again to the earth.

The effort I made reopened my wound, and again I felt the blood running down my arm. I closed my eyes to die, and the scenes of my early childhood, of my native village, the face of my poor mother as she sang me to sleep, my little room, with its alcove, our old dog Pommer with whom I used to play and roll over and over on the ground; my father as he came home gayly in the evening, his axe on his shoulder, and took me up in his strong arms to embrace me—all rose dreamily before me.

How little those parents thought that they were rearing their boy to die miserably far from friends, and home, and succor! How great would have been their desolation—what maledictions would they have poured on those who reduced him to such a state! Ah! if they were but there!—if I could have asked their forgiveness for all the pain I had given them! As these thoughts rushed over me the tears rolled down my cheeks; my heart heaved: I sobbed like a child.

Then Catharine, Aunt Gredel, and Monsieur Goulden passed before me. I saw their grief and fear when the news of the battle came. Aunt Gredel running to the post-office every day to learn something of me, and Catharine prayerfully awaiting her return, while Monsieur Goulden read in the gazette how the Third corps suffered more heavily than the others, as he paced the room with drooping head and at last sat dreamily at his work-bench. My heart was with them; it followed Aunt Gredel to the post-office, and returned with her all sadly to the village, and there it saw Catharine in her despairing grief.

Then the postman Roedig seemed to arrive at Quatre-Vents. He opened his leathern sack, and handed a large paper to Aunt Gredel, while Catharine stood pale as death beside her. It was the official notice of my death: I heard Catharine's heart-rending cries as she fell swooning to the ground, and Aunt Gredel's maledictions, as, with her gray hair streaming about her head, she cried that justice was no longer to be found—that it were better that we had never been born, since even God seemed to have abandoned us. Good Father Goulden came to console them, but could only sob too: all wept together in their desolation, crying:

"Joseph! Poor, poor Joseph!"

My heart seemed bursting.

The thought came that thirty or forty thousand families in France, in Russia, in Germany, were soon to receive the same news—news yet more terrible, for many of the wretches stretched on the battle-field had father and mother, and this was horrible to think of—it seemed as if a wail from all human kind were rising from earth to heaven.

Then I remembered those poor women of Phalsbourg, praying in the church when we heard of the retreat from Russia, and I understood how their hearts were torn. I thought that Catharine would soon go there, and year after year she would pray—thinking of me. Yes—for I knew we had loved each other from childhood, and that she could never forget me, and tear after tear coursed down my cheeks. This confidence soothed me in my grief—the certainty that she would preserve her love for me until age whitened her hair; that I should be ever before her eyes, and that she would never marry another.

Toward morning a shower began to fall, and the monotonous dropping on the roofs alone broke the silence. I thought of the good God, whose power and mercy are limitless, and I hoped that He would pardon my sins in consideration of my sufferings.

The rain filled the little trench in which I had been lying. From time to time a wall fell in the village, and the cattle, scared away by the battle, began to resume confidence and return. I heard a goat bleat in a neighboring stable. A great shepherd's dog wandered fearfully among the heaps of dead. The horse, seeing him, neighed in terror—he took him for a wolf—and the dog fled.

I remember all these details, for, when we are dying, we see everything, we hear everything, for we know that we are seeing and hearing our last.

But how my whole frame thrilled with joy when, at the corner of the street, I thought I heard the sound of voices! How eagerly I listened! And I raised myself upon my elbow, and called for help. It was yet night; but the first gray streak of day was becoming visible in the east, and afar off, through the falling rain, I saw a light in the fields, now coming onward, now stopping. I saw dark forms bending around it. They were only confused shadows. But others besides me saw the light; for on all sides arose groans and plaintive cries, from voices so feeble that they seemed like those of children calling their mothers.

What is this life to which we attach so great a price? This miserable existence, so full of pain and suffering? Why do we so cling to it, and fear more to lose it than aught else in the world? What is it that is to come hereafter that makes us shudder at the mere thought of death? Who knows? For ages and ages all have thought and thought on the great question, but none have yet solved it. I, in my eagerness to live, gazed on that light as the drowning man looks to the shore. I could not take my eyes from it, and my heart thrilled with hope. I tried again to shout, but my voice died on my lips. The pattering of the rain on the ruined dwellings, and on the trees, and on the ground, drowned all other sounds, and, although I kept repeating, "They hear us! They are coming!" and although the lantern seemed to grow larger and larger, after wandering for some time over the field, it slowly disappeared behind a little hill.

I fell once more senseless to the ground.



XV

When I returned to myself, I looked around. I was in a long hall, with posts all around. Some one gave me wine and water to drink, and it was most grateful. I was in a bed, and beside me was an old gray-mustached soldier, who, when he saw my eyes open, lifted up my head and held a cup to my lips.

"Well," said he cheerfully, "well! we are better."

I could not help smiling as I thought that I was yet among the living. My chest and arm were stiff with bandages; I felt as if a hot iron were burning me there; but no matter, I lived!

I gazed at the heavy rafters crossing the space above me; at the tiles of the roof, through which the daylight entered in more than one spot; I turned and looked to the other side, and saw that I was in one of those vast sheds used by the brewers of the country as a shelter for their casks and wagons. All around, on mattresses and heaps of straw, numbers of wounded lay ranged; and in the middle, on a large kitchen-table, a surgeon-major and his two aids, their shirt-sleeves rolled up, were amputating the leg of a soldier, who was shrieking in agony. Behind them was a mass of legs and arms. I turned away sick and trembling.

Five or six soldiers were walking about, giving bread and drink to the wounded.

But the man who impressed himself most on my memory was a surgeon with sleeves rolled up, who cut and cut without paying the slightest attention to what was going on around; he was a man with a large nose and wrinkled cheeks, and every moment flew into a passion at his assistants, who could not give him his knives, pincers, lint, or linen fast enough, or who were not quick enough sponging up the blood.

Things went on quickly, however, for in less than a quarter of an hour he had cut off two legs.

Without, against the posts, was a large wagon full of straw.

They had just laid out on the table a Russian carbineer, six feet in height at least; a ball had pierced his neck near the ear, and while the surgeon was asking for his little knives, a cavalry surgeon passed before the shed. He was short, stout, and badly pitted with the small-pox, and held a portfolio under his arm.

"Ha! Forel!" cried he, cheerfully.

"It is Duchene," said our surgeon, turning around. "How many wounded?"

"Seventeen to eighteen thousand."

"Aha! Well, how goes it this morning?"

"Passably—I am looking for a tavern."

Our surgeon left the shed to chat with his comrade; they conversed quietly, while the assistants sat down to drink a cup of wine, and the Russian rolled his eyes despairingly.

"See, Duchene; you have only to go down the street, opposite that well, do you see?"

"Very well indeed."

"Just opposite you will see the canteen."

"Very good; thank you; I am off."

He started, and our surgeon called after him:

"A good appetite to you, Duchene!"

Then he returned to his Russian, whose neck he laid open. He worked ill-humoredly, constantly scolding his aids.

"Be quick!" he said, "be quick!"

The Russian writhed and groaned, but he paid no attention to that, and at last, throwing the bullet upon the ground, he bandaged up the wound, and cried, "Carry him off!"

They lifted the Russian from the table, and stretched him on a mattress beside the others; then they laid his neighbor upon the table.

I could not think that such horrors took place in the world; but I was yet to see worse than this.

At five or six beds from mine sat an old corporal with his leg bound up. He closed one eye knowingly, and said to his neighbor, whose arm had just been cut off:

"Conscript, look at that heap! I will bet that you cannot recognize your arm."

The other, who had hitherto shown the greatest courage, looked, and fell back senseless.

Then the corporal began laughing, saying:

"He has recognized it. It is the lower one, with the little blue flower. It always produces that effect."

He looked around self-approvingly, but no one laughed with him.

Every moment the wounded called for water.

"Drink! Drink!"

When one began, all followed, and the old soldier had certainly conceived a liking for me, for each time he passed, he presented the cup.

I did not remain in the shed more than an hour. A dozen ambulances drew up before the door, and the peasants of the country round, in their velvet jackets, and large black slouched hats, their whips on their shoulders, held the horses by the reins. A picket of hussars arrived soon after, and their officer dismounting, entered and said:

"Excuse me, major, but here is an order to escort twelve wagons of wounded as far as Lutzen. Is it here that we are to receive them?"

"Yes, it is here," replied the surgeon.

The peasants and the ambulance-drivers, after giving us a last draught of wine, began carrying us to the wagons. As one was filled, it departed, and another advanced. I was in the third, seated on the straw, in the front row, beside a conscript of the Twenty-seventh, who had lost his right hand; behind was another who had lost a leg; then came one whose head was laid open, and another whose jaw was broken; so was the wagon filled.

They had given us our great-coats; but despite them and the sun, which was shining brightly, we shivered with cold, and left only our noses and forage-caps, or linen bandages on the splints visible. No one spoke; each was too much occupied thinking of himself.

At moments I was terribly cold; then flashes of heat would dart through me, and flush me as in a fever; and indeed it was the beginning of the fever. But as we left Kaya, I was yet well; I saw everything clearly, and it was not until we neared Leipzig that I felt indeed sick.

At last we were all placed in the wagons, and arranged according to our condition—those able to sit up, in the first that set out, the others stretched in the last, and we started. The hussars rode beside us, smoking and chatting, paying no attention to us.

In passing through Kaya, I saw all the horrors of war. The village was but a mass of cinders; the roofs had fallen, and the walls alone remained standing; the rafters were broken; we could see the remnants of rooms, stairs, and doors heaped within. The poor villagers, women, children, and old men, came and went with sorrowful faces. We could see them going up and down in their houses, as if they were in cages in the open air; and in one we saw a mirror and an evergreen branch, showing where dwelt a young girl in time of peace.

Ah! who could foresee that their happiness would so soon be destroyed, not by the fury of the winds or the wrath of heaven, but by the rage of man!

Even the cattle and pigeons seemed seeking their lost homes among the ruins; the oxen and the goats, scattered through the streets, lowed and bleated plaintively. Fowls were roosting upon the trees, and everywhere, everywhere we saw the traces of cannon-balls.

At the last house an old man with flowing white hair, sat at the threshold of what had been his cottage, with a child upon his knees, glaring on us as we passed. "Did he see us?" I do not know. His furrowed brow and stony eyes spoke of despair. How many years of labor, of patient economy, of suffering, had he passed to make sure a quiet old age! Now all was crushed, ruined; the child and he had no longer a roof to cover their heads.

And those great trenches—fully a mile of them—at which the country people were working in such haste, to keep the plague from completing the work war began! I saw them, too, from the top of the hill of Kaya, and turned away my eyes, horror-stricken. Russians, French, Prussians, were there heaped pell-mell, as if God had made them to love each other before the invention of arms and uniforms, which divide them for the profit of those who rule them. There they lay, side by side; and the part of them which could not die knew no more of war, but cursed the crimes that had for centuries kept them apart.

But what was sadder yet, was the long line of ambulances—bearing the agonized wounded—those of whom they speak so much in the bulletins to make the loss seem less, and who die by thousands in the hospitals, far from all they love; while at their homes cannon are firing, and church-bells are ringing with joyous chimes—rejoicing that thousands of men are slain!

At length we reach Lutzen, but it was so full of wounded that we were obliged to continue on to Leipzig. We saw in the streets only half-dead wretches, stretched on straw along the walls of the houses. It was more than an hour before we reached a church, where fifteen or twenty of us who could no longer proceed were left.

Our ambulance conductor and his men, after refreshing themselves at a tavern at the street corner, remounted, and we continued our journey to Leipzig.

I saw and heard no more; my head swam; a murmuring filled my ears, I thought trees were men, and an intolerable thirst burned my lips.

For a long while past, many in the wagons had been shrieking, calling upon their mothers, trying to rise and fling themselves upon the road. I know not whether I did the same; but I awoke as from a horrible dream, as two men seized me, each by a leg, placing their arms under my body, and carried me through a dark square. The sky seemed covered with stars, and innumerable lights shone from an immense edifice before us. It was the hospital of the market-place at Leipzig.

The two men who were carrying me ascended a spiral stairway which led to an immense hall where beds were laid together in three lines, so close that they touched each other. On one of these beds I was placed, in the midst of oaths, cries for pity, and muttered complaints from hundreds of fever-stricken wounded. The windows were open, and the flames of the lanterns flickered in the gusts of wind. Surgeons, assistants, and nurses with great aprons tied beneath their arms, came and went, while the groans from the halls below, and the rolling of ambulances, cracking of whips and neighing of horses without, seemed to pierce my very brain. While they were undressing me, they handled me roughly, and my wound pained me so horribly that I could not avoid shrieking. A surgeon came up at once, and scolded them for not being more careful. That is all I remember that night; for I became delirious, and raved constantly of Catharine, Monsieur Goulden, and Aunt Gredel, as my neighbor, an old artilleryman, whom my cries prevented from sleeping, afterward told me. I awoke the next morning at about eight o'clock, at the first roll of the drum, and saw the hall better, and then learned that I had the bone of my left shoulder broken. A dozen surgeons were around me; one of them, a stout, dark man, whom they called Monsieur the Baron, was opening my bandages, while an assistant at the foot of the bed held a basin of warm water. The baron examined my wound; all the others bent forward to hear what he might say. He spoke a few moments, but all that I could understand was, that the ball had struck from below, breaking the bone and passing out behind. I saw that he knew his business well, for the Prussians had fired from below, over the garden wall, so that the ball must have ranged upward. He washed the wound himself, and with a couple of turns of his hand, replaced the bandage, so that my shoulder could not move, and everything was in order.

I felt much better. Ten minutes after a hospital steward put a shirt on me without hurting me—such was his skill.

The surgeon, passing to another bed, cried:

"What! You here again, old fellow?"

"Yes; it is I, Monsieur the Baron," replied the artilleryman, proud to be recognized; "the first time was at Austerlitz, the second at Jena, and then I received two thrusts of a lance at Smolensk."

"Yes, yes," said the surgeon kindly; "and now what is the matter with you?"

"Three sabre-cuts on my left arm while I was defending my piece from the Prussian hussars."

The surgeon unwound the bandage, and asked,

"Have you the cross?"

"No, Monsieur the Baron."

"What is your name?"

"Christian Zimmer, of the Second horse artillery."

"Very good!"

He dressed the wounds, and went to the next, saying:

"You will soon be well."

He returned, chatting with the others, and went out after finishing his round and giving some orders to the nurses.

The old artilleryman's heart seemed overflowing with joy; and, as I concluded from his name that he came from Alsace, I spoke to him in our language, at which he was still more rejoiced. He was a tall fellow—at least six feet in height, with round shoulders, a flat forehead, large nose, light red mustaches, and was as hard as a rock, but a good man for all that. His eyes twinkled when I spoke Alsatian to him, and he pricked up his ears at once. If I asked him in our tongue he was willing to give me everything he had, but he had only a clasp of the hand, which cracked the bones in mine to give. He called me Josephel, as they did at home, and said:

"Josephel, be careful how you swallow the medicines they give you, only take what you know. All that does not smell good is good for nothing. If they would give us a bottle of Rikevir every day we would soon be well; but it is easier to spoil our digestion with a handful of vile boiled herbs, than to bring us a little of the good white wine of Alsace."

When I told him I was afraid of dying of the fever, he looked angry with his great gray eyes, and said:

"Josephel, you are a fool. Do you think that such tall fellows as you and I were born to die in a hospital? No, no; drive the idea from your head."

But he spoke in vain, for every morning the surgeons, making their rounds, found seven or eight dead. Some died in fevers, some in deadly chill; so that heat or cold might be the presage of death.

Zimmer said that all this proceeded from the evil drugs which the doctors invented. "Do you see that tall, thin fellow?" he asked. "Well, that man can boast of having killed more men than a field-piece; he is always primed, with his match lighted; and that little brown fellow—I would send him instead of the Emperor to the Russians and Prussians; he would kill more of them than a whole army corps."

He would have made me laugh with his jokes if the litters had not been constantly passing.

At the end of three weeks my shoulder began to heal, and Zimmer's wounds were also doing well. They gave us every morning some good boiled beef which warmed our hearts, and in the evening a little beef with half a glass of wine, the sight alone of which rejoiced us and made the future look hopeful.

About this time, too, they allowed us to walk in the large garden, full of elms, behind the hospital. There were benches under the trees, and we walked the paths like millionnaires in our gray great-coats and forage-caps. The weather was magnificent; and we could see far along the poplar bordered Partha. This river falls into the Elster, on the left, forming a long blue line. On the same side stretches a forest of beech trees, and in front are three or four great white roads, which cross fields of wheat, barley and hay, and hop plantations; no sight could be pleasanter, or richer, especially when the breeze falls upon it and these harvests rise and fall in the sunlight like waves of the sea. The increasing heat presaged a fine year and often, when looking at the beautiful scenery around, I thought of Phalsbourg, and the tears came to my eyes.

"I would like to know what makes you cry so, Josephel," said Zimmer. "Instead of catching a fever in the hospital, or losing a leg or arm, like hundreds of others, here we are quietly seated in the shade; we are well fed, and can smoke when we have any tobacco; and still you cry. What more do you want, Josephel?"

Then I told him of Catharine; of our walks at Quatre-Vents; of our promises; of all my former life, which then seemed a dream. He listened, smoking his pipe.

"Yes, yes," said he; "all this is very sad. Before the conscription of 1798, I too was going to marry a girl of our village, who was named Margredel, and whom I loved better than all the world beside. We had promised to marry each other, and all through the campaign of Zurich, I never passed a day without thinking of her. But when I first received a furlough and reached home, what did I hear? Margredel had been three months married to a shoemaker, named Passauf."

"You may imagine my wrath, Josephel; I could not see clearly; I wanted to demolish everything; and, as they told me that Passauf was at the Grand-Cerf brewery, thither I started, looking neither to the right nor left. There I saw him drinking with three or four rogues. As I rushed forward, he cried, 'There comes Christian Zimmer! How goes it, Christian? Margredel sends you her compliments.' He winked his eye. I seized a glass, which I hurled at his head, and broke to pieces, saying, 'Give her that for my wedding present, you beggar!' The others, seeing their friend thus maltreated, very naturally fell upon me. I knocked two or three of them over with a jug, jumped on a table, sprang through a window, and beat a retreat.

"'It was time,' I thought.

"But that was not all," he continued; "I had scarcely reached my mother's when the gendarmerie arrived, and they arrested me. They put me on a wagon and conducted me from brigade to brigade until we reached my regiment, which was at Strasbourg. I remained six weeks at Finckmatt, and would probably have received the ball and chain, if we had not had to cross the Rhine to Hohenlinden.

"The Commandant Courtaud himself said to me:

"'You can boast of striking a hard blow, but if you happen again to knock people over with jugs, it will not be well for you—I warn you. Is that any way to fight, animal? Why do we wear sabres, if not to use them and do our country honor?'

"I had no reply to make.

"From that day, Josephel, the thought of marriage never troubled me. Don't talk to me of a soldier who has a wife to think of. Look at our generals who are married, do they fight as they used to? No, they have but one idea, and that is to increase their store and to profit by their wealth by living well with their duchesses and little dukes at home. My grandfather Yeri, the forester, always said that a good hound should be lean, and I think the same of good generals and good soldiers. The poor fellows are always in working order, but our generals grow fat from their good dinners at home."

So spoke my friend Zimmer in the honesty of his heart, and all this did not lessen my sadness.

As soon as I could sit up, I hastened to inform Monsieur Goulden, by letter, that I was in the hospital of Halle, in one of the five buildings of Leipzig, slightly wounded in the arm, but that he need fear nothing for me, for I was growing better and better. I asked him to show my letter to Catharine and Aunt Gredel to comfort them in the midst of such fearful war. I told him, too, that my greatest happiness would be to receive news from home and of the health of all whom I loved.

From that moment I had no rest; every morning I expected an answer, and to see the postmaster distribute twenty or thirty letters in our ward, without my receiving one, almost broke my heart; I hurried to the garden and wept. There was a little dark corner where they threw broken pottery—a place buried in shade, which pleased me much, because no one ever came there—there I passed my time dreaming on an old moss-covered bench. Evil thoughts crossed my brain—I almost believed that Catharine could forget her promises, and I muttered to myself, "Ah! if you had not been picked up at Kaya! All would then have been ended! Why were you not abandoned? Better to have been, than to suffer thus!"

To such a pass did I finally arrive, that I no longer wished to recover, when one morning the letter-carrier, among other names, called that of Joseph Bertha. I lifted my hand without being able to speak, and a large, square letter, covered with innumerable post-marks, was handed me. I recognized Monsieur Goulden's handwriting, and turned pale.

"Well," said Zimmer, laughing, "it is come at last."

I did not answer, but thrust the letter in my pocket, to read it at leisure and alone. I went to the end of the garden and opened it. Two or three apple-blossoms dropped upon the ground, with an order for money, on which Monsieur Goulden had written a few words. But what touched me most was the handwriting of Catharine, which I gazed at without reading a word, while my heart beat as if about to burst through my bosom.

At last I grew a little calmer and read the letter slowly, stopping from time to time to make sure that I made no mistake—that it was indeed my dear Catharine who wrote, and that I was not in a dream.

I have kept that letter, because it brought, so to speak, life back to me. Here it is as I received it on the eighth day of June, 1813:

"MY DEAR JOSEPH:—I write you to tell you I yet love you alone, and that, day by day, I love you more.

"My greatest grief is to know that you are wounded, in a hospital, and that I cannot take care of you. Since the conscripts departed, we have not had a moment's peace of mind. My mother says I am silly to weep night and day, but she weeps as much as I, and her wrath falls heavily on Pinacle, who dared not come to the market-place, because she carried a hammer in her basket.

"But our greatest grief was when we heard that the battle had taken place, and that thousands of men had fallen; mother ran every morning to the post-office, while I could not move from the house. At last your letter came, thank heaven! to cheer us. Now I am better, for I can weep at my ease, thanking God that He has saved your life.

"And when I think how happy we used to be, Joseph—when you came every Sunday, and we sat side by side without stirring and thought of nothing! Ah! we did not know how happy we were; we knew not what might happen—but God's will be done. If you only recover! if we may only hope to be once again as happy as we were!

"Many people talk of peace, but the Emperor so loves war, that I fear it is far off.

"What pleases me most is to know that your wound is not dangerous, and that you still love me. Ah! Joseph, I will love you forever—that is all I can say. I can say it from the bottom of my heart; and I know my mother loves you too!

"Now, Monsieur Goulden wishes to say a few words to you, so I will close. The weather is beautiful here, and the great apple-tree in the garden is full of flowers; I have plucked a few, which I shall put in this letter when M. Goulden has written. Perhaps with God's blessing we shall yet eat together one of those large apples. Embrace me as I embrace you, Joseph, Farewell! Farewell!"

As I finished reading this, Zimmer arrived, and in my joy, I said:

"Sit down, Zimmer, and I will read you my sweetheart's letter. You will see whether she is a Margredel."

"Let me light my pipe first," he answered; and having done so, he added: "Go on, Josephel, but I warn you that I am an old bird, and do not believe all I hear; women are more cunning than we."

Notwithstanding this bit of philosophy, I read Catharine's letter slowly to him. When I had ended, he took it, and for a long time gazed at it dreamily, and then handed it back, saying:

"There! Josephel. She is a good girl, and a sensible one, and will never marry any one but you."

"Do you really think so?"

"Yes; you may rely upon her; she will never marry a Passauf. I would rather distrust the Emperor than such a girl."

I could have embraced Zimmer for these words; but I said:

"I have received a bill for one hundred francs. Now for some white wine of Alsace. Let us try to get out."

"That is well thought of," said he, twisting his mustache and putting his pipe in his pocket. "I do not like to mope in a garden when there are taverns outside. We must get permission."

We arose joyfully and went to the hospital, when, the letter-carrier, coming out, stopped Zimmer, saying:

"Are you Christian Zimmer, of the Second horse artillery?"

"I have that honor, monsieur the carrier."

"Well, here is something for you," said the other, handing him a little package and a large letter.

Zimmer was stupefied, never having received anything from home or from anywhere else. He opened the packet—a box appeared—then the box—and saw the cross of honor. He became pale; his eyes filled with tears, he staggered against a balustrade, and then shouted "Vive l'Empereur!" in such tones that the three halls rang and rang again.

The carrier looked on smiling.

"You are satisfied," said he.

"Satisfied! I need but one thing more."

"And what is that?"

"Permission to go to the city."

"You must ask Monsieur Tardieu, the surgeon-in-chief."

He went away laughing, while we ascended arm-in-arm, to ask permission of the surgeon-major, an old man, who had heard the "Vive l'Empereur!" and demanded gravely:

"What is the matter?"

Zimmer showed his cross and replied:

"Pardon, major; but I am more than usually merry."

"I can easily believe you," said Monsieur Tardieu; "you want a pass to the city?"

"If you will be so good; for myself and my comrade, Joseph Bertha."

The surgeon had examined my wound the day before. He took out his portfolio and gave us passes. We left as proud as kings—Zimmer of his cross, I, of my letter.

Downstairs in the great vestibule the porter cried:

"Hold on there! Where are you going?"

Zimmer showed him our passes, and we sallied forth, glad to breathe the free air, without, once more. A sentinel showed us the post-office, where I was to receive my hundred francs.

Then, more gravely, for our joy had sunk deeper in our hearts, we reached the gate of Halle about two musket shots to the left, at the end of a long avenue of lindens. Each faubourg is separated from the old ramparts only by these avenues, and all around Leipzig passes another very wide one, also bordered with lindens. The ramparts are very old—such as we see at Saint Hippolyte, on the upper Rhine,—crumbling, grass-grown walls; at least such they are if the Germans have not repaired them since 1813.



XVI

How much were we to learn that day! At the hospital no one troubled himself about anything: when every morning you see fifty wounded come in, and when every evening you see as many depart upon the bier, you have the world before you in a narrow compass, and you think—

"After us comes the end of the universe!"

But without, these ideas change. When I caught the first glimpse of the street of Halle,—that old city with its shops, its gateways filled with merchandise, its old peaked roofs, its heavy wagons laden with bales, in a word, all its busy commercial life,—I was struck with wonder; I had never seen anything like it, and I said to myself:

"This is indeed a mercantile city, such as they talk of—full of industrious people trying to make a living, or competence, or wealth; where every one seeks to rise, not to the injury of others, but by working—contriving night and day how to make his family prosperous; so that all profit by inventions and discoveries. Here is the happiness of peace in the midst of a fearful war!"

But the poor wounded, wandering about with their arms in slings, or perhaps dragging a leg after them as they limped on crutches, were sad sights to see.

I walked dreamily through the streets, led by Zimmer, who recognized every corner, and kept repeating:

"There—there is the church of Saint Nicholas; that large building is the university: that on yonder is the Hotel de Ville."

He seemed to remember every stone, having been there in 1807, before the battle of Friedland, and continued:

"We are the same here as if we were in Metz, or Strasbourg, or any other city in France. The people wish us well. After the campaign of 1806, they used to do all they could for us. The citizens would take three or four of us at a time to dinner with them. They even gave us balls and called us the heroes of Jena. Go where we would they everywhere received us as benefactors of the country. We named their elector King of Saxony, and gave him a good slice of Poland."

Suddenly he stopped before a little, low door and cried:

"Hold! Here is the Golden Sheep Brewery. The front is on the other street, but we can enter here. Come!"

I followed him into a narrow, winding passage which led to an old court, surrounded by rubble walls, with little moss-covered galleries under the roof and a weathercock upon the peak, as in the Tanner's Lane in Strasbourg. To the right was the brewery, and in a corner a great wheel, turned by an enormous dog, which pumped the beer to every story of the house.

The clinking of glasses was heard coming from a room which opened on the Rue de Tilly, and under the windows of this was a deep cellar resounding with the cooper's hammer. The sweet smell of the new March beer filled the air, and Zimmer, with a look of satisfaction, cried:

"Yes, here I came six years ago with Ferre and stout Rousillon. How glad I am to see it all again, Josephel! It was six years ago. Poor Rousillon! he left his bones at Smolensk last year! and Ferre must now be at home in his village near Toul, for he lost his left leg at Wagram. How everything comes back as I think of it!"

At the same time he pushed open the door, and we entered a lofty hall, full of smoke. I saw, through the thick, gray atmosphere, a long row of tables, surrounded by men drinking—the greater number in short coats and little caps, the remainder in the Saxon uniform. The first were students, young men of family who came to Leipzig to study law, medicine, and all that can be learned by emptying glasses and leading a jolly life, which they call Fuchs-commerce. They often fight among themselves with a sort of blade rounded at the point and only its tip sharpened, so that they slash their faces, as Zimmer told me, but life is never endangered. This shows the good sense of these students, who know very well that life is precious, and that one had better get five or six slashes, or even more, than lose it.

Zimmer laughed as he told me these things; his love of glory blinded him; he said they might as well load cannon with roasted apples, as fight with swords rounded at the point.

But we entered the hall, and we saw the oldest of the students—a tall withered-looking man with a red nose and long flaxen beard, stained with beer—standing upon a table, reading the gazette aloud which hung from his hand like an apron. He held the paper in one hand, and in the other a long porcelain pipe. His comrades, with their long, light hair falling upon their shoulders, were listening with the deepest interest; and as we entered, they shouted, "Vaterland! Vaterland!"

They touched glasses with the Saxon soldiers, while the tall student bent over to take up his glass, and the round, fat brewer cried:

"Gesundheit! Gesundheit!"

Scarcely had we made half a dozen steps toward them, when they became silent.

"Come, come, comrades!" cried Zimmer, "don't disturb yourselves. Go on reading. We do not object to hear the news."

But they did not seem inclined to profit by our invitation, and the reader descended from the table, folding up his paper, which he put in his pocket.

"We are done," said he, "we are done."

"Yes; we are done," repeated the others, looking at each other with a peculiar expression.

Two or three of the German soldiers rose and left the room, as if to take the air in the court. And the fat landlord said:

"You do not perhaps know that the large hall is on the Rue de Tilly?"

"Yes; we know it very well," replied Zimmer; "but I like this little hall better. Here I used to come, long ago, with two old comrades, to empty a few glasses in honor of Jena and Auerstadt. I know this room of old."

"Ah! as you please, as you please," returned the landlord. "Do you wish some March beer?"

"Yes; two glasses and the gazette."

"Very good."

The glasses were handed us, and Zimmer, who observed nothing, tried to open a conversation with the students; but they excused themselves, and, one after another, went out. I saw that they hated us, but dared not show it.

The gazette, which was from France, spoke of an armistice, after two new victories at Bautzen and Wurtschen. This armistice commenced on the sixth of June, and a conference was then being held at Prague, in Bohemia, to arrange on terms of peace. All this naturally gave me pleasure. I thought of again seeing home. But Zimmer, with his habit of thinking aloud, filled the hall with his reflections, and interrupted me at every line.

"An armistice!" he cried. "Do we want an armistice. After having beaten those Prussians and Russians at Lutzen, Bautzen and Wurtschen, ought we not to annihilate them? Would they give us an armistice if they had beaten us? There, Joseph, you see the Emperor's character—he is too good. It is his only fault. He did the same thing after Austerlitz, and he had to begin over again. I tell you, he is too good; and if he were not so, we should have been masters of Europe."

As he spoke, he looked around as if seeking assent; but the students scowled, and no one replied. At last Zimmer rose.

"Come, Joseph," said he; "I know nothing of politics, but I insist that we should give no armistice to those beggars. When they are down we should keep them there."

After we had paid our reckoning, and were once more in the street, he continued:

"I do not know what was the matter with those people to-day. We must have disturbed them in something."

"It is very possible," I replied. "They certainly did not seem like the good-natured folks you were speaking of."

"No," said he. "Those young fellows are far beneath the old students I have seen. They passed—I might say—their lives at the brewery. They drank twenty and sometimes thirty glasses a day; even I, Joseph, had no chance with such fellows. Five or six of them whom they called 'seniors' had gray beards and a venerable appearance. We sang Fanfan la Tulipe and 'King Dagobert' together, which are not political songs, you know. But these fellows are good for nothing."

I knew afterward, that those students were members of the Tugend-bund.

On returning to the hospital, after having had a good dinner and drank a bottle of wine apiece in the inn of La Grappe in the Rue de Tilly, we learned that we were to go, that same evening, to the barracks of Rosenthal—a sort of depot for wounded, near Lutzen, where the roll was called morning and evening, but where, at all other times, we were at liberty to do as we pleased. Every three days, the surgeon made his visit; as soon as one was well, he received his order to march to rejoin his corps.

One may imagine the condition of from twelve to fifteen hundred poor wretches clothed in gray great-coats with leaden buttons, shakos shaped like flower-pots, and shoes worn out by marches and counter-marches—pale, weak, most of them without a sou, in a rich city like Leipzig. We did not cut much of a figure among these students, these good citizens and smiling young women, who, despite our glory, looked on us as vagabonds.

All the fine stories of my comrade only made me feel my situation more bitterly.

It is true that we were formerly well received, but in those days our men did not always act honestly by those who treated them like brothers, and now doors were slammed in our faces. We were reduced to the necessity of contemplating squares, churches, and the outside of sausage-shops, which are there very handsome, from morning till night.

We tried every way of amusing ourselves; the idlers played at drogue[1], the younger ones drank. We had also a game called "Cat and Rat," which we played in front of the barracks. A stake was planted in the ground, to which two cords were fastened; the rat held one of these, and the cat the other. Their eyes were bandaged. The cat was armed with a cudgel and tried to catch the rat, who kept out of the way as much as he could, listening for the cat's approach—thus they kept going around on tiptoe, and exhibiting their cunning to the company.

[1] A game at cards, played among soldiers, in which the loser wears a forked stick on his nose till he wins again.

Zimmer told me that in former times the good Germans came in crowds to see this game, and you could hear them laugh half a league off when the cat touched the rat with his club. But times were indeed changed; every one passed by now without even turning their heads; we only lost our labor when we tried to interest them in our favor.

During the six weeks we remained at Rosenthal, Zimmer and I often wandered through the city to kill time. We went by way of the faubourg of Randstatt and pushed as far as Lindenau, on the road to Lutzen. There were nothing but bridges, swamps and wooded islets as far as the eye could reach. There we would eat an omelette with bacon at the tavern of the Carp, and wash it down with a bottle of white wine. They no longer gave us credit, as after Jena; I believe, on the contrary, that the innkeeper would have made us pay double and triple, for the honor of the German Fatherland, if my comrade had not known the price of eggs and bacon and wine as well as any Saxon among them.

In the evening, when the sun was setting behind the reeds of the Elster and the Pleisse, we returned to the city accompanied by the mournful notes of the frogs, which swarm in thousands in the marshes.

Sometimes we would stop with folded arms at the railing of a bridge and gaze at the old ramparts of Leipzig, its churches, its old ruins, and its castle of Pleissenbourg, all glowing in the red twilight. The city runs to a point where the Pleisse and the Partha branch off, and the rivers meet above. It is in the shape of a fan, the faubourg of Halle at the handle and the seven other faubourgs spreading off.[2] We gazed too at the thousand arms of the Elster and the Pleisse, winding like threads among islands already growing dark in the twilight, although the waters glittered like gold. All this seemed very beautiful.

[2] On the English map the river is the Rotha, not the Partha (or Parde), and at the point here alluded to it joins the Elster, not the Pleisse, as stated previously.—Translator's Note.

But if we had known that we would one day be forced to cross these rivers under the enemy's cannon, after having lost the most fearful and the bloodiest of battles, and that entire regiments would disappear beneath those waters, which then gladdened our eyes, I think that the sight would have made us sad enough.

At other times we would walk along the bank of the Pleisse as far as Mark-Kleeberg. It was more than a league, and every field was covered with harvests which they were hastening to garner. The people in their great wagons seemed not to see us, and if we asked for information they pretended not to understand us. Zimmer always grew angry. I held him back, telling him that the beggarly wretches only sought a pretext for falling upon us, and that we had, besides, orders to humor them.

"Very good!" he said; "but if the war comes this way, let them look out! We have overwhelmed them with benefits and this is how they receive us!"

But what shows better yet the ill-feeling of the people toward us was what happened us the day after the conclusion of the armistice, when, about eleven o'clock, we went together to bathe in the Elster. We had already thrown off our clothes, and Zimmer seeing a peasant approaching, cried:

"Holloa, comrade! Is there any danger here?"

"No. Go in boldly," replied the man. "It is a good place."

Zimmer, mistrusting nothing, went some fifteen feet out. He was a good swimmer, but his left arm was yet weak, and the strength of the current carried him away so quickly that he could not even catch the branches of the willows which hung over him; and were it not that he was carried to a ford, where he gained a footing, he would have been swept between two muddy islands, and certainly lost.

The peasant stood to see the effect of his advice. I was very angry, and dressed myself as quickly as I could, shaking my fist at him, but he laughed, and ran, quicker than I could follow him, to the city. Zimmer was wild with wrath, and wished to pursue him to Connewitz; but how could we find him among three or four hundred houses, and if we did find him, what could we do?

Finally we went into the water where there was footing, and its coolness calmed us.

I remember how, as we returned to Leipzig, Zimmer talked of nothing but vengeance.

"The whole country is against us!" cried he; "the citizens look black at us, the women turn their backs, the peasants try to drown us, and the innkeepers refuse us credit, as if we had not conquered them three or four times; and all this comes of our extraordinary goodness; we should have declared that we were their masters! We have granted to the Germans kings and princes; we have even made dukes, counts and barons with the names of their villages; we have loaded them with honors, and see their gratitude!

"Instead of having ordered us to respect the people, we should be given full power over them; then the thieves would change faces and treat us well, as they did in 1806. Force is everything. In the first place, conscripts are made by force, for if they were not forced to come, they would all stay at home. Of the conscripts soldiers are made by force—by discipline being taught them; with soldiers battles are gained by force, and then people are forced to give you everything: they prepare triumphal arches for you and call you heroes because they are afraid of you; that is how it is!

"But the Emperor is too good. If he were not so good I would not have been in danger of drowning to-day;—the sight of my uniform would have made that peasant tremble at the idea of telling me a lie."

So spoke Zimmer, and all this yet remains in my memory. It happened August 12, 1813.

Returning to Leipzig, we saw joy painted on the countenances of the inhabitants. It did not display itself openly; but the citizens, meeting, would shake hands with an air of huge satisfaction, and the general rejoicing glistened even in the eyes of servants and the poorest workmen.

Zimmer said: "These Germans seem to be merry about something, they all look so good-natured."

"Yes," I replied; "their good humor comes from the fine weather and good harvest."

It was true the weather was very fine, but when we reached the barracks, we found some of our officers at the gate, talking eagerly together, while those who were going by came up to listen, and then we learned the cause of so much joy. The conference at Prague was broken off, and Austria, too, was about to declare war against us, which gave us two hundred thousand more men to take care of. I have learned since that we then stood three hundred thousand men against five hundred and twenty thousand, and that among our enemies were two old French generals, Moreau and Bernadotte. Every one can read that in books, but we did not yet know it, and we were sure of victory, for we had never lost a battle. The ill-feeling of the people did not trouble us: in time of war peasants and citizens are in a manner reckoned as nothing; they are only asked for money and provisions, which they always give, for they know that if they made the least resistance they would be stripped to the last farthing.

The day after we got this important news there was a general inspection, and twelve hundred of the wounded of Lutzen were ordered to rejoin their corps. They went by companies with arms and baggage, some following the road to Altenbourg, which runs along the Elster, and some the road to Wurtzen, farther to the left.

Zimmer was of the number, having himself asked leave to go. I went with him just beyond the gate, and there we embraced with emotion. I stayed behind, as my arm was still weak.

We were now not more than five or six hundred, among whom were a number of masters of arms, of teachers of dancing and French elegance—fellows to be found at all depots of wounded. I did not care to become acquainted with them, and my only consolation was in thinking of Catharine, and sometimes of my old comrades Klipfel and Zebede, of whom I received no tidings.

It was a sad enough life; the people looked upon us with an evil eye; they dared say nothing, knowing that the French army was only four days' march away, and Bluecher and Schwartzenberg much farther. Otherwise, how soon they would have fallen upon us!

One evening the rumor prevailed that we had just won a great victory at Dresden. There was general consternation; the inhabitants remained shut up in their houses. I went to read the newspaper at the "Bunch of Grapes," in the Rue de Tilly. The French papers were there always on the table; no one opened them but me.

But the following week, at the beginning of September, I saw the same change in people's faces as I observed the day the Austrians declared against us. I guessed we had met some misfortune, and we had, as I learned afterward, for the Paris papers said nothing of it.

Bad weather set in at the end of August, and the rain fell in torrents. I no longer left the barracks. Often, as seated upon my bed, I gazed at the Elster boiling beneath the falling floods, and the trees, and the little islands swaying in the wind, I thought: "Poor soldiers! poor comrades! What are you doing now? Where are you? On the high road perhaps, or in the open fields!"

And despite my sadness at living where I was, I remembered that I was less to be pitied than they. But one day the old Surgeon Tardieu made his round and said to me:

"Your arm is strong again—let us see—raise it for me. All right! all right!"

The next day at roll-call, they passed me into a hall where there were clothing, knapsacks, cartridge-boxes and shoes in abundance. I received a musket, two packets of cartridges, and marching papers for the Sixth at Gauernitz, on the Elbe. This was the first of October. Twelve or fifteen of us set out together, under charge of a quartermaster of the Twenty-seventh named Poitevin.

On the road, one after another left us to take the way to his corps; but Poitevin, four infantry men and I, kept on to the village of Gauernitz.



XVII

We were following the Wurtzen high road, our muskets slung on our backs, our great-coat capes turned up, bending beneath our knapsacks, and feeling down-hearted enough, as you may imagine. The rain was falling, and ran from our shakos down our necks; the wind shook the poplars, and their yellow leaves, fluttering around us, told of the approach of winter. So hour after hour passed.

From time to time, at long intervals, we came upon a village with its sheds, dunghills and gardens, surrounded with palings. The women standing behind their windows, with little dull panes, gazed at us as we went by; a dog bayed; a man splitting wood at his threshold turned to follow us with his eyes, and we kept on, on, splashed and muddied to our necks. We looked back; from the end of the village the road stretched on as far as one could see; gray clouds trailed along the despoiled fields, and a few lean rooks were flying away, uttering their melancholy cry.

Nothing could be sadder than such a view; and to it was added the thought that winter was coming on, and that soon we must sleep without a roof, in the snow. We might well be silent, as we were, save the quartermaster Poitevin. He was a veteran,—sallow, wrinkled, with hollow cheeks, mustaches an ell long, and a red nose, like all brandy drinkers. He had a lofty way of speaking, which he interspersed with barrack slang. When the rain came down faster than ever, he cried, with a strange burst of laughter: "Ay, ay, Poitevin, this will teach you to hiss!" The old drunkard perceived that I had a little money in my pocket, and kept near me, saying: "Young man, if your knapsack tires you, hand it to me." But I only thanked him for his kindness.

Notwithstanding my disgust at being with a man who gazed at every tavern sign when we passed through a village, and said at each one: "A little glass of something would do us good as the time passes," I could not help paying for a glass now and then, so that he did not quit me.

We were nearing Wurtzen and the rain was falling in torrents, when the quartermaster cried for the twentieth time:

"Ay, Poitevin! Here is life for you! This will teach you to hiss!"

"What sort of a proverb is that of yours?" I asked; "I would like to know how the rain would teach you to hiss."

"It is not a proverb, young man; it is an idea which runs in my head when I try to be cheerful."

Then, after a moment's pause, he continued:

"You must know," said he, "that in 1806, when I was a student at Rouen, I happened once to hiss a piece in the theatre, with a number of other young fellows like myself. Some hissed, some applauded; blows were struck, and the police carried us by dozens to the watch-house. The Emperor, hearing of it, said: 'Since they like fighting so much, put them in my armies! There they can gratify their tastes!' And, of course, the thing was done; and no one dared hiss in that part of the country, not even fathers and mothers of families."

"You were a conscript, then?" I asked.

"No, my father had just bought me a substitute. It was one of the Emperor's jokes; one of those jokes which we long remember; twenty or thirty of us are dead of hardship and want. A few others, instead of filling honorable positions in their towns, such as doctors, judges, lawyers, have become old drunkards. This is what is called a good joke!"

Then he began to laugh, looking at me from the corner of his eye. I had become very thoughtful, and two or three times more, before we reached Gauernitz, I paid for the poor wretch's little glasses of something.

It was about five o'clock in the evening, and we were approaching the village of Risa, when we descried an old mill, with its wooden bridge, over which a bridle-path ran. We struck off from the road and took this path, to make a short cut to the village, when we heard cries and shrieks for help, and, at the same moment, two women, one old, and the other somewhat younger, ran across a garden, dragging two children with them. They were trying to gain a little wood which bordered the road, and at the same moment we saw several of our soldiers come out of the mill with sacks, while others came up from a cellar with little casks, which they hastened to place on a cart standing near; still others were driving cows and horses from a stable, while an old man stood at the door, with uplifted hands, as if calling down Heaven's curse upon them; and five or six of the evil-minded wretches surrounded the miller, who was all pale, with his eyes starting from their sockets.

The whole scene, the mill, the dam, the broken windows, the flying women, our soldiers in fatigue caps, looking like veritable bandits, the old man cursing them, the cows shaking their heads to throw off those who were leading them, while others pricked them behind with their bayonets—all seems yet before me—I seem yet to see it.

"There," cried the quartermaster, "there are fellows pillaging. We are not far from the army."

"But that is horrible!" I cried. "They are robbers."

"Yes," returned the quartermaster, coolly; "it is contrary to discipline, and if the Emperor knew of it, they would be shot like dogs."

We crossed the little bridge, and found the thieves crowded around a cask which they had tapped, passing around the cup. This sight roused the quartermaster's indignation, and he cried majestically:

"By whose permission are you plundering in this way?"

Several turned their heads, but seeing that we were but three, for the rest of our party had gone on, one of them replied:

"Ha! what do you want, old joker? A little of the spoil, I suppose. But you need not curl up your mustaches on that account. Here, drink a drop."

The speaker held out the cup, and the quartermaster took it and drank, looking at me as he did so.

"Well, young man," said he, "will you have some, too? It is famous wine, this."

"No, I thank you," I replied.

Several of the pillaging party now cried:

"Hurry, there; it is time to get back to camp."

"No, no," replied others; "there is more to be had here."

"Comrades," said the quartermaster, in a tone of gentle reproof and warning, "you know, comrades, you must go gently about it."

"Yes, yes, old fellow," replied a drum-major, with half-closed eyes, and a mocking smile; "do not be alarmed; we will pluck the pigeon according to rule. We will take care; we will take care."

The quartermaster said no more, but seemed ashamed on my account. He at length said:

"What would you have, young man? War is war. One cannot see himself starving, with food at hand."

He was afraid I would report him; he would have remained with the pillagers, but for the fear of being captured. I replied, to relieve his mind:

"Those are probably good fellows, but the sight of a cup of wine makes them forget everything."

At length, about ten o'clock at night, we saw the bivouac fires, on a gloomy hill-side to the right of the village of Gauernitz, and of an old castle from which a few lights also shone. Farther on, in the plain, a great number of other fires were burning. The night was clear, and as we approached the bivouac, the sentry challenged:

"Who goes there?"

"France!" replied the quartermaster.

My heart beat, as I thought that, in a few moments, I should again meet my old comrades, if they were yet in the world.

Some men of the guard came forward from a sort of shed, half a musket-shot from the village, to find out who we were. The commandant of the post, a gray-haired sub-lieutenant, his arm in a sling under his cloak, asked us whence we came, whither we were going, and whether we had met any parties of Cossacks on our route. The quartermaster answered his questions. The lieutenant informed us that Souham's division had that morning left Gauernitz, and ordered us to follow him, that he might examine our marching-papers; which we did in silence, passing among the bivouac fires, around which men, covered with dried mud, were sleeping, in groups of twenty. Not one moved.

We arrived at the officers' quarters. It was an old brick-kiln, with an immense roof, resting on posts driven into the ground. A large fire was burning in it, and the air was agreeably warm. Around it soldiers were sleeping, with a contented look, their backs against the wall; the flames lighted up their figures under the dark rafters. Near the posts shone stacks of arms. I seem yet to see these things; I feel the kindly warmth which penetrated me. I see my comrades, their clothes smoking, a few paces from the kiln, where they were gravely waiting until the officer should have finished reading the marching-papers, by the dim, red light. One bronzed old veteran watched alone, seated on the ground, and mending a shoe with a needle and thread.

The officer handed me back my paper first, saying:

"You will rejoin your battalion to-morrow, two leagues hence, near Torgau."

Then the old soldier, looking at me, placed his hand upon the ground, to show that there was room beside him, and I seated myself. I opened my knapsack, and put on new stockings and shoes, which I had brought from Leipzig, after which I felt much better.

The old man asked:

"You are rejoining your corps?"

"Yes; the Sixth at Torgau."

"And you came from?"——

"The hospital at Leipzig."

"That is easily seen," said he; "you are fat as a beadle. They fed you on chickens down there, while we were eating cow-beef."

I looked around at my sleeping neighbors. He was right; the poor conscripts were mere skin and bone. They were bronzed as veterans, and scarcely seemed able to stand.

The old man, in a moment, continued his questions:

"You were wounded?"

"Yes, veteran, at Lutzen."

"Four months in the hospital!" said he, whistling; "what luck! I have just returned from Spain, flattering myself that I was going to meet the Kaiserliks of 1807 once more—sheep, regular sheep—but they have become worse than guerillas. Everything goes to the bad."

He said the most of this to himself, without paying much attention to me, all the while sewing his shoe, which from time to time he tried on, to be sure that the sewn part would not hurt his foot. At last he put the thread in his knapsack, and the shoe upon his foot, and stretched himself upon a truss of straw.

I was too fatigued to sleep at once, and for an hour lay awake.

In the morning I set out again with the quartermaster Poitevin, and three other soldiers of Souham's division. Our route lay along the bank of the Elbe; the weather was wet and the wind swept fiercely over the river, throwing the spray far on the land.

We hastened on for an hour, when suddenly the quartermaster cried:

"Attention!"

He had halted suddenly, and stood listening. We could hear nothing but the sighing of the wind through the trees, and the splash of the waves; but his ear was finer than ours.

"They are skirmishing yonder," said he, pointing to a wood on our right. "The enemy may be near us, and the best thing we can do is to enter the wood and pursue our way cautiously. We can see at the other end of it what is going on; and if the Prussians or Russians are there, we can beat a retreat without their perceiving us. If they are French, we will go on."

We all thought the quartermaster was right; and, in my heart, I admired the shrewdness of the old drunkard. We kept on toward the wood, Poitevin leading, and the others following, with our pieces cocked. We marched slowly, stopping every hundred paces to listen. The shots grew nearer; they were fired at intervals, and the quartermaster said:

"They are sharp-shooters reconnoitring a body of cavalry, for the firing is all on one side."

It was true. In a few moments we perceived, through the trees, a battalion of French infantry about to make their soup, and in the distance, on the plain beyond, platoons of Cossacks defiling from one village to another. A few skirmishers along the edge of the wood were firing on them, but they were almost beyond musket-range.

"There are your people, young man," said Poitevin. "You are at home."

He had good eyes to read the number of a regiment at such a distance. I could only see ragged soldiers with their cheeks and famine-glistening eyes. Their great-coats were twice too large for them, and fell in folds along their bodies like cloaks. I say nothing of the mud; it was everywhere. No wonder the Germans were exultant, even after our victory at Dresden.

We went toward a couple of little tents, before which three or four horses were nibbling the scanty grass. I saw Colonel Lorain, who now commanded the Third battalion—a tall, thin man, with brown mustaches and a fierce air. He looked at me frowningly, and when I showed my papers, only said:

"Go and rejoin your company."

I started off, thinking that I would recognize some of the Fourth; but, since Lutzen, companies had been so mingled with companies, regiments with regiments, and divisions with divisions, that, on arriving at the camp of the grenadiers, I knew no one. The men seeing me approach, looked distrustfully at me, as if to say:

"Does he want some of our beef? Let us see what he brings to the pot!"

I was almost ashamed to ask for my company, when a bony veteran, with a nose long and pointed like an eagle's beak, and a worn-out coat hanging from his shoulders, lifting his head, and gazing at me, said quietly:

"Hold! It is Joseph. I thought he was buried four months ago."

Then I recognized my poor Zebede. My appearance seemed to affect him, for, without rising, he squeezed my hand, crying:

"Klipfel! here is Joseph!"

Another soldier, seated near a pot, turned his head, saying:

"It is you, Joseph, is it? Then you were not killed."

This was all my welcome. Misery had made them so selfish that they thought only of themselves. But Zebede was always good-hearted; he made me sit near him, throwing a glance at the others that commanded respect, and offered me his spoon, which he had fastened to the button-hole of his coat. I thanked him, and produced from my knapsack a dozen sausages, a good loaf of bread, and a flask of brandy, which I had the foresight to purchase at Risa. I handed a couple of the sausages to Zebede, who took them with tears in his eyes. I was also going to offer some to the others; but he put his hand on my arm, saying:

"What is good to eat is good to keep."

We retired from the circle and ate, drinking at the same time; the rest of the soldiers said nothing, but looked wistfully at us. Klipfel, smelling the sausages, turned and said:

"Holloa! Joseph! Come and eat with us. Comrades are always comrades, you know."

"That is all very well," said Zebede; "but I find meat and drink the best comrades."

He shut up my knapsack himself, saying:

"Keep that, Joseph. I have not been so well regaled for more than a month. You shall not lose by it."

A half-hour after, the recall was beaten; the skirmishers came in, and Sergeant Pinto, who was among the number, recognized me, and said:

"Well; so you have escaped! But you came back in an evil moment! Things go wrong—wrong!"

The colonel and commandants mounted, and we began moving. The Cossacks withdrew. We marched with arms at will; Zebede was at my side and related all that passed since Lutzen; the great victories of Bautzen and Wurtschen; the forced marches to overtake the retreating enemy; the march on Berlin; then the armistice, during which we were encamped in the little towns; then the arrival of the veterans of Spain—men accustomed to pillaging and living on the peasantry.

Unfortunately, at the close of the armistice all were against us. The country people looked on us with horror; they cut the bridges down, and kept the Russians and Prussians informed of all our movements, and whenever any misfortune happened us, instead of helping us, they tried to force us deeper in the mire. The great rains came to finish us, and the day of the battle of Dresden it fell so heavily that the Emperor's hat hung down upon his shoulders. But when victorious, we only laughed at these things; we felt warm just the same, and we could change our clothes. But the worst of all was when we were beaten, and flying through the mud—hussars, dragoons, and such gentry on our tracks,—we not knowing when we saw a light in the night whether to advance or to perish in the falling deluge.

Zebede told me all this in detail; how, after the victory of Dresden, General Vandamme, who was to cut off the retreat of the Austrians, had penetrated to Kulm in his ardor; and how those whom we had beaten the day before fell upon him on all sides, front, flank, and rear, and captured him and several other generals, utterly destroying his corps d'armee. Two days before, on the 26th of August, a similar misfortune happened to our division, as well as to the Fifth, Sixth, and Eleventh corps on the heights of Lowenberg. We should have crushed the Prussians there, but by a false movement of Marshal Macdonald, the enemy surprised us in a ravine with our artillery in confusion, our cavalry disordered, and our infantry unable to fire owing to the pelting rain; we defended ourselves with the bayonet, and the Third battalion made its way, in spite of the Prussian charges, to the river Katzbach. There Zebede received two blows on his head from the butt of a grenadier's musket, and was thrown into the river. The current bore him along, while he held Captain Arnauld by the arm; and both would have been lost, if by good luck the captain in the darkness of the night had not seized the overhanging branch of a tree on the other side, and thus managed to regain the bank. He told me how all that night, despite the blood that flowed from his nose and ears, he had marched to the village of Goldberg, almost dead with hunger, fatigue, and his wounds, and how a joiner had taken pity upon him and given him bread, onions, and water. He told me how, on the day following, the whole division, followed by the other corps, had marched across the fields, each one taking his own course, without orders, because the marshals, generals, and all mounted officers had fled as far as possible, in the fear of being captured. He assured me that fifty hussars could have captured them, one after another; but that by good fortune, Bluecher could not cross the flooded river, so that they finally rallied at Wolda, where the drummers of every corps beat the march for their regiments at all the corners of the village. By this means every man extricated himself and followed his own drum.

But the happiest thing in this rout was, that a little farther on, at Buntzlau, their officers met them, surprised at yet having troops to lead. This was what my comrade told me, to say nothing of the distrust which we were obliged to have of our allies, who at any moment might fall on us unprepared to receive them. He told me how Marshal Oudinot and Marshal Ney had been beaten: the first at Gross-Beeren, and the other at Dennewitz. This was sad indeed, for in these retreats the conscripts died from exhaustion, sickness and every kind of hardship. The veterans of Spain and Germany, hardened by bad weather, could alone resist such fatigue.

"In a word," said Zebede, "we had everything against us—the country, the continual rains, and our own generals, who were weary of all this. Some of them are dukes and princes, and grow tired of being forever in the mud instead of being seated in comfortable arm-chairs; and others, like Vandamme, are impatient to become marshals, by performing some grand stroke. We poor wretches, who have nothing to gain but being crippled the rest of our days, and who are the sons of peasants and workingmen who fought to get rid of one nobility, must perish to create a new one!"

I saw then that the poorest, the most miserable are not always the most foolish, and that through suffering they come at last to see the sorrowful truth. But I said nothing, and I prayed God to give me strength and courage to support the hardships the coming of which these faults and this injustice foretold.

We were between three armies, who were uniting to crush us; that of the north, commanded by Bernadotte; that of Silesia, commanded by Bluecher; and the army of Bohemia, commanded by Schwartzenberg. We believed at one time we were going to cross the Elbe, to fall on the Prussians and Swedes; at another, that we were about attacking the Austrians toward the mountains as we had done fifty times in Italy and other places. But they ended by understanding our movements, and when we seemed to approach, they retired. They feared the Emperor especially, but he could not be at once in Bohemia and Silesia, and so we were forced to make horrible marches and countermarches.

All that the soldiers asked, was to fight, for through marching and sleeping in the mud, half rations and vermin had made their lives a misery. Each one prayed that all this might end one way or the other. It was too much for human endurance; it could not last.

I, myself, at the end of a few days, was weary of such a life; my legs could scarcely support me, and I grew leaner and leaner.

Every night we were disturbed by a beggar named Thielmann, who raised the peasantry against us; he followed us like a shadow; watched us from village to village, on the heights, on the roads, in the valleys; his army were all who bore us a grudge, and he had always men enough.

It was about this time, too, that the Bavarians, the Badeners, and the Wurtembergers declared against us, so that all Europe was upon us.

At length we had the consolation of seeing that the army was collecting as for a great battle; instead of meeting Platow's Cossacks and Thielmann's partisans in the neighborhood of villages, we found hussars, chasseurs, dragoons from Spain, artillery, pontoon trains on the march. The rain still fell in floods; those who could no longer drag themselves along sat down in the mud at the foot of a tree and abandoned themselves to their unhappy fate.

The eleventh of October we bivouacked near the village of Lousig; the twelfth near Graffenheinichen; the thirteenth we crossed the Mulda, and saw the Old Guard defile across the bridge, and La-Tour-Maubourg. It was announced that the Emperor crossed too, but we departed with Dombrowski's division and Souham's corps.

At moments the rain would cease falling and a ray of autumn sun shine out from between the clouds, and then we could see the whole army marching; cavalry and infantry advancing from all sides, on Leipzig. On the other side of the Mulda glittered the bayonets of the Prussians; but we yet saw no Austrians and Russians: they doubtless came from other directions.

On the fourteenth of October, our battalion was detached to reconnoitre the village of Aaken. The enemy were in force there, and received us with a scattering artillery fire, and we remained all night without being able to light a fire, on account of the pouring rain. The next day we set out to rejoin our division by forced marches. Every one said, I know not why:

"The battle is approaching! the fight is coming on!"

Sergeant Pinto declared that he felt the Emperor in the air. I felt nothing, but I knew that we were marching on Leipzig, and I thought to myself, "If we have a battle, God grant that you do not get an ugly hurt as at Lutzen, and that you may see Catharine again!" The night following the weather cleared up a little, thousands of stars shone out, and we still kept on. The next day, about ten o'clock, near a village whose name I cannot recollect, we were ordered to halt, and then we felt a trembling in the air. The colonel and Sergeant Pinto said:

"The battle has begun!" and at the same moment, the colonel, waving his sword, cried: "Forward!"

We started at a run; knapsacks, cartouche-boxes, muskets, mud, all drove on; we cared for nothing. Half an hour after we saw, a few thousand paces ahead, a long column, in which followed artillery, cavalry, and infantry, one after the other; behind us, on the road to Duben, we saw another, all pushing forward at their utmost speed. Regiments even advancing at the double quick across the fields.

At the end of the road we could see the two spires of the churches of Saint Nicholas and Saint Thomas in Leipzig, piercing the sky, while to the right and left, on both sides of the city, rose great clouds of smoke through which broad flashes were darting. The noise increased; we were yet more than a league from the city, but we were forced to almost shout to hear each other, and men gazed around, pale as death, seeming by their looks to say:

"This is indeed a battle?"

Sergeant Pinto cried that it was worse than Eylau. He laughed no more, nor did Zebede; but on, on we rushed, officers incessantly urging us forward. We seemed to grow delirious; the love of country was indeed striving within us, but still greater was the furious eagerness for the fight.

At eleven o'clock we descried the battle-field about a league in front of Leipzig. We saw the steeples and roofs crowded with people, and the old ramparts on which I had walked so often, thinking of Catharine. Opposite us, twelve or fifteen hundred yards distant, two regiments of red lancers were drawn up, and a little to the left, two or three regiments of mounted chasseurs in the fields along the Partha, and between them filed the long column from Duben. Farther on, along the slope, were the divisions Ricard, Dombrowski, Souham, and several others, with their rear to the city; cannons limbered, with their caissons—the cannoneers and artillerymen on horseback—stood ready to start off; and far behind, on a hill, around one of those old farmhouses with flat roofs and immense outlying sheds, so often seen in that country, glittered the brilliant uniforms of the staff.

It was the army of reserve, commanded by Ney. His left wing communicated with Marmont, who was posted on the road to Halle, and his right with the grand army, commanded by the Emperor in person. In this manner our troops formed an immense circle around Leipzig; and the enemy, arriving from all points, sought to join their divisions so as to form a yet larger circle around us, and to inclose us in Leipzig as in a trap.

While we waited thus, three fearful battles were going on at once: one against the Austrians and Russians at Wachau; another against the Prussians at Mockern on the road to Halle; and the third on the road to Lutzen, to defend the bridge of Lindenau, attacked by General Giulay.

These things I learned afterward; but every one ought to tell what he saw himself: in this way the world will know the truth.



XVIII

The battalion was commencing to descend the hill, opposite Leipzig, to rejoin our division, when we saw a staff-officer crossing the plain below, and coming at full gallop toward us. In two minutes he was with us; Colonel Lorain had spurred forward to meet him; they exchanged a few words, and the officer returned. Hundreds of others were rushing over the plain in the same manner, bearing orders.

"Head of column to the right!" shouted the colonel.

We took the direction of a wood, which skirts the Duben road some half a league. It was a beech forest, but in it were birches and oaks. Once at its borders, we were ordered to re-prime our guns, and the battalion was deployed through the wood as skirmishers. We advanced twenty-five paces apart, and each of us kept his eyes well opened, as may be imagined. Every minute Sergeant Pinto would cry out:

"Get under cover!"

But he did not need to warn us: each one hastened to take his post behind a stout tree, to reconnoitre well before proceeding to another. To what dangers must peaceable people be exposed! We kept on in this manner some ten minutes, and, as we saw nothing, began to grow confident, when suddenly, one, two, three shots rang out. Then they came from all sides, and rattled from end to end of our line. At the same instant I saw my comrade on the left fall, trying, as he sank to the earth, to support himself by the trunk of the tree behind which he was standing. This roused me. I looked to the right and saw, fifty or sixty paces off, an old Prussian soldier, with his long red mustaches covering the lock of his piece; he was aiming deliberately at me. I fell at once to the ground, and at the same moment heard the report. It was a close escape, for the comb, brush, and handkerchief in my shako were broken and torn by the bullet. A cold shiver ran through me.

"Well done! a miss is as good as a mile!" cried the old sergeant, starting forward at a run, and I, who had no wish to remain longer in such a place, followed with right good-will.

Lieutenant Bretonville, waving his sabre, cried, "Forward!" while, to the right, the firing still continued. We soon arrived at a clearing, where lay five or six trunks of felled trees, and a little lake full of high grass, but not a tree standing, that might serve us for a cover. Nevertheless, five or six of our men advanced boldly, when the sergeant called out:

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