by Emile Erckmann
HISTORICAL ROMANCES OF FRANCE
A STORY OF THE FRENCH WAR OF 1813
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH OF
Instead of following Madame Thérèse with stories celebrating the
victories of Napoleon and thus appealing to their compatriots' love of
glory and military illusions, MM. Erckmann-Chatrian take up next the
tragic and far more significant story of 1812-13. With The Conscript
begins their long, sustained, and eloquent sermon against war and
war-wagersthe exordium, so to say, of their arraignment of Napoleon
for wanton and insatiate love of conquest. The Conscript is certainly
one of the most impressive statements of the darker side of the
national pursuit of military glory that have ever been made. The first
part of the book is taken up with a vivid and pathetic account of the
passage of the grande armée through Alsace on its way to Moscow
and the Beresina, of the anxious waiting for news of the battles that
succeeded, of the first suspicions of disaster and their overwhelming
confirmation, of the final rout and awful straggling retreat and return
of the great expedition, and its demoralized and harassed entry within
the national frontiers once more. The second and major portion narrates
the rude surprise of the continuation of warfare and the still more
fatal campaign which opened so dubiously with Lutzen and Bautzen, and
culminated so disastrously in Leipsic and the capitulation of Paris.
Poor Joseph Bertha, who tells the affecting and exciting story, is
snatched away from his betrothed and his peaceful trade by the
conscription, and his individual experiences in the campaign are as
interesting, from the point of view of romance, as their representative
nature and his shrewd and simple reflections upon them are historically
and philanthropically suggestive. Certainly, war, in the minutiae of
its reality, has never been more graphically painted than in The
Conscript of 1813.
THE STORY OF A CONSCRIPT
Those who have not seen the glory of the Emperor Napoleon, during
the years 1810, 1811, and 1812, can never conceive what a pitch of
power one man may reach.
When he passed through Champagne, or Lorraine, or Alsace, people
gathering the harvest or the vintage would leave everything to run and
see him; women, children, and old men would come a distance of eight or
ten leagues to line his route, and cheer and cry, Vive l'Empereur!
Vive l'Empereur! One would think that he was a god, that mankind
owed its life to him, and that, if he died, the world would crumble and
be no more. A few old Republicans would shake their heads and mutter
over their wine that the Emperor might yet fall, but they passed for
fools. Such an event appeared contrary to nature, and no one even gave
it a thought.
I was in my apprenticeship since 1804, with an old watchmaker,
Melchior Goulden, at Phalsbourg. As I seemed weak and was a little
lame, my mother wished me to learn an easier trade than those of our
village, for at Dagsberg there were only wood-cutters and
charcoal-burners. Monsieur Goulden liked me very much. We lived on the
first story of a large house opposite the Red Ox inn, and near the
That was the place to see princes, ambassadors, and generals come
and go, some on horseback and some in carriages drawn by two or four
horses; there they passed in embroidered uniforms, with waving plumes
and decorations from every country under the sun. And in the highway
what couriers, what baggage-wagons, what powder-trains, cannon,
caissons, cavalry, and infantry did we see! Those were stirring times!
In five or six years the innkeeper, George, had made a fortune. He
had fields, orchards, houses, and money in abundance; for all these
people, coming from Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Poland, or elsewhere,
cared little for a few handfuls of gold scattered upon their road; they
were all nobles, who took a pride in showing their prodigality.
From morning until night, and even during the night, the Red Ox
kept its tables in readiness. Through the long windows on the first
story nothing was to be seen but great white table-cloths, glittering
with silver and covered with game, fish, and other rare viands, around
which the travellers sat side by side. In the yard behind, horses
neighed, postilions shouted, maid-servants laughed, coaches rattled.
Ah! the hotel of the Red Ox will never see such prosperous times
Sometimes, too, people of the city stopped there, who in other times
were known to gather sticks in the forest or to work on the highway.
But now they were commandants, colonels, generals, and had won their
grades by fighting in every land on earth. Old Melchior, with his black
silk cap pulled over his ears, his weak eyelids, his nose pinched
between great horn spectacles, and his lips tightly pressed together,
could not sometimes avoid putting aside his magnifying-glass and punch
upon the workbench, and throwing a glance toward the inn, especially
when the cracking of the whips of the postilions, with their heavy
boots, little jackets, and perukes of twisted hemp, awoke the echoes of
the ramparts and announced a new arrival. Then he became all attention,
and from time to time would exclaim:
Hold! It is the son of Jacob, the slater, or of the old scold,
Mary Ann, or of the cooper, Frantz Sepel! He has made his way in the
world; there he is, colonel and baron of the empire into the bargain.
Why don't he stop at the house of his father, who lives yonder in the
Rue des Capucins?
But when he saw them shaking hands right and left in the street with
those who recognized them, his tone changed; he wiped his eyes with his
great spotted handkerchief, and murmured:
How pleased poor old Annette will be! Good! good! He is not
proud; he is a man. God preserve him from cannon-balls!
Others passed as if ashamed to recognize their birth-place; others
went gayly to see their sisters or cousins, and everybody spoke of
them. One would imagine that all Phalsbourg wore their crosses and
their epaulettes; while the arrogant were despised even more than when
they swept the roads.
Nearly every month Te Deums were chanted, and the cannon at
the arsenal fired their salutes of twenty-one rounds for some new
victory, making one's heart flutter. During the week following every
family was uneasy; poor mothers especially waited for letters, and the
first that came all the city knew of; such an one had received a
letter from Jacques or Claude, and all ran to see if it spoke of their
Joseph or their Jean-Baptiste. I do not speak of promotions or the
official reports of deaths; as for the first, every one knew that the
killed must be replaced; and as for the reports of deaths, parents
awaited them weeping, for they did not come immediately; sometimes
indeed they never came, and the poor father and mother hoped on,
saying, Perhaps our boy is a prisoner. When they make peace he will
return. How many have returned whom we thought dead!
But they never made peace. When one war was finished, another was
begun. We always needed something, either from Russia or from Spain, or
some other country. The Emperor was never satisfied.
Often when regiments passed through the city, with their great coats
pulled back, their knapsacks on their backs, their great gaiters
reaching to the knee, and muskets carried at will; often when they
passed covered with mud or white with dust, would Father Melchior,
after gazing upon them, ask me dreamily:
How many, Joseph, think you we have seen pass since 1804?
I cannot say, Monsieur Goulden, I would reply, at least four or
five hundred thousand.
Yes, at least! he said, and how many have returned?
Then I understood his meaning, and answered:
Perhaps they returned by Mayence or some other route. It cannot be
But he only shook his head, and said:
Those whom you have not seen return are dead, as hundreds and
hundreds of thousands more will die, if the good God does not take pity
upon us, for the Emperor loves only war. He has already spilt more
blood to give his brothers crowns than our great Revolution cost to win
the rights of man.
Then we set about our work again; but the reflections of Monsieur
Goulden gave me some terrible subjects for thought.
It was true that I was a little lame in the left leg; but how many
others with defects of body had received their orders to march
These ideas kept running through my head, and when I thought long
over them, I grew very melancholy. They seemed terrible to me, not only
because I had no love for war, but because I was going to marry
Catharine of Quatre-Vents. We had been in some sort reared together.
Nowhere could be found a girl so fresh and laughing. She was
fair-haired, with beautiful blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and teeth as white
as milk. She was approaching eighteen; I was nineteen, and Aunt
Margrédel seemed pleased to see me coming early every Sunday morning to
breakfast and dine with them.
Catharine and I often went into the orchard behind the house; there
we bit the same apples and the same pears; we were the happiest
creatures in the world. It was I who took her to high mass and vespers;
and on holidays she never left my side, and refused to dance with the
other youths of the village. Everybody knew that we would some day be
married; but, if I should be so unfortunate as to be drawn in the
conscription, there was an end of matters. I wished that I was a
thousand times more lame; for at the time of which I speak they had
first taken the unmarried men, then the married men who had no
children, then those with one child; and I constantly asked myself,
Are lame fellows of more consequence than fathers of families? Could
they not put me in the cavalry? The idea made me so unhappy that I
already thought of fleeing.
But in 1812, at the beginning of the Russian war, my fear increased.
From February until the end of May, every day we saw pass regiments
after regimentsdragoons, cuirassiers, carbineers, hussars, lancers of
all colors, artillery, caissons, ambulances, wagons, provisions,
rolling on forever, like a river which runs on and on, and of which one
can never see the end.
I still remember that this began with soldiers driving large wagons
drawn by oxen. These oxen were in the place of horses, and were to be
used for food later on, when they should have used up their provisions.
Everybody said, What a fine idea! When the soldiers can no longer feed
the oxen, the oxen will feed the soldiers. Unhappily those who said
this did not know that the oxen could only make seven or eight leagues
a day, and that for every eight days of marching, they must have at
least one day's rest; so that indeed, the poor animals' hoofs were
already dry and worn out, their lips drooping, their eyes standing out
of their heads, and little but skin and bone left of them. For three
weeks they kept passing in this way, all torn with thrusts of the
bayonet. Meat became cheap, for they killed many of the oxen; but few
wanted their flesh, the diseased meat being unhealthy. They never went
more than twenty leagues beyond the Rhine.
After that, we saw more lancers, sabres, and helmets file past. All
flowed through the French gate, crossed the Place d'Armes, and streamed
out at the German gate.
At last, on the 10th of May, in the year 1812, in the early morning,
the guns of the arsenal announced the coming of the master of all. I
was yet sleeping when the first shot shook the little panes of my
window till they rattled like a drum, and Monsieur Goulden, with a
lighted candle, opened my door, saying, Get up, he is here!
We opened the window. Through the night I saw a hundred dragoons, of
whom many bore torches, enter at a gallop under the French gate; they
shook the earth as they passed; their lights glanced along the
house-fronts like dancing flames, and from every window we heard
ceaseless shouts of Vive l'Empereur!
I was gazing at the carriage, when a horse crashed against the post
to which the butcher Klein was accustomed to fasten his cattle. The
dragoon fell heavily, his helmet rolled in the gutter, and immediately
a head leaned out of the carriage to see what had happeneda large
head, pale and fat, with a tuft of hair on the forehead: it was
Napoleon; he held his hand up as if about taking a pinch of snuff, and
said a few words roughly. The officer galloping by the side of the
coach bent down to reply; and his master took his snuff and turned the
corner, while the shouts redoubled and the cannons roared louder than
[Illustration: The dragoon fell heavily.]
This was all that I saw.
The Emperor did not stop at Phalsbourg, and, when he was on the road
to Saverne, the guns fired their last shot, and silence reigned once
more. The guards at the French gate raised the drawbridge, and the old
You have seen him?
I have, Monsieur Goulden.
Well, he continued, that man holds all our lives in his hand; he
need but breathe upon us and we are gone. Let us bless Heaven that he
is not evil-minded; for if he were, the world would see again the
horrors of the days of the barbarian kings and the Turks.
He seemed lost in thought, but in a moment he added:
You can go to bed again. The clock is striking three.
He returned to his room, and I to my bed. The deep silence without
seemed strange after such a tumult, and until daybreak I never ceased
dreaming of the Emperor. I dreamed, too, of the dragoon, and wanted to
know if he were killed. The next day we learned that he was carried to
the hospital and would recover.
From that day until the month of September they often sang the Te
Deum, and fired twenty-one guns for new victories. It was nearly
always in the morning, and Monsieur Goulden cried:
Eh, Joseph! Another battle won! Fifty thousand men lost!
Twenty-five standards, a hundred guns won. All goes well, all goes
well. It only remains now to order a new levy to replace the dead!
He pushed open my door, and I saw him, bald, in his shirt-sleeves,
with his neck bare, washing his face in the wash-bowl.
Do you think, Monsieur Goulden, I asked, in great trouble, that
they will also take the lame?
No, no, he said kindly; fear nothing, my child, you could not
serve. We will fix that. Only work well, and never mind the rest.
He saw my anxiety, and it pained him. I never met a better man. Then
he dressed himself to go to wind up the city clocksthose of Monsieur
the Commandant of the place, of Monsieur the Mayor, and other notable
personages. I remained at home. Monsieur Goulden did not return until
after the Te Deum. He took off his great brown coat, put his
peruke back in its box, and again pulling his silk cap over his ears,
The army is at Wilna or at Smolensk, as I learn from Monsieur the
Commandant. God grant that we may succeed this time and make peace, and
the sooner the better, for war is a terrible thing.
I thought, too, that, if we had peace, so many men would not be
needed, and that I could marry Catharine. Any one can imagine the
wishes I formed for the Emperor's glory.
It was on the 15th of September, 1812, that the news came of the
great victory of the Moskowa. Every one was full of joy, and all cried,
Now we will have peace! now the war is ended!
Some discontented folks might say that China yet remained to be
conquered; such mar-joys are always to be found.
A week after, we learned that our forces were in Moscow, the largest
and richest city in Russia, and then everybody figured to himself the
booty we would capture, and the reduction it would make in the taxes.
But soon came the rumor that the Russians had set fire to their
capital, and that it was necessary to retreat on Poland or to die of
hunger. Nothing else was spoken of in the inns, the breweries, or the
market; no one could meet his neighbor without saying, Well, well,
things go badly; the retreat has commenced.
People grew pale, and hundreds of peasants waited morning and night
at the post-office, but no letters came now. I passed and repassed
through the crowd without paying much attention to it, for I had seen
so much of the same thing. And besides, I had a thought in my mind
which gladdened my heart, and made everything seem rosy to me.
You must know that for six months past I had wished to make
Catharine a magnificent present for her birthday, which fell on the
18th of December. Among the watches which hung in Monsieur Goulden's
window was one little one, of the prettiest kind, with a silver case
full of little circles, which made it shine like a star. Around the
face, under the glass, was a thread of copper, and on the face were
painted two lovers, the youth evidently declaring his love, and giving
to his sweetheart a large bouquet of roses, while she modestly lowered
her eyes and held out her hand.
The first time I saw the watch, I said to myself: You will not let
that escape; that watch is for Catharine, and, although you must work
every day till midnight for it, she must have it. Monsieur Goulden,
after seven in the evening, allowed me work on my own account. He had
old watches to clean and regulate; and as this work was often very
troublesome, old Father Melchior paid me reasonably for it. But the
little watch was thirty-five francs, and one can imagine how many hours
at night I would have to work for it. I am sure that if Monsieur
Goulden knew that I wanted it he would have given it me for a present,
but I would not have let him take a farthing less for it; I would have
regarded doing so something shameful. I kept saying: You must earn it;
no one else must have any claim upon it. Only for fear somebody else
might take a fancy to buy it, I put it aside in a box, telling Father
Melchior that I knew a purchaser.
Under these circumstances, every one can readily understand how it
was that all these stories of war went in at one ear and out at the
other with me. While I worked I imagined Catharine's joy, and for five
months that was all I had before my eyes. I thought how pleased she
would look, and asked myself, What will she say? Sometimes I imagined
she would cry out, Oh, Joseph! what are you thinking of? It is much
too beautiful for me. No, no; I cannot take so fine a watch from you!
Then I thought I would force it upon her; I would slip it into her
apron-pocket, saying, Come, come, Catharine! Do you wish to give me
pain? I could see how she wanted it, and that she spoke so only to
seem to refuse it. Then I imagined her blushing, with her hands raised,
saying, Joseph, now I know indeed that you love me! And she would
embrace me with tears in her eyes. I felt very happy. Aunt Grédel
approved of all. In a word, a thousand such scenes passed through my
mind, and when I retired at night I thought: There is no one as happy
as you, Joseph. See what a present you can make Catharine by your toil;
and she surely is preparing something for your birthday, for she thinks
only of you; you are both very happy, and, when you are married, all
will go well.
While I was thus working on, thinking only of happiness, the winter
began, earlier than usual, toward the commencement of November. It did
not begin with snow, but with dry, cold weather and heavy frosts. In a
few days all the leaves had fallen and the earth was hard as ice and
all covered with hoar-frost; tiles, pavement, and window-panes
glittered with it. Fires had to be made that winter to keep the cold
from coming in at the windows, and, when the doors were opened for a
moment, the heat seemed to disappear at once. The wood crackled in the
stoves and burnt away like straw in the fierce draught of the chimneys.
Every morning I hastened to wash the panes of the shop-window with
warm water, and I scarcely closed it when a frosty sheen covered it.
Without, people ran puffing with their coat-collars over their ears and
their hands in their pockets. No one stood still, and when doors
opened, they soon closed.
I don't know what became of the sparrows, whether they were dead or
living, but not one twittered in the chimneys, and save the reveille
and retreat sounded in the barracks, no noise broke the silence.
Often when the fire crackled merrily, did Monsieur Goulden stop his
work, and, gazing on the frost-covered panes, exclaim:
Our poor soldiers! our poor soldiers!
He said this so mournfully that I felt a choking in my throat as I
But, Monsieur Goulden, they ought now to be in Poland in good
barracks; for to suppose that human beings could endure a cold like
thisit is impossible.
Such a cold as this, he said; yes, here it is cold, very cold
from the winds from the mountains; but what is this frost to that of
the north, of Russia and of Poland? God grant that they started early
enough. My God! my God! the leaders of men have a heavy weight to
Then he would be silent, and for hours I would think of what he had
said to me; I pictured to myself our soldiers on the march, running to
keep themselves warm. But the thought of Catharine always came back to
me, and I have often thought since that when one is happy, the misery
of others affects him but little, especially in youth, when the
passions are strongest, and when we have had little knowledge of great
After the frosts so much snow fell that the couriers were stopped on
the road toward Quatre-Vents. I feared that I could not go to see
Catharine on her fête-day; but two companies of infantry set out with
pick-axes, and dug through the frozen snow a way for carriages, and
that road remained open until the beginning of April, 1813.
Nevertheless, Catharine's birthday approached day by day, and my
happiness increased in proportion. I had already the thirty-five
francs, but I did not know how to tell Monsieur Goulden that I wished
to buy the watch; I wanted to keep the whole matter secret; and I did
not at all like to talk about it.
At length, on the eve of the eventful day, between six and seven in
the evening, while we were working in silence, the lamp between us,
suddenly I took my resolution, and said:
You know, Monsieur Goulden, that I spoke to you of a purchaser for
the little silver watch.
Yes, Joseph, said he, without raising his head, but he has not
It is I who am the purchaser, Monsieur Goulden.
Then he looked up in astonishment. I took out the thirty-five francs
and laid them on the work-bench. He stared at me.
But, he said, it is not such a watch as that you want, Joseph;
you want one that will fill your pocket and mark the seconds. Those
little watches are only for women.
I knew not what to say.
Monsieur Goulden, after meditating a few moments, began to smile.
Ah! he exclaimed; good! good! I understand now; to-morrow is
Catharine's birthday. Now I know why you worked day and night. Hold!
take back this money; I do not want it.
I was all confusion.
Monsieur Goulden, I thank you, I replied; but this watch is for
Catharine, and I wish to have earned it. You will pain me if you refuse
the money; I would as lief not take the watch.
He said nothing more, but took the thirty-five francs; then he
opened his drawer, and chose a pretty steel chain, with two little keys
of silver-gilt, which he fastened to the watch. Then he put all
together in a box with a rose-colored favor. He did all this slowly, as
if affected; then he gave me the box.
It is a pretty present, Joseph, said he. Catharine ought to think
herself happy in having such a lover as you. She is a good girl. Now we
can take our supper. Set the table.
The table was arranged, and then Monsieur Goulden took from a closet
a bottle of his Metz wine, which he kept for great occasions, and we
supped like old friends, rather than as master and apprentice; all the
evening he never stopped speaking of the merry days of his youth;
telling me how he once had a sweetheart, but that, in 1792, he left
home in the levée en masse at the time of the Prussian invasion,
and that on his return to Fénétrange, he found her marrieda very
natural thing, since he had never mustered courage enough to declare
his love. However, this did not prevent his remaining faithful to the
tender remembrance, and when he spoke of it he seemed sad indeed. I
recounted all this in imagination to Catharine, and it was not until
the stroke of ten, at the passage of the rounds, which relieved the
sentries on post every twenty minutes on account of the great cold,
that we put two good logs on the fire, and at length went to bed.
The next day, the 18th of December, I arose about six in the
morning. It was terribly cold; my little window was covered with a
sheet of frost.
I had taken care the night before to lay out on the back of a chair
my sky-blue coat, my trousers, my goat-skin vest, and my fine black
silk cravat. Everything was ready; my well-polished shoes lay at the
foot of the bed; I had only to dress myself; but the cold I felt upon
my face, the sight of those window-panes, and the deep silence without,
made me shiver in anticipation. If it had not been Catharine's
birthday, I would have remained in bed until midday; but suddenly that
recollection made me jump out of bed, and rush to the great delf stove,
where some embers of the preceding night almost always remained among
the cinders. I found two or three, and hastened to collect and put them
under some split wood and two large logs, after which I ran back to my
Monsieur Goulden, under the huge curtains, with the coverings pulled
up to his nose and his cotton night-cap over his eyes, woke up, and
Joseph, we have not had such cold for forty years. I never felt it
so. What a winter we shall have!
I did not answer, but looked out to see if the fire was lighting;
the embers burnt well; I heard the chimney draw, and at once all blazed
up. The sound of the flames was merry enough, but it required a good
half-hour to feel the air any warmer.
At last I arose and dressed myself. Monsieur Goulden kept on
chatting, but I thought only of Catharine, and when at length, toward
eight o'clock, I started out, he exclaimed:
Joseph, what are you thinking of? Are you going to Quatre-Vents in
that little coat? You would be dead before you had got half way. Go
into my closet, and take my great cloak, and the mittens, and the
double-soled shoes lined with flannel.
I was so smart in my fine clothes that I reflected whether it would
be better to follow his advice, and he, seeing my hesitation, said:
Listen! a man was found frozen yesterday on the way to Wecham.
Doctor Steinbrenner said that he sounded like a piece of dry wood when
they tapped upon him. He was a soldier, and had left the village
between six and seven o'clock, and at eight they found him; so that the
frost did not take long to do its work. If you want your nose and ears
frozen, you have only to go out as you are.
I knew then, that he was right; so I put on the thick shoes, and
passed the cord of the mittens over my shoulders, and put the cloak
over all. Thus accoutred, I sallied forth, after thanking Monsieur
Goulden, who warned me not to stay too late, for the cold increased
toward night, and great numbers of wolves were crossing the Rhine on
I had not gone as far as the church when I turned up the fox-skin
collar of the cloak to shield my ears. The cold was so keen that it
seemed as though the air were filled with needles, and one's body
shrank involuntarily from head to foot.
Under the German gate, I saw the soldier on guard, in his great gray
mantle, standing back in his box like a saint in his niche; he had his
sleeve wrapped about his musket where he held it, to keep his fingers
from the iron, and two long icicles hung from his mustaches. No one was
on the bridge, not even the toll-gatherer, but a little farther on, I
saw three carts in the middle of the road with their canvas-tops all
covered and glistening with frost; they were unharnessed and abandoned.
Everything in the distance seemed dead; all living things had hidden
themselves from the cold; and I could hear nothing but the snow
crunching under my feet. Running along the cemetery, where the crosses
and gravestones glistened in the snow, I said to myself: Those who
sleep there are no longer cold! I drew my cloak over my breast, and
hid my nose in the fur collar, thanking Monsieur Goulden for his lucky
thought. I also thrust my hands into the muffler to the elbows, and ran
along in the deep trench, extending farther than the eye could reach,
that the soldiers had made from the town as far as Quatre-Vents. On
each side were walls of ice. In some places swept by the wind, I could
see the oak forest and the bluish mountain, both seeming much nearer
than they were, on account of the clearness of the air. Not a dog
barked in a farm-yard; it was too cold even for that.
But in spite of all this the thought of Catharine warmed my heart,
and soon I descried the first houses of Quatre-Vents. The chimneys and
the thatched roofs, to the right and left of the road, were scarcely
higher than the mountains of snow, and the villagers had dug trenches
along the walls, so that they could pass to each other's houses. But
that day every family kept around its hearth, and the little round
window-panes seemed painted red, from the great fires burning within.
Before each door was a truss of straw to keep the cold from entering
At the fifth door to the right I stopped to take off my mittens;
then I opened and closed it very quickly. I was at the house of Grédel
Bauer, the widow of Matthias Bauer, and Catharine's mother.
As I entered, and while Aunt Grédel, seated by the hearth,
astonished at my fox-skin collar, was yet turning her gray head,
Catharine, in her Sunday dressa pretty striped petticoat, a kerchief
with long fringe folded across her bosom, a red apron fastened around
her slender waist, a pretty cap of blue silk with black velvet bands
setting off her rosy and white face, soft eyes, and rather short
noseCatharine, I say, exclaimed:
It is Joseph!
And without waiting to look twice, she ran to greet me, saying:
I knew the cold would not keep you from coming.
I was so happy that I could not speak. I took off my cloak, which I
hung upon a nail on the wall, with my mittens; I took off Monsieur
Goulden's great shoes, and turned pale with joy.
I would have said something agreeable, but could not; suddenly I
See here, Catharine; here is something for your birthday, but you
must give me a kiss before opening the box.
She put up her pretty red cheek to me, and then ran to the table.
Aunt Grédel also came to see the present. Catharine untied the cord and
opened the box. I was behind them; my heart jumped, jumped,I feared
that the watch was not pretty enough. But in an instant, Catharine,
clasping her hands, said in a low voice:
How beautiful! It is a watch!
Yes, said Aunt Grédel; it is beautiful! I never saw so fine a
one. One would think it was silver.
But it is silver, returned Catharine, turning toward me
Then I said:
Do you think, Aunt Grédel, that I would be capable of giving a gilt
watch to one whom I love better than my own life? If I could do such a
thing, I would despise myself more than the dirt of my shoes.
Catharine, hearing this, threw her arms around my neck; and as we
stood thus, I thought: this is the happiest day of my life. I could
not let her go.
Aunt Grédel asked:
But what is this painted upon the face?
I could not speak to answer her; and only at last, when we were
seated beside each other, I took the watch and said:
That painting, Aunt Grédel, represents two lovers who love each
other more than they can tell: Joseph Bertha and Catharine Bauer;
Joseph is offering a bouquet of roses to his sweetheart, who is
stretching out her hand to take them.
When Aunt Grédel had sufficiently admired the watch, she said:
Come until I kiss you, Joseph. I see very well that you must have
economized closely, and worked hard for this watch, and I think it is
very pretty, and that you are a good workman, and will do us no
I kissed Aunt Grédel's cheek, and from then until midday, I did not
let go Catharine's hand. We were as happy as could be looking at each
other. Aunt Grédel bustled about to prepare a large pancake with dried
prunes, and wine, and cinnamon, and other good things in it; but we
paid no attention to her, and it was only when she put on her red
jacket and black sabots, and called, Come, my children; to table!
that we saw the fine tablecloth, the great porringer, the pitcher of
wine, and the large round, golden pancake on a plate in the middle. The
sight rejoiced us not a little, and Catharine said:
Sit there, Joseph, opposite the window, that I may look at you. But
you must fix my watch, for I do not know where to put it.
I passed the chain around her neck, and then, seating ourselves, we
ate gayly. Without, not a sound was heard; within, the fire crackled
merrily upon the hearth. It was very pleasant in the large kitchen, and
the gray cat, a little wild, gazed at us through the balusters of the
stairs without daring to come down.
Catharine, after dinner, sang Der liebe Gott. She had a
sweet, clear voice, and it seemed to float to heaven. I sang low,
merely to sustain her. Aunt Grédel, who could never rest doing nothing,
began spinning; the hum of her wheel filled up the silences, and we all
felt happy. When one song was ended, we began another. At three
o'clock, Aunt Grédel served up the pancake, and as we ate it, laughing,
like the happiest of beings, she would exclaim:
Come, come; now, you are children in reality.
She pretended to be angry, but we could see in her eyes that she was
happy from the bottom of her heart. This lasted until four o'clock,
when night began to come on apace; the darkness seemed to enter by the
little windows, and, knowing that we must soon part, we sat sadly
around the hearth on which the red flames were dancing. Catharine
pressed my hand. I would almost have given my life to remain longer.
Another half-hour passed, when Aunt Grédel cried:
Listen, Joseph! It is time for you to go; the moon does not rise
till after midnight, and it will soon be dark as a kiln outside, and an
accident happens so easily in these great frosts.
These words seemed to fall like a bolt of ice, and I felt
Catharine's clasp tighten on my hand. But Aunt Grédel was right.
Come, said she, rising and taking down the cloak from the wall;
you will come again Sunday.
I had to put on the heavy shoes, the mittens, and the cloak of
Monsieur Goulden, and would have wished that I were a hundred years
doing so, but, unfortunately, Aunt Grédel assisted me. When I had the
great collar drawn up to my ears, she said:
Now, kiss us good-by, Joseph.
I kissed her first, then Catharine, who did not say a word. After
that I opened the door and the terrible cold, entering, admonished me
not to wait.
Hasten, Joseph, said my aunt.
Good-night, Joseph, good-night! cried Catharine, and do not
forget to come Sunday.
I turned round to wave my hand; and then I ran on without raising my
head, for the cold was so intense that it brought tears to my eyes even
behind the great collar.
I ran on thus some twenty minutes, scarcely daring to breathe, when
a drunken voice called out:
Who goes there?
I looked through the dim night, and saw, fifty paces before me,
Pinacle, the pedler, with his huge basket, his otter-skin cap, woollen
gloves, and iron-pointed staff. The lantern hanging from the strap of
his basket lit up his debauched face, his chin bristling with yellow
beard, and his great nose shaped like an extinguisher. He glared with
his little eyes like a wolf, and repeated, Who goes there?
This Pinacle was the greatest rogue in the country. He had the year
before a difficulty with Monsieur Goulden, who demanded of him the
price of a watch which he undertook to deliver to Monsieur Anstett, the
curate of Homert, and the money for which he put into his pocket,
saying he paid it to me. But although the villain made oath before the
justice of the peace, Monsieur Goulden knew the contrary, for on the
day in question neither he nor I had left the house. Besides, Pinacle
wanted to dance with Catharine at a festival at Quatre-Vents, and she
refused because she knew the story of the watch, and was, besides,
unwilling to leave me.
The sight, then, of this rogue with his iron-shod stick in the
middle of the road did not tend to rejoice my heart. Happily a little
path which wound around the cemetery was at my left, and, without
replying, I dashed through it although the snow reached my waist.
Then he, guessing who I was, cried furiously:
Aha! it is the little lame fellow! Halt! halt! I want to bid you
good-evening. You came from Catharine's, you watch-stealer.
But I sprang like a hare through the heaps of snow; he at first
tried to follow me, but his pack hindered him, and, when I gained the
ground again, he put his hands around his mouth, and shrieked:
Never mind, cripple, never mind! Your reckoning is coming all the
same; the conscription is comingthe grand conscription of the
one-eyed, the lame, and the hunch-backed. You will have to go, and you
will find a place under ground like the others.
He continued his way, laughing like the sot he was, and I, scarcely
able to breathe, kept on, thanking Heaven that the little alley was so
near; for Pinacle, who was known always to draw his knife in a fight,
might have done me an ill turn.
In spite of my exertion, my feet, even in the thick shoes, were
intensely cold, and I again began running.
That night the water froze in the cisterns of Phalsbourg and the
wines in the cellarsthings that had not happened before for sixty
On the bridge and under the German gate the silence seemed yet
deeper than in the morning, and the night made it seem terrible. A few
stars shone between the masses of white cloud that hung over the city.
All along the street I met not a soul, and when I reached home, after
shutting the door of our lower passage, it seemed warm to me, although
the little stream that ran from the yard along the wall was frozen. I
stopped a moment to take breath; then I ascended in the dark, my hand
on the baluster.
When I opened the door of my room, the cheerful warmth of the stove
was grateful indeed. Monsieur Goulden was seated in his arm-chair
before the fire, his cap of black silk pulled over his ears, and his
hands resting upon his knees.
Is that you, Joseph? he asked without turning round.
It is, I answered. How pleasant it is here, and how cold out of
doors! We never had such a winter.
No, he said gravely. It is a winter that will long be
I went into the closet and hung the cloak and mittens in their
places, and was about relating my adventure with Pinacle, when he
You had a pleasant day of it, Joseph.
I have had, indeed. Aunt Grédel and Catharine wished me to make you
Very good, very good, said he; the young are right to amuse
themselves, for when they grow old, and suffer, and see so much of
injustice, selfishness, and misfortune, everything is spoiled in
He spoke as if talking to himself, gazing at the fire. I had never
seen him so sad, and I asked:
Are you not well, Monsieur Goulden?
But he, without replying, murmured:
Yes, yes; this is to be a great military nation; this is glory!
He shook his head and bent over gloomily, his heavy gray brows
contracted in a frown.
I knew not what to think of all this, when raising his head again,
At this moment, Joseph, there are four hundred thousand families
weeping in France; the grand army has perished in the snows of Russia;
all those stout young men whom for two months we saw passing our gates
are buried beneath them. The news came this afternoon. Oh! it is
I was silent. Now I saw clearly that we must have another
conscription, as after all campaigns, and this time the lame would most
probably be called. I grew pale, and Pinacle's prophecy made my hair
stand on end.
Go to bed, Joseph; rest easy, said Monsieur Goulden. I am not
sleepy; I will stay here; all this upsets me. Did you remark anything
in the city?
No, Monsieur Goulden.
I went to my room and to bed. For a long time I could not close my
eyes, thinking of the conscription, of Catharine, and of so many
thousands of men buried in the snow, and then I plotted flight to
About three o'clock Monsieur Goulden retired, and a few minutes
after, through God's grace, I fell asleep.
When I arose in the morning, about seven, I went to Monsieur
Goulden's room to begin work, but he was still in bed, looking weary
Joseph, said he, I am not well. This horrible news has made me
ill, and I have not slept at all.
Shall I not make you some tea? I asked.
No, my child, that is not worth while. I will get up by and by. But
this is the day to regulate the city clocks; I cannot go; for to see so
many good peoplepeople I have known for thirty yearsin misery,
would kill me. Listen, Joseph: take those keys hanging behind the door
and go. I will try to sleep a little. If I could sleep an hour or two,
it would do me good.
Very well, Monsieur Goulden, I replied; I will go at once.
After putting more wood in the stove, I took the cloak and mittens,
drew Monsieur Goulden's bed-curtains, and went out, the bunch of keys
in my pocket. The illness of Father Melchior grieved me very much for a
while, but a thought came to console me, and I said to myself: You can
climb up the city clock-tower, and see the house of Catharine and Aunt
Grédel. Thinking thus, I arrived at the house of Brainstein, the
bell-ringer, who lived at the corner of the little place, in an old,
tumble-down barrack. His two sons were weavers, and in their old home
the noise of the loom and the whistle of the shuttle was heard from
morning till night. The grandmother, old and blind, slept in an
armchair, on the back of which perched a magpie. Father Brainstein,
when he did not have to ring the bells for a christening, a funeral, or
a marriage, kept reading his almanac behind the small round panes of
Beside their hut was a little box under the roof of the old hall,
where the cobbler Koniam worked, and farther on were the butchers' and
I came then to Brainstein's, and the old man, when he saw me, rose
It is you, Monsieur Joseph.
Yes, Father Brainstein; I came in place of Monsieur Goulden, who is
Very good; it is all the same.
He took up his staff and put on his woollen cap, driving away the
cat that was sleeping upon it; then he took the great key of the
steeple from a drawer, and we went out together, I glad to find myself
again in the open air, despite the cold; for their miserable room was
gray with vapor, and as hard to breathe in as a kettle; I could never
understand how people could live in such a way.
At last we gained the street, and Father Brainstein said:
You have heard of the great Russian disaster, Monsieur Joseph?
Yes, Father Brainstein; it is fearful!
Ah! said he, there will be many a Mass said in the churches;
every one will weep and pray for their children, the more that they are
dead in a heathen land.
Certainly, certainly, I replied.
We crossed the court, and in front of the tower-hall, opposite the
guard-house, many peasants and city people were already standing,
reading a placard. We went up the steps and entered the church, where
more than twenty women, young and old, were kneeling on the pavement,
in spite of the terrible cold.
Is it not as I said? said Brainstein. They are coming already to
pray, and half of them have been here since five o'clock.
He opened the little door of the steeple leading to the organ, and
we began climbing up in the dark. Once in the organ-loft, we turned to
the left of the bellows, and went up to the bells.
I was glad to see the blue sky and breathe the free air again, for
the bad odor of the bats which inhabited the tower almost suffocated
me. But how terrible the cold was in that cage, open to every wind, and
how dazzlingly the snow shone over twenty leagues of country! All the
little city of Phalsbourg, with its six bastions, three demilunes, two advanced works, its barracks, magazines, bridges, glacis,
ramparts; its great parade-ground, and little, well-aligned houses,
were beneath me, as if drawn on white paper. I was not yet accustomed
to the height, and I held fast on the middle of the platform for fear I
might jump off, for I had read of people having their heads turned by
great heights. I did not dare go to the clock, and, if Brainstein had
not set me the example, I would have remained there, pressed against
the beam from which the bells hung; but he said:
Come, Monsieur Joseph, and see if it is right.
Then I took out Monsieur Goulden's large watch which marked seconds,
and I saw that the clock was considerably slow. Brainstein helped me to
wind it up, and we regulated it.
The clock is always slow in winter, said he, because of the iron
After becoming somewhat accustomed to the elevation, I began to look
around. There were the Oakwood barracks, the upper barracks, Bigelberg,
and lastly, opposite me, Quatre-Vents, and the house of Aunt Grédel,
from the chimney of which a thread of blue smoke rose toward the sky.
And I saw the kitchen, and imagined Catharine, in sabots, and woollen
skirt, spinning at the corner of the hearth and thinking of me. I no
longer felt the cold; I could not take my eyes from their cottage.
Father Brainstein, who did not know what I was looking at, said:
Yes, yes, Monsieur Joseph: now all the roads are covered with
people in spite of the snow. The news has already spread, and every one
wants to know the extent of his loss.
He was right; every road and path was covered with people coming to
the city; and looking in the court, I saw the crowd increasing every
moment before the guard-house, the town-house, and the postoffice. A
deep murmur arose from the mass.
At length, after a last, long look at Catharine's house, I had to
descend, and we went down the dark, winding stairs, as if descending
into a well. Once in the organ-loft, we saw that the crowd had greatly
increased in the church; all the mothers, the sisters, the old
grandmothers, the rich, and the poor, were kneeling on the benches in
the midst of the deepest silence; they prayed for the absent, offering
all only to see them once again.
At first I did not realize all this; but suddenly the thought that,
if I had gone the year before, Catharine would be there, praying and
asking me of God, fell like a bolt on my heart, and I felt all my body
Let us go! let us go! I exclaimed, this is terrible.
What is? he asked.
We descended the stairs under the great gate, and I went across the
court to the house of Monsieur the Commandant Meunier, while Brainstein
took the way to his house.
At the corner of the Hotel de Ville, I saw a sight which I shall
remember all my life. There, around a placard, were more than five
hundred people, men and women crowded against each other, all pale, and
with necks outstretched, gazing at it as at some horrible apparition.
They could not read it, and from time to time one would say in German
But they are not all dead! Some will return.
Others cried out:
Let us see it! let us get near it.
A poor old woman in the rear lifted up her hands, and cried:
Christopher! my poor Christopher!
Others, angry at her clamor, called out:
Keep that old woman quiet.
Each one thought only of himself.
Behind, the crowd continued to pour through the German gate.
At length, Harmantier, the sergent-de-ville, came out of the
guard-house, and stood at the top of the steps, with another placard
like the first; a few soldiers followed him. Then a rush was made
toward him, but the soldiers kept off the crowd, and old Harmantier
began to read the placard, which he called the twenty-ninth bulletin,
and in which the Emperor informed them that during the retreat the
horses perished every night by thousands. He said nothing of the men!
The sergent-de-ville read slowly; not a breath was heard in
the crowd; even the old woman, who did not understand French, listened
like the others. The buzz of a fly could have been heard. But when he
came to this passage, Our cavalry was dismounted to such an extent
that we were forced to bring together the officers who yet owned horses
to form four companies of one hundred and fifty men each. Generals
rated as captains, and colonels as under-officerswhen he read this
passage, which told more of the misery of the grand army than all the
rest, cries and groans arose on all sides; two or three women fell and
were carried away.
It is true that the bulletin added, The health of his majesty was
never better, and that was a great consolation. Unfortunately it could
not restore life to three hundred thousand men buried in the snow; and
so the people went away very sad. Others came by dozens who had not
heard the news read, and from time to time Harmantier came out to read
This lasted until night; still the same scene over and over again.
I ran from the place; I wanted to know nothing about it.
I went to Monsieur the Commandant's. Entering a parlor, I saw him at
breakfast. He was an old man, but hale, with a red face and good
Ah! it is you! said he, Monsieur Goulden is not coming, then?
No, Monsieur the Commandant, the bad news has made him ill.
Ah! I understand, he said, emptying his glass; yes, it is
And while I was regulating the clock, he added:
Well! tell Monsieur Goulden that we will have our revenge. We
cannot always have the upper hand. For fifteen years we have kept the
drums beating over them, and it is only right to let them have this
little morsel of consolation. And then our honor is safe; we were not
beaten fighting; without the cold and the snow, those poor Cossacks
would have had a hard time of it. But patience; the skeletons of our
regiments will soon be filled, and then let them beware.
I wound up the clock; he rose and came to look at it, for he was a
great amateur in clock-making. He pinched my ear in a merry mood; and
then, as I was going away, he cried as he buttoned up his overcoat,
which he had opened before beginning breakfast:
Tell Father Goulden to rest easy; the dance will begin again in the
spring; the Kalmucks will not always have winter fighting for them.
Tell him that.
Yes, Monsieur the Commandant, I answered, shutting the door.
His burly figure and air of good humor comforted me a little; but in
all the other houses I went to, at the Horwiches, the Frantz-Tonis, the
Durlaches, everywhere I heard only lamentations. The women especially
were in misery; the men said nothing, but walked about with heads
hanging down, and without even looking to see what I was doing.
Toward ten o'clock there only remained two persons for me to see:
Monsieur de la Vablerie-Chamberlan, one of the ancient nobility, who
lived at the end of the main street, with Madame Chamberlan-d'Ecof and
Mademoiselle Jeanne, their daughter. They were émigrés, and had
returned about three or four years before. They saw no one in the city,
and only three or four old priests in the environs. Monsieur de la
Vablerie-Chamberlan loved only the chase. He had six dogs at the end of
the yard, and a two-horse carriage; Father Robert, of the Rue des
Capucins, served them as coachman, groom, footman, and huntsman.
Monsieur de la Vablerie-Chamberlan always wore a hunting vest, a
leathern cap, and boots and spurs. All the town called him the hunter,
but they said nothing of Madame nor of Mademoiselle de Chamberlan.
I was very sad when I pushed open the heavy door, which closed with
a pulley whose creaking echoed through the vestibule. What was then my
surprise to hear, in the midst of general mourning, the tones of a song
and harpsichord! Monsieur de la Vablerie was singing, and Mademoiselle
Jeanne accompanying him. I knew not, in those days, that the misfortune
of one was often the joy of others, and I said to myself with my hand
on the latch: They have not heard the news from Russia.
But while I stood thus, the door of the kitchen opened, and
Mademoiselle Louise, their servant, putting out her head, asked:
Who is there?
It is I, Mademoiselle Louise.
Ah! it is you, Monsieur Joseph. Come this way.
They had their clock in a large parlor which they rarely entered;
the high windows, with blinds, remained closed; but there was light
enough for what I had to do. I passed then through the kitchen and
regulated the antique clock, which was a magnificent piece of work of
white marble. Mademoiselle Louise looked on.
You have company, Mademoiselle Louise? said I.
No, but monsieur ordered me to let no one in.
You are very cheerful here.
Ah! yes, she said; and it is for the first time in years; I don't
know what is the matter.
My work done, I left the house, meditating on these occurrences,
which seemed to me strange. The idea never entered my mind that they
were rejoicing at our defeat.
Then I turned the corner of the street to go to Father Féral's, who
was called the Standard-bearer, because, at the age of forty-five,
he, a blacksmith, and for many years the father of a family, had
carried the colors of the volunteers of Phalsbourg in '92, and only
returned after the Zurich campaign. He had his three sons in the army
of Russia, Jean, Louis, and George Féral. George was commandant of
dragoons; the two others, officers of infantry.
I imagined the grief of Father Féral while I was going, but it was
nothing to what I saw when I entered his room. The poor old man, blind
and bald, was sitting in an arm-chair behind the stove, his head bowed
upon his breast, and his sightless eyes open, and staring as if he saw
his three sons stretched at his feet. He did not speak, but great drops
of sweat rolled down his forehead on his long, thin cheeks, while his
face was pale as that of a corpse. Four or five of his old comrades of
the times of the RepublicFather Desmarets, Father Nivoi, old Paradis,
and tall old Froissardhad come to console him. They sat around him in
silence, smoking their pipes, and looking as if they themselves needed
From time to time one or the other would say: Come, come, Féral!
are we no longer veterans of the army of the Sambre-and-Meuse?
Courage, Standard-bearer: courage! Did we not carry the battery at
Or some other similar remark.
But he did not reply; every minute he sighed, his aged, hollow
cheeks swelled; then he leaned over, and the old friends made signs to
each other, shaking their heads, as if to say:
This looks bad.
I hastened to regulate the clock and depart, for to see the poor old
man in such a plight made my heart bleed.
When I arrived at home, I found Monsieur Goulden at his work-bench.
You are returned, Joseph, said he. Well?
Well, Monsieur Goulden, you had reason to stay away; it is
And I told him all in detail.
Yes; I knew it all, said he, sadly, but our misfortunes are only
beginning; these Prussians and Austrians and Russians and
Spaniardsall the nations we have been beating since eighteen hundred
and four, are now taking advantage of our ill luck to fall upon us. We
gave them kings and queens they did not know from Adam nor Eve, and
whom they did not want, it seems, and now they are going to bring back
the old ones with all their trains of nobles, and after pouring out our
blood for the Emperor's brothers, we are about losing all we gained by
the Revolution. Instead of being first among the first we will be last
among the last. While you were away I was thinking of all this; it is
unavoidableWe relied upon soldiers alone, and now that we have no
more, we are nothing.
He arose. I set the table, and, whilst we were dining in silence,
the bells of the steeples began to ring.
Some one is dead in the city, said Monsieur Goulden.
Indeed? I did not hear of it.
Ten minutes after, the Rabbi Rose came in to have a glass put in his
Who is dead? asked Monsieur Goulden.
Poor old Standard-bearer.
What! Father Féral?
Yes, near an hour ago. Father Desmarets and several others tried to
comfort him; at last he asked them to read to him the last letter of
his son George, the commandant of dragoons, in which he says that next
spring he hoped to embrace his father with a colonel's epaulettes. As
the old man heard this, he tried to rise, but fell back with his head
upon his knees. That letter had broken his heart.
Monsieur Goulden made no remark on the news.
Here is your watch, Monsieur Rose, said he, handing it back to the
rabbi; it is twelve sous.
Monsieur Rose departed, and we finished our dinner in silence.
A few days after, the gazette announced that the Emperor was in
Paris, and that the King of Rome and the Empress Marie-Louise were
about to be crowned. Monsieur the Mayor, his coadjutor and the
municipal councillors now spoke only of the rights of the throne, and
Professor Burguet, the elder, wrote a speech on the subject which Baron
Parmentier read. But all this produced but little effect on the people,
because every one was afraid of being carried off by the conscription,
and knew that many more soldiers were needed; all were in trouble, and
I grew thinner day by day. In vain would Monsieur Goulden say: Fear
nothing, Joseph; you cannot march. Consider, my child, that any one as
lame as you would give out at the end of the first mile.
But all this did not lessen my uneasiness.
Monsieur Goulden, often, too, when we were alone at work, would say
If those who are now masters, and who tell us that God placed them
here on earth to make us happy, would foresee at the beginning of a
campaign the poor old men, the hapless mothers, whose very hearts they
have torn away to satisfy their prideif they could see the tears and
hear the groans of these poor people when they are coldly told 'Your
son is dead; you will see him no more; he perished, crushed by horses'
hoofs, or torn to pieces by a cannon-ball, or died mayhap afar off in a
hospital, after having his arm or leg cut off,burning with fever,
without one kind word to console him, but calling for his parents as
when he was an infant,'if, I say, these haughty ones of earth could
thus see the tears of those mothers, I do not believe that one among
them would be barbarous enough to continue the war. But they think
nothing of this; they think other folks do not love their children as
they love theirs; they think people are no more than beasts. They are
wrong; all their great genius, their lofty notions of glory, are as
nothing, for there is only one thing for which a people should fly to
armsmen, women, childrenold and young. It is when their liberty is
assailed as ours was in '92then all should die or conquer together;
he who remains behind is a coward, who would have others fight for
him;the victory then is not for a few, but for all;then sons and
fathers are defending their families; if they are killed, it is a
misfortune, to be sure, but they die for their rights. Such a man,
Joseph, is the only just one, the one of which no one can complain; all
others are shameful, and the glory they bring is not glory fit for a
man, but only for a wild beast.
On the eighth of January, a huge placard was posted on the
town-hall, stating that the Emperor would levy, after a
senatus-consultus, as they said in those days, in the first place,
one hundred and fifty thousand conscripts of 1813; then one hundred
cohortes of the first call of 1812 who thought they had already
escaped; then one hundred thousand conscripts of from 1809 to 1812, and
so on to the end; so that every loop-hole was closed, and we would have
a larger army than before the Russian expedition.
When Father Fouze, the glazier, came to us with this news, one
morning, I almost fell, through faintness, for I thought:
Now they will take all, even fathers of families. I am lost!
Monsieur Goulden poured some water on my neck; my arms hung useless
by my side; I was pale as a corpse.
But I was not the only one upon whom the placard had such an effect:
that year many young men refused to go; some broke their teeth off, so
as not to be able to tear the cartridge; others blew off their thumbs
with pistols, so as not to be able to hold a musket; others, again,
fled to the woods; they proclaimed them refractories, but they had
not gendarmes enough to capture them.
The mothers of families took courage to revolt after a manner, and
to encourage their sons not to obey the gendarmes. They aided
them in every way; they cried out against the Emperor, and the clergy
of all denominations sustained them in so doing. The cup was at last
The very day of the proclamation I went to Quatre-Vents; but it was
not now in the joy of my heart; it was as the most miserable of unhappy
wretches, about to be bereft of love and life. I could scarcely walk,
and when I reached there I did not know how to announce the evil
tidings; but I saw at a glance that they knew all, for Catharine was
weeping bitterly, and Aunt Grédel was pale with indignation.
We embraced in silence, and the first words Aunt Grédel said to me,
as in her anger she pushed her gray hair behind her ears, were:
You shall not go! What have we to do with wars? The priest himself
told us it was at last too much, and that we ought to have peace! You
shall not go! Do not cry, Catharine; I say he shall not go!
She was fairly green with anger, and rattled her kettles noisily
This carnage has lasted long enough. Our two poor cousins, Kasper
and Yokel, are already going to lose their lives in Spain for this
Emperor, and now he comes to ask us for the younger ones. He is not
satisfied to have slain three hundred thousand in Russia. Instead of
thinking of peace, like a man of sense, he thinks only of massacring
the few who remain. We will see! We will see!
In the name of Heaven! Aunt Grédel, be quiet; speak lower, said I,
looking at the window. If they hear you, we are lost.
I speak for them to hear me, she replied. Your Napoleon does not
frighten me. He commenced by closing our mouths, so that he might do as
he pleased; but the end approaches. Four young women are losing their
husbands in our village alone, and ten poor young men are forced to
abandon everything, despite father, mother, religion, justice, God! Is
not this horrible?
I tried to answer, but she kept on:
Hold, Joseph, said she; be silent; your Emperor has no hearthe
will end miserably yet. God showed his finger this winter; He saw that
we feared a man more than we feared Him; that motherslike those whose
babes Herod slewdared no longer cling to their own flesh when that
man demanded them for massacre; and so the cold came and our army
perished; and now those who are leaving us are the same as already
dead. God is weary of all this! You shall not go! cried she
obstinately; I shall not let you go; you shall fly to the woods with
Jean Kraft, Louis Bême, and all our bravest fellows; you shall go to
the mountainsto Switzerland, and Catharine and I will go with you and
remain until this destruction of men is ended.
Then Aunt Grédel became silent. Instead of giving us an ordinary
dinner, she gave us a better one than on Catharine's birthday, and
said, with the air of one who has taken a resolution:
Eat, my children, and fear not; there will soon be a change!
I returned about four in the evening to Phalsbourg, somewhat calmer
than when I set out. But as I went up the Rue de la Munitionnaire, I
heard at the corner of the college the drum of the sergent-de-ville, Harmantier, and I saw a throng gathered around him. I ran to hear what
was going on, and I arrived just as he began reading a proclamation.
Harmantier read that, by the senatus-consultus of the 3d, the
drawing for the conscription would take place on the 15th.
It was already the 8th, and only seven days remained. This upset me
The crowd dispersed in the deepest silence. I went home sad enough,
and said to Monsieur Goulden:
The drawing takes place next Thursday.
Ah! he exclaimed, they are losing no time, things are pressing.
It is easy to imagine my grief that day and the days following. I
could scarcely stand; I constantly saw myself on the point of leaving
home. I saw myself flying to the woods, the gendarmes at my
heels, crying, Halt! halt! Then I thought of the misery of Catharine,
of Aunt Grédel, of Monsieur Goulden. Then I imagined myself marching in
the ranks with a number of other wretches, to whom they were crying
out, Forward! charge bayonets! while whole files were being swept
away. I heard bullets whistle and shells shriek; in a word, I was in a
Be calm, Joseph, said Monsieur Goulden; do not torment yourself
thus. I think that of all who may be drawn there are probably not ten
who can give as good reasons as you for staying at home. The surgeon
must be blind to receive you. Besides, I will see Monsieur the
Commandant. Calm yourself.
But these kind words could not reassure me.
Thus I passed an entire week almost in a trance, and when the day of
the drawing arrived, Thursday morning, I was so pale, so sick-looking
that the parents of conscripts envied, so to speak, my appearance for
their sons. That fellow, they said, has a chance; he would drop the
first mile. Some people are born under a lucky star!
The town-house of Phalsbourg, that Thursday morning, January 15,
1813, during the drawing of the conscription, was a sight to be seen.
To-day it is bad enough to be drawn, to be forced to leave parents,
friends, home, one's cattle and one's fields, to go and learnGod
knows whereOne! two! one! two! halt! eyes left! eyes right!
front! carry arms! etc., etc. Yes, this is all bad enough, but there
is a chance of returning. One can say, with something like confidence:
In seven years I shall see my old nest again, and my parents, and
perhaps my sweetheart. I shall have seen the world, and will perhaps
have some title to be appointed forester or gendarme. This is a
comfort for reasonable people. But then, if you had the ill-luck
to lose in the lottery, there was an end of you; often not one in a
hundred returned. The idea that you were only going for a time never
entered your head.
The enrolled of Harberg, of Garbourg, and of Quatre-Vents were to
draw first; then those of the city, and lastly those of Wechem and
I was up early in the morning, and with my elbows on the work-bench
I watched the people pass by; young men in blouses, poor old men in
cotton caps and short vests; old women in jackets and woollen skirts,
bent almost double, with a staff or umbrella under their arms. They
arrived by families. Monsieur the Sub-Prefect of Sarrebourg, with his
silver collar, and his secretary, had stopped the day before at the
Red Ox, and they were also looking out of the window. Toward eight
o'clock, Monsieur Goulden began work, after breakfasting. I ate
nothing, but stared and stared until Monsieur the Mayor Parmentier and
his co-adjutor, came for Monsieur the Sub-Prefect.
The drawing began at nine, and soon we heard the clarionet of
Pfifer-Karl and the violin of big Andrès resounding through the
streets. They were playing the March of the Swedes, an air to which
thousands of poor wretches had left old Alsace for ever. The conscripts
danced, linked arms, shouted until their voices seemed to pierce the
clouds, stamped on the ground, waved their hats, trying to seem joyful
while death was at their hearts. Well, it was the fashion; and big
Andrès, withered, stiff, and yellow as boxwood, and his short chubby
comrade, with cheeks extended to their utmost tension, seemed like
people who would lead you to the church-yard all the while chatting
That music, those cries, sent a shudder through my heart.
I had just put on my swallow-tailed coat and my beaver hat, to go
out, when Aunt Grédel and Catharine entered, saying:
Good-morning, Monsieur Goulden. We have come for the conscription.
Then I saw how Catharine had been crying. Her eyes were red, and she
threw her arms around my neck, while her mother turned to me.
Monsieur Goulden said:
It will soon be the turn of the young men of the town.
Yes, Monsieur Goulden, answered Catharine in a choking voice;
they have finished Harberg.
Then it is time for you to go, Joseph, said he; but do not
grieve; do not be frightened. These drawings, you know, are only a
matter of form. For a long while past none can escape; for if they
escape one drawing, they are caught a year or two after. All the
numbers are bad. When the council of exemption meets, we will see what
is best to be done. To-day it is merely a sort of satisfaction they
give the people to draw in the lottery; but every one loses.
No matter, said Aunt Grédel; Joseph will win.
Yes, yes, replied Monsieur Goulden, smiling, he cannot fail.
Then I sallied forth with Catharine and Aunt Grédel, and we went to
the town square, where the crowd was. In all the shops, dozens of
conscripts, purchasing ribbons, thronged around the counters, weeping
and singing as if possessed. Others in the inns embraced, sobbing; but
still they sang. Two or three musicians of the neighborhoodthe Gipsy
Walteufel, Rosselkasten, and George Adamhad arrived, and their pieces
thundered in terrible and heart-rending strains.
Catharine squeezed my arm. Aunt Grédel followed.
Opposite the guard-house I saw the pedler Pinacle afar off, his pack
opened on a little table, and beside it a long pole decked with ribbons
which he was selling to the conscripts.
I hastened to pass by him, when he cried:
Ha! Cripple! Halt! Come here; I have a ribbon for you; you must
have a magnificent oneone to draw a prize by.
He waved a long black ribbon above his head, and I grew pale despite
myself. But as we ascended the steps of the town-house, a conscript was
just descending; it was Klipfel, the smith of the French gate; he had
drawn number eight, and shouted:
The black for me, Pinacle! Bring it here, whatever may happen.
His face was gloomy, but he laughed. His little brother Jean was
crying behind him, and said:
No, no, Jacob! not the black!
But Pinacle fastened the ribbon to the smith's hat, while the latter
That is what we want now. We are all dead, and should wear our own
And he cried savagely:
I was better satisfied to see the black ribbon on his hat than on
mine, and I slipped quickly through the crowd to avoid Pinacle.
We had great difficulty in getting into the townhouse and in
climbing the old oak stairs, where people were going up and down in
swarms. In the great hall above, the gendarme Kelz walked about
maintaining order as well as he could, and in the council-chamber at
the side, where there was a painting of Justice with her eyes
blindfolded, we heard them calling off the numbers. From time to time a
conscript came out with flushed face, fastening his number to his cap
and passing with bowed head through the crowd, like a furious bull who
cannot see clearly and who would seem to wish to break his horns
against the walls. Others, on the contrary, passed as pale as death.
The windows of the town-house were open, and without we heard six or
seven pieces playing together. It was horrible.
I pressed Catharine's hand, and we passed slowly through the crowd
to the hall where Monsieur the Sub-Prefect, the Mayors, and the
Secretaries were seated on their tribune, calling the numbers aloud, as
if pronouncing sentence of death in a court of justice, for all these
numbers were really sentences of death.
We waited a long while.
It seemed as if there was no longer a drop of blood in my veins,
when at last my name was called.
I stepped up, seeing and hearing nothing; I put my hand in the box
and drew a number.
Monsieur the Sub-Prefect cried out:
Then I left without speaking, Catharine and her mother behind me. We
went out into the square, and, the air reviving me, I remembered that I
had drawn number seventeen.
Aunt Grédel seemed confounded.
And I put something into your pocket, too, said she; but that
rascal of a Pinacle gave you ill-luck.
At the same time she drew from my coat-pocket the end of a cord.
Great drops of sweat rolled down my forehead; Catharine was white as
marble, and so we went back to Monsieur Goulden's.
What number did you draw, Joseph? he asked, as soon as he saw us.
Seventeen, replied Aunt Grédel, sitting down with her hands upon
Monsieur Goulden seemed troubled for a moment, but he said
One is as good as another. All will go; the skeletons must be
filled. But it don't matter for Joseph. I will go and see Monsieur the
Mayor and Monsieur the Commandant. It will be telling no lie to say
that Joseph is lame; all the town knows that; but among so many they
may overlook him. That is why I go, so rest easy; do not be anxious.
These words of good Monsieur Goulden reassured Aunt Grédel and
Catharine, who returned to Quatre-Vents full of hope; but they did not
affect me, for from that moment I had not a moment of rest day or
The Emperor had a good custom: he did not allow the conscripts to
languish at home. Soon as the drawing was complete, the council of
revision met, and a few days after came the orders of march. He did not
do like those tooth-pullers who first show you their pincers and hooks
and gaze for an hour into your mouth, so that you feel half dead before
they make up their minds to begin work: he proceeded without loss of
A week after the drawing, the council of revision sat at the
town-hall, with all the mayors and a few notables of the country to
give advice in case of need.
The day before Monsieur Goulden had put on his brown great-coat and
his best wig to go to wind up Monsieur the Mayor's clock and that of
the Commandant. He returned laughing and said:
All goes well, Joseph. Monsieur the Mayor and Monsieur the
Commandant know that you are lame; that is easy enough to be seen. They
replied at once, Eh, Monsieur Goulden, the young man is lame; why speak
of him? Do not be uneasy; we do not want the infirm; we want soldiers.
These words poured balm on my wounds, and that night I slept like
one of the blessed. But the next day fear again assailed me; I
remembered suddenly how many men full of defects had gone all the same,
and how many others invented defects to deceive the council; for
instance, swallowing injurious substances to make them pale; tying up
their legs to give themselves swollen veins; or playing deaf, blind, or
foolish. Thinking over all these things, I trembled at not being lame
enough, and determined that I would appear sufficiently forlorn. I had
heard that vinegar would make one sick, and without telling Monsieur
Goulden, in my fear I swallowed all the vinegar in his bottle. Then I
dressed myself, thinking that I looked like a dead man, for the vinegar
was very strong; but when I entered Monsieur Goulden's room, he cried
Joseph, what is the matter with you? You are as red as a cock's
And, looking at myself in the mirror, I saw that my face was red to
my ears, and to the tip of my nose. I was frightened, but instead of
growing pale I became redder yet, and I cried out in my distress:
'Now I am lost indeed! I will seem like a man without a single
defect, and full of health. The vinegar is rushing to my head.
What vinegar? asked Monsieur Goulden.
That in your bottle. I drank it to make myself pale, as they say
Mademoiselle Sclapp, the organist does. O heavens! what a fool I was.
That does not prevent your being lame, said Monsieur Goulden; but
you tried to deceive the council, which was dishonest. But it is
half-past nine, and Werner is come to tell me you must be there at ten
o'clock. So, hurry.
I had to go in that state; the heat of the vinegar seemed bursting
from my cheeks, and when I met Catharine and her mother, who were
waiting for me at the town-house, they scarcely knew me.
How happy and satisfied you look! said Aunt Grédel.
I would have fainted on hearing this if the vinegar had not
sustained me in spite of myself. I went upstairs in terrible agony,
without being able to move my tongue to reply, so great was the horror
I felt at my folly.
Upstairs, more than twenty-five conscripts who pretended to be
infirm, had been examined and received, while twenty-five others, on a
bench along the wall, sat with drooping heads awaiting their turn.
The old gendarme, Kelz, with his huge cocked hat, was walking about,
and as soon as he saw me, exclaimed:
At last! At last! Here is one, at all events, who will not be sorry
to go; the love of glory is shining in his eyes. Very good, Joseph; I
predict that at the end of the campaign you will be corporal.
But I am lame, I cried, angrily.
Lame! repeated Kelz, winking and smiling, lame! No matter. With
such health as yours you can always hold your own.
He had scarcely ceased speaking when the door of the hall of the
Council of Revision opened, and the other gendarme, Werner, putting out
his head, called me by name, Joseph Bertha.
I entered, limping as much as I could, and Werner shut the door. The
mayors of the canton were seated in a semicircle, Monsieur the
Sub-Prefect and the Mayor of Phalsbourg in the middle, in arm-chairs,
and the Secretary Freylig at his table. A Harberg conscript was
dressing himself, the gendarme Descarmes helping him put on his
suspenders. This conscript, with a mass of brown hair falling over his
eyes, his neck bare, and his mouth open as he caught his breath, seemed
like a man going to be hanged. Two surgeonsthe Surgeon-in-Chief of
the Hospital, with another in uniformwere conversing in the middle of
the hall. They turned to me saying, Undress yourself.
I did so, even to my shirt. The others looked on.
Monsieur the Sub-Prefect observed:
There is a young man full of health.
These words angered me, but I nevertheless replied respectfully:
I am lame, Monsieur the Sub-Prefect.
The surgeon examined me, and the one from the hospital, to whom
Monsieur the Commandant had doubtless spoken of me, said:
The left leg is a little short.
Bah! said the other; it is sound.
Then placing his hand upon my chest he said, The conformation is
I coughed as feebly as I could; but he found me all right, and said
Look at his color. How good his blood must be!
Then I, seeing that they would pass me if I remained silent,
I have been drinking vinegar.
Ah! said he; that proves you have a good stomach; you like
But I am lame! I cried in my distress.
Bah! don't grieve at that, he answered; your leg is sound. I'll
answer for it.
But that, said Monsieur the Mayor, does not prevent his being
lame from birth; all Phalsbourg knows that.
The leg is too short, said the surgeon from the hospital; it is
doubtless a case for exemption.
Yes, said the Mayor; I am sure that this young man could not
endure a long march; he would drop on the road the second mile.
The first surgeon said nothing more.
I thought myself saved, when Monsieur the Sub-Prefect asked:
You are really Joseph Bertha?
Yes, Monsieur the Sub-Prefect, I answered.
Well, gentlemen, said he, taking a letter out of his portfolio,
He began to read the letter, which stated that, six months before, I
had bet that I could go to Laverne and back quicker than Pinacle; that
we had run the race, and I had won.
It was unhappily too true. The villain Pinacle had always taunted me
with being a cripple, and in my anger I laid the wager. Every one knew
of it. I could not deny it.
While I stood utterly confounded, the first surgeon said:
That settles the question. Dress yourself. And turning to the
secretary, he cried, Good for service.
I took up my coat in despair.
Werner called another. I no longer saw anything. Some one helped me
to get my arms in my coat-sleeves. Then I found myself upon the stairs,
and while Catharine asked me what had poised, I sobbed aloud and would
have fallen from top to bottom if Aunt Grédel had not supported me.
We went out by the rear-way and crossed the little court. I wept
like a child, and Catharine did too. Out in the hall, in the shadow, we
stopped to embrace each other.
Aunt Grédel cried out:
Oh the robbers! They are taking the lame and the sick. It is all
the same to them; next they will take us.
A crowd began collecting, and Sepel the butcher, who was cutting
meat in the stall, said:
Mother Grédel, in the name of Heaven keep quiet. They will put you
Well, let them put me there! she cried, let them murder me. I say
that men are fools to allow such outrages!
But the sergent-de-ville was coming up, and we went on
together weeping. We turned the corner of Café Hemmerle, and went into
our own house. People looked at us from the windows and said, There is
another one who is going.
Monsieur Goulden knowing that Aunt Grédel and Catharine would come
to dine with us the day of the revision, had had a stuffed goose and
two bottles of good Alsace wine sent from the Golden Sheep. He was
sure that I would be exempted at once. What was his surprise, then, to
see us enter together in such distress.
What is the matter? said he, raising his silk cap over his bald
forehead, and staring at us with eyes wide open.
I had not strength enough to answer. I threw myself into the
arm-chair and burst into tears. Catharine sat down beside me, and our
Aunt Grédel said:
The robbers have taken him.
It is not possible! exclaimed Monsieur Goulden, letting fall his
arms by his side.
It shows their villainy, replied my aunt, and growing more and
more excited, she cried, Will a revolution never come again? Shall
those wretches always be our masters?
Calm yourself, Mother Grédel, said Monsieur Goulden. In the name
of Heaven don't cry so loud. Joseph, tell me how it happened. They are
surely mistaken; it cannot be otherwise. Did Monsieur the Mayor and the
hospital surgeon say nothing?
I told the history of the letter between my sobs, and Aunt Grédel,
who until then knew nothing of it, again shrieked with her hands
O the scoundrel! God grant that he may cross my threshold again. I
will cleave his head with my hatchet.
Monsieur Goulden was astounded.
And you did not say that it was false. Then the story was true?'
And as I bowed my head without replying he clasped his hands,
O youth! youth! it thinks of nothing. What folly! what folly!
He walked around the room; then sat down to wipe his spectacles, and
Aunt Grédel exclaimed:
Yes, but they shall not have him yet! Their wickedness shall yet go
for nothing. This very evening Joseph shall be in the mountains on the
way to Switzerland.
Monsieur Goulden hearing this, looked grave; he bent his brows, and
replied in a few moments: It is a misfortune, a great misfortune, for
Joseph is really lame. They will yet find it out, for he cannot march
two days without falling behind and becoming sick. But you are wrong,
Mother Grédel, to speak as you do and give him bad advice.
Bad advice! she cried. Then you are for having people massacred
No, he answered; I do not love wars, especially where a hundred
thousand men lose their lives for the glory of one. But wars of that
kind are ended. It is not now for glory and to win new kingdoms that
soldiers are levied, but to defend our country, which had been put in
danger by tyranny and ambition. We would gladly have peace now.
Unhappily, the Russians are advancing; the Prussians are joining them:
and our friends, the Austrians, only await a good opportunity to fall
upon our rear. If we do not go to meet them, they will come to our
homes; for we are about to have Europe on our hands as we had in '93.
It is now a different matter from our wars in Spain, in Russia, and in
Germany; and I, old as I am, Mother Grédel, if the danger continues to
increase and the veterans of the republic are needed, I would be
ashamed to go and make clocks in Switzerland while others were pouring
out their blood to defend my country. Besides, remember this well, that
deserters are despised everywhere; after having committed such an act,
they have no kindred or home anywhere. They have neither father,
mother, church nor country. They are incapable of fulfilling the first
duty of manto love and sustain their country, even though she be in
He said no more at the moment, but sat gravely down.
Let us eat, he exclaimed, after some minutes of silence. It is
striking twelve o'clock. Mother Grédel and Catharine, seat yourselves
They sat down, and we began dinner. I thought of the words of
Monsieur Goulden, which seemed right to me. Aunt Grédel compressed her
lips, and from time to time gazed at me as if to read my thoughts. At
length she said:
I despise a country where they take fathers of families after
carrying off the sons. If I were in Joseph's place, I would fly at
Listen, Aunt Grédel, I replied; you know that I love nothing so
much as peace and quiet, but I would not, nevertheless, run away like a
coward to another country. But, notwithstanding, I will do as Catharine
says; if she wishes me to go to Switzerland, I will go.
Then Catharine, lowering her head to hide her tears, said in a low
I would not have them call you a deserter.
Well, then, I will do like the others, I cried; and as those of
Phalsbourg and Dagsberg are going to the wars, I will go.
Monsieur Goulden made no remark.
Every one is free to do as he pleases, said he, after a while;
but I am glad that Joseph thinks as I do.
Then there was silence, and toward two o'clock Aunt Grédel arose and
took her basket. She seemed utterly cast down, and said:
Joseph, you will not listen to me, but no matter. With God's grace,
all will yet be well. You will return if He wills it, and Catharine
will wait for you.
Catharine wept again, and I more than she; so that Monsieur Goulden
himself could not help shedding tears.
At length Catharine and her mother descended the stairs, and Aunt
Grédel called out from the bottom:
Try to come and see us once or twice again, Joseph.
Yes, yes, I answered, shutting the door.
I could no longer stand. Never had I been so miserable, and even
now, when I think of it, my heart chills.
From that day I could think of nothing but my misfortune. I tried to
work, but my thoughts were far away, and Monsieur Goulden said:
Joseph, stop working. Make the most of the little time you can
remain among us; go to see Catharine and Mother Grédel. I still think
they will exempt you, but who can tell? They need men so much that it
may be a long time coming.
I went every morning then to Quatre-Vents, and passed my days with
Catharine. We were very sorrowful, but very glad to see each other. We
loved one another even more than before, if that were possible.
Catharine sometimes tried to sing as in the good old times; but
suddenly she would burst into tears. Then we wept together, and Aunt
Grédel would rail at the wars which brought misery to every one. She
said that the Council of Revision deserved to be hung; that they were
all robbers, banded together to poison our lives. It solaced us a
little to hear her talk thus, and we thought she was right.
I returned to the city about eight or nine o'clock in the evening,
when they closed the gates, and as I passed, I saw the small inns full
of conscripts and old returned soldiers drinking together. The
conscripts always paid; the others, with dirty police caps cocked over
their ears, red noses, and horse-hair stocks in place of shirt-collars,
twisted their mustaches and related with majestic air their battles,
their marches, and their duels. One can imagine nothing viler than
those holes, full of smoke, cob-webs hanging on the black beams, those
old sworders and young men drinking, shouting, and beating the tables
like crazy people; and behind, in the shadow, old Annette Schnaps or
Marie Héringher old wig stuck back on her head, her comb with only
three teeth remaining, crosswise, in itgazing on the scene, or
emptying a mug to the health of the braves.
It was sad to see the sons of peasants, honest and laborious
fellows, leading such an existence; but no one thought of working, and
any one of them would have given his life for two farthings. Worn out
with shouting, drinking, and internal grief, they ended by falling
asleep over the table, while the old fellows emptied their cups,
'Tis glory calls us on!
I saw these things, and I blessed heaven for having given me, in my
wretchedness, kind hearts to keep up my courage, and prevent my falling
into such hands.
This state of affairs lasted until the twenty-fifth of January. For
some days a great number of Italian conscriptsPiedmontese and
Genoesehad been arriving in the city; some stout and fat as Savoyards
fed upon chestnutstheir cocked hats on their curly heads; their
linsey-woolsey pantaloons dyed a dark green, and their short vests also
of wool, but brick-red, fastened around their waists by a leather belt.
They wore enormous shoes, and ate their cheese seated along the old
market-place. Others were dried up, lean, brown, shivering in their
long cassocks, seeing nothing but snow upon the roofs and gazing with
their large, black, mournful eyes upon the women who passed. They were
exercised every day in marching, and were going to fill up the skeleton
of the Sixth regiment of the line at Mayence, and were then resting for
a while in the infantry barracks.
The captain of the recruits, who was named Vidal, lodged over our
room. He was a square-built, solid, very strong-looking man, and was,
too, very kind and civil. He came to us to have his watch repaired, and
when he learned that I was a conscript and was afraid I should never
return, he encouraged me, saying that it was all habit; that at the end
of five or six months one fights and marches as he eats his dinner; and
that many so accustom themselves to shooting at people that they
consider themselves unhappy when they are deprived of that amusement.
But his mode of reasoning was not to my taste; the more so as I saw
five or six large grains of powder on one of his cheeks, which had
entered deeply, and as he explained to me that they came from a shot
which a Russian fired almost under his nose, such a life disgusted me
more and more, and as several days had already passed without news, I
began to think they had forgotten me, as they did Jacob, of Chèvre Hof,
of whose extraordinary luck every one yet talks. Aunt Grédel herself
said to me every time I went there, Well, well! they will let us alone
after all! When, on the morning of the twenty-fifth of January, as I
was about starting for Quatre-Vents, Monsieur Goulden, who was working
at his bench with a thoughtful air, turned to me with tears in his eyes
Listen, Joseph! I wanted to let you have one night more of quiet
sleep; but you must know now, my child, that yesterday evening the
brigadier of the gendarmes brought me your marching orders. You
go with the Piedmontese and Genoese and five or six young men of the
cityyoung Klipfel, young Loerig, Jean Léger, and Gaspard Zébédé. You
go to Mayence.
I felt my knees give way as he spoke, and I sat down unable to
speak. Monsieur Goulden took my marching orders, beautifully written,
out of a drawer, and began to read them slowly. All that I remember is
that Joseph Bertha, native of Dabo, Canton of Phalsbourg,
Arrondissement of Sarrebourg, was incorporated in the Sixth regiment of
the line, and that he was to join his corps the twenty-ninth of January
This letter produced as bad an effect on me as if I had known
nothing of it before. It seemed something new, and I grew angry.
Monsieur Goulden, after a moment's silence, added:
The Italians start to-day at eleven.
Then, as if awakening from a horrible dream, I cried:
But shall I not see Catharine again?
Yes, Joseph, yes, said he, in a trembling voice. I notified
Mother Grédel and Catharine, and thus, my boy, they will come, and you
can embrace them before leaving.
I saw his grief, and it made me sadder yet, so that I had a hard
struggle to keep myself from bursting into tears.
He continued after a pause:
You need not be anxious about anything, Joseph. I have prepared all
beforehand; and when you return, if it please God to keep me so long in
this world, you will find me always the same. I am beginning to grow
old, and my greatest happiness would be to keep you for a son, for I
found you good-hearted and honest. I would have given you what I
possess, and we would have been happy together. Catharine and you would
have been my children. But since it is otherwise, let us be resigned.
It is only for a little while. You will be sent back, I am sure. They
will soon see that you cannot make long marches.
While he spoke, I sat silently sobbing, my face buried in my hands.
At last he arose and took from a closet a soldier's knapsack of
cowskin, which he placed upon the table. I looked at him, thinking of
nothing but the pain of parting.
Here is your knapsack, he added; and I have put in it all that
you require; two linen shirts, two flannel waistcoats, and all the
rest. You will receive at Mayence two soldier's shirts,all that you
will need; but I have made for you some shoes, for nothing is worse
than those given the soldiers, which are almost always of horse-hide
and chafe the feet fearfully. You are none too strong in your leg, my
poor boy. Well, well, that is all.
He placed the knapsack upon the table and sat down.
Without, we heard the Italians making ready to depart. Above us
Captain Vidal was giving his orders. He had his horse at the barracks
of the gendarmerie, and was telling his orderly to see that he was well
rubbed and had received his hay.
All this bustle and movement produced a strange effect upon me, and
I could not yet realize that I must quit the city. As I was thus in the
greatest distress, the door opened and Catharine entered weeping, while
Mother Grédel cried out:
I told you you should have fled to Switzerland; that these rogues
would finish by carrying you off. I told you so, and you would not
Mother Grédel, replied Monsieur Goulden, to go to do his duty is
not so great an evil as to be despised by honest people. Instead of all
these cries and reproaches, which serve no good purpose, you would do
better to comfort and encourage Joseph.
Ah! said she; I do not reproach him, although this is terrible.
Catharine did not leave me; she sat by me and we embraced each
other, and she said, pressing my arm:
You will return?
Yes, yes, said I, in a low voice. And youyou will always think
of me; you will not love another?
She answered, sobbing:
No, no! I will never love any but you.
This lasted a quarter of an hour, when the door opened and Captain
Vidal entered, his cloak rolled like a hunting-horn over his shoulder.
Well, said he, well; how goes our young man?
Here he is, answered Monsieur Goulden.
Ah! remarked the captain; you are making yourself miserable. It
is natural. I remember when I departed for the army. We have all a
Then, raising his voice, he said:
Come, come, young man, courage! We are no longer children.
He looked at Catharine.
I see all, said he to Monsieur Goulden. I can understand why he
does not want to go.
The drums beat in the street and he added:
We have yet twenty minutes before starting, and, throwing a glance
at me, Do not fail to be at the first call, young man, said he,
pressing Monsieur Goulden's hand.
He went out, and we heard his horse pawing at the door.
The morning was overcast, and grief overwhelmed me. I could not
Suddenly the roll beat. The drums were all collected in the square.
Monsieur Goulden, taking the knapsack by its straps, said in a grave
Joseph, now the last embrace: it is time to go.
I stood up, pale as ashes. He fastened the knapsack to my shoulders.
Catharine sat sobbing, her face covered with her apron. Aunt Grédel
looked on with lips compressed.
The roll continued for a time, then suddenly ceased.
The call is about commencing, said Monsieur Goulden, embracing me.
Then the fountains of his heart burst forth; tears sprang to his eyes;
and calling me his child, his son, he whispered, Courage!
Aunt Grédel seated herself again, and as I bent toward her, taking
my head between her hands, she sobbed:
I always loved you, Joseph; ever since you were a baby. You never
gave me cause of griefand now you must go. O God! O God!
I wept no longer.
When Aunt Grédel released me, I looked a moment at Catharine, who
stood motionless. I rushed to her and threw myself on her neck. She
still kept her seat. Then I turned quickly to go, when she cried, in
O Joseph! Joseph!
I looked back. We threw ourselves into each other's arms, and for
some minutes remained so, sobbing. Her strength seemed to leave her,
and I placed her in the arm-chair, and rushed out of the house.
I was already on the square, in the midst of the Italians and of a
crowd of people crying for their sons or brothers. I saw nothing; I
When the roll of the drums began again, I looked around, and saw
that I was between Klipfel and Furst, all three with our knapsacks on
our backs. Their parents stood before us, weeping as if at their
funeral. To the right, near the town-hall, Captain Vidal, on his little
gray horse, was conversing with two infantry officers. The sergeants
called the roll, and we answered. They called Zébédé, Furst, Klipfel,
Bertha; we answered like the others. Then the captain gave the word,
March! and we went, two abreast, toward the French gate.
At the corner of Spitz's bakery, an old woman cried, in a choking
voice, from a window:
It was Zébédé's grandmother. His lips trembled. He waved his hand
without replying, and passed on with downcast face.
I shuddered at the thought of passing my home. As we neared it, my
knees trembled, and I heard some one call at the window; but I turned
my head toward the Red Ox, and the rattle of the drums drowned the
The children ran after us, shouting:
There goes Joseph! there goes Klipfel!
Under the French gate, the men on guard, drawn up in line on each
side, gazed on us as we passed at shoulder arms. We passed the
outposts, and the drum ceased playing as we turned to the right.
Nothing was heard but the plash of footsteps in the mud, for the snow
We had passed the farm-house of Gerberhoff, and were going to the
great bridge, when I heard some one call me. It was the captain, who
cried from his horse:
Very well done, young man; I am satisfied with you.
Hearing this, I could not help again bursting into tears, and the
big Furst, too, wept, as we marched along; the others, pale as marble,
said nothing. At the bridge, Zébédé took out his pipe to smoke. In
front of us, the Italians talked and laughed among themselves; their
three weeks of service had accustomed them to this life.
Once on the way to Metting, more than a league from the city, as we
began to descend, Klipfel touched me on the shoulder, and whispered:
I looked, and saw Phalsbourg far beneath us; the barracks, the
magazines, the steeple whence I had seen Catharine's home six weeks
before, with old Brainsteinall were in the gray distance, with the
woods all around. I would have stopped a few moments, but the squad
marched on, and I had to keep pace with them. We entered Metting.
That same day we went as far as Bitche; the next, to Hornbach; then
to Kaiserslautern. It began to snow again.
How often during that long march did I sigh for the thick cloak of
Monsieur Goulden, and his double-soled shoes.
We passed through innumerable villages, sometimes on the mountains,
sometimes in the plains. As we entered each little town, the drums
began to beat, and we marched with heads erect, marking the step,
trying to assume the mien of old soldiers. The people looked out of
their little windows, or came to the doors, saying, There go the
At night we halted, glad to rest our weary feetI, especially. I
cannot say that my leg hurt me, but my feet! I had never undergone such
fatigue. With our billet for lodging we had the right to a corner of
the fire, but our hosts also gave us a place at the table. We had
nearly always buttermilk and potatoes, and often fresh cheese or a dish
of sauerkraut. The children came to look at us, and the old women asked
us from what place we came, and what our business was before we left
home. The young girls looked sorrowfully at us, thinking of their
sweethearts, who had gone five, six, or seven months before. Then they
would take us to their son's bed. With what pleasure I stretched out my
tired limbs! How I wished to sleep all our twelve hours' halt! But
early in the morning, at daybreak, the rattling of the drums awoke me.
I gazed at the brown rafters of the ceiling, the window-panes covered
with frost, and asked myself where I was. Then my heart would grow
cold, as I thought that I was at Bitcheat Kaiserslauternthat I was
a conscript; and I had to dress fast as I could, catch up my knapsack,
and answer the roll-call.
A good journey to you! said the hostess, awakened so early in the
Thank you, replied the conscript.
And we marched on.
Yes! a good journey to you! They will not see you again, poor
wretch! How many others have followed the same road!
I will never forget how at Kaiserslautern, the second day of our
march, having unstrapped my knapsack to take out a white shirt, I
discovered, beneath, a little pocket, and opening it I found fifty-four
francs in six-livre pieces. On the paper wrapped around them were these
words, written by Monsieur Goulden:
While you are at the wars, be always good and honest. Think of your
friends and of those for whom you would be willing to sacrifice your
life, and treat the enemy with humanity that they may so treat our
soldiers. May Heaven guide you, and protect you in your dangers! You
will find some money enclosed; for it is a good thing, when far from
home and all who love you, to have a little of it. Write to us as often
as you can. I embrace you, my child, and press you to my heart.
As I read this, the tears forced themselves to my eyes, and I
thought, Thou are not wholly abandoned, Joseph: fond hearts are
yearning toward you. Never forget their kind counsels.
At last, on the fifth day, about ten o'clock in the evening, we
entered Mayence. As long as I live I will remember it. It was terribly
cold. We had begun our march at early dawn, and long before reaching
the city, had passed through villages filled with soldierscavalry,
infantry, dragoons in their short jacketssome digging holes in the
ice to get water for their horses, others dragging bundles of forage to
the doors of the stables; powder-wagons, carts full of cannon-balls,
all white with frost, stood on every side; couriers, detachments of
artillery, pontoon-trains, were coming and going over the white ground;
and no more attention was paid to us than if we were not in existence.
Captain Vidal, to warm himself, had dismounted and marched with us
on foot. The officers and sergeants hastened us on. Five or six
Italians had fallen behind and remained in the villages, no longer able
to advance. My feet wore sore and burning, and at the last halt I could
scarcely rise to resume the march. The others from Phalsbourg, however,
kept bravely on.
Night had fallen; the sky sparkled with stars. Every one gazed
forward, and said to his comrade, We are nearing it! we are nearing
it! for along the horizon a dark line of seeming cloud, glittering
here and there with flashing points, told that a great city lay before
At last we entered the advanced works, and passed through the zigzag
earthen bastions. Then we dressed our ranks and marked the step, as we
usually did when approaching a town. At the corner of a sort of
demilune we saw the frozen fosse of the city, and the brick ramparts
towering above, and opposite us an old, dark gate, with the drawbridge
raised. Above stood a sentinel, who, with his musket raised, cried out:
Who goes there?
The captain, going forward alone, replied:
Recruits for the Sixth of the Line.
A silence ensued. Then the drawbridge was lowered, and the guard
turned out and examined us, one of them carrying a great torch. Captain
Vidal, a few paces in advance of us, spoke to the commandant of the
post, who called out at length:
Pass when you please.
Our drums began to beat, but the captain ordered them to cease, and
we crossed a long bridge and passed through a second gate like the
first. Then we were in the streets of the city, which were paved with
smooth round stones. Every one tried his best to march steadily; for,
although it was night, all the inns and shops along the way were opened
and their large windows were shining, and hundreds of people were
passing to and fro as if it were broad day.
We turned five or six corners and soon arrived in a little open
place before a high barrack, where we were ordered to halt.
There was a shed at the corner of the barrack, and in it a
cantinière seated behind a small table, under a great tri-colored
umbrella from which hung two lanterns.
Several officers came up as soon as we halted: they were the
Commandant Gémeau and some others whom I have since known. They pressed
our captain's hand laughing, then looked at us and ordered the roll to
be called. After that, we each received a ration of bread and a billet
for lodging. We were told that roll-call would take place the next
morning at eight o'clock for the distribution of arms, and then, we
were ordered to break ranks, while the officers turned up a street to
the left and went into a great coffee-house, the entrance of which was
approached by a flight of fifteen steps.
But we, with our billets for lodgingwhat were we to do with them
in the middle of such a city, and, above all, the Italians, who did not
know a word either of German or French?
My first idea was to see the cantinière under her umbrella.
She was an old Alsatian, round and chubby, and, when I asked for the
Capougner-Strasse, she replied:
What will you pay for?
I was obliged to take a glass of brandy with her; then she said:
Look just opposite there; if you turn the first corner to the
right, you will find the Capougner-Strasse. Good-evening,
Big Furst and Zébédé were also billeted in the Capougner-Strasse, and we set out, glad enough to be able to limp together through the
Furst found his house first, but it was shut; and while he was
knocking at the door, I found mine, which had a light in two windows. I
pushed at the door, it opened, and I entered a dark alley, whence came
a smell of fresh bread, which was very welcome. Zébédé had to go
I called out in the alley:
Is any one here?
Just then an old woman appeared with a candle at the top of a wooden
What do you want? she asked.
I told her that I was billeted at her house. She came downstairs,
and, looking at my billet, told me in German to follow her.
I ascended the stairs. Passing an open door, I saw two men naked to
the waist at work before an oven. I was, then, at a baker's, and her
having so much work accounted for the old woman being up so late. She
wore a cap with black ribbons, a large blue apron, and her arms were
bare to the elbows; she, too, had been working, and seemed very
sorrowful. She led me into a good-sized room with a porcelain stove and
a bed at the farther end.
You come late, she said.
We were marching all day, I replied, and I am fainting with
hunger and weariness.
She looked at me and I heard her say:
Poor child! poor child! Well, take off your shoes and put on these
Then she made me sit before the stove, and asked:
Are your feet sore?
Yes, they have been so for three days.
She put the candle upon the table and went out. I took off my coat
and shoes. My feet were blistered and bleeding, and pained me horribly,
and I felt for the moment as if it would almost be better to die at
once than continue in such suffering.
This thought had more than once arisen to my mind in the march, but
now, before that good fire, I felt so worn, so miserable, that I would
gladly have lain myself down to sleep forever, notwithstanding
Catharine, Aunt Grédel, and all who loved me. Truly, I needed God's
While these thoughts were running through my head, the door opened,
and a tall, stout man, gray-haired, but yet strong and healthy,
entered. He was one of those I had seen at work below, and held in his
hands a bottle of wine and two glasses.
Good-evening! said he, gravely and kindly.
I looked up. The old woman was behind him. She was carrying a little
wooden tub, which she placed on the floor near my chair.
Take a foot-bath, said she; it will do you good.
This kindness on the part of a stranger affected me more than I
cared to show, and I thought: There are kind people in the world. I
took off my stockings; my feet were bleeding, and the good old dame
repeated, as she gazed at them:
Poor child! poor child!
The man asked me whence I came. I told him from Phalsbourg in
Lorraine. Then he told his wife to bring some bread, adding that, after
we had taken a glass of wine together, he would leave me to the repose
I needed so much.
He pushed the table before me, as I sat with my feet in the bath,
and we each drained a glass of good white wine. The old woman returned
with some hot bread, over which she had spread fresh, half-melted
butter. Then I knew how hungry I was. I was almost ill. The good people
saw my eagerness for food; for the woman said:
Before eating, my child, you must take your feet out of the bath.
She knelt down and dried my feet with her apron before I knew what
she was about to do. I cried:
Good Heavens! madame; you treat me as if I were your son.
She replied, after a moment's mournful silence:
We have a son in the army.
Her voice trembled as she spoke, and my heart bled within me. I
thought of Catharine and Aunt Grédel, and could not speak again. I ate
and drank with a pleasure I never before felt in doing so. The two old
people sat gazing kindly on me, and, when I had finished, the man said:
Yes, we have a son in the army; he went to Russia last year, and we
have not since heard from him. These wars are terrible!
He spoke dreamily, as if to himself, all the while walking up and
down the room, his hands crossed behind his back. My eyes began to
close when he said suddenly:
Come, wife. Good-night, conscript.
They went out together, she carrying the tub.
God reward you, I cried, and bring your son safe home!
In a minute I was undressed, and, sinking on the bed, I was almost
immediately buried in a deep sleep.
The next morning I awoke at about seven o'clock. A trumpet was
sounding the recall at the corner of the street; horses, wagons, and
men and women on foot were hurrying past the house. My feet were yet
somewhat sore, but nothing to what they had been; and when I had
dressed, I felt like a new man, and thought to myself:
Joseph, if this continues, you will soon be a soldier. It is only
the first step that costs.
I dressed in this cheerful mood. The baker's wife had put my shoes
to dry before the fire, after filling them with hot ashes to keep them
from growing hard. They were well greased and shining.
Then I buckled on my knapsack, and hurried out, without having time
to thank those good peoplea duty I intended to fulfil after
roll-call. At the end of the streeton the squaremany of our
Italians were already waiting, shivering around the fountain. Furst,
Klipfel, and Zébédé arrived a moment after.
Cannon and their caissons covered one entire side of the square.
Horses were being brought to water, led by hussars and dragoons.
Opposite us were cavalry barracks, high as the church at Phalsbourg,
while around the other three sides rose old houses with sculptured
gables, like those at Saverne, but much larger. I had never seen
anything like all this, and while I stood gazing around, the drums
began to beat, and each man took his place in the ranks, and we were
informed, first in Italian and then in French, that we were about to
receive our arms, and each one was ordered to stand forth as his name
The wagons containing the arms now came up, and the call began. Each
received a cartouche-box, a sabre, a bayonet, and a musket. We put them
on as well as we could, over our blouses, coats or great-coats, and we
looked, with our hats, our caps, and our arms, like a veritable band of
banditti. My musket was so long and heavy that I could scarcely carry
it; and the Sergeant Pinto showed me how to buckle on the
cartouche-box. He was a fine fellow, Pinto.
So many belts crossing my chest made me feel as if I could scarcely
breathe, and I saw at once that my miseries had not yet ended.
After the arms, an ammunition-wagon advanced, and they distributed
fifty rounds of cartridges to each man. This was no pleasant augury.
Then, instead of ordering us to break ranks and return to our lodgings,
Captain Vidal drew his sabre and shouted:
By file rightmarch!
The drums began to beat. I was grieved at not being able to thank my
hosts for their kindness, and thought that they would consider me
ungrateful. But that did not prevent my following the line of march.
We passed through a long winding street, and soon found ourselves
without the glacis, and near the frozen Rhine. Across the river high
hills appeared, and on the hills, old, gray, ruined castles, like those
of Haut-Bas and Géroldseck in the Vosges.
The battalion descended to the river-bank, and crossed upon the ice.
The scene was magnificentdazzling. We were not alone on the ice; five
or six hundred paces before us there was a train of powder wagons
guarded by artillerymen on the way to Frankfort. Crossing the river we
continued our march for five hours through the mountains. Sometimes we
discovered villages in the defiles; and Zébédé, who was next to me,
As we had to leave home, I would rather go as a soldier than
otherwise. At least we shall see something new every day, and, if we
are lucky enough ever to return, how much we will have to talk of!
Yes, said I; but I would like better to have less to talk about,
and to live quietly, toiling on my own account and not on account of
others, who remain safe at home while we climb about here on the ice.
You do not care for glory, said he; and yet glory is something.
And I answered him:
Glory is not for such as we, Zébédé; it is for others who live
well, eat well, and sleep well. They have dancings and rejoicings, as
we see by the gazettes, and glory too in the bargain, when we have won
it by dint of sweat, fasting and broken bones. But poor wretches like
us, forced away from home, when at last they return, after losing their
habits of labor and industry, and, mayhap a limb, get but little of
your glory. Many a one, among their old friendsno better men than
theywho were not, perhaps so good workmen, have made money during the
conscript's seven years of war, have opened a shop, married their
sweethearts, had pretty children, are men of positioncity
councillorsnotables. And when the others, who have returned from
seeking glory by killing their fellow-men, pass by with their chevrons
on their arms, those old friends turn a cold shoulder upon them, and if
the soldier has a red nose through drinking brandy which was necessary
to keep his blood warm in the rain, the snow, the forced march, while
they were drinking good wine, they say'There goes a drunkard!' and
the poor conscript, who only asked to be let stay at home and work,
becomes a sort of beggar. This is what I think about the matter,
Zébédé; I cannot see the justice of all this, and I would rather have
these friends of glory go fight themselves, and leave us to remain in
peace at home.
Well, he replied, I think much as you do, but, as we are forced
to fight, it is as well to say that we are fighting for glory. If we go
about looking miserable, people will laugh at us.
Conversing thus, we reached a large river, which, the sergeant told
us, was the Main, and near it, upon our road, was a little village. We
did not know the name of the village, but there we halted.
We entered the houses, and those who could bought some brandy, wine,
and bread. Those who had no money crunched their ration of biscuits,
and gazed wistfully at their more fortunate comrades.
About five in the evening we arrived at Frankfort, which is a city
yet older than Mayence, and full of Jews. They took us to a place
called Saxenhausen, where the Tenth Hussars and the Baden Chasseurs
were in barracks,old buildings which were formerly a hospital, as I
was told and believe, for within there was a large yard, with arches
under the walls; beneath these arches the horses were stabled, and in
the rooms above, the men.
We arrived at this place after passing through innumerable little
streets, so narrow that we could scarcely see the stars between the
chimneys. Captain Florentin, and the two lieutenants, Clavel and
Bretonville, were awaiting us. After roll-call our sergeants led us by
detachments to the rooms above the Chasseurs. They were great halls
with little windows, and between the windows were the beds.
Sergeant Pinto hung his lantern to the pillar in the middle; each
man placed his piece in the rack, and then took off his knapsack, his
blouse and his shoes, without speaking. Zébédé was my bed-fellow. God
knows we were sleepy enough. Twenty minutes after, we were buried in
At Frankfort I learned to understand military life. Up to that time
I had been but a simple conscript, then I became a soldier. I do not
speak merely of drill,the way of turning the head right or left,
measuring the steps, lifting the hand to the height of the first or
second band to load, aiming, recovering arms at the word of
commandthat is only an affair of a month or two, if a man really
desires to learn; but I speak of disciplineof remembering that the
corporal is always in the right when he speaks to a private soldier,
the sergeant when he speaks to the corporal, the sergeant-major when
speaking to the sergeant, the second lieutenant when he orders the
sergeant-major, and so on to the Marshal of Franceeven if the
superior asserts that two and two make five, or that the moon shines at
This is very difficult to learn; but there is one thing that assists
you immensely, and that is a sort of placard hung up in every room in
the barracks, and which is from time to time read to you. This placard
presupposes everything that a soldier might wish to do, as, for
instance, to return home, to refuse to serve, to resist his officer,
and always ends by speaking of death, or at least five years with a
ball and chain.
The day after our arrival at Frankfort I wrote to Monsieur Goulden,
to Catharine, and to Aunt Grédel. You may imagine how sadly. It seemed
to me, in addressing them, that I was yet at home. I told them of the
hardships I had undergone, of the good luck that had happened to me at
Mayence, and the courage it required not to drop behind in the march. I
told them that I was in good health, for which I thanked God, and that
I was even stronger than before I left home, and sent them a thousand
remembrances. Our Phalsbourg conscripts, who saw me writing, made me
add a few words for each of their families. I wrote also to Mayence, to
the good couple of the Capougner-Strasse, who had been so kind
to me, telling them how I was forced to march without being able to
thank them, and asking their forgiveness for so doing.
That day, in the afternoon, we received our uniforms. Dozens of Jews
made their appearance and bought our old clothes. I kept only my shoes
and stockings. The Italians had great difficulty in making these
respectable merchants comprehend their wishes, but the Genoese were as
cunning as the Jews, and their bargainings lasted until night. Our
corporals received more than one glass of wine; it was policy to make
friends of them, for morning and evening they taught us the drill in
the snow-covered yard. The cantinière Christine was always at
her post with a warming-pan under her feet. She took young men of good
family into special favor, and the young men of good family were all
those who spent their money freely. Poor fools! How many of them parted
with their last sou in return for her miserable flattery! When
that was gone they were mere beggars; but vanity rules all, from the
conscripts to the generals.
All this time recruits were constantly arriving from France, and
ambulances full of wounded from Poland. What a sight was that before
the hospital Saint Esprit on the other side of the river! It was a
procession without an end. All these poor wretches were frost-bitten;
some had their noses, some their ears frozen, others an arm, others a
leg! They were laid in the snow to prevent them from dropping to
pieces. Others got out of the carts clinging and holding on, and looked
at you like wild beasts, their eyes sunk in their heads, their hair
bristling up: the gypsies who sleep in nooks in the woods would have
had pity on them; and yet these were the best off, because they escaped
from the carnage, while thousands of their comrades had perished in the
snow, or on the battle-field. Klipfel, Zébédé, Furst, and I often went
to see these poor wretches, and never did we see men so miserably clad.
Some wore jackets which once belonged to Cossacks, crushed shakos,
women's dresses, and many had only handkerchiefs wound round their feet
in lieu of shoes and stockings. They gave us a history of the retreat
from Moscow, and then we knew that the twenty-ninth bulletin told only
These stories enraged our men against the Russians. Many said, If
the war would only begin again, they would have a hard job of it then:
it is not over! it is not over! I was at times almost overcome with
wrath after hearing some tale of horror; and sometimes I thought to
myself, Joseph, are you not losing your wits? These Russians are
defending their families, their homes, all that man holds most dear. We
hate them for defending themselves; we would have despised them had
they not done so.
But about this time an extraordinary event occurred.
You must know that my comrade, Zébédé, was the son of the
gravedigger of Phalsbourg, and sometimes between ourselves we called
him Gravedigger. This he took in good part from us; but one evening
after drill, as he was crossing the yard, a hussar cried out:
Halloo, Gravedigger! help me to drag in these bundles of straw.
Zébédé, turning about, replied:
My name is not Gravedigger, and you can drag in your own straw. Do
you take me for a fool?
Then the other cried in a still louder tone:
Conscript, you had better come, or beware!
Zébédé, with his great hooked nose, his gray eyes and thin lips,
never bore too good a character for mildness. He went up to the hussar
What is that you say?
I tell you to take up those bundles of straw, and quickly, too. Do
you hear, conscript?
He was quite an old man, with mustaches and red, bushy whiskers.
Zébédé seized one of the latter, but received two blows in the face.
Nevertheless, a fist-full of the whisker remained in his grasp, and, as
the dispute had attracted a crowd to the spot, the hussar shook his
You will hear from me to-morrow, conscript.
Very good, returned Zébédé; we shall see. You will probably hear
from me too, veteran.
He came immediately after to tell me all this, and I, knowing that
he had never handled a weapon more warlike than a pickaxe, could not
help trembling for him.
Listen, Zébédé, I said; all that there now remains for you to do,
since you do not want to desert, is to ask pardon of this old fellow;
for those veterans all know some fearful tricks of fence which they
have brought from Egypt or Spain, or somewhere else. If you wish, I
will lend you a crown to pay for a bottle of wine to make up the
But he, knitting his brows, would hear none of this.
Rather than beg his pardon, said he, I would go and hang myself.
I laugh him and his comrades to scorn. If he has tricks of fence, I
have a long arm, that will drive my sabre through his bones as easily
as his will penetrate my flesh.
The thought of the blows made him insensible to reason; and soon
Chazy, the maître d'armes, Corporal Fleury, Furst, and Léger
came in. They all said that Zébédé was in the right, and the maître
d'armes added that blood alone could wash out the stain of a blow;
that the honor of the recruits required Zébédé to fight.
Zébédé answered proudly that the men of Phalsbourg had never feared
the sight of a little blood, and that he was ready. Then the maître
d'armes went to see our Captain, Florentin, who was one of the most
magnificent men imaginabletall, well-formed, broad-shouldered, with
regular features, and the Cross, which the Emperor had himself given
him at Eylau. The captain even went further than the maître d'armes
; he thought it would set the conscripts a good example, and that if
Zébédé refused to fight he would be unworthy to remain in the Third
Battalion of the Sixth of the Line.
All that night I could not close my eyes. I heard the deep breathing
of my poor comrade as he slept, and I thought: Poor Zébédé! another
day, and you will breathe no more. I shuddered to think how near I was
to a man so near death. At last, as day broke, I fell asleep, when
suddenly I felt a cold blast of wind strike me. I opened my eyes, and
there I saw the old hussar. He had lifted up the coverlet of our bed,
and said as I awoke:
Up, sluggard! I will show you what manner of man you struck.
Zébédé rose tranquilly, saying:
I was asleep, veteran; I was asleep.
The other, hearing himself thus mockingly called veteran, would
have fallen upon my comrade in his bed; but two tall fellows who served
him as seconds held him back, and, besides, the Phalsbourg men were
Quick, quick! Hurry! cried the old hussar.
But Zébédé dressed himself calmly, without any haste. After a
moment's silence, he said:
Have we permission to go outside our quarters, old fellows?
There is room enough for us in the yard, replied one of the
Zébédé put on his great-coat, and, turning to me, said:
Joseph and you, Klipfel, I choose for my seconds.
But I shook my head.
Well, then, Furst, said he.
The whole party descended the stairs together. I thought Zébédé was
lost, and thought it hard, that not only must the Russians seek our
lives, but that we must seek each other's.
All the men in the room crowded to the windows. I alone remained
behind upon my bed. At the end of five minutes the clash of sabres made
my heart almost cease to beat; the blood seemed no longer to flow
through my veins.
But this did not last long; for suddenly Klipfel exclaimed,
Then I made my wayI know not howto a window, and, looking over
the heads of the others, saw the old hussar leaning against the wall,
and Zébédé rising, his sabre all dripping with blood. He had fallen
upon his knees during the fight, and, while the old man's sword pierced
the air just above his shoulder, he plunged his blade into the hussar's
breast. If he had not slipped, he himself would have been run through
The hussar sank at the foot of the wall. His seconds lifted him in
their arms, while Zébédé pale as a corpse, gazed at his bloody sabre,
and Klipfel handed him his cloak. Almost immediately the reveille was
sounded, and we went off to morning call.
These events happened on the eighteenth of February. The same day we
received orders to pack our knapsacks, and left Frankfort for
Seligenstadt, where we remained until the eighth of March, by which
time all the recruits were well instructed in the use of the musket and
the school of the platoon. From Seligenstadt we went to Schweinheim,
and on the twenty-fourth of March, 1813, joined the division at
Aschaffenbourg, where Marshal Ney passed us in review.
The captain of the company was named Florentin; the lieutenant,
Bretonville; the commandant of the battalion, Gémeau; the captain,
Vidal; the colonel, Zapfel; the general of brigade, Ladoucette; and the
general of division, Souham. These are things that every soldier should
The melting of the snows began about the middle of March. I remember
that during the great review of Aschaffenbourg, on a large open space
whence one saw the Main as far as eye could reach, the rain never
ceased to fall from ten o'clock in the morning till three o'clock in
the afternoon. We had on our left a castle, from the windows of which
people looked out quite at their ease, while the water ran into our
shoes. On the right the river rushed, foaming, seen dimly as if through
a mist. Every moment, to keep us brightened up, the order rang out:
Carry arms! Shoulder arms!
The Marshal advanced slowly, surrounded by his staff. What consoled
Zébédé was, that we were about to see the bravest of the brave. I
thought If I could only get a place at the corner of a good fire, I
would gladly forego that pleasure.
At last he arrived in front of us, and I can yet see him, his
chapeau dripping with rain, his blue coat covered with embroidery and
decorations, and his great boots. He was a handsome, florid man, with a
short nose and sparkling eyes. He did not seem at all haughty; for, as
he passed our company, who presented arms, he turned suddenly in his
saddle and said:
Hold! It is Florentin!
Then the captain stood erect, not knowing what to reply. It seemed
that the Marshal and he had been common soldiers together in the time
of the Republic. The captain at last answered:
Yes, Marshal; it is Sebastian Florentin.
Faith, Florentin, said the Marshal, stretching him arm toward
Russia, I am glad to see you again. I thought we had left you there.
All our company felt honored, and Zébédé said: That is what I call
a man. I would spill my blood for him.
I could not see why Zébédé should wish to spill his blood because
the Marshal had spoken a few words to an old comrade.
That's all I remember of Aschaffenbourg.
In the evening we went in again to eat our soup at Schweinheim, a
place rich in wines, hemp, and corn, where almost everybody looked at
us with unfriendly eyes.
We lodged by threes or fours in the houses, like so many bailiff's
men, and had meat every day, either beef, mutton, or bacon.
Our bread was very good, as was also our wine. But many of our men
pretended to find fault with everything, thinking thus to pass for
people of consequence. They were mistaken; for more than once I heard
the citizens say in German:
Those fellows, in their own country, were only beggars. If they
returned to France, they would find nothing but potatoes to live upon.
And the citizens were quite right; and I always found that people so
difficult to please abroad were but poor wretches at home. For my part,
I was well content to meet such good fare. Two conscripts from St.-Dié
were with me at the village-postmaster's: his horses had almost all
been taken for our cavalry. This could not have put him into a good
humor; but he said nothing, and smoked his pipe behind the stove from
morning till night. His wife was a tall, strong woman, and his two
daughters were very pretty; they were afraid of us, and ran away when
we returned from drill, or from mounting guard at the end of the
On the evening of the fourth day, as we were finishing our supper,
an old man in a great-coat came in. His hair was white, and his mien
and appearance neat and respectable. He saluted us, and then said to
the master of the house, in German:
These are recruits?
Yes, Monsieur Stenger, replied the other, we will never be rid of
them. If I could poison them all, it would be a good deed.
I turned quietly, and said:
I understand German: do not speak in such a manner.
The postmaster's pipe fell from his hand.
You are very imprudent in your speech, Monsieur Kalkreuth, said
the old man; if others beside this young man had understood you, you
know what would happen.
It is only my way of talking, replied the postmaster. What can
you expect? When everything is taken from youwhen you are robbed,
year after yearit is but natural that you should at last speak
The old man, who was none other than the pastor of Schweinheim, then
said to me:
Monsieur, your manner of acting is that of an honest man; believe
me that Monsieur Kalkreuth is incapable of such a deedof doing evil
even to our enemies.
I do believe it, sir, I replied, or I should not eat so heartily
of these sausages.
The postmaster, hearing these words, began to laugh, and, in the
excess of his joy, cried:
I would never have thought that a Frenchman could have made me
My two comrades were ordered for guard duty; they went, but I alone
remained. Then the postmaster went after a bottle of old wine, and
seated himself at the table to drink with me, which I gladly agreed to.
From that day until our departure, these people had every confidence in
me. Every evening we chatted at the corner of the fire; the pastor
came, and even the young girls would come downstairs to listen. They
were of fair and light complexion, with blue eyes; one was perhaps
eighteen, the other twenty; I thought I saw in them a resemblance to
Catharine, and this made my heart beat.
They knew that I had a sweetheart at home, because I could not help
telling them so, and this made them pity me.
The postmaster complained bitterly of the French, the pastor said
they were a vain, immoral nation, and that on that account all Germany
would soon rise against us; that they were weary of the evil doings of
our soldiers and the cupidity of our generals, and had formed the
Tugend-Bund to oppose us.
 League of virtue.
At first, said he, you talked to us of liberty: we liked to hear
that, and our good wishes were rather for your armies than those of the
King of Prussia and Emperor of Austria; you made war upon our soldiers
and not upon us; you upheld ideas which every one thought great and
just, and so you did not quarrel with peoples but only with their
masters. To-day it is very different; all Germany is flying to arms;
all her youth are rising, and it is we who talk of Liberty, of Virtue
and of Justice to France. He who has them on his side is ever the
stronger, because he has against him only the evil-minded of all
nations, and has with him youth, courage, great ideas,everything
which lifts the soul above thoughts of self, and which urges man to
sacrifice his life without regret. You have long had all this, but you
wanted it no longer. Long ago, I well remember, your generals fought
for Liberty, slept on straw, in barns, like simple soldiers; they were
men of might and terror; now they must have their sofas; they are more
noble than our nobles and richer than our bankers. So it comes to pass
that war, once so grandonce an art, a sacrificeonce devotion to
one's countryhas become a trade, for sale at more than one market. It
is, to be sure, very noble yet, since epaulettes are yet worn, but
there is a difference between fighting for immortal ideas and fighting
merely to enrich one's self.
It is now our turn to talk of Liberty and Country; and this is the
reason why I think this war will be a sorrowful one for you. All
thinking men, from simple students to professors of theology, are
rising against you in arms. You have the greatest general of the world
at your head, but we have eternal justice. You believe you have the
Saxons, the Bavarians, the Badeners and the Hessians on your side;
undeceive yourselves; the children of old Germany well know that the
greatest crime, the greatest shame, is to fight against our brothers.
Let kings make alliances; the people are against you in spite of them;
they are defending their lives, their Fatherlandall that God makes us
love and that we cannot betray without crime. All are ready to assail
you; the Austrians would massacre you if they could, notwithstanding
the marriage of Marie Louise with your Emperor; men begin to see that
the interests of Kings are not the interests of all mankind, and that
the greatest genius cannot change the nature of things.
Thus would the pastor discourse gravely; but I did not then fully
understand what he meant, and I thought, Words are only words; and
bullets are bullets. If we only encounter students and professors of
theology, all will go well, and discipline will keep the Hessians and
Bavarians and Saxons from turning against us, as it forces us Frenchmen
to fight, little as we may like it. Does not the soldier obey the
corporal, the corporal the sergeant, and so on to the marshal, who does
what the King wishes? One can see very well that this pastor never
served in a regiment, for if he did he would know that ideas are
nothing and orders everything; but I do not care to contradict him, for
then the postmaster would bring me no more wine after supper. Let them
think as they please. All that I hope is that we shall have only
theologians to fight.
While we used to chat thus, suddenly, on the morning of the
twenty-seventh of March, the order for our departure came. The
battalion rested that night at Lauterbach, the next at Neukirchen, and
we did nothing but march, march, march. Those who did not grow
accustomed to carrying the knapsack could not complain of want of
practice. How we travelled! I no longer sweated under my fifty
cartridges in my cartouche-box, my knapsack on my back and my musket on
my shoulder, and I do not know if I limped.
We were not the only ones in motion; all were marching; everywhere
we met regiments on the road, detachments of cavalry, long lines of
cannon, ammunition trainsall advancing toward Erfurt, as after a
heavy rain thousands of streams, by thousands of channels, seek the
Our sergeants keep repeating, We are nearing them! there will be
hot work soon; and we thought, So much the better! that those
beggarly Prussians and Russians had drawn their fate upon themselves.
If they had remained quiet we would have been yet in France.
These thoughts embittered us all toward the enemy, and as we met
everywhere people who seemed to rejoice alone in fighting, Klipfel and
Zébédé talked only of the pleasure it would give them to meet the
Prussians; and I, not to seem less courageous than they, adopted the
On the eighth of April, the battalion entered Erfurt, and I will
never forget how, when we broke ranks before the barracks, a package of
letters was handed to the sergeant of the company. Among the number was
one for me, and I recognized Catharine's writing at once. This affected
me so that it made my knees tremble. Zébédé took my musket, telling me
to read it, for he, too, was glad to hear from home.
I put it in my pocket, and all our Phalsbourg men followed me to
hear it, but I only commenced when I was quietly seated on my bed in
the barracks, while they crowded around. Tears rolled down my cheeks as
she told me how she remembered and prayed for the far-off conscript.
My comrades, as I read, exclaimed:
And we are sure that there are some at home to pray for us, too.
One spoke of his mother, another of his sisters, and another of his
At the end of the letter, Monsieur Goulden added a few words,
telling me that all our friends were well, and that I should take
courage, for our troubles could not last forever. He charged me to be
sure to tell my comrades that their friends thought of them and
complained of not having received a word from them.
This letter was a consolation to us all. We knew that before many
days passed we must be on the field of battle, and it seemed a last
farewell from home for at least half of us. Many were never to hear
again from their parents, friends, or those who loved them in this
But, as Sergeant Pinto said, all we had yet seen was but the prelude
to the ball; the dance was now about to commence.
Meanwhile we did duty at the citadel with a battalion of the
Twenty-seventh, and from the top of the ramparts we saw all the
environs covered with troops, some bivouacking, others quartered in the
The sergeant had formed a particular friendship for me, and on the
eighteenth, on relieving guard at Warthau gate, he said:
Fusilier Bertha, the Emperor has arrived.
I had yet heard nothing of this, and replied, respectfully:
I have just had a little glass with the sapper Merlin, sergeant,
who was on duty last night at the general's quarters, and he said
nothing of it.
Then he, closing his eye, said, with a peculiar expression:
Everything is moving; I feel his presence in the air. You do not
yet understand this, conscript, but he is here; everything says so.
Before he came, we were lame, crippled; only a wing of the army seemed
able to move at once. But now, look there, see those couriers galloping
over the road; all is life. The dance is beginning: the dance is
beginning! Kaiserliks and the Cossacks do not need spectacles to see
that he is with us; they will feel him presently.
And the sergeant's laugh rang hoarsely from beneath his long
mustaches. I had a presentiment that great misfortunes might be coming
upon me, yet I was forced to put a good face upon it. But the sergeant
was right, for that very day, about three in the afternoon, all the
troops stationed around the city were in motion, and at five we were
put under arms. The Marshal Prince of Moskowa entered the town
surrounded by the officers and generals who composed his staff, and,
almost immediately after, the gray-haired Souham followed and passed us
in review upon the square. Then he spoke in a loud, clear voice so that
every one could hear:
Soldiers! said he, you will form part of the advance-guard of the
Third corps. Try to remember that you are Frenchmen. Vive
All shouted Vive l'Empereur! till the echoes rang again,
while the general departed with Colonel Zapfel.
That night we were relieved by the Hessians, and left Erfurt with
the Tenth hussars and a regiment of chasseurs. At six or seven in the
morning we were before the city of Weimar, and saw the sun rising on
its gardens, its churches, and its houses, as well as on an old castle
to the right. Here we bivouacked, and the hussars went forward to
reconnoitre the town. About nine, while we were breakfasting, suddenly
we heard the rattle of musketry and carbines. Our hussars had
encountered the Prussian hussars in the streets, and they were firing
on each other. But it was so far off that we saw nothing of the combat.
At the end of an hour the hussars returned, having lost two men.
Thus began the campaign.
We remained five days in our camp, while the whole Third corps were
coming up. As we were the advance-guard, we started again by way of
Suiza and Warthau. Then we saw the enemy; Cossacks who kept ever beyond
the range of our guns, and the farther they retired the greater grew
But it annoyed me to hear Zébédé constantly exclaiming in a tone of
Will they never stop; never make a stand!
I thought that if they kept retreating we could ask nothing better.
We would gain all we wanted without loss of life or suffering.
But at last they halted on the farther side of the broad and deep
river, and I saw a great number posted near the bank to cut us to
pieces if we should cross unsupported.
It was the twenty-ninth of April, and growing late. Never did I see
a more glorious sunset. On the opposite side of the river stretched a
wide plain as far as the eye could reach, and on this, sharply outlined
against the glowing sky, stood horsemen, with their shakos drooping
forward, their green jackets, little cartridge-boxes slung under the
arm, and their sky-blue trousers; behind them glittered thousands of
lances, and Sergeant Pinto recognized them as the Russian cavalry and
Cossacks. He knew the river, too, which, he said, was the Saale.
We went as near as we could to the water to exchange shots with the
horsemen, but they retired and at last disappeared entirely under the
blood-red sky. We made our bivouac along the river, and posted our
sentries. On our left was a large village; a detachment was sent to it
to purchase meat; for since the arrival of the Emperor we had orders to
pay for everything.
During the night other regiments of the division came up; they, too,
bivouacked along the bank, and their long lines of fires, reflected in
the ever-moving waters, glared grandly through the darkness.
No one felt inclined to sleep. Zébédé, Klipfel, Furst, and I messed
together, and we chatted as we lay around our fire:
To-morrow we will have it hot enough, if we attempt to cross the
river! Our friends in Phalsbourg, over their warm suppers, scarcely
think of us lying here, with nothing but a piece of cow-beef to eat, a
river flowing beside us, the damp earth beneath, and only the sky for a
roof, without speaking of the sabre-cuts and bayonet-thrusts our
friends yonder have in store for us.
Bah! said Klipfel; this is life. I would not pass my days
otherwise. To enjoy life we must be well to-day, sick to-morrow; then
we appreciate the pleasure of the change from pain to ease. As for
shots and sabre-strokes, with God's aid, we will give as good as we
Yes, said Zébédé, lighting his pipe, when I lose my place in the
ranks, it will not be for the want of striking hard at the Russians!
So we lay wakeful for two or three hours. Léger lay stretched out in
his great-coat, his feet to the fire, asleep, when the sentinel cried:
Who goes there?
Sixth of the Line.
It was Marshal Ney and General Brenier, with engineer and artillery
officers, and guns. The Marshal replied Sixth of the Line, because he
knew beforehand that we were there, and this little fact rejoiced us
and made us feel very proud. We saw him pass on horseback with General
Souham and five or six other officers of high grade, and although it
was night we could see them distinctly, for the sky was covered with
stars and the moon shone bright; it was almost as light as day.
They stopped at a bend of the river and posted six guns, and
immediately after a pontoon train arrived with oak planks and all
things necessary for throwing two bridges across. Our hussars scoured
the banks collecting boats, and the artillerymen stood at their pieces
to sweep down any who might try to hinder the work. For a long while we
watched their labor, while again and again we heard the sentry's
Qui vive! It was the regiments of the Third corps arriving.
At daybreak I fell asleep, and Klipfel had to shake me to arouse me.
On every side they were beating the reveille; the bridges were
finished, and we were going to cross the Saale.
A heavy dew had fallen, and each man hastened to wipe his musket, to
roll up his great-coat and buckle it on his knapsack. One assisted the
other, and we were soon in the ranks. It might have been four o'clock
in the morning, and everything seemed gray in the mist that arose from
the river. Already two battalions were crossing on the bridges, the
officers and colors in the centre. Then the artillery and caissons
Captain Florentin had just ordered us to renew our primings, when
General Souham, General Chemineau, Colonel Zapfel, and our commandant
arrived. The battalion began its march. I looked forward expecting to
see the Russians coming on at a gallop, but nothing stirred.
As each regiment reached the farther bank it formed a square with
ordered arms. At five o'clock the entire division had passed. The sun
dispersed the mist, and we saw, about three-fourths of a league to our
right, an old city with its pointed roofs, slated clock-tower,
surmounted by a cross, and, farther away, a castle; it was Weissenfels.
Between us and the city was a deep valley. Marshal Ney, who had just
come up, wished to reconnoitre this before advancing into it. Two
companies of the Twenty-seventh were deployed as skirmishers and the
squares moved onward in common time, with the officers, sappers, and
drums in the centre, the cannon in the intervals and the caissons in
We all mistrusted this valleythe more so since we had seen, the
evening before, a mass of cavalry, which could not have retired beyond
the great plain that lay before us. Notwithstanding our distrust, it
made us feel very proud and brave to see ourselves drawn up in our long
ranksour muskets loaded, the colors advanced, the generals in the
rear full of confidenceto see our masses thus moving onward without
hurry, but calmly marking the step; yes, it was enough to make our
hearts beat high with pride and hope! And I said to myself: Perhaps at
sight of us the enemy will fly, which will be the best for them and for
I was in the second rank, behind Zébédé, and from time to time I
glanced at the other square, which was moving on the same line with us,
in the centre of which I saw the Marshal and his staff, all trying to
catch a glimpse of what was going on ahead.
The skirmishers had by this time reached the ravine, which was
bordered with brambles and hedges. I had already seen a movement on its
farther side, like the motion of a cornfield in the wind, and the
thought struck me that the Russians, with their lances and sabres, were
there, although I could scarcely believe it. But when our skirmishers
reached the hedges, the fusillade began, and I saw clearly the glitter
of their lances. At the same instant a flash like lightning gleamed in
front of us, followed by a fierce report. The Russians had their cannon
with them; they had opened on us. I know not what noise made me turn my
head, and there I saw an empty space in the ranks to my left.
At the same time Colonel Zapfel said quietly:
Close up the ranks!
And Captain Florentin repeated:
Close up the ranks!
[Illustration: Close up the ranks!]
All this was done so quickly that I had no time for thought. But
fifty paces farther on another flash shone out; there was another
murmur in the ranksas if a fierce wind was passingand another
vacant space, this time to the right.
And thus, after every shot from the Russians, the colonel said,
Close up the ranks! and I knew that each time he spoke there was a
breach in the living wall! It was no pleasant thing to think of, but
still we marched on toward the valley. At last I did not dare to think
at all, when General Chemineau, who had entered our square, cried in a
I looked forward, and saw a mass of Russians coming down upon us.
Front rank, kneel! Fix bayonets! Ready! cried the general.
As Zébédé knelt, I was now, so to speak, in the front rank. On came
the line of horses, each rider bending over his saddle-bow, with sabre
flashing in his hand. Then again the general's voice was heard behind
us, calm, tranquil, giving orders as coolly as on parade:
Attention for the command of fire! Aim! Fire!
The four squares fired together; it seemed as if the skies were
falling in the crash. When the smoke lifted, we saw the Russians broken
and flying; but our artillery opened, and the cannon-balls sped faster
Charge! shouted the general.
Never in my life did such a wild joy possess me. On every side the
cry of Vive l'Empereur! shook the air, and in my excitement I
shouted like the others. But we could not pursue them far, and soon we
were again moving calmly on. We thought the fight was ended; but when
within two or three hundred paces of the ravine, we heard the rush of
horses, and again the general cried:
Halt! Kneel! Fix bayonets!
On came the Russians from the valley like a whirlwind; the earth
shook beneath their weight; we heard no more orders, but each man knew
that he must fire into the mass, and the file-firing began, rattling
like the drums in a grand review. Those who have not seen a battle can
form but little idea of the excitement, the confusion, and yet the
order of such a moment. A few of the Russians neared us; we saw their
forms appear a moment through the smoke, and then saw them no more. In
a few moments more the ringing voice of General Chemineau arose,
sounding above the crash and rattle:
We scarcely dared obey. Each one hastened to deliver a final shot;
then the smoke slowly lifted, and we saw a mass of cavalry ascending
the farther side of the ravine.
The squares deployed at once into columns; the drums beat the
charge; our artillery still continued its fire; we rushed on, shouting:
Forward! forward! Vive l'Empereur!
We descended the ravine, over heaps of horses and Russians; some
dead, some writhing upon the earth, and we ascended the slope toward
Weissenfels at a quick step. The Cossacks and chasseurs bent forward in
their saddles, their cartridge-boxes dangling behind them, galloping
before us in full flight. The battle was won.
But as we reached the gardens of the city, they posted their cannon,
which they had brought off with them, behind a sort of orchard, and
reopened upon us, a ball carrying away both the axe and head of the
sapper, Merlin. The corporal of sappers, Thomé, had his arm fractured
by a piece of the axe, and they were compelled to amputate his arm at
Weissenfels. Then we started toward them on a run, for the sooner we
reached them the less time they would have for firing.
We entered the city at three places, marching through hedges,
gardens, hop-fields, and climbing over walls. The marshals and generals
followed after. Our regiment entered by an avenue bordered with
poplars, which ran along the cemetery, and, as we debouched in the
public square another column came through the main street.
There we halted, and the Marshal, without losing a moment,
despatched the Twenty-seventh to take a bridge and cut off the enemy's
retreat. During this time the rest of the division arrived, and was
drawn up in the square. The burgomaster and councillors of Weissenfels
were already on the steps of the town-hall to bid us welcome.
When we were re-formed, the Marshal-Prince of Moskowa passed before
the front of our battalion and said joyfully:
Well done! I am satisfied with you! The Emperor will know of your
He could not help laughing at the way we rushed on the guns. General
Things go bravely on!
Yes, yes; 'tis in the blood! 'tis in the blood.
The battalion remained there until the next day. We were lodged with
the citizens, who were afraid of us and gave us all we asked. The
Twenty-seventh returned in the evening and was quartered in the old
chateau. We were very tired. After smoking two or three pipes together,
chatting about our glory, Zébédé, Klipfel and I went together to the
shop of a joiner and slept on a heap of shavings, and remained there
until midnight, when they beat the reveille. We rose; the joiner gave
us some brandy, and we went out. The rain was falling in torrents. That
night the battalion went to bivouac before the village of Clépen, two
hours' march from Weissenfels.
Other detachments came and rejoined us. The Emperor had arrived at
Weissenfels, and all the Third corps were to follow us. We talked only
of this all the day; but the day after, at five in the morning, we set
off again in the advance.
Before us rolled a river called the Rippach. Instead of turning
aside to take the bridge, we forded it where we were. The water reached
our waists; and I thought, as I pulled my shoes out of the mud, If any
one had told me this in the days when I was afraid of catching a cold
in the head at M. Goulden's, and when I changed my stockings twice a
week, I should never have believed it. Well, strange things happen to
one in this life.
As we passed down the other bank of the river in the rushes, we
discovered a band of Cossacks observing us from the heights to the
left. They followed slowly, without daring to attack us, and so we kept
on until it was broad day, when suddenly a terrific fusillade and the
thunder of heavy guns made us turn our heads toward Clépen. The
commandant, on horseback, looked over the tops of the reeds.
The sounds of conflict lasted a considerable time, and Sergeant
The division is advancing; it is attacked.
The Cossacks gazed, too, toward the fight, and at the end of an hour
disappeared. Then we saw the division advancing in column in the plain
to the right, driving before them the masses of Russian cavalry.
Forward! cried the commandant.
We ran, without knowing why, along the river bank, until we reached
an old bridge where the Rippach and Gruna met. Here we were to
intercept the enemy: but the Cossacks had discovered our design, and
their whole army fell back behind the Gruna, which they forded, and,
the division rejoining us, we learned that Marshal Bessières had been
killed by a cannon-ball.
We left the bridge to bivouac before the village of Gorschen. The
rumor that a great battle was approaching ran through the ranks, and
they said that all that had passed was only a trial to see how the
recruits would act under fire. One may imagine the reflections of a
thoughtful man under such circumstances, among such hare-brained
fellows as Furst, Zébédé, and Klipfel, who seemed to rejoice at the
prospect, as if it could bring them aught else than bullet-wounds or
sabre-cuts. All night long I thought of Catharine, and prayed God to
preserve my life and my hands, which are so needful for poor people to
gain their bread.
We lighted our fires on the hill before Gross Gorschen and a
detachment descended to the village and brought back five or six old
cows to make soup of. But we were so worn out that many would rather
sleep than eat. Other regiments arrived with cannon and munitions.
About eleven o'clock there were from ten to twelve thousand men there
and two thousand and more in the villageall Souham's division. The
general and his ordnance officers were quartered in an old mill to the
left, near a stream called Floss-Graben. The line of sentries were
stretched along the base of the hill a musket-shot off. At length I
fell asleep, but I awoke every hour, and behind us, toward the road
leading from the old bridge of Poserna to Lutzen and Leipzig, I heard
the rolling of wagons, of artillery and caissons, rising and falling
through the silence.
Sergeant Pinto did not sleep; he sat smoking his pipe and drying his
feet at the fire. Every time one of us moved, he would try to talk and
But they pretended not to hear him, and turned over, gaping, to
The clock of Gross-Gorschen was striking six when I awoke. I was
sore and weary yet. Nevertheless, I sat up and tried to warm myself,
for I was very cold. The fires were smoking, and almost extinguished.
Nothing of them remained but the ashes and a few embers. The sergeant,
erect, was gazing over the vast plain where the sun shot a few long
lines of gold, and, seeing me awake, put a coal in his pipe and said:
Well, fusilier Bertha, we are now in the rearguard.
I did not know what he meant.
That astonishes you, he continued; but we have not stirred, while
the army has made a half-wheel. Yesterday it was before us in the
Rippach; now it is behind us, near Lutzen; and, instead of being in the
front we are in rear; so that now, said he, closing an eye and drawing
two long puffs of his pipe, we are the last, instead of the foremost.
And what do we gain by it? I asked.
We gain the honor of first reaching Leipzig, and falling on the
Prussians, he replied. You will understand this by and by,
I stood up, and looked around. I saw before us a wide, marshy plain,
traversed by the Gruna-Bach and the Floss-Graben. A few hills arose
along these streams, and beyond ran a large river, which the sergeant
told me was the Elster. The morning mist hung over all.
Turning around, I saw behind us in the valley the point of the
clock-tower of Gross-Gorschen, and farther on, to the right and left,
five or six little villages built in the hollows between the hills, for
it is a country of hills, and the villages of Kaya, Eisdorf,
Starsiedel, Rahna, Klein-Gorschen and Gross-Gorschen, which I knew
before, are between them, on the borders of little lakes, where
poplars, willows and aspens grow. Gross-Gorschen, where we bivouacked,
was farthest advanced in the plain, toward the Elster; Kaya was
farthest off, and behind it passed the high-road from Lutzen to
Leipzig. We saw no fires on the hills save those of our division; but
the entire corps occupied the villages scattered in our rear, and
head-quarters were at Kaya.
At seven o'clock the drums and the trumpets of the artillery sounded
the reveille. We went down to the village, some to look for wood,
others for straw or hay. Ammunition-wagons came up, and bread and
cartridges were distributed. There we were to remain, to let the army
march by upon Leipzig; this was why Sergeant Pinto said we would be in
Two cantinières arrived from the village; and, as I had yet a
few crowns remaining, I offered Klipfel and Zébédé a glass of brandy
each, to counteract the effects of the fogs of the night. I also
presumed to offer one to Sergeant Pinto, who accepted it, saying that
bread and brandy warmed the heart.
We felt quite happy, and no one suspected the horrors the day was to
bring forth. We thought the Russians and the Prussians were seeking us
behind the Gruna-Bach; but they knew well where we were. And suddenly,
about ten o'clock, General Souham, mounted, arrived with his officers.
I was sentry near the stacks of arms, and I think I can now see him, as
he rode to the top of the hill, with his gray hair and white-bordered
hat; and as he took out his field-glass, and, after an earnest gaze,
returned quickly, and ordered the drums to beat the recall. The
sentries at once fell into the ranks, and Zébédé, who had the eyes of a
I see yonder, near the Elster, masses of men forming and advancing
in good order, and others coming from the marshes by the three bridges.
We are lost if all those fall upon our rear!
A battle is beginning, said Sergeant Pinto, shading his eyes with
his hands, or I know nothing of war. Those beggarly Prussians and
Russians want to take us on the flank with their whole force, as we
defile on Leipzig, so as to cut us in two. It is well thought of on
their part. We are always teaching them the art of war.
But what will we do? asked Klipfel.
Our part is simple, answered the sergeant. We are here twelve to
fifteen thousand men, with old Souham, who never gave an enemy an inch.
We will stand here like a wall, one to six or seven, until the Emperor
is informed how matters stand, and sends us aid. There go the staff
It was true; five or six officers were galloping over the plain of
Lutzen toward Leipzig. They sped like the wind, and I prayed to God to
have them reach the Emperor in time to send the whole army to our
assistance; for there was something horrible in the certainty that we
were about to perish, and I would not wish my greatest enemy in such a
position as ours was then.
Sergeant Pinto continued:
You will have a chance now, conscripts; and if any of you come out
alive, they will have something to boast of. Look at those blue lines
advancing, with their muskets on their shoulders, along Floss-Graben.
Each of those lines is a regiment. There are thirty of them. That makes
sixty thousand Prussians, without counting those lines of horsemen,
each of which is a squadron. Those advancing to their left, near
Rippach, glittering in the sun, are the dragoons and cuirassiers of the
Russian Imperial Guard. There are eighteen or twenty thousand of them,
and I first saw them at Austerlitz, where we fixed them finely. Those
masses of lances in the rear are Cossacks. We will have a hundred
thousand men on our hands in an hour. This is a fight to win the cross
in, and if one does not get it now he can never hope to do so!
Do you think so, sergeant? said Zébédé, whose ideas were never
very clear, and who already imagined he held the cross in his fingers,
while his eyes glittered with excitement.
It will be hand to hand, replied the sergeant; and suppose that
in the mêlée, you see a colonel or a flag near you, spring on
him or it; never mind sabres or bayonets; seize them, and then your
name goes on the list.
As he spoke, I remembered that the Mayor of Phalsbourg had received
the cross for having gone to meet the Empress Marie Louise in carriages
garlanded with flowers, singing old songs, and I thought his method
much preferable to that of Sergeant Pinto.
But I had not time to think more, for the drama beat on all sides,
and each one ran to where the arms of his company were stacked and
seized his musket. Our officers formed us, great guns came at a gallop
from the village, and were posted on the brow of the hill a little to
the rear, so that the slope served them as a species of redoubt.
Farther away, in the villages of Rahna, of Kaya, and of Klein-Gorschen,
all was motion, but we were the first the Prussians would fall upon.
The enemy halted about twice a cannon-shot off, and the cavalry
swarmed by hundreds up the hill to reconnoitre us. I was in utter
despair as I gazed on their immense masses swarming on both sides of
the river, the advanced lines of which were already beginning to form
in columns, and I said to myself, This time, Joseph, all is over, all
is lost; there is no help for it; all you can do is to revenge
yourself, defend yourself, to fight pitilessly, and die.
While these thoughts were passing through my head, General Chemineau
galloped along our front, crying:
The officers on the right, on the left, in advance, in the rear,
took up the word and it passed from right to left; four squares of four
battalions each were formed. I found myself in the third, on one of the
interior sides, a circumstance which in some degree reassured me; for I
thought that the Prussians, who were advancing in three columns, would
first attack those directly opposite them. But scarcely had the thought
struck me when a hail of cannon-shot from the guns which the Prussians
had massed on a hill to the left, swept through us just as at
Weissenfels; and that was not all. They had thirty pieces of artillery
playing upon us. One can imagine from this what gaps they made. The
balls shrieked sometimes over our heads, sometimes through the ranks,
and then again struck the earth, which they scattered over us.
Our heavy guns replied to their fire with a vigor which kept us from
hearing one half the hissing and roaring of theirs, but could not
silence it, and the horrible cry of Close up the ranks! Close up the
ranks! was ever sounding in our ears.
We were enveloped in smoke without having fired a shot, and I said
to myself, if we stay here another quarter of an hour we shall all be
massacred without having a chance to defend ourselves, which seemed to
me fearful, when the head of the Prussian columns appeared between the
hills, moving forward with a deep, hoarse murmur, like the noise of an
inundation. Then the three first sides of our square, the second and
the third obliquing to the right and left fired. God only knows how
many Prussians fell. But instead of stopping they rushed on, shouting
like wolves, Vaterland! Vaterland! and we fired again into
their very bosoms.
Then began the work of death in earnest. Bayonet-thrust,
sabre-stroke, blows from the butt-end of our pieces, crashed on all
sides. They tried to crush us by mere weight of numbers, and came on
like furious bulls. A battalion rushed upon us, thrusting with their
bayonets; we returned their blows without leaving the ranks, and they
were swept away almost to a man by two cannon which were in position
fifty paces in our rear.
They were the last who tried to break our squares. They turned and
fled down the hill-side, and we were loading our guns to kill every man
of them, when their pieces again opened fire, and we heard a great
noise on our right. It was their cavalry charging under cover of their
fire. I could not see the fight, for it was at the other end of the
division, but their heavy guns swept us off by dozens as we stood
inactive. General Chemineau had his thigh broken; we could not hold out
much longer when the order was given to retreat, which we did with a
pleasure easily understood!
We retired to Gross-Gorschen, pursued by the Prussians, both sides
maintaining a constant fire. The two thousand men in the village
checked the enemy while we ascended the opposite slope to gain
Klein-Gorschen. But the Prussian cavalry came on once more to cut off
our retreat and keep us under the fire of their artillery. Then my
blood boiled with anger, and I heard Zébédé cry, Let us fight our way
to the top rather than remain here!
To do this was fearfully dangerous, for their regiments of hussars
and chasseurs advanced in good order to charge. Still we kept
retreating, when a voice on the top of the ridge cried: Halt! and at
the same moment the hussars, who were already rushing down upon us,
received a terrific discharge of case and grape-shot, which swept them
down by hundreds. It was Girard's division, who had come to our
assistance from Ivlein-Gorschen and had placed sixteen pieces in
position to open upon them. The hussars fled faster than they came, and
the six squares of Girard's division united with ours at
Klein-Gorschen, to check the Prussian infantry, which still continued
to advance, the three first columns in front and three others, equally
strong, supporting them.
We had lost Gross-Gorschen, but now, between Ivlein-Gorschen and
Rahna the battle raged more fiercely than ever.
I thought now of nothing but vengeance. I was wild with excitement
and wrath against those who sought to kill me. I felt a sort of hatred
against those Prussians whose shouts and insolent manner disgusted me.
I was, nevertheless, very glad to see Zébédé near me yet, and as we
stood awaiting new attacks, with our arms resting on the ground, I
pressed his hand.
We have escaped narrowly enough, said he. God grant the Emperor
may soon arrive, and with cannon, for they are twenty times stronger
He no longer spoke of winning the cross.
I looked around to see if the sergeant was with us yet, and saw him
calmly wiping his bayonet; not a feature showed any trace of
excitementthat encouraged me. I would have wished to know if Klipfel
and Furst were unhurt, but the command, Carry arms! made me think of
The three first columns of the enemy had halted on the hill of
Gross-Gorschen to await their supports. The village in the valley
between us was on fire, the flames bursting from the thatched roofs and
the smoke rising to the sky, and to the left across the ploughed field
we saw a long line of cannon coming down to open upon us.
It might have been mid-day when the six columns began their march
and deployed masses of hussars and cavalry on both sides of
Gross-Gorschen. Our artillery, placed behind the squares on the top of
the ridge, opened a terrible fire on the Prussian gunners, who replied
all along their line.
Our drums began to beat in the squares to give warning that the
enemy were approaching, but their rattle was like the buzz of a fly in
the storm, while in the valley the Prussians shouted all together,
Their fire by battalion, as they climbed the hill, enveloped us in
smokeas the wind blew toward usand hindered us from seeing them.
Nevertheless, we began our file-firing. We heard and saw nothing but
the noise and smoke of battle for the next quarter of an hour, when
suddenly the Prussian hussars were in our square. I know not how it
happened, but there they were on their little horses, sabring us
without mercy. We fought with our bayonets; we shouted; they slashed,
and fired their pistols. The carnage was horrible. Zébédé, Sergeant
Pinto, and some twenty of the company held together. I shall see all my
life long the pale-faced, long-mustached hussars, the straps of their
shakos tight under their jaws, whose horses reared and neighed as they
dashed over the heaps of dead and wounded. I remember the cries, French
and German in a horrid mixture, that arose; how they called us
Schweinpelz and how old Pinto never ceased to cry, Strike bravely,
my boys; strike bravely!
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 Zébédé 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
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
The sergeant opened the window and fired at two or three Prussian
hussars who were already advancing down the street. Zébédé 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 Léger were dead, but Zébédé, 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
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
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. GouldenIf 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 mêlée,
were carrying off wounded officers on their muskets. Everything looked
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, Zébédé, 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 Prussiansled by old officers who shouted Forwärts!
Forwärts!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
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 glancethe
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 Blücher. 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
Now all is indeed ended!
The sergeant gazed at me and, seeing that I was yet so young, said
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
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:
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
headhis gray great-coat open, a broad red ribbon crossing his white
vestthere 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
[Illustration: Everything gave way before him.]
All this I sawit 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
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 meall 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 desolationwhat 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 Grédel, and Monsieur Goulden passed before me.
I saw their grief and fear when the news of the battle came. Aunt
Grédel 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
Grédel 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 Grédel, 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 Grédel's maledictions, as, with her gray hair
streaming about her head, she cried that justice was no longer to be
foundthat 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 newsnews yet
more terrible, for many of the wretches stretched on the battle-field
had father and mother, and this was horrible to think ofit 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 praythinking of me. Yesfor 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 griefthe 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 terrorhe
took him for a wolfand 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
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.
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
Five or six soldiers were walking about, giving bread and drink to
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 Duchêne, said our surgeon, turning around. How many
Seventeen to eighteen thousand.
Aha! Well, how goes it this morning?
PassablyI 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, Duchêne; 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, Duchêne!
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
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.
When one began, all followed, and the old soldier had certainly
conceived a liking for me, for each time he passed, he presented the
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
At last we were all placed in the wagons, and arranged according to
our conditionthose 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 trenchesfully a mile of themat 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 ambulancesbearing
the agonized woundedthose 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 chimesrejoicing 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
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 Grédel, 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 mesuch 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
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.
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 fellowat
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
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 fellowI
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
Margrédel, 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? Margrédel 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? Margrédel 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 youI 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 Yéri, 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 Grédel 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
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
potterya place buried in shade, which pleased me much, because no one
ever came therethere I passed my time dreaming on an old moss-covered
bench. Evil thoughts crossed my brainI 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
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 mistakethat 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, Josephwhen 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
happenbut 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 foreverthat
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 Margrédel.
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 packeta box appearedthen the
boxand 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
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 kingsZimmer 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 oldsuch 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.
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 offull 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
workingcontriving 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:
Therethere is the church of Saint Nicholas; that large building
is the university: that on yonder is the Hôtel 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 Ferré 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 Ferré 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 drinkingthe 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 studentsa
tall withered-looking man with a red nose and long flaxen beard,
stained with beerstanding 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!
They touched glasses with the Saxon soldiers, while the tall student
bent over to take up his glass, and the round, fat brewer cried:
Scarcely had we made half a dozen steps toward them, when they
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
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
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
Ah! as you please, as you please, returned the landlord. Do you
wish some March beer?
Yes; two glasses and the gazette.
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 characterhe
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,
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 passedI might saytheir 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
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 Rosenthala 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-marchespale, 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
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, 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 approachthus they kept
going around on tiptoe, and exhibiting their cunning to the company.
 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. 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
 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-Kléeberg. 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
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
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
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 forceby 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
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
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
elegancefellows 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 Zébédé, 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 Blücher 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 againlet us seeraise it for me. 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
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
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
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
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
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 bayonetsall seems yet before meI 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
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
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
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
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
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 moresheep, regular sheepbut
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:
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
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 battaliona 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
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
Hold! It is Joseph. I thought he was buried four months ago.
Then I recognized my poor Zébédé. 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 Zébédé 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 Zébédé, 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,
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,
That is all very well, said Zébédé; but I find meat and drink the
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 wrongwrong!
The colonel and commandants mounted, and we began moving. The
Cossacks withdrew. We marched with arms at will; Zébédé 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
Spainmen 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 mudhussars, 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.
Zébédé 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'armée. 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 Zébédé 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, Blücher 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 Zébédé, we had everything against usthe
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
Blücher; 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
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
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
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 Zébédé; 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
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
caissonsthe cannoneers and artillerymen on horsebackstood 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.
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:
Halt! The Prussians are in ambush around us. Look sharp!
Scarcely had he spoken, when a dozen bullets whistled through the
branches, and at the same time, a number of Prussians rose, and plunged
deeper into the forest opposite.
There they go! Forward! cried Pinto.
But the bullet in my shako had rendered me cautious; it seemed as if
I could almost see through the trees, and, as the sergeant started
forth into the clearing, I held his arm, pointing out to him the muzzle
of a musket peeping out from a bush, not a hundred paces before us. The
others, clustering around, saw it too, and Pinto whispered:
Stay, Bertha; remain here and do not lose sight of him, while we
turn the position.
They set off, to the right and left, and I, behind my tree, my piece
at my shoulder, waited like a hunter for his game. At the end of two or
three minutes, the Prussian, hearing nothing, rose slowly. He was quite
a boy, with little blonde mustaches, and a tall, slight, but well-knit
figure. I could have killed him as he stood, but the thought of thus
slaying a defenceless man froze my blood. Suddenly he saw me, and
bounded aside. Then I fired, and breathed more freely as I saw him
running, like a stag, toward the wood.
At the same moment, five or six reports rang out to the right and
left; the sergeant Zébédé, Klipfel, and the rest appeared, and a
hundred paces farther on we found the young Prussian upon the ground
blood gushing from his mouth. He gazed at us with a scared expression,
raising his arms, as if to parry bayonet-thrusts, but the sergeant
called gleefully to him:
Fear nothing! Your account is settled.
No one offered to injure him further; but Klipfel took a beautiful
pipe, which was hanging out of his pocket, saying:
For a long time I have wanted a pipe, and here is a fine one.
Fusileer Klipfel! cried Pinto, indignantly, will you be good
enough to put back that pipe? Leave it to the Cossacks to rob the
wounded! A French soldier knows only honor!
Klipfel threw down the pipe and we departed, not one caring to look
back at the wounded Prussian. We arrived at the edge of the forest,
outside which, among tufted bushes, the Prussians we pursued had taken
refuge. We saw them rise to fire upon us, but they immediately lay down
again. We might have remained there tranquilly, since we had orders to
occupy the wood, and the shots of the Prussians could not hurt us,
protected as we were by the trees. On the other side of the slope we
heard a terrific battle going on; the thunder of cannon was increasing,
it filled the air with one continuous roar. But our officers held a
council, and decided that the bushes were a part of the forest, and
that the Prussians must be driven from them. This determination cost
many a life.
We received orders, then, to drive the enemy's tirailleurs, and as
they fired as we came on, we started at a run, so as to be upon them
before they could reload. Our officers ran, also full of ardor. We
thought the bushes ended at the top of the hill, and that we could
sweep off the Prussians by dozens. But scarcely had we arrived, out of
breath, upon the ridge, when old Pinto cried:
I looked up, and saw the Colbacks rushing down upon us like a
tempest. Scarcely had I seen them, when I began to spring down the
hill, going, I verily believe, in spite of weariness and my knapsack,
fifteen feet at a bound. I saw before me, Pinto, Zébédé, and the
others, making their best speed. Behind, on came the hussars, their
officers shouting orders in German, their scabbards clanking and horses
neighing. The earth shook beneath them.
I took the shortest road to the wood, and had almost reached it,
when I came upon one of the trenches where the peasants were in the
habit of digging clay for their houses. It was more than twenty feet
wide, and forty or fifty long, and the rain had made the sides very
slippery; but as I heard the very breathing of the horses behind me,
while my hair rose on my head, without thinking of aught else, I sprang
forward, and fell upon my face: another fusileer of my company was
already there. We rose as soon as we could, and at the same instant two
hussars glided down the slippery side of the trench. The first, cursing
like a fiend, aimed a sabre-stroke at my poor comrade's head, but as he
rose in his stirrups to give force to the blow I buried my bayonet in
his side, while the other brought down his blade upon my shoulder with
such force, that, were it not for my epaulette, I believe that I had
been wellnigh cloven in two. Then he lunged, but as the point of his
sabre touched my breast, a bullet from above crashed through his skull.
I looked around, and saw one of our men, up to his knees in the clay.
He had heard the oaths of the hussars and the neighing of the horses,
and had come to the edge of the trench to see what was going on.
Well, comrade, said he, laughing, it was about time.
I had not strength to reply, but stood trembling like an aspen leaf.
He unfixed his bayonet, and stretched the muzzle of his piece to me to
help me out. Then I squeezed his hand, saying:
You saved my life! What is your name?
He told me that his name was Jean Pierre Vincent. I have often since
thought that I should be only too happy to render that man any service
in my power; but two days after, the second battle of Leipzig took
place; then the retreat from Hanau began, and I never saw him again.
Sergeant Pinto and Zébédé came up a moment after. Zébédé said:
We have escaped once more, Joseph, and now we are the only
Phalsbourg men in the battalion. Klipfel was sabred by the hussars.
Did you see him? I cried.
Yes; he received over twenty wounds, and kept calling to me for
aid. Then, after a moment's pause, he added, O Joseph! it is terrible
to hear the companion of your childhood calling for help, and not be
able to give it! But they were too many. They surrounded him on all
The thoughts of home rushed upon both our minds. I thought I could
see grandmother Klipfel when she would learn the news, and this made me
think too of Catharine.
From the time of the charge of the hussars until night, the
battalion remained in the same position, skirmishing with the
Prussians. We kept them from occupying the wood; but they prevented us
from ascending to the ridge. The next day we knew why. The hill
commanded the entire course of the Partha, and the fierce cannonade we
heard came from Dombrowski's division, which was attacking the Prussian
left wing, in order to aid General Marmont at Mockern, where twenty
thousand French, posted in a ravine, were holding eighty thousand of
Blücher's troops in check; while toward Wachau a hundred and fifteen
thousand French were engaged with two hundred thousand Austrians and
Russians. More than fifteen hundred cannon were thundering at once. Our
poor little fusillade was like the humming of a bee in a storm, and we
sometimes ceased firing, on both sides, to listen. It seemed as if some
supernatural, infernal battle were going on; the air was filled with
smoke; the earth trembled beneath our feet: our soldiers like Pinto
declared they had never seen anything like it.
About six o'clock, a staff-officer brought orders to Colonel Lorain,
and immediately after a retreat was sounded. The battalion had lost
sixty men by the charge of Russian hussars and the musketry.
It was night when we left the forest, and on the banks of the
Parthaamong caissons, wagons, retreating divisions, ambulances filled
with wounded, all defiling over the two bridgeswe had to wait more
than two hours for our turn to cross. The heavens were black; the
artillery still growled afar off, but the three battles were ended. We
heard that we had beaten the Austrians and the Russians at Wachau, on
the other side of Leipzig; but our men returning from Mockern were
downcast and gloomy; not a voice cried Vive l'Empereur! as after
Once on the other side of the river, the battalion proceeded down
the Partha a good half-league, as far as the village of Schoenfeld; the
night was damp; we marched along heavily, our muskets on our shoulders,
our heads bent down, and our eyes closing for want of sleep.
Behind us the great column of cannon, caissons, baggage-wagons and
troops retreating from Mockern filled the air with a hoarse murmur, and
from time to time the cries of the artillerymen and teamsters, shouting
to make room, arose above the tumult. But these noises insensibly grew
less, and we at length reached a burial-ground, where we were ordered
to stack arms and break ranks.
By this time the sky had cleared, and I recognized Schoenfeld in the
moonlight. How often had I eaten bread and drank white wine with Zimmer
there at the Golden Sheaf, when the sun shone brightly and the leaves
were green around! But those times had passed!
Sentries were posted, and a few men went to the village for wood and
provisions. I sat against the cemetery wall, and at length fell asleep.
About three o'clock in the morning, I was awoke.
It was Zébédé. Joseph, said he, come to the fire. If you remain
here, you run the risk of catching the fever.
I arose, sick with fatigue and suffering. A fine rain filled the
air. My comrade drew me toward the fire, which smoked in the drizzling
atmosphere; it seemed to give out no heat; but Zébédé having made me
drink a draught of brandy I felt at least less cold, and gazed at the
bivouac fires on the other side of the Partha.
The Prussians are warming themselves in our wood, said Zébédé.
Yes, I replied; and poor Klipfel is there too, but he no longer
feels the cold.
My teeth chattered. These words saddened us both. A few moments
after Zébédé resumed:
Do you remember, Joseph, the black ribbon he wore the day of the
conscription, and how he cried, 'we are all condemned to death, like
those gone to Russia? I want a black ribbon. We must wear our own
mourning!' And his little brother said: 'No, no, Jacob, I do not want
it!' and wept! but Klipfel put on the black ribbon notwithstanding; he
saw the hussars in his dreams.
As Zébédé spoke, I recalled those things, and I saw too that wretch
Pinacle on the Town Hall Square, calling me and shaking a black ribbon
over his head: Ha, cripple! you must have a fine ribbon; the ribbon of
those who win!
This remembrance, together with the cold, which seemed to freeze the
very marrow in our bones, made me shudder. I thought Pinacle was right;
that I had seen the last of home. I thought of Catharine, of Aunt
Grédel, of good Monsieur Goulden, and I cursed those who had forced me
At daybreak, wagons arrived with food and brandy for us; the rain
had ceased; we made soup, but nothing could warm me; I had caught the
fever; within I was cold while my body burned. I was not the only one
in the battalion in that condition; three-fourths of the men were
suffering from it: and, for a month before, those who could no longer
march had lain down by the roadside weeping and calling upon their
mothers like little children. Hunger, forced marches, the rain, and
grief had done their work, and happy was it for the parents that they
could not see their cherished sons perishing along the road; it would
be too fearful; many would think there was no mercy in earth or heaven.
As the light increased, we saw to the left, on the other side of the
riverand of a great ravine filled with willows and aspensburnt
villages, heaps of dead, abandoned wagons, broken caissons, dismounted
cannon and ravaged fields stretched as far as the eye could reach on
the Halle, Lindenthal and Dölitch roads. It was worse than at Lutzen.
We saw the Prussians deploy, and advance their thousands over the
battle-field. They were to join with the Russians and Austrians and
close the great circle around us, and we could not prevent them,
especially as Bernadotte and the Russian General Beningsen had come up
with twenty thousand fresh troops. Thus, after fighting three battles
in one day, were we, only one hundred and thirty thousand strong,
seemingly about to be entrapped in the midst of three hundred thousand
bayonets, not to speak of fifty thousand horse and twelve hundred
From Schoenfeld, the battalion started to rejoin the division at
Kohlgarten. All the roads were lined with slow-moving ambulances,
filled with wounded; all the wagons of the country around had been
impressed for this service; and, in the intervals between them, marched
hundreds of poor fellows with their arms in slings, or their heads
bandagedpale, crestfallen, half dead. All who could drag themselves
along kept out of the ambulances, but tried nevertheless to reach a
hospital. We made our way, with a thousand difficulties, through this
mass, when, near Kohlgarten, twenty hussars, galloping at full speed,
and with levelled pistols, drove back the crowd, right and left, into
the fields, shouting, as they pressed on:
The Emperor! the Emperor!
The battalion drew up, and presented arms; and a few moments after,
the mounted grenadiers of the guardveritable giants, with their great
boots, their immense bear-skin hats, descending to their shoulders and
only allowing their mustaches, nose, and eyes to remain visiblepassed
at a gallop. Our men looked joyfully at them, glad that such robust
warriors were on our side.
Scarcely had they passed, when the staff tore after. Imagine a
hundred and fifty to two hundred marshals, generals, and other superior
officers, mounted on magnificent steeds, and so covered with embroidery
that the color of their uniforms was scarcely visible; some tall, thin,
and haughty; others short, thick-set, and red-faced; others again young
and handsome, sitting like statues in their saddles; all with eager
look and flashing eyes. It was a magnificent and terrible sight.
But the most striking figure among those captains, who for twenty
years had made Europe tremble, was Napoleon himself, with his old hat
and gray overcoat; his large, determined chin and neck buried between
his shoulders. All shouted Vive l'Empereur! but he heard
nothing of it. He paid no more attention to us than to the drizzling
rain which filled the air, but gazed with contracted brows at the
Prussian army stretching along the Partha to join the Austrians. So I
saw him on that day and so he remains in my memory. The battalion had
been on the march for a quarter of an hour, when at length Zébédé said:
Did you see him, Joseph?
I did, I replied; I saw him well, and I will remember the sight
all my life.
It is strange, said my comrade; he does not seem to be pleased.
At Wurschen, the day after the battle, he seemed rejoiced to hear our '
Vive l'Empereur!' and the generals all wore merry faces too. To-day
they seem savage, and nevertheless the captain said that we bore off
the victory on the other side of Leipzig.
Others thought the same thing without speaking of it, but there was
a growing uneasiness among all.
We found the regiment bivouacked near Kohlgarten. In every direction
camp-fires were rolling their smoke to the sky. A drizzling rain
continued to fall, and the men, seated on their knapsacks around the
fires, seemed depressed and gloomy. The officers formed groups of their
own. On all sides it was whispered that such a war had never before
been seen; it was one of extermination; that it did not help us to
defeat the enemy, for they only desired to kill us off, knowing that
they had four or five times our number of men, and would finally remain
They said, too, that the Emperor had won the battle at Wachau,
against the Austrians and Russians; but that the victory was useless,
because they did not retreat, but stood awaiting masses of
reinforcements. On the side of Mockern we knew that we had lost, in
spite of Marmont's splendid defence; the enemy had crushed us beneath
the weight of their numbers. We only had one real advantage that day on
our side; that was keeping our line of retreat on Erfurt: for Giulay
had not been able to seize the bridges of the Elster and Pleisse. All
the army, from the simple soldier to the marshal, thought that we would
have to retreat as soon as possible, and that our position was of the
worst; unfortunately the Emperor thought otherwise, and we had to
All day on the seventeenth we lay in our position without firing a
shot. A few spoke of the arrival of General Regnier with sixteen
thousand Saxons; but the defection of the Bavarians taught us what
confidence we could put in our allies.
Toward evening of the next day, we discovered the army of the north
on the plateau of Breitenfeld. This was sixty thousand more men for the
enemy. I can yet hear the maledictions levelled at Bernadottethe
cries of indignation of those who knew him as a simple officer in the
army of the Republic, who cried out that he owed us allthat we made
him a king with our blood, and that he now came to give us the
That night, a general movement rearward was made; our lines drew
closer and closer around Leipzig; then all became quiet. But this did
not prevent our reflecting; on the contrary, every one thought, in the
What will to-morrow bring forth? Shall I at this hour see the moon
rising among the clouds as I now see her? Will the stars yet shine for
me to see?
And when, in the dim night, we gazed at the circle of fire which for
nearly six leagues stretched around us, we cried within ourselves:
Now indeed the world is against us; all nations demand our
extermination; they want no more of our glory!
But we remembered that we had the honor of bearing the name of
Frenchmen, and must conquer or die.
In the midst of such thoughts, day broke. Nothing was stirring yet,
and Zébédé said:
What a chance for us, if the enemy should fear to attack us!
The officers spoke of an armistice; but suddenly about nine o'clock,
our couriers came galloping in, crying that the enemy was moving his
whole line down upon us, and directly after we heard cannon on our
right, along the Elster. We were already under arms, and set out across
the fields toward the Partha to return to Schoenfeld. The battle had
On the hills overlooking the river, two or three divisions, with
batteries in the intervals, and cannon at the flanks, awaited the
enemy's approach; beyond, over the points of their bayonets, we could
see the Prussians, the Swedes, and the Russians, advancing on all sides
in deep, never-ending masses. Shortly after, we took our place in line,
between two hills, and then we saw five or six thousand Prussians
crossing the river, and all together shouting, Vaterland!
Vaterland! This caused a tremendous tumult, like that of clouds of
rooks flying north.
At the same instant the musketry opened from both sides of the
river. The valley through which the Partha flows was filled with smoke;
the Prussians were already upon uswe could see their furious eyes and
wild looks; they seemed like savage beasts rushing down on us. Then but
one shout of Vive l'Empereur! smote the sky and we dashed
forward. The shock was terrible; thousands of bayonets crossed; we
drove them back, were ourselves driven back; muskets were clubbed; the
opposing ranks were confounded and mingled in one mass; the fallen were
trampled upon, while the thunder of artillery, the whistling of
bullets, and the thick white smoke enclosing all, made the valley seem
the pit of hell, peopled by contending demons. Despair urged us, and
the wish to revenge our deaths before yielding up our lives. The pride
of boasting that they once defeated Napoleon incited the Prussians; for
they are the proudest of men, and their victories at Gross-Beeren and
Katzbach had made them fools. But the river swept away them and their
pride! Three times they crossed and rushed at us. We were indeed forced
back by the shock of their numbers, and how they shouted then! They
seemed to wish to devour us. Their officers, waving their swords in the
air, cried, Vorwärtz! Vorwärtz! and all advanced like a wall,
with the greatest couragethat we cannot deny. Our cannon opened huge
gaps in their lines; still they pressed on; but at the top of the hill
we charged again, and drove them to the river. We would have massacred
them to a man, were it not for one of their batteries before Mockern,
which enfiladed us and forced us to give up the pursuit.
This lasted until two o'clock; half our officers were killed or
wounded; the colonel, Lorain, was among the first, and the commandant,
Gémeau, the latter; all along the river side were heaps of dead, or
wounded men crawling away from the struggle. Some, furious, would rise
to their knees to fire a last shot or deliver a final bayonet-thrust.
Never was anything seen like it. In the river floated long lines of
corpses, some showing their faces, others their backs, others their
feet. They followed each other like rafts of wood, and no one paid the
least attention to the sightno one of us knew that the same might not
be his condition at any minute.
[Illustration: In the river the dead were floating by in files.]
The carnage reached from Schoenfeld to Grossdorf, along the Partha.
At length the Swedes and Prussians ceased their attacks, and started
farther up the river to turn our position, and masses of Russians came
to occupy the places they had left.
The Russians formed in two columns, and descended to the valley,
with shouldered arms, in admirable order. Twice they assailed us with
the greatest bravery, but without uttering wild beasts' cries, like the
Prussians. Their cavalry attempted to carry the old bridge above
Schoenfeld, and the cannonade increased. On all sides, as far as eye
could reach, we saw only the enemy massing their forces, and when we
had repulsed one of their columns, another of fresh men took its place.
The fight had ever to be fought over again.
Between two and three o'clock, we learned that the Swedes and the
Prussian cavalry had crossed the river above Grossdorf, and were about
to take us in the rear, a mode which pleased them much better than
fighting face to face. Marshal Ney immediately changed front, throwing
his right wing to the rear. Our division still remained supported on
Schoenfeld, but all the others retired from the Partha, to stretch
along the plain, and the entire army formed but one line around
The Russians, behind the road to Mockern, prepared for a third
attack toward three o'clock; our officers were making new dispositions
to receive them; when a sort of shudder ran from one end of our lines
to the other, and in a few moments all knew that the sixteen thousand
Saxons and the Wurtemberg cavalry, in our very centre, had passed over
to the enemy, and that on their way they had the infamy to turn the
forty guns they carried with them, on their old brothers-in-arms of
This treason, instead of discouraging us, so added to our fury, that
if we had been allowed, we would have crossed the river to massacre
them. They say that they were defending their country. It is false!
They had only to have left us on the Duben road; why did they not go
then? They might have done like the Bavarians and quitted us before the
battle; they might have remained neutralmight have refused to serve;
but they deserted us only because fortune was against us. If they knew
we were going to win, they would have continued our very good friends,
so that they might have their share of the spoil or gloryas after
Jena and Friedland. This is what every one thought, and it is why those
Saxons are, and will ever remain, traitors: not only did they abandon
their friends in distress, but they murdered them, to make a welcome
with the enemy. God is just. And so great was their new allies' scorn
of them, that they divided half Saxony between themselves after the
battle. The French might well laugh at Prussian, Austrian, and Russian
From the time of this desertion until evening, it was a war of
vengeance that we carried on; the allies might crush us by numbers, but
they should pay dearly for their victory!
At nightfall, while two thousand pieces of artillery were thundering
together, we were attacked for the seventh time in Schoenfeld. The
Russians on one side and the Prussians on the other poured in upon us.
We defended every house. In every lane the walls crumbled beneath the
bullets, and roofs fell in on every side. There were now no shouts as
at the beginning of the battle; all were cool and pale with rage. The
officers had collected scattered muskets and cartridge-boxes, and now
loaded and fired like the men. We defended the gardens, too, and the
cemetery, where we had bivouacked, until there were more dead above
than beneath the soil. Every inch of earth cost a life.
It was night when Marshal Ney brought up a reinforcementwhence I
knew not. It was what remained of Ricard's division and Souham's
Second. The débris of our regiments united, and hurled the
Russians to the other side of the old bridge, which no longer had a
rail, that having been swept away by the shot. Six twelve-pounders were
posted on the bridge and maintained a fire for one hour longer. The
remainder of the battalion, and of some others in our rear, supported
the guns; and I remember how their flashes lit up the forms of men and
horses, heaped beneath the dark arches. The sight lasted only a moment,
but it was a horrible moment indeed!
At half-past seven, masses of cavalry advanced on our left, and we
saw them whirling about two large squares, which slowly retired. Then
we received orders to retreat. Not more than two or three thousand men
remained at Schoenfeld with the six pieces of artillery. We reached
Kohlgarten without being pursued, and were to bivouac around Rendnitz.
Zébédé was yet living, and, as we marched on, listening to the
cannonade, which continued, despite the darkness, along the Elster, he
How is it that we are here, Joseph, when so many thousand others
that stood by our side are dead? It seems as if we bore charmed lives,
and could not die.
I made no reply.
Think you there was ever before such a battle? he asked. No, it
cannot be. It is impossible.
It was indeed a battle of giants. From ten in the morning until
seven in the evening, we had held our own against three hundred and
sixty thousand men, without, at night, having lost an inch: and,
nevertheless, we were but a hundred and thirty thousand. God keep me
from speaking ill of the Germans. They were fighting for the
independence of their country. But they might do better than celebrate
the anniversary of the battle of Leipzig every year. There is not much
to boast of in fighting an enemy three to one.
Approaching Rendnitz, we marched over heaps of dead. At every step
we encountered dismounted cannon, broken caissons, and trees cut down
by shot. There a division of the Young Guard and the mounted
grenadiers, led by Napoleon himself, had repulsed the Swedes who were
advancing into the breach made by the treachery of the Saxons. Two or
three burning houses lit up the scene. The mounted grenadiers were yet
at Rendnitz, but crowds of disbanded troops were passing up and down
the street. No rations had been distributed, and all were seeking
something to eat and drink.
As we defiled by a large house, we saw behind the wall of a court
two cantinières, who were giving the soldiers drink from their
wagons. There were there chasseurs, cuirassiers, lancers, hussars,
infantry of the line and of the guard, all mingled together, with torn
uniforms, broken shakos, and plumeless helmets, and all seemingly
Two or three dragoons stood on the wall near a pot of burning pitch,
their arms crossed on their long white cloaks, covered from head to
foot with blood, like butchers.
Zébédé, without speaking, pushed me with his elbow, and we entered
the court, while the others pursued their way. It took us full a
quarter of an hour to reach one of the wagons. I held up a crown of six
livres, and the cantinière, kneeling behind her cask, handed me
a large glass of brandy and a piece of white bread, at the same time
taking my money. I drank and passed the glass to Zébédé, who emptied
it. We had as much difficulty in getting out of the crowd as in
entering. Hard, famished faces and cavernous eyes were on all sides of
us. No one moved willingly. Each thought only of himself, and cared not
for his neighbor. They had escaped a thousand deaths to-day only to
dare a thousand more to-morrow. Well might they mutter, Every one for
himself, and God for us all.
As we went through the village street, Zébédé said, You have
I broke it in two, and gave him half. We began to eat, at the same
time hastening on. We heard distant firing. At the end of twenty
minutes we had overtaken the rear of the column, and recognized the
battalion of Captain Adjutant-Major Vidal, who was marching near it. We
had taken our places in the ranks before any one noticed our absence.
The nearer we approached the city the more detachments, cannon and
baggage we encountered hastening to Leipzig.
Toward ten o'clock we passed through the faubourg of Rendnitz. The
general of brigade, Fournier, took command of us and ordered us to
oblique to the left. At midnight we arrived at the long promenades
which border the Pleisse, and halted under the old leafless lindens,
and stacked arms. A long line of fires flickered in the fog as far as
Randstadt; and, when the flames burnt high, they threw a glare on
groups of Polish lancers, lines of horses, cannon, and wagons, while,
at intervals beyond, sentinels stood like statues in the mist. A heavy,
hollow sound arose from the city, and mingled with the rolling of our
trains over the bridge at Lindenau. It was the beginning of the
Then every one put his knapsack at the foot of a tree and stretched
himself on the ground, his arm under his head. A quarter of an hour
after all were sleeping.
What occurred until daybreak I know not. Baggage, wounded, and
prisoners doubtless continued to crowd across the bridge. But then a
terrific shock woke us all. We started up, thinking the enemy were upon
us, when two officers of hussars came galloping in with the news that a
powder wagon had exploded by accident in the grand avenue of Randstadt,
at the river-side. The dark, red smoke rolled up to the sky, and slowly
disappeared, while the old houses continued to shake as if an
earthquake were rolling by.
Quiet was soon restored. Some lay down to sleep: but it was growing
lighter every minute; and, glancing toward the river, I saw our troops
extending until lost in the distance along the five bridges of the
Elster and Pleisse, which follow, one after another, and make, so to
speak, but one. Thousands of men must defile over this bridge, and, of
necessity, take time in doing so. And the idea struck every one that it
would have been much better to have thrown several bridges across the
two rivers; for at any instant the enemy might attack us, and then
retreat would have become difficult indeed. But the Emperor had
forgotten to give the order, and no one dared do anything without
orders. Not a marshal of France would have dared to take it upon
himself to say that two bridges were better than one. To such a point
had the terrible discipline of Napoleon reduced those old captains!
They obeyed like machines, and disturbed themselves about nothing. Such
was their fear of displeasing their master.
As I gazed at that bridge, which seemed endless, I thought, Heaven
grant that they may let us cross now, for we have had enough of battles
and carnage! Once on the other side and we are on the road to France,
indeed, and I may again see Catharine, Aunt Grédel, and Father
Goulden! So thinking, I grew sad; I gazed at the thousands of
artillerymen and baggage-guards swarming over the bridge, and saw the
tall bear-skin shakos of the Old Guard, who stood with shouldered arms
immovable on the hill of Lindenau on the other side of the riverand
as I thought they were fairly on their way to France, how I longed to
be in their place! Zébédé, through whose mind the same thoughts were
Hey! Joseph; if we were only there!
But I felt bitterly, indeed, when, about seven o'clock, three wagons
came to distribute provisions and ammunition among us, and it became
evident that we were to become the rear-guard. In spite of my hunger, I
felt like throwing my bread against a wall. A few moments after, two
squadrons of Polish lancers appeared coming up the bank, and behind
them five or six generals, Poniatowski among the number. He was a man
of about fifty, tall, slight, and with a melancholy expression. He
passed without looking at us. General Fournier, who now commanded our
brigade, spurred from among his staff, and cried:
By file, left!
I never so felt my heart sink. I would have sold my life for two
farthings; but nevertheless, we had to move on, and turn our backs to
We soon arrived at a place called Hinterthoran old gate on the
road to Caunewitz. To the right and left stretched ancient ramparts,
and behind, rows of houses. We were posted in covered roads, near this
gate, which the sappers had strongly barricaded. Captain Vidal then
commanded the battalion, reduced to three hundred and twenty-five men.
A few worm-eaten palisades served us for intrenchments, and, on all the
roads before us, the enemy were advancing. This time they wore white
coats and flat caps, with a raised piece in front, on which we could
see the two-headed eagle of the kreutzers. Old Pinto, who
recognized them at once, cried:
Those fellows are the kaiserliks! We have beaten them fifty
times since 1793; but if the father of Marie Louise had a heart, they
would be with us now instead of against us.
For some moments a cannonade had been going on at the other side of
the city, where Blücher was attacking the faubourg of Halle.
Soon after, the firing stretched along to the right; it was
Bernadotte attacking the faubourg of Kohlgartenthor, and at the same
time the first shells of the Austrians fell in our covered ways; they
followed in file; many passing over Hinterthor, burst in the houses and
the streets of the faubourg.
At nine o'clock the Austrians formed their columns of attack on the
Caunewitz road, and poured down on us from all sides. Nevertheless we
held our own until about ten o'clock, and then were forced back to the
old ramparts, through the breaches of which the Kaiserliks pursued us
under the cross-fire of the Fourteenth and Twenty-ninth of the line.
The poor Austrians were not inspired with the fury of the Prussians,
but nevertheless, showed a true courage; for, at half-past ten they had
won the ramparts, and although, from all the neighboring windows, we
kept up a deadly fire, we could not force them back. Six months before
it would have horrified me to think of men being thus slaughtered, but
now I was as insensible as any old soldier, and the death of one man or
of a hundred would not cost me a thought.
Until this time all had gone well, but how were we to get out of the
houses? Unless we climbed on the roof, retreat was no longer possible.
This again was one of those terrible moments I shall never forget. All
at once the idea struck me that we should be caught like foxes which
they smoke in their holes. The enemy held every avenue. I went to a
window in the rear, and saw that it looked out on a yard, and that the
yard had no gate except in front. I thought it not unlikely that the
Austrians, in revenge for the loss we had inflicted upon them, might
put us to the point of the bayonet. It would have been natural enough.
Thinking thus, I ran back to a room, where a dozen of us yet remained,
and there I saw Sergeant Pinto leaning against the wall, his arms
hanging by his sides, and his face as white as paper. He had just
received a bullet in the breast, but the old man's warrior soul was
still strong within him, as he cried:
Defend yourselves, conscripts! Defend yourselves! Show the
Kaiserliks that a French soldier is yet worth four of them! ah the
We heard the sound of blows on the door below thundering like
cannon-shot. We still kept up our fire, but hopelessly, when we heard
the clatter of hoofs without. The firing ceased, and we saw through the
smoke four squadrons of lancers dashing like a troop of lions through
the midst of the Austrians. All yielded before them. The Kaiserliks
fled, but the long, blue lances, with their red pennons, were swifter
than they, and many a white coat was pierced from behind. The lancers
were Polesthe most terrible warriors I have ever seen, and, to speak
truth, our friends, and our brothers. They never turned from us in our
hour of need; they gave us the last drop of their blood. And what have
we done for their unhappy country? When I think of our ingratitude, my
heart bleeds. The Poles rescued us. Seeing them so proud and brave, we
rushed out, attacking the Austrians with the bayonet, and driving them
into the trenches. We were for the time victorious, but it was time to
beat a retreat, for the enemy were already filling Leipzig; the gates
of Halle and Grimma were forced, and that of Peters-Thau delivered up
by our friends the Badeners and our other friends the Saxons. Soldiers,
citizens, and students kept up a fire from the windows, on our retiring
We had only time to re-form and take the road along the Pleisse; the
lancers awaited us there: we defiled behind them, and, as the Austrians
again pressed around us, they charged once more to drive them back.
What brave fellows and magnificent horsemen were those Poles! How those
who saw them chargein such a momentmust admire them!
The division, reduced from fifteen to eight thousand men, retired
step by step before fifty thousand foes, and not without often turning
and replying to the Austrian fire.
We neared the bridgewith what joy, I need not say. But it was no
easy task to reach it, for infantry and horse crowded the whole width
of the avenue, and continued to come from all the neighboring roads,
until the crowd formed an impenetrable mass, which advanced slowly,
with groans and smothered cries, which might be heard at a distance of
half a mile, despite the rattling of musketry. Woe to those upon the
sides of the bridge! they were forced into the water and no one
stretched a hand to save them. In the middle, men and even horses were
carried along with the crowd; they had no need of making any exertion
of their own. But how were we to get there? The enemy were advancing
nearer and nearer every moment. It is true we had stationed a few
cannon so as to sweep the principal approaches, and some troops yet
remained in line to repulse their attacks, but they had guns to sweep
the bridge, and those who remained behind must receive their whole
fire. This accounted for the press on the bridge.
At two or three hundred paces from the bridge, the idea of rushing
forward and throwing myself into the midst of the crowd, entered my
mind; but Captain Vidal, Lieutenant Bretonville, and other old officers
Shoot down the first man that leaves the ranks!
It was horrible to be so near safety, and yet unable to escape.
This was between eleven and twelve o'clock. The fusillade grew
nearer on the right and left, and a few bullets began to whistle over
our heads. From the side of Halle we saw the Prussians rush pellmell
out with our own soldiers. Terrible cries now arose from the bridge.
Cavalry, to make way for themselves, sabred the infantry, who replied
with the bayonet. It was a general sauve qui peut. At every
movement of the crowd, some one fell from the bridge, and, trying to
regain his place, dragged five or six with him into the water.
In the midst of this horrible confusion, this pandemonium of shouts,
cries, groans, musket-shots, and sabre-strokes, a crash like a peal of
thunder was heard, and the first arch of the bridge rose upward into
the air with all upon it.
Hundreds of wretches were torn to pieces, and hundreds of others
were crushed beneath the falling ruins.
A sapper had blown up the arch!
At this sight, the cry of treason rang from mouth to mouth. We are
lostbetrayed! was now the cry on all sides. The tumult was fearful.
Some, in the rage of despair, turned upon the enemy like wild beasts at
bay, thinking only of vengeance; others broke their arms, cursing
heaven and earth for their misfortunes. Mounted officers and generals
dashed into the river to cross it by swimming, and many soldiers
followed them without taking time to throw off their knapsacks. The
thought that the last hope of safety was gone, and nothing now remained
but to be massacred, made men mad. I had seen the Partha choked with
dead bodies the day before, but this scene was a thousand times more
horrible; drowning wretches dragging down those who happened to be near
them; shrieks and yells of rage, or for help; a broad river concealed
by a mass of heads and struggling arms.
Captain Vidal, who, by his coolness and steady eye, had hitherto
kept us to our duty, even Captain Vidal now appeared discouraged. He
thrust his sabre into the scabbard, and cried, with a strange laugh:
The game is up! Let us be gone!
I touched his arm; he looked sadly and kindly at me.
What do you wish, my child? he asked.
Captain, said I, I was four months in the hospital at Leipzig: I
have bathed in the Elster, and I know a ford.
Ten minutes' march above the bridge.
He drew his sabre at once from its sheath, and shouted:
Follow me, my boys, and you, Bertha, lead.
The entire battalion, which did not now number more than two hundred
men, followed; a hundred others, who saw us start confidently forward,
joined us without knowing where we were going. The Austrians were
already on the terrace of the avenue; farther down, gardens, separated
by hedges, stretched to the Elster. I recognized the road which Zimmer
and I had traversed so often in July, when the ground was covered with
flowers. The enemy fired on us, but we did not reply. I entered the
water first; Captain Vidal next, then the others, two abreast. It
reached our shoulders, for the river was swollen by the autumn rains;
but we crossed, notwithstanding, without the loss of a man. Nearly all
of us had our muskets when we reached the other bank, and we pressed
onward across the fields, and soon reached the little wooden bridge at
Schleissig, and thence turned to Lindenau.
We marched silently, turning from time to time to gaze on the other
side of the Elster, where the battle still raged in the streets of
Leipzig. The furious shouts, and the deep boom of cannon still reached
our ears; and it was only when, about two o'clock, we overtook the long
column which stretched, till lost in the distance, on the road to
Erfurt, that the sounds of conflict were lost in the roll of wagons and
Hitherto I have described the grandeur of warbattles glorious to
France, notwithstanding our mistakes and misfortunes. When we were
fighting all Europe alone, always one against two, and often one to
three; when we finally succumbed, not through the courage of our foes,
but borne down by treason, and the weight of numbers, we had no reason
to blush for our defeat, and the victors have little reason to exult in
it. It is not numbers that makes the glory of a people or an armyit
is virtue and bravery. This is what I think in all sincerity, and I
believe that right feeling, sensible men in every country will think
But now I must relate the horrors of retreat, and this is the
hardest part of my task. It is said that confidence gives strength, and
this is especially true of the French. While they advanced in full hope
of victory, they were united; the will of their chiefs was their only
law; they knew that they could succeed only by strict observance of
discipline. But when driven back, no one had confidence save in
himself, and commands were forgotten. Then these menonce so brave and
so proud, who marched so gayly to the fightscattered to right and
left; sometimes fleeing alone, sometimes in groups. Then those who, a
little while before, trembled at their approach, grew bold; they came
on, first timidly, but, meeting no resistance, became insolent. Then
they would swoop down and carry off three or four laggards at a time,
as I have seen crows in winter swoop upon a fallen horse, which they
did not dare approach while he could yet remain on his feet.
I have seen miserable Cossacksvery beggars, with nothing but old
rags hanging around them; an old cap of tattered skin over their ears;
unshorn beards, covered with vermin; mounted on old worn-out horses,
without saddles, and with only a piece of rope by way of stirrups, an
old rusty pistol all their fire-arms, and a nail at the end of a pole
for a lance; I have seen those wretches, who resembled sallow and
decrepit Jews more than soldiers, stop ten, fifteen, twenty of our men,
and lead them off like sheep.
And the tall, lank peasants, who, a few months before, trembled if
we only looked at themI have seen them arrogantly repulse old
soldierscuirassiers, artillerymen, dragoons who had fought through
the Spanish war, men who could have crushed them with a blow of their
fist; I have seen these peasants insist that they had no bread to sell,
while the odor of the oven arose on all sides of us; that they had no
wine, no beer, when we heard glasses clinking to right and left. And no
one dared punish them; no one dared take what he wanted from the
wretches who laughed to see us in such straits, for each one was
retreating on his own account; we had no leaders, no discipline, and
they could easily out-number us.
And to hunger, misery, weariness, and fever, the horrors of an
approaching winter were added. The rain never ceased falling from the
gray sky, and the winds pierced us to the bones. How could poor
beardless conscripts, mere shadows, fleshless and worn out, endure all
this? They perished by thousands; their bodies covered the roads. The
terrible typhus pursued us. Some said it was a plague,
engendered by the dead not being buried deep enough; others, that it
was the consequence of sufferings that required more than human
strength to bear. I know not how this may be, but the villages of
Alsace and Lorraine, to which we brought it, will long remember their
sufferings; of a hundred attacked by it, not more than ten or twelve,
at the most, recovered.
At lengthsince I must continue this sad storyon the evening of
the nineteenth, we bivouacked at Lutzen, where our regiments re-formed
as best they might. The next day early, as we marched on Weissenfels,
we had to skirmish with the Westphalians, who followed us as far as the
village of Eglaystadt. The twenty-second we bivouacked on the glacis at
Erfurt, where we received new shoes and uniforms. Five or six disbanded
companies joined our battalionnearly all conscripts. Our new coats
and shoes were much too large for us; but they were warm; we felt like
We had to start again the twenty-second, and the following days
passed near Götha, Teitlobe, Eisenach and Salminster. The Cossacks
reconnoitred us from a distance. Our hussars would drive them off; but
they returned the moment pursuit was relaxed. Many of our men went
pillaging in the night, and were absent at roll-call, and the sentries
received orders to shoot all who attempted to leave their bivouacs.
I had had the fever ever since we left Leipzig; it increased day by
day, and I became so weak that I could scarcely rise in the mornings to
follow the march. Zébédé looked sadly at me, and sometimes said:
Courage, Joseph! We will soon be at home!
These words reanimated me; I felt my face flush.
Yes, yes! I said; we will soon be home; I must see home once
The tears forced themselves to my eyes. Zébédé carried knapsack when
I was tired, and continued:
Lean on my arm. We are getting nearer every day, now, Joseph. A few
dozen leagues are nothing.
My heart beat more bravely, but my strength was gone. I could no
longer carry my musket; it was heavy as lead. I could not eat; my knees
trembled beneath me; still I did not despair, but kept murmuring to
myself: This is nothing. When you see the clock-tower of Phalsbourg
your fever will leave you. You will have good air, and Catharine will
nurse you. All will yet be well!
Others, no worse than I, fell by the roadside, but still I toiled
on; when near Folde, we learned that fifty thousand Bavarians were
posted in the forests through which we were to pass, for the purpose of
cutting off our retreat. This was my finishing stroke, for I knew I
could no longer load, fire, or defend myself with the bayonet. I felt
that all my sufferings to get so far toward home were useless.
Nevertheless, I made an effort, when we were ordered to march, and
tried to rise.
Come, come, Joseph! said Zébédé; courage!
But I could not move, and lay sobbing like a child.
Come, stand up! he said.
I cannot. O God! I cannot!
I clutched his arm. Tears streamed down his face. He tried to lift
me, but he was too weak; I held fast to him, crying:
Zébédé, do not abandon me!
Captain Tidal approached, and gazed sadly on me.
Cheer up, my lad, said he; the ambulances will be along in half
But I knew what that meant, and I drew Zébédé closer to me. He
embraced me, and I whispered in his ear:
Kiss Catharine for mepromise! Tell her that I died thinking of
her, and bear her my last farewell!
Yes, yes! he sobbed. My poor Joseph!
I could cling to him no longer. He placed me on the ground, and ran
away without turning his head. The column departed, and I gazed at it
as one who sees his last hope fading from his eyes. The last of the
battalion disappeared over the ridge of a hill. I closed my eyes. An
hour passed, or perhaps a longer time, when the boom of cannon startled
me, and I saw a division of the guard pass at a quick step with
artillery and wagons. Seeing some sick in the wagons, I cried,
Take me! Take me!
But no one listened; still they kept on, while the thunder of
artillery grew louder and louder. More than ten thousand men, cavalry
and infantry, passed me, but I had no longer strength to call out to
At last the long line ended; I saw knapsacks and shakos disappear
behind the hill, and I lay down to sleep forever, when once more I was
aroused by the rolling of five or six pieces of artillery along the
road. The cannoneers sat sabre in hand, and behind came the caissons. I
hoped no more from these than from the others, when suddenly I
perceived a tall, lean, red-bearded veteran mounted beside one of the
pieces, and bearing the cross upon his breast. It was my old friend
Zimmer, my old comrade of Leipzig. He was passing without seeing me,
when I cried, with all the strength that remained to me:
He heard me in spite of the noise of the guns; stopped, and turned
Christian! I cried, take pity on me!
He saw me lying at the foot of a tree, and came to me with a pale
face and staring eyes:
What! Is it you, my poor Joseph? cried he, springing from his
He lifted me in his arms as if I were an infant, and shouted to the
men who were driving the last wagon:
[Illustration: Halt! Stop!]
Then embracing me, he placed me in it, my head upon a knapsack. I
saw too that he wrapped a great cavalry cloak around my feet, as he
Forward! Forward! It is growing warm yonder!
I remember no more, but I have the faint impression of hearing the
sound of heavy guns and rattle of musketry, mingled with shouts and
commands. Branches of tall pines seemed to pass between me and the sky
through the night; but all this might have been a dream. But that day,
behind Solmunster, in the woods of Hanau, we had a battle with the
Bavarians, and routed them.
On the fifteenth of January, 1814, two months and a half after the
battle of Hanau, I awoke in a good bed, and at the end of a little,
well-warmed room; and gazing at the rafters over my head, then at the
little windows, where the frost had spread its silver sheen, I
exclaimed: It is winter! At the same time I heard the crash of
artillery and the crackling of a fire, and turning over on my bed in a
few moments, I saw seated at its side a pale young woman, with her arms
folded, and I recognizedCatharine! I recognized, too, the room where
I had spent so many happy Sundays before going to the wars. But the
thunder of the cannon made me think I was dreaming. I gazed for a long
while at Catharine, who seemed more beautiful than ever, and the
question rose, Where is Aunt Grédel? am I at home once more? God grant
that this be not a dream!
At last I took courage and called softly:
Catharine! And she, turning her head cried:
Joseph! Do you know me?
Yes, I replied, holding out my hand.
She approached, trembling and sobbing, when again and again the
What are those shots I hear? I cried.
The guns of Phalsbourg, she answered. The city is besieged.
Phalsbourg besieged! The enemy in France!
I could speak no more. Thus had so much suffering, so many tears, so
many thousands of lives gone for nothing, ay, worse than nothing, for
the foe was at our homes. For an hour I could think of nothing else;
and now, old and gray-haired as I am, the thought fills me with
bitterness. Yes, we old men have seen the German, the Russian, the
Swede, the Spaniard, the Englishman, masters of France, garrisoning our
cities, taking whatever suited them from our fortresses, insulting our
soldiers, changing our flag, and dividing among themselves, not only
our conquests since 1804, but even those of the Republic. These were
the fruits of ten years of glory!
But let us not speak of these things, the future will pass upon
them. They will tell us that after Lutzen and Bautzen, the enemy
offered to leave us Belgium, part of Holland, all the left bank of the
Rhine as far as Bâle, with Savoy and the kingdom of Italy; and that the
Emperor refused to accept these conditions, brilliant as they were,
because he placed the satisfaction of his own pride before the
happiness of France!
But to return to my story. For two weeks after the battle of Hanau,
thousands of wagons, filled with wounded, crowded the road from
Strasbourg to Nancy, and passed through Phalsbourg.
They stretched in one long line through all Alsace to Lorraine.
Not one in the sad cortége escaped the eyes of Aunt Grédel
and Catharine. What their thoughts were, I need not say. More than
twelve hundred wagons had passed;I was in none of them. Thousands of
fathers and mothers sought among them for their children. How many
returned without them!
The third day Catharine found me among a heap of other wretches, in
basket wagons from Mayence, with sunken cheeks and glaring eyesdying
of hunger. She knew me at once, but Aunt Grédel gazed long before she
Yes! it is he! It is Joseph!
She took me home, and watched over me night and day. I wanted only
water, for which I constantly shrieked. No one in the village believed
that I would ever recover, but the happiness of breathing my native air
and of once more seeing those I loved, saved me.
It was about six months after, on the 15th of July, 1814, that
Catharine and I were married; Monsieur Goulden, who loved us as his own
children, gave me half his business, and we lived together as happy as
Then the wars were ended; the allies gradually returned to their
homes; the Emperor went to Elba, and King Louis XVIII. gave us a
reasonable amount of liberty. Once more the sweet days of youth
returnedthe days of love, of labor, and of peace. The future was once
more full of hopeof hope that every one, by good conduct and economy,
would at some time attain a position in the world, win the esteem of
good men, and raise his family without fear of being carried off by the
conscription seven or eight years after.
Monsieur Goulden, who was not too well satisfied at seeing the old
kings and nobility return, thought, notwithstanding, that they had
suffered enough in foreign lands to understand that they were not the
only people in the world, and to respect our rights; he thought, too,
that the Emperor Napoleon would have the good sense to remain
quietbut he was mistaken. The Bourbons returned with their old
notions, and the Emperor only awaited the moment of vengeance.
All this was to bring more miseries upon us, which I would willingly
relate, if this story did not seem already long enough. But here let us
rest. If people of sense tell me that I have done well in relating my
campaign of 1813that my story may show youth the vanity of military
glory, and prove that no man can gain happiness save by peace, liberty,
and laborthen I will take up my pen once more, and give you the story