The Great Invasion of 1813-14 or, After Leipzig
The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Great Invasion of 1813-14, byErckmann-Chatrian
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Title: The Great Invasion of 1813-14
or, After Leipzig
Release Date: October 26, 2018 [eBook #58173]
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AUTHORS OF "WATERLOO," "THE CONSCRIPT," "THE BLOCKADE," "ETC."
A STORY OF THE ENTRY OF THE ALLIED FORCESINTO ALSACE AND LORRAINE, AND THEIR MARCHUPON PARIS AFTER THE BATTLE OFLEIPZIG, CALLED THE BATTLE OFTHE KINGS AND NATIONS.
WARD, LOCK AND CO.
LONDON: WARWICK HOUSE, SALISBURY SQUARE, E.C.
NEW YORK: BOND STREET.
If you would like to know the story of the Great Invasion of 1814, justas it was told me by the old huntsman, Frantz du Hengst, you must comewith me to the village of Charmes, in that province of France calledthe Vosges. About thirty little houses, with stuccoed fronts, and theirroofs covered with dark green moss, are dotted along the borders ofthe Sarre; you can see their gables round which the ivy creeps andthe honeysuckle twines—the honeysuckle withered now, for winter isnear—the beehives closed with wisps of straw, the little gardens, thewooden palings, the hedge-rows that divide them from each other. Tothe left, on a high mountain, stand the ruins of the ancient castleof Falkenstein, destroyed two hundred years ago by the Swedes. It isnow nothing but a heap of ruins, over-run with brambles and weeds. Theapproach to it is by an old, worn pathway, called a schlitte road,of which you can catch a glimpse through the fir-trees. To the right,[Pg 10]on the hillside, is seen the farm of Bois-de-ChÍnes, a large building,with granaries, stables, and outhouses, the flat roof weighted withhuge stones to resist the keen north wind. Cows are grazing on thecommon, and a few goats are climbing the steep rocks.
All is calm and silent.
Some children, in drawers made of a sort of gray cloth, their headsand feet bare, are warming themselves round their little fires on theoutskirts of the wood. If you watch the light blue columns of smoke asthey disperse in the air, or hang motionless in white and gray cloudsover the valley, you will discover behind these clouds the barren topsof the Grosmann and the Donon.
How, you must know that the last house of the village, whose squarefront is pierced by two glazed casements, and whose low door openson to the muddy street, belonged in 1813 to Jean-Claude Hullin, anold volunteer of '92, but at that time a shoemaker in the villageof Charmes, and held in high esteem among the simple mountaineers.Hullin was a short, stout, thick-set man, with gray eyes, thick lips,a short nose, with a strongly-marked division at the end, and thick,grayish eyebrows. He was a jovial, good-natured fellow, and didn't knowhow to refuse anything to his daughter, Louise, a child whom he hadrescued from a troop of those wretched heimatshlos—half-tinkers,half-blacksmiths—who travel from village to village, solderingsaucepans, melting spoons, and mending broken crockery. He looked uponher as his own daughter, and had completely forgotten that she was notof his blood.
Besides Louise, the worthy man had other objects of[Pg 11] affection.He loved, above all, his cousin, the old mistress of the farm ofBois-de-ChÍnes, Catherine Lefťvre, and her son, Gaspard, drawn in thatyear's conscription, a handsome young fellow, betrothed to Louise, andwhose return at the end of the campaign was anxiously expected by allthe family.
Hullin always dwelt proudly on the memory of his campaigns ofSambro-et-Meuse, of Italy, and Egypt. Sometimes of an evening, whenhis day's work was done, he would set off to the great saw-works atValtin, formed of the trunks of trees still covered with their bark,and which you can perceive down below there at the bottom of the gorge.There, seated in the midst of the woodcutters, charcoal-burners, andschlitteurs, opposite the great fire made of sawdust and shavings,and whilst the heavy wheel went for ever round, amid the never-ceasingthunder of the mill-dam and the constant grinding of the saw, withhis elbow on his knee, and pipe in mouth, he would talk to them ofHoche, of Kleber, and finally, of General Bonaparte, whom he had seen ahundred times, and whose spare figure, piercing eyes, and eagle glancehe could paint to the very life.
Such was Jean-Claude Hullin.
He was a man of the old Gallic stock, loving extraordinary adventuresand hair-breadth 'scapes, but sticking to work from a principle ofduty, from year's end to year's end.
As for Louise, that waif snatched from the travelling tinkers, shehad a slender, lithe figure, long delicate hands, eyes of so deep andtender a blue that they went straight to the very bottom of your soul,a complexion like snow, hair of a light straw colour, soft and fineas[Pg 12] silk, shoulders a little rounded like those of a kneeling maidat prayer. Her innocent smile, her pensive brow, in short, her wholepresence reminded you of the old lied of the minnesinger,Erhart, where he says, "I have beheld a ray of light; my eyes arestill dazzled with its brightness. Was it the moon's beam through thefoliage? Was it Aurora's smile in the depth of the woods? No; it wasthe beautiful Edith, my love, who passed. I have seen her, and my eyesare still dazzled."
Louise dearly loved the fields, gardens, and flowers. In spring, thefirst note of the lark caused her to shed tears of tender pleasure.She delighted to watch the first opening of the blue-bells andsweet-scented May that blossomed on the hillside; and eagerly awaitedthe return of the swallows to build their snug little nests under theeaves. She was still the child of a wandering race, only a little lesswild; but Hullin made excuses for everything; he understood her nature,and would sometimes say, with a smile:
"My poor Louise, if we had nothing to live on but what you bringus—your pretty handfuls of wild flowers—we should be starved to deathin three days."
Upon which she would throw her arms round his neck, and smile upon himso sweetly that he would set contentedly to work again, saying:
"Ah! What business have I to scold her? She's quite right; she lovesthe sun and the green fields, poor child. Gaspard must work for two;he'll have happiness enough for four. I don't pity him, not I. There'splenty of women to work, and it does not improve their looks: but womenwho love and are kind to you—what a chance to meet with one—what achance!"
Thus reasoned the worthy man, and days, weeks, and months went by inthe near prospect of Gaspard's return.
Gaspard's mother, widow Lefťvre, a woman of marvellous industry andenergy, shared Hullin's ideas on the subject of Louise. "I," she wouldsay, "only want a daughter who will love us; I don't want her to meddlewith my housekeeping. Only let her make herself happy! You'll notdisagree with me, will you, Louise?"
And then the two would fall to kissing and hugging each other!
But still Gaspard did not return, and for the last two months no newshad been heard of him.
Now on a certain day, towards the middle of the month of December,1813, between three and four o'clock in the afternoon, Hullin, squattedon his bench, was busily engaged in finishing off a pair of iron-boundsabots for the wood-cutter, Rochart. Louise had just placed a littleearthen pipkin on the brazen stove, the fire in which was cracklingand roaring with a plaintive sound, while the old clock marked theseconds with its monotonous tick. Outside, all along the street, wereto be seen pools of water covered with a thin white coating of ice,showing that winter was near at hand. At intervals was heard the soundof thick sabots on the hard ground, and then a felt hat, a hood, or awhite cap would go by, and all would be still again, the silence onlybroken by the gentle hum of Louise's spinning-wheel, and the singingof the marmite on the stove. This had lasted for about two hours,when Hullin, happening to cast a glance through the little glazedwindow-panes, suddenly left off working, and remained staring with hiseyes wide open as if struck by an unusual sight.
In fact, at the turning of the street, just opposite the inn of the"Three Pigeons," there was seen coming, in the midst of a troop ofurchins, whistling, hooting, leaping, and yelling—"The King ofDiamonds! the King of Diamonds!"—there was seen coming, I say, thestrangest figure it is possible to imagine. Just picture to yourself aman with red hair and beard, a grave face, sullen eye, straight nose,his eyebrows joined in the middle of his forehead, a circlet of tin onhis head; a long-haired, iron-gray sheepskin floating from his back,the two fore-paws of which formed the fastening around his neck; anumber of little copper crosses hanging like charms on his breast; hislegs encased in a sort of drawers made of gray cloth, fastened abovethe ankle, and his feet bare. An enormous raven, his coal-black wingsrelieved by a few feathers of dazzling whiteness, was perched upon hisshoulder. At first sight of him, and his stately presence, you wouldhave thought him one of those ancient Merovingian kings depicted in thepaintings of Montbťliard; he held in his left hand a short thick stick,cut in the form of a sceptre, and with his right hand he made fantasticgestures, raising his finger to heaven, and seeming to address hissuite.
Every door flew open as he passed—curious faces were pressed againstevery window-pane. Some old women, from the outer steps of the doors,called to the madman, who did not deign to turn aside his head; otherscame down into the street, and tried to bar his way, but he, with headerect and raised eyebrow, with a gesture and a word, forced them tostand aside.
"See," said Hullin, "here is Yťgof. I did not expect to see him againthis winter. It is not his usual[Pg 15] custom. What the devil can bring himback in such weather as this?"
And Louise, laying down her distaff, ran hastily out to look at the"King of Diamonds." The arrival of the fool Yťgof at the beginning ofwinter was quite an event; some were delighted at it, hoping to keephim and make him tell stories of his fortune and glories, by the innfiresides; others, and especially the women, felt a sort of uneasiness,for madmen, as everybody knows, have dealings with the world ofspirits; they know the past and the future, and are inspired by God;the only thing is to be able to understand them, their words havingalways two meanings—one common, for vulgar people, the other deep, forrefined and cultivated