Four Short Stories
THE ATTACK ON THE MILL
A month later, on the day preceding that of Saint Louis, Rocreuse was in a state of terror.
The Prussians had beaten the emperor and were advancing by forced marches toward the
village. For a week past people who hurried along the highway had been announcing
them thus: "They are at Lormiere—they are at Novelles!" And on hearing that they were
drawing near so rapidly, Rocreuse every morning expected to see them descend from the
wood of Gagny. They did not come, however, and that increased the fright. They would
surely fall upon the village during the night and slaughter everybody.
That morning, a little before sunrise, there was an alarm. The inhabitants were awakened
by the loud tramp of men on the highway. The women were already on their knees,
making the sign of the cross, when some of the people, peering cautiously through the
partially opened windows, recognized the red pantaloons. It was a French detachment.
The captain immediately asked for the mayor of the district and remained at the mill after
having talked with Pere Merlier.
The sun rose gaily that morning. It would be hot at noon. Over the wood floated a golden
brightness, while in the distance white vapors arose from the meadows. The neat and
pretty village awoke amid the fresh air, and the country, with its river and its springs, had
the moist sweetness of a bouquet. But that beautiful day caused nobody to smile. The
captain was seen to take a turn around the mill, examine the neighboring houses, pass to
the other side of the Morelle and from there study the district with a field glass; Pere
Merlier, who accompanied him, seemed to be giving him explanations. Then the captain
posted soldiers behind the walls, behind the trees and in the ditches. The main body of the
detachment encamped in the courtyard of the mill. Was there going to be a battle? When
Pere Merlier returned he was questioned. He nodded his head without speaking. Yes,
there was going to be a battle!
Francoise and Dominique were in the courtyard; they looked at him. At last he took his
pipe from his mouth and said:
"Ah, my poor young ones, you cannot get married tomorrow!"
Dominique, his lips pressed together, with an angry frown on his forehead, at times raised
himself on tiptoe and fixed his eyes upon the wood of Gagny, as if he wished to see the
Prussians arrive. Francoise, very pale and serious, came and went, furnishing the soldiers
with what they needed. The troops were making soup in a corner of the courtyard; they
joked while waiting for it to get ready.