Four Short Stories
THE RETURN OF THE FRENCH
It was three o'clock in the afternoon. Great black clouds, the trail of some neighboring
storm, had slowly filled the sky. The yellow heavens, the brass covered uniforms, had
changed the valley of Rocreuse, so gay in the sunlight, into a den of cutthroats full of
sinister gloom. The Prussian officer had contented himself with causing Dominique to be
imprisoned without announcing what fate he reserved for him. Since noon Francoise had
been torn by terrible anguish. Despite her father's entreaties she would not quit the
courtyard. She was awaiting the French. But the hours sped on; night was approaching,
and she suffered the more as all the time gained did not seem to be likely to change the
About three o'clock the Prussians made their preparations for departure. For an instant
past the officer had, as on the previous day, shut himself up with Dominique. Francoise
realized that the young man's life was in balance. She clasped her hands; she prayed. Pere
Merlier, beside her, maintained silence and the rigid attitude of an old peasant who does
not struggle against fate.
"Oh, MON DIEU! Oh, MON DIEU!" murmured Francoise. "They are going to kill him!"
The miller drew her to him and took her on his knees as if she had been a child.
At that moment the officer came out, while behind him two men brought Dominique.
"Never! Never!" cried the latter. "I am ready to die!"
"Think well," resumed the officer. "The service you refuse me another will render us. I
am generous: I offer you your life. I want you simply to guide us through the forest to
Montredon. There must be pathways leading there."
Dominique was silent.
"So you persist in your infatuation, do you?"
"Kill me and end all this!" replied the young man.
Francoise, her hands clasped, supplicated him from afar. She had forgotten everything;
she would have advised him to commit an act of cowardice. But Pere Merlier seized her
hands that the Prussians might not see her wild gestures.
"He is right," he whispered: "it is better to die!"