The New Magdalen
3. The German Shell
A THIRD rifle-shot rang through the night air, close to the cottage. Grace started and
approached the window in alarm.
"What does that firing mean?" she asked.
"Signals from the outposts," the nurse quietly replied.
"Is there any danger? Have the Germans come back?"
Surgeon Surville answered the question. He lifted the canvas screen, and looked into the
room as Miss Roseberry spoke.
"The Germans are advancing on us," he said. "Their vanguard is in sight."
Grace sank on the chair near her, trembling from head to foot. Mercy advanced to the
surgeon, and put the decisive question to him.
"Do we defend the position?" she inquired.
Surgeon Surville ominously shook his head.
"Impossible! We are outnumbered as usual--ten to one."
The shrill roll of the French drums was heard outside.
"There is the retreat sounded!" said the surgeon. "The captain is not a man to think twice
about what he does. We are left to take care of ourselves. In five minutes we must be out
of this place."
A volley of rifle-shots rang out as he spoke. The German vanguard was attacking the
French at the outposts. Grace caught the surgeon entreatingly by the arm. "Take me with
you," she cried. "Oh, sir, I have suffered from the Germans already! Don't forsake me, if
they come back!" The surgeon was equal to the occasion; he placed the hand of the pretty
Englishwoman on his breast. "Fear nothing, madam," he said, looking as if he could have
annihilated the whole German force with his own invincible arm. "A Frenchman's heart
beats under your hand. A Frenchman's devotion protects you." Grace's head sank on his
shoulder. Monsieur Surville felt that he had asserted himself; he looked round invitingly
at Mercy. She, too, was an attractive woman. The Frenchman had another shoulder at her
service. Unhappily the room was dark--the look was lost on Mercy. She was thinking of
the helpless men in the inner chamber, and she quietly recalled the surgeon to a sense of
his professional duties.
"What is to become of the sick and wounded?" she asked.