The New Magdalen
1. The Two Women
IT was a dark night. The rain was pouring in torrents.
Late in the evening a skirmishing party of the French and a skirmishing party of the
Germans had met, by accident, near the little village of Lagrange, close to the German
frontier. In the struggle that followed, the French had (for once) got the better of the
enemy. For the time, at least, a few hundreds out of the host of the invaders had been
forced back over the frontier. It was a trifling affair, occurring not long after the great
German victory of Weissenbourg, and the newspapers took little or no notice of it.
Captain Arnault, commanding on the French side, sat alone in one of the cottages of the
village, inhabited by the miller of the district. The Captain was reading, by the light of a
solitary tallow-candle, some intercepted dispatches taken from the Germans. He had
suffered the wood fire, scattered over the large open grate, to burn low; the red embers
only faintly illuminated a part of the room. On the floor behind him lay some of the
miller's empty sacks. In a corner opposite to him was the miller's solid walnut-wood bed.
On the walls all around him were the miller's colored prints, representing a happy mixture
of devotional and domestic subjects. A door of communication leading into the kitchen of
the cottage had been torn from its hinges, and used to carry the men wounded in the
skirmish from the field. They were now comfortably laid at rest in the kitchen, under the
care of the French surgeon and the English nurse attached to the ambulance. A piece of
coarse canvas screened the opening between the two rooms in place of the door. A
second door, leading from the bed-chamber into the yard, was locked; and the wooden
shutter protecting the one window of the room was carefully barred. Sentinels, doubled in
number, were placed at all the outposts. The French commander had neglected no
precaution which could reasonably insure for himself and for his men a quiet and
Still absorbed in his perusal of the dispatches, and now and then making notes of what he
read by the help of writing materials placed at his side, Captain Arnault was interrupted
by the appearance of an intruder in the room. Surgeon Surville, entering from the kitchen,
drew aside the canvas screen, and approached the little round table at which his superior
officer was sitting.
"What is it?" said the captain, sharply.
"A question to ask," replied the surgeon. "Are we safe for the night?"
"Why do you want to know?" inquired the captain, suspiciously.
The surgeon pointed to the kitchen, now the hospital devoted to the wounded men.