The Green Flag and Other Tales HTML version
The Lord Of Chateau Noir
It was in the days when the German armies had broken their way across France, and
when the shattered forces of the young Republic had been swept away to the north of the
Aisne and to the south of the Loire. Three broad streams of armed men had rolled slowly
but irresistibly from the Rhine, now meandering to the north, now to the south, dividing,
coalescing, but all uniting to form one great lake round Paris. And from this lake there
welled out smaller streams--one to the north, one southward, to Orleans, and a third
westward to Normandy. Many a German trooper saw the sea for the first time when he
rode his horse girth-deep into the waves at Dieppe.
Black and bitter were the thoughts of Frenchmen when they saw this weal of dishonour
slashed across the fair face of their country. They had fought and they had been
overborne. That swarming cavalry, those countless footmen, the masterful guns--they had
tried and tried to make head against them. In battalions their invaders were not to be
beaten, but man to man, or ten to ten, they were their equals. A brave Frenchman might
still make a single German rue the day that he had left his own bank of the Rhine. Thus,
unchronicled amid the battles and the sieges, there broke out another war, a war of
individuals, with foul murder upon the one side and brutal reprisal on the other.
Colonel von Gramm, of the 24th Posen Infantry, had suffered severely during this new
development. He commanded in the little Norman town of Les Andelys, and his outposts
stretched amid the hamlets and farmhouses of the district round. No French force was
within fifty miles of him, and yet morning after morning he had to listen to a black report
of sentries found dead at their posts, or of foraging parties which had never returned.
Then the colonel would go forth in his wrath, and farmsteadings would blaze and villages
tremble; but next morning there was still that same dismal tale to be told. Do what he
might, he could not shake off his invisible enemies. And yet it should not have been so
hard, for, from certain signs in common, in the plan and in the deed, it was certain that all
these outrages came from a single source.
Colonel von Gramm had tried violence, and it had failed. Gold might be more successful.
He published it abroad over the countryside that 500frs. would be paid for information.
There was no response. Then 800frs. The peasants were incorruptible. Then, goaded on
by a murdered corporal, he rose to a thousand, and so bought the soul of Francois Rejane,
farm labourer, whose Norman avarice was a stronger passion than his French hatred.
"You say that you know who did these crimes?" asked the Prussian colonel, eyeing with
loathing the blue-bloused, rat-faced creature before him.
"And it was--?"
"Those thousand francs, colonel--"