In the meantime, the mother was looking for her little ones.
She went straight ahead. How did she live? Impossible to tell. She herself did not know. She walked days and nights; she begged, she ate grass, she slept on the ground, she slept in the open air, in the thickets, under the stars, sometimes in the rain and the wind.
She roved from village to village, from farm to farm, asking for information. She stopped on the thresholds; her dress was in rags; sometimes she was welcomed, sometimes she was driven away. When she could not go into the houses, she went into the woods. She was not acquainted with the country. No region was familiar to her except Siscoignard and the parish of Azé. She had no definite route; she went back on her steps; started on a road that she had already been over; went on useless paths. Sometimes she followed the road, sometimes the tracks of a wagon, sometimes footpaths in the copses. In this life of chance, she had worn out her wretched clothing; she had walked first in shoes, then barefooted, then with bleeding feet.
She went into the midst of the war, in the midst of the firing, hearing nothing, seeing nothing, avoiding nothing, looking for her children. As everything was in revolt, there were no policemen, no mayors, no authorities. She had to do only with those whom she met. She spoke to them, she asked,—
"Have you seen three little children anywhere?"
The passers-by raised their heads.
"Two boys and a girl," she said.
"René-Jean, Gros-Alain, Georgette? You have not seen them?"
She went on.
"The oldest four years and a half, the little one twenty months old."
"Do you know where they are? They have taken them away from me."
The people looked at her, and that was all.
Seeing that they did not understand, she said,—
"They are mine, that is why."
The people went on their way. Then she would stop and say no more, tearing her breast with her nails.
One day, however, a peasant listened to her. The good man began to ponder.
"Wait," he said. "Three children?"
"And a girl."
Then he asked again,—
"Are you looking for them?"
"I have heard tell of a seigneur, who took three little children, and had them with him."
"Where is this man," she cried. "Where are they?"
The peasant replied,—
"Go to la Tourgue."
"Shall I find my children there?"
"Probably, you will."
"What is la Tourgue?"
"It is a place."
"Is it a village? a castle? a farm?"
"I have never been there."
"Is it far?"
"It is not near."
"In what direction?"
"In the direction of Fourgères."
"How do you get there?"
"You are in Ventortes," said the peasant, "you leave Ernée on the left and Coxelles on the right, you pass by Lorchamps and you cross the Leroux."
And the peasant pointed toward the west.
"Right ahead of you all the way, in the direction of the sunset."
Before the peasant had dropped his arm, she had started.
The peasant called out,—
"But, take care. They are fighting over there."
She did not turn around to reply to him, but continued on her way.