Page:Ninety-three.djvu/12

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8
NINETY-THREE.

governing them; the only change has been in the proportion between the number of soldiers and non-commissioned officers.

On the twenty-eighth of April the commune of Paris gave this order to Santerre's volunteers: "No mercy, no quarter." At the end of May, of the twelve thousand Parisian troops, two-thirds were dead.

The battalion engaged in the woods of La Saudraie was proceeding cautiously. They took their time. They looked to the right and to the left, in front of them and behind them at the same time. Kléber has said: "The soldier has an eye in his back." They had been marching for hours. What time could it be? What part of the day was it? It would have been difficult to say, for there is always a sort of twilight in such wild thickets, and it is never light in these woods.

The forest of La Saudraie was tragic. It was in these woods that the civil war began its crimes in the month of November, 1792. The ferocious cripple, Mousqueton, had come out of these gloomy depths; the number of murders committed there made one's hair stand on end. There was no place more frightful. The soldiers penetrated there cautiously. Everywhere was abundance of flowers; one was surrounded with a trembling wall of branches, from which hung the charming freshness of the foliage; sunbeams here and there made their way through the green shade; on the ground the gladiolus, the yellow swamp flag, the meadow narcissus, the gênotte, the herald of fine weather, and the spring crocus formed the embroidery and decoration of a thick carpet of vegetation, luxuriant in every kind of moss, from that resembling velvet, to that like stars. The soldiers advanced step by step in silence, noiselessly pushing aside the underbrush. The birds warbled above their bayonets.

La Saudraie was one of those thickets where formerly in times of peace they used to hold the Houicheba,—hunting birds at night; now they were hunting men there.

The wood was full of birch trees, beeches, and oaks; the ground flat; the moss and thick grass deadened the sound of the marching men; every path lost itself abruptly among the holly, wild sloe, ferns, hedges of rest-harrow, tall briers; it was impossible to see a man ten feet away.