Page:Ninety-three.djvu/18

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14
NINETY-THREE

"They were farmers. My father was infirm and unable to work, because he had been cudgelled by the seigneur, his seigneur, our seigneur, which was a kindness, for my father had poached a rabbit, and the penalty for this offence was death; but the seigneur had mercy and said; 'Give him only a hundred blows,' and my father was made a cripple."

"Go on."

"My grandfather was a Huguenot. The priest had him sent to the galleys. I was very young."

"Go on."

"My husband's father was a salt smuggler. The king had him hanged."

"And your husband, what does he do?"

"At the present time he is fighting."

"For whom?"

"For the king."

"For whom else?"

"Why, for his seigneur?"

"For whom else?"

"Why, for the priest."

"The accursed names of brutes!" exclaimed a grenadier.

The woman shook with fear.

"You see, madame, we are Parisians," said the vivandière kindly.

The woman clasped her hands and cried: "Oh, my Lord Jesus!"

"No superstitions," resumed the sergeant.

The vivandière sat down beside the woman and drew to her the oldest of the children, who made no resistance. Children feel confidence just as they feel afraid, without knowing why. They have a monitor within.

"My poor good woman, you have some pretty brats, at any rate. I can guess their ages. The largest is four years old, his brother three. Indeed that nursing kid is a famous greedy-gut. You see, madame, you have nothing to fear. You shall join the battalion. You can do as I do. I call myself Houzarde; it is a nickname. But I prefer to be called Houzarde rather than Mamzelle Bicomeau, like my mother. I am the vivandière or canteen-woman, as the one is called who serves out the drink when any one is shot or killed. The devil and his