Page:Ninety-three.djvu/22

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NINETY-THREE.

"All four of us."

"Slept?"

"Slept."

"Then," said the sergeant, "you slept standing."

And he turned to the soldiers.

"Comrades, a great, old, hollow trunk of a tree, that a man would have to squeeze himself into as if 'twere a knife-case, these shy creatures call that an émousse. What do you think about it? They are not obliged to be Parisians."

"Slept in the trunk of a hollow tree!" said the vivandière; "and with three children!"

"And when the little ones bawled," the sergeant went on to say, "it must have been funny enough for those who were passing and saw nothing at all, to hear a tree crying: 'Papa! Mamma!'"

"Fortunately, it is summer-time," sighed the woman.

She looked on the ground, resigned, with an expression in her eyes of that astonishment which comes from sudden misfortune.

The soldiers quietly formed a circle around the pitiful group.

A widow, three orphans, flight, desertion, solitude, mutterings of war all around the horizon, hunger, thirst, no food but grass, no roof but the heavens.

The sergeant approached the woman and looked at the nursing child. The little one left the breast, turned her head gently, looked with her beautiful blue eyes at the frightful hairy face, rough and tawny, which bent over her, and began to smile.

The sergeant straightened himself up, and a great tear was seen to roll down his cheek and rest on the end of his moustache like a pearl.

He raised his voice,—

"After all this, it is my opinion that the battalion ought to become a father. Is it agreed? Let us adopt these three children."

"Long live the Republic!" cried the grenadiers.

"Done," said the sergeant.

And he extended his hands above the heads of mother and children.

"Behold," he said, "the children of the battalion of Bonnet-Rouge."