A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields/A Souvenir of the Night of the Fourth (Les Châtiments, Victor Hugo)
A SOUVENIR OF THE NIGHT OF THE FOURTH.
The child had received two balls in the head,
But his bosom still throbbed; he was not dead;
The house was humble, peaceable and clean,
A portrait on the wall—beneath was seen
A branch blessed by the priest, for good luck kept;
An old grandmother sat quiet and wept.
We undrest him in silence. His pale lips
Oped; Death on his eye cast fierce its eclipse;
His arms hung down; he seemed in a trance;
A top fell out from his pocket by chance;
The holes of his wounds seemed made by a wedge:
Have you seen mulberries bleed in a hedge?
His skull was open like wood that is split;
The grandmother looked on, at us, and it.
'God! How white he is—bring hither the lamp,'
She said at last, 'and how his temples are damp!
And how his poor hair is glued to his brow!'
And on her knee she took him—undrest now.
The night was dreary; random shots were heard
In the street; death's work went on undeterred.
'We must bury the child,' whispered our men.
And they took a white sheet from the press; then,
Still unconscious of the death of her boy,
The grandmother brought him, her only joy,
Close, close to the hearth, in hopes that the fire
His stiffening limbs with warmth would inspire.
Alas! When death touches with hands ice-chill
Nothing again can warm, do what we will.
She bent her head, drew off the socks, and took
The naked feet in hands withered that shook.
Ah! Was not that a sight our hearts to tear!
Said she, 'Sir, he was not eight; and so fair!
His masters—he went to school—were content;
He wrote all my letters, on errands went
When I had need; and are they going now
To kill poor children? The brigands allow
Such to pass free. Are they brigands? Or worse?
A Government! 'Tis a scourge and a curse!
He was playing this morn, alert and gay,
There, by that window, in the sun's bright ray,
Why did they kill the poor thing, at his play?
He passed on to the street; was that a crime?
They fired on him straight ; they wasted no time.
Sir, he was good and sweet as an angel.
Ah! I am old; by the blessed Evangel
I should have left the sad earth with light heart,
If it would have pleased Monsieur Bonaparte
To kill me instead of this orphan child!'
She stopped, sobs choked her, then went on more wild,
While all wept around, e'en hearts made of stone—
'What's to become of me, left now alone?
Oh! Tell me this, for my senses get dim—
His mother left me one child,—only him.
Why did they kill him,—I would know it,—why?
Long live the Republic, he did not cry,
When that shout, like a wave, came rolling high?'
We stood silent, heads low, hearts full of grief,
Trembling before a sorrow past relief.
Mother, you understand no politics,—
Monsieur Napoleon, that's his true name, sticks
To his rights. Look, he is poor, and a prince,
He loves palaces he enjoyed long since,
It suits him to have horses, servants, gold
For his table, his hunt, his play high and bold,
His alcove rich-decked, his furniture brave,
And by the same occasion he may save
The Family, Society, and the Church;
Should not the eagle on the high rock perch?
Should he not take advantage of the time
When all ends can be served? 'Twould be a crime.
He must have Saint-Cloud bedecked with the rose
Where Prefects and Mayors may kiss his toes.
And so it is,—that old grandmothers must
Trail their grey hair in the mire and the dust,
While they sew with fingers trembling and cold,
The shroud of poor children, seven years old.