She rushed headlong into the thicket. They followed her.
There was, indeed, some one there.
In the densest part of the thicket, on the edge of one of those little round clearings made in the woods by the charcoal furnaces in burning roots of trees, in a sort of recess among the branches, a kind of leafy chamber, half open like an alcove, a woman was sittingthe moss, with an infant at the breast, and in her lap the blond heads of two sleeping children.
This was the ambuscade.
"What are you doing here?" cried the vivandière.
The woman raised her head.
The vivandière added fiercely,—
"Are you mad to be here!"
And she continued,—
"A little more and you would have been killed!"
And addressing the soldiers, she added,—
"It is a woman."
"By Jove, we see it is indeed!" said a grenadier.
The vivandière continued,—
"Come into the woods to be massacred! Did ever anybody imagine such stupidity as that?"
The woman stupefied, frightened, petrified, saw all about her as in a dream; these guns, these sabres, these bayonets, these fierce faces.
The two children woke up and began to cry.
"I'm hungry," said one.
"I'm afraid," said the other.
The little one went on nursing.
The vivandière spoke to it.
"You are quite right," she said.
The mother was dumb with fright.
The sergeant cried out to her,—
"Don't be afraid, we are the battalion of the Bonnet-Rouge.
The woman trembled from head to foot. She looked at the sergeant, whose rough face showed only his eyebrows, his moustache, and two coals which were his two eyes.
"Formerly the battalion of the Croix-Rouge, added the vivandière.
And the sergeant continued,—
"Who are you, madame?"