The woman looked at him, terrified. She was thin, young, pale, and in rags; she wore the large hood of the Breton peasant, and the woollen cloak fastened at the neck with a string. She let her bare breast be seen with utter indifference. Her feet without stockings or shoes were bleeding.
"She is poor," said the sergeant.
And the vivandière in her soldierly and feminine voice, tenderly withal, resumed,—
"What is your name?"
The woman stammered almost indistinctly,—
Meanwhile the vivandière caressed the little head of the nursing child with her large hand.
"How old is this baby?" she asked.
The mother did not understand. The vivandière persisted.
"I asked you the age of the child."
"Ah!" said the mother, "eighteen months."
"It is too old," said the vivandière. "It ought not to nurse any longer. You must wean it. We will give it some soup."
The mother began to grow calmer. The two little ones which had awakened were more curious than frightened. They admired the plumes.
"Ah!" said the mother, "they are very hungry."
And she added: "I have no more milk."
"They shall have something to eat," cried the sergeant, "and you too. But that is not all. What are your political opinions?"
The woman looked at the sergeant, but gave no answer.
"Did you hear my question?"
She stammered: "I was placed in a convent when very young, but I am married, I am not a nun. The sisters taught me to speak French. The village was set on fire. We escaped in such haste that I did not have time to put on my shoes."
"I ask what are your political opinions?"
"I don't know."
The sergeant continued,—
"There are spies about. If caught, spies are shot. You see. Speak. You are not a gypsy. What is your country?"