Page:Stories by Foreign Authors (French II).djvu/88

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83
THE ATTACK ON THE MILL.

Her eyes were fixed, and she went and sat down under the shed, a few steps from the body. She looked at it; at moments she made a vague and childlike movement with her hand. The Prussians had laid hold of old Merlier as a hostage.

It was a fine fight. Rapidly the officer stationed his men, recognizing that he could not beat a retreat without being overpowered. It was as well to sell his life dearly. Now it was the Prussians who defended the mill and the French that made the attack. The firing began with unheard-of violence. For half an hour it did not stop. Then a dull explosion was heard, and a shot broke off one of the main branches of the hundred-year-old elm. The French had cannon. A battery, drawn up just above the ditch in which Dominique had hidden, swept the main street of Rocreuse. From this moment the struggle could not last long.

Ah! the poor mill! Shot pierced it through and through. Half the roofing was carried away. Two walls crumbled. But it was, above all, on the side toward the Morelle that the ruin done was piteous. The ivy, torn from the shattered walls, hung in rags; the river swept away débris of every sort, and through a breach you could see Françoise's room, with her bed, the white curtains of which were carefully drawn. Shot upon shot, the old wheel received two cannon-balls, and gave one last groan: the paddles