Somewhere in France is a little village, one of many through which the victorious Germans swept in their famous drive on Paris and through which a few weeks later they were swept back by the glorious troops of the tri-colour. Jeanne had watched them come, as she had watcher her own beloved troops file through the narrow street beneath her window in orderly retreat. Company after company, they camel battalion following battalion, regiment upon regiment; divisions, army, army corps, armies -- a huge,, hideous grey snake winding through the tortuous village street, its poison fangs bared against the heart of France that later it might wind its folds about a world.
To Jeanne the great snake represented only a menace to her beloved France -- to her simple childlike mind there was no personal menace in these thousands of men from a nearby country. They were fathers, sons, brothers -- they were cultured, educated, refined. She hated them, it is true, but she did not fear them. She knew that should the fortunes of war throw French troops into Germany the German women would doubtless hate the invader; but they would not fear him, and so she did not fear the Germans. But that was at first. The war was still young.
Presently a shot sounded from somewhere close at hand. There was a moment's confusion in the marching column beneath her window. It halted. Officers galloped to and fro and then, once again, the snake wriggled onward toward Paris, but not all of it. A few sections detached themselves. Jeanne saw them entering the houses across the street and then, presently, she heard shouts and screams and shots. There came a loud battering upon the door of her own home. She heard old Aurele's faltering footsteps tottering along the hallway in response to the peremptory summons of the invader. At the same moment her father entered the room. His face was pale and drawn so that it frightened her. Never had she seen her father look thus. He crossed the room toward her. There was something in his hand. He held it out to Jeanne. "Hide it in your bosom," he said. "You will know when to use it, and how." It was a slim dagger. Jeanne gasped but she did as she was bid.
There was a crash from below stairs. The door had given away to the impetuous butts of Boche rifles. Aurele had been too slow. A shot proclaimed Kultur's unqualified acceptance of the truth of the law of survival of the fittest. Aurele had been kind, gentle, faithful; but by the standards of Prussian he was unfit.
AS heavy footsteps sounded upon the stair, Jeanne's father took the girl in his arms and together the two face the door just a moment before it burst inward to admit a Prussian officer and a dozen common soldiers. The officer motioned his men toward them. "The man," he snapped as his eyes fell upon Jeanne. The soldiers came and tore her father from her. One of them struck the old man heavily in the face and as he fell kicked him. Then the prostrate form was hidden from the girl by a circle of surrounding soldiers, but she could see their gun butts rise above their shoulders as they thrust viciously downward with their bayonets.
The officer approached her. His lips smiled but in his eyes was a terrifying light. Jeanne shrank away; but he seized her. Against her breast she could feel the cool steel of the dagger and involuntarily her hand groped for it; but the Prussian seized both her wrists and then he strained her to him and covered her face with kisses. The girl struggled but she could not free herself. In all her life before never had so much as a semblance of violence been loosed against her. She was stranger even to a harsh word. Her life had been one of kindliness and love. It had remained for a Prussian gentleman to shatter her ideals of chivalry and manhood.
The man whispered a few hoarse words into her ear that left her momentarily paralyzed by loathing and terror. Her face and neck flushed scarlet to the red shame of the thing that he had said, and for the first time Jeanne realized the true reason that her father had given her the slim blade, still cold against her warm breast. From scarlet her face went very white and her great, dark eyes wide with terror.
"Come!" growled the officer; "it is that or death -- but it is that anyway."
Slowly the wide eyes narrowed, the childish face became the face of a mature woman.
"You will not kill me -- then?" she asked.
"No," he promised, "for I may be coming back here off and on."
Then send your men away," she begged.
He laughed and told the soldiers to rejoin their company. When they moved toward the door Jeanne saw the body of her father lying in a great pool of blood upon the floor. Wild beasts would not so fiendishly and wantonly have mutilated and desecrated a human body. Yet tender, gentle little Jeanne saw and did not even wince, instead she reached up and put her arms about the neck of that great Prussian.
"You will be good to me?" she asked. "You will let no one harm me?"
He seized her again and pressed her close. "I shall put my mark upon your door," he said, "and you shall be safe, for I am --" and he stopped and whispered a name in her ear that would have brought a startled exclamation to her lips had not her entire nervous system been stunned by the horrors through which she had pass -- and those that still confronted her.
"Then come," she whispered, and led him toward a little door at the far end of the room; "it is quieter in there."
There was no indication of fear or hesitation in the firm tread of the girl as she approached the little door; there was an expression almost of exaltation upon her face as she returned the kisses of the tall officer at her side.
"Gott!" he exclaimed in a husky voice; "I believe you love me."
She pressed his hand tightly, "you know nothing of love you Germans," she replied in a low voice. "Presently you shall see how a French girl loves," and she laid her hand upon the knob of the little door and pushed it inward. The German stepped into a bare, dimly lighted room, the opposite wall of which was hid by heavy hangings, and at the same instant the girl slipped quickly from his side, darted back into the outer room and slammed the door behind her. Close to her hand, in the corner near the door, a silken cord depended from the ceiling and beside it a stout manila rope. First the girl pulled upon the former and then, stoutly, she dragged down upon the latter, and from beyond the door came muffled sounds which sent her shrinking against the wall, her palms tight pressed against her ears; but only for a moment.
Once again she straightened her slim figure, her lips set in lines of defiance, and in her eyes burned the light of a great exaltation.
Then she turned sadly toward the poor, broken thing upon the floor and, rack by sobs, she threw herself upon it, the tears of the daughter mingling with the blood of the father -- her sobs with the terrifying sounds which came faintly from beyond the little door.
It was late in the following day that a break came in the long, grey line which had marched steadily onward past the house all night. Then it was that neighbours came and helped her bury her dead -- her father and Aurele -- in the garden behind the house. No one offered sympathy, no one wept. EAch had suffered similarly and to the full of his capability for suffering. They moved dumbly and like automatons, except for occasional mono-syllables. When they had helped her they went away, and soon the long procession of Germans commenced coming once more. Marching, marching, marching toward Paris.
The following day an officer and some soldiers came again to the home of Jeanne. The officer mentioned the name of a mighty house, a member of which was missing form his regiment. These soldiers had reported that they had last seen him here. The officer demanded information. Jeanne, wide-eyed and innocent, shook her head. She did not know. Yes, the officer had been here, but he had gone away after his men. No, she did not know where he had gone, but as the soldiers turned away Jeanne plucked at the sleeve of the lieutenant's tunic and whispered in his ear. "Come back and I will tell you -- the common soldiers must not know," she said.
When they had gone Jeanne ran quickly to the far end of the room moved a small picture and peered intently through a round hole in the wall, then, apparently satisfied, she replace the picture so that it once more hid the opening and going to the corner of the room pulled again upon the silken cord and the stout manila rope.
Ten minutes later the officer returned. "Tell me," he said, "where he is."
"He stayed away so long," replied the girl, "that he feared to return while the emperor is a field headquarters, but maybe you had better talk with him. Perhaps you can persuade him, I could not."
"If you could not, how could I?" asked the lieutenant, with a smirk. "Evidently there is a greater power than that of the emperor which holds him here."
"There is," said Jeanne and he glanced up so coquettishly that the lieutenant entirely ceased to wonder that his fellow officer had been entrapped by this fair enemy. "Come!" continued the girl, "and you shall see what has become of your friend."
The German followed her to a little door at the far end of the room. "Go softly," she cautioned as she pushed the door open, "for I think that he sleeps."
The lieutenant passed in on tip-toe. The door closed behind him and as he turned questioningly toward his guide he found himself alone in a bare room, the opposite wall of which was hid by heavy hangings.
Once again the girl pulled upon the silken cord and the stout manila rope. She heard the officer pounding upon the opposite side of the little door. She knew when he hurled his weight against it; but she only smiled, for the little door was thick and heavy. A second later came the sounds of three shots fired in rapid succession, followed by that which had made her cover her ears with her palms and shrink to the side wall once before; but this time Jeanne did not cover her ears nor shrink. She stood very straight and stiff, listening. Finally she walked over to the picture behind which was the hole through the wall, hesitating a moment before she pulled the picture aside and looked through, and then she replace the picture and walked back tot he little door. With her dagger she made two crosses upon its frame.
The days dragged on -- long, hideous days filled with the mad tumult of the guns. Jeanne busied herself with her household duties -- each morning she swept and mopped and dusted just as she had before the great, grey snake wound itself about her life. Each morning she passed through the little doorway and spent half an hour in the room beyond. Each afternoon she dressed herself in her daintiest frock and sat in a window overlooking the street, in plain view of the passing soldiers.
Presently the grey snake turned and started backward in the direction of the Rhine. The din of battle drew nearer and nearer and Jeanne's heart beat faster -- now in high hope, now in terror; for with the coming of the French troops would come life or death to her -- would come her Jules to crush her in his arms, or would come word that Jules never again would come.
Jeanne loved God, but she loved Jules more and Yet she sat in her window where the German soldiers might see her. They were ugly, venomous now; poor losers as are their kind always, but chance had it that they did not notice pretty little Jeanne in her window.
Three days went by; French shrapnel was bursting in the village; the grey snake wound fretfully along; Jeanne sat in her window -- it was open and she leaned out; but no soldier knocked upon her door. At last she became desperate. Crossing to the little door she knelt before the two crosses scratched upon its frame and bowing her head upon her clasped hands offered up a prayer in silence.
Rising, Jeanne crossed herself and ran downstairs to the door of the house. The door opened directly upon the sidewalk so that Jeanne, standing upon the threshold, could have reached out and touched the officers who marched along beside the sullen column -- the Germans were not singing now.
From behind the closed blinds of a house across the street a man watched Jeanne with burning eyes. He saw her smile invitingly at each passing officer; he saw a captain ogle her and then turn back and join her; he saw the two enter the house, closing the door after them, and then he threw himself upon the floor and sobbed. A girl who had been watching beside him smiled bitterly. "She has been sitting in her window for three days trying to attract them," she said. "Before that officers went in and stayed a long time. I never saw one come out again, so they must have left late at night."
The man winced as from a blow. Slowly he rose to his feet and paced the floor. The afternoon waned and night came on. A light showed in a room across the street -- the room in which Jeanne was wont to sit. A beak came in the long grey column in the street below. The man shook his fist at the lighted window and sneaked cautiously down the stairway to the first floor. At the doorway he paused, opening the door a bare crack and peering out There was no soldier in sight. He opened it a little farther and looked up and down the street. It was empty. Quick, agile and noiseless as a panther, the man sprang across the street to Jeanne's doorway. The door was locked, but he carried a key that threw it open to him. Silent and sinister the intruder crept up the stairway and pushed open the door to the the lighted room. In his right hand was a knife. Jeanne sat upon a low stool, her back toward him as he sneaked stealthily upon her, Yet before he reached her she must have felt the presence in the room, a presence she had neither seen nor heard, for she wheeled suddenly and sprang to her feet. Before her stood a young man, his face stubbled with a week-old beard, his blue uniform tattered and mud covered.
She saw his face and the upraised knife and shrank back.
"Jules!" she cried. "What is it? Have you gone mad?"
Wanton and traitor!" growled the man as he sprang to seize her.
"Mon Dieu!" Shrieked Jeanne, "He has gone mad," and turned to escape the clutches of the man she loved. Straight toward the little door she fled. Jules close behind her. A new-made cross was scratched upon the door frame past which they sped, pursuer and pursued, into the room beyond the little door. An angry growl brought the man to a sudden stop above the girl who had sunk to the floor upon her knees, her hands outstretched toward him in supplication.
In the dim light of the single gas jet in the chamber Jules saw a huge black-maned lion rise, snarling, from the dead body of a German captain.
About the floor were strewn helmets and side arms, torn pieces of blood-stained, grey cloth and human bones.
Jules seized Jeanne and dragged her quickly toward the little door.
"Down, Brutus! he commanded, as the lion crouched with the evident intention of charging and at the sound of his voice the great beast, hesitating but an instant, dropped in his tracks. Another moment and the man and the girl were beyond the little door.
From the street below came the din of battle -- loud cries, hoarse commands, the rattle of musketry, shrieks and groans and the stamping of many heavy feet. Slowly it passed on toward the east. Jeanne and Jules went to the window and looked down. The street was filled with men in the blue of the tri-colour.
"Thank God!" murmured Jules.
"Yes, thank God! " cried Jeanne, "but now that the Boche is gone how am I to feed Brutus?"
See Part I for a Review and Synopsis
of this unpublished short story
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