Fabrizio soon came upon some vivandières, and the extreme gratitude that he felt for the gaoler’s wife of B—— impelled him to address them; he asked one of them where he would find the 4th Hussar Regiment, to which he belonged.
“You would do just as well not to be in such a hurry, young soldier,” said the cantinière, touched by Fabrizio’s pallor and glowing eyes. “Your wrist is not strong enough yet for the sabre-thrusts they’ll be giving today. If you had a musket, I don’t say, maybe you could let off your round as well as any of them.”
This advice displeased Fabrizio; but however much he urged on his horse, he could go no faster than the cantinière in her cart. Every now and then the sound of the guns seemed to come nearer and prevented them from hearing each other speak, for Fabrizio was so beside himself with enthusiasm and delight that he had renewed the conversation. Every word uttered by the cantinière intensified his happiness by making him understand it. With the exception of his real name and his escape from prison, he ended by confiding everything to this woman who seemed such a good soul. She was greatly surprised and understood nothing at all of what this handsome young soldier was telling her.
“I see what it is,” she exclaimed at length with an air of triumph. “You’re a young gentleman who has fallen in love with the wife of some captain in the 4th Hussars. Your mistress will have made you a present of the uniform you’re wearing, and you’re going after her. As sure as God’s in heaven, you’ve never been a soldier; but, like the brave boy you are, seeing your regiment’s under fire, you want to be there too, and not let them think you a chicken.”
Fabrizio agreed with everything; it was his only way of procuring good advice. “I know nothing of the ways of these French people,” he said to himself, “and if I am not guided by someone I shall find myself being put in prison again, and they’ll steal my horse.”
“First of all, my boy,” said the cantinière, who was becoming more and more of a friend to him, “confess that you’re not one-and-twenty: at the very most you might be seventeen.”
This was the truth, and Fabrizio admitted as much with good grace.
“Then, you aren’t even a conscript; it’s simply because of Madame’s pretty face that you’re going to get your bones broken. Plague it, she can’t be particular. If you’ve still got some of the yellow-boys she sent you, you must first of all buy yourself another horse; look how your screw pricks up his ears when the guns sound at all near; that’s a peasant’s horse, and will be the death of you as soon as you reach the line. That white smoke you see over there above the hedge, that’s the infantry firing, my boy. So prepare for a fine fright when you hear the bullets whistling over you. You’ll do as well to eat a bit while there’s still time.”
Fabrizio followed this advice and, presenting a napoleon to the vivandière, asked her to accept payment.
“It makes one weep to see him!” cried the woman; “the poor child doesn’t even know how to spend his money! It would be no more than you deserve if I pocketed your napoleon and put Cocotte into a trot; damned if your screw could catch me up. What would you do, stupid, if you saw me go off? Bear in mind, when the brute growls, never to show your gold. Here,” she went on, “here’s 18 francs, 50 centimes, and your breakfast costs you 30 sous. Now, we shall soon have some horses for sale. If the beast is a small one, you’ll give ten francs, and, in any case, never more than twenty, not if it was the horse of the Four Sons of Aymon.”
The meal finished, the vivandière, who was still haranguing, was interrupted by a woman who had come across the fields and passed them on the road.
“Hallo there, hi!” this woman shouted. “Hallo, Margot! Your 6th Light are over there on the right.”
“I must leave you, my boy,” said the vivandière to our hero; “but really and truly I pity you; I’ve taken quite a fancy to you, upon my word I have. You don’t know a thing about anything, you’re going to get a wipe in the eye, as sure as God’s in heaven! Come along to the 6th Light with me.”
“I quite understand that I know nothing,” Fabrizio told her, “but I want to fight, and I’m determined to go over there towards that white smoke.”
“Look how your horse is twitching his ears! As soon as he gets over there, even if he’s no strength left, he’ll take the bit in his teeth and start galloping, and heaven only knows where he’ll land you. Will you listen to me now? As soon as you get to the troops, pick up a musket and a cartridge pouch, get down among the men and copy what you see them do, exactly the same: But, good heavens, I’ll bet you don’t even know how to open a cartridge.”
Fabrizio, stung to the quick, admitted nevertheless to his new friend that she had guessed aright.
“Poor boy! He’ll be killed straight away; sure as God! It won’t take long. You’ve got to come with me, absolutely,” went on the cantinière in a tone of authority.
“But I want to fight.”
“You shall fight too; why, the 6th Light are famous fighters, and there’s fighting enough today for everyone.”
“But shall we come soon to the regiment?”
“In a quarter of an hour at the most.”
“With this honest woman’s recommendation,” Fabrizio told himself, “my ignorance of everything won’t make them take me for a spy, and I shall have a chance of fighting.” At this moment the noise of the guns redoubled, each explosion coming straight on top of the last. “It’s like a Rosary,” said Fabrizio.
“We’re beginning to hear the infantry fire now,” said the vivandière, whipping up her little horse, which seemed quite excited by the firing.
The cantinière turned to the right and took a side road that ran through the fields; there was a foot of mud in it; the little cart seemed about to be stuck fast: Fabrizio pushed the wheel. His horse fell twice; presently the road, though with less water on it, was nothing more than a bridle path through the grass. Fabrizio had not gone five hundred yards when his nag stopped short: it was a corpse, lying across the path, which terrified horse and rider alike.
Fabrizio’s face, pale enough by nature, assumed a markedly green tinge; the cantinière, after looking at the dead man, said, as though speaking to herself: “That’s not one of our Division.” Then, raising her eyes to our hero, she burst out laughing.
“Aha, my boy! There’s a titbit for you!” Fabrizio sat frozen. What struck him most of all was the dirtiness of the feet of this corpse which had already been stripped of its shoes and left with nothing but an old pair of trousers all clotted with blood.
“Come nearer,” the cantinière ordered him, “get off your horse, you’ll have to get accustomed to them; look,” she cried, “he’s stopped one in the head.”
A bullet, entering on one side of the nose, had gone out at the opposite temple, and disfigured the corpse in a hideous fashion. It lay with one eye still open.
“Get off your horse then, lad,” said the cantinière, “and give him a shake of the hand to see if he’ll return it.”
Without hesitation, although ready to yield up his soul with disgust, Fabrizio flung himself from his horse and took the hand of the corpse which he shook vigorously; then he stood still as though paralysed. He felt that he had not the strength to mount again. What horrified him more than anything was that open eye.
“The vivandière will think me a coward,” he said to himself bitterly. But he felt the impossibility of making any movement; he would have fallen. It was a frightful moment; Fabrizio was on the point of being physically sick. The vivandière noticed this, jumped lightly down from her little carriage, and held out to him, without saying a word, a glass of brandy which he swallowed at a gulp; he was able to mount his screw, and continued on his way without speaking. The vivandière looked at him now and again from the corner of her eye.
“You shall fight tomorrow, my boy,” she said at length; “today you’re going to stop with me. You can see now that you’ve got to learn the business before you can become a soldier.”
“On the contrary, I want to start fighting at once,” exclaimed our hero with a sombre air which seemed to the vivandière to augur well. The noise of the guns grew twice as loud and seemed to be coming nearer. The explosions began to form a continuous bass; there was no interval between one and the next, and above this running bass, which suggested the roar of a torrent in the distance, they could make out quite plainly the rattle of musketry.
At this point the road dived down into a clump of trees. The vivandière saw three or four soldiers of our army who were coming towards her as fast as their legs would carry them; she jumped nimbly down from her cart and ran into cover fifteen or twenty paces from the road. She hid herself in a hole which had been left where a big tree had recently been uprooted. “Now,” thought Fabrizio, “we shall see whether I am a coward!” He stopped by the side of the little cart which the woman had abandoned, and drew his sabre. The soldiers paid no attention to him and passed at a run along the wood, to the left of the road.
“They’re ours,” said the vivandière calmly, as she came back, quite breathless, to her little cart. . . . “If your horse was capable of galloping, I should say: push ahead as far as the end of the wood, and see if there’s anyone on the plain.” Fabrizio did not wait to be told twice, he tore off a branch from a poplar, stripped it and started to lash his horse with all his might; the animal broke into a gallop for a moment, then fell back into its regular slow trot. The vivandière had put her horse into a gallop. “Stop, will you, stop!” she called after Fabrizio. Presently both were clear of the wood. Coming to the edge of the plain, they heard a terrifying din, guns and muskets thundered on every side, right, left, behind them. And as the clump of trees from which they emerged grew on a mound rising nine or ten feet above the plain, they could see fairly well a corner of the battle; but still there was no one to be seen in the meadow beyond the wood. This meadow was bordered, half a mile away, by a long row of willows, very bushy; above the willows appeared a white smoke which now and again rose eddying into the sky.
“If I only knew where the regiment was,” said the cantinière, in some embarrassment. “It won’t do to go straight ahead over this big field. By the way,” she said to Fabrizio, “if you see one of the enemy, stick him with the point of your sabre, don’t play about with the blade.”
At this moment, the cantinière caught sight of the four soldiers whom we mentioned a little way back; they were coming out of the wood on to the plain to the left of the road. One of them was on horseback.
“There you are,” she said to Fabrizio. “Hallo there!” she called to the mounted man, “come over here and have a glass of brandy.” The soldiers approached.
“Where are the 6th Light?” she shouted.
“Over there, five minutes away, across that canal that runs along by the willows; why, Colonel Macon has just been killed.”
“Will you take five francs for your horse, you?”
“Five francs! That’s not a bad one, ma! An officer’s horse I can sell in ten minutes for five napoleons.”
“Give me one of your napoleons,” said the vivandière to Fabrizio. Then going up to the mounted soldier: “Get off, quickly,” she said to him, “here’s your napoleon.”
The soldier dismounted, Fabrizio sprang gaily on to the saddle, the vivandière unstrapped the little portmanteau which was on his old horse.
“Come and help me, all of you!” she said to the soldiers, “is that the way you leave a lady to do the work?”
But no sooner had the captured horse felt the weight of the portmanteau than he began to rear, and Fabrizio, who was an excellent horseman, had to use all his strength to hold him.
“A good sign!” said the vivandière, “the gentleman is not accustomed to being tickled by portmanteaus.”
“A general’s horse,” cried the man who had sold it, “a horse that’s worth ten napoleons if it’s worth a Hard.”
“Here are twenty francs,” said Fabrizio, who could not contain himself for joy at feeling between his legs a horse that could really move.
At that moment a shot struck the line of willows, through which it passed obliquely, and Fabrizio had the curious spectacle of all those little branches flying this way and that as though mown down by a stroke of the scythe.
“Look, there’s the brute advancing,” the soldier said to him as he took the twenty francs. It was now about two o’clock.
Fabrizio was still under the spell of this strange spectacle when a party of generals, followed by a score of hussars, passed at a gallop across one corner of the huge field on the edge of which he had halted: his horse neighed, reared several times in succession, then began violently tugging the bridle that was holding him. “All right, then,” Fabrizio said to himself.
The horse, left to his own devices, dashed off hell for leather to join the escort that was following the generals.
Fabrizio counted four gold-laced hats. A quarter of an hour later, from a few words said by one hussar to the next, Fabrizio gathered that one of these generals was the famous Marshal Ney. His happiness knew no bounds; only he had no way of telling which of the four generals was Marshal Ney; he would have given everything in the world to know, but he remembered that he had been told not to speak. The escort halted, having to cross a wide ditch left full of water by the rain overnight; it was fringed with tall trees and formed the left-hand boundary of the field at the entrance to which Fabrizio had bought the horse. Almost all the hussars had dismounted; the bank of the ditch was steep and very slippery and the water lay quite three or four feet below the level of the field. Fabrizio, distracted with joy, was thinking more of Marshal Ney and of glory than of his horse, which, being highly excited, jumped into the canal, thus splashing the water up to a considerable height. One of the generals was soaked to the skin by the sheet of water, and cried with an oath: “Damn the f —— brute!” Fabrizio felt deeply hurt by this insult. “Can I ask him to apologise?” he wondered. Meanwhile, to prove that he was not so clumsy after all, he set his horse to climb the opposite bank of the ditch; but it rose straight up and was five or six feet high. He had to abandon the attempt; then he rode up stream, his horse being up to its head in water, and at last found a sort of drinking-place. By this gentle slope he was easily able to reach the field on the other side of the canal. He was the first man of the escort to appear there; he started to trot proudly down the bank; below him, in the canal, the hussars were splashing about, somewhat embarrassed by their position, for in many places the water was five feet deep. Two or three horses took fright and began to swim, making an appalling mess. A serjeant noticed the manœuvre that this youngster, who looked so very unlike a soldier, had just carried out.
“Up here! There is a watering-place on the left!” he shouted, and in time they all crossed.
On reaching the farther bank, Fabrizio had found the generals there by themselves; the noise of the guns seemed to him to have doubled; and it was all he could do to hear the general whom he had given such a good soaking and who now shouted in his ear:
“Where did you get that horse?”
Fabrizio was so much upset that he answered in Italian:
“L’ho comprato poco fa.” (I bought it just now.)
“What’s that you say?” cried the general.
But the din at that moment became so terrific that Fabrizio could not answer him. We must admit that our hero was very little of a hero at that moment. However, fear came to him only as a secondary consideration; he was principally shocked by the noise, which hurt his ears. The escort broke into a gallop; they crossed a large batch of tilled land which lay beyond the canal. And this field was strewn with dead.
“Red-coats! red-coats!” the hussars of the escort exclaimed joyfully, and at first Fabrizio did not understand; then he noticed that as a matter of fact almost all these bodies wore red uniforms. One detail made him shudder with horror; he observed that many of these unfortunate red-coats were still alive; they were calling out, evidently asking for help, and no one stopped to give it them. Our hero, being most humane, took every possible care that his horse should not tread upon any of the red-coats. The escort halted; Fabrizio, who was not paying sufficient attention to his military duty, galloped on, his eyes fixed on a wounded wretch in front of him.
“Will you halt, you young fool!” the serjeant shouted after him. Fabrizio discovered that he was twenty paces on the generals’ right front, and precisely in the direction in which they were gazing through their glasses. As he came back to take his place behind the other hussars, who had halted a few paces in rear of them, he noticed the biggest of these generals, who was speaking to his neighbour, a general also, in a tone of authority and almost of reprimand; he was swearing. Fabrizio could not contain his curiosity; and, in spite of the warning not to speak, given him by his friend the gaoler’s wife, he composed a short sentence in good French, quite correct, and said to his neighbour:
“Who is that general who is chewing up the one next to him?”
“Gad, it’s the Marshal!”
“Marshal Ney, you fool! I say, where have you been serving?”
Fabrizio, although highly susceptible, had no thought of resenting this insult; he was studying, lost in childish admiration, the famous Prince de la Moskowa, the “Bravest of the Brave.”
Suddenly they all moved off at full gallop. A few minutes later Fabrizio saw, twenty paces ahead of him, a ploughed field the surface of which was moving in a singular fashion. The furrows were full of water and the soil, very damp, which formed the ridges between these furrows kept flying off in little black lumps three or four feet into the air. Fabrizio noticed as he passed this curious effect; then his thoughts turned to dreaming of the Marshal and his glory. He heard a sharp cry close to him; two hussars fell struck by shot; and, when he looked back at them, they were already twenty paces behind the escort. What seemed to him horrible was a horse streaming with blood that was struggling on the ploughed land, its hooves caught in its own entrails; it was trying to follow the others: its blood ran down into the mire.
“Ah! So I am under fire at last!” he said to himself. “I have seen shots fired!” he repeated with a sense of satisfaction. “Now I am a real soldier.” At that moment, the escort began to go hell for leather, and our hero realised that it was shot from the guns that was making the earth fly up all round him. He looked vainly in the direction from which the balls were coming, he saw the white smoke of the battery at an enormous distance, and, in the thick of the steady and continuous rumble produced by the artillery fire, he seemed to hear shots discharged much closer at hand: he could not understand in the least what was happening.
At that moment, the generals and their escort dropped into a little road filled with water which ran five feet below the level of the fields.
The Marshal halted and looked again through his glasses. Fabrizio, this time, could examine him at his leisure. He found him to be very fair, with a big red face. “We don’t have any faces like that in Italy,” he said to himself. “With my pale cheeks and chestnut hair, I shall never look like that,” he added despondently. To him these words implied: “I shall never be a hero.” He looked at the hussars; with a solitary exception, all of them had yellow moustaches. If Fabrizio was studying the hussars of the escort, they were all studying him as well. Their stare made him blush, and, to get rid of his embarrassment, he turned his head towards the enemy. They consisted of widely extended lines of men in red, but, what greatly surprised him, these men seemed to be quite minute. Their long files, which were regiments or divisions, appeared no taller than hedges. A line of red cavalry were trotting in the direction of the sunken road along which the Marshal and his escort had begun to move at a walk, splashing through the mud. The smoke made it impossible to distinguish anything in the direction in which they were advancing; now and then one saw men moving at a gallop against this background of white smoke.
Suddenly, from the direction of the enemy, Fabrizio saw four men approaching hell for leather. “Ah! We are attacked,” he said to himself; then he saw two of these men speak to the Marshal. One of the generals on the latter’s staff set off at a gallop towards the enemy, followed by two hussars of the escort and by the four men who had just come up. After a little canal which they all crossed, Fabrizio found himself riding beside a serjeant who seemed a good-natured fellow. “I must speak to this one,” he said to himself, “then perhaps they’ll stop staring at me.” He thought for a long time.
“Sir, this is the first time that I have been present at a battle,” he said at length to the serjeant. “But is this a real battle?”
“Something like. But who are you?”
“I am the brother of a captain’s wife.”
“And what is he called, your captain?”
Our hero was terribly embarrassed; he had never anticipated this question. Fortunately, the Marshal and his escort broke into a gallop. “What French name shall I say?” he wondered. At last he remembered the name of the innkeeper with whom he had lodged in Paris; he brought his horse up to the serjeant’s, and shouted to him at the top of his voice:
“Captain Meunier!” The other, not hearing properly in the roar of the guns, replied: “Oh, Captain Teulier? Well, he’s been killed.” “Splendid,” thought Fabrizio. “Captain Teulier; I must look sad.”
“Good God!” he cried; and assumed a piteous mien. They had left the sunken road and were crossing a small meadow, they were going hell for leather, shots were coming over again, the Marshal headed for a division of cavalry. The escort found themselves surrounded by dead and wounded men; but this sight had already ceased to make any impression on our hero; he had other things to think of.
While the escort was halted, he caught sight of the little cart of a cantinière, and his affection for this honourable corps sweeping aside every other consideration, set off at a gallop to join her.
“Stay where you are, curse you,” the serjeant shouted after him.
“What can he do to me here?” thought Fabrizio, and he continued to gallop towards the cantinière. When he put spurs to his horse, he had had some hope that it might be his good cantinière of the morning; the horse and the little cart bore a strong resemblance, but their owner was quite different, and our hero thought her appearance most forbidding. As he came up to her, Fabrizio heard her say: “And he was such a fine-looking man, too!” A very ugly sight awaited the new recruit; they were sawing off a cuirassier’s leg at the thigh, a handsome young fellow of five feet ten. Fabrizio shut his eyes and drank four glasses of brandy straight off.
“How you do go for it, you boozer!” cried the cantinière. The brandy gave him an idea: “I must buy the goodwill of my comrades, the hussars of the escort.”
“Give me the rest of the bottle,” he said to the vivandière.
“What do you mean,” was her answer, “what’s left there costs ten francs, on a day like this.”
As he rejoined the escort at a gallop:
“Ah! You’re bringing us a drop of drink,” cried the serjeant. “That was why you deserted, was it? Hand it over.”
The bottle went round, the last man to take it flung it in the air after drinking. “Thank you, chum!” he cried to Fabrizio. All eyes were fastened on him kindly. This friendly gaze lifted a hundredweight from Fabrizio’s heart; it was one of those hearts of too delicate tissue which require the friendship of those around it. So at last he had ceased to be looked at askance by his comrades; there was a bond between them! Fabrizio breathed a deep sigh of relief, then in a bold voice said to the serjeant:
“And if Captain Teulier has been killed, where shall I find my sister?” He fancied himself a little Machiavelli to be saying Teulier so naturally instead of Meunier.
“That’s what you’ll find out to-night,” was the serjeant’s reply.
The escort moved on again and made for some divisions of infantry. Fabrizio felt quite drunk; he had taken too much brandy, he was rolling slightly in his saddle: he remembered most opportunely a favourite saying of his mother’s coachman: “When you’ve been lifting your elbow, look straight between your horse’s ears, and do what the man next you does.” The Marshal stopped for some time beside a number of cavalry units which he ordered to charge; but for an hour or two our hero was barely conscious of what was going on round about him. He was feeling extremely tired, and when his horse galloped he fell back on the saddle like a lump of lead.
Suddenly the serjeant called out to his men: “Don’t you see the Emperor, curse you!” Whereupon the escort shouted: “Vive l’Empereur!” at the top of their voices. It may be imagined that our hero stared till his eyes started out of his head, but all he saw was some generals galloping, also followed by an escort. The long floating plumes of horsehair which the dragoons of the bodyguard wore on their helmets prevented him from distinguishing their faces. “So I have missed seeing the Emperor on a field of battle, all because of those cursed glasses of brandy!” This reflexion brought him back to his senses.
They went down into a road filled with water, the horses wished to drink.
“So that was the Emperor who went past then?” he asked the man next to him.
“Why, surely, the one with no braid on his coat. How is it you didn’t see him?” his comrade answered kindly. Fabrizio felt a strong desire to gallop after the Emperor’s escort and embody himself in it. What a joy to go really to war in the train of that hero! It was for that that he had come to France. “I am quite at liberty to do it,” he said to himself, “for after all I have no other reason for being where I am but the will of my horse, which started galloping after these generals.”
What made Fabrizio decide to stay where he was was that the hussars, his new comrades, seemed so friendly towards him; he began to imagine himself the intimate friend of all the troopers with whom he had been galloping for the last few hours. He saw arise between them and himself that noble friendship of the heroes of Tasso and Ariosto. If he were to attach himself to the Emperor’s escort, there would be fresh acquaintances to be made, perhaps they would look at him askance, for these other horsemen were dragoons, and he was wearing the hussar uniform like all the rest that were following the Marshal. The way in which they now looked at him set our hero on a pinnacle of happiness; he would have done anything in the world for his comrades; his mind and soul were in the clouds. Everything seemed to have assumed a new aspect now that he was among friends; he was dying to ask them various questions. “But I am still a little drunk,” he said to himself, “I must bear in mind what the gaoler’s wife told me.” He noticed on leaving the sunken road that the escort was no longer with Marshal Ney; the general whom they were following was tall and thin, with a dry face and an awe-inspiring eye.
This general was none other than Comte d’A— — the Lieutenant Robert of the 15th of May, 1796. How delighted he would have been to meet Fabrizio del Dongo!
It was already some time since Fabrizio had noticed the earth flying off in black crumbs on being struck by shot; they came in rear of a regiment of cuirassiers, he could hear distinctly the rattle of the grapeshot against their breastplates, and saw several men fall.
The sun was now very low and had begun to set when the escort, emerging from a sunken road, mounted a little bank three or four feet high to enter a ploughed field. Fabrizio heard an odd little sound quite close to him: he turned his head, four men had fallen with their horses; the general himself had been unseated, but picked himself up, covered in blood. Fabrizio looked at the hussars who were lying on the ground: three of them were still making convulsive movements, the fourth cried: “Pull me out!” The serjeant and two or three men had dismounted to assist the general, who, leaning upon his aide-decamp, was attempting to walk a few. steps; he was trying to get away from his horse, which lay on the ground struggling and kicking out madly.
The serjeant came up to Fabrizio. At that moment our hero heard a voice say behind him and quite close to his ear: “This is the only one that can still gallop.” He felt himself seized by the feet; they were taken out of the stirrups at the same time as someone caught him underneath the arms; he was lifted over his horse’s tail and then allowed to slip to the ground, where he landed sitting.
The aide-decamp took Fabrizio’s horse by the bridle; the general, with the help of the serjeant, mounted and rode off at a gallop; he was quickly followed by the six men who were left of the escort. Fabrizio rose up in a fury, and began to run after them shouting: “Ladri! Ladri!” (Thieves! Thieves!) It was an amusing experience to run after horse-stealers across a battlefield.
The escort and the general, Comte d’A— — disappeared presently behind a row of willows. Fabrizio, blind with rage, also arrived at this line of willows; he found himself brought to a halt by a canal of considerable depth which he crossed. Then, on reaching the other side, he began swearing again as he saw once more, but far away in the distance, the general and his escort vanishing among the trees. “Thieves! Thieves!” he cried, in French this time. In desperation, not so much at the loss of his horse as at the treachery to himself, he let himself sink down on the side of the ditch, tired out and dying of hunger. If his fine horse had been taken from him by the enemy, he would have thought no more about it; but to see himself betrayed and robbed by that serjeant whom he liked so much and by those hussars whom he regarded as brothers! That was what broke his heart. He could find no consolation for so great an infamy, and, leaning his back against a willow, began to shed hot tears. He abandoned one by one all those beautiful dreams of a chivalrous and sublime friendship, like that of the heroes of the Gerusalemme Liberata. To see death come to one was nothing, surrounded by heroic and tender hearts, by noble friends who clasp one by the hand as one yields one’s dying breath! But to retain one’s enthusiasm surrounded by a pack of vile scoundrels! Like all angry men Fabrizio exaggerated. After a quarter of an hour of this melting mood, he noticed that the guns were beginning to range on the row of trees in the shade of which he sat meditating. He rose and tried to find his bearings. He scanned those fields bounded by a wide canal and the row of pollard willows: he thought he knew where he was. He saw a body of infantry crossing the ditch and marching over the fields, a quarter of a league in front of him. “I was just falling asleep,” he said to himself; “I must see that I’m not taken prisoner.” And he put his best foot foremost. As he advanced, his mind was set at rest; he recognized the uniforms, the regiments by which he had been afraid of being cut off were French. He made a right incline so as to join them.
After the moral anguish of having been so shamefully betrayed and robbed, there came another which, at every moment, made itself felt more keenly; he was dying of hunger. It was therefore with infinite joy that after having walked, or rather run, for ten minutes, he saw that the column of infantry, which also had been moving very rapidly, was halting to take up a position. A few minutes later, he was among the nearest of the soldiers.
“Friends, could you sell me a mouthful of bread?” “I say, here’s a fellow who thinks we’re bakers!” This harsh utterance and the general guffaw that followed it had a crushing effect on Fabrizio. So war was no longer that noble and universal uplifting of souls athirst for glory which he had imagined it to be from Napoleon’s proclamations! He sat down, or rather let himself fall on the grass; he turned very pale. The soldier who had spoken to him, and who had stopped ten paces off to clean the lock of his musket with his handkerchief, came nearer and flung him a lump of bread; then, seeing that he did not pick it up, broke off a piece which he put in our hero’s mouth. Fabrizio opened his eyes, and ate the bread without having the strength to speak. When at length he looked round for the soldier to pay him, he found himself alone; the men nearest to him were a hundred yards off and were marching. Mechanically he rose and followed them. He entered a wood; he was dropping with exhaustion, and already had begun to look round for a comfortable resting-place; but what was his delight on recognising first of all the horse, then the cart, and finally the cantinière of that morning! She ran to him and was frightened by his appearance.
“Still going, my boy,” she said to him; “you’re wounded then? And where’s your fine horse?” So saying she led him towards the cart, upon which she made him climb, supporting him under the arms. No sooner was he in the cart than our hero, utterly worn out, fell fast asleep.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00