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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLorraine: A Romance - Chapter 30. The Valley Of The Shadow
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Lorraine: A Romance - Chapter 30. The Valley Of The Shadow Post by :noidle Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :2362

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Lorraine: A Romance - Chapter 30. The Valley Of The Shadow

CHAPTER XXX. THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW

Daylight was fading in the room where Lorraine lay in a stupor so deep that at moments the Sister of Mercy and the young military surgeon could scarcely believe her alive there on the pillows.

Jack, his head on his arms, stood by the window, staring out vacantly at the streak of light in the west, against which, on the straight, gray ramparts, the white flag flapped black against the dying sun.

Under the window, in the muddy, black streets, the packed throngs swayed and staggered and trampled through the filth, amid a crush of camp-wagons, artillery, ambulances, and crowding squadrons of cavalry. Riotous line soldiers cried out "Treason!" and hissed their generals or cursed their Emperor; the tall cuirassiers surged by in silence, sombre faces turned towards the west, where the white flag flew on the ramparts. Heavier, denser, more suffocating grew the crush; an ambulance broke down, a caisson smashed into a lamp-post, a cuirassier's horse slipped in the greasy depths of the filth, pitching its steel-clad rider to the pavement. Through the Place d'Alsace-Lorraine, through the Avenue du College and the Place d'Armes, passed the turbulent torrent of men and horses and cannon. The Grande Rue was choked from the church to the bronze statue in the Place Turenne; the Porte de Paris was piled with dead, the Porte de Balan tottered a mass of ruins.

The cannonade still shook the hills to the south in spite of the white flag on the citadel. There were white flags, too, on the ramparts, on the Port des Capucins, and at the Gate of Paris. An officer, followed by a lancer, who carried a white pennon on his lance-point, entered the street from the north. A dozen soldiers and officers hacked it off with their sabres, crying, "No surrender! no surrender!" Shells continued to fall into the packed streets, blowing horrible gaps in the masses of struggling men. The sun set in a crimson blaze, reflecting on window and roof and the bloody waters of the river. When at last it sank behind the smoky hills, the blackness in the city was lighted by lurid flames from burning houses and the swift crimson glare of Prussian shells, still plunging into the town. Through the crash of crumbling walls, the hiss and explosion of falling shells, the awful clamour and din in the streets, the town clock struck solemnly six times. As if at a signal the firing died away; a desolate silence fell over the city--a silence full of rumours, of strange movements--a stillness pulsating with the death gasps of a nation.

Out on the heights of La Moncelle, of Daigny, and Givonne lanterns glimmered where the good Sisters of Mercy and the ambulance corps passed among the dead and dying--the thirty-five thousand dead and dying! The plateau of Illy, where the cavalry had charged again and again, was twinkling with thousands of lanterns; on the heights of Frenois Prussian torches swung, signalling victory.

But the spectacle in the interior of the town--a town of nineteen thousand people, into which now were crushed seventy thousand frantic soldiers, was dreadful beyond description. Horror multiplied on horror. The two bridges and the streets were so jammed with horses and artillery trains that it seemed impossible for any human being to move another inch. In the glare of the flames from the houses on fire, in the middle of the smoke, horses, cannon, fourgons, charrettes, ambulances, piles of dead and dying, formed a sickening pell-mell. In this chaos starving soldiers, holding lighted lanterns, tore strips of flesh from dead horses lying in the mud, killed by the shells. Arms, broken and foul with blood and mud--rifles, pistols, sabres, lances, casques, mitrailleuses--covered the pavements.

The gates of the town were closed; the water in the fortification moats reflected the red light from the flames. The glacis of the ramparts was covered by black masses of soldiers, watching the placing of a cordon of German sentinels around the walls.

All public buildings, all the churches, were choked with wounded; their blood covered everything. On the steps of the churches poor wretches sat bandaging their torn limbs with strips of bloody muslin.

Strange sounds came from the stone walls along the street, where zouaves, turcos, and line soldiers, cursing and weeping with rage, were smashing their rifles to pieces rather than surrender them. Artillerymen were spiking their guns, some ran them into the river, some hammered the mitrailleuses out of shape with pickaxes. The cavalry flung their sabres into the river, the cuirassiers threw away revolvers and helmets. Everywhere officers were breaking their swords and cursing the surrender. The officers of the 74th of the Line threw their sabres and even their decorations into the Meuse. Everywhere, too, regiments were burning their colours and destroying their eagles; the colonel of the 52d of the Line himself burned his colours in the presence of all the officers of the regiment, in the centre of the street. The 88th and 30th, the 68th, the 78th, and 74th regiments followed this example. "Mort aux Vaches!" howled a herd of half-crazed reservists, bursting into the crush. "Mort aux Prussiens! A la lanterne, Badinguet! Vive la Republique!"

Jack turned away from the window. The tall Sister of Mercy stood beside the bed where Lorraine lay.

Jack made a sign.

"She is asleep," murmured the Sister; "you may come nearer now. Close the window."

Before he could reach the bed the door was opened violently from without, and an officer entered swinging a lantern. He did not see Lorraine at first, but held the door open, saying to Jack: "Pardon, monsieur; this house is reserved. I am very sorry to trouble you."

Another officer entered, an old man, covered to the eyes by his crimson gold-brocaded cap. Two more followed.

"There is a sick person here," said Jack. "You cannot have the intention of turning her out! It is inhuman--"

He stopped short, stupefied at the sight of the old officer, who now stood bareheaded in the lantern-light, looking at the bed where Lorraine lay. It was the Emperor!--her father.

Slowly the Emperor advanced to the bed, his dreary eyes fixed on Lorraine's pale cheeks.

In the silence the cries from the street outside rose clear and distinct:

"Vive la Republique! A bas l'Empereur!"

The Emperor spoke, looking straight at Lorraine: "Gentlemen, we cannot disturb a woman. Pray find another house."

After a moment the officers began to back out, one by one, through the doorway. The Emperor still stood by the bed, his vague, inscrutable eyes fixed on Lorraine.

Jack moved towards the bed, trembling. The Emperor raised his colourless face.

"Monsieur--your sister? No--your wife?"

"My promised wife, sire," muttered Jack, cold with fear.

"A child," said the Emperor, softly.

With a vague gesture he stepped nearer, smoothed the coverlet, bent closer, and touched the sleeping girl's forehead with his lips. Then he stood up, gray-faced, impassive.

"I am an old man," he said, as though to himself. He looked at Jack, who now came close to him, holding out something in one hand. It was the steel box.

"For me, monsieur?" asked the Emperor.

Jack nodded. He could not speak.

The Emperor took the box, still looking at Jack.

There was a moment's silence, then Jack spoke: "It may be too late. It is a plan of a balloon--we brought it to you from Lorraine--"

The uproar in the streets drowned his voice--"Mort a l'Empereur! A bas l'Empire!"

A staff-officer opened the door and peered in; the Emperor stepped to the threshold.

"I thank you--I thank you both, my children," he said. His eyes wandered again towards the bed; the cries in the street rang out furiously.

"Mort a l'Empereur!"

The Sister of Mercy was kneeling by the bed; Jack shivered, and dropped his head.

When he looked up the Emperor had gone.

All night long he watched at the bedside, leaning on his elbow, one hand shading his eyes from the candle-flame. The Sister of Mercy, white and worn with the duties of that terrible day, slept upright in an arm-chair.

Dawn brought the sad notes of Prussian trumpets from the ramparts pealing through the devastated city; at sunrise the pavements rang and shook with the trample of the White Cuirassiers. A Saxon infantry band burst into the "Wacht am Rhine" at the Paris Gate; the Place Turenne vomited Uhlans. Jack sank down by the bed, burying his face in the sheets.

The Sister of Mercy rubbed her eyes and started up. She touched Jack on the shoulder.

"I am going to be very ill," he said, raising a face burning with fever. "Never mind me, but stay with her."

"I understand," said the Sister, gently. "You must lie in the room beyond."

The fever seized Jack with a swiftness incredible.

"Then--swear it--by the--by the Saviour there--there on your crucifix!" he muttered.

"I swear," she answered, softly.

His mind wandered a little, but he set his teeth and rose, staggering to the table. He wrote something on a bit of paper with shaking fingers.

"Send for them," he said. "You can telegraph now. They are in Brussels--my sister--my family--"

Then, blinded by the raging fever, he made his way uncertainly to the bed, groped for Lorraine's hand, pressed it, and lay down at her feet.

"Call the surgeon!" he gasped.

And it was very many days before he said anything else with as much sense in it.

"God help them!" cried the Sister of Mercy, tearfully, her thin hands clasped to her lips. Alone she guided Jack into the room beyond.

Outside the Prussian bands were playing. The sun flung a long, golden beam through the window straight across Lorraine's breast.

She stirred, and murmured in her sleep, "Jack! Jack! 'Tiens ta Foy!'"

But Jack was past hearing now; and when, at sundown, the young surgeon came into his room he was nearly past all aid.

"Typhoid?" asked the Sister.

"The Pest!" said the surgeon, gravely.

The Sister started a little.

"I will stay," she murmured. "Send this despatch when you go out. Can he live?"

They whispered together a moment, stepping softly to the door of the room where Lorraine lay.

"It can't be helped now," said the surgeon, looking at Lorraine; "she'll be well enough by to-morrow; she must stay with you. The chances are that he will die."

The trample of the White Cuirassiers in the street outside filled the room; the serried squadrons thundered past, steel ringing on steel, horses neighing, trumpets sounding the "Royal March." Lorraine's eyes unclosed.

"Jack!"

There was no answer.

The surgeon whispered to the Sister of Mercy: "Don't forget to hang out the pest flag."

"Jack! Jack!" wailed Lorraine, sitting up in bed. Through the tangled masses of her heavy hair, gilded by the morning sunshine, her eyes, bright with fever, roamed around the room, startled, despairing. Under the window the White Cuirassiers were singing as they rode:


"Flieg', Adler, flieg'! Wir stuermen nach,
Ein einig Volk in Waffen,
Wir stuermen nach ob tausendfach
Des Todes Pforten Klaffen!
Und fallen wir, flieg', Adler, flieg'!
Aus unserm Blute maechst der Sieg!
Vorwaerts!
Flieg', Adler, flieg'!
Victoria!
Victoria!
Mit uns ist Gott!"


Terrified, turning her head from side to side, Lorraine stretched out her hands. She tried to speak, but her ears were filled with the deep voices shouting the splendid battle-hymn--


"Fly, Eagle! fly!
With us is God!"


She crept out of bed, her bare feet white with cold, her bare arms flushed and burning. Blinded by the blaze of the rising sun, she felt her way around the room, calling, "Jack! Jack!" The window was open; she crept to it. The street was a surging, scintillating torrent of steel.


"God with us!"


The White Cuirassiers shook their glittering sabres; the melancholy trumpet's blast swept skyward; the standards flapped. Suddenly the stony street trembled with the outcrash of drums; the cuirassiers halted, the steel-mailed squadrons parted right and left; a carriage drove at a gallop through the opened ranks. Lorraine leaned from the window; the officer in the carriage looked up.

As the fallen Emperor's eyes met Lorraine's, she stretched out both little bare arms and cried: "Vive la France!"--and he was gone to his captivity, the White Cuirassiers galloping on every side.

The Sister of Mercy opened the door behind, calling her.

"He is dying," she said. "He is in here. Come quickly!"

Lorraine turned her head. Her eyes were sweet and serene, her whole pale face transfigured.

"He will live," she said. "I am here."

"It is the pest!" muttered the Sister.

Lorraine glided into the hall and unclosed the door of the silent room.

He opened his eyes.

"There is no death!" she whispered, her face against his. "There is neither death nor sorrow nor dying."

The clamour in the street died out; the wind was still; the pest flag under the window hung motionless.

He sighed; his eyes closed.

She stretched out beside him, her body against his, her bare arms around his neck.

His heart fluttered; stopped; fluttered; was silent; moved once again; ceased.

"Jack!"

Again his heart stirred--or was it her own?

When the morning sun broke over the ramparts of Sedan she fell asleep in his arms, lulled by the pulsations of his heart.

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