Ball of Fat 2
In the afternoon of the day following the departure of the French troops, a
number of uhlans, coming no one knew whence, passed rapidly through the town. A
little later on, a black mass descended St. Catherine's Hill, while two other
invading bodies appeared respectively on the Darnetal and the Boisguillaume
roads. The advance guards of the three corps arrived at precisely the same
moment at the Square of the Hotel de Ville, and the German army poured through
all the adjacent streets, its battalions making the pavement ring with their
firm, measured tread.
Orders shouted in an unknown, guttural tongue rose to the windows of the seemingly dead, deserted houses; while behind the fast-closed shutters eager eyes peered forth at the victors-masters now of the city, its fortunes, and its lives, by "right of war." The inhabitants, in their darkened rooms, were possessed by that terror which follows in the wake of cataclysms, of deadly upheavals of the earth, against which all human skill and strength are vain. For the same thing happens whenever the established order of things is upset, when security no longer exists, when all those rights usually protected by the law of man or of Nature are at the mercy of unreasoning, savage force. The earthquake crushing a whole nation under falling roofs; the flood let loose, and engulfing in its swirling depths the corpses of drowned peasants, along with dead oxen and beams torn from shattered houses; or the army, covered with glory, murdering those who defend themselves, making prisoners of the rest, pillaging in the name of the Sword, and giving thanks to God to the thunder of cannon—all these are appalling scourges, which destroy all belief in eternal justice, all that confidence we have been taught to feel in the protection of Heaven and the reason of man.
Small detachments of soldiers knocked at each door, and then disappeared within the houses; for the vanquished saw they would have to be civil to their conquerors.
At the end of a short time, once the first terror had subsided, calm was again
restored. In many houses the Prussian officer ate at the same table with the
family. He was often well-bred, and, out of politeness, expressed sympathy with
France and repugnance at being compelled to take part in the war. This sentiment
was received with gratitude; besides, his protection might be needful some day
or other. By the exercise of tact the number of men quartered in one's house
might be reduced; and why should one provoke the hostility of a person on whom
one's whole welfare depended? Such conduct would savor less of bravery than of
fool-hardiness. And foolhardiness is no longer a failing of the citizens of
Rouen as it was in the days when their city earned renown by its heroic
defenses. Last of all-final argument based on the national politeness—the folk
of Rouen said to one another that it was only right to be civil in one's own
house, provided there was no public exhibition of familiarity with the
foreigner. Out of doors, therefore, citizen and soldier did not know each other;
but in the house both chatted freely, and each evening the German remained a
little longer warming himself at the hospitable hearth.
Even the town itself resumed by degrees its ordinary aspect. The French seldom walked abroad, but the streets swarmed with Prussian soldiers. Moreover, the officers of the Blue Hussars, who arrogantly dragged their instruments of death along the pavements, seemed to hold the simple townsmen in but little more contempt than did the French cavalry officers who had drunk at the same cafes the year before.
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