Four men held him. Others vociferated around him in a frightful language. They were ready to slaughter him on the spot. Francoise, with a supplicating look, had cast herself before him. But an officer entered and ordered the prisoner to be delivered up to him. After exchanging a few words in German with the soldiers he turned toward Dominique and said to him roughly in very good French:
“You will be shot in two hours!”
It was a settled rule of the German staff that every Frenchman, not belonging to the regular army, taken with arms in his hands should be shot. The militia companies themselves were not recognized as belligerents. By thus making terrible examples of the peasants who defended their homes, the Germans hoped to prevent the levy en masse, which they feared.
The officer, a tall, lean man of fifty, briefly questioned Dominique. Although he spoke remarkably pure French he had a stiffness altogether Prussian.
“Do you belong to this district?” he asked.
“No; I am a Belgian,” answered the young man.
“Why then did you take up arms? The fighting did not concern you!”
Dominique made no reply. At that moment the officer saw Francoise who was standing by, very pale, listening; upon her white forehead her slight wound had put a red bar. He looked at the young folks, one after the other, seemed to understand matters and contented himself with adding:
“You do not deny having fired, do you?”
“I fired as often as I could!” responded Dominique tranquilly.
This confession was useless, for he was black with powder, covered with sweat and stained with a few drops of blood which had flowed from the scratch on his shoulder.
“Very well,” said the officer. “You will be shot in two hours!”
Francoise did not cry out. She clasped her hands and raised them with a gesture of mute despair. The officer noticed this gesture. Two soldiers had taken Dominique to a neighboring apartment, where they were to keep watch over him. The young girl had fallen upon a chair, totally overcome; she could not weep; she was suffocating. The officer had continued to examine her. At last he spoke to her.
“Is that young man your brother?” he demanded.
She shook her head negatively. The German stood stiffly on his feet with out a smile. Then after a short silence he again asked:
“Has he lived long in the district?”
She nodded affirmatively.
“In that case, he ought to be thoroughly acquainted with the neighboring forests.”
This time she spoke.
“He is thoroughly acquainted with them, monsieur,” she said, looking at him with considerable surprise.
He said nothing further to her but turned upon his heel, demanding that the mayor of the village should be brought to him. But Francoise had arisen with a slight blush on her countenance; thinking that she had seized the aim of the officer’s questions, she had recovered hope. She herself ran to find her father.