Within the kitchen Mrs. Galland was already slumbering soundly in her chair. Overhead Marta heard the exclamations of male voices and the tread of what was literally the heel of the conqueror—guests that had come without asking! Intruders that had entered without any process of law! Would they overrun the house, her mother’s room, her own room?
Indignation brought fresh strength as she started up the stairs. The head of the flight gave on to a dark part of the hall. There she paused, held by the scene that a score or more of Gray soldiers, who had riotously crowded into the dining-room, were enacting.
THROUGH THE VENEER
These men in the dining-room were members of Fracasse’s company of the Grays whom Marta had seen from her window the night before rushing across the road into the garden. It is time for their story—the story of their attack on the redoubt. One of those who remained motionless on the road was the doctor’s son. If he had sprained his ankle at manoeuvres, the whole company would have gossiped about the accident. If he had died in the garrison hospital from pneumonia, the barracks would have been blue for a week. If he had fallen in the charge across the white posts, the day-laborer’s son on his right and the judge’s son on his left would have felt a spasm of horror.
This is death, they would have thought; death that barely missed us; death that lays a man in the full tide of youth, as we are, silent and still forever.
Twelve hours after the war had begun, when the judge’s son missed the doctor’s son from the ranks, he remarked:
“Then they must have got him!”
“Yes, I Saw him roll over on his side,” said the laborer’s son.
There was no further comment. The lottery had drawn the doctor’s son this time; it would get some one else with the next rush. Existence had resolved itself into a hazard; all perspective was merged into a brimstone-gray background. The men did not think of home and parents, as they had on the previous night while they waited for the war to begin, or of patriotism. Relatives were still dear and country was still dear, but the threads of these affections were no longer taut. They hung loose. Fatalism had taken the place of suspense. There is no occurrence that frequency will not make familiar, and they were already familiar with death.
A man might even get used to falling from a great height. At first, in lightning rapidity of thought, all his life would pass in review before him and all his hopes for the future would crowd thick. But what if he were to go on descending for hours; yes, for days? Would not his sensations finally wear themselves down to a raw, quivering brain and the brain at length grow callous? Suppose, further, that a number of men had been thrown over a precipice at the same time as he and that the bottom of the