Captain Fracasse, who had heard only the disturbance without knowing the cause, interfered in a low, sharp tone:
“Silence! As I have told you before, silence! We don’t want them to know that we are here. Go to sleep! You may get no rest to-morrow night!”
But little Peterkin, the question in his mind breaking free of his lips, unwittingly asked:
“Shall—shall we fight in the morning?”
“I don’t know. Nobody knows!” answered Fracasse. “We wait on orders, ready to do our duty. There may be no war. Don’t let me hear another peep from you!”
Now all closed their eyes. In front of them was vast silence which seemed to stretch from end to end of the frontier, while to the rear was the rumble of switching railway trains and the rumble of provision trains and artillery on the roads, and in the distance on the plain the headlight of a locomotive cut a swath in the black night. But the breathing of most of the men was not that of slumber, though Eugene and Pilzer slept soundly. Hours passed. Occasional restless movements told of efforts to force sleep by changing position.
“It’s the waiting that’s sickening!” exploded the manufacturer’s son under his breath, desperately.
“So I say. I’d like to be at it and done with the suspense!” said the doctor’s son.
“They say if you are shot through the head you don’t know what killed you, it’s so quick. Think of that!” exclaimed Peterkin, huddling closer to Hugo and shivering.
“Yes, very merciful,” Hugo whispered, patting Peterkin’s arm.
“Sh-h-h! Silence, I tell you!” commanded Fracasse crossly. He was falling into a half doze at last.
DELLARME’S MEN GET A MASCOT
And have you forgotten gigantic Private Stransky, born to the red, with the hedgerows of the world his home? Have you forgotten Tom Fragini and the sergeant and the others of Captain Dellarme’s men of the 53d of the Browns, whom we left marching along the road to La Tir, with old Grandfather Fragini, veteran of the Hussars, in his faded uniform coat with his medal on his breast, keeping step, hep-hep-hep?
Grandfather Fragini has attached himself to the regiment while it rests in barracks a few hours’ march from the frontier. He is accepted as the mascot of the company in which both his grandson and Stransky are serving. But he never speaks to Stransky and refers to him in the third person as “that traitor,” which makes Stransky grin sardonically. Each day’s developments bring more color to his cheeks; his rheumatic old legs are limbering with the elixir of rising patriotism, though Tom and his comrades are singularly without enthusiasm, according to grandfather’s idea. They lead the newspapers gluttonously and they welcome each item that promises a peaceful solution of the crisis.
Inwardly, Grandfather Fragini is worried about the state of the army. Is his race becoming decadent? Or, as he puts it, are the younger generation without sand in their craws? When he came into the barracks yard swinging his cap aloft and shouting the news that mobilization had begun there was not even a cheer.