The darkness settled down on them, denser and denser; the chill mists rose from the stream and enshrouded everything in a dank, noisome fog.
“Are you asleep, Jean?”
Jean was asleep, and Maurice was alone. He could not endure the thought of going to the tent where Lapoulle and the rest of them were slumbering; he heard their snoring, responsive to Rochas’ strains, and envied them. If our great captains sleep soundly the night before a battle, it is like enough for the reason that their fatigue will not let them do otherwise. He was conscious of no sound save the equal, deep-drawn breathing of that slumbering multitude, rising from the darkening camp like the gentle respiration of some huge monster; beyond that all was void. He only knew that the 5th corps was close at hand, encamped beneath the rampart, that the 1st’s line extended from the wood of la Garenne to la Moncelle, while the 12th was posted on the other side of the city, at Bazeilles; and all were sleeping; the whole length of that long line, from the nearest tent to the most remote, for miles and miles, that low, faint murmur ascended in rhythmic unison from the dark, mysterious bosom of the night. Then outside this circle lay another region, the realm of the unknown, whence also sounds came intermittently to his ears, so vague, so distant, that he scarcely knew whether they were not the throbbings of his own excited pulses; the indistinct trot of cavalry plashing over the low ground, the dull rumble of gun and caisson along the roads, and, still more marked, the heavy tramp of marching men; the gathering on the heights above of that black swarm, engaged in strengthening the meshes of their net, from which night itself had not served to divert them. And below, there by the river’s side, was there not the flash of lights suddenly extinguished, was not that the sound of hoarse voices shouting orders, adding to the dread suspense of that long night of terror while waiting for the coming of the dawn?
Maurice put forth his hand and felt for Jean’s; at last he slumbered, comforted by the sense of human companionship. From a steeple in Sedan came the deep tones of a bell, slowly, mournfully, tolling the hour; then all was blank and void.
Weiss, in the obscurity of his little room at Bazeilles, was aroused by a commotion that caused him to leap from his bed. It was the roar of artillery. Groping about in the darkness he found and lit a candle to enable him to consult his watch: it was four o’clock, just beginning to be light. He adjusted his double eyeglass upon his nose and looked out into the main street of the village, the road that leads to Douzy, but it was filled with a thick cloud of something that resembled dust, which made it impossible to distinguish anything. He passed into the other room, the windows of which commanded a view of the Meuse and the intervening meadows, and saw that the cause of his obstructed vision was the morning mist arising from the river. In the distance, behind the veil of fog, the guns were barking more fiercely across the stream. All at once a French battery, close at hand, opened in reply, with such a tremendous crash that the walls of the little house were shaken.