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Émile Gaboriau
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 721 pages of information about The Downfall.

I.

All the long, long day of the battle Silvine, up on Remilly hill, where Father Fouchard’s little farm was situated, but her heart and soul absent with Honore amid the dangers of the conflict, never once took her eyes from off Sedan, where the guns were roaring.  The following day, moreover, her anxiety was even greater still, being increased by her inability to obtain any definite tidings, for the Prussians who were guarding the roads in the vicinity refused to answer questions, as much from reasons of policy as because they knew but very little themselves.  The bright sun of the day before was no longer visible, and showers had fallen, making the valley look less cheerful than usual in the wan light.

Toward evening Father Fouchard, who was also haunted by a sensation of uneasiness in the midst of his studied taciturnity, was standing on his doorstep reflecting on the probable outcome of events.  His son had no place in his thoughts, but he was speculating how he best might convert the misfortunes of others into fortune for himself, and as he revolved these considerations in his mind he noticed a tall, strapping young fellow, dressed in the peasant’s blouse, who had been strolling up and down the road for the last minute or so, looking as if he did not know what to do with himself.  His astonishment on recognizing him was so great that he called him aloud by name, notwithstanding that three Prussians happened to be passing at the time.

“Why, Prosper!  Is that you?”

The chasseur d’Afrique imposed silence on him with an emphatic gesture; then, coming closer, he said in an undertone: 

“Yes, it is I. I have had enough of fighting for nothing, and I cut my lucky.  Say, Father Fouchard, you don’t happen to be in need of a laborer on your farm, do you?”

All the old man’s prudence came back to him in a twinkling.  He was looking for someone to help him, but it would be better not to say so at once.

“A lad on the farm? faith, no—­not just now.  Come in, though, all the same, and have a glass.  I shan’t leave you out on the road when you’re in trouble, that’s sure.”

Silvine, in the kitchen, was setting the pot of soup on the fire, while little Charlot was hanging by her skirts, frolicking and laughing.  She did not recognize Prosper at first, although they had formerly served together in the same household, and it was not until she came in, bringing a bottle of wine and two glasses, that she looked him squarely in the face.  She uttered a cry of joy and surprise; her sole thought was of Honore.

“Ah, you were there, weren’t you?  Is Honore all right?”

Prosper’s answer was ready to slip from his tongue; he hesitated.  For the last two days he had been living in a dream, among a rapid succession of strange, ill-defined events which left behind them no precise memory, as a man starts, half-awakened, from a slumber peopled with fantastic visions.  It was true, doubtless, he believed he had seen Honore lying upon a cannon, dead, but he would not have cared to swear to it; what use is there in afflicting people when one is not certain?

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