Such subconscious insults made him draw himself erect, in haughty, cruel and inexorable defiance against that other I who so richly deserved the judge’s scorn.
He turned his head away; he could not meet Marguerite’s piteous eyes; he feared their mute reproach. Neither did he dare to look at the blind man in his shabby and heroic uniform, with his countenance aged by duty and glory. He feared him like remorse.
So the vanquished lover turned his back on the two and went away with a firm step. Good-bye, Love! Goodbye, Happiness! . . . He marched quickly and bravely on; a miracle had just taken place within him! he had found the right road at last!
To Paris! . . . A new impetus was going to fill the vacuum of his objectless existence.
Don Marcelo was fleeing to take refuge in his castle when he met the mayor of Villeblanche. The noise of the firing had made him hurry to the barricade. When he learned of the apparition of the group of stragglers he threw up his hands in despair. They were crazy. Their resistance was going to be fatal for the village, and he ran on to beg them to cease.
For some time nothing happened to disturb the morning calm. Desnoyers had climbed to the top of his towers and was surveying the country with his field glasses. He couldn’t make out the highway through the nearest group of trees, but he suspected that underneath their branches great activity was going on—masses of men on guard, troops preparing for the attack. The unexpected defense of the fugitives had upset the advance of the invasion. Desnoyers thought despairingly of that handful of mad fellows and their stubborn chief. What was their fate going to be? . . .
Focussing his glasses on the village, he saw the red spots of kepis waving like poppies over the green of the meadows. They were the retreating men, now convinced of the uselessness of their resistance. Perhaps they had found a ford or forgotten boat by which they might cross the Maine, and so were continuing their retreat toward the river. At any minute now the Germans were going to enter Villeblanche.
Half an hour of profound silence passed by. The village lay silhouetted against a background of hills—a mass of roofs beneath the church tower finished with its cross and iron weather cock. Everything seemed as tranquil as in the best days of peace. Suddenly he noticed that the grove was vomiting forth something noisy and penetrating—a bubble of vapor accompanied by a deafening report. Something was hurtling through the air with a strident curve. Then a roof in the village opened like a crater, vomiting forth flying wood, fragments of plaster and broken furniture. All the interior of the house seemed to be escaping in a stream of smoke, dirt and splinters.