They sat very late that night by the fire. I went in and out, not disturbing them. I saw him kneel at her feet as he left her, and she bent forward and kissed his forehead.
He talked of her a great deal after that. More than I would have talked of love, but his need of an audience drove him to confidences. He felt that he must make himself worthy of her—to go back to her as anything less than a hero might seem to belittle her. I am not sure that he was braver than other men, but his feeling for effect gave him a sort of reckless courage. Applause was a part of the game—he could not do without it.
And so came that night when a small band of us were cut off from the rest. We were intrenched behind a small eminence which hid us from our enemies, with little hope of long escaping their observation. It had been wet and cold, and there had been no hot food for days. We, French and Americans, had fought long and hard; we were in no state to stand suspense, yet there was nothing to do but wait for a move on the other side, a move which could end in only one way—bayonets and bare hands, and I, for one, hated it.
I think the others hated it, too, all but Randolph. The rain had stopped and the moon flooded the world. He turned his face up to it and dreamed.
The knowledge came to us before midnight that the Huns had found us. It became only a matter of moments before they would be upon us, the thing would happen which we hated—bayonets and bare hands, with the chances in favor of the enemy!
Somewhere among our men rose a whimper of fear, and then another. You see, they were cold and hungry and some of them were wounded, and they were cut off from hope. It wasn’t cowardice. I call no man a coward. They had faced death a thousand times, some of them. Yet there was danger in their fears.
Randolph was next to me. “My God, MacDonald,” he said, “they’ve lost their nerve—”
There wasn’t a second to spare. I saw him doing something to his hat.
As I have said, there was a moon. It lighted that battle-scarred world with a sort of wild beauty, and suddenly in a clear space above us on the little hill a figure showed, motionless against the still white night—a figure small yet commanding, three-cornered hat pulled low—oh, you have seen it in pictures a thousand times—Napoleon of Marengo, of Austerlitz, of Jena, of Friedland—but over and above everything, Napoleon of France!
Of course the Germans shot him. But when they came over the top they were met by Frenchmen who had seen a ghost. “C’est l’Empereur! C’est l’Empereur!” they had gasped. “He returns to lead us.”
They fought like devils, and—well, the rest of us fought, too, and all the time, throughout the bloody business, I had before me that vision of Randolph alone in the moonlight. Or was it Randolph? Who knows? Do great souls find time for such small business? And was it small?