Nothing more picturesque could be imagined than this temporary camp, with its stacked arms, knapsacks lying on the ground, holes dug in the ground in which to kindle fires, and the clattering of cans. On the other side of the field the artillerymen and cavalrymen ate, holding their reins under their arms, while their officers stood around some temporary table, served by canteen men of the united divisions. Tiny columns of blue smoke rose where coffee was making, and everywhere were the swift movement and sprightly good-fellowship in which the soldier feels himself in his natural element.
The curious spectators crowded themselves in front of the banner, while in the centre of the square the military governor of Paris, and the other officers, talked with some privileged persons who had been able to present themselves among them.
Descending from his mount a little apart from the group, and plunged in thought, the former sub-lieutenant of ‘chasseurs a pied’ gazed at the old fortress, the sight of which recalled so many sad memories.
Vincennes had been his first garrison, and its proximity to Paris had been disastrous for him. There he had entered one morning, stripped of his fortune!
And what a series of disasters had followed! But for his heavy losses upon that fatal night, he would not have been compelled to sell Prerolles, the income of which, during his long absence, would have sufficed to lessen the tax on the land, transmissible, had events turned out otherwise, to some heir to his name. If only fate had not made Paul Landry cross his path!
“Good morning, General!” came the sound of a fresh, gay voice behind, which sent a thrill through him.
He turned and saw Zibeline, who had just stopped a few steps distant from him, sitting in her carriage, to which was harnessed a pretty pair of cobs, prancing and champing their bits.
“Ah, it is you, Mademoiselle!” he said, carrying his hand to the visor of his kepi, fastened under his chin.
“I found your card last night,” said Zibeline, “and I have come here this morning to return your call!”
Then, leaning back in her driving-seat in order to reveal Edmond Delorme installed beside her, she added:
“I have brought also my painter-in-ordinary. We have watched the review together, and he is as enthusiastic as I over the picturesque effect of this improvised bivouac. See! He is so much occupied with his sketch that I can not get a word out of him.”
It was Aida, whose bridle was held by a dragoon, that served as a model for the artist’s pencil.
“Will you permit me?” he said to Henri.
“It appears decidedly, that my mare has caught your eye,” replied the General, approaching the carriage and resting his spurred foot on its step.
“She has superb lines,” said the painter, without interrupting his drawing.
“Well, I am curious to know whether she could beat Seaman,” said Zibeline. “Are you willing to run a race with me, General?”