The next day, at half-past five in the morning, the bugle-call rang through the barrack-yard at Souvigny. Jean mounted his horse, and took his place with his division. By the end of May all the recruits in the army are sufficiently instructed to be capable of sharing in the general evolutions. Almost every day manoeuvres of the mounted artillery are executed on the parade-ground. Jean loved his profession; he was in the habit of inspecting carefully the grooming and harness of the horses, the equipment and carriage of his men. This morning, however, he bestowed but scant attention on all the little details of his duty.
One problem agitated, tormented him, and left him always undecided, and this problem was one of those the solution of which is not given at the Ecole Polytechnique. Jean could find no convincing reply to this question: Which of the two sisters is the prettier?
At the butts, during the first part of the manoeuvre, each battery worked on its own account, under the orders of the captain; but he often relinquished the place to one of his lieutenants, in order to accustom them to the management of six field-pieces. It happened on this day that the command was intrusted to the hands of Jean. To the great surprise of the Captain, in whose estimation his Lieutenant held the first rank as a well-trained, smart, and capable officer, everything went wrong. The Captain was obliged to interfere; he addressed a little reprimand to Jean, which terminated in these words:
“I can not understand it at all. What is the matter with you this morning? It is the first time such a thing has happened with you.”
It was also the first time that Jean had seen anything at the butts at Souvigny but cannon, ammunition wagons, horses, or gunners.
In the clouds of dust raised by the wheels of the wagons and the hoofs of the horses Jean beheld, not the second mounted battery of the 9th Regiment of artillery, but the distinct images of two Americans with black eyes and golden hair; and, at the moment when he listened respectfully to the well-merited lecture from his Captain, he was in the act of saying to himself:
“The prettier is Mrs. Scott!”
Every morning the exercise is divided into two parts by a little interval of ten minutes. The officers gathered together and talked; Jean remained apart, alone with his recollections of the previous evening. His thoughts obstinately gathered round the vicarage of Longueval.
“Yes! the more charming of the two sisters is Mrs. Scott; Miss Percival is only a child.”
He saw again Mrs. Scott at the Cure’s little table. He heard her story told with such frankness, such freedom. The harmony of that very peculiar, very fascinating voice, still enchanted his ear. He was again in the church; she was there before him, bending over her prie-Dieu, her pretty head resting in her two little hands; then the music arose, and far off, in the dusk, Jean perceived the fine and delicate profile of Bettina.