Life seemed to be at a standstill; the shops were closed and the streets silent and deserted. Sometimes a citizen, intimidated by this silence, ran rapidly along the walls.
The anguish of suspense made the citizens desire the arrival of the enemy.
In the afternoon of the day that followed the departure of the French troops, a few Uhlans, coming from no one knew where, crossed the City in a hurry. Then, a little later, a black mass came down the Ste. Catherine Hill, while two other invading waves appeared on the Darnetal and Boisguillame roads. The vanguards of the three corps made their junction at precisely the same time in the Hotel de Ville Square; and, by all the neighboring roads, the German Army was arriving, rolling its battalions that made the pavements ring under their heavy and well measured steps.
Orders shouted in an unknown and guttural voice, rose along the houses which seemed dead and deserted, while behind the closed shutters, eyes watched these victorious men, masters of the City, of property and life by the right of war. The inhabitants, in their darkened rooms, felt the bewilderment caused by cataclysms, the great bloody upheavals of the earth against which all human wisdom and force are of no avail. For the same feeling reappears whenever the established order of things is upset, when security ceases to exist, when all that is protected by the laws of men or those of protected nature, is at the mercy of unreasoning and ferocious brutality. The earthquake crushing a whole nation under crumbling houses; the overflowing river swirling the bodies of drowned peasants along with the dead oxen and the beams torn away from the roofs, or the glorious army massacring those who defend themselves, taking away the others as prisoners, pillaging in the name of the sword and offering thanks to God to the thunder of the guns, are as many appalling scourges which disconcert any belief in eternal justice, all the trust we were taught to place in the protection of heaven and the reason of man.
Small detachments knocked at each door and then disappeared in the houses. It was occupation after invasion. Now the vanquished had to show themselves nice to their conquerors.
After a while, once the first terror had abated, a new tranquility settled down. In many houses the Prussian Officer took his meals with the family. Some were well bred, and out of politeness, showed sympathy for France and spoke of their reluctance to participate in the war. People were grateful for such sentiments; furthermore, they might have needed their protection any day. By being nice to them they would possibly have fewer men billeted to their houses. And why hurt the feelings of a man who had full power over them? To act in that way would be less bravery than temerity—and temerity is no longer a failing of the citizens of Rouen, as in the days of heroic defense when their City became famous. Last of all—supreme argument derived from French urbanity—they said that they could allow themselves to be polite in their own houses, provided they did not exhibit in public too much familiarity with the foreign soldier. On the streets they passed each other as strangers, but at home they willingly chatted, and every night the German stayed up later and later, warming himself at the family fire-place.