Erckmann-Chatrian Emile Erckmann.

The blockade of Phalsburg: an episode of the end of the empire; online

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pistols. Heitz's two daughters stood at the win-
dows, with their arms lifted and screamed so that
they could be heard all over Mittelbronn.

Every minute, in the midst of the confusion,
something fell upon the road, and then the horses
started and ran through the fields like deer, with
their heads run out, and their manes and tails fly-
ing. The villagers ran; Father Heitz slipped into
the barn, and climbed up the ladder, and I came up
breathless, as if out of my senses.

I had not gone more than fifteen steps when a
Cossack, who was running away at full speed,
turned about furiously close to me, with his lance
in the air, and called out, " Hurra! ^'

I had only time to stoop, and I felt the wind from
the lance as it passed along my body.

I never felt so in my life, Fritz; I felt the chill
of death, that trembling of the flesh, of which the
prophet spoke: "Fear came upon me and trem-
bling; the hair of my flesh stood up.''

But what shows the spirit of wisdom and pru-
dence which the Lord puts into his creatures, when
he means to spare them for a good old age, is that



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I SHUDDEUED IN MY VEUY SOUL AND MY IIAIU RlUSTLEl).



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THE BLOCKADE 121

immediately afterward, in spite of my trembling
knees, I went and sat under the first wagon, where
the blows of the lances could not reach me; and
there I saw the veterans finish the extermination of
the rascals, who had retreated into the court, and
not one of whom escaped.

Eive or six wei:e in a heap before the door, and
three others were stretched upon the highway.

This did not take more than ten minutes; then
all was dark again, and I heard the sergeant call:
" Cease firing! "

Heitz, who had come down from his hay-loft, had
just lighted a lantern; the sergeant seeing me under
the wagon, called out: " Are you wounded, Father



" No,*' I replied, " but a Cossack tried to thrust
his lance into me, and I got into a safe place."

He laughed aloud, and gave me his hand to help
me to rise.

"Father Moses," said he, "I was frightened
about you. Wipe your back; people might think
you were not brave."

I laughed too, and thought: " People may think
what they please! The great thing is to live in
good health as long as possible."

We had only one wounded. Corporal Duhem, an
old man, who bandaged his own leg, and tried to



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122 THE BLOCKADE

walk. He had had a blow from a lance in tjie right
calf. He was placed on the first wagon, and Lehnel,
Heitz's granddaughter, came and gave him a drop
of cherry-brandy, which at once restored his
strength and even his good spirits.

" It is the fifteenth," he exclaimed. " I am in
for a week at the hospital; but leave me the bottle
for the compresses."

I was delighted to see my twelve pipes on the
wagons, for Schweyer and his two boys had run
away, and without their help we could hardly have
reloaded.

I tapped at once at the bung-hole of the hindmost
cask to find out how much was missing. These
scamps of Cossacks had already drunk nearly half
a measure of spirits; Father Heitz told me that
some of them scarcely added a drop of water. Such
creatures must have throats of tin; the 'oldest to-
pers among us could not bear a glass of three-six
without being upset.

At last all was ready and we had only to return
to the city. When I think of it, it all seems before
me now: Heitz's large dapple-gray horses going out
of the stable one by one; the sergeant standing by
the dark door with his lantern in his hand, and call-
ing out, *^ Come, hurry upl The rascals may come



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THE BLOCKADE lij

backl '* On the road in front of the inn, the vet-
erans surrounded the wagons; farther on the right
some peasants, who had hastened to the scene with
pitchforks and mattocks, were looking at the dead
Cossacks, and myself, standing on the stairs above,
singing praises to God in my heart as I thought
how glad Sorle and Zeffen and little Safel would be
to see me come back with our goods.

And then when all is ready, when the little bells
jingle, when the whip snaps, and we start on the
way — what delight!

Ah Fritz 1 everything looks bright after thirty
years; we forget fears, anxieties, and fatigues; but
the memory of good men and happy hours remains
with us forever!

The veterans, on both sides of the wagons, with
their muskets under their arms, escorted my twelve
pipes as if they were the tabernacle; Heitz led the
horses, and the sergeant and I walked behind.

"Well, Father Moses!" said he laughing, "it
has all gone off well; are you satisfied? "

" More than I can possibly tell, sergeant! What
would have been my ruin will make the fortune pf
my family, and we owe it all to you."

" Go along," said he, " you are joking."

He laughed, but I felt deeply; to have been in



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124 THE BLOCKADE

danger of losing everything, and then to regain it
all and make profit out of it — it makes one feel
deeply.

I exclaimed inwardly: "I will praise thee, O
Lord, among the people; and I will sing praises unto
thee among the nations.

" For thy mercy is great above the heavens, and
thy truth reacheth unto the cloudi.''



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XI

FATHER MOSES RETURNS IN TRIUMPH

Now I must tell you about our return to Phals-
burg.

You may suppose that my wife and children, after
seeing me take my gun and go away, were in a state
of great anxiety. About five o'clock Sorle went out
with Zeffen to try to learn what was going on, and
only then they heard that I had started for Mittel-
bronn with a detachment of veterans.

Imagine their terror!

The rumor of these extraordinary proceedings
had spread through the city, and quantities of peo-
ple were on the bastion of the artillery barracks,
looking on from the distance. Burguet was there,
with the mayor, and other persons of distinction,
and a number of women and children, all trying to
see through the darkness. Some insisted that Moses
marched with the detachment, but nobody would
believe it, and Burguet exclaimed: " It is not pos-

185



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126 THE BLOCKADE

sible that a sensible man like Moses would go and
risk his life in fighting Cossacks — no, it is not pos-
sible! ''

If I had been in his place I should have said the
same of him. But what can you do, Fritz? The
most prudent of men become blind when their prop-
erty is at stake; blind, I say, and terrible, for they
lose sight of danger.

This crowd was waiting, as I said, and soon Zeffen
and Sorle came, as pale as death, with their large
shawls over their heads. They went up the ram-
part and stood there, with their feet in the snow, too
much frightened to speak.

I learned these things afterward.

When Zeffen and her mother went up on the
bastion, it was, perhaps, half -past five; there was not
a star to be seen. Just at that time, Schweyer and
his boys ran away, and five minutes later the skir-
mish began.

Burguet told me afterward that, notwithstanding
the darkness and the distance, they saw the flash of
the muskets around the inn as plainly as if they were
a hundred paces off, and everybody was still and
listened to hear the shots, which were repeated by
the echoes of thfe Bois-de-Chenes and Lutzelburg.

When they ceased Sorle descended from the slope
leaning on Zeffen's arm, for she could not support



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THE BLOCKADE 127

herself. Burguet helped them to reach the street,
and took them into old Frise's house on the comer,
where they found him warming himself gloomily
by his hearth.

"My last day has come! " said Sorle. Zeffen
wept bitterly.

I have often reproached myself for having caused
this sorrow, but who can answer for his own wis-
dom? Has not the wise man himself said: "I
turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and
folly; and I saw that wisdom excelleth folly; and I
myself perceived that one event happeneth to the
wise man and the fool. Wherefore, I said in my
heart, that wisdom also is vanity. '^

Burguet was going out from Father Frise's when
Schweyer and his sons came up the postern stairs,
crying out that we were surrounded by Cossacks and
lost. Fortunately my wife and daughter could not
hear them, and the mayor soon came along and or-
dered them to stop talking and go home quickly, if
they did not want to be sent to prison.

They obeyed, but that did not prevent people
from believing what they said, especially as it was
all dark again in the direction of Mittelbronn.

The crowd came down from the ramparts and
filled the street; many of them went to their homes
thinking they should never see us again, when, just



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128 THE BLOCKADE

as the clock struck seven, the sentinel of the out-
works called out, " Who goes there? "

We had reached the gate.

The crowd was soon on the ramparts again. The
squad in front of the sergeant on duty flew to arms;
they had just recognized us.

We heard the murmur, without knowing what it
was. So, when, after a reconnoissance, the gates
were slowly opened to us, and the two bridges low-
ered for us to pass, what was our surprise at hearing
the shouts: "Hurrah for Father Moses! Hurrah
for the spirits of wine! '^

The tears came to my eyes. And my wagons
rolling heavily under the gates, the soldiers pre-
sented arms to us, the great crowd surrounding us,
shouting: " Moses! Hey, Moses! are you all right?
you have not been killed? '^ the shouts of laughter,
the people seizing my arm to hear me tell about the
fight,— all these things were very pleasant.

Everybody wanted to talk with me, even the
mayor, and I had not time to answer them.

But all this was nothing compared with the joy I
felt at seeing Sorlg, Zeffen, and little Saf el run from
Father Frise's and throw themselves all at once into
my arms, exclaiming: '* He is safe! he is safe! '*

Ah, Fritz! what are honors by the side of such
love? What is all the glory of the world compared



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THE BLOCKADE



129



with the joy of seeing our beloved ones? The oth-
ers might have cried out, " Hurrah for Moses! " a
hundred years, and I would not even have turned
my head; but I was terribly moved by the sight of
my family.

I gave Saf el my gun, and while the wagons, es-
corted by the veterans, went on toward the little
market, I led Zeffen and Sorle through the crowd to
old Frise's, and there, when we were alone, we be-
gan to hug each other again.

Without, the shouts of joy were redoubled; you
would have thought that the spirits of wine be-
longed to the whole city. But within the room, my
wife and daughter burst into tears, and I confessed
my imprudence.

So, instead of telling them of thie dangers I had
experienced, I told them that the Cossacks ran away
as soon as they saw us, and that we had only to put
horses to the wagons before starting.

A quarter of an hour afterward, when the cries
and tumult had ceased, I went out, with Zeffen and
Sorle on my arms, and little Saf el in front, with my
gun on his shoulder, and in this way we went home,
to see to the unlading of the brandy.

I wanted to put everything in order before morn-
ing, so as to begin to sell at double price as soon as
possible.
9



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130 THE BLOCKADE

When a man runs such risks he ought to make
something by it; for if he should sell at cost price, as
some persons wish, nobody would be willing to run
any risk for the sake of others; and if it should come
to pass that a man should sacrifice himself for other
people, he would be thought a blockhead; we have
seen it a hundred times, and it will always be so.

Thank God! such ideas never entered into my
head! I have always thought that the true idea of
trade was to make as much profit as we can, hon-
estly and lawfully.

That is according to justice and good sense.

As we turned at the corner of the market, our
two wagons were already unharnessed before our
house. Heitz was running back with his horses, so
as to take advantage of the open gates, and the vet-
erans, with their arms at will, were going up the
street toward the infantry quarters.

It might have been eight o'clock. Zeffen and
Sorle went to bed, and I sent Safel for Gros the
cooper, to come and unload the casks. Quantities
of people came and offered to help us. Gros came
soon with his boys, and the work began.

It is very pleasant, Fritz, to see great tuns going
into your cellar, and to say to yourself, " These
splendid tuns are mine: it is spirits which cost me
twenty sous the quart, and which I am going to sell



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131



for three francs ! " This shows the beauty of trade ;
but everybody can imagine the pleasure for himself
— there is no use in speaking of it.

About midnight my twelve pipes were down on
'the stands, and there was nothing left to do but to
broach them.

While the crowd was dispersing, I engaged Gros
to come in the morning to help me mix the spirits
with water, and we went up, well pleased with our
day's work. We closed the double oak door, and I
fastened the padlock and went to bed.

What a pleasure it is to own something and feel
that it is all safe!

This is how my twelve pipes were saved.

You see now, Fritz, what anxieties and fears we
had at that time. Nobody wa sure of anything;
for you must not suppose that I was the only one
living like a bird on the branch; there were hun-
dreds of others who were not able to close their eyes.
You should have seen how the citizens looked every
morning, when they heard that the Austrians and
Russians occupied Alsace, that the Prussians were
marching upon Sarrebruck, or when an order was
published for domiciliary visits, or for days' labor to
wall up the posterns and orillons of the place, or to
form companies of firemen to remove at once all in-
flammable matter, or to report to the governor the



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132 THE BLOCKADE

situation of the city treasury, and the list of the
principal persons subject to taxes for the supply of
shoes, caps, bed-linen, and so forth.

You should have seen how people looked at each
other.

In war times civil life is nothing, and they will
take from you your last shirt, giving you the govern-
or's receipt for it. The first men of the land are
zeros when the governor has spoken. This is why
I have often thought that everybody who wishes
for war, or at least wants to be a soldier, is either
demented or half ruined, and hopes to better him-
self by the ruin of everybody else. It must be so.

But notwithstanding all these troubles, I could
not lose time, and I spent all the next day in mixing
my spirits. I took off my cloak, and drew out with
great gusto. Gros and his boys brought jugs, and
emptied them in the casks which I had bought be-
forehand, so that by evenitig these casks were brim-
ful of good white brandy, eighteen degrees.

I had caramel prepared, also, to give the brandy
a good color of old cognac, and when I turned the
faucet, and raised the glass before the candle, and
saw that it was exactly the right tint, I was in ecs-
tasies, and exclaimed: "Give strong drink unto him
that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be



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THE BLOCKADE 133

of heavy hearts! Let him drink and remember his
misery no more."

Father Gros, standing at my side on his great flat
feet, smiled quietly, and his boys looked well
pleased.

I filled the glass for them; they passed it to each
other and were delighted with it.

About five o'clock we went upstairs. Safel, on
the same day, had brought thrfee workmen, and had
them remove our old iron into the court under the
shed. The old rickety storehouse was cleaned.
Desmarets, the joiner, put up some shelves behind
the door in the arch, for holding bottles, and glasses,
and tin measures, when the time for selling should
come, and his son put together the planks of the
counter. This was all done at once, as at a time of
great pressure, when people like to make a good sum
of money quickly.

I looked at it all with a good deal of satisfaction.
Zeffen, with her baby in her arms, and Sorle, had
also come down. I showed my wife the place be-
hind the counter, and said, " That is the place where
you are to sit, with your feet in loose slippers, and a
warm tippet on your shoulders, and sell our
brandy."

She smiled as she thought of it.



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134 THE BLOCKADE

Our neighbors, Bailly the armorer, Koffel the lit-
tle weaver, and several others, came and looked on
without speaking; they were astonished to see what
quick work we were making.

At six o'clock, just as Desmarets laid aside his
hammer, the sergeant arrived in great glee, on his
return from the cantine.

^^Well, Father Moses!" he exclaimed, "the
work goes on! But there is still something want-
ing/'

" What is that, sergeant? "

" Hi! It is all right, only you must put a screen
up above, or look out for the shells! "

I saw that he ,was right, and we were all well
frightened, except the neighbors, who laughed to
see our surprise.

" Yes," said the sergeant, " we must have it."

This took away all my pleasure; I saw that our
troubles were not yet at an end.

Sorle, Zeffen, and I went up, while Desmarets
closed the door. Supper was ready; we sat down
thoughtfully, and little Saf el brought the keys.

The noise had ceased without; now and then a
citizen on patrol passed by.

The sergeant came to smoke his pipe as usual.
He explained how the screens were made, by cross-



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THE BLOCKADE 135

ing beams in the form of a sentry-box, the two sides
supported against the gables, but while he main-
tained that it would hold like an arch, I did not
think it strong enough, and I saw by Sorle's face
that she thought as I did.

We sat there talking till ten o'clock, and then
all went to bed.



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xn

THE ENEMY BEPULSED

About one o'clock in the morning of the sixth of
January, the day of the feast of the Kings, the en-
emy arrived on the hill of Saveme.

It was terribly cold, our windows under the per-
siennes were white with frost. I woke as the clock
struck one; they were beating the call at the infantry
barracks.

You can have no idea how it sounded in the si-
lence of the night.

" Dost thou hear, Moses? '^ whispered Sorle.

^^ Yes, I hear," said I, almost without breathing.

After a minute some windows were opened in our
street, and we knew that others too were listening;
then we heard nmning, and suddenly the cry, " To
arms! to arms! "

It made one's hair stand on end.

I had just risen, and was lighting a lamp, when
we heard two knocks at our door.

*^ Come in! " said Sorle, trembling.

The sergeant opened the door. He was in
136



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THE BLOCKADE 137

marching equipments, with his gaiters on his legs,
his large gray cap turned up at the sides, his musket
on his shoulder, and his sabre and cartridge-box on
his back.

" Father Moses," said he, " go back to bed and be
quiet: it is the battalion call at the barracks, and has
nothing to do with you."

And we saw at once that he was right, for the
drums did not come up the street two by two, as
when the National Guard was called in.

" Thank you, sergeant," I said.

" Go to sleep! " said he, and he went down the
stairs.

The door of the alley below slammed to. Then
the children, who had waked up, began to cry.
Zeffen came in, very pale, with her baby in her
arms, exclaiming, " Mercy I What is the matter? "

*^ It is nothing, Zeffen," said Sorl6. *^ It is noth-
ing, my child: they are beating the call for the sol-
diers."

At the same moment the battalion came down the
main street. We heard them march as far as to the
Place d'Armes, and beyond it toward the German
gate.

We shut the windows, Zeffen went back to her
room, and I lay down again.

But how could I sleep after such a start? My



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138 THE BLOCKADE

head was full of a thousand thoughts: I fancied the
arrival of the Kussians on the hill this cold night,
and our soldiers marching to meet them, or manning
the ramparts. I thought of all the blindages and
block-houses, and batteries inside the bastions, and
that all these great works had been made to guard
against bombs and shells, and I exclaimed inwardly:
" Before the enemy has demolished all these works,
our houses will be crushed, and we shall be exter-
minated to the last man."

I took on in this way for about half an hour,
thinking of all the calamities which threatened us,
when I heard outside the city, toward Quatre- Vents,
a kind of heavy rolling, rising and falling like the
murmur of running water. This was repeated
every second. I raised myself on my elbow to lis-
ten, and I knew that it was a fight far more terrible
than that at Mittelbronn, for the rolling did not
stop, but seemed rather to increase.

" How they are fighting, Sorle, how they are
fighting! " I exclaimed, as I pictured to myself the
fury of those men murdering each other at the dead
of night, not knowing what they were doing.
"Listen! Sorle, listen! If that does not make one
shudder! "

" Yes," said she. " I hope our sergeant will not
be wounded; I hope he will come back safe! "



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THE BLOCKADE 139

" May the Lord watch over him! " I replied,
jumping from my bed, and lighting a candle.

I could not control myself. I dressed myself as
quickly as if I were going to run away; and after-
ward I listened to that terrible rolling, which came
nearer or died away with every gust of wind.

When once dressed, I opened a wiildow, to try to
see something. The street was still black; but
toward the ramparts, above the dark line of the ar-
senal bastions, was stretched a line of red.

The smoke of powder is red on account of the
musket shots which light it up. It looked like a
great fire. All the windows in the street were
open: nothing could be seen, but I heard our neigh-
bor the armorer say to his wife, " It is growing warm
down there! It is the beginning of the dance, An-
nette; but they have not got the big drum yet; that
will come, by and by! "

The woman did not answer, and I thought, " Is it
possible to jest about such things! It is against
nature."

The cold was so severe that after five or six min-
utes I shut the window. Sorle got up and made a
fire in the stove.

The whole city was in commotion; men were
shouting and dogs barking. Safel, who had been
wakened by all these noises, went to dress himself



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I40 THE BLOCKADE

in the warm room. I looked very tenderly on this
poor little one, his eyes still heavy with sleep; and as
I thought that we were to be fired upon, that we
must hide ourselves in cellars, and all of us be in
danger of being killed for matters which did not
concern us, and about which nobody had asked our
opinion, I was full of indignation. But what dis-
tressed me most was to hear ZefFen sob and say that
it would have been better for her and her children
to stay with Baruch at Saveme and all die together.

Then the words of the prophet came to me: " Is
not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the
uprightness of thy ways?

"Eemember, I pray thee, who ever perished
being innocent, or where were the righteous cut
off.

" No, they that plough iniquity and sow wicked-
ness, reap the same.

" By the blast of God they perish, and by the
breath of his nostrils are they consumed.

"But thee, his servant, he shall redeem from
death.

" Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like
as a shock of com cometh in his season."

In this way I strengthened my heart, while I
heard the great tumult of the panic-stricken crowd,
running and trying to save their property.



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THE BLOCKADE 141

About seven o'clock it was announced that the
casemates were open, and that everybody might take
their mattresses there, and that there must be tubs
full of water in every house, and the wells left open
in case of fire.

Think, Fritz, what ideas these orders suggested.

Some of our neighbors, lisbeth Dubourg, Bevel
Ruppert, Camus's daugliters, and some others, came
up to us exclaiming, " We are all lost! "

Their husbands had gone out, right and left, to
see what they could see, and these women hung on
Zeffen and Sorle's necks, repeating again and again,
"Oh, dear! oh, dear! what misery!"

I could have wished them all to the devil, for in-
stead of comforting us they only increased our fears;
but at such times women will get together and cry


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