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Silvere smiled at her. But he had
scarcely turned his head when a fusillade burst out. The soldiers, who
could only be seen from their shoulders upwards, had just fired their
first volley. It seemed to Silvere as though a great gust of wind was
passing over his head, while a shower of leaves, lopped off by the
bullets, fell from the elms. A sharp sound, like the snapping of a dead
branch, made him look to his right. Then, prone on the ground, he saw
the big wood-cutter, he who was a head taller than the others. There was
a little black hole in the middle of his forehead. And thereupon Silvere
fired straight before him, without taking aim, reloaded and fired again
like a madman or an unthinking wild beast, in haste only to kill. He
could not even distinguish the soldiers now; smoke, resembling strips of
grey muslin, was floating under the elms. The leaves still rained upon
the insurgents, for the troops were firing too high. Every now and then,
athwart the fierce crackling of the fusillade, the young man heard a
sigh or a low rattle, and a rush was made among the band as if to make
room for some poor wretch clutching hold of his neighbours as he fell.
The firing lasted ten minutes.

Then, between two volleys some one exclaimed in a voice of terror:
"Every man for himself! _Sauve qui peut!_" This roused shouts and
murmurs of rage, as if to say, "The cowards! Oh! the cowards!" sinister
rumours were spreading--the general had fled; cavalry were sabring the
skirmishers in the Nores plain. However, the irregular firing did not
cease, every now and again sudden bursts of flame sped through the
clouds of smoke. A gruff voice, the voice of terror, shouted yet louder:
"Every man for himself! _Sauve qui peut!_" Some men took to flight,
throwing down their weapons and leaping over the dead. The others closed
their ranks. At last there were only some ten insurgents left. Two more
took to flight, and of the remaining eight three were killed at one
discharge.

The two children had remained there mechanically without understanding
anything. As the battalion diminished in numbers, Miette raised the
banner still higher in the air; she held it in front of her with
clenched fists as if it were a huge taper. It was completely riddled
by bullets. When Silvere had no more cartridges left in his pocket, he
ceased firing, and gazed at the carbine with an air of stupor. It was
then that a shadow passed over his face, as though the flapping wings
of some colossal bird had brushed against his forehead. And raising his
eyes he saw the banner fall from Miette's grasp. The child, her hands
clasped to her breast, her head thrown back with an expression of
excruciating suffering, was staggering to the ground. She did not utter
a single cry, but sank at last upon the red banner.

"Get up; come quickly," Silvere said, in despair, as he held out his
hand to her.

But she lay upon the ground without uttering a word, her eyes wide open.
Then he understood, and fell on his knees beside her.

"You are wounded, eh? tell me? Where are you wounded?"

She still spoke no word; she was stifling, and gazing at him out of her
large eyes, while short quivers shook her frame. Then he pulled away her
hands.

"It's there, isn't it? it's there."

And he tore open her bodice, and laid her bosom bare. He searched, but
saw nothing. His eyes were brimming with tears. At last under the left
breast he perceived a small pink hole; a single drop of blood stained
the wound.

"It's nothing," he whispered; "I'll go and find Pascal, he'll put you
all right again. If you could only get up. Can't you move?"

The soldiers were not firing now; they had dashed to the left in pursuit
of the contingents led away by the man with the sabre. And in the centre
of the esplanade there only remained Silvere kneeling beside Miette's
body. With the stubbornness of despair, he had taken her in his arms. He
wanted to set her on her feet, but such a quiver of pain came upon the
girl that he laid her down again, and said to her entreatingly: "Speak
to me, pray. Why don't you say something to me?"

She could not; she slowly, gently shook her hand, as if to say that
it was not her fault. Her close-pressed lips were already contracting
beneath the touch of death. With her unbound hair streaming around her,
and her head resting amid the folds of the blood-red banner, all her
life now centred in her eyes, those black eyes glittering in her white
face. Silvere sobbed. The glance of those big sorrowful eyes filled him
with distress. He read in them bitter, immense regret for life. Miette
was telling him that she was going away all alone, and before their
bridal day; that she was leaving him ere she had become his wife. She
was telling him, too, that it was he who had willed that it should
be so, that he should have loved her as other lovers love their
sweethearts. In the hour of her agony, amidst that stern conflict
between death and her vigorous nature, she bewailed her fate in going
like that to the grave. Silvere, as he bent over her, understood how
bitter was the pang. He recalled their caresses, how she had hung round
his neck, and had yearned for his love, but he had not understood, and
now she was departing from him for evermore. Bitterly grieved at the
thought that throughout her eternal rest she would remember him solely
as a companion and playfellow, he kissed her on the bosom while his hot
tears fell upon her lips. Those passionate kisses brought a last gleam
of joy to Miette's eyes. They loved one another, and their idyll ended
in death.

But Silvere could not believe she was dying. "No, you will see, it will
prove only a trifle," he declared. "Don't speak if it hurts you. Wait, I
will raise your head and then warm you; your hands are quite frozen."

But the fusillade had begun afresh, this time on the left, in the olive
plantations. A dull sound of galloping cavalry rose from the plain.
At times there were loud cries, as of men being slaughtered. And
thick clouds of smoke were wafted along and hung about the elms on the
esplanade. Silvere for his part no longer heard or saw anything. Pascal,
who came running down in the direction of the plain, saw him stretched
upon the ground, and hastened towards him, thinking he was wounded. As
soon as the young man saw him, he clutched hold of him and pointed to
Miette.

"Look," he said, "she's wounded, there, under the breast. Ah! how good
of you to come! You will save her."

At that moment, however, a slight convulsion shook the dying girl. A
pain-fraught shadow passed over her face, and as her contracted lips
suddenly parted, a faint sigh escaped from them. Her eyes, still wide
open, gazed fixedly at the young man.

Then Pascal, who had stooped down, rose again, saying in a low voice:
"She is dead."

Dead! Silvere reeled at the sound of the word. He had been kneeling
forward, but now he sank back, as though thrown down by Miette's last
faint sigh.

"Dead! Dead!" he repeated; "it is not true, she is looking at me. See
how she is looking at me!"

Then he caught the doctor by the coat, entreating him to remain there,
assuring him that he was mistaken, that she was not dead, and that he
could save her if he only would. Pascal resisted gently, saying, in his
kindly voice: "I can do nothing for her, others are waiting for me. Let
go, my poor child; she is quite dead."

At last Silvere released his hold and again fell back. Dead! Dead! Still
that word, which rang like a knell in his dazed brain! When he was alone
he crept up close to the corpse. Miette still seemed to be looking
at him. He threw himself upon her, laid his head upon her bosom, and
watered it with his tears. He was beside himself with grief. He pressed
his lips wildly to her, and breathed out all his passion, all his soul,
in one long kiss, as though in the hope that it might bring her to life
again. But the girl was turning cold in spite of his caresses. He felt
her lifeless and nerveless beneath his touch. Then he was seized with
terror, and with haggard face and listless hanging arms he remained
crouching in a state of stupor, and repeating: "She is dead, yet she is
looking at me; she does not close her eyes, she sees me still."

This fancy was very sweet to him. He remained there perfectly still,
exchanging a long look with Miette, in whose glance, deepened by death,
he still seemed to read the girl's lament for her sad fate.

In the meantime, the cavalry were still sabring the fugitives over the
Nores plain; the cries of the wounded and the galloping of the horses
became more distant, softening like music wafted from afar through the
clear air. Silvere was no longer conscious of the fighting. He did
not even see his cousin, who mounted the slope again and crossed the
promenade. Pascal, as he passed along, picked up Macquart's carbine
which Silvere had thrown down; he knew it, as he had seen it hanging
over aunt Dide's chimney-piece, and he thought he might as well save it
from the hands of the victors. He had scarcely entered the Hotel de la
Mule-Blanche, whither a large number of the wounded had been taken, when
a band of insurgents, chased by the soldiers like a herd of cattle, once
more rushed into the esplanade. The man with the sabre had fled; it was
the last contingents from the country who were being exterminated. There
was a terrible massacre. In vain did Colonel Masson and the prefect,
Monsieur de Bleriot, overcome by pity, order a retreat. The infuriated
soldiers continued firing upon the mass, and pinning isolated fugitives
to the walls with their bayonets. When they had no more enemies before
them, they riddled the facade of the Mule-Blanche with bullets. The
shutters flew into splinters; one window which had been left half-open
was torn out, and there was a loud rattle of broken glass. Pitiful
voices were crying out from within; "The prisoners! The prisoners!" But
the troops did not hear; they continued firing. All at once Commander
Sicardot, growing exasperated, appeared at the door, waved his arms, and
endeavoured to speak. Monsieur Peirotte, the receiver of taxes, with his
slim figure and scared face, stood by his side.



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Keywords: beside, nothing, insurgents, understood, passed, esplanade, breast, thrown, terror, cavalry
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