The New Magdalen (Chapter 1, page 1 of 10)


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Chapter 1

IT was a dark night. The rain was pouring in torrents.

Late in the evening a skirmishing party of the French and a skirmishing
party of the Germans had met, by accident, near the little village of
Lagrange, close to the German frontier. In the struggle that followed,
the French had (for once) got the better of the enemy. For the time, at
least, a few hundreds out of the host of the invaders had been forced
back over the frontier. It was a trifling affair, occurring not long
after the great German victory of Weissenbourg, and the newspapers took
little or no notice of it.

Captain Arnault, commanding on the French side, sat alone in one of the
cottages of the village, inhabited by the miller of the district. The
Captain was reading, by the light of a solitary tallow-candle, some
intercepted dispatches taken from the Germans. He had suffered the wood
fire, scattered over the large open grate, to burn low; the red embers
only faintly illuminated a part of the room. On the floor behind him lay
some of the miller's empty sacks. In a corner opposite to him was the
miller's solid walnut-wood bed. On the walls all around him were the
miller's colored prints, representing a happy mixture of devotional and
domestic subjects. A door of communication leading into the kitchen of
the cottage had been torn from its hinges, and used to carry the men
wounded in the skirmish from the field. They were now comfortably laid
at rest in the kitchen, under the care of the French surgeon and the
English nurse attached to the ambulance. A piece of coarse canvas
screened the opening between the two rooms in place of the door. A
second door, leading from the bed-chamber into the yard, was locked; and
the wooden shutter protecting the one window of the room was carefully
barred. Sentinels, doubled in number, were placed at all the outposts.
The French commander had neglected no precaution which could reasonably
insure for himself and for his men a quiet and comfortable night.

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