No circumstance of any interest occurred on my journey to Marboeuf; my passport, made out in my own name as a sous-officier on leave, secured me against any interruption or delay; and on the third evening I reached the little wayside cabaret, about a league beyond the town, where I was informed by the count that the abbé would await me.
We all sat round on the ground and ate of several dishes, chiefly a kid stuffed with rice and pistachios. After dinner we reported to Omar Beg the conduct of his sous-officier, and he said that we had done very well, and he was glad of the opportunity of making an example of him, for he was a bad lot; and a Turkish soldier when he is bad is bad indeed.
This was their arrangement: An open space, sometimes used as a woodyard, was next the garden of the Hotel Campvallon. The General had purchased a portion of it and had had a cottage erected in the midst of a kitchen-garden, and had placed in it, with his usual kind-heartedness, an old 'sous-officier', named Mesnil, who had served under him in the artillery.
Near the end of May, one of these occasions, always impatiently awaited on both sides, presented itself, and M. de Camors at midnight penetrated into the little garden of the old 'sous-officier'. At the moment when he turned the key in the gate of the enclosure, he thought he heard a slight sound behind him.
"If your papers are in order, as they appear to be," said the youthful sous-officier, "you are expected in Delle. And if it is you indeed whom we expect, then you will know how to answer properly the questions of a gentleman in the adjoining room who is perhaps expecting you." And the young sous-officier opened a door, bowed them into the room beyond, and closed the door behind them.
Although the latter's wound was not dangerous, he was grieved to think that the French army would probably leave and he would become a prisoner of the enemy, who would deprive him of the sabre of honour which he had been awarded by the First Consul after the battle of Marengo when he was still only a sous-officier; but I calmed his anxieties by taking charge of the precious sabre which was given into the care of one of the regimental surgeons, and handed back to Pozac when he returned to France.
On the flag ceasing to fly, a sous-officier rushed up to the flagstaff and hurled it to the ground, shaking his fists and tearing his hair in a bitterness and vexation from which it is impossible to withhold sympathy, in view of what these men had suffered uselessly and what they had done.
The commander, in front of his staff, ran his eyes slowly over the line, until a sous-officier approached, saluted, and announced, "All ready," when the commander rode to the head of the line, raised one hand above his head, and with it made a sharp forward gesture the unspoken order "en avant" and backed his horse, and the long grey line began to move slowly towards the Forêt de Crécy, the officers falling into place as it passed.
And the German shells they begin to fall right in the midst of us they had been so wide before. So the captain was very concerned for monsieur l'officier's eyes, and he takes him aside very politely and says he had better see the doctor. A sous-officier and two men shall take him to the doctor. Which they do. Only the 'doctor' was the liaison officer with our brigade an English officer.
But that did not save them from the tyranny of a sous-officier, who called them the hardest names his tongue could find when they made any faux pas in their barrack drill, and swore as terribly as those in Flanders when they did not obey his commands with the lightning rapidity of soldiers who have nothing more to learn.