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A Leaf In The Storm
by [?]

The Berceau de Dieu was a little village in the valley of the Seine. As a lark drops its nest among the grasses, so a few peasant people had dropped their little farms and cottages amid the great green woods on the winding river. It was a pretty place, with one steep, stony street, shady with poplars and with elms; quaint houses, about whose thatch a cloud of white and gray pigeons fluttered all day long; a little aged chapel with a conical red roof; and great barns covered with ivy and thick creepers, red and purple, and lichens that were yellow in the sun. All around it were the broad, flowering meadows, with the sleek cattle of Normandy fattening in them, and the sweet dim forests where the young men and maidens went on every holy day and feast-day in the summer-time to seek for wood-anemones, and lilies of the pools, and the wild campanula, and the fresh dog-rose, and all the boughs and grasses that made their house-doors like garden bowers, and seemed to take the cushat’s note and the linnet’s song into their little temple of God.

The Berceau de Dieu was very old indeed. Men said that the hamlet had been there in the day of the Virgin of Orleans; and a stone cross of the twelfth century still stood by the great pond of water at the bottom of the street under the chestnut-tree, where the villagers gathered to gossip at sunset when their work was done. It had no city near it, and no town nearer than four leagues. It was in the green care of a pastoral district, thickly wooded and intersected with orchards. Its produce of wheat and oats and cheese and fruit and eggs was more than sufficient for its simple prosperity. Its people were hardy, kindly, laborious, happy; living round the little gray chapel in amity and good-fellowship. Nothing troubled it. War and rumours of war, revolutions and counter-revolutions, empires and insurrections, military and political questions–these all were for it things unknown and unheard of, mighty winds that arose and blew and swept the lands around it, but never came near enough to harm it, lying there, as it did in its loneliness like any lark’s nest. Even in the great days of the Revolution it had been quiet. It had had a lord whom it loved in the old castle on the hill at whose feet it nestled; it had never tried to harm him, and it had wept bitterly when he had fallen at Jemmapes, and left no heir, and the chateau had crumbled into ivy-hung ruins. The thunder-heats of that dread time had scarcely scorched it. It had seen a few of its best youth march away to the chant of the Marseillaise to fight on the plains of Champagne; and it had been visited by some patriots in bonnets rouges and soldiers in blue uniforms, who had given it tricoloured cockades and bade it wear them in the holy name of the Republic one and indivisible. But it had not known what these meant, and its harvests had been reaped without the sound of a shot in its fields or any gleam of steel by its innocent hearths; so that the terrors and the tidings of those noble and ghastly years had left no impress on its generations.

Reine Allix, indeed, the oldest woman among them all, numbering more than ninety years, remembered when she was a child hearing her father and his neighbours talk in low, awe-stricken tones one bitter wintry night of how a king had been slain to save the people; and she remembered likewise–remembered it well, because it had been her betrothal night and the sixteenth birthday of her life–how a horseman had flashed through the startled street like a comet, and had called aloud, in a voice of fire, “Gloire! gloire! gloire!–Marengo! Marengo! Marengo!” and how the village had dimly understood that something marvellous for France had happened afar off, and how her brothers and her cousins and her betrothed, and she with them, had all gone up to the high slope over the river, and had piled up a great pyramid of pine wood and straw and dried mosses, and had set flame to it, till it had glowed in its scarlet triumph all through that wondrous night of the sultry summer of victory.