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PAGE 3

Epiphany
by [?]

He drew his chair close to mine, and as he knew my special weakness, the scamp continued: “Just think what a swaggering thing it will be to do and how amusing to tell about; the whole army will talk about it, and it will give you a famous reputation.”

I hesitated, for the adventure rather tempted me, and he persisted: “Come, my little Garens. You are the head of this detachment, and you alone can go and call on the head of the church in this neighborhood. I beg of you to go, and I promise you that after the war I will relate the whole affair in verse in the Revue de Deux Mondes. You owe this much to your men, for you have made them march enough during the last month.”

I got up at last and asked: “Where is the priest’s house?” “Take the second turning at the end of the street, you will see an avenue, and at the end of the avenue you will find the church. The parsonage is beside it.” As I went out, he called out: “Tell him the bill of fare, to make him hungry!”

I discovered the ecclesiastic’s little house without any difficulty; it was by the side of a large, ugly brick church. I knocked at the door with my fist, as there was neither bell nor knocker, and a loud voice from inside asked: “Who is there?” To which I replied: “A quartermaster of hussars.”

I heard the noise of bolts and of a key being turned, and found myself face to face with a tall priest with a large stomach, the chest of a prizefighter, formidable hands projecting from turned-up sleeves, a red face, and the look of a kind man. I gave him a military salute and said: “Good-day, Monsieur le Cure.”

He had feared a surprise, some marauders’ ambush, and he smiled as he replied: “Good-day, my friend; come in.” I followed him into a small room with a red tiled floor, in which a small fire was burning, very different to Marchas’ furnace, and he gave me a chair and said: “What can I do for you?” “Monsieur, allow me first of all to introduce myself”; and I gave him my card, which he took and read half aloud: “Le Comte de Garens.”

I continued: “There are eleven of us here, Monsieur l’Abbe, five on picket duty, and six installed at the house of an unknown inhabitant. The names of the six are: Garens, myself; Pierre de Marchas, Ludovic de Ponderel, Baron d’Streillis, Karl Massouligny, the painter’s son, and Joseph Herbon, a young musician. I have come to ask you, in their name and my own, to do us the honor of supping with us. It is an Epiphany supper, Monsieur le Cure, and we should like to make it a little cheerful.”

The priest smiled and murmured: “It seems to me to be hardly a suitable occasion for amusing one’s self.” And I replied: “We are fighting during the day, monsieur. Fourteen of our comrades have been killed in a month, and three fell as late as yesterday. It is war time. We stake our life at every moment; have we not, therefore, the right to amuse ourselves freely? We are Frenchmen, we like to laugh, and we can laugh everywhere. Our fathers laughed on the scaffold! This evening we should like to cheer ourselves up a little, like gentlemen, and not like soldiers; you understand me, I hope. Are we wrong?”

He replied quickly: “You are quite right, my friend, and I accept your invitation with great pleasure.” Then he called out: “Hermance!”

An old bent, wrinkled, horrible peasant woman appeared and said: “What do you want?” “I shall not dine at home, my daughter.” “Where are you going to dine then?” “With some gentlemen, the hussars.”