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PAGE 3

The Broken Soldier and the Maid of France
by [?]

“I did no
t know that,” said the soldier.

“But yes,” the priest went on, kindling. “I tell you it was here that the Maid of France received her visions and set out to her work. You see that village below us–look out through the branches–that is Domremy, where she was born. That spire just at the edge of the wood–you saw that? It is the basilica they have built to her memory. It is full of pictures of her. It stands where the old beech-tree, ‘Fair May,’ used to grow. There she heard the voices and saw the saints who sent her on her mission. And this is the Gooseberry Spring, the Well of the Good Fairies. Here she came with the other children, at the festival of the well-dressing, to spread their garlands around it, and sing, and cat their supper on the green. Heavenly voices spoke to her, but the others did not hear them. Often did she drink of this water. It became a fountain of life springing up in her heart. I have come to drink at the same source. It will strengthen me as a sacrament. Come, son, let us take it together as we go to our duty in battle!”

Father Courcy stood up and opened his old black bag. He took out a small metal cup. He filled it carefully at the spring. He made the sign of the cross over it.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” he murmured, “blessed and holy is this water.” Then he held the cup toward the soldier. “Come, let us share it and make our vows together.”

The bright drops trembled and fell from the bottom of the cup. The soldier sat still, his head in his hands.

“No,” he answered heavily, “I cannot take it. I am not worthy. Can a man take a sacrament without confessing his sins?”

Father Courcy looked at him with pitying eyes. “I see,” he said slowly; “I see, my son. You have a burden on your heart. Well, I will stay with you and try to lift it. But first I shall make my own vow.”

He raised the cup toward the sky. A tiny brown wren sang canticles of rapture in the thicket. A great light came into the priest’s face–a sun-ray from the east, far beyond the treetops.

“Blessed Jeanne d’Arc, I drink from thy fountain in thy name. I vow my life to thy cause. Aid me, aid this my son, to fight valiantly for freedom and for France. In the name of God, Amen.”

The soldier looked up at him. Wonder, admiration, and shame were struggling in the look. Father Courcy wiped the empty cup carefully and put it back in his bag. Then he sat down beside the soldier, laying a fatherly hand on his shoulder.

“Now, my son, you shall tell me what is on your heart.”

II

THE GREEN CONFESSIONAL

For a long time the soldier remained silent. His head was bowed. His shoulders drooped. His hands trembled between his knees. He was wrestling with himself.

“No,” he cried, at last, “I cannot, I dare not tell you. Unless, perhaps”–his voice faltered–“you could receive it under the seal of confession? But no. How could you do that? Here in the green woods? In the open air, beside a spring? Here is no confessional.”

“Why not?” asked Father Courcy. “It is a good place, a holy place. Heaven is over our heads and very near. I will receive your confession here.”

The soldier knelt among the flowers. The priest pronounced the sacred words. The soldier began his confession:

“I, Pierre Duval, a great sinner, confess my fault, my most grievous fault, and pray for pardon.” He stopped for a moment and then continued, “But first I must tell you, Father, just who I am and where I come from and what brings me here.”

“Go on, Pierre Duval, go on. That is what I am waiting to hear. Be simple and very frank.”

“Well, then, I am from the parish of Laucourt, in the pleasant country of the Barrois not far from Bar-sur-Aube. My word, but that is a pretty land, full of orchards and berry-gardens! Our old farm there is one of the prettiest and one of the best, though it is small. It was hard to leave it when the call to the colors came, two years ago. But I was glad to go. My heart was high and strong for France. I was in the Nth Infantry, We were in the centre division under General Foch at the battle of the Marne. Fichtre! but that was fierce fighting! And what a general! He did not know how to spell ‘defeat.’ He wrote it ‘victory.’ Four times we went across that cursed Marsh of St.-Gond. The dried mud was trampled full of dead bodies. The trickling streams of water ran red. Four times we were thrown back by the boches. You would have thought that was enough. But the general did not think so. We went over again on the fifth day, and that time we stayed. The Germans could not stand against us. They broke and ran. The roads where we chased them were full of empty wine-bottles. In one village we caught three officers and a dozen men dead drunk. Bigre! what a fine joke!”