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- Mademoiselle Fifi - 3/13 -
condescendence of his superior officer towards the priest; and every day he was beseeching the Commander to let him do once, just once, "Ding-dong! Ding-dong!" merely for the sake of having a little fun. And he begged for it with feline gracefulness, the cajolery of a woman, the tenderness of voice of a beloved mistress craving for something, but the Commander did not yield, and to console himself, Mademoiselle Fifi exploded mines in the chateau d'Uville.
The five men remained there, in a group, for a few minutes, inhaling the damp air. Finally Lieutenant Fritz spoke with a thick laugh: "Decidedly, the ladies will not have fine weather for their trip."
Thereupon they separated, each going to his work, the Captain having a great deal to do to make arrangements for the dinner party.
When they met again at nightfall, they began to laugh at seeing each other dolled up coquettishly and smart like on grand review days, perfumed, pomaded and hale. The Commander's hair seemed less gray than in the morning, and the Captain had shaved, keeping only his mustache, which looked like a flame under his nose.
Notwithstanding the rain, the window was kept open and from time to time one of them went over to listen. At ten minutes past six o'clock, the Baron reported a distant rolling. They all hurried downstairs, and soon the large carriage came up with the four horses still galloping, covered with mud up to their backs, steaming and blowing.
And five women got off the carriage and stepped on the perron, five graceful girls carefully selected by a chum of the Captain, to whom Pflicht had taken a card from his officer.
They had not been reluctant to come, knowing that they would be well paid; besides, they were quite well acquainted and familiar with the Prussians, having been in intercourse with them for the past three months and making the best of men as of things. "Our business requires it," they told each other on their way, no doubt in order to ease off some secret pricking of a remnant of conscience.
And, presently, they were ushered into the dining-room. Lighted up, the dining-room looked still more lugubrious in its pitiful dilapidation, and the table covered with viands, rich china and silver plate, which had been discovered in the wall where the owner had hidden them, gave to the premises the appearance of a low tavern, where bandits are having supper after a successful raffle. The Captain, radiant, took hold of the women as of a familiar thing, appreciating them, embracing them, scenting them, estimating them at their value as instruments of pleasure; and as the three younger men wanted to take one each, he objected to it with authority, reserving to himself the privilege of making the assignments, in perfect fairness, according to rank, so as not to injure in any way the hierarchy.
Then, in order to preclude any discussion, any contest and any suspicion of partiality, he lined them up according to height, and addressing the tallest, in a tone of command: "Your name?"
She replied, raising her voice: "Pamela."
Then he announced: "Number one, by the name of Pamela, is adjudged to the Commander."
Having then kissed Blondine, the second as a mark of his claim to ownership, he offered the fat Amanda to Lieutenant Otto; Eva la Tomate to Second-Lieutenant Fritz, and the smallest of all, Rachel, a very young brunette, with black eyes like ink spots, a Jewess whose pug nose confirmed the rule that ascribes hooked noses to all her race, to the youngest officer, the frail Markgraf Wilhelm von Eyrik.
As a matter of fact they were all pretty and plump, without any distinctive character on their faces, shaped almost alike in appearance and style and complexion by the daily practice of their illicit trade and the life in common in disreputable houses.
The three young men wanted immediately to take their partners out of the room under pretext of offering them brushes and soap for washing and freshening up; but the Captain was wise enough not to allow it, claiming that they were clean enough to sit down to dinner, and for fear that those who went up might want to change their girls when they came down, and thus disturb the other couples. His experience prevailed. There were only plenty of kisses, kisses of expectancy.
Suddenly Rachel suffocated, coughing to tears and rejecting smoke through her nose. The Markgraf, feigning to kiss her, had blown a whiff of tobacco into her mouth. She did not get angry, did not utter a single word, but glared at her possessor with anger aroused way down at the bottom of her black eyes.
They sat down to dinner. The Commander himself seemed to be delighted; he took Pamela on his right and Blondine on his left, and while unfolding his napkin, he declared:--"This was a charming idea of yours, Captain!"
Lieutenants Otto and Fritz, polite and obsequious as if they were sitting near Society ladies, did slightly intimidate their neighbors; but Baron von Kelweingstein, let loose in his vice, was beaming; he cracked unsavory jokes, and with his crown of red hair, seemed to be on fire. He paid gallant compliments in his defective French of the Rhine, and his lewd nonsense, smacking of taverns, expectorated through the hole between his two broken teeth, reached the girls in the middle of a rapid fire of saliva.
The girls did not understand his witticisms, and their intelligence did not seem to be awakened until he sputtered obscene words, rough expressions, crippled by his accent. Then all in a chorus began to laugh as if they were demented, falling on the laps of their neighbors, repeating the words which the Baron disfigured purposely in order to make them say filthy things. They vomited at will plenty of them, intoxicated after drinking from the first bottles of wine; and relapsing into their real selves, opening the gates to their habits, they kissed mustaches on their right and those on their left, pinched arms, uttered furious screams, drank out of all the glasses, sang French couplets and bits of German songs they had learned in their daily intercourse with the enemy.
Soon the men themselves flushed and excited by the female flesh spread under their nose and within reach of their hands, lost all restraint, roaring, breaking the plates, while behind them impassive soldiers were waiting.
The Commander only kept some restraint.
Mademoiselle Fifi had taken Rachel on his knees and deliberately working himself up to a pitch of frenzy, kissed madly the ebony curls on her neck, inhaling through the thin interstice between the gown and her skin, the sweet warmth of her body and the full fragrance of her person; through the silk, he pinched her furiously making her scream, seized with a rabid ferocity and distracted by his craving for destruction. Often also holding her in his arms, squeezing her as if he wanted to mix her with himself, he pressed long kisses on the fresh lips of the Jewess and embraced her until he lost breath; but suddenly he bit her so deep that a dash of blood flowed down the chin of the young girl and ran into her waist.
Once more she looked at him, straight in the face, and washing the wound, she muttered: "You will have to pay for it!" He began to laugh, with a harsh laugh: "All right, I shall pay!" said he.
At dessert, champagne was served. The Commander rose and with the same tone as he would have taken to drink the health of the Empress Augusta, he said:
"To our ladies!" And a series of toasts were then drunk, toasts with the gallantry and manner of drunkards and troopers, mixed with obscene jokes, rendered still more brutal by their ignorance of the language.
They were rising one after the other, trying to be witty, making efforts to be funny; and the women, so intoxicated that they were hardly able to sit up, with their vacant look, their heavy, clammy tongues, applauded vociferously each time.
The Captain, no doubt intending to lend the orgy an atmosphere of gallantry, raised once more his glass and pronounced: "To our victories over the hearts!"
Then Lieutenant Otto, a kind of bear from the Black Forest, jumped up, inflamed, saturated with drinks, and suddenly, carried away by alcoholic patriotism, he cried: "To our victories over France!"
Intoxicated as they were, the women kept silent and Rachel, shuddering with rage, retorted: "Well! I know some Frenchmen in whose presence you would not dare say such things."
But the little Markgraf, still holding her on his knees, began to laugh, having become exceedingly exhilarated by the wine: "Ah! Ah! Ah! I never met any myself. As soon as they see us, they run away."
The girl exasperated, shouted in his face: "You lie, you dirty pig!"
For a second he fixed on her his clear eyes, as he used to fix them on the paintings the canvas of which he riddled with revolver shots; then he laughed: "Oh yes! let us speak of it, you beauty! Would we be here if they were brave?"--and he became more and more excited: "We are their masters; France belongs to us!"
She sprang off his knees and fell back on her chair. He rose, held out his glass over the table and repeated: "France, the French, their fields, their woods and their houses belong to us!"
The others, who were thoroughly intoxicated, suddenly shaken by military enthusiasm, the enthusiasm of brutes, seized their glasses and shouted vociferously: "Long live Prussia!" and emptied them at a draught.
The girls did not protest, reduced to silence and frightened. Even Rachel kept silent, unable to reply.
Then the little Markgraf placed on the head of the Jewess his glass of Champaign, refilled, and said--"The women of France belong to us!"
She jumped up so quickly that the glass was upset and spilled the yellow wine in her black hair, as for a baptism; it fell broken to pieces on the floor. Her lips quivering, she looked defiantly at the officer; the latter kept laughing; she stammered in a voice
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