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Wolf Hunt-Armand Cabasson.

Wolf Hunt-Armand Cabasson. Электронная библиотека, книги всех жанров


to insult their servants. He came across people like that more and more often, republicans who were not prepared to make any concessions. If he had been a colonel, a ‘citizen colonel’, Napoleon would probably have entrusted him with the garrison of a town. A far-off town and a small garrison. But as he was a doctor, he could at least speak freely about bandages and amputated limbs.

      Margont had a more complex point of view. Aged nine in 1789, he had become immediately impassioned by the revolution, understanding only a minuscule part of what was happening, and imagining the rest. Twenty years later, like Jean-Quenin, he was a humanist and a republican but his opinion of Napoleon was slightly different. Monarchies and empires, Austrian, Prussian or English ... they had all brought war to the French Republic, and its product, the French Empire. Mostly because this empire did not believe in aristocracy by right of blood, and accorded everyone the same rights. The proponents of each of these models, monarchy

      and republic, wanted to eradicate the other model in order to mould the world in their own image. Now France found itself truly isolated in this struggle. The only other republic lay all the way across the Atlantic, in the United States of America. Who should one support? There were really only two possibilities. Either Napoleon, the military genius who, although he had transformed the Republic into a ‘republican-inspired empire’, defended some of the core principles of the Revolution with his thundering victories. Or one could support a government - but made up of whom? - that would not be able to stay in power when faced with enemy armies, at which point a French king would rise again, extracted from some unknown dusty prison cell. A king that the European monarchies would hasten to install on a throne in Paris before arguing about who should control the strings of this puppet monarch. Margont therefore served the Emperor because there was no choice. To him, ideas were more powerful than men. Whether people marched crying ‘Long live the Republic!’ as he had done, or ‘Long live the Emperor!’ did not matter; they all carried with them the ideals of the Revolution: liberty, equality, respect for everyone ... And these notions infected those they were fighting. If republican ideals did not triumph immediately, they would win out in the end. The question was what would happen until then. For war followed war without respite, year upon year... ‘Since your wound is superficial, you can make yourself useful,’ said Brémond. ‘I think there’s someone you should meet.’

      The medical officer pointed, but all Margont could see were the wounded and suffering.

      ‘She’s Austrian but she speaks good French.’

      Margont spotted her. She was wearing an ivory-coloured dress with bloodstains at the foot, like a deathly hem.

      Many women chose to follow the army although it was forbidden if they were not actually employed by it. Canteen workers and supervisors, laundresses, young bourgeois girls dreaming of adventure, society women, Austrian women who fell in love for the duration of a campaign, prostitutes: these distressing times rendered them all equal, all in the same boat. The sentries tried to

      prevent them from reaching Lobau, but in the general confusion several had, in spite of everything, managed to get there. These women searched for their husbands or lovers amongst the sufferers, praying all the while that they were not there, offering water and trying to get information ... Stationing themselves on the south side of the island, where the prisoners and wounded were sent, they were far enough from the fighting not to be exposed to any danger. The front line was in fact four miles to the north-east and could not be seen because of the woods covering the island and the banks of the Danube. It was possible to tell where it was only because of the thunderous noise, and the plumes of smoke that filled the sky.

      ‘She’s looking for a missing boy,’ explained Brémond. ‘In all this chaos everyone laughs at her questions. If an officer were to accompany her, some of the soldiers might be a little more courteous, and her search would be much more effective.’

      ‘I’ll go and help her.’

      Margont stood up, grimacing: an invisible beast was devouring his side. But helping out whenever possible came naturally to these two men. The reality of war had failed to poison their humanist spirit. They did not view the woman as an enemy. Their adversaries were the kings, and those who supported them. As fervent republicans, they wished to liberate the Austrian people from the monarch’s stronghold.

      ‘But be careful!’ added Jean-Quenin Brémond. ‘Don’t start leaping about, forgetting about your injury.’

      Margont nodded meekly.

      ‘Yes, yes, I know. Good doctors see bad patients everywhere!’

      As he approached the young woman, Margont scrutinised her without her noticing. She was undeniably charming. Her brown hair emphasised her pale complexion, and her face, with its narrow nose, fine eyebrows and delicate features, attracted many glances. But as well as her enchanting appearance, she also gave a disconcerting impression, perhaps false, of both strength and fragility. This paradox, infuriating, like a jumble of knots impossible to unravel, made a profound impression on Margont. He

      asked himself if he was the only one who felt it. She was going up to Austrians as well as French, shuddering at the horror of their injuries, asking them something, but they all, invariably, shook their heads. She stopped for a while, undecided, in front of a soldier of the Landwehr, the Austrian military service, whose head was no more than a bundle of bandages, his grey uniform an amalgam of shredded linen. As he appeared to be deaf to her questions - or perhaps he was dead - she had to make do with examining his hands and then she moved away. She repeated the same sentences, sometimes in German, sometimes in lightly accented French.

      'I'm looking for a young Austrian, Wilhelm Gurtz. He’s sixteen years old, blond and quite well built. He may have signed up for the Austrian army, so he might be here somewhere.’

      She spoke with composure despite the sight of all the martyred bodies and the weight of the looks she was receiving. Margont was struck by a feeling of consternation tinged with jealousy. He had been injured, but no woman had seen fit to seek him out. The

      Austrian girl disappeared into a wood where there were more injured men than trees. A cuirassier motioned her over. His mouth was bleeding, coating his red moustache with scarlet foam.

      ‘He’s lucky to have such a concerned sister!’

      The Austrian girl shook her head. ‘I’m only a friend. He has no family, he’s an orphan.’

      ‘I’m an orphan too!’ cried a voltigeur with bandaged hands. ‘But I don't have a friend looking for me!’

      Margont appeared at that moment. He bowed courteously. ‘Mademoiselle, allow me to introduce myself — Captain Margont, of the 18th Infantry Regiment of the Line. Perhaps you would accept my assistance in your search?’

      The young woman suppressed a smile — how chivalrous. She gazed at him briefly, trying to decide whether she could trust him. ‘That’s very kind. My name’s Luise Mitterburg. Do you know where there are other prisoners or wounded?’

      Everywhere, Margont almost replied.

      ‘Let’s follow the river,’ he said.

      The abandoned voltigeur watched them moving away. He felt he had paid his dues - he was too often sent to the front line for his liking - was he not due something in return?

      ‘Beautiful girls for the officers, wenches for the soldiers and misfortune for the voltigeurs,’ he concluded.

      There were two people accompanying Luise: a scowling old woman dressed in black and an aged servant. Luise oscillated between discouragement and determination.

      ‘I spent part of my childhood in an orphanage,’ she explained spontaneously. ‘I’m very attached to it, even though I had the good fortune to be adopted. One of the orphans, Wilhelm Gurtz, an adolescent, disappeared three days ago. We’re looking everywhere for him. Perhaps he took it into his head to join one of the regiments as a volunteer. We absolutely must find him.’

      Her voice faltered on the last sentence. But her eyes remained dry. Margont asked, ‘What does he look like, your—’

      ‘Quite plump, with chubby