Besieged Paris was in the throes of famine. Even
the sparrows on the roofs and the rats in the sewers were growing
scarce. People were eating anything they could get.
As Monsieur Morissot, watchmaker by profession and
idler for the nonce, was strolling along the boulevard one bright
January morning, his hands in his trousers pockets and stomach
empty, he suddenly came face to face with an acquaintance--Monsieur
Sauvage, a fishing chum.
Before the war broke out Morissot had been in the
habit, every Sunday morning, of setting forth with a bamboo rod in
his hand and a tin box on his back. He took the Argenteuil train,
got out at Colombes, and walked thence to the Ile Marante. The
moment he arrived at this place of his dreams he began fishing, and
fished till nightfall.
Every Sunday he met in this very spot Monsieur Sauvage,
a stout, jolly, little man, a draper in the Rue Notre Dame de
Lorette, and also an ardent fisherman. They often spent half the day
side by side, rod in hand and feet dangling over the water, and a
warm friendship had sprung up between the two.
Some days they did not speak; at other times they
chatted; but they understood each other perfectly without the aid of
words, having similar tastes and feelings.
In the spring, about ten o'clock in the morning, when
the early sun caused a light mist to float on the water and gently
warmed the backs of the two enthusiastic anglers, Morissot would
occasionally remark to his neighbor:
"My, but it's pleasant here."
To which the other would reply:
"I can't imagine anything better!"
And these few words sufficed to make them understand
and appreciate each other.
In the autumn, toward the close of day, when the
setting sun shed a blood-red glow over the western sky, and the
reflection of the crimson clouds tinged the whole river with red,
brought a glow to the faces of the two friends, and gilded the
trees, whose leaves were already turning at the first chill touch of
winter, Monsieur Sauvage would sometimes smile at Morissot, and say:
"What a glorious spectacle!"
And Morissot would answer, without taking his eyes from
"This is much better than the boulevard, isn't it?"
As soon as they recognized each other they shook hands
cordially, affected at the thought of meeting under such changed
Monsieur Sauvage, with a sigh, murmured:
"These are sad times!"
Morissot shook his head mournfully.
"And such weather! This is the first fine day of the
The sky was, in fact, of a bright, cloudless blue.
They walked along, side by side, reflective and sad.
"And to think of the fishing!" said Morissot. "What good times we
used to have!"
"When shall we be able to fish again?" asked Monsieur Sauvage.
They entered a small cafe and took an absinthe together, then
resumed their walk along the pavement.
Morissot stopped suddenly.
"Shall we have another absinthe?" he said.
"If you like," agreed Monsieur Sauvage.
And they entered another wine shop.
They were quite unsteady when they came out, owing to the effect of
the alcohol on their empty stomachs. It was a fine, mild day, and a
gentle breeze fanned their faces.
The fresh air completed the effect of the alcohol on Monsieur
Sauvage. He stopped suddenly, saying:
"Suppose we go there?"
"Why, to the old place. The French outposts are close to Colombes. I
know Colonel Dumoulin, and we shall easily get leave to pass."
Morissot trembled with desire.
"Very well. I agree."
And they separated, to fetch their rods and lines.
An hour later they were walking side by side on the-highroad.
Presently they reached the villa occupied by the colonel. He smiled
at their request, and granted it. They resumed their walk, furnished
with a password.
Soon they left the outposts behind them, made their way through
deserted Colombes, and found themselves on the outskirts of the
small vineyards which border the Seine. It was about eleven o'clock.
Before them lay the village of Argenteuil, apparently lifeless. The
heights of Orgement and Sannois dominated the landscape. The great
plain, extending as far as Nanterre, was empty, quite empty-a waste
of dun-colored soil and bare cherry trees.
Monsieur Sauvage, pointing to the heights, murmured:
"The Prussians are up yonder!"
And the sight of the deserted country filled the two friends with
The Prussians! They had never seen them as yet, but they had felt
their presence in the neighborhood of Paris for months past--ruining
France, pillaging, massacring, starving them. And a kind of
superstitious terror mingled with the hatred they already felt
toward this unknown, victorious nation.
"Suppose we were to meet any of them?" said Morissot.
"We'd offer them some fish," replied Monsieur Sauvage, with that
Parisian light-heartedness which nothing can wholly quench.
Still, they hesitated to show themselves in the open country,
overawed by the utter silence which reigned around them.
At last Monsieur Sauvage said boldly:
"Come, we'll make a start; only let us be careful!"
And they made their way through one of the vineyards, bent double,
creeping along beneath the cover afforded by the vines, with eye and
A strip of bare ground remained to be crossed before they could gain
the river bank. They ran across this, and, as soon as they were at
the water's edge, concealed themselves among the dry reeds.
Morissot placed his ear to the ground, to ascertain, if possible,
whether footsteps were coming their way. He heard nothing. They
seemed to be utterly alone.
Their confidence was restored, and they began to fish.
Before them the deserted Ile Marante hid them from the farther
shore. The little restaurant was closed, and looked as if it had
been deserted for years.
Monsieur Sauvage caught the first gudgeon, Monsieur Morissot the
second, and almost every moment one or other raised his line with a
little, glittering, silvery fish wriggling at the end; they were
having excellent sport.
They slipped their catch gently into a close-meshed bag lying at
their feet; they were filled with joy--the joy of once more
indulging in a pastime of which they had long been deprived.
The sun poured its rays on their backs; they no longer heard
anything or thought of anything. They ignored the rest of the world;
they were fishing.
But suddenly a rumbling sound, which seemed to come from the bowels
of the earth, shook the ground beneath them: the cannon were
resuming their thunder.
Morissot turned his head and could see toward the left, beyond the
banks of the river, the formidable outline of Mont-Valerien, from
whose summit arose a white puff of smoke.
The next instant a second puff followed the first, and in a few
moments a fresh detonation made the earth tremble.
Others followed, and minute by minute the mountain gave forth its
deadly breath and a white puff of smoke, which rose slowly into the
peaceful heaven and floated above the summit of the cliff.
Monsieur Sauvage shrugged his shoulders.
"They are at it again!" he said.
Morissot, who was anxiously watching his float bobbing up and down,
was suddenly seized with the angry impatience of a peaceful man
toward the madmen who were firing thus, and remarked indignantly:
"What fools they are to kill one another like that!"
"They're worse than animals," replied Monsieur Sauvage.
And Morissot, who had just caught a bleak, declared:
"And to think that it will be just the same so long as there are
"The Republic would not have declared war," interposed Monsieur
Morissot interrupted him:
"Under a king we have foreign wars; under a republic we have civil
And the two began placidly discussing political problems with the
sound common sense of peaceful, matter-of-fact citizens--agreeing on
one point: that they would never be free. And Mont-Valerien
thundered ceaselessly, demolishing the houses of the French with its
cannon balls, grinding lives of men to powder, destroying many a
dream, many a cherished hope, many a prospective happiness;
ruthlessly causing endless woe and suffering in the hearts of wives,
of daughters, of mothers, in other lands.
"Such is life!" declared Monsieur Sauvage.
"Say, rather, such is death!" replied Morissot, laughing.
But they suddenly trembled with alarm at the sound of footsteps
behind them, and, turning round, they perceived close at hand four
tall, bearded men, dressed after the manner of livery servants and
wearing flat caps on their heads. They were covering the two anglers
with their rifles.
The rods slipped from their owners' grasp and floated away down the
In the space of a few seconds they were seized, bound, thrown into a
boat, and taken across to the Ile Marante.
And behind the house they had thought deserted were about a score of
A shaggy-looking giant, who was bestriding a chair and smoking a
long clay pipe, addressed them in excellent French with the words:
"Well, gentlemen, have you had good luck with your fishing?"
Then a soldier deposited at the officer's feet the bag full of fish,
which he had taken care to bring away. The Prussian smiled.
"Not bad, I see. But we have something else to talk about. Listen to
me, and don't be alarmed:
"You must know that, in my eyes, you are two spies sent to
reconnoitre me and my movements. Naturally, I capture you and I
shoot you. You pretended to be fishing, the better to disguise your
real errand. You have fallen into my hands, and must take the
consequences. Such is war.
"But as you came here through the outposts you must have a password
for your return. Tell me that password and I will let you go."
The two friends, pale as death, stood silently side by side, a
slight fluttering of the hands alone betraying their emotion.
"No one will ever know," continued the officer. "You will return
peacefully to your homes, and the secret will disappear with you. If
you refuse, it means death-instant death. Choose!"
They stood motionless, and did not open their lips.
The Prussian, perfectly calm, went on, with hand outstretched toward
"Just think that in five minutes you will be at the bottom of that
water. In five minutes! You have relations, I presume?"
Mont-Valerien still thundered.
The two fishermen remained silent. The German turned and gave an
order in his own language. Then he moved his chair a little way off,
that he might not be so near the prisoners, and a dozen men stepped
forward, rifle in hand, and took up a position, twenty paces off.
"I give you one minute," said the officer; "not a second longer."
Then he rose quickly, went over to the two Frenchmen, took Morissot
by the arm, led him a short distance off, and said in a low voice:
"Quick! the password! Your friend will know nothing. I will pretend
Morissot answered not a word.
Then the Prussian took Monsieur Sauvage aside in like manner, and
made him the same proposal.
Monsieur Sauvage made no reply.
Again they stood side by side.
The officer issued his orders; the soldiers raised their rifles.
Then by chance Morissot's eyes fell on the bag full of gudgeon lying
in the grass a few feet from him.
A ray of sunlight made the still quivering fish glisten like silver.
And Morissot's heart sank. Despite his efforts at self-control his
eyes filled with tears.
"Good-by, Monsieur Sauvage," he faltered.
"Good-by, Monsieur Morissot," replied Sauvage.
They shook hands, trembling from head to foot with a dread beyond
The officer cried:
The twelve shots were as one.
Monsieur Sauvage fell forward instantaneously. Morissot, being the
taller, swayed slightly and fell across his friend with face turned
skyward and blood oozing from a rent in the breast of his coat.
The German issued fresh orders.
His men dispersed, and presently returned with ropes and large
stones, which they attached to the feet of the two friends; then
they carried them to the river bank.
Mont-Valerien, its summit now enshrouded in smoke, still continued
Two soldiers took Morissot by the head and the feet; two others did
the same with Sauvage. The bodies, swung lustily by strong hands,
were cast to a distance, and, describing a curve, fell feet foremost
into the stream.
The water splashed high, foamed, eddied, then grew calm; tiny waves
lapped the shore.
A few streaks of blood flecked the surface of the river.
The officer, calm throughout, remarked, with grim humor:
"It's the fishes' turn now!"
Then he retraced his way to the house.
Suddenly he caught sight of the net full of gudgeons, lying
forgotten in the grass. He picked it up, examined it, smiled, and
A white-aproned soldier responded to the summons, and the Prussian,
tossing him the catch of the two murdered men, said:
"Have these fish fried for me at once, while they are still alive;
they'll make a tasty dish."
Then he resumed his pipe.