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    Chapter 28

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    Chapter 28
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    On top of the ramparts. Bivouac huts and stacked rifles guarded by a sentinel. National Guards are playing shove ha'-penny. The autumn sunshine lies clear and soft and splendid on the roofs of the beleaguered city. Outside the fortifications, the bare, grey fields; in the distance the barracks of the outlying forts, over which fleecy puffs of smoke sail upwards; on the horizon the hills whence the Prussian batteries are firing on Paris, leaving long trails of white smoke. The guns thunder. They have been thundering for a month, and no one so much as hears them now. Servien and Garneret, wearing the red-piped _képi_ and the tunic with brass buttons, are seated side by side on sand-bags, bending over the same book.

    It was a Virgil, and Jean was reading out loud the delicious episode of Silenus. Two youths have discovered the old god lying in a drunken sleep--he is always drunk and it makes men mock at him, albeit they still revere him--and have bound him in chains of flowers to force him to sing. Æglé, the fairest of the Naïads, has stained his cheeks scarlet with juice of the mulberry, and lo! he sings.

    "He sings how from out the mighty void were drawn together the germs of earth and air and sea and of the subtle fire likewise; how of these beginnings came all the elements, and the fluid globe of the firmament grew into solid being; how presently the ground began to harden and to imprison Nereus in the ocean, and little by little to take on the shapes of things. He sings how anon continents marvelled to behold a new-emerging sun; how the clouds broke up in the welkin and the rains descended, what time the woods put forth their first green and beasts first prowled by ones and twos over the unnamed mountain-tops."

    Jean broke off to observe:

    "How admirably it all brings out Virgil's spirit, so serious and tender! The poet has put a cosmogony in an idyll. Antiquity called him the Virgin. The name well befits his Muse, and we should picture her as a Mnemosyne pondering over the works of men and the causes of things!"

    Meanwhile Garneret, with a more concentrated attention and his finger on the lines, was marshalling his ideas. The players were still at their game, and the little copper discs they used for throwing kept rolling close to his feet, and the canteen-woman passed backwards and forwards with her little barrel.

    "See this, Servien," he said presently; "in these lines Virgil, or rather the poet of the Alexandrine age who was his model, has anticipated Laplace's great hypothesis and Charles Lyell's theories. He shows cosmic matter, that negative something from which everything must come, condensing to make worlds, the plastic rind of the globe consolidating; then the formation of islands and continents; then the rains ceasing and first appearance of the sun, heretofore veiled by opaque clouds; then vegetable life manifesting itself before animal, because the latter cannot maintain itself and endure save by absorbing the elements of the former----"

    At that moment a stir was apparent along the ramparts. The players broke off their game and the two friends lifted their heads. It was a train of wounded going by. Under the curtains of the lumbering ambulance-waggons marked with the Geneva red cross could be seen livid faces tied up in bloodstained bandages. Linesmen and _mobiles_ tramped behind, their arms hanging in slings. The Nationals proffered them handfuls of tobacco and asked for news. But the wounded men only shook their heads and trudged stolidly on their way.

    "Aren't _we_ to have some fighting soon as well as other fellows?" cried Garneret.

    To which Servien growled back:

    "We must first put down the traitors and incapables who govern us, proclaim the Commune and march all together against the Prussians."
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