Croissy, Ile-de-France, June, 1815
"Whoa! Victorine. Devil take the mare! I've never seen so vicious a beast. She kicked Jules the last time she was here, He's been lame ever since, poor chap." Rap! Tap! Tap-a-tap-a-tap! Tap! Tap! "I'd rather be lame than dead at Waterloo, M'sieu Charles." "Sacre Bleu! Don't mention Waterloo, and the damned grinning British. We didn't run in the old days. There wasn't any running at Jena. Those were decent days, And decent men, who stood up and fought. We never got beaten, because we wouldn't be. See!" "You would have taught them, wouldn't you, Sergeant Boignet? But to-day it's everyone for himself, And the Emperor isn't what he was." "How the Devil do you know that? If he was beaten, the cause Is the green geese in his army, led by traitors. Oh, I say no names, Monsieur Charles, You needn't hammer so loud. If there are any spies lurking behind the bellows, I beg they come out. Dirty fellows!" The old Sergeant seizes a red-hot poker And advances, brandishing it, into the shadows. The rows of horses flick Placid tails. Victorine gives a savage kick As the nails Go in. Tap! Tap! Jules draws a horseshoe from the fire And beats it from red to peacock-blue and black, Purpling darker at each whack. Ding! Dang! Dong! Ding-a-ding-dong! It is a long time since any one spoke. Then the blacksmith brushes his hand over his eyes, "Well," he sighs, "He's broke." The Sergeant charges out from behind the bellows. "It's the green geese, I tell you, Their hearts are all whites and yellows, There's no red in them. Red! That's what we want. Fouche should be fed To the guillotine, and all Paris dance the carmagnole. That would breed jolly fine lick-bloods To lead his armies to victory." "Ancient history, Sergeant. He's done." "Say that again, Monsieur Charles, and I'll stun You where you stand for a dung-eating Royalist." The Sergeant gives the poker a savage twist; He is as purple as the cooling horseshoes. The air from the bellows creaks through the flues. Tap! Tap! The blacksmith shoes Victorine, And through the doorway a fine sheen Of leaves flutters, with the sun between. By a spurt of fire from the forge You can see the Sergeant, with swollen gorge, Puffing, and gurgling, and choking; The bellows keep on croaking. They wheeze, And sneeze, Creak! Bang! Squeeze! And the hammer strokes fall like buzzing bees Or pattering rain, Or faster than these, Like the hum of a waterfall struck by a breeze. Clank! from the bellows-chain pulled up and down. Clank! And sunshine twinkles on Victorine's flank, Starting it to blue, Dropping it to black. Clack! Clack! Tap-a-tap! Tap! Lord! What galloping! Some mishap Is making that man ride so furiously. "Francois, you! Victorine won't be through For another quarter of an hour." "As you hope to die, Work faster, man, the order has come." "What order? Speak out. Are you dumb?" "A chaise, without arms on the panels, at the gate In the far side-wall, and just to wait. We must be there in half an hour with swift cattle. You're a stupid fool if you don't hear that rattle. Those are German guns. Can't you guess the rest? Nantes, Rochefort, possibly Brest." Tap! Tap! as though the hammers were mad. Dang! Ding! Creak! The farrier's lad Jerks the bellows till he cracks their bones, And the stifled air hiccoughs and groans. The Sergeant is lying on the floor Stone dead, and his hat with the tricolore Cockade has rolled off into the cinders. Victorine snorts and lays back her ears. What glistens on the anvil? Sweat or tears?