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Sac-Au-Dos 1907   By: (1848-1907)

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By Joris Karl Huysmans

Translated by L. G. Meyer.

Copyright, 1907, by P. F. Collier & Son

As soon as I had finished my studies my parents deemed it useful to my career to cause me to appear before a table covered with green cloth and surmounted by the living busts of some old gentlemen who interested themselves in knowing whether I had learned enough of the dead languages to entitle me to the degree of Bachelor.

The test was satisfactory. A dinner to which all my relations, far and near, were invited, celebrated my success, affected my future, and ultimately fixed me in the law. Well, I passed my examination and got rid of the money provided for my first year's expenses with a blond girl who, at times, pretended to be fond of me.

I frequented the Latin Quarter assiduously and there I learned many things; among others to take an interest in those students who blew their political opinions into the foam of their beer, every night, then to acquire a taste for the works of George Sand and of Heine, of Edgard Quinet, and of Henri Murger.

The psychophysical moment of silliness was upon me.

That lasted about a year; gradually I ripened. The electoral struggles of the closing days of the Empire left me cold; I was the son neither of a Senator nor a proscript and I had but to outlive, no matter what the régime, the traditions of mediocrity and wretchedness long since adopted by my family. The law pleased me but little. I thought that the Code had been purposely maldirected in order to furnish certain people with an opportunity to wrangle, to the utmost limit, over the smallest words; even today it seems to me that a phrase clearly worded can not reasonably bear such diverse interpretation.

I was sounding my depths, searching for some state of being that I might embrace without too much disgust, when the late Emperor found one for me; he made me a soldier through the maladroitness of his policy.

The war with Prussia broke out. To tell the truth I did not understand the motives that made that butchery of armies necessary. I felt neither the need of killing others nor of being killed by them. However that may be, enrolled in the Garde mobile of the Seine, I received orders, after having gone in search of an outfit, to visit the barber and to be at the barracks in the Rue Lourcine at seven o'clock in the evening.

I was at the place punctually. After roll call part of the regiment swarmed out of the barrack gates and emptied into the street. Then the sidewalks raised a shout and the gutters ran.

Crowding one against another, workmen in blouses, workmen in tatters, soldiers strapped and gaitered, without arms, they scanned to the clink of glasses the Marseillaise over which they shouted themselves hoarse with their voices out of time. Heads geared with képis {1} of incredible height and ornamented with vizors fit for blind men and with tin cockades of red, white and blue, muffled in blue black jackets with madder red collars and cuffs, breached in blue linen pantaloons with a red stripe down the side, the militia of the Seine kept howling at the moon before going forth to conquer Prussia. That was a deafening uproar at the wine shops, a hubbub of glasses, cans and shrieks, cut into here and there by the rattling of a window shaken by the wind. Suddenly the roll of the drum muffled all that clamor; a new column poured out of the barracks; there was carousing and tippling indescribable. Those soldiers who were drinking in the wine shops shot now out into the streets, followed by their parents and friends who disputed the honor of carrying their knapsacks; the ranks were broken; it was a confusion of soldiers and citizens; mothers wept, fathers, more contained, sputtered wine, children frisked for joy and shrieked patriotic songs at the top of their shrill voices.

1 Military hats.

They crossed Paris helter skelter by the flashes of lightning that whipped the storming clouds into white zigzags... Continue reading book >>

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