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Building a House - Studies Interrupted


A fewdays after this conversation a considerable num ber of troops traversed the country. The Germans were manoeuvring on both sides of the Loire, and were threat ening Tours. A general officer was quartered at M. de Gandelau's who was acquainted with Eugene. The latter was impatient at the inactivity to which he had been condemned since the war had begun to take so fatal a turn.

In the evening he had a long conversation with this officer, and next morning announced to M. de Gandelau that he was intending to set out with the corps which was traversing the country; observing that officers of the Engineers were wanting, and that he could at need fulfil their functions; that his friend, the general, very much approved his determination; and that in circumstances of such gravity he thought it his duty not to hesitate to go, as he might possibly be of some service. M. de Gandelau did not attempt to keep him; he understood too well the sentiments by which his guest was influenced.

"What shall we do with Paul?"said he to Eugene.

"I believe you have Vitruvius in the original in your library?" "Yes." "Well, if you well let me have it for an hour before I go, I shall be able to explain to Paul how he should set to work with this treatise : that will prevent him from forgetting his Latin, and further him in the studies we have commenced." "An excellent idea." "You will require Paul to give you, twice a week, the translation of a chapter,, with explanatory drawings : that will keep his hand in and occupy his mind. I do not suppose his translation will supersede even Perrault's; but that does not matter, he will not be losing his time absolutely. As soon as I can return you shall see me again." Paul was disconsolate at his cousin's departure, and at not being able to accompany him; he would have greatly liked to follow up his studies in the art of building by a course of military engineering in the field, but this would have embarrassed his cousin, and Madame de Gandelau would scarcely have survived her anxiety. Paul was fur nished with the edition of Vitruvius, and the work to which he was to devote himself was explained to him.

Two hours after, Eugene, provided with a small port manteau, was on his way with his friend, the general, whose corps was en route for Chateauroux. Promises to write as often as possible had been given on both sides.

We can easily imagine the gloomy aspect which M. de Gandelau's house assumed after this hasty departure. At the very beginning of the war he had equipped and despatched all his 'able-bodied dependants. There re mained only two or three old men-servants, and some female domestics whose husbands or children were for the most part in the army. Monsieur and Madame de Gandelau ceased to use the drawing-room, in which beds had been placed the wounded in case any should come. The family used to assemble in Madame de Gandelau's room, and took their meals in a small apartment that usually served for a pantry.

Paul, when his cousin was gone, went to pay a visit to the works. They were deserted; snow covered the heap of walling stones, the cut stones, and the scattered timbers. The walls, which had reached a certain height, protected by straw and surmounted by a crest of snow - their sur faces showing brown in contrast with the white veil that mantled them--and some pieces of wood black with damp, gave to these incipient constructions the aspect of the debris of a conflagration.

Although at Paul's age young people are not very accessible to sombre thoughts, the poor boy could not restrain his tears in presence of this scene of desolation. He recalled in thought this spot so animated a month before with its bands of active workmen. All were and the soul of this habitation, which he had begun to associate with all the joys of family life, had just quitted him.

In spite of the cold he seated himself on a stone, his head in his hands, overwhelmed with gloomy thoughts. This was the first deep grief, the first severe disappoint ment, he had experienced : it seemed to him that all was over, and that there was no more hope nor happiness possible for him in this world.

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paul, gandelau, madame, gandelaus and eugene