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CHAPTER XX FIAM GOES FORTH
In the evening of the second day after that I felt that something extraordinary was taking place. Every one was grave and preoccupied, and Fiam was very much excited.

“What’s the matter?” I asked him for the hundredth time. Instead of answering, he said:

“Look at me well. Do you think I could still take fire like any other match? I mean if I should strike myself against a stone could I set myself on fire?”

“Yes, of course. But for heaven’s sake, what do you want to do?” He made me anxious. “Do you want to kill yourself?”

“No, no; don’t be afraid, my friend.”

Later on the colonel of artillery, in whom Fiam had recognized the old warrior, came to my tent. He had been sent by the general to ask who had warned me of the danger of entering this valley.

“No one,” I replied.

[152]

“You were right,” he went on; “we are in danger, but the spirits of the heroes protect us, and we will come out all right yet.”

“What of the enemy?”

“It has shut us into the valley. It seemed best to come this way because it is the shortest, and appeared to be free.”

“And can’t we get out through the opening ahead?”

“That exit is closed. The enemy has buried there a thousand pounds of dynamite. If our troops pass over it it will explode.”

“Can they blow it up from a distance?”

“Yes, with an electric wire.”

“And can’t we turn back?”

“No; the valley is barricaded in the rear. If we tried it there would be a desperate battle in which every one would be killed or captured from the general to the last soldier.”

“Couldn’t we climb the mountains?”

“They are inaccessible and the enemy occupies the summit. Listen; they are already firing on us.”

We could indeed hear the first guns. The sun had gone down some time ago; the valley was dark. We [153] could see the stars and the flash of powder on the tops of the mountains. Stray balls fell on our unprotected camp. The soldiers were preparing for battle. They were digging trenches and cutting down trees to make defences. All this silently as possible, and in the dark.

I asked the colonel how he knew the exit of the valley was mined.

“Two prisoners told us, deserters from the enemy.”

“Perhaps it isn’t true,” I exclaimed, but a tiny voice that I alone could hear said:

“It is true.”

Fiam, on my collar, had listened to the conversation.

I saluted the colonel and went into my tent.

I started to light a candle, but Fiam stopped me:

“Don’t make a light. If they see a light they may shoot you in the back.”

So we stayed in the dark, and Fiam went on:

“Take hold of me. I am on your shoulder. Now put on my waterproof,” he ordered.

“Why?”

“It is necessary for me to keep dry.”

[154]

“What are you going to do?”

“Don’t lose time. Do as I say. It is for the good of all.”

I reached for the tin-foil that I kept behind a book, wonde............
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