A Fable Summary
On a Monday in May, 1918, a most unusual event takes place on a battlefield in France. French and German troops face one another after four years of trench warfare. At dawn, the regiment under the command of General Gragnon refuses to attack. Another unbelievable event occurs when the Germans, who are expected to take advantage of the mutiny, do not move either. At noon, the whole sector of the front stops firing and soon the rest of the front comes to a standstill. Division Commander Gragnon requests execution of all three thousand mutineers; he also demands his own arrest.
On Wednesday, the trucks carrying the mutinous regiment arrive at headquarters in Chaulnesmont, where the dishonor brought on the town arouses the people to noisy demonstration. Relatives and friends of the mutineers know that a corporal and his squad of twelve, moving in a mysterious way behind the lines, succeeded in spreading their ideas about peace on earth among the troops. Four of the thirteen men are not Frenchmen by birth; among those only the Corporal speaks French, and he is the object of the crowd’s fury.
This situation creates uncertainty among the Allied generals because a war ended by mutiny is not reconcilable with military principles. To clarify the confusion, a conference takes place to which a German general is invited, and an agreement is reached for continuation of the war. To young Flight Officer David Levine, the unsuspected pause in war means tragedy. Determined to find glory in battle but realizing that he might miss his opportunity, he commits suicide. To another soldier, the Runner, the truce at the front is a welcome sign. A former officer, he rejected submissive principles and abuse of authority by superiors, and he was returned to the ranks. Having heard about the Corporal from the Reverend Tobe Sutterfield, an American black preacher who arrived under unexplainable circumstances in France, the Runner tries to show once again the power of the Corporal’s ideas. He forces a sentry, who profiteered by collecting fees for life insurance among the soldiers, to leave the trenches and join a British battalion in a peaceful walk toward the German line. When they show their empty hands, the Germans also come unarmed to meet the French. A sudden artillery barrage by French and German guns kills the sentry and cripples the Runner.
The man to decide the fate of the mutineers is the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied armies, an aged French Marshal. The orphaned son of a prominent family, he attended the French military school, St. Cyr. There his unselfish attitude combined with his devotion to studies made him an outstanding and beloved student. Especially devoted to him is the man who is now his Quartermaster General. After leaving school, the Marshal was stationed in the Sahara, where he incurred blood guilt by sacrificing a brutal legionnaire to tribal justice. Later, he spent several years in a Tibetan monastery. In the Middle East, he met a married woman with two daughters. The affair resulted in the birth of a son in a stable at Christmas. The mother died in childbirth, and Marthe, one of the daughters, cared for the boy. When World War I broke out, the Marshal became the Allied commander and the hope of France.
The mutinous troops are kept in a former factory building while awaiting trial. The Marshal, not surprised by the court proceedings, seems to anticipate all answers. Marthe and Marya, the Corporal’s half sisters, and his wife arrive in Chaulnesmont and, in an interview with the Marshal, reveal that the Corporal is his son. Marthe married a French farmer, Dumont, and the boy grew up on her farm. Soon after the outbreak of war, he enlisted in the army and received a medal for bravery in action. He married a former prostitute from Marseilles. Again, the old Marshal is not surprised and seems to know every detail.
On Thursday, a meal is served to the squad during which it becomes known that soldier Polchek betrayed the Corporal....
(The entire section is 1,098 words.)