One day Sylvestre was summoned before the officer of his company; and they told him he was among those ordered out to China—in the squadron for Formosa. He had been pretty well expecting it for some time, as he had heard those who read the papers say that out there the war seemed never-ending.
And because of the urgency of the departure, he was informed at the same time that he would not be able to have the customary leave for his home farewells; in five days’ time he would have to pack up and be off.
Then a bitter pain came over him; though charmed at the idea of far-off travels amid the unknown and of the war. There also was agony at the thought of leaving all he knew and loved, with the vague apprehension that he might never more return.
A thousand noises rang in his head. Around was the bustle of the barrack-rooms, where hundreds of others were called up, like himself, chosen for the Chinese squadron. And rapidly he wrote to his old grandmother, with a stump of pencil, crouching on the floor, alone in his own feverish dream, though in the thick of the continual hurry and hubbub amidst all the young sailors hurried away like himself.