A man returned to his hometown of Virelogne after fifteen years and stayed with his friend Serval, who had rebuilt his château that was destroyed by the Prussians. The man loved the countryside and remembered a woman who had given him a glass of wine in a now-ruined hut. Serval told him the story of the woman, Mother Savage, and her family.
Mother Savage's son enlisted in the war, leaving her alone in their isolated house.
Four Prussian soldiers were billeted with her, and they treated her kindly, helping with household chores.
One day, she received a letter informing her that her son had been killed in battle.
Madame Savage, this is to give you sad news. Your son Victor was killed by a cannonball yesterday, which virtually cut him in two.
Devastated, she hid her grief from the soldiers and continued to care for them.
One evening, she asked the soldiers for their names and addresses, which she wrote down. Later that night, she filled the house with straw and set it on fire, killing the four soldiers in their sleep. When the villagers and Prussian officers arrived, she calmly confessed to her crime and handed over the list of the soldiers' names, asking that their families be informed of their deaths.
She stretched her thin arm toward the red mass of flames, which were now dying down, and answered in a strong voice: 'They are in there!'
As a reprisal, the Germans destroyed the château of the district, which belonged to Serval. Mother Savage was executed by a firing squad, and her body was found clutching the bloodied letter that had informed her of her son's death.