It focuses on a band of French francs-tireurs, initially sitting in Switzerland recovering from a bad campaign and being cared for by the Swiss, who get bored and decide to go and kill some Prussians. To do so they cross apparently into France (under occupation by Prussian forces?), for which they need to smuggle themselves past (Swiss? neutral? Prussian?) guards before getting into a region where they can lie low and make plans for guerilla action against Prussians.
I don't get exactly what's going on here, perhaps due to poor historical knowledge. It seems the Swiss are neutral, hence willing to look after suffering French soldiers, while the Prussians hold part of France itself, so the little band of Frenchmen needs to sneak past two sets of guards, first the Swiss standing between the enemies and then the Prussians guarding their claim in France (?) The following line confuses me:
“You are forgetting the treaty,” another soldier said; “we shall run the risk of doing the Swiss an injury, if Manteuffel learns that they have allowed prisoners to return to France.”
Who are "prisoners" in this context? Do the protagonists count as prisoners of the neutral Swiss, or would they be prisoners only if captured by the Prussians? How would their actions affect the "treaty" (between who?) or the standing of the Swiss? Presumably this is Manteuffel, but does he have political power or only military?
“Let us stop here,” said the captain. “I cannot believe that the war is going to end like this. The devil take it! Surely there are men still left in France; and now is the time to prove what they are made of. The spring is coming on, and the armistice is only a trap laid for the Prussians. During the time that it lasts, a new army will be raised, and some fine morning we shall fall upon them again. We shall be ready, and we have a hostage—let us remain here.”
Again there is mention of an "armistice", but how is that "only a trap laid for the Prussians"? To tempt them into occupying parts of France only to be driven out later by the French?
Ideally I'd like an answer drawing both on historical facts and on the text of this story. Historical facts may be what I'm missing in my understanding, but they are only useful here if explained in context. An answer purely from the text of the story would be great, but I suspect Richepin is assuming a lot of contextual knowledge which would have been common knowledge for his contemporary target audience.