The month of January arrived. The army of the enemy held Paris day by day in a still closer grip. Food was getting scarce. Bitter cold enveloped the city, and poor soldiers who fell, sometimes only slightly wounded, passed away gently in a sleep that was eternal, their brain numbed and their body half frozen.
No more news could be received from outside, but thanks to the United States Minister, who had resolved to remain in Paris, a letter arrived from time to time. It was in this way that I received a thin slip of paper, as soft as a primrose petal, bringing me the following message: "Every one well. Courage. A thousand kisses.—Your mother." This impalpable missive dated from seventeen days previously.
And so my mother, my sisters, and my little boy were at The Hague all this time, and my mind, which had been continually travelling in their direction, had been wandering along the wrong route, towards Havre, where I thought they were settled down quietly at the house of a cousin of my father's mother.
Where were they, and with whom?
I had two aunts at The Hague, but the question was, were they there? I no longer knew what to think, and from that moment I never ceased suffering the most anxious and torturing mental distress.
I was doing all in my power just then to procure some wood for fires. Comte de Keratry had sent me a large provision before his departure to the provinces in a balloon on October 9. My stock was growing very short, and I would not allow what we had in the cellars to be touched, so that in case of an emergency we should not be absolutely without any. I had all the little footstools belonging to the theatre used for firewood, all the wooden cases in which the properties were kept, a good number of old Roman benches, arm-chairs and curule chairs, that were stowed away under the theatre, and indeed everything which came to hand. Finally, taking pity on my despair, pretty Mlle. Hocquigny sent me ten thousand kilograms of wood, and then I took courage again.
I had been told about some new system of keeping meat, by which the meat lost neither its juice nor its nutritive quality. I sent Madame Guerard to the Mairie in the neighbourhood of the Odeon, where such provisions were distributed, but some brute answered her that when I had removed all the religious images from my ambulance I should receive the necessary food. M. Herisson, the mayor, with some functionary holding an influential post, had been to inspect my ambulance. The important personage had requested me to have the beautiful white Virgins which were on the mantel-pieces and tables taken away, as well as the Divine Crucified—one hanging on the wall of each room in which there were any of the wounded. I refused in a somewhat insolent and very decided way to act in accordance with the wish of my visitor, whereupon the famous Republican turned his back on me and gave orders that I should be refused everything at the Mairie. I was very determined, however, and I moved heaven and earth until I succeeded in getting inscribed on the lists for distribution of food, in spite of the orders of the chief. It is only fair to say that the mayor was a charming man. Madame Guerard returned, after her third visit, with a child pushing a hand-barrow containing ten enormous bottles of the miraculous meat. I received the precious consignment with infinite joy, for my men had been almost without meat for the last three days, and the beloved pot-au-feu was an almost necessary resource for the poor wounded fellows. On all the bottles were directions as to opening them: "Let the meat soak so many hours," &c. &c.
Madame Lambquin, Madame Guerard, and I, together with all the staff of the infirmary, were soon grouped anxiously and inquisitively around these glass receptacles.
I told the head attendant to open the largest of the bottles, in which through the thick glass we could see an enormous piece of beef surrounded by thick, muddled-looking water. The string fastened round the rough paper which hid the cork was cut, and then, just as the man was about to put the corkscrew in, a deafening explosion was heard and a rank odour filled the room. Every one rushed away terrified. I called them all back, scared and disgusted as they were, and showed them the following words on the directions: "Do not be alarmed at the bad odour on opening the bottle." Courageously and with resignation we resumed our work, though we felt sick all the time from the abominable exhalation. I took the beef out and placed it on a dish that had been brought for the purpose. Five minutes later this meat turned blue and then black, and the stench from it was so unbearable that I decided to throw it away. Madame Lambquin was wiser, though, and more reasonable.
"No, oh no, my dear girl," she said; "in these times it will not do to throw meat away, even though it may be rotten. Let us put it in the glass bottle again and send it back to the Mairie."
I followed her wise advice, and it was a very good thing I did, for another ambulance, installed at Boulevard Medicis, on opening these bottles of meat had been as horrified as we were, and had thrown the contents into the street. A few minutes after the crowd had gathered round in a mob, and, refusing to listen to anything, had yelled out insults addressed to "the aristocrats," "the clericals," and "the traitors," who were throwing good meat, intended for the sick, into the street, so that the dogs were enjoying it, while the people were starving with hunger, &c. &c.
It was with the greatest difficulty that the wretched, mad people had been prevented from invading the ambulance, and when one of the unfortunate nurses had gone out, later on, she had been mobbed and beaten until she was left half dead from fright and blows. She did not want to be carried back to her own ambulance, and the druggist begged me to take her in. I kept her for a few days, in one of the upper tier boxes of the theatre, and when she was better she asked if she might stay with me as a nurse. I granted her wish, and kept her with me afterwards as a maid.
She was a fair-haired girl, gentle and timid, and was pre-destined for misfortune. She was found dead in the Pere Lachaise cemetery after the skirmish between the Communists and the Versailles troop. A stray bullet struck her in the back of the neck as she was praying at the grave of her little sister, who had died two days before from small-pox. I had taken her with me to St. Germain, where I had gone to stay during the horrors of the Commune. Poor girl! I had allowed her to go to Paris very much against my own will.
As we could not count on this preserved meat for our food, I made a contract with a knacker, who agreed to supply me, at rather a high price, with horse flesh, and until the end this was the only meat we had to eat. Well prepared and well seasoned, it was very good.
Hope had now fled from all hearts, and we were living in the expectation of we knew not what. An atmosphere of misfortune seemed to hang like lead over us, and it was a sort of relief when the bombardment commenced on December 27. At last we felt that something new was happening! It was an era of fresh suffering. There was some stir, at any rate. For the last fortnight the fact of not knowing anything had been killing us.
On January 1, 1871, we lifted our glasses to the health of the absent ones, to the repose of the dead, and the toast choked us with such a lump in our throats.
Every night we used to hear the dismal cry of "Ambulance! Ambulance!" underneath the windows of the Odeon. We went down to meet the pitiful procession, and one, two, or sometimes three conveyances would be there, full of our poor, wounded soldiers. There would be ten or twelve rows of them, lying or sitting up on the straw. I said that I had room for one or two, and, lifting the lantern, I looked into the conveyance, and the faces would then turn slowly towards the lamp. Some of the men would close their eyes, as they were too weak to bear even that feeble light. With the help of the sergeant who accompanied the conveyance and our attendant, one of the unfortunates would with difficulty be lifted into the narrow litter on which he was to be carried up to the ambulance.
Oh, what sorrowful anguish it was for me when, on lifting the patient's head, I discovered that it was getting heavy, oh, so heavy! And when bending over that inert face I felt that there was no longer any breath! The sergeant would then give the order to take him back, and the poor dead man was put in his place and another wounded man was lifted out.
The other dying men would then move back a little, in order not to profane the dead.
Ah, what grief it was when the sergeant said: "Do try to take one or two more in! It is a pity to drag these poor chaps about from one ambulance to another. The Val-de-Grace is full."
"Very well, I will take two more," I would say, and then I wondered where we should put them. We had to give up our own beds, and in this way the poor fellows were saved. Ever since January 1 we had all three been sleeping every night at the ambulance. We had some loose dressing-gowns of thick grey flannel, not unlike the soldiers' cloaks. The first of us who heard a cry or a groan sprang out of bed, and if necessary called the other two.
On January 10, Madame Guerard and I were sitting up at night, on one of the lounges in the green-room, awaiting the dismal cry of "Ambulance!" There had been a fierce affray at Clamart, and we knew there would be many wounded. I was telling her of my fear that the bombs which had already reached the Museum, the Sorbonne, the Salpetriere, the Val-de-Grace, &c., would fall on the Odeon.
"Oh, but, my dear Sarah," said the sweet woman, "the ambulance flag is waving so high above it that there could be no mistake. If it were struck it would be purposely, and that would be abominable."
"But, Guerard," I replied, "why should you expect these execrable enemies of ours to be better than we are ourselves? Did we not behave like savages at Berlin in 1806?"
"But at Paris there are such admirable public monuments," she urged.
"Well, and was not Moscow full of masterpieces? The Kremlin is one of the finest buildings in the world. That did not prevent us giving that admirable city up to pillage. Oh no, my poor petit Dame, do not deceive yourself. Armies may be Russian, German, French, or Spanish, but they are armies—that is, they are beings which form an impersonal 'whole,' a 'whole' that is ferocious and irresponsible. The Germans will bombard the whole of Paris if the possibility of doing so should be offered them. You must make up your mind to that, my dear Guerard——"
I had not finished my sentence when a terrible detonation roused the whole neighbourhood from its slumbers. Madame Guerard and I had been seated opposite each other. We found ourselves standing up close together in the middle of the room, terrified. My poor cook, her face quite white, came to me for safety. The detonations continued rather frequently. The bombarding had commenced from our side that night. I went round to the wounded men, but they did not seem to be much disturbed. Only one, a boy of fifteen, whom we had surnamed "pink baby," was sitting up in bed. When I went to him to soothe him he showed me his little medal of the Holy Virgin.
"It is thanks to her that I was not killed," he said. "If they would put the Holy Virgin on the ramparts of Paris the bombs would not come."
He lay down again then, holding his little medal in his hand, and the bombarding continued until six in the morning. "Ambulance! Ambulance!" we then heard, and Madame Guerard and I went down. "Here," said the sergeant, "take this man. He is losing all his blood, and if I take him any farther he will not arrive living." The wounded man was put on the litter, but as he was German, I asked the sub-officer to take all his papers and hand them in at the Ministry. We gave the man the place of one of the convalescents, whom I installed elsewhere. I asked him his name, and he told me that it was Frantz Mayer, and that he was a soldier of the Silesian Landwehr. He then fainted from weakness caused by loss of blood. But he soon came to himself again with our care, and I then asked him whether he wanted anything, but he did not answer a word. I supposed that he did not speak French, and, as there was no one at the ambulance who spoke German, I waited until the next day to send for some one who knew his language. I must own that the poor man was not welcomed by his dormitory companions. A soldier named Fortin, who was twenty-three years of age and a veritable child of Paris, a comical fellow, mischievous, droll, and good-natured, never ceased railing against the young German, who on his side never flinched. I went several times to Fortin and begged him to be quiet, but it was all in vain. Every fresh outbreak of his was greeted with wild laughter, and his success put him into the gayest of humours, so that he continued, getting more and more excited. The others were prevented from sleeping, and he moved about wildly in his bed, bursting out into abusive language when too abrupt a movement intensified his suffering. The unfortunate fellow had had his sciatic nerve torn by a bullet, and he had to endure the most atrocious pain.
After my third fruitless appeal for silence I ordered the two men attendants to carry him into a room where he would be alone. He sent for me, and when I went to him promised to behave well all night long. I therefore countermanded the order I had given, and he kept his word. The following day I had Frantz Mayer carried into a room where there was a young Breton who had had his skull fractured by the bursting of a shell, and therefore needed the utmost tranquillity.
One of my friends, who spoke German very well, came to see whether the Silesian wanted anything. The wounded man's face lighted up on hearing his own language, and then, turning to me, he said:
"I understand French quite well, Madame, and if I listened calmly to the horrors poured forth by your French soldier it was because I know that you cannot hold out two days longer, and I can understand his exasperation."
"And why do you think that we cannot hold out?"
"Because I know that you are reduced to eating rats."
Dr. Duchesne had just arrived, and he was dressing the horrible wound which the patient had in his thigh.
"Well," he said, "my friend, as soon as your fever has decreased you shall eat an excellent wing of chicken." The German shrugged his shoulders, and the doctor continued, "Meanwhile drink this, and tell me what you think of it."
Dr. Duchesne gave him a glass of water, with a little of the excellent cognac which the Prefect had sent me. That was the only tisane that my soldiers took. The Silesian said no more, but he put on the reserved, circumspect manner of people who know and will not speak.
The bombardment continued, and the ambulance flag certainly served as a target for our enemies, for they fired with surprising exactitude, and altered their firing directly a bomb fell any distance from the neighbourhood of the Luxembourg. Thanks to this, we had more than twelve bombs one night. These dismal shells, when they burst in the air, were like the fireworks at a fete. The shining splinters then fell down, black and deadly. Georges Boyer, who at that time was a young journalist, came to call on me at the ambulance, and I told him about the terrifying splendours of the night.
"Oh, how much I should like to see all that!" he said.
"Come this evening, towards nine or ten o'clock, and you will see," I replied.
We spent several hours at the little round window of my dressing—room, which looked out towards Chatillon. It was from there that the Germans fired the most.
We listened, in the silence of the night, to the muffled sounds coming from yonder; there would be a light, a formidable noise in the distance, and the bomb arrived, falling in front of us or behind, bursting either in the air or on reaching its goal. Once we had only just time to draw back quickly, and even then the disturbance in the atmosphere affected us so violently that for a second we were under the impression that we had been struck.
The shell had fallen just underneath my dressing-room, grazing the cornice, which it dragged down in its fall to the ground, where it burst feebly. But what was our amazement to see a little crowd of children swoop down on the burning pieces, just like a lot of sparrows on fresh manure when the carriage has passed! The little vagabonds were quarrelling over the debris of these engines of warfare. I wondered what they could possibly do with them.
"Oh, there is not much mystery about it," said Boyer; "these little starving urchins will sell them."
This proved to be true. One of the men attendants, whom I sent to find out, brought back with him a child of about ten years old.
"What are you going to do with that, my little man?" I asked him, picking up the piece of shell, which was warm and still dangerous, on the edge where it had burst.
"I am going to sell it," he replied.
"To buy my turn in the _queue when the meat is being distributed."
"But you risk your life, my poor child. Sometimes the shells come quickly, one after the other. Where were you when this one fell?"
"Lying down on the stone of the wall that supports the iron railings." He pointed across to the Luxembourg Gardens, opposite the stage entrance to the Odeon.
We bought up all the debris that the child had, without attempting to give him advice which might have sounded wise. What was the use of preaching wisdom to this poor little creature, who heard of nothing but massacres, fire, revenge, retaliation, and all the rest of it, for the sake of honour, for the sake of religion, for the sake of right? Besides, how was it possible to keep out of the way? All the people living in the Faubourg St. Germain were liable to be blown to pieces, as the enemy very luckily could only bombard Paris on that side, and not at every point. No; we were certainly in the most dangerous neighbourhood.
One day Baron Larrey came to see Frantz Mayer, who was very ill. He wrote a prescription which a young errand boy was told to wait for and bring back very, very quickly. As the boy was rather given to loitering, I went to the window. His name was Victor, but we called him "Toto." The druggist lived at the corner of the Place Medicis. It was then six o'clock in the evening. Toto looked up, and on seeing me he began to laugh and jump as he hurried to the druggist's. He had only five or six more yards to go, and as he turned round to look up at my window I clapped my hands and called out, "Good! Be quick back!" Alas! Before the poor boy could open his mouth to reply he was cut in two by a shell which had just fallen. It did not burst, but bounced a yard high, and then struck poor Toto right in the middle of the chest. I uttered such a shriek that every one came rushing to me. I could not speak, but pushed every one aside and rushed downstairs, beckoning for some one to come with me. "A litter"—"the boy"—"the druggist"—I managed to articulate. Ah, what a horror, what an awful horror! When we reached the poor child his intestines were all over the ground, his chest and his poor little red chubby face had the flesh entirely taken off. He had neither eyes, nose, nor mouth; nothing, nothing but some hair at the end of a shapeless, bleeding mass, a yard away from his head. It was as though a tiger had torn open the body with its claws and emptied it with fury and a refinement of cruelty, leaving nothing but the poor little skeleton.
Baron Larrey, who was the best of men, turned slightly pale at this sight. He saw plenty such, certainly, but this poor little fellow was a quite useless holocaust. Ah, the injustice, the infamy of war! Will the much dreamed of time never come when wars are no longer possible; when the monarch who wants war will be dethroned and imprisoned as a malefactor? Will the time never come when there will be a cosmopolitan council, where a wise man of every country will represent his nation, and where the rights of humanity will be discussed and respected? So many men think as I do, so many women talk as I do, and yet nothing is done. The pusillanimity of an Oriental, the ill-humour of a sovereign, may still bring thousands of men face to face. And there will still be men who are so learned, chemists who spend their time in dreaming about, and inventing a powder to blow everything up, bombs that will wound twenty or thirty men, guns repeating their deadly task until the bullets fall, spent themselves, after having torn open ten or twelve human breasts.
A man whom I liked very much was busy experimenting how to steer balloons. To achieve that means a realisation of my dream, namely, to fly in the air, to approach the sky, and have under one's feet the moist, down-like clouds. Ah, how interested I was in my friend's researches! One day, though, he came to me very much excited with a new discovery.
"I have discovered something about which I am wild with delight!" he said. He then began to explain to me that his balloon would be able to carry inflammable matter without the least danger, thanks to this and thanks to that.
"But what for?" I asked, bewildered by his explanations and half crazy with so many technical words.
"What for?" he repeated; "why, for war!" he replied. "We shall be able to fire and to throw terrible bombs to a distance of a thousand, twelve hundred, and even fifteen hundred yards, and it would be impossible for us to be harmed at such a distance. My balloons, thanks to a substance which is my invention, with which the covering would be coated, would have nothing to fear from fire nor yet from gas."
"I do not want to know anything more about you or your invention," I said, interrupting him brusquely. "I thought you were a humane savant, and you are a wild beast. Your researches were in connection with the most beautiful manifestation of human genius, with those evolutions in the sky which I loved so dearly. You want now to transform these into cowardly attacks turned against the earth. You horrify me! Do go!"
With this I left my friend to himself and his cruel invention, ashamed for a moment. His efforts have not succeeded, though, according to his wishes.
The remains of the poor lad were put into a small coffin, and Madame Guerard and I followed the pauper's hearse to the grave. The morning was so cold that the driver had to stop and take a glass of hot wine, as otherwise he might have died of congestion. We were alone in the carriage, for the boy had been brought up by his grandmother, who could not walk at all, and who knitted vests and stockings. It was through going to order some vests and socks for my men that I had made the acquaintance of Mere Tricottin, as she was called. At her request I had engaged her grandson, Victor Durieux, as an errand boy, and the poor old woman had been so grateful that I dared not go now to tell her of his death.
Madame Guerard went for me to the Rue de Vaugirard, where the old woman lived. As soon as she arrived the poor grandmother could see by her sad face that something had happened.
"Bon Dieu, my dear Madame, is the poor little thin lady dead?" This referred to me. Madame Guerard then told her, as gently as possible, the sad news. The old woman took off her spectacles, looked at her visitor, wiped them, and put them on her nose again. She then began to grumble violently about her son, the father of the dead boy. He had taken up with some low girl, by whom he had had this child, and she had always foreseen that misfortune would come upon them through it.
She continued in this strain, not sorrowing for the poor boy, but abusing her son, who was a soldier in the Army of the Loire.
Although the grandmother seemed to feel so little grief, I went to see her after the funeral.
"It is all over, Madame Durieux," I said. "But I have secured the grave for a period of five years for the poor boy."
She turned towards me, quite comic in her vexation.
"What madness!" she exclaimed. "Now that he's with the bon Dieu he won't want for anything. It would have been better to have taken a bit of land that would have brought something in. Dead folks don't make vegetables grow."
This outburst was so terribly logical that, in spite of the odious brutality of it, I yielded to Mere Tricottin's desire, and gave her the same present I had given to the boy. They should each have their bit of land. The child, who had had a right to a longer life, should sleep his eternal sleep in his, whilst the old woman could wrest from hers the remainder of her life, for which death was lying in wait.
I returned to the ambulance, sad and unnerved. A joyful surprise was awaiting me. A friend of mine was there, holding in his hand a very small piece of tissue paper, on which were the following two lines in my mother's handwriting: "We are all very well, and at Homburg." I was furious on reading this. At Homburg? All my family at Homburg, settling down tranquilly in the enemy's country. I racked my brains to think by what extraordinary combination my mother had gone to Homburg. I knew that my pretty Aunt Rosine had a lady friend there, with whom she stayed every year, for she always spent two months at Homburg, two at Baden-Baden, and one month at Spa, as she was the greatest gambler that the bon Dieu ever created. Anyhow, those who were so dear to me were all well, and that was the important point. But I was nevertheless annoyed with my mother for going to Homburg.
I heartily thanked the friend who had brought me the little slip of paper. It was sent to me by the American Minister, who had put himself to no end of trouble in order to give help and consolation to the Parisians. I then gave him a few lines for my mother, in case he might be able to send them to her.
The bombardment of Paris continued. One night the brothers from the Ecole Chretienne came to ask us for conveyances and help, in order to collect the dead on the Chatillon Plateau. I let them have my two conveyances, and I went with them to the battle-field. Ah, what a terrible memory! It was like a scene from Dante! It was an icy-cold night, and we could scarcely move along. Finally, by the light of torches and lanterns, we saw that we had arrived. I got out of the vehicle with the infirmary attendant and his assistant. We had to move slowly, as at every step we trod upon the dying or the dead. We passed along murmuring, "Ambulance! Ambulance!" When we heard a groan we turned our steps in the direction whence it came. Ah, the first man that I found in this way! He was half lying down, his body supported by a heap of dead. I raised my lantern to look at his face, and found that his ear and part of his jaw had been blown off. Great clots of blood, coagulated by the cold, hung from his lower jaw. There was a wild look in his eyes. I took a wisp of straw, dipped it in my flask, drew up a few drops of brandy, and blew them into the poor fellow's mouth between his teeth. I repeated this three or four times. A little life then came back to him, and we took him away in one of the vehicles. The same thing was done for the others. Some of them could drink from the flask, which made our work shorter. One of these unfortunate men was frightful to look at. A shell had taken all the clothes from the upper part of his body, with the exception of two ragged sleeves, which hung from the arms at the shoulders. There was no trace of a wound, but his poor body was marked all over with great black patches, and the blood was oozing slowly from the corners of his mouth. I went nearer to him, for it seemed to me that he was breathing. I had a few drops of the vivifying cordial given to him, and he then half opened his eyes and said, "Thank you." He was lifted into the conveyance, but the poor fellow died from an attack of haemorrhage, covering all the other wounded men with a stream of dark blood.
Daylight gradually began to appear, a misty, dull dawn. The lanterns had burnt out, but we could now distinguish each other. There were about a hundred persons there: sisters of charity, military and civil male hospital attendants, the brothers from the Ecole Chretienne, other priests, and a few ladies who, like myself, had given themselves up heart and soul to the service of the wounded.
The sight was still more dismal by daylight, for all that the night had hidden in the shadows appeared then in the tardy, wan light of that January morning.
There were so many wounded that it was impossible to transport them all, and I sobbed at the thought of my helplessness. Other vehicles kept arriving, but there were so many wounded, so very many. A number of those who had only slight wounds had died of cold.
On returning to the ambulance I met one of my friends at the door. He was a naval officer, and he had brought me a sailor who had been wounded at the fort of Ivry. He had been shot below the right eye. He was entered as Desire Bloas, boatswain's mate, age 27. He was a magnificent fellow, very frank looking, and a man of few words. As soon as he was in bed, Dr. Duchesne sent for a barber to shave him, as his bushy whiskers had been ravaged by a bullet that had lodged itself in the salivary gland, carrying with it hair and flesh into the wound. The surgeon took up his pincers to extract the pieces of flesh which had stopped up the opening of the wound. He then had to take some very fine pincers to extract the hairs which had been forced in. When the barber laid his razor very gently near the wound, the unfortunate man turned livid and an oath escaped his lips. He immediately glanced at me and muttered, "Pardon, Mademoiselle." I was very young, but I appeared much younger than my age; I looked like a very young girl, in fact. I was holding the poor fellow's hand in mine and trying to comfort him with the hundreds of consoling words that spring from a woman's heart to her lips when she has to soothe moral or physical suffering.
"Ah, Mademoiselle," said poor Bloas, when the wound was finally dressed, "you gave me courage."
When he was more at his ease I asked him if he would like something to eat.
"Yes," he replied.
"Well, my boy, would you like cheese, soup, or sweets?" asked Madame Lambquin.
"Sweets," replied the powerful-looking fellow, smiling.
Desire Bloas often talked to me about his mother, who lived near Brest. He had a veritable adoration for this mother, but he seemed to have a terrible grudge against his father, for one day, when I asked him whether his father was still living, he looked up with his fearless eyes and appeared to fix them on a being only visible to himself, as though challenging him, with an expression of the most pitiful contempt. Alas! the brave fellow was destined to a cruel end, but I will return to that later.
The sufferings endured through the siege began to have their effect on the morale of the Parisians. Bread had just been rationed out: there were to be 300 grammes for adults and 150 grammes for children. A silent fury took possession of the people at this news. Women were the most courageous, the men were excited. Quarrels grew bitter, for some wanted war to the very death, and others wanted peace.
One day when I entered Frantz Mayer's room to take him his meal, he went into the most ridiculous rage. He threw his piece of chicken down on the ground, and declared that he would not eat anything, nothing more at all, for they had deceived him by telling him that the Parisians had not enough food to last two days before surrendering, and he had been in the ambulance seventeen days now, and was having chicken. What the poor fellow did not know was that I had bought about forty chickens and six geese at the beginning of the siege, and I was feeding them up in my dressing-room in the Rue de Rome. Oh, my dressing-room was very pretty just then; but I let Frantz believe that all Paris was full of chickens, ducks, geese, and other domestic bipeds.
The bombardment continued, and one night I had to have all my patients transported to the Odeon cellars, for when Madame Guerard was helping one of the sick men to get back into bed, a shell fell on the bed itself, between her and the officer. It makes me shudder even now to think that three minutes sooner the unfortunate man would have been killed as he lay in bed, although the shell did not burst.
We could not stay long in the cellars. The water was getting deeper in them, and rats tormented us. I therefore decided that the ambulance must be moved, and I had the worst of the patients conveyed to the Val-de-Grace Hospital. I kept about twenty men who were on the road to convalescence. I rented an immense empty flat for them at 58 Rue Taitbout, and it was there that we awaited the armistice.
I was half dead with anxiety, as I had had no news from my own family for a long time. I could not sleep, and had become the very shadow of my former self.
Jules Favre was entrusted with the negotiations with Bismarck. Oh, those two days of preliminaries! They were the most unnerving days of any for the besieged. False reports were spread. We were told of the maddest and most exorbitant demands on the part of the Germans, who certainly were not tender to the vanquished.
There was a moment of stupor when we heard that we had to pay two hundred million francs in cash immediately, for our finances were in such a pitiful state that we shuddered at the idea that we might not be able to make up the sum of two hundred millions.
Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, who was shut up in Paris with his wife and brothers, gave his signature for the two hundred millions. This fine deed was soon forgotten, and there are even people who gainsay it.
Ah, the ingratitude of the masses is a disgrace to civilised humanity! "Ingratitude is the evil peculiar to the white races," said a Red-skin, and he was right.
When we heard in Paris that the armistice was signed for twenty days, a frightful sadness took possession of us all, even of those who most ardently wished for peace.
Every Parisian felt on his cheek the hand of the conqueror. It was the brand of shame, the blow given by the abominable treaty of peace.
Oh, that 31st of January 1871! I remember so well that I was anaemic from privation, undermined by grief, tortured with anxiety about my family, and I went out with Madame Guerard and two friends towards the Parc Monceau. Suddenly one of my friends, M. de Plancy, turned as pale as death. I looked to see what was the matter, and noticed a soldier passing by. He had no weapons. Two others passed, and they also had no weapons. And they were so pale too, these poor disarmed soldiers, these humble heroes; there was such evident grief and hopelessness in their very gait; and their eyes, as they looked at us women, seemed to say, "It is not our fault!" It was all so pitiful, so touching. I burst out sobbing, and went back home at once, for I did not want to meet any more disarmed French soldiers.
I decided to set off now as quickly as possible in search of my family. I asked Paul de Remusat to get me an audience with M. Thiers, in order to obtain from him a passport for leaving Paris. But I could not go alone. I felt that the journey I was about to undertake was a very dangerous one. M. Thiers and Paul de Remusat had warned me of this. I could see, therefore, that I should be constantly in the society of my travelling companion, and on this account I decided not to take a servant with me, but a friend. I very naturally went at once to Madame Guerard. Her husband, gentle though he was, refused absolutely to let her go with me, as he considered this expedition mad and dangerous. Mad it certainly was, and dangerous too.
I did not insist, but I sent for my son's governess, Mlle. Soubise. I asked her whether she would go with me, and did not attempt to conceal from her any of the dangers of the journey. She jumped with joy, and said she would be ready within twelve hours. This girl is at present the wife of Commandant Monfils Chesneau. And how strange life is, for she is now teaching the two daughters of my son, her former pupil.
Mlle. Soubise was then very young, and in appearance like a Creole. She had very beautiful dark eyes, with a gentle, timid expression, and the voice of a child. Her head, however, was full of adventure, romance, and day-dreams. In appearance we might both have been taken for quite young girls, for, although I was older than she was, my slenderness and my face made me look younger. It would have been absurd to try to take a trunk with us, so I took a bag for us both. We only had a change of linen and some stockings. I had my revolver, and I offered one to Mlle. Soubise, but she refused it with horror, and showed me an enormous pair of scissors in an enormous case.
"But what are you going to do with them?" I asked.
"I shall kill myself if we are attacked," she replied.
I was surprised at the difference in our characters. I was taking a revolver, determined to protect myself by killing others; she was determined to protect herself by killing herself.
A BOLD JOURNEY THROUGH THE GERMAN LINES
On February 4 we started on this journey, which was to have lasted three days, and lasted eleven. At the first gate at which I presented myself for leaving Paris I was sent back in the most brutal fashion. Permissions to go outside the city had to be submitted for signature at the German outposts. I went to another gate, but it was only at the postern gate of Poissonniers that I could get my passport signed.
We were taken into a little shed which had been transformed into an office. A Prussian general was seated there. He looked me up and down, and then said:
"Are you Sarah Bernhardt?"
"Yes," I answered.
"And this young lady is with you?"
"And you think you are going to cross easily?"
"I hope so."
"Well then, you are mistaken, and you would do better to stay inside Paris."
"No; I want to leave. I'll see myself what will happen, but I want to leave."
He shrugged his shoulders, called an officer, said something I did not understand in German, and then went out, leaving us alone without our passports.
We had been there about a quarter of an hour when I suddenly heard a voice I knew. It was that of one of my friends, Rene Griffon, who had heard of my departure, and had come after me to try to dissuade me. The trouble he had taken was all in vain, though, as I was determined to leave. The general returned soon after, and Griffon was anxious to know what might happen to us.
"Everything!" returned the officer. "And worse than everything!"
Griffon spoke German, and had a short colloquy with the officer about us. This rather annoyed me, for, as I did not understand, I imagined that he was urging the general to prevent us from starting. I nevertheless resisted all persuasions, supplications, and even threats. A few minutes later a well-appointed vehicle drew up at the door of the shed.
"There you are!" said the German officer roughly. "I am sending you to Gonesse, where you will find the provision train which starts in an hour. I am recommending you to the care of the station-master, the Commandant X. After that may God take care of you!"
I stepped into the general's carriage, and said farewell to my friend, who was in despair. We arrived at Gonesse, and got out at the station, where we saw a little group of people talking in low voices. The coachman made me a military salute, refused what I wished to give him, and drove away at full speed. I advanced towards the group, wondering to whom I ought to speak, when a friendly voice exclaimed, "What, you here! Where have you come from? Where are you going?" It was Villaret, the tenor in vogue at the Opera. He was going to his young wife, I believe, of whom he had had no news for five months. He introduced one of his friends, who was travelling with him, and whose name I do not remember; General Pelissier's son, and a very old man, so pale, and so sad-looking and woebegone, that I felt quite sorry for him. He was a M. Gerson, and was going to Belgium to take his grandson to his godmother's. His two sons had been killed during this pitiful war. One of the sons was married, and his wife had died of sorrow and despair. He was taking the orphan boy to his godmother, and he hoped to die himself as soon as possible afterwards.
Ah, the poor fellow, he was only fifty-nine then, and he was so cruelly ravaged by his grief that I took him for seventy.
Besides these five persons, there was an unbearable chatterer named Theodore Joussian, a wine dealer. Oh, he did not require any introduction.
"How do you do, Madame?" he began. "How fortunate that you are going to travel with us. Ah, the journey will be a difficult one. Where are you going? Two women alone! It is not at all prudent, especially as all the routes are crowded with German and French sharpshooters, marauders, and thieves. Oh, haven't I demolished some of those German sharpshooters! Sh——We must speak quietly, though; these sly fellows are very quick of hearing!" He then pointed to the German officers who were walking up and down. "Ah, the rascals!" he went on. "If I had my uniform and my gun they would not walk so boldly in front of Theodore Joussian. I have no fewer than six helmets at home...."
The man got on my nerves, and I turned my back on him and looked to see which of the men before me could be the station-master.
A tall young German, with his arm in a sling, came towards me with an open letter. It was the one which the general's coachman had handed to him, recommending me to his care. He held out his sound arm to me, but I refused it. He bowed and led the way, and I followed him, accompanied by Mlle. Soubise.
On arriving in his office he gave us seats at a little table, upon which knives and forks were placed for two persons. It was then three o'clock in the afternoon, and we had had nothing, not even a drop of water, since the evening before. I was very much touched by this thoughtfulness, and we did honour to the very simple but refreshing meal offered us by the young officer.
Whilst we lunched I looked at him when he was not noticing me. He was very young, and his face bore traces of recent suffering. I felt a compassionate tenderness for this unfortunate man, who was crippled for life, and my hatred for war increased still more.
He suddenly said to me, in rather bad French, "I think I can give you news of one of your friends."
"What is his name?" I asked.
"Oh yes, he is certainly a great friend of mine. How is he?"
"He is still a prisoner, but he is very well."
"But I thought he had been released," I said.
"Some of those who were taken with him were released, on giving their word never to take up arms against us again, but he refused to give his word."
"Oh, the brave soldier!" I exclaimed, in spite of myself.
The young German looked at me with his clear sad eyes.
"Yes," he said simply, "the brave soldier!"
When we had finished our luncheon I rose to return to the other travellers.
"The compartment reserved for you will not be here for two hours," said the young officer. "If you would like to rest, ladies, I will come for you at the right time." He went away, and before long I was sound asleep. I was nearly dead with fatigue.
Mlle. Soubise touched me on the shoulder to rouse me. The train was ready to start, and the young officer walked with me to it. I was a little amazed when I saw the carriage in which I was to travel. It had no roof, and was filled with coal. The officer had several empty sacks put in, one on the top of the other, to make our seats less hard. He sent for his officer's cloak, begging me to take it with us and send it him back, but I refused this odious disguise most energetically. It was a deadly cold day, but I preferred dying of cold to muffling up in a cloak belonging to the enemy.
The whistle was blown, the wounded officer saluted, and the train started. There were Prussian soldiers in the carriages. The subordinates, the employes, and the soldiers were just as brutish and rude as the German officers were polite and courteous.
The train stopped without any plausible reason, it started again to stop again, and it then stood still for an hour on this icy-cold night. On arriving at Creil, the stoker, the engine-driver, the soldiers, and every one else got out. I watched all these men, whistling, bawling to each other, spitting, and bursting into laughter as they pointed to us. Were they not the conquerors and we the conquered?
At Creil we stayed more than two hours. We could hear the distant sound of foreign music and the hurrahs of Germans who were making merry. All this hubbub came from a white house about five hundred yards away. We could distinguish the outlines of human beings locked in each other's arms, waltzing and turning round and round in a giddy revel.
It began to get on my nerves, for it seemed likely to continue until daylight.
I got out with Villaret, intending at any rate to stretch my limbs. We went towards the white house, and then, as I did not want to tell him my plan, I asked him to wait there for me.
Very fortunately, though, for me, I had not time to cross the threshold of this vile lodging-house, for an officer, smoking a cigarette, was just coming out of a small door. He spoke to me in German.
"I am French," I replied, and he then came up to me, speaking my language, for they could all talk French.
He asked me what I was doing there. My nerves were overstrung. I told him feverishly of our lamentable Odyssey since our departure from Gonesse, and finally of our waiting two hours in an icy-cold carriage while the stokers, engine-drivers, and conductors were all dancing in this house.
"But I had no idea that there were passengers in those carriages, and it was I who gave permission to these men to dance and drink. The guard of the train told me that he was taking cattle and goods, and that he did not need to arrive before eight in the morning, and I believed him——"
"Well, Monsieur," I said, "the only cattle in the train are the eight French passengers, and I should be very much obliged if you would give orders that the journey should be continued."
"Make your mind easy about that, Madame," he replied. "Will you come in and rest? I am here just now on a round of inspection, and am staying for a few days in this inn. You shall have a cup of tea, and that will refresh you."
I told him that I had a friend waiting for me in the road and a lady in the railway carriage.
"But that makes no difference," he said. "Let us go and fetch them."
A few minutes later we found poor Villaret seated on a milestone. His head was on his knees, and he was asleep. I asked him to fetch Mlle. Soubise.
"And if your other travelling companions will come and take a cup of tea they will be welcome," said the officer. I went back with him, and we entered by the little door through which I had seen him come out. It was a fairly large room which we entered, on a level with the meadow; there were some mats on the floor, a very low bed, and an enormous table, on which were two large maps of France. One of these was studded over with pins and small flags. There was also a portrait of the Emperor William, mounted and fastened up with four pins. All this belonged to the officer.
On the chimney-piece, under an enormous glass shade, were a bride's wreath, a military medal, and a plait of white hair. On each side of the glass shade was a china vase containing a branch of box. All this, together with the table and the bed, belonged to the landlady, who had given up her room to the officer.
There were five cane chairs round the table, a velvet arm-chair, and a wooden bench covered with books against the wall. A sword and belt were lying on the table, and two horse-pistols.
I was philosophising to myself on all these heterogeneous objects, when the others arrived: Mlle. Soubise, Villaret, young Gerson, and that unbearable Theodore Joussian. (I hope he will forgive me if he is living now, poor man, but the thought of him still irritates me.)
The officer had some boiling hot tea made for us, and it was a veritable treat, as we were exhausted with hunger and cold.
When the door was opened for the tea to be brought in Theodore Joussian caught a glimpse of the throng of girls, soldiers, and other people.
"Ah, my friends," he exclaimed, with a burst of laughter, "we are at His Majesty William's; there is a reception on, and it's chic—I can tell you that!" With this he smacked his tongue twice. Villaret reminded him that we were the guests of a German, and that it was preferable to be quiet.
"That's enough, that's enough!" he replied, lighting a cigarette.
A frightful uproar of oaths and shouts now took the place of the deafening sound of the orchestra, and the incorrigible Southerner half opened the door.
I could see the officer giving orders to two sub-officers, who in their turn separated the groups, seizing the stoker, the engine-driver, and the other men belonging to the train, so roughly that I was sorry for them. They were kicked in the back, they received blows with the flat of the sword on the shoulder; a blow with the butt end of a gun knocked the guard of the train down. He was the ugliest brute, though, that I have ever seen. All these people were sobered in a few seconds, and went back towards our carriage with a hang-dog look and a threatening mien.
We followed them, but I did not feel any too satisfied as to what might happen to us on the way with this queer lot. The officer evidently had a similar idea, for he ordered one of the sub-officers to accompany us as far as Amiens. This sub-officer got into our carriage, and we set off again. We arrived at Amiens at six in the morning. Daylight had not yet succeeded in piercing through the night clouds. Light rain was falling, which was hardened by the cold. There was not a carriage to be had, not even a porter. I wanted to go to the Hotel du Cheval-Blanc, but a man who happened to be there said to me: "It's no use, my little lady; there's no room there, even for a lath like you. Go to the house over there with a balcony; they can put some people up."
With these words he turned his back on me. Villaret had gone off without saying a word. M. Gerson and his grandson had disappeared silently in a covered country cart hermetically closed. A stout, ruddy, thick-set matronly woman was waiting for them, but the coachman looked as though he were in the service of well-to-do people. General Pelissier's son, who had not uttered a word since we had left Gonesse, had disappeared like a ball from the hands of a conjurer.
Theodore Joussian politely offered to accompany us, and I was so weary that I accepted his offer. He picked up our bag and began to walk at full speed, so that we had difficulty in keeping up with him. He was so breathless with the walk that he could not talk, which was a great relief to me.
Finally we arrived at the house and entered, but my horror was great on seeing that the hall of the hotel had been transformed into a dormitory. We could scarcely walk between the mattresses laid down on the ground, and the grumbling of the people was by no means promising.
When once we were in the office a young girl in mourning told us that there was not a room vacant. I sank down on a chair, and Mlle. Soubise leaned against the wall with her arms hanging down, looking most dejected.
The odious Joussian then yelled out that they could not let two women as young as we were be out in the street all night. He went to the proprietress of the hotel and said something quietly about me. I do not know what it was, but I heard my name distinctly. The young woman in mourning then looked up with moist eyes.
"My brother was a poet," she said. "He wrote a very pretty sonnet about you after seeing you play in Le Passant more than ten times. He took me, too, to see you, and I enjoyed myself so much that night. It is all over, though." She lifted her hands towards her head and sobbed, trying to stifle back her cries. "It's all over!" she repeated. "He is dead! They have killed him! It is all over! All over!"
I got up, moved to the depth of my being by this terrible grief. I put my arms round her and kissed her, crying myself, and whispering to her words of comfort and hope.
Calmed by my words and touched by my sisterliness, she wiped her eyes, and taking my hand, led me gently away. Soubise followed. I signed to Joussian in an authoritative way to stay where he was, and we went up the two flights of stairs of the hotel in silence. At the end of a narrow corridor she opened a door. We found ourselves in rather a big room, reeking with the smell of tobacco. A small night-lamp, placed on a little table by the bed, was the only light in this large room. The wheezing respiration of a human breast disturbed the silence. I looked towards the bed, and by the faint light from the little lamp I saw a man half seated, propped up by a heap of pillows. The man was aged-looking rather than really old. His beard and hair were white, and his face bore traces of suffering. Two large furrows were formed from the eyes to the corners of the mouth. What tears must have rolled down that poor emaciated face!
The girl went quietly towards the bed, signed to us to come inside the room, and then shut the door. We walked across on tiptoes to the far end of the room, our arms stretched out to maintain our equilibrium. I sat down with precaution on a large Empire couch, and Soubise took a seat beside me. The man in bed half opened his eyes.
"What is it, my child?" he asked.
"Nothing, father; nothing serious," she replied. "I wanted to tell you, so that you should not be surprised when you woke up. I have just given hospitality in our room to two ladies who are here."
He turned his head in an annoyed way, and tried to look at us at the end of the room.
"The lady with fair hair," continued the girl, "is Sarah Bernhardt, whom Lucien liked so much, you remember?"
The man sat up, and shading his eyes with his hand peered at us. I went near to him. He gazed at me silently, and then made a gesture with his hand. His daughter understood the gesture, and brought him an envelope from a small bureau. The unhappy father's hands trembled as he took it. He drew out slowly three sheets of paper and a photograph. He fixed his gaze on me and then on the portrait.
"Yes, yes; it certainly is you, it certainly is you," he murmured.
I recognised my photograph, taken in Le Passant, smelling a rose.
"You see," said the poor man, his eyes veiled by tears, "you were this child's idol. These are the lines he wrote about you."
He then read me, in his quavering voice, with a slight Picardian accent, a very pretty sonnet, which he refused to give me. He then unfolded a second paper, on which some verses to Sarah Bernhardt were scrawled. The third paper was a sort of triumphant chant, celebrating all our victories over the enemy.
"The poor fellow still hoped, until he was killed," said the father. "He has only been dead five weeks. He had three shots in his head. The first shattered his jaw, but he did not fall. He continued firing on the scoundrels like a man possessed. The second took his ear off, and the third struck him in his right eye. He fell then, never to rise again. His comrade told us all this. He was twenty-two years old. And now—it's all over!"
The unhappy man's head fell back on the heap of pillows. His two inert hands had let the papers fall, and great tears rolled down his pale cheeks, in the furrows formed by grief. A stifled groan burst from his lips. The girl had fallen on her knees, and buried her head in the bed-clothes, to deaden the sound of her sobs. Soubise and I were completely upset. Ah! those stifled sobs, those deadened groans seemed to buzz in my ears, and I felt everything giving way under me. I stretched my hands out into space and closed my eyes.
Soon there was a distant rumbling noise, which increased and came nearer; then yells of pain, bones knocking against each other, the dull sound of horses' feet dashing out human brains; armed men passed by like a destructive whirlwind, shouting, "Vive la guerre!" And women on their knees, with outstretched arms, crying out, "War is infamous! In the name of our wombs which bore you, of our breasts which suckled you, in the name of our pain in childbirth, in the name of our anguish over your cradles, let this cease!"
But the savage whirlwind passed by, riding over the women. I stretched my arms out in a supreme effort which woke me suddenly. I was lying in the girl's bed. Mlle. Soubise, who was near me, was holding my hand. A man whom I did not know, but whom some one called doctor, laid me gently down again on the bed. I had some difficulty in collecting my thoughts.
"How long have I been here?" I asked.
"Since last night," replied the gentle voice of Soubise. "You fainted, and the doctor told us that you had an attack of fever. Oh, I have been very frightened!"
I turned my face to the doctor.
"Yes, dear lady," he said. "You must be very prudent now for the next forty-eight hours, and then you may set out again. But you have had a great many shocks for one with such delicate health. You must take care."
I took the draught that he was holding out to me, apologised to the owner of the house, who had just come in, and then turned round with my face to the wall. I needed rest so very, very much.
Two days later I left our sad but kindly hosts. My travelling companions had all disappeared. When I went downstairs I kept meeting Prussians, for the unfortunate proprietor had been invaded compulsorily by the German army. He looked at each soldier and at every officer, trying to find out whether he were not in presence of the one who had killed his poor boy. He did not tell me this, but it was my idea. It seemed to me that such was his thought and such the meaning of his gaze.
In the vehicle in which I drove to the station the kind man had put a basket of food. He also gave me a copy of the sonnet and a tracing of his son's photograph.
I left the desolate couple with the deepest emotion, and I kissed the girl on taking our departure. Soubise and I did not exchange a word on our journey to the railway station, but we were both preoccupied with the same distressing thoughts.
At the station we found that the Germans were masters there too. I asked for a first-class compartment to ourselves, or for a coupe, whatever they liked, provided we were alone.
I could not make myself understood.
I saw a man, oiling the wheels of the carriages, who looked to me like a Frenchman. I was not mistaken. He was an old man who had been kept on, partly out of charity and partly because he knew every nook and corner, and, being Alsatian, spoke German. This good man took me to the booking office, and explained my wish to have a first-class compartment to myself. The man who had charge of the ticket office burst out laughing. There was neither first nor second class, he said. It was a German train, and I should have to travel like every one else. The wheel-oiler turned purple with rage, which he quickly suppressed. (He had to keep his place. His consumptive wife was nursing their son, who had just been sent home from the hospital with his leg cut off and the wound not yet healed up. There were so many in the hospital.) All this he told me as he took me to the station-master. The latter spoke French very well, but he was not at all like the other German officers I had met.
He scarcely saluted me, and when I expressed my desire he replied curtly:
"It is impossible. Two places shall be reserved for you in the officers' carriage."
"But that is what I want to avoid," I exclaimed. "I do not want to travel with German officers."
"Well then, you shall be put with German soldiers," he growled angrily, and, putting on his hat, he went out slamming the door. I remained there, amazed and confused by the insolence of this ignoble brute. I turned so pale, it appears, and the blue of my eyes became so clear, that Soubise, who was acquainted with my fits of anger, was very much alarmed.
"Do be calm, Madame, I implore!" she said. "We are two women alone in the midst of hostile people. If they liked to harm us they could, and we must accomplish the aim and object of our journey; we must see little Maurice again."
She was very clever, this charming Mlle. Soubise, and her little speech had the desired effect. To see the child again was my aim and object. I calmed down, and vowed that I would not allow myself to get angry during this journey, which promised to be fertile in incidents, and I almost kept my word. I left the station-master's office, and found the poor Alsatian waiting at the door. I gave him a couple of louis, which he hid away quickly, and then shook my hand as though he would shake it off. "You ought not to have that so visible, Madame," he said, pointing to the little bag I had hanging at my side, "it is very dangerous."
I thanked him, but did not pay any attention to his advice. As the train was about to start we entered the only first-class compartment there was; in it were two young German officers. They saluted, and I took this as a good omen. The train whistled, and I thought what good luck we had, as no one else would get in! Well, the wheels had not turned round ten times when the door opened violently and five German officers leaped into our carriage.
We were nine then, and what torture it was! The station-master waved a farewell to one of the officers, and both of them burst out laughing as they looked at us. I glanced at the station-master's friend. He was a surgeon-major, and was wearing the ambulance badge on his sleeve. His wide face was congested, and a ring of sandy bushy beard surrounded the lower part of it. Two little bright, light-coloured eyes in perpetual movement lit up this ruddy face and gave him a sly look. He was broad-shouldered and thick-set, and gave one the idea of having strength without nerves. The horrid man was still laughing when the station and its master were far away from us, but what the other one had said was evidently very droll.
I was in a corner seat, with Soubise opposite me. A young German officer sat beside me, and the other young officer was next to my friend. They were both very gentle and polite, and one of them was quite delightful in his youthful charm.
The surgeon-major took off his helmet. He was very bald, and had a very small, stubborn-looking forehead. He began to talk in a loud voice to the other officers.
Our two young bodyguards took very little part in the conversation. Among the others was a tall, affected young man, whom they addressed as baron. He was slender, very elegant, and very strong. When he saw that we did not understand German he spoke to us in English. But Soubise was too timid to answer, and I speak English very badly. He therefore resigned himself regretfully to talking French.
He was agreeable, too agreeable; he certainly had not bad manners, but he was deficient in tact. I made him understand this by turning my face towards the scenery we were passing.
We were very much absorbed in our thoughts, and had been travelling for a long time, when I suddenly felt suffocated by smoke which was filling the carriage. I looked round, and saw that the surgeon-major had lighted his pipe, and, with his eyes half closed, was sending up puffs of smoke to the ceiling.
My eyes were smarting, and I was choking with indignation, so much so that I was seized with a fit of coughing, which I exaggerated in order to attract the attention of the impolite man. The baron, however, slapped him on the knee and endeavoured to make him comprehend that the smoke inconvenienced me. He answered by an insult which I did not understand, shrugged his shoulders, and continued to smoke. Exasperated by this, I lowered the window on my side. The intense cold made itself felt in the carriage, but I preferred that to the nauseous smoke of the pipe. Suddenly the surgeon-major got up, putting his hand to his ear, which I then saw was filled with cotton-wool. He swore like an ox-driver, and, pushing past every one and stepping on my feet and on Soubise's, he shut the window violently, cursing and swearing all the time quite uselessly, for I did not understand him. He went back to his seat, continued his pipe, and sent out enormous clouds of smoke in the most insolent way. The baron and the two young Germans who had been the first in the carriage appeared to ask him something and then to remonstrate with him, but he evidently told them to mind their own business and began to abuse them. Very much calmer myself on seeing the increasing anger of the disagreeable man, and very much amused by his earache, I again opened the window. He got up again, furious, showed me his ear and his swollen cheek, and I caught the word "periostitis" in the explanation he gave me on shutting the window again and threatening me. I then made him understand that I had a weak chest, and that the smoke made me cough.
The baron acted as my interpreter, and explained this to him; but it was easy to see that he did not care a bit about that, and he once more took up his favourite attitude and his pipe. I left him in peace for five minutes, during which time he was able to imagine himself triumphant, and then with a sudden jerk of my elbow I broke the pane of glass. Stupefaction was depicted on the major's face, and he became livid. He got straight up, but the two young men rose at the same time, whilst the baron burst out laughing in the most brutal manner.
The surgeon moved a step in our direction, but he found a rampart before him; another officer had joined the two young men, and he was a strong, hardy-looking fellow, just cut out for an obstacle. I do not know what he said to the surgeon-major, but it was something clear and decisive. The latter, not knowing how to expend his anger, turned on the baron, who was still laughing, and abused him so violently that the latter calmed down suddenly and answered in such a way that I quite understood the two men were calling each other out. That affected me but little, anyhow. They might very well kill each other, these two men, for they were equally ill-mannered.
The carriage was now quiet and icy-cold, for the wind blew in wildly through the broken pane. The sun had set. The sky was getting cloudy. It was about half-past five, and we were approaching Tergnier. The major had changed seats with his friend, in order to shelter his ear as much as possible. He kept moaning like a half-dead cow.
Suddenly the repeated whistling of a distant locomotive made us listen attentively. We then heard two, three, and four crackers bursting under our wheels. We could perfectly well feel the efforts the engine-driver was making to slacken speed, but before he could succeed we were thrown against each other by a frightful shock. There were cracks and creaks, the hiccoughs of the locomotive spitting out its smoke in irregular fits, desperate cries, shouts, oaths, sudden downfalls, a lull, then a thick smoke, broken by the flames of a fire. Our carriage was standing up, like a horse kicking up its hind legs. It was impossible to get our balance again.
Who was wounded and who was not wounded? We were nine in the compartment. For my part, I fancied that all my bones were broken. I moved one leg and then I tried the other. Then, delighted at finding them unbroken, I tried my arms in the same way. I had nothing broken, and neither had Soubise. She had bitten her tongue, and it was bleeding, and this had frightened me. She did not seem to understand anything. The tremendous shaking had made her dizzy, and she lost her memory for some days. I had a rather deep scratch between my eyes. I had not had time to stretch out my arms, and my forehead had knocked against the hilt of the sword which the officer seated by Soubise had been holding upright.
Assistance arrived from all sides.
For some time the door of our compartment could not be opened.
Darkness had come on when it finally yielded, and a lantern shone feebly on our poor broken-up carriage.
I looked round for our one bag, but on finding it I let it go immediately, for my hand was red with blood. Whose blood was it?
Three men did not move, and one of them was the major. His face looked to me livid. I closed my eyes, in order not to know, and I let the man who had come to our aid pull me out of the compartment. One of the young officers got out after me. He took Soubise, who was almost in a fainting condition, from his friend. The imbecile baron then got out; his shoulder was out of joint. A doctor came forward among the rescuers. The baron held his arm out to him, telling him at the same time to pull it, which he did at once. The French doctor took off the officer's cloak, told two of the railway-men to hold him, and then, pushing against him himself, pulled at the poor arm. The baron was very pale, and gave a low whistle. When the arm was back in its place, the doctor shook the baron's other hand. "Cristi!" he said, "I must have hurt you very much. You are most courageous." The German saluted, and I helped him on again with his cloak.
The doctor was then fetched away, and I saw that he was taken back to our compartment. I shuddered in spite of myself. We were now able to find out what had been the cause of our accident. A locomotive attached to two vans of coal had been shunting on to a side line in order to let us pass, when one of the vans got off the rails, and the locomotive tired its lungs with whistling the alarm, whilst men ran to meet us, scattering crackers. Everything had been in vain, and we had run against the overturned van.
What were we to do? The roads, softened by the recent wet weather, were all broken up by the cannons. We were about four miles from Tergnier, and a thin penetrating rain was making our clothes stick to our bodies.
There were four carriages, but they were for the wounded. Other carriages would come, but there were the dead to be carried away. An improvised litter was just being borne along by two workmen. The major was lying on it, so livid that I clenched my hands until my nails entered the flesh. One of the officers wanted to question the doctor who was following.
"Oh no!" I exclaimed. "Please, please do not. I do not want to know. The poor fellow!"
I stopped my ears, as though some one was about to shout out something horrible to me, and I never knew his fate.
We were obliged to resign ourselves to setting out on foot. We went about two kilometres as bravely as possible, and then I stopped, quite exhausted. The mud which clung to our shoes made these very heavy. The effort we had to make at every step to get our feet out of the mire tired us out. I sat down on a milestone, and declared that I would not go any farther.
My sweet companion wept: the two young German officers who had acted as bodyguards made a seat for me by crossing their hands, and so we went nearly another mile. My companion could not walk any farther. I offered her my place, but she refused it.
"Well then, let us wait here!" I said, and, quite at the end of our strength, we rested against a little broken tree.
It was now night, and such a cold night!
Soubise and I huddled close together, trying to keep each other warm. I began to fall asleep, seeing before my eyes the wounded men of Chatillon, who had died seated against the little shrubs. I did not want to move again, and the torpor seemed to me thoroughly delicious.
A cart passed by, however, on its way to Tergnier. One of the young men hailed it, and when a price was agreed upon I felt myself picked up from the ground, lifted into the vehicle, and carried along by the jerky, rolling movement of two loose wheels, which climbed the hills, sank into the mire, and jumped over the heaps of stones, whilst the driver whipped up his beasts and urged them on with his voice. He had a "don't care, let what will happen" way of driving, which was characteristic of those days.
I was aware of all this in my semi-sleep, for I was not really asleep, but I did not want to answer any questions. I gave myself up to this prostration of my whole being with a certain amount of enjoyment.
A rough jerk, however, indicated that we had arrived at Tergnier. The cart had drawn up at the hotel, and we had to get out. I pretended to be still sleeping heavily. But it was no use, for I had to wake up. The two young men helped me up to my room.
I asked Soubise to arrange about the payment of the cart before the departure of our excellent young companions, who were sorry to leave us. I signed for each of them a voucher, on a sheet of the hotel paper, for a photograph. Only one of them ever claimed it. This was six years later, and I sent it to him.
The Tergnier hotel could only give us one room. I let Soubise go to bed, and I slept in an arm-chair, dressed as I was.
The following morning I asked about a train for Cateau, but was told that there was no train.
We had to work marvels to procure a vehicle, but finally Dr. Meunier, or Mesnier, agreed to lend us a two-wheeled conveyance. That was something, but there was no horse. The poor doctor's horse had been requisitioned by the enemy. A wheelwright for an exorbitant price let me have a colt that had never been in the shafts, and which went wild when the harness was put on. The poor little beast calmed down after being well lashed, but his wildness then changed into stubbornness. He stood still on his four legs, which were trembling furiously, and refused to move. With his neck stretched towards the ground, his eye fixed, and his nostrils dilating, he would not budge any more than a stake in the earth. Two men then held the light carriage back; the halter was taken off the colt's neck; he shook his head for an instant, and, thinking himself free and without any impediments, began to advance. The men were scarcely holding the vehicle. He gave two little kicks, and then began to trot. Oh, it was only a very short trot. A boy then stopped him, some carrots were given to him, his mane was stroked, and the halter was put on again. He stopped suddenly, but the boy, jumping into the gig and holding the reins lightly, spoke to him and encouraged him to move on. The colt, not feeling any resistance, began to trot along for about a quarter of an hour, and then came back to us at the door of the hotel. I had to leave a deposit of four hundred francs with the notary of the place, in case the colt should die.
Ah, what a journey that was with the boy, Soubise, and me sitting close together in that little gig, the wheels of which creaked at every jolt! The unhappy colt was steaming like a pot-au-feu when the lid is raised. We started at eleven in the morning, and when we had to stop, because the poor beast could not go any farther, it was five in the afternoon, and we had not gone five miles. Oh, that poor colt, he was certainly to be pitied! We were not very heavy, all three of us together, but we were too much for him. We were just a few yards away from a sordid-looking house. I knocked, and an old woman, enormous in size, opened the door.
"What do you want?" She asked.
"Hospitality for an hour and shelter for our horse."
She looked out on to the road and saw our turn-out.
"Hey, father!" She called out in a husky voice, "come and look here!"
A stout man, quite as stout as she was, but older, came hobbling heavily along. She pointed to the gig, so oddly equipped, and he burst out laughing and said to me in an insolent way:
"Well, what do you want?"
I repeated my phrase: "Hospitality for an hour," &c. &c.
"Perhaps we can do it, but it'll want paying for."
I showed him twenty francs. The old woman gave him a nudge.
"Oh, but in these times, you know, it's well worth forty francs."
"Very good," I said, "agreed; forty francs."
He then let me go inside the house with Mlle. Soubise, and sent his son towards the boy, who was coming along holding the colt by his mane. He had taken off the halter very considerately and thrown my rug over its steaming sides. On reaching the house the poor beast was quickly unharnessed and taken into a little enclosure, at the far end of which a few badly-joined planks served as a stable for an old mule, which was aroused by the fat woman with kicks and turned out into the enclosure. The colt took its place, and when I asked for some oats for it she replied:
"Perhaps we could get it some, but that isn't included in the forty francs."
"Very well," I said, and I gave our boy five francs to fetch the oats, but the old shrew took the money from him and handed it to her lad, saying:
"You go; you know where to find them, and come back quick."
Our boy remained with the colt, drying it and rubbing it down as well as he could. I went back to the house, where I found my charming Soubise with her sleeves turned up and her delicate hands washing two glasses and two plates for us. I asked if it would be possible to have some eggs.
I interrupted our monstrous hostess.
"Don't tire yourself, Madame, I beg," I said. "It is understood that the forty francs are your tip, and that I am to pay for everything else."
She was confused for a moment, shaking her head and trying to find words, but I asked her to give me the eggs. She brought me five eggs, and I began to make an omelette, as my culinary glory is an omelette.
The water was nauseous, so we drank cider. I sent for the boy and made them serve him something to eat in our presence, for I was afraid that the ogress would give him too economical a meal.
When I paid the fabulous bill of seventy-five francs, inclusive of course of the forty francs, the matron put on her spectacles, and taking one of the gold pieces, looked at it on one side, then on the other, made it ring on a plate and then on the ground. She did this with each of the three gold pieces. I could not help laughing.
"Oh, there's nothing to laugh at," she grunted. "For the last six months we've had nothing but thieves here."
"And you know something about theft!" I said.
She looked at me, trying to make out what I meant, but the laughing expression in my eyes took away her suspicions. This was very fortunate, as they were people capable of doing us harm. I had taken the precaution, when sitting down to table, of putting my revolver near me.
"You know how to fire that?" asked the lame man.
"Oh yes, I shoot very well," I answered, though it was not true.
Our steed was then put in again in a few seconds, and we proceeded on our way. The colt appeared to be quite joyful. He stamped, kicked a little, and began to go at a pretty steady pace.
Our disagreeable hosts had indicated the way to St. Quentin, and we set off, after our poor colt had made various attempts at standing still. I was dead tired and fell asleep, but after about an hour the vehicle stopped abruptly and the wretched beast began to snort and put his back up, supporting himself on his four stiff, trembling legs.
It had been a gloomy day, and a lowering sky full of tears seemed to be falling slowly over the earth. We had stopped in the middle of a field which had been ploughed up all over by the heavy wheels of cannons. The rest of the ground had been trampled by horses' feet and the cold had hardened the little ridges of earth, leaving icicles here and there, which glittered dismally in the thick atmosphere.
We got down from the vehicle, to try to discover what was making our little animal tremble in this way. I gave a cry of horror, for, only about five yards away, some dogs were pulling wildly at a dead body, half of which was still underground. It was a soldier, and fortunately one of the enemy. I took the whip from our young driver and lashed the horrid animals as hard as I could. They moved away for a second, showing their teeth, and then returned to their voracious and abominable work, growling sullenly at us.
Our boy got down and led the snorting pony by the bridle. We went on with some difficulty, trying to find the road in these devastated plains.
Darkness came over us, and it was icy cold.
The moon feebly pushed aside her veils and shone over the landscape with a wan, sad light. I was half dead with fright. It seemed to me that the silence was broken by cries from underground, and every little mound of earth appeared to me to be a head.
Mlle. Soubise was crying, with her face hidden in her hands. After going along for half an hour, we saw in the distance a little group of people coming along carrying lanterns. I went towards them, as I wanted to find out which way to go. I was embarrassed on getting nearer to them, for I could hear sobs. I saw a poor woman, who was very corpulent, being helped along by a young priest. The whole of her body was shaken by her fits of grief. She was followed by two sub-officers and by three other persons. I let her pass by, and then questioned those who were following her. I was told that she was looking for the bodies of her husband and son, who had both been killed a few days before on the St. Quentin plains. She came each day at dusk, in order to avoid general curiosity, but she had not yet met with any success. It was hoped that she would find them this time, as one of these sub-officers, who had just left the hospital, was taking her to the spot where he had seen the poor woman's husband fall, mortally wounded. He had fallen there himself, and had been picked up by the ambulance people.
I thanked these persons, who showed me the sad road we must take, the best one there was, through the cemetery, which was still warm under the ice.
We could now distinguish groups of people searching about, and it was all so horrible that it made me want to scream out.
Suddenly the boy who was driving us pulled my coat-sleeve.
"Oh, Madame," he said, "look at that scoundrel stealing."
I looked, and saw a man lying down full length, with a large bag near him. He had a dark lantern, which he held towards the ground. He then got up, looked round him, for his outline could be seen distinctly on the horizon, and began his work again.
When he caught sight of us he put out his lamp and crouched down on the ground. We walked on in silence straight towards him. I took the colt by the bridle, on the other side, and the boy no doubt understood what I intended to do, for he let me lead the way. I walked straight towards the man, pretending not to know he was there. The colt backed, but we pulled hard and made it advance. We were so near to the man that I shuddered at the thought that the wretch would perhaps allow himself to be trampled over by the animal and the light vehicle rather than reveal his presence. Fortunately, I was mistaken. A stifled voice murmured, "Take care there! I am wounded. You will run over me." I took the gig lantern down. We had covered it with a jacket, as the moon lighted us better, and I now turned it on the face of this wretch. I was stupefied to see a man of from sixty-five to seventy years of age, with a hollow-looking face, framed with long, dirty white whiskers. He had a muffler round his neck, and was wearing a peasant's cloak of a dark colour. Around him, shown up by the moon, were sword belts, brass buttons, sword hilts, and other objects that the infamous old fellow had torn from the poor dead.
"You are not wounded. You are a thief and a violator of tombs! I shall call out and you will be killed. Do you hear that, you miserable wretch?" I exclaimed, and I went so near to him that I could feel his breath sully mine. He crouched down on his knees and, clasping his criminal hands, implored me in a trembling, tearful voice.
"Leave your bag there, then," I said, "and all those things. Empty your pockets; leave everything and go. Run, for as soon as you are out of sight I shall call one of those soldiers who are making searches, and give them your plunder. I know I am doing wrong, though, in letting you go free."
He emptied his pockets, groaning all the time, and was just going away when the lad whispered, "He's hiding some boots under his cloak." I was furious with rage with this vile thief, and I pulled his big cloak off.
"Leave everything, you wretched man," I exclaimed, "or I will call the soldiers."
Six pairs of boots, taken from the corpses, fell noisily on to the hard ground. The man stooped down for his revolver, which he had taken out of his pocket at the same time as the stolen objects.
"Will you leave that, and get away quickly?" I said. "My patience is at an end."
"But if I am caught I shan't be able to defend myself," he exclaimed, in a fit of desperate rage.
"It will be because God willed it so," I answered. "Go at once, or I will call." The man then made off, abusing me as he went.
Our little driver then fetched a soldier, to whom I related the adventure, showing him the objects.
"Which way did the rascal go?" asked a sergeant who had come with the soldier.
"I can't say," I replied.
"Oh well, I don't care to run after him," he said; "there are enough dead men here."
We continued our way until we came to a place where several roads met, and it was then possible for us to take a route a little more suitable for vehicles.
After going through Busigny and a wood, where there were bogs in which we only just escaped being swallowed up, our painful journey came to an end, and we arrived at Cateau in the night, half dead with fatigue, fright, and despair.
I was obliged to take a day's rest there, for I was prostrate with feverishness. We had two little rooms, roughly white-washed but quite clean. The floor was of red, shiny bricks, and there was a polished wood bed and white curtains.
I sent for a doctor for my charming little Soubise, who, it seemed to me, was worse than I was. He thought we were both in a very bad state, though. A nervous feverishness had taken all the use out of my limbs and made my head burn. She could not keep still, but kept seeing spectres and fires, hearing shouts and turning round quickly, imagining that some one had touched her on the shoulder. The good man gave us a soothing draught to overcome our fatigue, and the next day a very hot bath brought back the suppleness to our limbs. It was then six days since we had left Paris, and it would take about twenty more hours to reach Homburg, for in those days trains went much less quickly than at present. I took a train for Brussels, where I was counting on buying a trunk and a few necessary things.
From Cateau to Brussels there was no hindrance to our journey, and we were able to take the train again the same evening.
I had replenished our wardrobe, which certainly needed it, and we continued our journey without much difficulty as far as Cologne. But on arriving in that city we had a cruel disappointment. The train had only just entered the station, when a railway official, passing quickly in front of the carriages, shouted something in German which I did not catch. Every one seemed to be in a hurry, and men and women pushed each other without any courtesy.
I addressed another official and showed him our tickets. He took up my bag, very obligingly, and hurried after the crowd. We followed, but I did not understand the excitement until the man flung my bag into a compartment and signed to me to get in as quickly as possible.
Soubise was already on the step when she was pushed aside violently by a railway porter, who slammed the door, and before I was fully aware of what had happened the train had disappeared. My bag had gone, and our trunk also. The trunk had been placed in a luggage van that had been unhooked from the train which had just arrived, and immediately fastened on to the express now departing. I began to cry with rage. An official took pity on us and led us to the station-master. He was a very superior sort of man, who spoke French fairly well. I sank down in his great leather arm-chair and told him my misadventure, sobbing nervously. He looked kind and sympathetic. He immediately telegraphed for my bag and trunk to be given into the care of the station-master at the first station.
"You will have them again to-morrow, towards mid-day," he said.
"Then I cannot start this evening?" I asked.
"Oh no, that is impossible," he replied. "There is no train, for the express that will take you to Homburg does not start before to-morrow morning."
"Oh God, God!" I exclaimed, and I was seized with veritable despair, which soon affected Mlle. Soubise too.
The poor station-master was rather embarrassed, and tried to soothe me.
"Do you know any one here?" he asked.
"No, no one. I do not know any one in Cologne."
"Well then, I will have you driven to the Hotel du Nord. My sister-in-law has been there for two days, and she will look after you."
Half an hour later his carriage arrived, and he took us to the Hotel du Nord, after driving a long way round to show us the city. But at that epoch I did not admire anything belonging to the Germans.
On arriving at the Hotel du Nord, he introduced us to his sister-in-law, a fair-haired young woman, pretty, but too tall and too big for my taste. I must say, though, that she was very sweet and affable. She engaged two bedrooms for us near her own rooms. She had a flat on the ground floor, and she invited us to dinner, which was served in her drawing-room. Her brother-in-law joined us in the evening. The charming woman was very musical. She played to us from Berlioz, Gounod, and even Auber. I thoroughly appreciated the delicacy of this woman in only letting us hear French composers. I asked her to play us something from Mozart and Wagner. At that name she turned to me and exclaimed, "Do you like Wagner?"
"I like his music," I replied, "but I detest the man."
Mlle. Soubise whispered to me, "Ask her to play Liszt."
She overheard, and complied with infinite graciousness. I must admit that I spent a delightful evening there.
At ten o'clock the station-master (whose name I have very stupidly forgotten, and I cannot find it in any of my notes) told me that he would call for us at eight the following morning, and he then took leave of us. I fell asleep, lulled by Mozart, Gounod, &c.
At eight o'clock the next morning a servant came to tell me that the carriage was waiting for us. There was a gentle knock at my door, and our beautiful hostess of the previous evening said sweetly, "Come, you must start!" I was really very much touched by the delicacy of the pretty German woman.
It was such a fine day that I asked her if we should have time to walk there, and on her reply in the affirmative we all three started for the station, which is not far from the hotel. A special compartment had been reserved for us, and we installed ourselves in it as comfortably as possible. The brother and sister shook hands with us, and wished us a pleasant journey.
When the train had started I discovered in one of the corners a bouquet of forget-me-nots with the sister's card and a box of chocolates from the station-master.
I was at last about to arrive at my goal, and was in a state of wild excitement at the idea of seeing once more all my beloved ones. I should have liked to have gone to sleep. My eyes, which had grown larger with anxiety, travelled through space more rapidly than the train went. I fumed each time it stopped, and envied the birds I saw flying along. I laughed with delight as I thought of the surprised faces of those I was going to see again, and then I began to tremble with anxiety. What had happened to them, and should I find them all? I should if—ah, those "ifs," those "becauses," and those "buts"! My mind became full of them, they bristled with illnesses and accidents, and I began to weep. My poor little travelling companion began to weep too.
Finally we came within sight of Homburg. Twenty more minutes of this turning of wheels and we should enter the station. But just as though all the sprites and devils from the infernal regions had concerted to torture my patience, we stopped short. All heads were out of the windows. "What is it?" "What's the matter?" "Why are we not going on?" There was a train in front of us at a standstill, with a broken brake, and the line had to be cleared. I fell back on my seat, clenching my teeth and hands, and looking up in the air to distinguish the evil spirits which were so bent on tormenting me, and then I resolutely closed my eyes. I muttered some invectives against the invisible sprites, and declared that, as I would not suffer any more, I was now going to sleep. I then fell fast asleep, for the power of sleeping when I wish is a precious gift which God has bestowed on me. In the most frightful circumstances and the most cruel moments of life, when I have felt that my reason was giving way under shocks that have been too great or too painful, my will has laid hold of my reason, just as one holds a bad-tempered little dog that wants to bite, and, subjugating it, my will has said to my reason: "Enough. You can take up again to-morrow your suffering and your plans, your anxiety, your sorrow and your anguish. You have had enough for to-day. You would give way altogether under the weight of so many troubles, and you would drag me along with you. I will not have it! We will forget everything for so many hours and go to sleep together!" And I have gone to sleep. This, I swear to.
Mlle. Soubise roused me as soon as the train entered the station. I was refreshed and calmer. A minute later we were in a carriage and had given the address, 7 Ober Strasse.
We were soon there, and I found all my adored ones, big and little, and they were all very well. Oh, what happiness it was! The blood pulsed in all my arteries. I had suffered so much that I burst out into delicious laughter and sobs.
Who can ever describe the infinite pleasure of tears of joy! During the next two days the maddest things occurred, which I will not relate, so incredible would they sound. Among others, fire broke out in the house; we had to escape in our night clothes and camp out for six hours in five feet of snow, &c. &c.
MY RETURN TO PARIS—THE COMMUNE—AT ST. GERMAIN-EN-LAYE
Everybody being safe and sound, we set out for Paris, but on arriving at St. Denis we found there were no more trains. It was four o'clock in the morning. The Germans were masters of all the suburbs of Paris, and trains only ran for their service. After an hour spent in running about, in discussions and rebuffs, I met with an officer of higher rank, who was better educated and more agreeable. He had a locomotive prepared to take me to the Gare du Havre (Gare St. Lazare).
The journey was very amusing. My mother, my aunt, my sister Regina, Mlle. Soubise, the two maids, the children, and I all squeezed into a little square space, in which there was a very small, narrow bench, which I think was the place for the signalman in those days. The engine went very slowly, as the rails were frequently obstructed by carts or railway carriages.
We left at five in the morning and arrived at seven. At a place which I cannot locate our German conductors were exchanged for French conductors. I questioned them, and learnt that revolutionary troubles were beginning in Paris.
The stoker with whom I was talking was a very intelligent and very advanced individual.
"You would do better to go somewhere else, and not to Paris," he said, "for before long they will come to blows there."
We had arrived. But as no train was expected in at that hour, it was impossible to find a carriage. I got down with my tribe from the locomotive, to the great amazement of the station officials.
I was no longer very rich, but I offered twenty francs to one of the men if he would see to our six bags. We were to send for my trunk and those belonging to my family later on.
There was not a single carriage outside the station. The children were very tired, but what was to be done? I was then living at No. 4 Rue de Rome, and this was not far away, but my mother scarcely ever walked, for she was delicate and had a weak heart. The children, too, were very, very tired. Their eyes were puffed up and scarcely open, and their little limbs were benumbed by the cold and immobility. I began to get desperate, but a milk cart was just passing by, and I sent a porter to hail it. I offered twenty francs if the man would drive my mother and the two children to 4 Rue de Rome.