Part 4 out of 9
these arrangements had been upset by the carelessness of a domestic. I
had rich relatives and very rich friends, but not one amongst them
stretched out a hand to help me out of the ditch into which I had
fallen. My rich relatives had not forgiven me for going on to the stage.
And yet Heaven knows what tears it had cost me to take up this career
that had been forced upon me. My Uncle Faure came to see me at my
mother's house, but my aunt would not listen to a word about me. I used
to see my cousin secretly, and sometimes his pretty sister. My rich
friends considered that I was wildly extravagant, and could not
understand why I did not place the money I had inherited in good, sound
I received a great deal of verse on the subject of my fire. Most of it
was anonymous. I have kept it all, however, and I quote the following
poem, which is rather nice:
Passant, te voila sans abri:
La flamme a ravage ton gite.
Hier plus leger qu'un colibri;
Ton esprit aujourd'hui s'agite,
S'exhalant en gemissements
Sur tout ce que le feu devore.
Tu pleures tes beaux diamants?...
Non, tes grands yeux les ont encore!
Ne regrette pas ces colliers
Qu'ont a leur cou les riches dames!
Tu trouveras dans les halliers,
Des tissus verts, aux fines trames!
Ta perle?... Mais, c'est le jais noir
Qui sur l'envers du fosse pousse!
Et le cadre de ton miroir
Est une bordure de mousse!
Tes bracelets?.. Mais, tes bras nus,
Tu paraitras cent fois plus belle!
Sur les bras jolis de Venus,
Aucun cercle d'or n'etincelle!
Garde ton charme si puissant!
Ton parfum de plante sauvage!
Laisse les bijoux, O Passant,
A celles que le temps ravage!
Avec ta guitare a ton cou,
Va, par la France et par l'Espagne!
Suis ton chemin; je ne sais ou....
Par la plaine et par la montagne!
Passe, comme la plume au vent!
Comme le son de ta mandore!
Comme un flot qui baise en revant,
Les flancs d'une barque sonore!
The proprietor of one of the hotels now very much in vogue sent me the
following letter, which I quote word for word:
"MADAME,--If you would consent to dine every evening for a month in our
large dining-room, I would place at your service a suite of rooms on the
first floor, consisting of two bedrooms, a large drawing-room, a small
boudoir, and a bath-room. It is of course understood that this suite of
rooms would be yours free of charge if you would consent to do as I
"(P.S.) You would only have to pay for the fresh supplies of plants for
This was the extent of the man's coarseness. I asked one of my friends
to go and give the low fellow his answer.
I was in despair, though, for I felt that I could not live without
comfort and luxury.
I soon made up my mind as to what I must do, but not without sorrow. I
had been offered a magnificent engagement in Russia, and I should have
to accept it. Madame Guerard was my sole confidant, and I did not
mention my plan to any one else. The idea of Russia terrified her, for
at that time my chest was very delicate, and cold was my most cruel
enemy. It was just as I had made up my mind to this that the lawyer
arrived. His avaricious and crafty mind had schemed out the clever and,
for him, profitable combination which was to change my whole life once
I took a pretty flat on the first floor of a house in the Rue de Rome.
It was very sunny, and that delighted me more than anything else. There
were two drawing-rooms and a large dining-room. I arranged for my
grandmother to live at a home kept by lay sisters and nuns. She was a
Jewess, and carried out very strictly all the laws laid down by her
religion. The house was very comfortable, and my grandmother took her
own maid with her, the young girl from Burgundy, to whom she was
When I went to see her she told me that she was much better off there
than with me. "When I was with you," she said, "I found your boy too
noisy." I very rarely went to visit her there, for after seeing my
mother turn pale at her unkind words I never cared any more for her. She
was happy, and that was the essential thing.
I now played successfully in _Le Batard_, in which I had great success,
in _L'Affranchi_, in _L'Autre_ by George Sand, and in _Jean-Marie_, a
little masterpiece by Andre Theuriet, which had the most brilliant
success. Porel played the part of Jean-Marie. He was at that time
slender, and full of hope. Since then his slenderness has developed into
plumpness and his hope into certitude.
THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR
Evil days then came upon us. Paris began to get feverish and excited.
The streets were black with groups of people, discussing and
gesticulating. And all this noise was only the echo of far-distant
groups gathered together in German streets. These other groups were
yelling, gesticulating, and discussing, but--they knew, whilst we did
I could not keep calm, but was extremely excited, until finally I was
ill. War was declared, and I hate war! It exasperates me and makes me
shudder from head to foot. At times I used to spring up terrified, upset
by the distant cries of human voices.
Oh, war! What infamy, shame, and sorrow! War! What theft and crime,
abetted, forgiven, and glorified!
Recently, I visited a huge steel works. I will not say in what country,
for all countries have been hospitable to me, and I am neither a spy nor
a traitress. I only set forth things as I see them. Well, I visited one
of these frightful manufactories, in which the most deadly weapons are
made. The owner of it all, a multi-millionaire, was introduced to me. He
was pleasant, but no good at conversation, and he had a dreamy,
dissatisfied look. My cicerone informed me that this man had just lost a
huge sum of money, nearly sixty million francs.
"Good Heavens!" I exclaimed; "how has he lost it?"
"Oh well, he has not exactly lost the money, but has just missed making
the sum, so it amounts to the same thing."
I looked perplexed, and he added, "Yes; you remember that there was a
great deal of talk about war between France and Germany with regard to
the Morocco affair?"
"Well, this prince of the steel trade expected to sell cannons for it,
and for a month his men were very busy in the factory, working day and
night. He gave enormous bribes to influential members of the Government,
and paid some of the papers in France and Germany to stir up the people.
Everything has fallen through, thanks to the intervention of men who are
wise and humanitarian. The consequence is that this millionaire is in
despair. He has lost sixty or perhaps a hundred million francs."
I looked at the wretched man with contempt, and I wished heartily that
he could be suffocated with his millions, as remorse was no doubt
utterly unknown to him.
And how many others merit our contempt just as this man does! Nearly all
those who are known as "suppliers to the army," in every country in the
world, are the most desperate propagators of war.
Let every man be a soldier in the time of peril. Yes, a thousand times
over, yes! Let every man be armed for the defence of his country, and
let him kill in order to defend his family and himself. That is only
reasonable. But that there should be, in our times, young men whose sole
dream is to kill in order to make a position for themselves, that is
It is indisputable that we must guard our frontiers and our colonies,
but since all men are soldiers, why not take these guards and defenders
from among "all men"? We should only have schools for officers then, and
we should have no more of those horrible barracks which offend the eye.
And when sovereigns visit each other and are invited to a review, would
they not be much more edified as to the value of a nation if it could
show a thousandth part of its effective force chosen hap-hazard among
its soldiers, rather than the elegant evolutions of an army prepared for
parade? What magnificent reviews I have seen in all the different
countries I have visited! But I know from history that such and such an
army as was prancing about there so finely before us had taken flight,
without any great reason, before the enemy.
On July 19 war was seriously declared, and Paris then became the theatre
of the most touching and burlesque scenes. Excitable and delicate as I
was, I could not bear the sight of all these young men gone wild, who
were yelling the "Marseillaise" and rushing along the streets in close
file, shouting over and over again, "To Berlin! To Berlin!"
My heart used to beat wildly, for I too thought that they were going to
Berlin. I understood the fury they felt, for these people had provoked
us without plausible reasons, but at the same time it seemed to me that
they were getting ready for this great deed without sufficient respect
and dignity. My own impotence made me feel rebellious, and when I saw
all the mothers, with pale faces and eyes swollen with crying, holding
their boys in their arms and kissing them in despair, the most frightful
anguish seemed to choke me. I cried, too, almost unceasingly, and I was
wearing myself away with anxiety, but I did not foresee the horrible
catastrophe that was to take place.
The doctors decided that I must go to Eaux-Bonnes. I did not want to
leave Paris, for I had caught the general fever of excitement. My
weakness increased, though, day by day, and on July 27 I was taken away
in spite of myself. Madame Guerard, my man-servant, and my maid
accompanied me, and I also took my child with me.
In all the railway stations there were posters everywhere, announcing
that the Emperor Napoleon had gone to Metz to take command of the army.
At Eaux-Bonnes I was compelled to remain in bed. My condition was
considered very serious by Dr. Leudet, who told me afterwards that he
certainly thought I was going to die. I vomited blood, and had to have a
piece of ice in my mouth all the time. At the end of about twelve days,
however, I began to get up, and after this I soon recovered my strength
and my calmness, and went for long rides on horseback.
The war news led us to hope for victory. There was great joy and a
certain emotion felt by every one on hearing that the young Prince
Imperial had received his baptism of fire at Saarbruck, in the
engagement commanded by General Frossard.
Life seemed to me beautiful again, for I had great confidence in the
issue of the war. I pitied the Germans for having embarked on such an
adventure. But, alas! the fine, glorious progress which my brain had
been so active in imagining was cut short by the atrocious news from
Saint-Privat. The political news was posted up every day in the little
garden of the Casino at Eaux-Bonnes. The public went there to get
information. Detesting, as I did, tranquillity, I used to send my
man-servant to copy the telegrams. Oh, how grievous was that terrible
telegram from Saint-Privat, informing us laconically of the frightful
butchery; of the heroic defence of Marshal Canrobert; and of Bazaine's
first treachery in not going to the rescue of his comrade.
I knew Canrobert, and was very fond of him. Later on he became one of my
faithful friends, and I shall always remember the exquisite hours spent
in listening to his accounts of the bravery of others--never of his own.
And what an abundance of anecdotes, what wit, what charm!
This news of the battle of Saint-Privat caused my feverishness to
return. My sleep was full of nightmares, and I had a relapse. The news
was worse every day. After Saint-Privat came Gravelotte, where 36,000
men, French and German, were cut down in a few hours. Then came the
sublime but powerless efforts of MacMahon, who was driven back as far as
Sedan; and finally Sedan.
Sedan! Ah, the horrible awakening! The month of August had finished the
night before, amidst a tumult of weapons and dying groans. But the
groans of the dying men were mingled still with hopeful cries. But the
month of September was cursed from its very birth. Its first war-cry was
stifled back by the brutal and cowardly hand of Destiny.
A hundred thousand men! A hundred thousand Frenchmen compelled to
capitulate, and the Emperor of France forced to hand his sword over to
the King of Prussia!
Ah! that cry of grief, that cry of rage, uttered by the whole nation. It
can never be forgotten!
On September 1, towards ten o'clock, Claude, my man-servant, knocked at
my door. I was not asleep, and he gave me a copy of the first telegrams:
"Battle of Sedan commenced. MacMahon wounded," &c. &c.
"Ah! go back again," I said, "and as soon as a fresh telegram comes,
bring me the news. I feel that something unheard of, something great and
quite different, is going to happen. We have suffered so terribly this
last month, that there can only be something good now, something fine,
for God's scales mete out joy and suffering equally. Go at once,
Claude," I added, and then, full of confidence, I soon fell asleep
again, and was so tired that I slept until one o'clock. When I awoke, my
maid Felicie, the most delightful girl imaginable, was seated near my
bed. Her pretty face and her large dark eyes were so mournful that my
heart stopped beating. I gazed at her anxiously, and she put into my
hands the copy of the last telegram:
"The Emperor Napoleon has just handed over his sword...."
Blood rushed to my head, and my lungs were too weak to control its flow.
I lay back on my pillow, and the blood escaped through my lips with the
groans of my whole being.
For three days I was between life and death. Dr. Leudet sent for one of
my father's friends, a shipowner named M. Maunoir. He came at once,
bringing with him his young wife. She too was very ill, worse in reality
than I was, in spite of her fresh look, for she died six months later.
Thanks to their care and to the energetic treatment of Dr. Leudet, I
came through alive from this attack.
I decided to return at once to Paris, as the siege was about to be
proclaimed, and I did not want my mother and my sisters to remain in the
capital. Independently of this, every one at Eaux-Bonnes was seized with
a desire to get away, invalids and tourists alike. A post-chaise was
found, the owner of which agreed, for an exorbitant price, to drive me
to the nearest station without delay. When once in it, we were more or
less comfortably seated as far as Bordeaux, but it was impossible to
find five seats in the express from there. My man-servant was allowed to
travel with the engine-driver. I do not know where Madame Guerard and my
maid found room, but in the compartment I entered, with my little boy,
there were already nine persons. An ugly old man tried to push my child
out when I had put him in, but I pushed him back again energetically in
"No human force will make us get out of this carriage," I said. "Do you
hear that, you ugly old man? We are here, and we shall stay."
A stout lady, who took up more room herself than three ordinary persons,
"Well! that is lively, for we are suffocated already. It's shameful to
let eleven persons get into a compartment where there are only seats for
"Will you get out, then?" I retorted, turning to her quickly, "for
without you there would only be seven of us."
The stifled laughter of the other travellers showed me that I had won
over my audience. Three young men offered me their places, but I
refused, declaring that I was going to stand. The three young men had
risen, and they declared that they would also stand. The stout lady
called a railway official. "Come here, please!" she began.
The official stopped an instant at the door.
"It is perfectly shameful," she went on. "There are eleven in this
compartment, and it is impossible to move."
"Don't you believe it," exclaimed one of the young men. "Just look for
yourself. We are standing up, and there are three seats empty. Send some
more people in here."
The official went away laughing and muttering something about the woman
who had complained. She turned to the young man and began to talk
abusively to him. He bowed very respectfully in reply, and said:
"Madame, if you will calm down you shall be satisfied. We will seat
seven on the other side, including the child, and then you will only be
four on your side."
The ugly old man was short and slight. He looked sideways at the stout
lady and murmured, "Four! Four!" His look and tone showed that he
considered the stout lady took up more than one seat. This look and tone
were not lost on the young man, and before the ugly old man had
comprehended he said to him, "Will you come over here and have this
corner? All the thin people will be together then," he added, inviting a
placid, calm-looking young Englishman of eighteen to twenty years of age
to take the old man's seat. The Englishman had the torso of a
prize-fighter, with a face like that of a fair-haired baby. A very young
woman, opposite the stout one, laughed till the tears came. All six of
us then found room on the thin people's side of the carriage. We were a
little crushed, but had been considerably enlivened by this little
entertainment, and we certainly needed something to enliven us. The
young man who had taken the matter in hand in such a witty way was tall
and nice-looking. He had blue eyes, and his hair was almost white, and
this gave to his face a most attractive freshness and youthfulness. My
boy was on his knee during the night. With the exception of the child,
the stout lady, and the young Englishman, no one went to sleep. The heat
was overpowering, and the war was of course discussed. After some
hesitation, one of the young men told me that I resembled Mlle. Sarah
Bernhardt. I answered that there was every reason why I should resemble
her. The young men then introduced themselves. The one who had
recognised me was Albert Delpit, the second was a Dutchman, Baron van
Zelern or von Zerlen, I do not remember exactly which, and the young man
with white hair was Felix Faure. He told me that he was from Havre, and
that he knew my grandmother very well. I kept up a certain friendship
with these three men afterwards, but later on Albert Delpit became my
enemy. All three are now dead--Albert Delpit died a disappointed man,
for he had tried everything and succeeded in nothing, the Dutch baron
was killed in a railway accident, and Felix Faure was President of the
The young woman, on hearing my name, introduced herself in her turn.
"I think we are slightly related," she said. "I am Madame Laroque."
"Of Bordeaux?" I asked.
My mother's brother had married a Mlle. Laroque of Bordeaux, so that we
were able to talk of our family. Altogether the journey did not seem
very long, in spite of the heat, the over-crowding, and our thirst.
The arrival in Paris was more gloomy. We shook hands warmly with each
other. The stout lady's husband was awaiting her; he handed her, in
silence, a telegram. The unfortunate woman read it, and then, uttering a
cry, burst into sobs and fell into his arms. I gazed at her, wondering
what sorrow had come upon her. Poor woman, I could no longer see
anything ridiculous about her! I felt a pang of remorse at the thought
that we had been laughing at her so much, when misfortune had already
singled her out.
On reaching home I sent word to my mother that I should be with her some
time during the day. She came at once, as she wanted to know how my
health was. We then arranged about the departure of the whole family,
with the exception of myself, as I wanted to stay in Paris during the
siege. My mother, my little boy and his nurse, my sisters, my Aunt
Annette, who kept house for me, and my mother's maid were all ready to
start two days later. I had taken rooms at Frascati's, at Havre, for the
whole tribe. But the desire to leave Paris was one thing, and the
possibility of doing so another. The stations were invaded by families
like mine, who thought it more prudent to emigrate. I sent my
man-servant to engage a compartment, and he came back three hours later
with his clothes torn, after receiving no end of kicks and blows.
"Madame cannot go into that crowd," he assured me; "it is quite
impossible. I should not be able to protect her. Besides, Madame will
not be alone; there is Madame's mother, the other ladies, and the
children. It is really quite impossible."
I sent at once for three of my friends, explained my difficulty, and
asked them to accompany me. I told my steward to be ready, as well as my
other man-servant and my mother's footman. He in his turn invited his
younger brother, who was a priest, and who was very willing to go with
us. We all set off in a railway omnibus. There were seventeen of us in
all, but only nine who were really travelling. Our eight protectors were
none too many, for those who were taking tickets were not human beings,
but wild beasts haunted by fear and spurred on by a desire to escape.
These brutes saw nothing but the little ticket office, the door leading
to the train, and then the train which would ensure their escape. The
presence of the young priest was a great help to us, for his religious
character made people refrain sometimes from blows.
When once all my people were installed in the compartment which had been
reserved for them, they waved their farewells, threw kisses, and the
train started. A shudder of terror ran through me, for I suddenly felt
so absolutely alone. It was the first time I had been separated from the
little child who was dearer to me than the whole world.
Two arms were then thrown affectionately round me, and a voice murmured,
"My dear Sarah, why did you not go, too? You are so delicate. Will you
be able to bear the solitude without the dear child?"
It was Madame Guerard, who had arrived too late to kiss the boy, but was
there now to comfort the mother. I gave way to my despair, regretting
that I had let him go away. And yet, as I said to myself, there might be
fighting in Paris! The idea never for an instant occurred to me that I
might have gone away with him. I thought that I might be of some use in
Paris. Of some use, but in what way? This I did not know. The idea
seemed stupid, but nevertheless that was my idea. It seemed to me that
every one who was fit ought to remain in Paris. In spite of my weakness,
I felt that I was fit, and with reason, as I proved later on. I
therefore remained, not knowing at all what I was going to do.
For some days I was perfectly dazed, missing the life around me, and
missing the affection.
SARAH BERNHARDT'S AMBULANCE AT THE ODEON THEATRE
The defence, however, was being organised, and I decided to use my
strength and intelligence in tending the wounded. The question was,
where could we instal an ambulance?
The Odeon Theatre had closed its doors, but I moved heaven and earth to
get permission to organise an ambulance in that theatre, and, thanks to
Emile de Girardin and Duquesnel, my wish was gratified. I went to the
War Office and made my declaration and my request, and my offers were
accepted for a military ambulance. The next difficulty was that I wanted
food. I wrote a line to the Prefect of Police. A military courier
arrived very soon, with a note from the Prefect containing the following
"Madame,--If you could possibly come at once, I would wait for you until
six o'clock. If not I will receive you to-morrow morning at eight.
Excuse the earliness of the hour, but I have to be at the Chamber at
nine in the morning, and, as your note seems to be urgent, I am anxious
to do all I can to be of service to you.
"COMTE DE KERATRY."
I remembered a Comte de Keratry who had been introduced to me at my
aunt's house, the evening I had recited poetry accompanied by Rossini,
but he was a young lieutenant, good-looking, witty, and lively. He had
introduced me to his mother. I had recited poetry at her _soirees_. The
young lieutenant had gone to Mexico, and for some time we had kept up a
correspondence, but this had gradually ceased, and we had not met again.
I asked Madame Guerard whether she thought that the Prefect were a near
relative of my young friend's. "It may be so," she replied, and we
discussed this in the carriage which was taking us at once to the
Tuileries Palace, where the Prefect had his offices. My heart was very
heavy when we came to the stone steps. Only a few months previously, one
April morning, I had been there with Madame Guerard. Then, as now, a
footman had come forward to open the door of my carriage, but the April
sunshine had then lighted up the steps, caught the shining lamps of the
State carriages, and sent its rays in all directions. There had been a
busy, joyful coming and going of the officers then, and elegant salutes
had been exchanged. On this occasion the misty, crafty-looking November
sun fell heavily on all it touched. Black, dirty-looking cabs drove up
one after the other, knocking against the iron gate, grazing the steps,
advancing or moving back, according to the coarse shouts of their
drivers. Instead of the elegant salutations I heard now such phrases as:
"Well, how are you, old chap?" "Oh, _la gueule de bois_!" "Well, any
news?" "Yes, it's the very deuce with us!" &c. &c.
The Palace was no longer the same.
The very atmosphere had changed. The faint perfume which elegant women
leave in the air as they pass was no longer there. A vague odour of
tobacco, of greasy clothes, of dirty hair, made the atmosphere seem
heavy. Ah, the beautiful French Empress! I could see her again in her
blue dress embroidered with silver, calling to her aid Cinderella's good
fairy to help her on again with her little slipper. The delightful young
Prince Imperial, too! I could see him helping me to arrange the pots of
verbena and marguerites, and holding in his arms, which were not strong
enough for it, a huge pot of rhododendrons, behind which his handsome
face completely disappeared. Then, too, I could see the Emperor Napoleon
III. with his half-closed eyes, clapping his hands at the rehearsal of
the curtseys intended for him.
And the fair Empress, dressed in strange clothes, had rushed away in the
carriage of her American dentist, for it was not even a Frenchman, but a
foreigner, who had had the courage to protect the unfortunate woman. And
the gentle Utopian Emperor had tried in vain to be killed on the
battle-field. Two horses had been killed under him, and he had not
received so much as a scratch. And after this he had given up his sword.
And we at home had all wept with anger, shame, and grief at this giving
up of the sword. And yet what courage it must have required for so brave
a man to carry out such an act. He had wanted to save a hundred thousand
men, to spare a hundred thousand lives, and to reassure a hundred
thousand mothers. Our poor, beloved Emperor! History will some day do
him justice, for he was good, humane, and confiding. Alas, alas! he was
I stopped a minute before entering the Prefect's suite of rooms. I was
obliged to wipe my eyes, and in order to change the current of my
thoughts I said to _mon petit Dame._
"Tell me, should you think me pretty if you saw me now for the first
"Oh yes!" she replied warmly.
"So much the better," I said, "for I want this old Prefect to think me
pretty. There are so many things I must ask him for!"
On entering his room, my surprise was great when I recognised in him the
lieutenant I knew. He had become captain, and then Prefect of Police.
When my name was announced by the usher, he sprang up from his chair and
came forward with his face beaming and both hands stretched out.
"Ah, you had forgotten me!" he said, and then he turned to greet Madame
Guerard in a friendly way.
"But I never thought I was coming to see you!" I replied: "and I am
delighted," I continued, "for you will let me have everything I ask
"Only that!" he remarked with a burst of laughter. "Well, will you give
your orders, Madame?" he continued.
"Yes. I want bread, milk, meat, vegetables, sugar, wine, brandy,
potatoes, eggs, coffee," I said straight away.
"Oh, let me get my breath!" exclaimed the Count-Prefect. "You speak so
quickly that I am gasping."
I was quiet for a moment, and then I continued:
"I have started an ambulance at the Odeon, but as it is a military
ambulance, the municipal authorities refuse me food. I have five wounded
men already, and I can manage for them, but other wounded men are being
sent to me, and I shall have to give them food."
"You shall be supplied above and beyond all your wishes," said the
Prefect. "There is food in the Palace which was being stored by the
unfortunate Empress. She had prepared enough for months and months. I
will have all you want sent to you, except meat, bread, and milk, and as
regards these I will give orders that your ambulance shall be included
in the municipal service, although it is a military one. Then I will
give you an order for salt and other things, which you will be able to
get from the Opera."
"From the Opera?" I repeated, looking at him incredulously. "But it is
only being built, and there is nothing but scaffolding there yet."
"Yes; but you must go through the little doorway under the scaffolding
opposite the Rue Scribe; you then go up the little spiral staircase
leading to the provision office, and there you will be supplied with
what you want."
"There is still something else I want to ask," I said.
"Go on; I am quite resigned, and ready for your orders," he replied.
"Well, I am very uneasy," I said, "for they have put a stock of powder
in the cellars under the Odeon. If Paris were to be bombarded and a
shell should fall on the building, we should all be blown up, and that
is not the aim and object of an ambulance."
"You are quite right," said the kind man, "and nothing could be more
stupid than to store powder there. I shall have more difficulty about
that, though," he continued, "for I shall have to deal with a crowd of
stubborn _bourgeois_ who want to organise the defence in their own way.
You must try to get a petition for me, signed by the most influential
householders and tradespeople in the neighbourhood. Now are you
satisfied?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied, shaking both his hands cordially. "You have been most
kind and charming. Thank you very much."
I then moved towards the door, but I stood still again suddenly, as
though hypnotised by an overcoat hanging over a chair. Madame Guerard
saw what had attracted my attention, and she pulled my sleeve gently.
"My dear Sarah," she whispered, "do not do that."
I looked beseechingly at the young Prefect, but he did not understand.
"What can I do now to oblige you, beautiful Madonna?" he asked.
I pointed to the coat and tried to look as charming as possible.
"I am very sorry," he said, bewildered, "but I do not understand at
I was still pointing to the coat.
"Give it me, will you?" I said.
"What do you want it for?"
"For my wounded men when they are convalescent."
He sank down on a chair in a fit of laughter. I was rather vexed at this
uncontrollable outburst, and I continued my explanation.
"There is nothing so funny about it," I said. "I have a poor fellow, for
instance, two of whose fingers have been taken off. He does not need to
stay in bed for that, naturally, and his soldier's cape is not warm
enough. It is very difficult to warm the big _foyer_ of the Odeon
sufficiently, and those who are well enough have to be there. The man I
tell you about is warm enough at present, because I took Henri Fould's
overcoat when he came to see me the other day. My poor soldier is huge,
and as Henri Fould is a giant I might never have had such an opportunity
again. I shall want a great many overcoats, though, and this looks like
a very warm one."
I stroked the furry lining of the coveted garment, and the young
Prefect, still choking with laughter, began to empty the pockets of his
overcoat. He pulled out a magnificent white silk muffler from the
"Will you allow me to keep my muffler?" he asked.
I put on a resigned expression and nodded my consent.
Our host then rang, and when the usher appeared he handed him the
overcoat, and said in a solemn voice, in spite of the laughter in his
"Will you carry this to the carriage for these ladies?"
I thanked him again, and went away feeling very happy.
Twelve days later I returned, taking with me a letter covered with the
signatures of the householders and tradesmen residing near the Odeon.
On entering the Prefect's room I was petrified to see him, instead of
advancing to meet me, rush towards a cupboard, open the door, and fling
something hastily into it. After this he leaned against the door as
though to prevent my opening it.
"Excuse me," he said, in a witty, mocking tone, "but I caught a violent
cold after your first visit. I have just put my overcoat--oh, only an
ugly old overcoat, not a warm one," he added quickly, "but still an
overcoat--inside there, and there it now is, and I will take the key out
of the lock."
He put the key carefully into his pocket, and then came forward and
offered me a chair. But our conversation soon took a more serious turn,
for the news was very bad. For the last twelve days the ambulances had
been crowded with wounded men. Everything was in a bad way, home
politics as well as foreign politics. The Germans were advancing on
Paris. The army of the Loire was being formed. Gambetta, Chanzy,
Bourbaki, and Trochu were organising a desperate defence. We talked for
some time about all these sad things, and I told him about the painful
impression I had had on my last visit to the Tuileries, of my
remembrance of every one, so brilliant, so considerate, and so happy
formerly, and so deeply to be pitied at present. We were silent for a
moment, and then I shook hands with him, told him I had received all he
had sent, and returned to my ambulance.
The Prefect had sent me ten barrels of wine and two of brandy; 30,000
eggs, all packed in boxes with lime and bran; a hundred bags of coffee
and boxes of tea, forty boxes of Albert biscuits, a thousand tins of
preserves, and a quantity of other things.
M. Menier, the great chocolate manufacturer, had sent me five hundred
pounds of chocolate. One of my friends, a flour dealer, had made me a
present of twenty sacks of flour, ten of which were maize flour. This
flour-dealer was the one who had asked me to be his wife when I was at
the Conservatoire. Felix Potin, my neighbour when I was living at 11
Boulevard Malesherbes, had responded to my appeal by sending two barrels
of raisins, a hundred boxes of sardines, three sacks of rice, two sacks
of lentils, and twenty sugar-loaves. From M. de Rothschild I had
received two barrels of brandy and a hundred bottles of his own wine for
the convalescents. I also received a very unexpected present. Leonie
Dubourg, an old school-fellow of mine at the Grand-Champs convent, sent
me fifty tin boxes each containing four pounds of salt butter. She had
married a very wealthy gentleman farmer, who cultivated his own farms,
which it seems were very numerous. I was very much touched at her
remembering me, for I had never seen her since the old days at the
convent. I had also asked for all the overcoats and slippers of my
various friends, and I had bought up a job lot of two hundred flannel
vests. My Aunt Betsy, my blind grandmother's sister, who is still living
in Holland, and is now ninety-three years of age, managed to get for me,
through the charming Ambassador for the Netherlands, three hundred
night-shirts of magnificent Dutch linen, and a hundred pairs of sheets.
I received lint and bandages from every corner of Paris, but it was more
particularly from the Palais de l'Industrie that I used to get my
provisions of lint and of linen for binding wounds. There was an
adorable woman there, named Mlle. Hocquigny, who was at the head of all
the ambulances. All that she did was done with a cheerful gracefulness,
and all that she was obliged to refuse she refused sorrowfully, but
still in a gracious manner. She was at that time over thirty years of
age, and although unmarried she looked more like a very young married
woman. She had large, blue, dreamy eyes, and a laughing mouth, a
deliciously oval face, little dimples, and, crowning all this grace,
this dreamy expression, and this coquettish, inviting mouth, a wide
forehead like that of the Virgins painted by the early painters, rather
prominent, encircled by hair worn in smooth, wide, flat bandeaux,
separated by a faultless parting. The forehead seemed like the
protecting rampart of this delicious face. Mlle. Hocquigny was adored
and made much of by every one, but she remained invulnerable to all
homage. She was happy in being beloved, but she would not allow any one
to express affection for her.
At the Palais de l'Industrie a remarkable number of celebrated doctors
and surgeons were on duty, and they, as well as the convalescents, were
all more or less in love with Mlle. Hocquigny. As she and I were great
friends, she confided to me her observations and her sorrowful disdain.
Thanks to her, I was never short of linen nor of lint. I had organised
my ambulance with a very small staff. My cook was installed in the
public _foyer_. I had bought her an immense cooking range, so that she
could make soups and herb-tea for fifty men. Her husband was chief
attendant. I had given him two assistants, and Madame Guerard, Madame
Lambquin, and I were the nurses. Two of us sat up at night, so that we
each went to bed one night in three. I preferred this to taking on some
woman whom I did not know. Madame Lambquin belonged to the Odeon, where
she used to take the part of the duennas. She was plain and had a common
face, but she was very talented. She talked loud and was very
plain-spoken. She called a spade a spade, and liked frankness and no
under meaning to things. At times she was a trifle embarrassing with the
crudeness of her words and her remarks, but she was kind, active, alert,
and devoted. My various friends who were on service at the
fortifications came to me in their free time to do my secretarial work.
I had to keep a book, which was shown every day to a sergeant who came
from the Val-de-Grace military hospital, giving all details as to how
many men came into our ambulance, how many died, and how many recovered
and left. Paris was in a state of siege; no one could go far outside the
walls, and no news from outside could be received. The Germans were not,
however, round the gates of the city. Baron Larrey came now and then to
see me, and I had as head surgeon Dr. Duchesne, who gave up his whole
time, night and day, to the care of my poor men during the five months
that this truly frightful nightmare lasted.
I cannot recall those terrible days without the deepest emotion. It was
no longer the country in danger that kept my nerves strung up, but the
sufferings of all her children. There were all those who were away
fighting, those who were brought in to us wounded or dying; the noble
women of the people, who stood for hours and hours in the _queue_ to get
the necessary dole of bread, meat, and milk for their poor little ones
at home. Ah, those poor women! I could see them from the theatre
windows, pressing up close to each other, blue with cold, and stamping
their feet on the ground to keep them from freezing--for that winter was
the most cruel one we had had for twenty years. Frequently one of these
poor, silent heroines was brought in to me, either in a swoon from
fatigue or struck down suddenly with congestion caused by cold. On
December 20 three of these unfortunate women were brought into the
ambulance. One of them had her feet frozen, and she lost the big toe of
her right foot. The second was an enormously stout woman, who was
suckling her child, and her poor breasts were harder than wood. She
simply howled with pain. The youngest of the three was a girl of sixteen
to eighteen years of age. She died of cold, on the trestle on which I
had had her placed to send her home. On December 24, there were fifteen
degrees of cold. I often sent Guillaume, our attendant, out with a
little brandy to warm the poor women. Oh! the suffering they must have
endured--those heart-broken mothers, those sisters and _fiancees_--in
their terrible dread. How excusable their rebellion seems during the
Commune, and even their bloodthirsty madness!
My ambulance was full. I had sixty beds, and was obliged to improvise
ten more. The soldiers were installed in the green-room and in the
general _foyer_, and the officers in a room which had been formerly the
refreshment-room of the theatre.
One day a young Breton, named Marie Le Gallec, was brought in. He had
been struck by a bullet in the chest and another in the wrist. Dr.
Duchesne bound up his chest firmly, and attended to his wrist. He then
said to me very simply:
"Let him have anything he likes--he is dying."
I bent over his bed, and said to him:
"Tell me what would give you pleasure, Marie Le Gallec."
"Soup," he answered promptly, in the most comic way.
Madame Guerard hurried away to the kitchen, and soon returned with a
bowl of broth and pieces of toast. I placed the bowl on the little
four-legged wooden shelf, which was so convenient for the meals of our
poor sufferers. The wounded man looked up at me and said, "Barra." I did
not understand, and he repeated, "Barra." His poor chest caused him to
hiss out the word, and he made the greatest efforts to repeat his
I sent immediately to the Marine Office, thinking that there would
surely be some Breton seamen there, and I explained my difficulty and my
ignorance of the Breton dialect.
I was informed that the word "barra" meant bread. I hurried at once to
Le Gallec with a large piece of bread. His face lighted up, and taking
it from me with his sound hand, he broke it up with his teeth and let
the pieces fall in the bowl. He then plunged his spoon into the middle
of the broth, and filled it up with bread until the spoon could stand
upright in it. When it stood up without shaking about, the young soldier
smiled. He was just preparing to eat this horrible concoction when the
young priest from St. Sulpice who had my ambulance in charge arrived. I
had sent for him on hearing the doctor's sad verdict. He laid his hand
gently on the young man's shoulder, thus stopping the movement of his
arm. The poor fellow looked up at the priest, who showed him the holy
"Oh," he said simply, and then, placing his coarse handkerchief over the
steaming soup, he put his hands together.
We had arranged the two screens which we used for isolating the dead or
dying around his bed. He was left alone with the priest whilst I went on
my rounds to calm those who were chaffing, or help the believers raise
themselves for prayer. The young priest soon pushed aside the partition,
and I then saw Marie Le Gallec, with a beaming face, eating his
abominable bread sop. He soon fell asleep but awoke before long and
asked for something to drink, and then died in a slight fit of choking.
Fortunately I did not lose many men out of the three hundred who came
into my ambulance, for the death of the unfortunate ones completely
I was very young at that time, only twenty-four years of age, but I
could nevertheless see the cowardice of some of the men and the heroism
of many of the others. A young Savoyard, eighteen years old, had had his
forefinger shot off. Baron Larrey was quite sure that he had done it
himself with his own gun, but I could not believe that. I noticed,
though, that, in spite of our nursing and care, the wound did not heal.
I bound it up in a different way, and the following day I saw that the
bandage had been altered. I mentioned this to Madame Lambquin, who was
sitting up that night with Madame Guerard.
"Good; I will keep my eye on him. You go to sleep, my child, and rely on
The next day when I arrived she told me that she had caught the young
man scraping the wound on his finger with his knife. I called him, and
told him that I should have to report this to the Val-de-Grace Hospital.
He began to weep, and vowed to me that he would never do it again, and
five days later he was well. I signed the paper authorising him to leave
the ambulance, and he was sent to the army of the defence. I often
wondered what became of him. Another of our patients bewildered us too.
Each time that his wound seemed to be just on the point of healing up,
he had a violent attack of dysentery, which prevented him getting well.
This seemed suspicious to Dr. Duchesne, and he asked me to watch the
man. At the end of a considerable time we were convinced that our
wounded man had thought out the most comical scheme.
He slept next the wall, and therefore had no neighbour on the one side.
During the night he managed to file the brass of his bedstead. He put
the filings in a little pot which had been used for ointment of some
kind. A few drops of water and some salt mixed with this powdered brass
formed a poison which might have cost its inventor his life. I was
furious at this stratagem. I wrote to the Val-de-Grace, and an ambulance
conveyance was sent to take this unpatriotic Frenchman away.
But side by side with these despicable men what heroism we saw! A young
captain was brought in one day. He was a tall fellow, a regular
Hercules, with a superb head and a frank expression. On my book he was
inscribed as Captain Menesson. He had been struck by a bullet at the top
of the arm, just at the shoulder. With a nurse's assistance I was trying
as gently as possible to take off his cloak, when three bullets fell
from the hood which he had pulled over his head, and I counted sixteen
bullet holes in the cloak. The young officer had stood upright for three
hours, serving as a target himself, whilst covering the retreat of his
men as they fired all the time on the enemy. This had taken place among
the Champigny vines. He had been brought in unconscious, in an ambulance
conveyance. He had lost a great deal of blood, and was half dead with
fatigue and weakness. He was very gentle and charming, and thought
himself sufficiently well two days later to return to the fight. The
doctor, however, would not allow this, and his sister, who was a nun,
besought him to wait until he was something like well again.
"Oh, not quite well," she said, smiling, "but just well enough to have
strength to fight."
Soon after he came into the ambulance the Cross of the Legion of Honour
was brought to him, and this was a moment of intense emotion for every
one. The unfortunate wounded men who could not move turned their
suffering faces towards him, and, with their eyes shining through a mist
of tears, gave him a fraternal look. The stronger amongst them held out
their hands to the young giant.
It was Christmas-eve, and I had decorated the ambulance with festoons of
green leaves. I had made pretty little chapels in front of the Virgin
Mary, and the young priest from St. Sulpice came to take part in our
poor but poetical Christmas service. He repeated some beautiful prayers,
and the wounded men, many of whom were from Brittany, sang some sad
solemn songs full of charm.
Porel, the present manager of the Vaudeville Theatre, had been wounded
on the Avron Plateau. He was then convalescent and was one of my
patients, together with two officers now ready to leave the ambulance.
That Christmas supper is one of my most charming and at the same time
most melancholy memories. It was served in the small room which we had
made into a bedroom. Our three beds were covered with draperies and
skins which I had had brought from home, and we used them as seats.
Mlle. Hocquigny had sent me five metres of _boudin blanc_
("white-pudding"), the famous Christmas dish, and all my poor soldiers
who were well enough were delighted with this delicacy. One of my
friends had had twenty large _brioche_ cakes made for me, and I had
ordered some large bowls of punch, the coloured flames from which amused
the grown-up sick children immensely. The young priest from St. Sulpice
accepted a piece of _brioche_, and after taking a little white wine left
us. Ah, how charming and good he was, that poor young priest! And how
well he managed to make Fortin, the insupportable wounded fellow, cease
talking. Gradually the latter began to get humanised, until finally he
began to think the priest was a good sort of fellow. Poor young priest!
He was shot by the Communists. I cried for days and days over the murder
of this young St. Sulpice priest.
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"Yes," he replied.
"Well, my boy, would you like cheese, soup, or sweets?" asked Madame
"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
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
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
"No; I want to leave. I'll see myself what will happen, but I want to
He shrugged his shoulders, called an officer, said something I did not
understand in German, and then went out, leaving us alone without our
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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.
"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
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
"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
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
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