CHAPTER XIII. THE SIEGE OF PARIS.
Though the surrender of the emperor and his army at Sedan took place on September 2, nothing whatever was known of it by the Parisian public until the evening of September 4, when a reporter arrived at the office of the "Gaulois" with a Belgian newspaper in his pocket. The "Gaulois" dared not be the first sheet to publish the news of such a disaster; but despatches had already reached the Government, and by degrees rumors of what had happened crept through the streets of the capital. No one knew any details of the calamity, but every one soon understood that something terrible had occurred.
The Legislative Assembly held a midnight session; but nothing was determined on until the morning, when the Empire was voted out, and a Republic voted in.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning. Every Parisian was in the street, and, wonderful to say, all faces seemed to express satisfaction. The loss of an army, the surrender of the emperor, the national disgrace, the prospect of a siege, the advance of the Prussians, - were things apparently forgotten. Paris was charmed to have got rid of so unlucky a ruler, - the emperor for whom more than seven millions of Frenchmen had passed a vote of confidence a few months before. He seemed to have no longer a single friend, or rather he had one: in the Assembly an elderly deputy stood up in his place and boldly said that he had taken an oath to be faithful to the Emperor Napoleon, and did not think himself absolved from it by his misfortunes.
It was almost in a moment, almost without a breath of opposition, that on the morning of Sept. 5, 1870, the Empire was voted at an end, and a Republic put in its place. The duty of governing was at once confided to seven men, called the Committee of Defence. Of these, Arago, Cremieux, and Gamier-Pages had been members of the Provisional Government in 1848, while Leon Gambetta, Jules Favre, Jules Ferry, and Jules Simon afterwards distinguished themselves. Rochefort, the insurrectionist, made but one step from prison to the council board, and was admitted among the new rulers. But the two chief men in the Committee of Defence were Jules Favre and Gambetta.
Gambetta, who before that time had been little known, was from the South of France, and of Italian origin. He was a man full of enthusiasm, vehement, irascible, and impulsive. The day came when these qualities, tempered and refined, did good service to France, when he also proved himself one of those great men in history who are capable of supreme self-sacrifice. At present he was untried.
Jules Favre was respected for his unstained reputation and perfect integrity, his disinterestedness and civic virtues, as also for his fluency of speech. In person he was a small, thin man, with a head that was said to resemble the popular portraits of General Jackson.
General Jules Trochu, who was confirmed as military commander of Paris, had written a book, previous to the war, regarding the inefficiency of the French army; he had been therefore no favorite with the emperor. His chief defect, it was said, was that he talked so well that he was fond of talking, and too readily admitted many to his confidence.
The Council of Regency had in the night melted away. A mob was surging round the Tuileries. Where had the empress-regent fled?
When disasters had followed fast upon one another, the empress had in her bewilderment found it hard to realize that the end of the empire was at hand. Bazaine was the man whom she relied on. She had no great liking for Marshal MacMahon, and she does not appear to have been conscious that all was lost till, on the night of September 4, she found M. Conti, the emperor's secretary, busy destroying his private papers. To burn them was impossible; they were torn into small bits and put in a bath-tub, then hot water was poured over them, which reduced them to pulp. Vast quantities, however, remained undestroyed, some of them compromising to their writers.
When the truth of the situation broke upon the empress, she was very much frightened. Her dread was that she might be torn in pieces by a mob that would invade the Tuileries. In a fortnight her fair face had become haggard, and white streaks showed themselves in her beautiful hair.
It is safest in such cases to trust foreigners rather than subjects. Two foreigners occupied themselves with plans for the empress's personal safety. The first idea was that if flight became inevitable, she should take refuge with the Sisters of the Sacre Coeur, in their convent in the Rue Picpus; and arrangements had been made for this contingency.
The life of the empress was strange and piteous during her last days upon the throne. She was up every morning by seven, and heard mass. Her dress was black cashmere, with a white linen collar and cuffs. All day she was the victim of every person who claimed an audience, all talking, protesting, gesticulating, and generally begging. The day the false rumor arrived that the Prussians had been defeated at the Quarries of Jaumont she flew down to the guard-room, where the soldiers off duty were lounging on their beds, waving the telegram over her head.