CHAPTER XIII. THE SIEGE OF PARIS.
Butter rose to five dollars a pound, cabbages were sold by the leaf. Early in the siege, eggs were three dollars a dozen, and milk soon became unattainable. "Poor little babies died like flies," says an eye-witness. Fuel, too, was growing very scarce and very dear. The women supported their privations bravely, but it is terrible to think what must have been the sufferings of mothers deprived of wholesome food for their little children. The firmness and self-sacrifice of the bourgeoisie were above all praise.
All kinds of meats were eaten. Mule was said to be delicious, - far superior to beef. Antelope cost eighteen francs a pound, but was not as good as stewed rabbit; elephant's trunk was eight dollars a pound, it being esteemed a delicacy. Bear, kangaroo, ostrich, yak, etc., varied the bill of fare for those who could afford to eat them.
Men of wealth who had lost everything, took their misfortunes cheerfully. While the worst qualities of the Parisians came out in some classes, the best traits of the French character shone forth in others. A great deal of charity was dispensed, both public and private and on the whole, the very poorest class was but little the worse for the privations of the siege.
The houses left empty by their owners were made over to the refugees from the villages, and many amusing stories are told of their embarrassment when surrounded by objects of art, and articles of furniture whose use was unknown to them.
At first the theatres were closed, and some of them were turned into military hospitals; but by the beginning of November it was thought better to reopen them. At one theatre, Victor Hugo's "Les Chatiments" was recited, - that bitterest arraignment of Napoleon III. and the Second Empire; at another, Beethoven and Mendelssohn were played, with apologies for their being Germans.
The hospital parts of the theatres were railed off, and in the corridors ballet-girls, actors, and sisters of charity mingled together.
Victor Hugo was in Paris during the siege, but he lent his name to no party or demonstration. The recitation of his verses at the theatre afforded him great delight, but the triumph was short-lived. The attraction of "Les Chatiments" soon died away.
The most popular places of resort for idle men were the clubs. On November 21, one of these was visited by our American observer. He says, -
"The hall was filled to suffocation. Every man present had a pipe or cigar in his mouth. It was a sulphurous place, a Pandemonium, a Zoological Garden, a Pantomime, a Comedy, a Backwoods Fourth of July, and a Donnybrook Fair, all combined. Women too were there, the fiercest in the place. Orators roared, and fingers were shaken. One speech was on the infringement of the liberties of the citizen because soldiers were made to march left or right according to the will of their officers. Another considered that the sluggards who went on hospital service with red crosses on their caps were no better than cowards. Then they discovered a spy (as they supposed) in their midst, and time was consumed in hustling him out. Lastly an orator concluded his speech with awful blasphemy, wishing that he were a Titan, and could drive a dagger into the Christian's God."
The most terrible suffering in Paris during the siege was probably mental, suffering from the want of news; but by the middle of November the balloon and pigeon postal service was organized. Balloons were manufactured in Paris, and sent out whenever the wind was favorable. It was found necessary, however, to send them off by night, lest they should be fired into by the Germans. A balloon generally carried one or two passengers, and was sent up from one of the now empty railroad stations. It also generally took five small cages, each containing thirty-six pigeons. These pigeons were of various colors, and all named. They were expected to return soon to their homes, unless cold, fog, a hawk, or a Prnssian bullet should stop them on the way. Each would bring back a small quill fastened by threads to one of its tail-feathers and containing a minute square of flexible, waterproof paper, on which had been photographed messages in characters so small as to be deciphered only by a microscope. Some of these would be official despatches, some private messages. One pigeon would carry as much as, printed in ordinary type, would fill one sheet of a newspaper. The Parisians looked upon the pigeons with a kind of veneration; when one, drooping and weary, alighted on some roof, a crowd would collect and watch it anxiously. Sometimes they were caught by the Germans, and sent back into Paris with false news.
On November 15 a pigeon brought a despatch saying that the South of France had raised an army for the relief of Paris, and that it was in motion under an old general with the romantic name of Aurelles des Paladines, that it had driven the Prussians out of Orleans, and was coming on with all speed to the capital. The Parisians were eager to make a sortie and to join this relieving army. General Trochu was not so eager, having no great confidence in his francs-tireurs, his National Guard, and his Mobiles. They numbered in all four hundred thousand men; but eighty thousand serviceable soldiers would have been worth far more.