CHAPTER XVII. THE GREAT REVENGE.
The Commune cost Paris fourteen thousand lives. Eight thousand persons were executed; six thousand were killed in open fight. Before the siege Paris had contained two million and a quarter of inhabitants: she had not half that number during the Commune, notwithstanding the multitude of small proprietors and peasants who had flocked thither from devastated homes.
Monday, May 29, found the city in the hands of the Versaillais. The Provisional Government and its Parliament were victorious. The army, defeated at Sedan, had conquered its insurgent countrymen. All that remained of the Commune was wreck and devastation. The Tuileries, the Column of the Place Vendome, the Treasury, the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and the Hotel-de-Ville, or City Hall, were destroyed, besides two theatres, the Law Courts, or Palais de Justice, the offices of the Council of State and the Court of Accounts, the State Safe Deposit (Caisse des Depots et de Consignations), the Library of the Louvre, the manufactory of Gobelin's tapestry, the Prefecture of Police, eight whole streets, and innumerable scattered private houses. The vengeance of the soldiers as they made their way from street to street, from barricade to barricade, was savage and indiscriminate. Every man arrested whose hands were black with powder was carried to a street corner or a courtyard, and summarily shot. Of course many wholly innocent persons perished, for the troops of the Commune had been of two kinds, - the National Guard and the Volunteers. Most of the latter were devils incarnate. Among them were theVengeurs de Flourens, who were foremost in executions, and bands called by such names as Les Enfants du Pere Duchene and Les Enfants Perdus. The National Guards were of three classes, - genuine Communists, workmen whose pay was their only resource for the support of their families, and pressed men, forced to fight, of whom there were a great many.
I have before me three narratives written by gentlemen who either suffered or participated in the Great Revenge. One was a resident in Paris who had taken no part either for or against the Commune; one had served it on compulsion as a soldier; and one was an officer of the Versailles army, who on May 21 led his troops through a breach into the city, and fought on till May 27, when all was over.
It seems to me that such accounts of personal experience in troubled times give a far more vivid picture of events than a mere formal narration. I therefore quote them in this chapter in preference to telling the story in my own words.
The first is by Count Joseph Orsi, whose visit to Raoul Rigault's office at the Prefecture of Police has already been told. He was left unmolested by the Commune, most probably because in early life he had been a member of those secret societies in Italy to which Louis Napoleon himself belonged. He says, -
[Footnote 1: Published in Fraser's Magazine, 1879.]
"On May 22 Paris was entering the last stage of its death struggle. The army of Versailles had entered it from four different points. The fight was desperate. Barricades were erected in almost every street. Prisoners on both sides were shot in scores at the street-corners. Three of the largest houses in the Rue Royale, where I lived, were on fire. Soldiers of the regular army were beginning to appear in our quarter, and early on Thursday, May 25, I heard the bell of my apartment ring violently. I opened it, and found myself face to face with twelve voltigeurs of the Versailles army; commanded by a lieutenant, who ordered the soldiers to search the house and shoot any one wearing a uniform. He told me that he must occupy my drawing-room, which looked on the Rue Royale, for the purpose of firing on the insurgents, who were holding a barricade where the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore joins the Rue Royale. My wife was seated on her sofa. He ordered her to leave the room. She resisted, and was removed by force. The soldiers then began firing on the insurgents from the windows. The insurgents had possession of the upper floors of some houses facing mine, and fired with such effect that the soldiers were driven from their position. The officer withdrew his men from the drawing-room and asked for a map of Paris, for he did not know exactly where he was. I made a friend of him by pointing to my pictures, everyone of which proved me to be a friend and follower of the emperor. He asked me if I had any wine to give his men, who had had nothing to eat or drink since the previous night. While they were partaking of bread and wine in the kitchen, and I was talking with the officer in the dining-room, a shot fired from across the street struck the officer on the temple. He fell as if struck dead. His soldiers rushed in and seized me. They were about to shoot me on the spot, when luckily my servant, with water and vinegar, brought the officer to his senses, so that he could raise his hand and make a sign to the soldiers, who had me fast by both my arms, to keep quiet. By God's mercy the officer had only been stunned. He had been hit, not by a bullet, but by a piece of brick forced out of the wall by a shot. I was released, but the soldiers were far from satisfied, believing their officer had accepted this explanation only to spare my life. They left my house at nightfall, and afterwards the fire of the insurgents became so hot that the front wall of the house fell in, and everything I had was smashed to pieces.