About once in every seventy or eighty years some exceptionally moving tragedy stirs the heart of the civilized world. The tragedy of our own century is the execution of the hostages in Paris, May 24 and 26, 1871.

At one o'clock on the morning of April 6, three weeks after the proclamation of the Commune, a body of the National Guard was drawn up on the sidewalk in the neighborhood of the Madeleine. A door suddenly opened and a man came hastily out, followed by two National Guards shouting to their comrades. The man was arrested at once, making no resistance. It was the Abbe Duguerry, cure of the Madeleine,[1] - the first of the so-called hostages arrested in retaliation for the summary execution of General Duval, who had commanded one of the three columns that marched out of Paris the day before to attack the Versaillais.

[Footnote 1: Cure in France means rector; what we mean by a curate or assistant minister is there called vicaire.]

Both the cure of the Madeleine and his vicaire, the Abbe Lamazou, were that night arrested. The latter, who escaped death as a hostage, published an account of his experiences; but he died not long after of heart disease, brought on by his excitement and suffering during the Commune.

The same night Monseigneur Darboy, the archbishop of Paris, his chaplain, and eight other priests, were arrested. One was a missionary just returned from China, another was the Abbe Crozes, the admirable chaplain (aumonier) of the prison of La Roquette, - a man whose deeds of charity would form a noble chapter of Christian biography.

When Archbishop Darboy was brought before the notorious "delegate," Raoul Rigault, he began to speak, saying, "My children - " "Citizen," interrupted Rigault, "you are not here before children, - we are men!" This sally was heartily applauded in the publications of the Commune.

As it would not be possible to sketch the lives and deaths of all these victims of revolutionary violence, it may be well to select the history of the youngest among them, Paul Seigneret.[1] His father was a professor in the high school at Lyons. Paul was born in 1845, and was therefore twenty-six years old when he met death, as a hostage, at the hands of the Commune. His home had been a happy and pious one, and he had a beloved brother Charles, to whom he clung with the most tender devotion. Charles expected to be a priest; Paul was destined for the army, but he earnestly wished that he too might enter the ministry. Lamartine's "Jocelyn" had made a deep impression on him, but his father having objected to his reading it, he laid it aside unfinished; what he had read, however, remained rooted in his memory.

[Footnote 1: Memoir of Paul Seigneret, abridged in the "Monthly Packet."]

When Paul was eighteen, his father gave his sanction to his entering the priesthood; he thought him too delicate, however, to lead the life of a country pastor, and desired him, before he made up his mind as to his vocation, to accept a position offered him as tutor in a family in Brittany.

Present duties being sanctified, not hampered, by higher hopes and aspirations, Paul gained the love and confidence of the family in which he taught, and also of the neighboring peasantry. "He was," says the lady whose children he instructed, "like a good angel sent among us to do good and to give pleasure."

When his time of probation was passed, he decided to enter a convent at Solesmes, and by submitting himself to convent rules, make sure of his vocation. But before making any final choice, we find from his letters that "if France were invaded," he claimed "the right to do his duty as a citizen and a son."

He entered the convent at Solesmes, first as a postulant, then as a novice. "The Holy Gospels," said his superior, "Saint Paul's Epistles, and the Psalms were his favorite studies, - the food on which his piety was chiefly nourished. He also sought Christ in history."

Still, he was not entirely satisfied with life in a convent; he wished to be more actively employed in doing good. He therefore became a student for the regular ministry, - a Seminarist of Saint-Sulpice. But when the Prussian armies were advancing on Paris, he offered himself for hospital service, as did also his brother.

In a moment of passionate enthusiasm, speaking to that dear brother of the dangers awaiting those who had to seek and tend the wounded on the field of battle, he cried: "Do you think God may this year grant me the grace of yielding up my life to Him as a sacrifice? For to fall, an expiatory sacrifice beneath the righteous condemnation that hangs over France, would be to die for Him."

The war being over, he returned to the Seminary, March 15, 1871. On March 18 the Commune was declared, and Lecomte and Thomas were murdered; shortly after this the Seminary was invaded, the students were dispersed, and the priests in charge made prisoners. Most of the young men thus turned out into the streets left Paris. Paul at first intended to remain; but thinking that his family would be anxious about him, he applied for a pass, intending to go to Lyons. At the prefecture of police he and a fellow-student found a dense crowd waiting to pay two francs for permission to get away. They were shown into a room where a man in a major's uniform sat at a table covered with glasses and empty bottles, with a woman beside him. When he heard what they wanted, he broke into a volley of abuse, and assured them that the only pass he would give them was a pass to prison. Accordingly, Paul and his companion soon found themselves in the prison connected with the prefecture. The cells were so crowded that they were confined in a corridor with six Jesuit fathers and some of their servants and lay brethren. A sort of community life was at once organized, with daily service and an hour for meditation. Paul esteemed it a privilege to enjoy the conversation of the elder and more learned priests. He conversed with them about the Bible, philosophy, and literature; "He was ready," says a companion who was saved, "to meet a martyr's death; but there was one horror he prayed to be spared, - that of being torn in pieces by a mob."

On May 13, a turnkey announced to the priests that they were to leave the prefecture. "I fear," he said, "that you are to be taken to Mazas. I am not sure, but a man cannot have such good prisoners as you are in his charge without taking some interest in them."

On being brought forth from their corridor, they found themselves in a crowd of priests (hostages like themselves) who were being sent to Mazas. The youth of the Seminary students at once attracted attention, and the Vicar-General, Monseigneur Surat, said: "I can understand that priests and old men should be here, gentlemen, but not that you, mere Seminarists, should be forced to share the troubles of your ecclesiastical superiors."

The transfer to Mazas was in the voitures cellulaires. They were so low and narrow that every jolt threw the occupant against the sides or roof. In one of these cells the venerable and infirm archbishop had been transferred to Mazas a short time before.

Each prisoner on reaching Mazas was shut up in a tiny cell. Paul wrote (for they were allowed writing materials):

"I have a nice little cell, with a bit of blue sky above it, to which my thoughts fly, and a hammock, so that it is possible for me to sleep again. I hardly dare to tell you I am happy, and am trusting myself in God's hands, for I am anxious about you, and anxious for our poor France. I have my great comfort, - work. I have already written an essay on Saint Paul, which I have been some time meditating. I am expecting a Bible, and with that I think I could defy weariness for years. A few days ago I discovered that one of my friends was next to me. We bid each other good night and good morning by rapping against the wall, and this would make us less lonely, were we oppressed by solitude."

At the close of this letter he adds, -

"I have at last received the dear Bible. You should have seen how I seized and kissed it! Now the Commune may leave me here to moulder, if it will!"

On Sunday, May 21, the Versailles army began to make its way into Paris, and the Commune, seeing its fantastic and terrible power about to pass away, tried to startle the world by its excesses. Orders were sent at once to Mazas to send the archbishop, the priests, Senator Bonjean, suspected spies, and sergents de ville to that part of the prison of La Roquette reserved for condemned criminals. Paul and his friend the other Seminarist were of the number.

Before the gates of La Roquette they found a fierce crowd shouting insults and curses. Many were women and children. "Here they come!" the mob yelled. "Down with the priests! shoot them! kill them!" Paul preserved his composure, and looked on with a smile of serene hope upon his face. "The scene was like that horror from which he had prayed to be saved. His terror was gone. His prayer had been answered."

The prisoners on reaching La Roquette were first passed into a hall, where they found the archbishop and several priests. The former was calm, but he was ill, and his features bore marks of acute suffering. After an hour's delay the prisoners were locked into separate cells, from which real malefactors had been removed to make room for them.

In the next cell to Paul was the Abbe Planchet. By standing at the window they could hear each other's voices. The abbe could read Thomas a Kempis to his fellow prisoner, and they daily recited together the litany for the dying.

One of the imprisoned priests was a missionary lately returned from China; and when they met at the hours allowed for fresh air in the courtyard, Paul was eager to hear his accounts of the martyrdom and steadfastness of Chinese converts. "M. Paul," said an old soldier who was one of the hostages, "seemed to look on martyrdom as a privilege, regretting only the pain it would cause his family."

On Wednesday, May 24, the execution of the archbishop and five others took place, Paul saw them pass by his window; one of the escort shook his gun at him, and pointing it at the archbishop, gave him to understand what they were going to do.

The next day, Thursday, May 25, the order came. "Citizens," said the messenger who brought it, "pay attention, and answer when your names are called. Fifteen of you are wanted." As each was named, he stepped out of the ranks and took his place in the death-row. Paul Seigneret was one of them. He seemed perfectly calm, and gently pressed the hand of his Seminary friend who was not summoned.

In the courtyard they were joined by thirty-five ex-policemen, so-called hostages like themselves. The execution was to take place in the Rue Haxo, at the farthest extremity of Belleville, and the march was made on foot, so that the victims were exposed to all the insults of the populace. It has been said that when they reached the Rue Haxo, where they were placed against a wall, Paul was thrown down while attempting to defend an aged priest, and was maltreated by the crowd; but this account was not confirmed when, four days later, the bodies were taken from the trench into which they had been thrown: Paul's showed no sign of violence. His eyes were closed, his face was calm. His cassock was pierced with balls and stained with blood. He is buried at Saint-Sulpice.

His father received the news of his death calmly. He wrote: "Let us bear our poor child's death as much like Christians and as much like men as we can. May his blood, joined to that of so many other innocent victims, finally appease the justice of God," But when, shortly afterwards, Charles died of an illness brought on by excessive fatigue in serving the ambulances, the father sank under the double stroke, and died fifteen days after his last remaining son.

From the death of the youngest and the humblest of these ecclesiastical hostages, we will turn now to that of the venerable archbishop, and to his experiences during the forty-eight hours that he passed at La Roquette, after having been transferred to it from Mazas.

With studied cruelty and insolence, a cell of the worst description was assigned to the chief of the clergy in France. It had been commonly appropriated to murderers on the eve of their execution. There was barely standing-room in it beside the filthy and squalid bed. The beds and cells of the other priests were at least clean, but this treatment of the archbishop had been ordered by the Commune.

On the morning of May 23 the prisoners had been permitted to breathe fresh air in a narrow paved courtyard; but the archbishop was too weak and ill for exercise; he lay half fainting on his bed. In addition to his other sufferings he was faint from hunger, for the advance of the Versailles troops had cut off the Commune's supplies, and the hostages were of course the last persons they wished to care for. Pere Olivariet (shot three days later in the same party as Paul Seigneret, in the Rue Haxo) had had some cake and chocolate sent him before he left Mazas; with these he fed the old man by mouthfuls. This was all the nourishment the archbishop had during the two days he spent at La Roquette. Mr. Washburne, the American minister, had with difficulty obtained permission to send him a small quantity of strengthening wine during his stay at Mazas. But a greater boon than earthly food or drink was brought him by Pere Olivariet, who had received while at Mazas, in a common pasteboard box, some of the consecrated wafers used by the Roman Catholic Church in holy communion; and he had it in his power to give the archbishop the highest consolation that could have been offered him.

It had been intended to execute the hostages on the 23d; but the director of the prison, endeavoring to evade the horrible task of delivering up his prisoners, pronounced the first order he received informal.

The accursed 24th of May dawned, brilliant and beautiful. The archbishop went down in the early morning to obtain the breath of fresh air allowed him. Judge Bonjean, who had never professed himself a believer, came up to him and prayed him for his blessing, saying that he had seen the truth, as it were on the right hand of Death, and he too was about to depart in the true faith of a Christian.

By this time the insurgents held little more of Paris than the heights of Belleville, Pere la Chaise, and the neighborhood of La Roquette, which is not far from the Place de la Bastille. The Communal Government had quitted the Hotel-de-Ville and taken refuge not far from La Roquette, in the Mairie of the Eleventh Arrondissement.

At six in the morning of May 24th,[1] a second order came to the director of the prison to deliver up all hostages in his hands. He remonstrated, saying he could not act upon an order to deliver up prisoners who were not named. Finally, a compromise was effected; six were to be chosen. The commander of the firing party asked for the prison register. The names of the hostages were not there. Then the list from Mazas was demanded. The director could not find it. At last, after long searching, they discovered it themselves. Genton, the man in command, sat down to pick out his six victims. He wrote Darboy, Bonjean, Jecker, Allard, Clerc, Ducoudray. Then he paused, rubbed out Jecker, and put in Duguerrey. Darboy, as we know, was the archbishop; Bonjean, judge of the Court of Appeals; Allard, head-chaplain to the hospitals, who had been unwearied in his services to the wounded; Clerc and Ducoudray were Jesuit fathers; Duguerrey was pastor of the Madeleine. Jecker was a banker who had negotiated Mexican loans for the Government. The next day the Commune made a present of him to Genton, who, after trying in vain to get a few hundred thousand francs out of him for his ransom, shot him, assisted by four others, one of whom was Ferre, and flung his body into the cellar of a half-built house upon the heights of Belleville.

[Footnote 1: Macmillan's Magazine, 1873.]

When the order drawn up by Genton had been approved at headquarters, the director of the prison had no resource but to deliver up his prisoners.

Another man, wearing a scarf of office, had now joined the party. He was very impatient, and accused the others roundly of a want of revolutionary spirit. He landed afterwards in New York, where his fellow-Communists gave him a public reception.

One of the warders of the prison, Henrion by name, made some attempt to expostulate with the Vengeurs de Flourens, who had been told off for the execution. "What would you have?" was the answer. "Killing is not at all amusing. We were killing this morning at the Prefecture of Police. But they say this is reprisal. The Versaillais have been killing our generals."

Soon Henrion was called upon to open the fourth corridor. "I must go and get the keys," he answered. He had them in his hand at the moment. He went rapidly away, flung the keys into a heap of filth, and rushed out of the prison. By means of a twenty-franc gold piece that he had with him, he passed out of the gates of Paris, and sought refuge with the Bavarians at Vincennes.

Meantime another bunch of keys was found, and the executioners, led by Ferre, Lolive, and Megy, - that member of the Commune whom none of them seemed to know, - hurried upstairs. In the crowd weregamins and women, National Guards, Garibaldians, and others, but chiefly the Vengeurs de Flourens, a corps of which an Englishman who served the Commune said: "They were to a man all blackguards."

Up the prison stairs they swarmed, shouting threats and curses, especially against the archbishop, who was erroneously believed by the populace of Paris to have had provisions hidden in the vaults of Notre Dame and in his palace during the siege. A turnkey was ordered to summon the six prisoners; but when he found whom he was to call, he refused, and the officer in command had to call them himself.

The archbishop's name was first. He came out of his cell at once, wearing his purple cassock. Then Gaspard Duguerrey was summoned. He was eighty years old. He did not answer immediately, and was called a second time. Next, Leon Ducoudray was called, - a Jesuit father, head of a college, a tall, fine-looking man. He came forth with a proud smile. Alexis Clerc, also a Jesuit father, stepped forth briskly, almost gayly. Then came Michel Allard, the hospital chaplain, - a gentle, kindly-looking man. The three weeks before his arrest had been spent by him in attending upon the wounded of the Commune. Finally the judge, Senator Louis Bonjean, was called. "In a moment," he replied; "I am putting my coat on." At this, one of the leaders seized him. "You will want no coat where you are going," he cried; "come as you are."

The only one of the party who seemed to tremble was the aged cure of the Madeleine; but his nervous tremor soon passed off, and he was calm like the others. As they went down the winding stairs, the archbishop (being first) stepped rapidly before the rest, and turning at the bottom, raised his hand and pronounced the absolution. After this there was silence among the prisoners. "The chaplain Allard alone," said one of the Commune, "kept on muttering something." He was reciting, half aloud, the service for the dying.

Pere Ducoudray had his breviary in his hand. He gave it, as he passed, to the concierge of the prison. The captain of the firing party snatched it, and flung it on the fire.

When the spot was reached where the shooting was to take place, the archbishop addressed some words of pity and forgiveness to the murderers. Two of the firing party knelt at his feet; but he had not time to bless them before, with threats and blows, they were forced to rise, and the archbishop was ordered to go and place himself against the wall.

But here, when the bitterness of death was almost passed, occurred a difficulty. Two of the leaders wanted to have the execution in a little inner courtyard, shut in by blank walls. So the procession was again formed, marched through long passages and up stairways, and halted while keys were searched for, before it came to the spot. On the way, a man crept up to the archbishop, uttering blasphemies into his ear. The good man's mild look of reproof and pain so moved one of the sub-officers that he drove the man off, saying: "We are here to shoot these men, not to insult them."

The six victims were at last placed in a line, with their backs to the wall. As Ferre was giving the order to fire, the archbishop raised his right hand in order to give, as his last act, his episcopal blessing. As he did so, Lolive exclaimed: "That's your benediction is it? - now take mine!" and shot the old man through the body with a revolver. All were shot dead at once, save M. Bonjean.

There is now a marble slab in the little court inscribed with their names, and headed: "Respect this place, which witnessed the death of noble men and martyrs." The warder, Henrion, was put in charge of the place, and planted it with beds of flowers.

The execution over, the leaders searched the cells of their victims. In most of them they found nothing; in two were worn cassocks, and in the archbishop's was his pastoral ring. One of the party said the amethyst in it was a diamond; another contradicted him, and said it was an emerald. The bodies lay unburied until two o'clock in the morning, when four or five of those who had shot them despoiled them, one hanging the archbishop's chain and cross about his own neck, another appropriating his silver shoe-buckles. Then they loaded the bodies on a hand-barrow and carried them to an open trench dug in Pere la Chaise. There, four days later, when the Versaillais had full possession of the city, they were found. The archbishop and the Abbe Duguerrey were taken to the archbishop's house with a guard of honor, and are buried at Notre Dame. The two Jesuit fathers were buried in their own cemetery, and Judge Bonjean and the hospital chaplain sleep in honored graves in Pere la Chaise.

After these executions a large number of so-called "hostages," - ecclesiastics, soldiers of the line, sergents de ville, and police agents remained shut up in La Roquette. It was Saturday, May 27, the day before Whit Sunday. Says the Abbe Lamazou, -

"It was a few minutes past three, and I was kneeling in my cell saying my prayers for the day, when I heard bolts rattling in the corridor. We were no longer locked in with keys. Suddenly the door of my cell was thrown open, and a voice cried: 'Courage! our time has come.' 'Yes, courage!' I answered. 'God's will be done.' I had on my ecclesiastical habit, and went out into the corridor. There I found a mixed crowd of prisoners, priests, soldiers, and National Guards. The priests and the National Guards seemed resigned to their fate, but the soldiers, who had fought the Prussians, could not believe it was intended to shoot them. Suddenly a voice, loud as a trumpet, rose above the din. 'Friends,' it cried, 'hearken to a man who desires to save you. These wretches of the Commune have killed more than enough people. Don't let yourselves be murdered! Join me. Let us resist. Sooner than give you up I will die with you!' The speaker was Poiret, one of the warders of the prison. He had been horrified by what had been done already, and when ordered by his superiors to give up the prisoners in his corridor to a yelling crowd, he had shut the doors on the third story behind him, and was advising us, at the risk of his own life, to organize resistance."

The abbe joined him with, "Don't let us be shot, my friends; let us defend ourselves. Trust in God; he is on our side!"

But many hesitated. "Resistance is mere madness," they said; and a soldier shouted, "They don't want to kill us; they want the priests! Don't let us lose our lives defending them!"

"The sergents de ville in the story below you," cried Poiret, "are going to defend themselves, They are making a barricade across the door of their corridor. We have no arms, but we have courage. Don't let us be shot down by the rabble."

It was proposed to make a hole in the floor, and so to communicate with the sergents de ville. The prisoners armed themselves with boards and iron torn from their bedsteads, and in five minutes had made an opening through the floor. A non-commissioned officer from below climbed through it, and arranged with Poiret the plan of defence.

By this time the inner courtyard of the prison was invaded by a rough and squalid crowd, come to take a hand in whatever murder or mischief might be done. The besieged put mattresses before their windows for protection. The man who led the mob was one Pasquier, a murderer who had been in a condemned cell in La Roquette till let out by the general jail-delivery of the Commune.

Two barricades were built like that on the floor below. Pasquier and some of his followers had burst open the outer door, and were endeavoring to burn both the prison and the prisoners. "Never fear," cried a corporal who had superintended the hasty erection of the barricades; "I put nothing combustible into them. They can't burn floor tiles and wire mattresses. Bring all the water you can."

The crowd continued to shout threats. The battery from Pere la Chaise, they cried, was coming; and often a voice would shout, "Soldiers of the Loire, surrender! We will not hurt you. We will set you at liberty!" A few soldiers trusted this promise, and as soon as they got into the crowd were massacred.

In the midst of the tumult came a sudden lull; the besieged could see that something strange had taken place. The crowd had been informed that the Government, alarmed by the advance of the Versailles troops, had abandoned its headquarters at the mairie of the Eleventh Arrondissement, and had gone to Belleville. Amazed and confused by this intelligence, the mob followed its leaders. Only a few minutes before it left, two guns and a mortar had been brought to fire on the prison; they were now dragged away in the wake of the Government.

The criminal prisoners at La Roquette were in a state of great excitement. They had been liberated, and such weapons as could be found were put into their hands; but they were not inclined either to kill their fellow-captives or to fight for the Commune. They hastily made off, shouting, "Vive la Commune! Vive la Republique!"

By this time the prison director and his officials had disappeared. The prison doors were open. Then came another danger: soldiers of the Commune, fleeing from the vengeance of the Versaillais, might seek refuge in the prison. With much difficulty the Abbe Lamazou persuaded Poiret and some other warders who had stood with him, to close the gates till the arrival of troops from Versailles. It was still more difficult, now that a way was open to escape, to persuade his fellow-captives to remain in prison. Some priests would not take his advice, among them Monseigneur Surat, the vicar-general. He had secured a suit of citizen's clothes, and hoped to escape in safety. In vain the Abbe Lamazou called out to him, "To go is certain death; to stay is possible safety." He was killed most cruelly, together with two' priests and a layman.

At eleven o'clock at night, firing seemed to cease in the city, but outside of the prison the maddened crowd continued all night howling insults and curses. Hours seemed ages to the anxious and now famished captives, shut up in the great building. The barricade of the Rue de la Roquette was near them, still defended by insurgents; but in the early dawn it was abandoned, and shortly after, a battalion of marines took possession of La Roquette. The resistance of the prisoners, which had seemed at first so desperate, had proved successful.

Innumerable other anecdotes have found their way into print concerning the last hours of the Commune; but I will rather tell of Megy, the member of the Council who, in his scarf of office, animated the party that slew the archbishop and his, five companions.

He reached New York in 1878, and, as I said, was received with an ovation by a colony of escaped Communists who had settled on our shores. A reporter connected with the New York "World" called upon Megy, and here is his account of the interview: -

"'I was born in Paris, in 1844,' said the ex-member of the Commune, lighting a cigar; 'I went through a primary school, and learned but little. I was apprenticed to a machinist. When I was twenty I found work on the Suez Canal. I was already a member of a secret society organized against the Empire, with Blanqui at its head. In 1866 I came back to Paris, and persuaded all my fellow-workmen in the establishment where I was employed to become conspirators. We waited for a good opportunity to commence an insurrection. Some of us wanted to begin when Pierre Bonaparte murdered Victor Noir; but it was put off till February 7, when about three thousand of us rushed into the streets, began raising barricades, and proclaimed a Republic. The next day two thousand republicans were arrested. On February 11 six police agents came to my house at a quarter past five in the morning. I had a pistol, and when the first one entered my room to arrest me, I shot him dead. You should have seen how the others scampered downstairs. I am glad I killed him. But five minutes after, I was overpowered, bound, and taken to prison. I was condemned to twenty years in New Caledonia, with hard labor. I was sent to Toulon, but before my embarkation the Republic was proclaimed, and a decree of the Government set me at liberty. I came to Paris, and was named a member of the Municipal Council. In October, 1870, during the siege, an order was passed for my arrest because I endeavored to deprive General Trochu of his command. I hid myself, enlisted under a false name, and fought the Prussians. Then I went to the South of France, and waited to see what would happen. I was there when the Commune was proclaimed. I arrested the prefect of Marseilles on my own responsibility, and put myself in his place. I was prefect of Marseilles for eight days. Early in April I made my way to Paris, was made a general, and put in charge of Fort Issy.[l] When Fort Issy fell, I was made commander-in-chief on the left bank of the Seine. I ordered the Palace of the Legion of Honor to be set on fire; I defended the barricades on the Boulevard of Magenta; and when I left them on May 24, I found that Ferre and Deleschuze had given orders to shoot the hostages because the troops of Thiers had shot eight of our officers.'"

[Footnote 1: General Rossel gave his opinion of the officers in command at Fort Issy in his letter to the Commune.]

"'Did you approve that order?'" asked the "World's" reporter.

"'Yes; why not? Of course I approved it. I went at once to La Roquette, to be present at the execution. We were one hundred and fifty men, but one hundred and twenty of them slunk away, and only thirty remained for the work we came for.'

"'And what did you do?'

"'Ma foi! I don't particularly care to say what I did; it might injure me here where I have got work. We called out the men we came to shoot, and we shot them as that kind of thing is generally done. We took them down into a courtyard, put them against a wall, and gave the order to fire; that was all.'

"After a minute's silence, Megy added: 'It was all M. Thiers' fault. We offered to give him up the hostages if he would give us Blanqui; but he refused, and so we shot them. After the execution I fought to the last. I escaped from Paris in a coal-cart, and went to Geneva. I have had work in London and in Birmingham, and now I have got work in New York.'"

He went on to affirm that there was a large colony of Communists in that city; that America needed revolutionizing as much as France; that Cardinal McCloskey might find himself in the same position as Monseigneur Darboy; and so on.

I have quoted this interview with Megy at some length, because it shows the Communists painted by one of their own number. Before the reporter left him, he chanced to pronounce the name of Mr. Washburne. "Washburne is a liar and a cur," cried Megy, angrily. "Before the Commune ended, some of our people asked him what the Versailles Government would do with us if we surrendered or were conquered. 'I assure you,' he said, 'you would be shot.' During the siege of Paris, Washburne was a German spy. He is a villanous old rascal."

In studying the history of the Commune, it is desirable to remember dates. The whole affair lasted seventy-three days. On March 18 the guns on Montmartre were taken by the populace, Generals Lecomte and Thomas were shot, and the Commune was proclaimed. Military operations were begun April 4. On April 9 Fort Valerien began to throw shells into Paris. From that day forward, the Versailles troops continued to advance, taking possession one by one of the forts and the positions of the Federals. On Sunday, May 21, the Versailles troops began to enter Paris, and fought their way steadily from street to street till Sunday, May 27, when all was over. The hostages were not hostages in the true sense of the word; they had not been given up in pledge for the performance of any promise. They were persons seized for purposes of intimidation and retaliation, as in 1826 the Turks seized the most prominent Christians in Scio.

During the last five days of the Commune, Dombrowski, its only general with military capacity, was killed, - it is supposed, by one of his own men. The Tuileries, the Hotel-de-Ville, and numerous other buildings were fired, the Dominican Brothers were massacred, and the executions in the Rue Haxo took place, besides others in other parts of Belleville and at the Prefecture. One of the most diabolical pieces of destruction attempted was that of the Grand Livre.

The Grand Livre is the book kept in the French Treasury in which are inscribed the names and accounts of all those who hold Government securities; and as the French Government is the proprietor of all railroads, telegraph systems, and many other things that in England and the United States are left to private enterprise, the loss of the Grand Livre would have involved thousands upon thousands of families in ruin. For a man to have his name on the Grand Livre is to constitute him what is called a rentier, rentes being the French word for dividends from the public funds.

The Grand Livre is kept at the Ministry of Finance; that building Ferre ordered to be summarily destroyed, uttering the words, "Flambez Finances." The building was accordingly set on fire the day before the Commune fell; and for some days after, it was thought throughout all France that the Grand Livre had perished. By heroic exertions some of it was saved, the officials in charge of it rushing into the flames and rescuing that portion of it which contained the names of living property-holders, I while they let the records of past generations burn.

There was in existence a duplicate copy of the Grand Livre, though this was known only to the higher officials of the Treasury. It was kept in a sort of register's office not far from the Tuileries, and was in the care of a M. Chazal. When the Tuileries and the Treasury were on fire, the object of M. Chazal and of all who knew of the precious duplicate was to save it, in case the building in which it was deposited should share in the conflagration.

Of course the Grand Livre is of vast bulk. This copy was contained in great bundles of loose sheets. Luckily these papers were in stout oaken boxes on the ground-floor of a detached building opening on a courtyard. The Versailles troops had reached the spot, and ninety sappers and miners, with seven brave firemen, were at work with water-buckets attempting to save the main building, which was blazing fiercely when M. Chazal arrived. Already the detached building in which the precious duplicate was stored was on fire. There was no place to which he could safely remove the precious papers, no means of transport to carry them away.

During the siege orders had been given to have large piles of sand placed in the courtyards of all public buildings, to smother shells should any fall there. There were three of these sand-piles lying in the yard of this record office. In them deep trenches were rapidly dug; and the boxes were buried. Then the pile was covered with all the incombustible rubbish that could be collected; and had the Grand Livre been really destroyed, as for some days it was believed to have been, every Government creditor would have found his interests safe, through the exertions of M. Chazal and the intrepid band who worked under him.

In somewhat the same manner the gold and silver in the vaults of the Bank of France were saved from pillage. The narrow staircase leading to the vaults, down which only one man could pass at a time, was by order of the directors filled up with sand during the siege.

Though my readers may be weary of sad tales of massacre, that of the Dominicans of Arceuil remains to be told. Their convent was in the suburbs of Paris; it had been turned by them into a hospital during the siege, and it continued to be so used during the Commune. After the fall of Fort Issy, the insurgent troops made their headquarters not far from the convent. They were commanded by a general of some ability, but of ferocious character, named Serizier. He was in the habit of saying, as he looked from his window into the garden of the Dominicans, "Those rascals ought to be roasted alive." On May 17 the roof of the building in which he lived caught fire. The Dominicans tucked up their gowns and did their best to put it out. When all was over, they were ordered to wait upon the general. They supposed that they were going to be thanked for their exertions, and were amazed at finding themselves accused of having set the building on fire as a signal to the Versaillais. The next morning a battalion of Communist soldiers surrounded their convent. The prior, his monks, pupils, and servants, were arrested and marched to a casemate of a neighboring fort. Their convent was stripped of everything. The building, however, was saved by a ruse on the part of an officer of the Commune, one of the better class. They were two days without food, and were then driven into Paris like a flock of sheep, their black-and-white dress exposing them to all the insults and ribaldry of the excited multitude; for the Versaillais were in Paris, and hope, among those who knew the situation, was drawing to an end. That night the Dominicans were confined in a prison on the Avenue d'Italie, where a friend of Serizier's (known as Bobeche) was instructed what to do with them. During the morning, however, Bobeche went to a drinking saloon, and while there the man he left in charge received orders to send the priests to work on a barricade. He affected to misunderstand the order, and sent, instead, fifteen National Guards imprisoned for insubordination. When Bobeche came back, half-drunk, he was furious. "What! was the blood of priests to be spared, and that of patriots imperilled at a post of danger?" Before long the order was repeated. "We will tend your wounded, General," said the prior, "we will go after them under fire, but we will not do the work of soldiers for you." At this, soldiers were called out to shoot the Dominicans. They were reluctant to obey, and Serizier dared not risk disobedience. The fathers were remanded to prison, but were soon called out one by one. Some volunteers had been found willing to do the shooting, among them two women, the fiercest of the band. As the fathers came into the street, all were shot at, but some were untouched; and soon succeeded a dreadful scene. Round and round the open square, and up side streets, they were hunted. Four of the twenty escaped. Men laughed and women clapped their hands at seeing the priests run. Then Serizier went back to the prison, and was making preparations to shoot the remaining prisoners, who were laymen, when one of his subordinates leaned over him and whispered that the troops of Versailles were at hand. He dropped his papers and made off. The troops came on, and picked up the bodies of the dead Dominicans. Serizier was not arrested till some months after, when the wife of one of his victims, who had dogged him constantly after her husband's death, discovered him in disguise and gave him up to justice.

The Prefecture of Police, which stands upon an island in the Seine, in the heart of Paris, had in those days a small prison in its main building, and an annex for women. These prisons were full of prisoners, -reactionnaires, as they were called in the last days of the struggle.

On May 26, as has been said, nothing remained for the Commune to do but mischief. Raoul Rigault was busy, with his corps of Vengeurs de Flourens, getting through as many executions as possible; Felix Pyat was organizing underground explosions, Ferre, the destruction of public buildings. A gentleman[1] confined in the women's part of the Prefecture, chancing to look down from a high window on the offices of the main building, saw beneath him eight men in the uniform of the Commune, one of them wearing much gold lace, who were saturating the window-frames with something from a bottle, and bedaubing other woodwork with mops dipped in a bucket that he presumed contained petroleum. Their caps were pulled low over their eyes, as if they did not wish to be recognized. At last he saw the officer strike a match and apply it to the woodwork, which caught fire immediately. Then rose frightful shrieks from the prisons both of the men and the women, for many others had seen what was going on. An earnest appeal to a turnkey to go to the director of the prison and represent to him that all his prisoners would be burned, was met by the answer that he did not take orders from prisoners. But all turnkeys were not Communists, though Communist officials were set over them. Some of them took advantage of the confusion to look into the cells, and speak hope and comfort to the prisoners. But as the flames caught the great wooden porch of the Prefecture, the screams of the women were heart-rending; They even disturbed Ferre, who sent orders "to stop their squalling." One warder, Braquond, ventured to remonstrate. "Bah!" said Ferre, "they are only women belonging to gendarmes and sergents de ville; we shall be well rid of them." Then Braquond resolved to organize a revolt, and save the prisoners. He ran to the corridor, and with a voice of authority ordered all the cell-doors to be opened, thus releasing four hundred prisoners. Braquond put himself at their head and led them on. But when they reached the outer gate, they were just in time to witness the departure of the last Vengeur de Flourens. Ferre had just received news that the troops of Versailles were close at hand, and he and his subordinates fled, leaving the prisoners to shift for themselves.

[Footnote 1: Le Figaro.]

But though delivered from the Commune, not only was the Prefecture and all in it in peril, but every building and every life upon the island. Quantities of ammunition had been stored in the Prefecture; if that caught fire, the "Cite" (as that part of Paris is called) and all its inhabitants would be blown into the air. The citizens of the quarter, the turnkeys, and the prisoners had nothing but their hands with which to fight the flames. In the midst of the fire they began to carry out the gunpowder. They had to make all speed, yet to be very careful. One train of powder escaping from a barrel, one sack of cartridges, with a rent in it, falling on the pavement, where sparks were dropping about, might have destroyed the whole "Cite."

There was a brave, stout woman, mistress of a coal and wood yard, named Madame Saint-Chely. She was a native of Auvergne, whence all porters and water-carriers in Paris come. With her sleeves tucked up, and her hair flying, she kept carrying out sack after sack of cartridges, undaunted, though her clothes caught fire. Bending beneath the weight upon her back, she emptied them into the basin of the fountain that stands in the middle of the Place, then rushed back for more, while the flames poured from the windows of the upper story. Her activity and cheerfulness animated every one.

There was also a barber named Labois, who distinguished himself by his courage and activity in rolling barrels of powder out of the cellar of the prefecture, and plunging them into the Seine.

When several tons of powder and twenty millions of cartridges had been carried out, danger from that source was over. The next thing was to fight the flames. Then they discovered that all the fire-engines had been sent away. Every basin, pitcher, bucket, or saucepan on the island was put into requisition. Surrounded by the Seine, they had plenty of water. All worked with a will. At last an engine came, sent in to their help from Rambouillet.

One part of the Prefecture, whose burning caused innumerable sparks, was the depot for lost property. It contained, among other things twenty thousand umbrellas.

It was above all things desirable to remove the straw bedding of the prisoners, stored by day in one large room, and while those busy with powder and cartridges worked below, Pierre Braquond, the turnkey, took this task upon himself, assisted by some of his late prisoners.

The difficulty of escaping from the island was great, for the insurgents would fire on fugitives from the right bank of the river, the Versailles troops from the left. A warder, at the risk of his life, crept to the water's edge opposite to the Versaillais, and waved a white handkerchief. As soon as he was seen, the troops ceased firing. Every moment it was expected that the roof of the prison would fall in, when suddenly the reservoir on the top of the building gave way, and the flames were checked by a rush of water. Braquond had said to Judge Bonjean a few days before he was sent from the Prefecture to Mazas, "I can stay here no longer. I am going to escape to Versailles." M. Bonjean replied: "As a magistrate I command you to remain; as a prisoner I implore you. What would become of those under your care if the friends of the Commune were set over them?"

The Ministry of Marine (that is, the Navy Department) is situated in the Rue Saint-Florentin, near the Rue Royale and the Place de la Concorde, - the most beautiful part of the city. The officer who held it for the Commune was Colonel Brunei, an excellent middle-aged man, far too good for his associations. There was no stain of any kind on his past life, but he had been disappointed when peace was made with the Germans, and had joined the Commune in a moment of patriotic enthusiasm. Once in its service, there was no way to escape.

On May 23 the Versaillais were gaining every moment. There was a man named Matillion, charged by the Central Committee to do anything or to burn anything to prevent their advance. That night, when houses that he had set on fire were blazing in the Rue Royale (he had had petroleum pumped upon them by fire-engines), there was a fierce orgy held by the light of the flames before the Church of the Madeleine. A wild, demon-like dance was led by three women who had done duty all day as petroleuses, - Florence, Aurore, and Marie. Marie had been publicly thanked at the Hotel-de-Ville for sending a cannonball through one of the statues before the Chamber of Deputies.

Three battalions of Communist soldiers stationed in the Ministry of Marine, which had been converted into a hospital, took advantage of the fact that the general attention was fixed upon this orgy to quit their post and steal away, leaving the Ministry undefended. It was eleven at night; Colonel Brunel was sending to the Central Committee for fresh soldiers and fresh orders, when a paper was given him. He read it, turned pale, and sent for the doctor. "The Central Committee," he said, "orders me to blow up this building immediately." "But my wounded?" cried the doctor. There were one hundred and seven wounded soldiers of the Commune in the hospital. There was no place to which they could be moved, and no means of transportation. Colonel Brunel sent an orderly to represent the case to the Committee. All he could obtain was a detail of National Guards to assist in carrying away the wounded, together with a positive order to burn down the building. As the sick men were being very slowly carried out, a party arrived, commanded by a drunken officer, and carrying buckets of coal-oil and other combustibles, which they scattered about the rooms. By this time the fires of the Versaillais gleamed through the trees in the Champs Elysees. The Rue Royale, near at hand, was in flames. Across the Seine, the Rue de Lille was burning. The Ministry of Finance and the palace of the Tuileries seemed a sea of flame. In the Ministry of Marine were two clerks, long attached to that branch of the Government service, who had been requested by Admiral Pothereau, the Minister for Naval Affairs, to remain at their post and endeavor to protect the papers and property. Their names were Gablin and Le Sage. M. Le Sage had his wife with him in the building. These men resolved to save the Ministry, or perish. While Le Sage, who was expert in gymnastics, set out to see if he could reach the general in command of the Versaillais, Gablin turned all his energies to prevent the impending conflagration. Putting on an air of haste and terror, he rushed into the room where the soldiers were refreshing themselves, and cried out lustily that the Versaillais were upon them, but that if they followed him, he would save them. Under pretence of showing them a secret passage, he led them into a chamber and locked the door. Then he turned his attention to their commander. He represented to him that the Versaillais were close at hand, and promised him safety and a handsome reward if he would not set fire to the building. "But I have my orders!" objected the half-tipsy officer. "I have the order you had better obey," replied Gablin, pointing a pistol at his head. "Now, shall I fire, or shall I reward you?" The officer gave in. He helped M. Gablin to pour the buckets of coal-oil into the gutters in the courtyard, to clear away the powder, and to drench the floors with water. Then Gablin took him to a chamber, gave him plain clothes, and locked him in. He fell asleep upon the bed in a moment.

Le Sage meanwhile had made his way over the roofs of neighboring houses, and then descended to the Champs Elysees. He was arrested several times by sentries, but at last made his way to General Douai. The general heard his story, and then put a paper into his hand, saying, "The Ministry of Marine is already ours." Admiral Pothereau himself, at three o'clock in the morning, was looking towards his old offices and residence from the Champs Elysees. He remarked to an aide-de-camp and to another officer: "All looks very quiet. Suppose we go and reconnoitre, and see how near we can approach my official home." They held their swords in their hands, and, followed by three gendarmes, cautiously drew near the Ministry. They met with no opposition, and finally walked in. "Where's Le Sage?" was the admiral's first question. "He is out looking for you, M. le Ministre," cried Le Sage's wife, shedding tears of anxiety.

Thus the Ministry of Marine was captured by the minister; but the building itself and all its valuable documents had been preserved by the fidelity of two young men.

As for the Communist officer, when he came to himself he sincerely repented his connection with the Commune. He was pardoned, became a respectable citizen, and found a true friend in M. Gablin.