THE very day after Sedan the two German armies resumed the movement of their floods of men towards Paris, the army of the Meuse coming round to the north from the valley of the Marne and the army of the Crown Prince of Prussia crossing the Seine at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges and making for Versailles round the south of the city. On that warm September morning when General Ducrot, who had been put in command of the 14th corps, which had only just been formed, decided to attack the Crown Prince’s army while it was executing its flanking march, Maurice, in camp in the woods to the left of Meudon with his new regiment, the 115th, only received marching orders when disaster was already certain. Just one or two shells had been enough, and a frightful panic had broken out in a battalion of Zouaves made up of recruits, and the rest of the troops had been swept along in such disarray that the stampede never stopped until they were inside the Paris fortifications, where the alarm was intense. All forward positions ahead of the forts to the south were lost, and that same evening the last thread linking the city to France, the telegraph line of the Western Railway, was cut. Paris was separated from the rest of the world.

It was an evening of terrible distress for Maurice. If the Germans had dared, they could have camped that night in the Place du Carrousel. But they were strictly prudent people, resolved to have a

siege according to the rules, and they had already plotted the exact points of investment, with the cordon of the army of the Meuse to the north from Croissy to the Marne, passing through Epinay, and the other cordon of the third army to the south from Chennevières to Châtillon and Bougival, while the Prussian General Headquarters, with King William, Bismarck and von Moltke, controlled everything from Versailles. This gigantic blockade, believed to be impossible, was an accomplished fact. This city, with its bastioned wall eight and a half leagues in circumference, with its fifteen forts and six detached redoubts, was about to find itself so to speak in prison. The defending army consisted only of the 13th corps, rescued and brought back by General Vinoy, and the 14th, still being formed under General Ducrot, making between them a strength of eighty thousand soldiers, to which should be added the fourteen thousand marines, fifteen thousand volunteers, a hundred and fifteen thousand militia, apart from the three hundred thousand National Guards spread over the nine sectors of the ramparts. There might well be a whole people under arms, but there was a lack of

seasoned and disciplined soldiers. Men were being equipped and drilled, and Paris was one huge armed camp. Preparations for defence grew more feverish hour by hour, roads were closed, houses in the military zone demolished, the two hundred heavy-calibre guns and the two thousand smaller ones all in use, with others being cast, a whole arsenal was rising out of the ground thanks to the great patriotic inspiration of the minister, Dorian. After the breaking off of negotiations at Ferrières when Jules Favre had made known the demands of Bismarck – cession of Alsace, internment of the garrison at Strasbourg, indemnity of three milliards – a howl of rage went up and the continuation of the war and resistance were acclaimed as indispensable conditions of the survival of France. Even with no hope of victory Paris had to defend herself so that the homeland might live.

One Sunday in late September Maurice was sent on fatigue duty right across the city, and the streets he went along and the open spaces he crossed filled him with new hope. Since the rout at Châtillon he felt that courage had risen to face the great task. Yes, the Paris he had known, so mad on pleasure and so near to giving itself up to the foulest vices, was now, he found, simple again, brave and cheerful, accepting any sacrifice. You saw nothing but uniforms, and even the least involved wore the képi of the National Guard. As a huge clock stops when the spring breaks, so social life had suddenly come to an end, and with it industry, commerce, business, leaving only one passion, to win through, and it was the only subject of conversation that inflamed all hearts and heads in public gatherings, during the watches in the guardroom and among the crowds continually blocking the pavements. Shared in common, illusions carried people’s souls away and excitement flung them into the dangers of impetuous heroics. Already a crisis of unhealthy excitability was approaching a sort of epidemic fever, magnifying fear just as much as confidence and letting loose the human herd to rush off unbridled at the slightest stimulus. In the rue des Martyrs Maurice witnessed a scene which worked him up into a frenzy – a mass assault, a furious mob hurling itself upon a house where, at one of the upper windows, a brilliant lamp had been seen burning all night, obviously a signal flashed above Paris to the Prussians at Bellevue. Citizens felt compelled to live on their roofs so as to keep an eye on the surrounding country. On the previous day they had tried to drown in the round pond in the Tuileries some wretched person who was looking at a town plan he had unfolded on a seat. Maurice, who had formerly been so fair-minded, also caught this disease of suspicion, with the uprooting of everything he had so far believed in. No longer did he despair, as he had on that evening of the Châtillon panic, wondering whether the French army would ever regain its manhood and fight; the sortie of 30 September to Hay and Chevilly, that of 13 October when the militia had taken Bagneux, and finally that of 21 October, during which his regiment had momentarily occupied the park of La Malmaison, had restored all his faith, this flame of hope which a mere spark sufficed to kindle and which consumed him. The Prussians may have stopped it at all points, but all the same the army had fought bravely and still might win. What however depressed Maurice so much was the great city of Paris, leaping from the heights of self-deception to the depths of discouragement, hag-ridden by the fear of treason in its need for victory. After the Emperor and Marshal MacMahon, were General Trochu and General Ducrot also going to be second-rate commanders and unconscious workers for defeat? The same impulse which had overthrown the Empire was now bidding fair to overthrow the Government of National Defence – the impatience of the violent militants to seize power and save France. Already Jules Favre and other members of the government were more unpopular than the ousted former ministers of Napoleon III. If they didn’t want to beat the Prussians, well, they could make way for somebody else, for the revolutionaries who were sure of winning by decreeing a mass rising or by encouraging inventors who wanted to mine all the suburbs or annihilate the enemy under some novel hail of fireworks.

On the day before 31 October Maurice was attacked by this malady of mistrust and daydreaming and was now accepting sheer figments of the imagination that would formerly have made him smile. Why not? Was there any limit to stupidity and crime? Were not miracles becoming possible amid all the catastrophes upsetting the world? Inside him rancour had been slowly building up ever since the day, outside Mulhouse, when he heard about Froeschwiller. Sedan was making him bleed like a still tender wound that the smallest reverse was enough to reopen, and the shock of each of these defeats had unhinged him, for his bodily resistance had been lowered and his mind weakened by such a long succession of days

without food and nights without sleep, dropped as he was into this terrifying nightmare existence, hardly even knowing if he were still alive. And the thought that so much suffering might end in a new and irremediable catastrophe drove him out of his mind and transformed this cultured man into a creature of instinct, reverting to childhood, always carried away by the emotion of the moment. Anything, destruction, even extermination, rather than yield up one sou of the wealth or one inch of the territory of France! This was the final stage of the evolution in him which ever since the first battle lost had been destroying the Napoleonic legend and the sentimental Bonapartism he derived from the epic narratives of his grandfather. He had even already left behind theoretical moderate republicanism and was tending towards revolutionary violence, believing in the necessity of terror to sweep away the incompetent and the traitors who were busy murdering the fatherland. And so by the 31st his heart was with the rioters when fresh disasters befell one after another: the loss of Le Bourget, so valiantly taken by the volunteers of La Presse during the night of the 27th to 28th; the arrival of M. Thiers at Versailles after his tour of the European capitals when he returned, it was said, to negotiate in the name of

Napoleon III; and finally the surrender of Metz, the absolute confirmation of which he brought back with him, after the vague rumours that had already been running round. This was the knockout blow, another Sedan and even more shameful. But next day, when he heard about the events at the Hôtel de Ville – how the insurgents were momentarily winning, with the members of the Government of National Defence held prisoner until four in the morning and then saved only by a change of mind on the part of the populace, who had begun by being exasperated with them but later become worried by the thought of a victorious insurrection – he was sorry that it had come to nothing. For this Commune might have brought salvation – a call to arms, the homeland in danger, all the classic memories of a free people refusing to die. M. Thiers did not even dare come into Paris, and after the breakdown of negotiations they were on the point of lighting up the illuminations. The month of November went by in an atmosphere of feverish impatience. There were odd skirmishes in which Maurice was not involved. He was now bivouacked near Saint-Ouen, but got away whenever there was a chance, for he was devoured by a continual thirst for news. Like him, Paris was waiting anxiously.

The mayoral elections seemed to have relieved political tensions, but almost all the people elected belonged to extremist parties, which was a frightening outlook for the future. What Paris was waiting for during this lull was the grand sortie people had been demanding for so long – victory and deliverance. Once again there was no doubt about this, they would knock out the Prussians and walk over their bodies. Preparations had been made in the peninsula of Gennevilliers, which was the spot considered most favourable for a break-through. Then one morning came the delirious joy of the news of Coulmiers, Orleans recaptured, the army of the Loire on the march and already in camp at Etampes, it was said. All was changed, and the only thing left to do was go and join up with them on the other side of the Marne. The military forces had been reorganized and formed into three armies, one made up of battalions of the National Guard under the command of General Clément Thomas, another of the 13th and 14th corps strengthened with the best elements from more or less everywhere, which General Ducrot was to lead for the main attack, and the other, the third, the reserve

army, consisting entirely of militia and entrusted to General Vinoy. Maurice was uplifted by an absolute faith on 28 November when he came to spend the night in the Bois de Vincennes with the 115th. The three corps of the second army were there, and it was being said that the link-up with the army of the Loire was fixed for the following day at Fontainebleau. And then, at once, came the mishaps, the usual blunders – a sudden rise in the river which prevented pontoon bridges from being thrown across, tiresome orders that slowed down troop movements. On the following night the 115th was one of the first to cross the river, and by ten, under a withering fire, Maurice reached the village of Champigny. He was half crazy, his rifle burned his hands in spite of the intense cold. His one desire since he had been advancing was to go straight ahead like this, without stopping, until the link-up had been made with their comrades from the country over there. But outside Champigny and Bry the army had come up against the walls of the estates of Coeuilly and Villiers, walls half a kilometre long, which the Prussians had turned into impregnable fortresses. That was the breaker on which all courage dashed itself to pieces. From that moment there was nothing left but hesitation and withdrawal; the third corps had been held up, the first and second, already immobilized, defended Champigny for two days but had to abandon it during the night of 2 December after their fruitless victory. That night the whole army came back and camped under the trees of the Bois de Vincennes, which were white with frost, and there Maurice, his feet dead with cold, and his face pressed to the frozen ground, wept.

What dreary, melancholy days after the fiasco of that immense effort! The grand sortie that had been in preparation for so long, the irresistible thrust that was to deliver Paris, had petered out, and three days later a letter from General von Moltke brought the news that the army of the Loire had been defeated and had once again abandoned Orleans. The ring was tightening still more and could not now be broken. But Paris, in a fever of despair, seemed to find new strength to resist. Threats of famine were beginning. Meat had been rationed since mid-October. By December there was not one animal left out of the huge herds of cattle and flocks of sheep that had been turned loose in the Bois de Boulogne and had galloped round in a continual cloud of dust, and they had begun slaughtering horses. Stocks of flour and corn, and subsequent requisitions, were to supply bread for four months. When flour had run out mills had had to be fitted up in the railway stations. Fuel also was running low, and was being reserved for milling grain, baking bread or making weapons. Paris, with no gas, lit by a few oil-lamps, Paris shivering under its covering of ice, Paris, with its rationed black bread and horsemeat, still went on hoping and talked of Faidherbe in the north, Chanzy on the Loire, Bourbaki in the east, as though some miracle were going to bring them victorious beneath her walls. The long queues waiting in the snow in front of bakers’ and butchers’ shops still sometimes cracked jokes at the news of imaginary great victories. After the consternation of each defeat illusion was born again, tenacious, burning ever brighter in this mob drugged with suffering and hunger. On the Place du Château d’Eau a soldier who had spoken of surrender had almost been lynched by passers-by. While the army, totally discouraged and seeing the end coming, was suing for peace, the civilians were demanding another mass sortie, a sortie like a flood, with the whole population, women and children, hurling themselves at the Prussians like a river in spate, carrying all before it. Maurice cut himself off from his comrades and developed a growing hatred for his job as a soldier which kept him in the shelter of the Mont-Valérien, idle and useless. And so he found pretexts and escaped as soon as he could to get into Paris, where his heart was. He only felt at peace in the heart of the crowd, wanting to force himself to hope, like them. He often went to watch the balloons go up every other day from the Gare du Nord, taking carrier pigeons and dispatches. The balloons rose and disappeared into the dull wintry sky, and hearts ached with distress when the wind blew them towards Germany. Many must have come to grief. He himself had written twice to his sister Henriette without knowing whether she had his letters. The memory of his sister and of Jean was so remote, away in that great world from which nothing now came, that he seldom thought of them, as of affections he had left behind in some other existence. His whole being was too full of the continual storms of dejection and elation in which he was living. And then in the first days of January something else roused him to anger, the bombardment of the districts south of the Seine. He had come to ascribe the Prussian delays to reasons of humanity, whereas they were simply due to technical difficulties. Now that a shell had killed two little girls at the Val de Grâce he was full of furious contempt for these barbarians who murdered children and were threatening to burn down museums and libraries. But after the first days of shock Paris under fire went back to its life of heroic defiance.

Since the failure at Champigny there had been only one more unfortunate attempt, in the direction of Le Bourget, and on the evening when the plateau of Avron had to be evacuated under heavy artillery fire directed at the forts, Maurice shared the growing and violent irritation that possessed the whole city. The tide of unpopularity threatening to bring down Trochu and the Government of National Defence reached such a height that they were forced to make one supreme but unavailing effort. Why were they refusing to lead into the holocaust the three hundred thousand National Guards who were continually offering themselves and clamouring for their share in the danger? This was to be the torrential sortie everybody had been demanding since the first day, Paris bursting its dams and drowning the Prussians in the colossal flood of its people. The authorities were obliged to yield to this need for bravado, although a fresh defeat was inevitable, but in effect, to keep the massacre within limits, they only used the fifty-nine battalions of the National Guard already mobilized in addition to the regular army. The day before 19 January was like a public

holiday: a vast crowd on the boulevards and in the Champs Elysées watched the regiments go by, led by bands and singing patriotic songs. Women and children marched along with them, men stood on seats and shouted emotional good wishes for victory. And then on the next day the whole population made for the Arc de Triomphe and was filled with wild hopes when the news of the occupation of Montretout came in during the morning. Epic stories were bandied about concerning the irresistible impetus of the National Guard, the Prussians were hurled back, Versailles would be taken before nightfall. And so what utter despair when evening came and the inevitable failure was known! While the left wing was occupying Montretout, the centre, which had got past the wall of Buzenval park, broke against a second inner wall. The thaw had set in and a persistent drizzle had turned the roads into slush and the guns, those guns cast with the help of public subscriptions, into which Paris had put its very soul, could not be moved up. On the right General Ducrot’s column began moving too late and

remained too far in the rear. That was the end of the effort, and General Trochu had to give the order for a general retreat. Montretout was abandoned, Saint-Cloud was abandoned and the Prussians set fire to it. By the time it was dark the horizon of Paris was a sheet of flame.

This time Maurice himself felt it was the end. For four hours he had stayed in the Buzenval park with some National Guards under the withering fire from the Prussian positions, and for days after, when he got back, he praised their valour. The National Guard had indeed behaved splendidly, which meant, didn’t it, that the defeat must be due to the imbecility and treachery of their leaders? In the rue de Rivoli he ran into groups shouting ‘Trochu out! Up with the Commune!’ It was a re-awakening of revolutionary passion and a new upsurge of public opinion so disturbing that the Government of National Defence, as an act of self-preservation, felt it had to force General Trochu to resign and replaced him by General Vinoy. That same day Maurice went into a public meeting at Belleville and heard yet another clamour for a mass attack. The idea was crazy and he knew it, yet his heart beat faster in the face of this determination to win. When all is over can’t one still attempt a miracle? All through that night he dreamed of wonders. Eight more long days dragged on. Paris was in its death-throes, but never complained. Shops no longer opened, and the few people walking about never saw a vehicle in the deserted streets. Forty thousand horses had been eaten, and now dogs, cats and rats were becoming expensive. Since corn had vanished, the bread, made of rice and oats, was black, clammy and most indigestible, and to get the ration of three hundred grammes the interminable queues in front of bakers’ shops were becoming killing. What a painful business these waits were in the siege, when poor women shivered in pouring rain, with their feet in freezing mud! It was the heroic misery of a great city that refused to give in. The death rate had tripled, and theatres had been turned into hospitals. By nightfall the formerly fashionable neighbourhoods fell into a gloomy silence and pitch darkness, like quarters of an accursed city ravaged by plague. In the silence and darkness the only thing to be heard was the ceaseless din of the bombardment, and the only thing to be seen the flashes of guns lighting up the winter sky.

On the 28th Paris suddenly heard that Jules Favre had been negotiating

with Bismarck for two days with a view to an armistice, and at the same time that there was only enough bread left for ten days, scarcely time to restock the city with food. A surrender was being brutally forced on them. Paris, grief-stricken and stunned by the truth she had been told at last, just let things run their course. On that same day, at midnight, the last gun was fired. Then on the 29th, when the Germans had occupied the forts, Maurice went back into camp with the 115th near Montrouge, within the fortifications. Then there set in for him an unsettled existence, full of both idleness and feverish activity. Discipline had become very lax, soldiers ran wild and wandered about, waiting to be sent home. But he remained disturbed, nervy and touchy, full of anxiety which turned into exasperation at the slightest mishap. He greedily read the revolutionary papers, and this three-week armistice, concluded for the sole purpose of allowing France to elect an Assembly to settle peace terms, looked to him like a trap, a final act of treachery.

Even if Paris was forced to capitulate, he was with Gambetta for the continuation of the war on the Loire and in the north. The disaster of the army of the east, which had been forgotten and forced to cross into Switzerland, made him indignant. The elections put the finishing touch to his fury – it was exactly what he had foreseen, the cowardly provinces, annoyed at the resistance of Paris and wanting peace on any terms with the monarchy restored while Prussian guns were still trained on them. After the first sittings of the Assembly at Bordeaux, Thiers, returned by twenty-six departments and acclaimed as head of the executive, became in his eyes the arch-monster, the man of every lie and every crime. Nothing could calm his anger, for this peace concluded by a monarchist Assembly struck him as the very depth of shame, and the very idea of the harsh conditions and the five milliard indemnity made him rave, with Metz handed over, Alsace abandoned, the gold and blood of France running away through this ever-open wound in her side.

It was then, in late February, that Maurice made up his mind to desert. A clause in the treaty stipulated that soldiers in camp in Paris should be disarmed and sent home. He did not wait, for he felt that his heart would be torn out of him if he left the streets of this glorious Paris, which hunger alone had succeeded in subjugating. So he disappeared, rented a tiny furnished room in a six-storey house in the rue des Orties, right at the top of the Butte des Moulins. It was a sort of turret from which you could see the endless sea of roofs from the Tuileries to the Bastille. An old friend from his law-school days had lent him a hundred francs. And in any case, as soon as he was settled in he signed on in a battalion of the National Guard, and the one-franc-fifty pay would be enough for his needs. The thought of a comfortable, selfish existence in the country filled him with horror. Even the letters from his sister Henriette, to whom he had written immediately after the armistice, irritated him with their supplications and desperate longing to see him come home and rest at Remilly. He refused; he would go later when there weren’t any Prussians left there. So Maurice’s life became rootless and idle, but also increasingly feverish. Hunger was no longer a problem, and he had devoured the first white bread with delight. Paris, in which wines and spirits had never been short, was in an alcoholic daze, and now living riotously in a continuous state of drunkenness. But it was still a prison, the gates were guarded by Germans and complicated formalities prevented anyone from getting out. No social life had been resumed and so far there was no work or business functioning, a whole population was waiting, doing nothing, growing more and more hysterical in the warm sunny weather of early spring. During the siege military service had at least tired out people’s limbs and occupied their minds, but now the populace had slumped straight into total idleness in its continual isolation from the rest of the world. Maurice, like everybody else, just strolled about from morning till night, breathing the air that was infected with all the germs of madness that the mob had been exhaling for months. The unlimited freedom enjoyed by all finally destroyed everything. He read the papers and went to public meetings, sometimes shrugging his shoulders when the idiocies were too ridiculous, but nevertheless went home haunted by thoughts of violence and ready for desperate acts in defence of what he took to be truth and justice. And up in his little room overlooking the whole city, he still entertained dreams of victory and told himself that France and the Republic could still be saved so long as peace was not actually signed.

The Prussians were to make their entry into Paris on 1 March, and a cry of execration and rage rose from every heart. At every public meeting he went to Maurice heard the accusations against the Assembly, Thiers and the men of 4 September for this crowning

shame that they had not tried to spare the great, heroic city. One evening he was so worked up that he even spoke himself, shouting that the whole of Paris should go and die on the ramparts rather than let a single Prussian get in. In this manner the insurrection sprang up quite naturally and organized itself in broad daylight among people thrown off balance by months of anguish and famine, fallen into a hag-ridden idleness and haunted by suspicions of their own making. It was one of those crises of morale observed after all great sieges, when unsurpassable patriotism has been cheated and, after inspiring people’s souls to no purpose, changes into a blind lust for vengeance and destruction. The Central Committee, elected by delegates from the National Guard, had protested against any attempt at disarmament. There was a great demonstration on the Place de la Bastille, with red flags, fiery speeches, a huge crowd and the murder of one unfortunate policeman, tied to a plank, thrown into the canal and finished off with stones. Two days later, during the night of 26 February, Maurice was awakened by the call to arms and alarm bells, and watched bands of men and women going along the Boulevard des Batignolles dragging guns; and he

went too, and with twenty others harnessed himself to a cannon, when he heard that the people had gone and seized these guns in the Place Wagram to prevent the Assembly from handing them over to the Prussians. There were one hundred and seventy of them, and as some of the proper gear was missing people hauled them with ropes, pushed them with their hands and got them up to the top of Montmartre with the fierce drive of a horde of barbarians rescuing their gods. On 1 March, when the Prussians had to be content with occupying the Champs-Elysées district for one day only, and even then behind fences like a herd of victors unsure of themselves, Paris did not stir from its gloom – all streets deserted and houses shut up, the whole city dead and swathed in the voluminous black crêpe of its mourning.

Two more weeks went by. Maurice had given up trying to know how his life was carrying on under the shadow of the indefinable, monstrous thing he felt was coming. Peace was officially concluded, and the Assembly was to meet in Versailles on 20 March, and still for him nothing was yet over, and some dreadful vengeance was about to begin. On the 18th, as he was getting up, he had a letter from Henriette once again begging him to join her at Remilly, affectionately threatening to set out herself if he took too long to give her that great joy. She went on to news about Jean, how after leaving her at the end of December to join the army in the north he had been taken ill with some sort of fever in a Belgian hospital, and only the previous week he had written that although he still felt very weak he was off to Paris where he was determined to re-enlist. Henriette ended by asking her brother to tell her everything about Jean as soon as he saw him. With the letter open in front of him Maurice fell into a sentimental daydream. Henriette and Jean, his beloved sister and his brother in suffering and compassion, how far removed those dear souls had been from his everyday thoughts since the tempest had dwelt within him! But as his sister told him she had not been able to give Jean the rue des Orties address, he promised himself that he would run him to earth that very day by inquiring at the army offices. But scarcely had he gone down and was crossing the rue Saint-Honoré, when two comrades from his battalion told him of the events of the night and morning in Montmartre. And all three dashed off in a frenzy.

What a day that 18 March was, and how it lifted his heart into a fateful elation! He could never remember later exactly what he had said and done. First he recalled that he had rushed off in a furious rage at the surprise action the military had attempted before daylight, to disarm Paris by getting the guns away again from Montmartre. It was obvious that Thiers, who had returned from Bordeaux, had been planning this coup so that the Assembly could safely proclaim a monarchy at Versailles. His next recollection was that he was in Montmartre himself at about nine in the morning, inflamed by the tales of victory he was told – the furtive arrival of the troops, the fortunate hold-up in the arrival of the drag-ropes which had given time for the National Guards to get their arms, and the soldiers not daring to shoot women and children, but holding their rifles upside down and fraternizing with the people. Then he saw himself hurrying through Paris, realizing by midday that Paris belonged to the Commune without there having been a fight, that Thiers and his cabinet were in flight from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where they had been assembled, in fact that the whole government was running away to Versailles and the thirty thousand soldiers were being hastily withdrawn, leaving over five thousand of their number lying in the streets. Then again, at half past five, he saw himself at a bend in the outer boulevards in the middle of a group of hotheads, listening without any indignation to the horrible story of the murder of Generals Lecomte and Clément Thomas. Oh well, what are generals? He recalled them at Sedan, a comfort-loving, incompetent lot, one more or less didn’t make much difference! The rest of that day went on in the same state of frenzied excitement that distorted everything, an insurrection that the very paving-stones seemed to have willed and which, unforeseen yet inevitable, grew and at a stroke found it had the mastery, eventually handing the Hôtel de Ville over to the members of the Central Committee, who were astonished to find themselves there.

Yet there was one memory that stayed quite clear in Maurice’s mind – his sudden meeting with Jean. The latter had been in Paris for three days, having reached there penniless and still emaciated and run down by two months of fever that had kept him in a Brussels hospital, and having found a former captain of the 106th, Captain Ravaud, he had at once joined up in the new company of the 124th under his command. He had regained his corporal’s stripes and that evening had been the last to leave the Prince Eugene barracks, with his squad, to go across to the left bank where the whole army was under orders to concentrate, when a dense crowd had brought them to a halt. There was a lot of shouting and talk of disarming the soldiers. He was quite coolly telling them to bugger off, and all this was nothing to do with him – he was just carrying out orders and doing no harm to anybody – when he uttered a cry of amazement, for Maurice rushed up and threw his arms round him in an affectionate embrace.

‘What, it’s you, Jean?… My sister wrote to me. And to think that this morning I meant to go and inquire about you at the War Ministry!’

Jean’s eyes were filling with tears of joy.

‘Oh my dear boy, how wonderful to see you again! I’ve been looking for you, too, but where could I ever get hold of you in this bloody great city?’

The crowd was still threatening, and Maurice turned round to them.

‘Citizens, let me talk to them! They are good chaps and I can answer for them!’

He took both his friend’s hands and lowered his voice:

‘You will stay with us, won’t you?’

An expression of intense surprise came over Jean’s face.

‘With you, what do you mean?’

For a few minutes he listened while Maurice worked himself up against the government and against the army, recalling all that the people had gone through, explaining that at last they were going to be the masters, punish the incompetent and the cowards and save the Republic. As he strove to follow all this Jean’s calm face, the face of an unlettered peasant, darkened with growing distress.

‘Oh no, my dear friend, I’m not staying with you if it’s for that kind of job! My captain has told me to go to Vaugirard with my men and I’m going. If the wrath of God were there I should go all the same. It’s natural, surely you realize that.’

He began to laugh in his open-hearted way, and added:

‘No, it’s you who are going to come with us.’

Maurice let go of his hands in a gesture of furious revolt. And there the two of them stood facing each other for several seconds, one worked up by the fit of madness that was infecting the whole of Paris, a malady of long standing with its roots in the evil ferment of the previous reign, the other strong in his common sense and ignorance, still healthy from having grown up far away from all this, in the land of hard work and thrift. And yet they were brothers, linked by a strong attachment, and it was a terrible wrench when a sudden surge of the crowd separated them.

‘Be seeing you, Maurice!’

‘Be seeing you, Jean!’

It was a regiment, the 79th, emerging in a solid mass from a side street, which had thrown the crowd back on to the pavement. There was more shouting, but they didn’t dare bar the roadway against the soldiers who were being marched along by the officers. And so the little squad of the 124th was free to follow on without any further hold-up.

‘Be seeing you, Jean!’

‘Be seeing you, Maurice!’

They went on waving to each other, yielding to the brutal fatality of this separation, but each with his heart full of the other.

During the days which followed it was at first crowded out of Maurice’s mind because of the extraordinary events happening one after another. On the 19th Paris had woken up without a government, more surprised than frightened to hear about the sudden panic that during the night had swept away the army, public services and government ministers to Versailles, and as the weather was superb on this lovely March Sunday, Paris calmly came down into the streets to have a look at the barricades. A big white poster put up by the Central Committee summoning people for communal elections sounded very sensible, though it was a little surprising that it was signed by such utterly unknown names. In this first fine flush of the Commune Paris was hostile to Versailles because of the resentment it felt for what it had suffered and its haunting suspicions. In any case there was absolute anarchy, a struggle between the local mayors and the Central Committee, the former making fruitless efforts at conciliation while the latter, still unsure of having all the federal National Guards on its side, was still modestly campaigning only for municipal liberty. The shots fired against the peaceful demonstration in the Place Vendôme and the handful of victims whose blood stained the roadway sent the first shudder of horror through the city. While the insurrection was triumphantly and definitely taking over all the ministries and public administration, anger and fear were mounting at Versailles and the government was hastening to assemble sufficient military strength to repulse an attack it felt must be imminent. The best troops from the armies of the north and the Loire were hurriedly brought in and ten days sufficed for concentrating nearly eighty thousand men. Confidence was so rapidly restored that by 2 April two divisions opened hostilities and recaptured Puteaux and Courbevoie from the Federals. It was not until the next day that Maurice, off with his battalion to conquer Versailles, once again saw rising out of the jumble of his memories the sad face of Jean saying good-bye. The attack by the Versailles forces had stunned and enraged the National Guard. Three columns of them, some fifty thousand men, had stormed out early in the morning via Bougival and Meudon to seize the monarchist Assembly and the murderer Thiers. This was the all-conquering sortie that had been so fiercely demanded during the siege, and Maurice wondered where he would ever see Jean again unless it were out there among the dead on the battlefield. But the rout came too quickly – his battalion had hardly reached the Plateau des Bergères, on the road to Rueil, when suddenly shells from the Mont-Valérien fort fell into their ranks. There was a moment of stupor, for some thought that the fort was occupied by their comrades and others said that the commanding officer had solemnly sworn not to fire. A mad terror seized the men, battalions went to pieces and rushed wildly back into Paris, while the head of the column, caught by a turning movement effected by General Vinoy, went on and was massacred at Rueil.

Maurice escaped from the slaughter, and, all elated at having been in the fighting, had nothing but hatred left for this so-called government of law and order which, crushed at every encounter with the Prussians, only recovered courage to conquer the Parisians. And the German armies were still there, from Saint-Denis to Charenton, watching the edifying spectacle of the collapse of a people! So in the evil fever of destruction that took hold of him Maurice approved of the first violent measures, the throwing up of barricades across streets and squares, the taking of hostages, the archbishop, priests and former officials. On both sides atrocities were already being committed: Versailles shot prisoners, Paris decreed that for every one of its fighters killed the heads of three of its hostages would fall, and what common sense Maurice had left after so much shock and ruin was blown away by the wind of fury

coming from all directions. The Commune now seemed to him to be the avenger of the shameful things they had endured, a kind of liberator bringing the knife to amputate and the fire to purify. None of this was very clear in his mind, and the educated man within him simply called up classical memories of free triumphant city-states or federations of rich provinces imposing their will on the world. If Paris won he visualized it in glory, reconstituting a France of justice and liberty, reorganizing a new society after sweeping away the rotten debris of the old. True, after the elections he had been somewhat surprised by the names of the members of the Commune, with its extraordinary jumble of moderates, militant revolutionaries and socialists of all colours, to whom the great task was entrusted. He knew some of these men personally, and thought they were a very mediocre lot. Were not the best of them going to clash and destroy each other in the confusion of ideas they represented? But on the day when the Commune was solemnly constituted in the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, while the cannon roared and

trophies of red flags flapped in the wind, he had made the effort to forget everything, and once again was borne away by boundless hopes. And so illusion began again in the crisis atmosphere of a disease at its climax, made up of the lies of some and the starry-eyed faith of others. All through the month of April Maurice was fighting near Neuilly. An early spring brought out the lilacs, and the fighting went on amid the fresh green of the gardens, and National Guards came home at night with bunches of flowers on the ends of their rifles. By now the troops assembled at Versailles were so numerous that they had been formed into two armies, a front line one under the orders of Marshal MacMahon, and a reserve army, commanded by General Vinoy. The Commune on its side had nearly a hundred thousand active National Guards and almost as many militiamen, but only fifty thousand at the most were really fighters. And each day the Versailles tactics became clearer: after Neuilly they had occupied the château of Bécon, then Asnières, simply to close up their line of investment, for they planned to enter by the Point-du-Jour as soon as they could force the rampart by means of convergent fire from the forts of the Mont-Valérien and Issy. The Mont-Valérien was in their hands, and their whole effort was directed at capturing the fort of Issy, which they attacked by utilizing the breastworks made by the Prussians. From mid April the rifle-fire and bombardment were continuous. At Levallois and Neuilly there was non-stop fighting, with snipers firing every minute, day and night. Heavy guns on armoured trucks moved along the Ceinture railway and fired over Levallois at Asnières. But the bombardment was fiercest at Vanves and Issy, and every window in Paris shook, as they had during the worst days of the siege. On 9 May when, after an earlier alarm, the fort of Issy definitely fell into the hands of the Versailles army the defeat of the Commune was inevitable and a panic set in which prompted the wildest excesses.

Maurice approved of the setting up of a Committee of Public Safety. He recalled pages of history – had not the time come for energetic measures if their country was to be saved? Only one of the many acts of violence had really given him a secret pang of sorrow, and that was the overthrowing of the Vendôme column, and he reproached himself for that as though it were a childish weakness, for he still had ringing in his ears his grandfather’s

stories of Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau, Friedland, Wagram and Borodino, and these epic tales thrilled him still. But that the murderer Thiers’s house should be razed to the ground, that they should keep hostages as a safeguard and threat, wasn’t that fair reprisal for the increasing fury of Versailles in its shelling of Paris, where shells were smashing in roofs and killing women? The black lust of destruction was mounting in him as the awakening from his dream drew near. If the ideal of justice and vengeance were to be crushed in bloodshed, well, let the earth open and be transformed in one of those cosmic upheavals by which life has been renewed! Let Paris collapse and burn like a huge sacrificial fire rather than be given back to its vices, miseries and the old social system corrupted with abominable injustice! And he indulged in another bleak dream, the gigantic city in ashes, nothing left on both sides of the river but smoking embers, the wound cauterized by fire, an unspeakable, unparalleled catastrophe out of which a new people would emerge. So the tales going round excited him more and more: whole neighbourhoods mined, the catacombs filled with gunpowder, all the great public buildings ready to be blown up, electric wires connecting the blast-holes so that one single spark could detonate them all together, large stocks of inflammable material, especially oil, enough to turn streets and squares into torrents and seas of flame. The Commune had sworn it would be so if the Versailles forces entered; not one would get past the barricades blocking the main crossings, for the roadways themselves would open up and buildings crumble into dust, and Paris would go up in flames and swallow a whole world.

When Maurice threw himself into this mad dream he was really doing so out of a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction with the Commune itself. He was losing all faith in mankind, and he felt that the Commune was impotent, being torn asunder by too many contradictory elements, getting more frenzied, incoherent and stupid as it was increasingly threatened. It had not been able to carry out a single one of all the social reforms it had promised, and it was already certain that it would leave no lasting achievement behind. But its great weakness came especially from the rivalries that tore it apart, and the corrosive suspicion in which every one of its members lived. Already many of them, the moderate and those who were worried, were absenting themselves from meetings. Others acted under the lash of events, trembled at the prospect of a possible dictatorship and were reaching the stage at which groups in revolutionary assemblies exterminate each other to save the country. After Cluseret and Dombrowski, Rossel was going to be suspected. Delescluze, nominated civil delegate to the fighting forces, could do nothing on his own in spite of his great authority. The great social effort that had been envisaged was being frittered away and coming to nought in the isolation, increasing hour by hour, of these men, paralysed and reduced to desperate measures.

Inside Paris the terror was mounting. Paris, at first angry with Versailles and resenting the sufferings of the siege, was now turning against the Commune itself. Compulsory enrolment, the decree calling up all men under forty, had annoyed peaceloving people and provoked a mass exodus – they got away via Saint-Denis in disguise or with forged Alsatian papers, they let themselves down with ropes and ladders into the moat beyond the fortifications on dark nights. Well-to-do bourgeois had gone long ago. No factory or works had reopened its doors. No commerce, no work, and the idle existence went on in anxious expectation of the inevitable dénouement. People still had nothing to live on beyond their pay as National Guards, the one-franc-fifty now being paid out of the millions confiscated from the Bank of France, the one-franc-fifty for which alone many were now fighting, in fact one of the basic causes and the raison d’être of the insurrection. Whole neighbourhoods were empty, shops were shut, houses dead. In the beautiful sunshine of this wonderful month of May nothing could now be seen in the deserted streets but funerals of Federals killed in action, processions with no priest, coffins covered with red flags followed by crowds holding bunches of everlasting flowers. Closed churches were being turned every evening into clubrooms. Only revolutionary newspapers appeared – all the others had been banned. In fact Paris was destroyed, that great, unhappy Paris that retained the feeling of revulsion of a traditionally republican capital for the Assembly, but in which the Communist terror was now growing, a terror it was impatient to be free of amidst all the terrible stories going round of daily arrests of hostages and of barrels of explosive lowered into the sewers where, it was said, men were always ready with torches, waiting for the signal.

Then Maurice, who had never been a drinker, found himself drawn into the general outbreak of drunkenness and lost in it. Now, when he was on duty at some advanced position or spending the night in the guard-room, he would accept a tot of brandy. If he had a second one he would get worked up in the alcoholic mists whirling round him. It was a growing epidemic, chronic befuddlement, a legacy from the first siege aggravated by the second; a population without bread but with spirits and wine in barrelfuls had steeped itself in drink and now went crazy on the smallest drop. On 21 May, a Sunday, for the first time in his life Maurice went home drunk in the evening to the rue des Orties where he still sometimes slept. He had once again spent the day at Neuilly, fighting and drinking with the comrades in the hope of overcoming his immense, overwhelming fatigue. Then, with his head in a whirl and quite exhausted, he had come back and flung himself on to the bed in his little room, having got there by instinct, for he could never remember how he reached it. It was not until the next day, when the sun was well up, that the sound of bells, drums and bugles woke him. On the previous day the Versailles forces had found a gate unguarded at the Point-du-Jour and had entered Paris unopposed.

As soon as he went down into the street after dressing at full speed and slinging his rifle over his shoulder, a group of agitated comrades he met at the local town hall told him the events of the previous evening and night, but in such a muddled way that it was hard to grasp at first. For ten days the fort at Issy and the heavy battery at Montretout, supplemented by the Mont-Valérien, had been hammering away at the fortifications, and the Saint-Cloud gate had become untenable; the assault was to take place on the following day when, at about five o’clock, a passer-by, noticing that nobody was left guarding the gate, had simply beckoned to the sentries posted at the Versailles army trenches not fifty metres away. Without any delay two companies of the 37th infantry had come in, and behind them the whole 4th corps, commanded by General Douay. All through the night the troops had flowed in like a steady stream. By seven the Vergé division was making its way down to the Pont de Grenelle and pushing on as far as the Trocadéro. By nine General Clinchant took Passy and La Muette. By three in the morning the 1st corps was encamped in the Bois de Boulogne and at about the same time the Bruat division was crossing the Seine to capture the Sèvres gate and facilitate the entry of the 2nd corps, commanded by General de Cissey, which was to occupy the whole Grenelle district an hour later. Thus by the morning of the 22nd the Versailles troops were masters of the Trocadéro and La Muette on the right bank and of Grenelle on the left bank, to the astonishment, fury and dismay of the Commune, already crying treason and desperate at the realization of inevitable defeat. This was Maurice’s first thought when he understood – the end had come and there was nothing left but to fight to the death. But alarm bells were ringing and drums beating ever louder, women and even children were working on the barricades, the streets were filling with excited battalions hastily got together and rushing to their combat positions. By noon hope was again springing up in the breasts of the fanatical soldiers of the Commune, who were resolved to go in and win when they realized that the Versailles forces had scarcely moved. This army that they had feared to see in the Tuileries within two hours was now operating with extraordinary prudence, having learned from its defeats and now overdoing the tactics it had learned from the Prussians at such a bitter cost. At the Hôtel de Ville the Committee of Public Safety and Delescluze, the war delegate, were organizing and directing the defence. It was said that they had turned down with scorn a final conciliatory move. This put fire into people’s hearts, once again the triumph of Paris became certain, and everywhere the resistance was to be as fierce as the attack was to be implacable, owing to the hatred, fed on lies and atrocities, which burned in the hearts of both armies. That day Maurice spent in the neighbourhood of the Champ de Mars and the Invalides, slowly falling back from street to street, firing all the time. He had not been able to find his own battalion and was fighting with unknown comrades and, without even noticing, had been taken by them over to the left bank. At about four they defended a barricade shutting off the rue de l’Université where it comes out on to the Esplanade, and they only abandoned it at dusk when they knew that the Bruat division, by moving along the embankment, had taken the Legislative Assembly. They had nearly been captured themselves, and only gained the rue de Lille with difficulty by dint of taking a wide detour via the rue Saint-Dominique and rue de Bellechasse. By nightfall the Versailles army was occupying a line from the Vanves gate through the Legislative Assembly, the Elysée Palace, the church of Saint-Augustin, the Gare Saint-Lazare to the Asnières gate.

The next day, the 23rd, a springlike Tuesday with bright, warm sun, was a terrible one for Maurice. The few hundred Federals to whom he was attached, among whom were men from several battalions, were still occupying all the area between the river and the rue Saint-Dominique. But most of them had bivouacked in the rue de Lille, in the gardens of the great private mansions in that neighbourhood. He had slept soundly on a lawn at the side of the Palace of the Legion of Honour. First thing in the morning he thought that the troops would sally forth from the Legislative Assembly and push them back behind the strong barricades of the rue du Bac. But hours went by and no attack came. Only a few random shots were exchanged between one end of the street and the other. This was the Versailles plan being developed in a prudent progression: a clear determination not to run head on into the formidable fortress that the insurgents had made out of the terrace of the Tuileries, but to adopt a double thrust to left and right, following the fortifications, so as to take first Montmartre and the Observatory and then turn back and enmesh the central area in an enormous net. At about two Maurice heard that the tricolour flag

was flying over Montmartre: the great battery of the Moulin de la Galette had been attacked by three army corps at once, who had flung their battalions at the hill from the north and west via the rue Lepic, rue des Saules and rue du Mont-Cenis, and then the victors had turned down into Paris, carrying by storm the Place Saint-Georges, Notre-Dame de Lorette, the town hall in the rue Drouot and the new Opera House, while on the left bank a wheeling movement from the Montparnasse cemetery reached the Place d’Enfer and the Marché aux Chevaux. The news of such a rapid advance of the army filled them with bewilderment, rage and fear. What! Montmartre taken in two hours, Montmartre, the glorious, impregnable citadel of the insurrection! Maurice noticed that the ranks were thinning, trembling comrades were quietly slipping away to wash their hands and put on their overalls, in terror of reprisals. It was being said that they would be taken in the rear via La Croix-Rouge, where an attack was being prepared. Already the barricades in the rue Martignac and the rue de Bellechasse had fallen, and red

trousers were being seen at the end of the rue de Lille. Soon the only ones left were the convinced diehards, Maurice and some fifty others, who were determined to die after killing as many as possible of this Versailles lot who treated the Federals as bandits and shot prisoners behind the battle-line. Since the previous day the implacable hatred had intensified, and it was now a matter of extermination between these insurgents dying for their vision and this army in a white heat of reactionary passion and exasperated at still having to fight.

By five, as Maurice and his comrades were definitely withdrawing behind the barricades in the rue du Bac, going down the rue de Lille from doorway to doorway firing the while, he suddenly saw a lot of black smoke coming out of a window of the Palace of the Legion of Honour. It was the first case of incendiarism in Paris, and in his state of wild rage it filled him with fierce joy. The hour had struck, let the whole city go up in flames like a huge bonfire, and let fire purify the world! Then he was amazed at what he suddenly saw – five or six men had rushed out of the Palace with a great lout at their head whom he recognized as Chouteau, his old comrade in the squad in the 106th. He had already seen him once since 18 March and found him much up-graded, his képi covered all over with gold braid, and attached to the staff of some general who had kept clear of the fighting. He recalled a story somebody had told about Chouteau being installed in the Palace of the Legion of Honour and living there with a mistress on one continual binge, sprawling on great sumptuous beds with his boots on and breaking the mirrors with pistol shots just for a lark. It was even alleged that his mistress, on the pretext of going shopping in the market, went off every morning in a state coach taking bundles of stolen linen, clocks and even furniture. Now, seeing him running along with his men, still holding a can of paraffin oil, Maurice suddenly felt uneasy and a dreadful doubt came over him and made his whole faith waver. Could this terrible work of destruction be an evil thing, since it was being done by a man like that?

Still more hours went by and he was only fighting now with sickness in his heart, finding nothing left intact within him but a sullen wish for death. If he had been mistaken, then at least he could redeem the error with his blood! The barricade across the rue de Lille at the junction with the rue du Bac was very strongly built of sandbags and barrels full of earth with a deep trench in front. He was defending it with barely a dozen Federals, all lying almost flat and picking off any soldier who showed himself. Until nightfall he stayed there and used up his ammunition in obstinate, despairing silence. He watched the clouds of smoke from the Palace of the Legion of Honour getting denser as the wind blew them down into the middle of the road, but so far no flames could be seen in the failing light. Another fire had broken out in a mansion nearby. Suddenly a comrade came and told him that the soldiers, not wanting to risk a frontal attack on the barricades, were making their way through gardens and houses, battering holes through the walls with picks. This was the end, they might emerge here at any moment. And indeed a shot had been fired down on them from a window. He caught sight of Chouteau and his gang rushing madly into the corner houses on each side with their paraffin and torches. Half an hour later, when the sky was quite black, the whole crossroad was ablaze while he, still lying behind the barrels and sandbags, could take advantage of the brilliant light and shoot down soldiers who unwisely ventured out of doorways into the open roadway.

How much longer did Maurice stay there shooting? He had no sense of time or place. It might be nine, perhaps ten. The vile job he was doing now made him feel sick, like some disgusting wine coming back when you are drunk. The houses burning round him were beginning to encircle him with intolerable heat and choking hot air. The crossing, with the piles of paving stones enclosing it, had become a fortress defended by fires with sparks raining down. Were not these their orders? Set fire to districts as the barricades were abandoned, stop the troops with an all-destroying line of furnaces, burn Paris as they surrendered it. Already he had the impression that the houses in the rue du Bac were not the only ones burning. Behind his back he could see the sky lit up by an immense red glow and hear a distant roaring as though the whole city were catching fire. To his right along the Seine other huge fires must be breaking out. Chouteau had long since disappeared, dodging the bullets. Even the most fanatical of his comrades were sloping off one by one, terrified by the thought of being taken in the rear at any moment. In the end he was left alone, lying between two sandbags with only one thought, keep on firing, when the soldiers who had made their way through courtyards and gardens came from a house in the rue du Bac to take him in the rear.

In the excitement of this decisive struggle Maurice had not thought of Jean for two whole days. Similarly Jean, since he had entered Paris with his regiment to reinforce the Bruat division, had never remembered Maurice for a single moment. On the previous day he had been fighting on the Champ de Mars and on the Esplanade des Invalides. But today he had only left the Place du Palais-Bourbon at about noon to storm the barricades in that part of Paris as far as the rue des Saints-Pères. Placid though he was by nature, he had grown more and more angry in this fratricidal war, surrounded by comrades whose one great desire was to have a rest at last after so many months of fatigue. Prisoners sent back from Germany to be put into the army were in a constant state of fury with Paris, and on top of that there were the reports of the foul crimes of the Commune which incensed him by outraging his respect for property and desire for order. He had remained typical of the very heart of the nation, the sensible peasant, longing for peace so as to get back to work, earn some money and recover health and strength. In this increasing anger, which carried away even his most tender feelings, it was the fires more than anything else which had infuriated him. Burn down houses and public buildings just because you weren’t the strongest, no, that really was the end! Only criminals could be capable of such a thing. This man, whose heart had been sickened only the day before by the summary executions, was now beside himself, wild-eyed, yelling and laying about him.

Jean rushed madly out into the rue du Bac with the handful of men in his squad. At first he didn’t see anybody and thought the barricade had been abandoned. Then, between two sandbags, he saw a Communard still moving, rifle to shoulder and still firing into the rue de Lille. Carried on by the inexorable fury of destiny, he ran and pinned him to the barricade with a thrust of his bayonet.

Maurice had not had time to turn round. He screamed and looked up. The fires lit them both up with blinding light.

‘Oh Jean, Jean my dearest friend, is it you?’

Death was what he had wanted and sought with desperate impatience. But to die at the hand of his brother was too much – it spoiled death for him, poisoned it with unspeakable bitterness.

‘So it’s you, Jean, dear old Jean!’

Jean looked at him, horrified and suddenly sobered. They were alone together, the other soldiers having already gone off in pursuit of the runaways. Round them the fires flared up still more fiercely, windows belched forth great red flames and from inside came the noise of blazing ceilings coming down. Jean collapsed beside Maurice, sobbing, feeling him and trying to lift him and see if he could yet save him.

‘Oh, my dearest boy, my poor dear boy!’