Read CHAPTER IV. of A Girl of the Commune , free online book, by George Alfred Henty, on ReadCentral.com.

A year later Cuthbert Hartington was sitting in a room, somewhat better furnished than the majority of the students’ lodgings, on the second floor of a house in Quartier Latin.  The occupant of the room below, Arnold Dampierre, was with him.  He was a man three or four years Cuthbert’s junior, handsome, grave-eyed, and slightly built; he was a native of Louisiana, and his dark complexion showed a taint of Mulatto blood in his veins.

“So you have made up your mind to stay,” he said.

“Certainly, I intend to see it through; in the first place I don’t want to break off my work, and as you know am ambitious enough to intend to get a couple of pictures finished in time for the Salon, although whether they will hang there, is another matter altogether.”

“Don’t pretend to be modest, Cuthbert.  You know well enough they will be hung, and more than that, they will be a success.  I would wager a hundred dollars to a cent on it, though you haven’t as yet settled on the subjects.  You know that you are Goude’s favorite pupil and that he predicts great things for you, and there is not one of us who does not agree with him.  You know what Goude said of the last thing you did.  ’Gentlemen, I should be proud to be able to sign my name in the corner of this picture, it is admirable.’”

“It was but a little thing,” Cuthbert said, carelessly, but nevertheless coloring slightly, “I hope to do much better work in the course of another year.”  Then he went back to the former subject of conversation.

“Yes, I shall see it through.  We have had a good many excitements already-the march away of the troops, and the wild enthusiasm and the shouts of ‘A Berlin!’ I don’t think there was a soul in the crowd who was not convinced that the Germans were going to be crumpled up like a sheet of paper.  It was disgusting to hear the bragging in the studio, and they were almost furious with me when I ventured to hint mildly that the Prussians were not fools, and would not have chosen this time to force France into a war if they had not felt that they were much better prepared for it than Napoleon was.  Since then it has been just as exciting the other way-the stupor of astonishment, the disappointment and rage as news of each disaster came in; then that awful business at Sedan, the uprising of the scum here, the flight of the Empress, the proclamation of the Republic, and the idiotic idea that seized the Parisians that the Republic was a sort of fetish, and that the mere fact of its establishment would arrest the march of the Germans.  Well, now we are going to have a siege, I suppose, and as I have never seen one, it will be interesting.  Of course I have no shadow of faith in the chattering newspaper men and lawyers, who have undertaken the government of France; but they say Trochu is a good soldier, and Paris ought to be able to hold out for some time.  The mobiles are pouring in, and I think they will fight well, especially the Bretons.  Their officers are gentlemen, and though I am sure they would not draw a sword for the Republic, they will fight sturdily for France.  I would not miss it for anything.  I am not sure that I shan’t join one of the volunteer battalions myself.”

“You have nothing to do with the quarrel,” his companion said.

“No, I have nothing to do with the quarrel; but if I were walking along the streets and saw a big lout pick a quarrel with a weaker one and then proceed to smash him up altogether, I fancy I should take a hand in the business.  The Germans deliberately forced on the war.  They knew perfectly well that when they put up a German Prince as candidate for the throne of Spain it would bring on a war with France.  Why, we ourselves were within an ace of going to war with France when Guizot brought about the Spanish marriage, although it was comparatively of slight importance to us that Spain and France should be united.  But to the French this thing was an absolutely vital question, for with Germany and Spain united their very existence would be threatened, and they had nothing for it but to fight, as Germany knew they would have to do.”

“But the candidature was withdrawn, Hartington.”

“Withdrawn! ay, after the damage was done and France in a flame of indignation.  If a man meets me in the street and pulls me by the nose, do you think that if he takes off his hat and bows and says that he withdraws the insult I am going to keep my hands in my pockets?  Twice already has France been humiliated and has stood it?  Once when Prussia made that secret treaty with Bavaria and Baden, and threw it scornfully in her face; the second time over that Luxembourg affair.  Does Germany think that a great nation, jealous of its honor and full of fiery elements, is going to stand being kicked as often as she chooses to kick her?  You may say that France was wrong in going to war when she was really unprepared, and I grant she was unwise, but when a man keeps on insulting you, you don’t say to yourself I must go and take lessons in boxing before I fight him.  You would hit out straight even if he were twice as big as yourself.  That is what I feel about it, Dampierre, and feeling so I fancy that when the thing begins here I shall get too hot over it to help joining in.  Ah, here come some of the lads.”

There was a clatter of feet on the staircase, and a moment later half a dozen young Frenchmen ran in in a state of wild excitement.

“They have entered Versailles, a party of their horsemen have been seen from Valerian, and a shot has been fired at them.  They have fled.”

“Well, I should think they naturally would,” Cuthbert said.  “A handful of horsemen are not likely to remain to be made targets of by the guns of Valerian.”

“It is the beginning of the end,” one of the students exclaimed.  “Paris will assert herself, France will come to her assistance, and the Germans will find that it is one thing to fight against the armies of a despot, and another to stand before a free people in arms.”

“I hope so, Rene, but I own I have considerable doubts of it.  A man when he begins to fight, fights because he is there and has got to do it.  If he does not kill the enemy he will be killed; if he does not thrash the enemy he will be thrashed; and for the time being the question whether it is by a despot or by a Provisional Government that he is ruled does not matter to him one single jot.  As to the Parisians, we shall see.  I sincerely hope, they will do all that you expect of them, but in point of fact I would rather have a battalion of trained soldiers than a brigade of untrained peasants or citizens, however full of ardor they may be.”

“Ah, you English, it is always discipline, discipline.”

“You are quite right, Rene, that is when it comes to fighting in the open; fighting in the streets of a town is a very different thing.  Then I grant individual pluck will do wonders.  Look at Saragosa, look at Lucknow.  Civilians in both cases fought as well as the best trained soldiers could do, but in the field discipline is everything.  Putting aside the great battles where your feudal lords, with their brave but undisciplined followers, met our disciplined bow and billmen, look at the Jacquerie, the peasants were brave enough, and were animated by hate and despair, but they were scattered like chaff by mere handfuls of knights and men-at-arms.  The Swiss have defended their mountains against the armies of despots, because they had mountains to defend, and were accustomed to scaling the rocks, and all good shots, just as the people of a town might hold their streets.  I believe that you will hold Paris.  I doubt whether the Germans will ever be able to enter your walls, but famine will enter, and, defend yourselves as obstinately as you may, the time must come when food will give out.”

“As if we should wait to be starved,” another of the students said scoffingly.  “If the time comes when there’s nothing to eat, we would set Paris on fire and hurl ourselves every man upon the Germans, and fight our way through.  Do you think that they could block every road round Paris?”

“I know nothing about military affairs, Leroux, and therefore don’t suppose anything one way or the other.  I believe the Parisians will make a gallant defence, and they have my heartiest good wishes and sympathy, and when all you men join the ranks my intention is to go with you.  But as to the end, my belief is that it will be decided not by Paris but by France.”

“Bravo, bravo, Cuthbert,” the others exclaimed, “that shows, indeed, that you love France.  Rene said he thought you would shoulder a musket with us, but we said Englishmen only fought either for duty or interest, and we did not see why you should mix yourself up in it.”

“Then you are altogether wrong.  If you said Englishmen don’t fight for what you call glory, you would be right, but you can take my word for it that in spite of what peace-at-any-price people may say, there are no people in the world who are more ready to fight when they think they are right, than Englishmen.  We find it hard enough to get recruits in time of peace, but in time of war we can get any number we want.  The regiments chosen to go to the front are delighted, those who have to stay behind are furious.  Glory has nothing to do with it.  It is just the love of fighting.  I don’t say that I am thinking of joining one of your volunteer battalions because I want to fight.  I do so because I think you are in the right, and that this war has been forced upon you by the Germans, who are likely to inflict horrible sufferings on the city.”

“Never mind why you are going to fight,” Leroux said, “you are going to fight for us, and that is enough.  You are a good comrade.  And your friend, here, what is he going to do?”

“I shall join also,” Dampierre said.  “You are a Republic now, like our own, and of course my sympathies are wholly with you.”

Vive la République!  Vive l’Americain!” the students shouted.

Cuthbert Hartington shrugged his shoulders.

“We were just starting for a stroll to the walls to see how they are getting on with the work of demolition.  Are any of you disposed to go with us?”

They were all disposed, being in so great a state of excitement that anything was better than staying indoors quietly.  The streets were full of people, carts were rumbling along, some filled with provisions, others with the furniture and effects of the houses now being pulled down outside the enciente, or from the villas and residences at Sèvres Meudon and other suburbs and villages outside the line of defence.

Sometimes they came upon battalions of newly-arrived mobiles, who were loudly cheered by the populace as they marched along; sturdy sunburnt peasants with but little of the bearing of soldiers, but with an earnest serious expression that seemed to say they would do their best against the foes who were the cause of their being torn away from their homes and occupations.  Staff officers galloped about at full speed; soldiers of the garrison or of Vinoy’s Corps, who had come in a day or two before, lounged about the streets looking in at the shops.  No small proportion of the male population wore képis, which showed that they belonged either to the National Guard or to the battalions that were springing into existence.

“Why do we not register our names to-day!” Rene exclaimed.

“Because a day or two will make no difference,” Cuthbert replied, “and it is just as well to find out before we do join something about the men in command.  Let us above all things choose a corps where they have had the good sense to get hold of two or three army men, who have had experience in war, as their field officers.  We don’t want to be under a worthy citizen who has been elected solely because he is popular in his quarter, or a demagogue who is chosen because he is a fluent speaker, and has made himself conspicuous by his abuse of Napoleon.  This is not the time for tomfoolery; we want men who will keep a tight hand over us, and make us into fair soldiers.  It may not be quite agreeable at first, but a corps that shows itself efficient is sure to be chosen when there is work to be done, and will be doing outpost duty, whilst many of the others will be kept within the walls as being of no practical use.  Just at present everything is topsy-turvy, but you may be sure that Trochu and Vinoy, and the other generals will gradually get things into shape, and will not be long before they find what corps are to be depended on and what are not.”

Crossing the river they made their way out beyond the walls.  Even the light-hearted students were sobered by the sight beyond.  Thousands of men were engaged on the work of demolition.  Where but ten days since stood villas surrounded by gardens and trees, there was now a mere waste of bricks and mortar stretching down to the Forts of Issy and Vanves.  The trees had all been felled and for the most part cut up and carried into Paris for firewood.  Most of the walls were levelled, and frequent crashes of masonry showed that these last vestiges of bright and happy homes would soon disappear.  A continuous stream of carts and foot-passengers came along the road to the gate-the men grim and bitter, the women crying, and all laden with the most valued of their little belongings.  Numbers of cattle and herds of sheep, attended by guards, grazed in the fields beyond the forts.

“By Jove, Dampierre,” Cuthbert said, “if I hadn’t made up my mind to join a corps before, this scene would decide me.  It is pitiful to see all these poor people, who have no more to do with the war than the birds in the air, rendered homeless.  A good many of the birds have been rendered homeless too, but fortunately for them it is autumn instead of spring, and they have neither nests nor nestlings to think of, and can fly away to the woods on the slopes below Meudon.”

“What a fellow you are, Hartington, to be thinking of the birds when there are tens of thousands of people made miserable.”

“I fancy the birds are just as capable of feeling misery as we are,” Cuthbert said quietly, “not perhaps over trivial matters, though they do bicker and quarrel a good deal among themselves, but they have their great calamities, and die of thirst, of hunger, and of cold.  I remember during a very hard frost some years ago our garden was full of dying birds, though my father had bushels of grain thrown to them every day.  It was one of the most painful sights I ever saw, and I know I felt pretty nearly as much cut up at it as I do now.  I hate to see dumb animals suffer.  There is a sort of uncomplaining misery about them that appeals to one, at any rate appeals to me, infinitely.  These poor fellows are suffering too, you will say.  Yes, but they have their consolation.  They promise themselves that as soon as they get into Paris they will join a corps and take vengeance on those who have hurt them.  They may think, and perhaps with reason, that when the trouble is over, they will find their cottages still standing, and will take up life again as they left it.  They have at least the consolation of swearing, a consolation which, as far as I know, is denied to animals and birds.”

“You are a rum fellow, Hartington, and I never know when you are in earnest and when you are not.”

“Let us go back,” Rene Caillard, who, with the others, had been standing silently, said abruptly.  “This is too painful; I feel suffocated to think that such a humiliation should fall on Paris.  Surely all civilized Europe will rise and cry out against this desecration.”  He turned and with his comrades walked back towards the gate.  Cuthbert followed with Arnold Dampierre.

“That is just the way with them,” the former said, “it would have been no desecration had they encamped before Berlin, but now, because it is the other way, they almost expect a miracle from Heaven to interpose in their favor.  Curious people the French.  Their belief in themselves is firm and unshakable, and whatever happens it is the fault of others, and not of themselves.  Now, in point of fact, from all we hear, the Germans are conducting the war in a very much more humane and civilized way than the French would have done if they had been the invaders, and yet they treat their misfortunes as if high Heaven had never witnessed such calamities.  Why, the march of the Germans has been a peaceful procession in comparison with Sherman’s march or Sheridan’s forays.  They have sacked no city, their path is not marked by havoc and conflagration; they fight our men, and maybe loot deserted houses, but as a rule unarmed citizens and peasants have little to complain of.”

“That is true enough,” the other agreed reluctantly.

“My opinion is,” Cuthbert went on, “that all these poor people who are flocking into Paris are making a hideous mistake.  If they stopped in their villages the betting is that no harm would have come to them; whereas now they have left their homes unguarded and untenanted-and it would not be human nature if the Germans did not occupy them-while in Paris they will have to go through all the privations and hardships of a siege and perhaps of a bombardment; besides there are so many more hungry mouths to feed.  In my opinion Trochu and the Provisional Government would have acted very much more wisely had they issued an order that no strangers, save those whose houses have been destroyed, should be allowed to enter the city, and advising the inhabitants of all the villages round either to remain quietly in their homes, or to retire to places at a distance.  Fighting men might, of course, come in, but all useless mouths will only hasten the date when famine will force the city to surrender.”

“You seem very sure that it will surrender sooner or later, Hartington,” Dampierre said, irritably.  “My opinion is that all France will rise and come to her rescue.”

“If Bazaine cuts his way out of Metz they may do it, but we have heard nothing of his moving, and the longer he stays the more difficulty he will have of getting out.  He has a fine army with him, but if he once gives time to the Germans to erect batteries commanding every road out of the place, he will soon find it well-nigh impossible to make a sortie.  Except that army France has nothing she can really rely upon.  It is all very well to talk of a general rising, but you can’t create an army in the twinkling of an eye; and a host of half-disciplined peasants, however numerous, would have no chance against an enemy who have shown themselves capable of defeating the whole of the trained armies of France.  No, no, Dampierre, you must make up your mind beforehand that you are going in on the losing side.  Paris may hold out long enough to secure reasonable terms, but I fancy that is about all that will come of it.”

The other did not reply.  He had something of the unreasoning faith that pervaded France, that a Republic was invincible, and that France would finally emerge from the struggle victorious.

“We shall try and find out to-night about the corps,” Rene Caillard said, as the others overtook them some distance inside the gates.  “After what we have seen to-day we are all determined to join without delay.  I heard last night from some men at Veillant’s that they and a good many others have put their names down for a corps that is to be called the Chasseurs des Écoles.  They said they understood that it was to be composed entirely of students.  Not all art, of course, but law and other schools.”

“That would be just the thing,” Cuthbert said, “if they can only get some good officers.  One likes the men one has to work with to be a little of one’s own class.  Well, if the officers are all right you can put my name down.  I suppose there is no occasion for me to go myself.”

“Of course there is occasion, lazy one.  You have to be sworn in.”

Cuthbert nodded.  “I suppose we shan’t have to give up work altogether?”

“I should think not,” Rene said.  “I suppose we shall have two or three hours’ drill in the morning and nothing more till the time for action comes.  Of course the troops and the mobiles will do the work at the forts and walls, and we shall be only called out if the Prussians venture to attack us, or if we march out to attack them.”

“So much the better.  I came here to work, and I want to stick to it and not waste my time in parades and sentry duty.  Well, we shall meet at the studio in the morning and you can give us your news then.”

Some fifteen young men met on the following morning at Goude’s studio.

“Now, gentlemen,” said the artist, a short man, with a large head, and an abundant crop of yellow hair falling on to his shoulders, “please to attend to business while you are here.  Paint-you have plenty of time outside to discuss affairs.”

M. Goude was an artist of considerable talent, but of peppery temper.  He had at one time gone to war with the Hanging Committee of the Salon because one of his paintings had been so badly hung that he declared it to be nothing short of an insult, and had forthwith proceeded to publish the most violent strictures upon them.  The result was that on the following year his pictures were not hung at all, whereupon, after another onslaught upon them, he had declared his determination never again to submit a picture to the judgment of men whose natural stupidity was only equalled by their ignorance of art.

This vow he had for eight years adhered to, only occasionally painting a picture and selling it privately, but devoting himself almost entirely to the studio he had opened, when he ceased exhibiting.  He was an admirable teacher and his list of pupils was always full.  He was an exacting master and would take none but students who showed marked ability.  As a preliminary picture had to be presented to him for examination, and at least three out of four of the canvases sufficed to ensure their authors’ prompt rejection.

It was, therefore, considered an honor to be one of Goude’s pupils, but it had its drawbacks.  His criticisms were severe and bitter; and he fell into violent passions when, as Leroux once observed, he looked like the yellow dwarf in a rage.  Cuthbert had heard of him from Terrier, who said that Goude had the reputation of being by far the best master in Paris.  He had presented himself to him as soon as he arrived there; his reception had not been favorable.

“It is useless, Monsieur,” the master had said, abruptly, “there are two objections.  In the first place you are too old, in the second place you are a foreigner, and I do not care to teach foreigners.  I never had but one here, and I do not want another.  He was a Scotchman, and because I told him one day when he had produced an atrocious daub, that he was an imbecile pig, he seized me and shook me till my teeth chattered in my head, and then kicked over the easel and went out.”

“You may call me an imbecile pig if you like,” Cuthbert said with his quiet smile, “it would hurt me in no way.  I have come over to learn, and I am told you are the best master in Paris.  When a man is a great master he must be permitted to have his peculiarities, and if he likes to treat grown-up men as children, of course he can do so, for are we not children in art by his side.”

Monsieur Goude was mollified, but he did not show it.

“Have you brought any canvases with you?”

“I have brought the last two things I did before leaving London.”

“Well, you can bring them if you like,” the master said, ungraciously, “but I warn you it will be useless.  You English cannot paint, even the best of you.  You have no soul, you are monotonous, but you may bring them.”

An hour later Cuthbert returned to the studio, which was now occupied by the students.

“You are prompt,” the master said, looking round from the student whose work he was correcting with no small amount of grumbling and objurgation.  “Put your things on those two spare easels, I will look at them presently.”

Seeing that several of the other students were smoking, Cuthbert filled and lighted his pipe, calmly placed the pictures on the easels without taking off the cloths in which they were wrapped, and then put his hands into the pockets of his velvet jacket and looked round the room.  After his experience of some of the luxuriously arranged studios at St. John’s Wood, the room looked bare and desolate.  There was no carpet and not a single chair or lounge of any description.  Some fifteen young fellows were painting.  All wore workmen’s blouses.  All had mustaches, and most of them had long hair.  They appeared intent on their work, but smiles and winks were furtively exchanged, and the careless nonchalance of this tall young Englishman evidently amused them.  In four or five minutes M. Goude turned round and walked towards the easels.  Cuthbert stepped to them and removed the cloths.  The master stopped abruptly, looked at them without speaking for a minute or two, then walked up and closely examined them.

“They are entirely your own work?” he asked.

“Certainly, I did not show either of them to my master until I had finished them.”

They were companion pictures.  The one was a girl standing in a veranda covered with a grapevine, through which bright rays of sunshine shone, one of them falling full on her face.  She was evidently listening, and there was a look of joyous expectancy in her face.  Underneath, on the margin of the canvas, was written in charcoal, “Hope.”  The other represented the same figure, darkly dressed, with a wan, hopeless look in her face, standing on a rock at the edge of an angry sea, over which she was gazing; while the sky overhead was dark and sombre without a rift in the hurrying clouds.  It was labelled “Despair.”

For two or three minutes longer M. Goude looked silently at the pictures and then turning suddenly called out, “Attention, gentlemen.  Regard these pictures, they are the work of this gentleman who desires to enter my studio.  In the eight years I have been teaching I have had over two hundred canvases submitted to me, but not one like these.  I need not say that I shall be glad to receive him.  He has been well taught.  His technique is good and he has genius.  Gentlemen, I have the honor to present to you Monsieur Cuthbert Hartington, who is henceforth one of you.”

The students crowded round the pictures with exclamations of surprise and admiration.  It was not until M. Goude said sharply “to work,” that they returned to their easels.

“You will find canvases in that cupboard if you like to set at work at once.  Choose your own size and subject and sketch it out in chalk.  I should like to see how you work.  Ah, you have a portfolio.  I will look through your sketches this afternoon if you will leave it here.”

Cuthbert chose a canvas from a pile ready stretched, selected a sketch from his portfolio of a wayside inn in Normandy, pinned it on the easel above the canvas, and then began to work.  M. Goude did not come near him until the work was finished for the morning, then he examined what he had just done.

“You work rapidly,” he said, “and your eye is good.  You preserve the exact proportions of the sketch, which is excellent, though it was evidently done hastily, and unless I mistake was taken before you had begun really to paint.  You did not know how to use color, though the effect is surprisingly good, considering your want of method at the time.  I will look through your portfolio while I am having my lunch.  In an hour we resume work.”  So saying he took up the portfolio and left the room.  The students now came up to Cuthbert and introduced themselves one by one.

“You see our master in his best mood to-day,” one said.  “I never have seen him so gracious, but no wonder.  Now we have no ceremony here.  I am Rene, and this is Pierre, and this Jean, and you will be Cuthbert.”

“It is our custom in England,” Cuthbert said, “that a new boy always pays his footing; so gentlemen, I hope you will sup with me this evening.  I am a stranger and know nothing of Paris; at any rate nothing of your quarter, so I must ask two of you to act as a committee with me, and to tell me where we can get a good supper and enjoy ourselves.”

From that time Cuthbert had been one of the brotherhood and shared in all their amusements, entering into them with a gayety and heartiness that charmed them and caused them to exclaim frequently that he could not be an Englishman, and that his accent was but assumed.  Arnold Dampierre had been admitted two months later.  He had, the master said, distinct talent, but his work was fitful and uncertain.  Some days he would work earnestly and steadily, but more often he was listless and indolent, exciting M. Goude’s wrath to fever heat.

Among the students he was by no means a favorite.  He did not seem to understand a joke, and several times blazed out so passionately that Cuthbert had much trouble in soothing matters down, explaining to the angry students that Dampierre was of hot southern blood and that his words must not be taken seriously.  Americans, he said, especially in the south, had no idea of what the English call chaff, and he begged them as a personal favor to abstain from joking with him, or it would only lead to trouble in the studio.