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

M. Goude grumbled much when he heard that his whole class were going to be absent for three days.

“A nice interruption to study,” he said, “however, you were none of you doing yourselves any good, and you may as well be out in the fields as hanging about the streets gossiping.  We can always talk, but during the past six weeks Paris has done nothing but talk.  Don’t come back with any of your number short.  You have all got something in you and are too good for food for Prussian powder.”

Cuthbert went that evening to the Michauds, in his uniform, not for the purpose of showing it off, but because men in plain clothes, especially if of fair complexions, were constantly stopped and accused of being German spies, were often ill-treated, and not unfrequently had to pass a night in the cells before they could prove their identity.  Mary gave an exclamation of surprise at seeing him so attired, but made no remark until after chatting for half an hour with the Michauds.  The husband presently made the excuse that he had to attend a meeting and went off, while madame took up some knitting, settled herself in an easy chair, and prepared for a quiet doze, then Mary said in English-

“I have no patience with you, Cuthbert, taking part with these foolish people.  The more I see of them the more I get tired of their bombast and their empty talk.  Every man expects everyone else to do something and no one does anything.”

“They have had nothing to stir them into action yet,” he said, “only the regulars and the moblots go outside the wall, and the National Guard are practically useless until the Germans make an assault.  Besides, three parts of them are married men with families, and nothing short of their homes being in danger will stir them up to risk their lives.  We are going out for three days to the outposts, we fall in at five o’clock to-morrow morning.”

“You are going to risk your life,” she said, indignantly, “for the Parisians, who have no idea whatever of risking theirs.  I call it madness.”

“You are going against your own doctrines, Miss Brander.  Before you were indignant with me for doing nothing and being in earnest about nothing.  Now that I am doing something and that in grim earnest, you are just as indignant as you were before.”

“I did not mean this sort of thing,” she said.

“No, I don’t suppose you contemplated this.  But you wanted me to work for work’s sake, although as it seemed then there was no occasion for me to work.”

“If it had been on the other side I should not have minded.”

“Just so,” he smiled.  “You have become Germanized, I have not.  My friends here have all enlisted; I am going with them partly because they are my friends and partly because it is evident the Germans might have well stopped this war before now, but they demand terms that France can never submit to as long as there is the faintest hope of success.  You need not be at all anxious about me.  We are not going to attack the Prussian positions I can assure you.  We are only going out to do a little outpost duty, to learn to hear the bullets flying without ducking, and to fire our rifles without shutting our eyes.  I don’t suppose there are five men in the three companies who have ever fired a rifle in their lives.

“You see the Franc-tireurs are to a great extent independent of the military authorities-if you can call men military authorities who exercise next to no authority over their soldiers.  The Franc-tireurs come and go as they choose, and a good many of them wear the uniform only as a means of escape from serving, and as a whole they are next to useless.  I think our corps will do better things.  We are all students of art, law or physic, and a good deal like such volunteer corps as the artists or ‘Inns of Court.’  Some of the younger professors are in the ranks, and at least we are all of average intelligence and education, so I fancy we shall fight if we get a chance.  I don’t mean now, but later on when we have gained confidence in ourselves and in our rifles.  Just at present the Parisians are disposed to look upon the Germans as bogies, but this will wear off, and as discipline is recovered by the line, and the mobiles grow into soldiers, you will see that things will be very different; and although I don’t indulge in any vain fancy that we are going to defeat the German army, I do think that we shall bear ourselves like men and show something of the old French spirit.”

“That will be a change, indeed,” the girl said, scornfully.

“Yes, it will be a change,” he answered, quietly, “but by no means an impossible one.  You must not take the vaporings and bombast of the Paris Bourgeois or the ranting of Blanqui and the Belleville roughs as the voice of France.  The Germans thought that they were going to take Paris in three days.  I doubt if they will take it in three months.  If we had provisions I should say they would not take it in treble that time.  They certainly would not do it without making regular approaches, and before they can do that they have to capture some of the forts.  These, as you know, are manned by 10,000 sailors, hardy marines and Bretons, well disciplined and untainted by the politics which are the curse of this country.  Well, I must be going.  I have to purchase my three days’ store of provisions on my way back to my lodgings and shall have to turn out early.”

“Don’t do anything rash,” she said, earnestly.

“I can assure you rashness is not in my line at all, and I don’t suppose we shall ever get within five hundred yards of a Prussian soldier.  You need not be in the least uneasy, even supposing that you were inclined to fidget about me?”

“Of course, I should fidget about you,” she said, indignantly.  “After knowing you ever since I was a little child, naturally I should be very sorry if anything happened to you.”

“By the way,” he said, without pursuing the subject farther, “I hear that there is a movement on foot for forming a corps of women.  If they should do so it will afford you another illustration of the equality of your sex to ours in all matters, and I will go so far as to admit that I would much rather lead a company of the market-women than one composed of these Parisian shopkeepers.”

“Don’t, Mr. Hartington,” she said, appealingly, “I don’t feel equal to fighting now.”

“Then we won’t fight.  Good-bye!  If we are not lucky enough to light upon some empty cottages to sleep in I fancy the gloss will be taken out of this uniform before I see you again.”  He picked up his cap, shook hands, and was gone.

Madame Michaud woke up as the door closed.

“He has gone? your tall countryman.”

“Yes, he is going out to-morrow to the outposts.  I think it is very silly of him and very wrong mixing up in a quarrel that does not concern him, especially when there are tens of thousands here in Paris who, instead of fighting for their country, are content to sit all day in cafes and talk.”

“They will fight when the time comes,” Madame Michaud said, complacently.  “They will fight like heroes.  The Prussians will learn what Frenchmen are capable of doing.”

But Mary had no patience just at present to listen to this sort of thing, and with the excuse that her head ached went at once to her room.

“I do not understand these English,” Madame Michaud thought, as she drew the lamp nearer and resumed her knitting, “here are a young woman and a young man who are more like comrades than lovers.  She was angry, more angry than I thought she could be, for she is generally good-tempered, when I asked her, the first time he came, if they were affiances, ’We are old friends, madame,’ she said, ’and nothing but friends.  Cannot a girl have a man as a friend without there being any thought of love?  In England people are friends, they can talk and laugh to each other without any silly ideas of this sort occurring to them.  This is one of the things that keeps woman back in the scale, this supposition that she is always thinking of love.’  I did not believe her then, but I have listened to-night when they thought I was asleep, and I even peeped out two or three times between my eyelids.  I could not understand a word of what they said, but one can tell things by the tone without understanding the words.  There was no love-making.  She scolded him and he laughed.  He sat carelessly in his chair, and did not move an inch nearer to her.  She was as straight and as upright as she always is.

“That is not the way lovers act when one is going out to fight.  I peeped out when he shook hands with her.  He did not hold her hand a moment, he just shook it.  They are strange people, these English.  It would be wrong for a French girl thus to talk to a young man, but I suppose it is different with them.  Who can understand these strange islanders?  Why, if Lucien were going out to fight I should dissolve in tears, I should embrace him and hang on his neck; I might even have hysterics, though I have never had them in my life.  She is a good girl, too, though she has such strange ideas about women.  What can she want for them?  I manage the house and Lucien goes to his office.  If I say a thing is to be done in the house it is done.  I call that equality.  I cannot tell what she is aiming at.  At times it seems to me that she is even more mad than her compatriots, and yet on other subjects she talks with good sense.  What her father and mother can be about to let her be living abroad by herself is more than I can think.  They must be even more mad than she is.”

Work at M. Goude’s school went on steadily during the intervals between the turns of the Franc-tireurs des Écoles going out beyond the walls.  Indeed M. Goude acknowledged that the work was better than usual.  Certainly the studio was never merrier or more full of life.  So far from the active exercise and the rough work entailed by the constant vigilance necessary during the long night-watches, diminishing the interest of the young fellows in their work in the studio, it seemed to invigorate them, and they painted as if inflamed with the determination to make up for lost time.

It converted them, in fact, for the time, from a group of careless, merry young fellows, into men with a sense of responsibility.  Their time when away from the studio had previously been spent in follies and frivolities.  They often drank much more than was good for them, smoked inordinately, were up half the night, and came in the morning to work with heavy heads and nerveless hands.  Now they were soldiers, men who matched themselves against the invaders of their country, who risked their lives in her defence, and they bore themselves more erectly, a tone of earnestness replaced a languid indifference and a carelessness as to their work, and in spite of some privations in the way of food their figures seemed to expand.

The loss of two nights’ sleep a week rendered early hours necessary, and ensured sound sleep during the remaining five.  The discipline of the studio had been relaxed.  The master felt that at such a time he could not expect the same silent concentration on work that it demanded at other times, but he found to his surprise that while they laughed and joked as they painted, they worked none the worse for this, and that in fact there was a general improvement manifest.

Cuthbert heartily enjoyed the change; the prevailing tone was more like that to which he was accustomed at the studios of St. John’s Wood than was the somewhat strict discipline that had before prevailed in the studio, and he enjoyed the hard work and excitement outside the walls.  The fact that they were running the same risks and sharing in the same work was an added bond of union among the students; and, although, when they met, as they very frequently did in each other’s lodgings, there was less uproarious fun than before; there was a healthier atmosphere, and more pleasant and earnest talk.

Arnold Dampierre was the only exception to the general rule.  When in the field he evinced no want of spirit, and upon the contrary was always ready to volunteer when a few men were required to crawl forward at night to ascertain the precise position of the Prussian outposts or to endeavor to find out the meaning of any stir or movement that might be heard towards their front.  At other times his fits of moodiness seemed to increase.  He was seldom present at any of the gatherings of his companions, but went off after work at the studio was over, and it was generally late at night before he returned to his rooms.

Cuthbert felt that the American avoided all opportunities of conversation with him alone.  He replied cordially enough to his greeting when they met, but they no longer dropped in to smoke a pipe in each other’s apartments as they formerly had done.  Cuthbert had no great difficulty in guessing at the reasons for this change in their relations.  He himself when he first noticed that Arnold was taking the first place with Minette had spoken to him half-jestingly, half-seriously, on the subject.  He had never made any secret of his own distrust of the model, and in the early days of their intercourse had spoken freely to Arnold on the subject.  He could understand that if the American, as it appeared, had become really attached to her, he would shrink from the risk of any expostulations on the course he had adopted.

Cuthbert believed that his comrade was at present in a state of indecision, and that, although deeply in love, he had not as yet been able to bring himself to the idea of taking Minette back as his wife to his home in Louisiana.

“It would be sheer madness,” he said to himself, “and yet I have no doubt it will end in his doing so, but as he must know it is a piece of stupendous folly, I can understand his reluctance to risk my speaking to him on the subject.  I am awfully sorry for him, but I know it is one of those cases in which, now that it has gone as far as it has, it would be worse than useless to try to interfere, and would only make him more bent upon going through with it.  I don’t see that one can do anything but trust to the chapter of accidents.  Minette, dazzled as she might be by the prospect of marrying a gentleman and a man of property, might still hesitate to do so if it would entail her having to leave Paris and live abroad.

“I have no doubt that she is very fond of Dampierre, but she may change her mind.  He may be killed before this business is over.  He may decide to return to America directly the siege ends, with the idea of coming over to fetch her afterwards, and either he may get over his infatuation, or on his return may find that some one else has supplanted him in her affections.  I should not fancy that constancy would be one of her strong points; at any rate I do not see that I can do any good by meddling in the matter, though if Dampierre spoke to me about it, I should certainly express my opinion frankly.  It is much the best that things should go on between us as they are now doing.  He is a hot-headed beggar, and the probabilities are strong in the favor of our having a serious quarrel if the subject were ever broached between us.”

One evening Cuthbert had taken up a book after his return from the studio, and sat reading until it was long past his usual dinner hour before he went out.  He passed through several badly lighted streets on his way to the restaurant in the Palais Royal, where he intended to dine.  There were but few people about, for the evening was wet.  He was vaguely conscious that some one was going in the same direction as himself, for he heard footsteps following him a short distance behind.  In one of the worst lighted and most silent streets the steps suddenly quickened.  Cuthbert turned sharply round.  He was but just in time, for a man who had been following him was on the point of springing upon him with uplifted arm.

Cuthbert felt rather than saw that there was a knife in his hand, and struck straight from the shoulder at his face; the fellow was in the act of striking when he received the blow.  He fell as if shot, the knife, flying from his hand, clattering on the pavement several yards away.  Cuthbert stood for a moment prepared to strike again if the man rose, but as he made no movement he turned on his heel and walked on.

“It would serve him right if I were to give the scoundrel in charge for attempted murder,” he said, “but it would give me no end of bother.  It would not be worth the trouble, and he has been pretty well punished.  I have cut my knuckles, and I imagine that when he comes to be will find himself minus some of his teeth.  I wonder what his object was robbery, I suppose and yet it is hardly likely that the fellow would have singled me out and decided to kill me on the off chance of finding something worth taking.  He could not have seen that I have a watch on, for my greatcoat is buttoned.  It is more like an act of private revenge, but I have never given anyone of that class any reason to dislike me.  Cartainly the man followed me for some distance, for I have heard the steps behind me ever since I turned off into these quiet streets.

“By the way,” he exclaimed, suddenly, “I should not be at all surprised if he took me for Dampierre.  We are about the same height, and although I am a good many inches wider than he is, that might not be noticed in the dark.  If the fellow was watching outside the door, and had known nothing of there being another man of the same height in the house, he might very well have taken me for Arnold.  He spends half his time up at Montmartre, and may likely enough have given offence to some of the ruffians up there; when he is not in a pleasant temper he does not mind what he says.  Possibly, too, the fellow may be an admirer of Minette, and the thing may be this outcome of jealousy.  At any rate I will tell him in the morning about the affair and let him take warning by it if he chooses.”

Accordingly, next morning he waited outside in the street for Arnold, who was generally the last to arrive at the studio.

“Rather an unpleasant thing happened yesterday evening, Dampierre.  I was followed from here and attacked suddenly in one of the back streets leading up to the Boulevards.  I had heard footsteps behind me for a little time and had a vague sort of idea that I was being followed.  The fellow ran up suddenly and I had just time to turn and hit out.  He was in the act of striking with a knife, and if I had been a second later he would probably have settled me.  As it was I knocked him down and I fancy I stunned him.  At any rate he did not move, so I walked on.  Of course it may have been a mere vulgar attempt at murder and robbery, but from the fact that this man followed me for some considerable distance I should say it was not so, but a question of revenge.  I don’t know that anyone in Paris has any cause of quarrel with me, but the idea afterwards occurred to me that it might be that he took me for you.  We are about the same height, and if he was watching the house he might, when I came out, mistake one for the other.  Of course I have not a shadow of reason for supposing that you have an enemy, but at any rate I thought it as well to tell you about it, so that you might be on your guard, as I shall certainly be, in the future.”

Arnold was silent for a minute.

“I should not be surprised if you are right, Hartington; they are a rough lot at Montmartre, and it is possible that I may, without knowing it, have rubbed some of them the wrong way.  I suppose you did not notice what he was like?”

“No, it was too dark, and the whole affair too sudden for me to see anything of the features.  He was in a blouse with the low cap workmen generally wear.  I should say he stood four or five inches shorter than we do-about five feet eight or so.  He was a square-built fellow.  If you happen to come across him I fancy you may recognize him, not from my description but from my handiwork.  You see,” and he pointed to his right hand, which was wrapped up in an handkerchief, “I hit him hard and have cut two of my knuckles pretty badly-I fancy against his teeth.  If so, I think it likely that two or three of them will be missing, and as a man of that sort is hardly likely to go at once to a dentist to have the gap filled up, it may prove a guide to you.

“For the next day or two his lips are sure to be swollen pretty badly.  Of course if you have no one in your mind’s eye as being specially likely to make an attempt upon your life these little things will afford you no clue whatever, but if you have any sort of suspicion that one of three or four men might be likely to have a grudge against you, they may enable you to pick out the fellow who attempted my life.  Of course I may be mistaken altogether and the fellow may have been only an ordinary street ruffian.  Personally it won’t make much difference to me, for I am pretty handy with my fists, but as I know you have had no practice that way, I recommend you always to carry a pistol when you go out at night.”

“I always do, Hartington; I always have one in each pocket of my coat.”

“Well, they may be useful, but I should recommend you to be careful, and to walk in the middle of the street when you are in doubtful neighborhoods.  A pistol is very good in its way, but it takes time to get it out, and cock it, while one’s fist is always ready for service at an instant’s notice.”

By this time they had arrived at the door of the studio.  Arnold made no allusion to the subject for some days, and then meeting Cuthbert at the door of his house, said-

“By the way, Hartington, I have reason to believe that you were right that that blow you luckily escaped was meant for me.  However, I don’t think there will be any recurrence of the matter; in fact, I may say that I am sure there won’t.”

“That is all right then, Dampierre.  Of course I don’t want the matter followed up in any way, and should not have spoken about it had I not thought that I ought to give you warning.”

“I feel very much indebted to you anyhow, Hartington.  Probably had I been in your place the matter would have gone altogether differently.”

Arnold had in fact learnt with absolute certainty who had been Cuthbert’s assailant.  When he went up to Montmartre he told Minette what had happened, and added:  “He suspects that the scoundrel took him in the dark for me.”

“Why should any one bear ill-will to you?” Minette asked.

“That I can’t say, but I do think that very likely he is right.  He keeps himself to himself, never attends meetings of any kind, and can hardly have made an enemy, while it is possible that I may have done so.”

Minette was thoughtful for some time, and when her father joined them and said that it was time to be off to a meeting, she asked him abruptly-

“Have you seen Jean Diantre to-day?”

“Ay, I have seen him, and a pretty sight he is.”

“How is that, father?”

“He took more liquor than was good for him and got a bad fall as he was going upstairs to his room, and as luck would have it, his mouth caught the edge of the stone step.  His lips were all cut and swollen to four times their usual size and three of his teeth are out.  Mon Dieu, what a crash he must have got!  He has been drinking a great deal lately, and I have warned him over and over again that he would get himself into trouble; but as a rule liquor does not affect him that way, he gets sulky and bad-tempered, but he can generally walk steadily enough.”

“Father, you must come with us to his lodgings,” Minette exclaimed.  “I have something to say to him.  I suppose he is up?”

“But it is time to be at the meeting Minette.  What do you want to see him for?”

“Never mind the meeting,” she said, impatiently.  “We shall be there before it is done.  It is more important that I should see Jean.”

“Well, if it must be, it must,” Dufaure grumbled, shrugging his shoulders.  “When you take a thing into your head I know it is of no use talking.”

Jean Diantre was sitting with two or three of his mates in his attic over a small brazier of charcoal.  They rose in surprise at the entrance of Minette and her father, followed by the American.  The girl, without speaking, walked straight up to Jean.

“I knew you were a miserable,” she said, bitterly, “a drunken, worthless scamp, but until now I did not know you were a murderer.  Yes, comrades, this man with whom you sit and smoke is a miserable assassin.  Yesterday evening he tried to take the life of Arnold Dampierre here, whom you all know as a friend of freedom and a hater of tyranny.  This brave companion of yours had not the courage to meet him face to face, but stole up behind him in the dark, and in another moment would have slain the man he was following, when the tables were turned.  The man he had followed was not Arnold Dampierre but another; and before this wretch could strike with his knife, he knocked him down, stunned him, and left him like a dog that he is on the pavement.  No doubt he has told you the lie that he told my father, that he fell while going upstairs drunk.  It was a blow of the fist that has marked him as you see.  The man he had tried to murder did not even care to give him in charge.  He despised this cur too much, and yet the fellow may think himself fortunate.  Had it been Monsieur Dampierre it would not have been a fist but a bullet through his head that would have punished him.  Now mark me, Jean Diantre,” and she moved a pace forward, so suddenly that the man started back, “you are a known assassin and poltroon.  If at any time harm befalls Monsieur Dampierre I will stab you with my own hand.  If you ever dare to speak to me again I will hold you up to the scorn of the women of the quarter.  As it is, your comrades have heard how mean and cowardly a scoundrel you are.  You had best move from Montmartre at once, for when this is known no honest man will give you his hand, no man who respects himself will work beside you.  Hide yourself elsewhere, for if you stay here I will hound you down, I will see that you have not an hour’s peace of your life.  We reds have our ideas, but we are not assassins.  We do not sneak after a man to stab him in the dark, and when we have arms in our hands we are not to be beaten like curs by an unarmed man.”

The other men had shrunk back from him as she spoke.  Jean quailed beneath her torrent of contemptuous words and from the fury in her eyes.  There was no doubting the fact that her charges were true.

“Who drove me to it?” he said sullenly through his swollen lips.

“Who drove you!  Drink and your evil temper drove you to it.  You wanted to marry me-me who never gave you a word of encouragement; who knew you au fond, who knew that you were at the best an idle, worthless scamp, and would never have married you had there been no other living man in the universe.  But enough.  I have said what I came to say, and you had best take warning.  Come, father, you have stood this fellow’s friend, and you have been wrong, but you know him now.”

Minette passed out through the door Arnold held open for her; her father and Arnold followed, and the four other men, without a word to Jean Diantre, went down the stairs after them, leaving him to himself.