I was busy writing, when suddenly I heard a fearful detonation, followed by report on report. The windows rattled: I thought the house was shaking under me. The noise continued: it seemed as if cannon were roaring on all sides. I rushed down into the street; frightened people were running hither and thither, and asking questions. Some thought that the Versaillais were bombarding Paris on all sides. On the Boulevards I was told it was the fort of Vanves that had been blown up. At last I arrived on the Place de la Concorde: there the consternation was great, but nothing was known for certain. Looking up, I saw high up in the sky what looked like a dark cloud, but which was not a cloud. I tried again and again to obtain information. It appeared pretty certain that an explosion had taken place near the Ecole Militaire-doubtless at the Grenelle powder-magazine, I then turned into the Champs Elysees. A distant cracking was audible, like the noise of a formidable battery of mitrailleuses. Puffs of white smoke arose in the air and mingled with the dark cloud there. I no longer walked, I ran: I hoped to be able to see something from the Rond Point de l’Etoile. Once there, a grand and fearful sight met my eyes. Vast columns of smoke rolled over one another towards the sky. Every now and then the wind swept them a little on one side, and for an instant a portion of the city was visible beneath the rolling vapours. Then in an instant a flame burst out—only one, but that gigantic, erect, brilliant, as one that might dart forth from a Tolcano suddenly opened, up through the smoke which was reddened, illumined by the eruption of the fire. At the same moment there were explosions as of a hundred waggons of powder blown up one after another. All this scene, in its hideous splendour, blinded and deafened me. I wanted to get nearer, to feel the heat of the burning, to rush on. I had the fire-frenzy!
[Illustration: RAZOUA, GOVERNOR OF THE ECOLE MILITAIRE.]
Going down to the Quai de Passy, I found a dense crowd there. Some one screamed out: “Go back! go back! the fire will soon reach the cartridge-magazine.” The words had scarcely been uttered, when a storm of balls fell like hail amongst us. Each person thought himself wounded, and many took to their heels. It did not enter into my head to run away. From where I was then, the sight was still more terribly beautiful, and the crowd that had withdrawn from the spot soon re-assembled again. Dreadful details were passed from mouth to mouth. Four five-storied houses had fallen; no one dared to think even of the number of the victims. Bodies had been seen to fall from the windows, horribly mutilated; arms and legs had been picked up in different places. Near the powder-magazine is a hospital, which was shaken from foundation to roof: for an instant it had trembled violently as if it were going to fall. The nurses, dressers, and even the sick had rushed from the wards, shrieking in an agony of fear; the frightened horses, too, with blood streaming down their sides, pranced madly among the fugitives, or galloped away as fast as they could from the awful scene.