It is the middle of the night; and I awake with a terrible start. A bright red light streams through the panes. I throw open the window; the sky to the left is one mass of dark smoke and lurid streaks of light—it is a fire, Paris on fire! I dress and go out. At the corner of the Rue de Trevise a sentinel stops me, “You can’t pass.” I am so bewildered that I do not think of noticing whether he is a Federal or a soldier. What am I to do, where am I to go? Although an hour ago balls were whistling around, there are now people at every window. “The Ministere des Finances is on fire! the Rue Royale! the Louvre!” The Louvre! I can scarcely avoid a cry of horror. In a minute the enormity of the disaster has broken upon me. Oh! chefs-d’oeuvre without number! I see you devoured, consumed, reduced to ashes! I see the walls tottering, the canvases fall from the frames and shrivel up; the “Marriage of Canaan” is in flames! Raphael is struggling in the burning furnace! Leonardo da Vinci is no more! This was, indeed, an unexpected calamity! Fortune had reserved this terrible surprise for us! But I will not believe it, these rumours are false, doubtless! How should these people who inhabit this quarter know what I am ignorant of? Yet over our heads the sky is tinged with black and red!
[Illustration: RUINS OF THE RUE ROYALE, LOOKING TOWARDS THE PLACE DE LA CONCORDE AND ACROSS THE RUE DU FAUBOURG SAINT-HONORE.]
A strange smell fills the air, like that of a monstrous petroleum lamp just lighted. That dreaded word, petroleum, makes me shudder. Once distinctly I hear the sound of a vast body falling heavily. Not to be able to obtain information is terrible; not to know what is going on, while all around seems on fire; the day is beginning to break, the musketry and the cannonading commences afresh, it is a hell, with death for its girdle! In front of me I see the corner of a building lighted up by the fire, on which little spirals of smoke are reflected from the distant conflagration. I rush home, I want to hide myself, to sleep, to forget. When I am in my room, I see through the white curtains of the window a bright light. I tremble and rush to the window! It is the gilt letters of a signboard, on the opposite side of the way, that are darting forth brilliant flashes, borrowed from the distant flames.
[Illustration: A BAY of the TUILERIES—from the PLACE du CARROUSEL.]
[Illustration: A WARM CORNER APPROACHING THE LOUVRE.]
[Footnote 105: The 24th May the COMMITTEE FOR PUBLIC SAFETY issued these cold-blooded decrees:—
“Citizen Milliere, at
the head of one hundred and fifty
fuse-bearers, is to set fire to all houses Of suspicious aspect, as
well as to the public monuments of the left bank of the Seine.
“Citizen Dereure, with
one hundred and fifty fuse-bearers, is
charged with the 1st and 2nd Arrondissement.