On the boulevards it is worse still; there, vice exhibits itself and triumphs. Is it then true what a young fellow, a poor student and bitter philosopher, said to me just now: “When all Paris is destroyed, when its houses, its palaces, and its monuments thrown down and crushed, strew its accursed soil and form but one vast ruin beneath the sky, then, from out of this shapeless mass will rise as from a huge sepulchre, the phantom of a woman, a skeleton dressed in a brilliant dress, with shoulders bared, and a toquet on its head; and this phantom, running from ruin to ruin, turning its head every now and then to see if some libertine is following her through the waste—this phantom is the leprous soul of Paris!”
When midnight approaches, the cafes are shut. The delegates of the Central Committee at the ex-prefecture have the habit of sending patrols of National Guards to hasten and overlook the closing of all public places. But this precaution, like so many others, is useless. There are secret doors which escape the closest investigations. When the shutters are put up, light filters through the interstices of the boards. Go close up to them, apply your eye to one of those lighted crevices, listen to the cannon roaring, the mitrailleuses horribly spitting, the musketry cracking, and then look into the interior of the closed rooms. People are talking, eating, and smoking; waiters go to and fro. There are women too. The men are gay and silly. Champagne bottles are being uncorked. “Ah! ah! it’s the fusillade!” Lovers and mistresses are in common here. This orgie has the most telling effect, I tell you, in the midst of the city loaded with maledictions, a few steps from the battle-field where the bayonets are dealing their death thrusts, and the shells are scattering blood. And later, after the laughter and the songs and the drink, they take an open carriage, if the night is fine, and go to the Champs Elysees, and there mount upon the box by the coachman to try and see the fight—if “those people” knew how to die as well as they know how to laugh it would be better for them.
Other bons viveurs, more discreet, hide themselves on the first floors of some houses and in some of the clubs. But they are betrayed by the sparkle of the chandeliers which pierces the heavy curtains. If you walk along by the walls you will hear the conversation of the gamesters and the joyous clink of the gold pieces.
Ah! the cowardice of the merry ones! Oh, thrice pardonable anger of those who starve!