The perplexities of the cashier of the Mutual Credit were great. The day that the Baron and the Baroness de Thaller had left,
“Pack up our trunks,” he ordered his wife. “The bourse is going to close; and the Mutual Credit can very well get along without me.”
But the next day he became undecided again. What Mlle. Gilberte thought she could guess, was, that he was dying to start alone, and leave his family, but dared not do it. He hesitated so long, that at last, one evening,
“You may unpack the trunks,” he said to his wife. “Paris is invested; and no one can now leave.”
In fact, the news had just come, that the Western Railroad, the last one that had remained open, was now cut off.
Paris was invested; and so rapid had been the investment, that it could hardly be believed.
People went in crowds on all the culminating points, the hills of Montmartre, and the heights of the Trocadero. Telescopes had been erected there; and every one was anxious to scan the horizon, and look for the Prussians.
But nothing could be discovered. The distant fields retained their quiet and smiling aspect under the mild rays of the autumn sun.
So that it really required quite an effort of imagination to realize the sinister fact, to understand that Paris, with its two millions of inhabitants, was indeed cut off from the world and separated from the rest of France, by an insurmountable circle of steel.
Doubt, and something like a vague hope, could be traced in the tone of the people who met on the streets, saying,
“Well, it’s all over: we can’t leave any more. Letters, even, cannot pass. No more news, eh?”
But the next day, which was the 19th of September, the most incredulous were convinced.
For the first time Paris shuddered at the hoarse voice of the cannon, thundering on the heights of Chatillon. The siege of Paris, that siege without example in history, had commenced.
The life of the Favorals during these interminable days of anguish and suffering, was that of a hundred thousand other families.
Incorporated in the battalion of his ward, the cashier of the Mutual Credit went off two or three times a week, as well as all his neighbors, to mount guard on the ramparts,—a useless service perhaps, but which those that performed it did not look upon as such, —a very arduous service, at any rate, for poor merchants, accustomed to the comforts of their shops, or the quiet of their offices.
To be sure, there was nothing heroic in tramping through the mud, in receiving the rain or the snow upon the back, in sleeping on the ground or on dirty straw, in remaining on guard with the thermometer twenty degrees below the freezing-point. But people die of pleurisy quite as certainly as of a Prussian bullet; and many died of it.