We are all at peace and happy now, but whenever my thoughts fly back to that morning, whenever the ears of memory recall those hideous yells of fury and of hate, coupled with the equally horrible cries for pity, which pierced through the walls behind which the six of us were crouching, trembling, and praying, whenever I think of it all my heart still beats violently with that same nameless dread which held it in its deathly grip then.
Hundreds of men, women, and children were massacred in the prisons of that day—it was a St. Bartholomew even more hideous than the last.
Maman was trying in vain to keep our thoughts fixed upon God—papa sat on the stone bench, his elbows resting on his knees, his head buried in his hands; but maman was kneeling on the floor, with her dear arms encircling us all and her trembling lips moving in continuous prayer.
We felt that we were facing death—and what a death, O my God!
Suddenly the small grated window—high up in the dank wall—became obscured. I was the first to look up, but the cry of terror which rose from my heart was choked ere it reached my throat.
Jean and Andre looked up, too, and they shrieked, and so did Marguerite, and papa jumped up and ran to us and stood suddenly between us and the window like a tiger defending its young.
But we were all of us quite silent now. The children did not even cry; they stared, wide-eyed, paralysed with fear.
Only maman continued to pray, and we could hear papa’s rapid and stertorous breathing as he watched what was going on at that window above.
Heavy blows were falling against the masonry round the grating, and we could hear the nerve-racking sound of a file working on the iron bars; and farther away, below the window, those awful yells of human beings transformed by hate and fury into savage beasts.
How long this horrible suspense lasted I cannot now tell you; the next thing I remember clearly is a number of men in horrible ragged clothing pouring into our vault-like prison from the window above; the next moment they rushed at us simultaneously—or so it seemed to me, for I was just then recommending my soul to God, so certain was I that in that same second I would cease to live.
It was all like a dream, for instead of the horrible shriek of satisfied hate which we were all expecting to hear, a whispering voice, commanding and low, struck our ears and dragged us, as it were, from out the abyss of despair into the sudden light of hope.
“If you will trust us,” the voice whispered, “and not be afraid, you will be safely out of Paris within an hour.”
Papa was the first to realise what was happening; he had never lost his presence of mind even during the darkest moment of this terrible time, and he said quite calmly and steadily now:
“What must we do?”
“Persuade the little ones not to be afraid, not to cry, to be as still and silent as may be,” continued the voice, which I felt must be that of one of God’s own angels, so exquisitely kind did it sound to my ear.