When Midnight sounded from the belfry
of St. Sulpice the gates of Paris were still choked with fragments of what
had once been an army.
They entered with the night, a sullen
horde, spattered with slime, faint with hunger and exhaustion. There was
little disorder at first and the throng at the gates parted silently as
the troops tramped along the freezing streets. Confusion came as the hours
passed. Swiftly and more swiftly, crowding squadron after squadron and
battery on battery, horses plunging and caissons jolting, the remnants
from the front surged through the gates, a chaos of cavalry and artillery
struggling for the right of way. Close upon them stumbled the infantry;
here a skeleton of a regiment marching with a desperate attempt at order,
there a riotous mob of Mobiles crushing their way to the streets, then
a turmoil of horsemen, cannon, troops without officers, officers without
men, then again a line of ambulances, the wheels groaning under their heavy
Dumb with misery the crowd looked
All through the day the ambulances
had been arriving, and all day long the ragged throng whimpered and shivered
by the barriers. At noon the crowd was increased tenfold, filling the squares
about the gates, and swarming over the inner fortifications.
At four o'clock in the afternoon
the German batteries suddenly wreathed themselves in smoke and the shells
fell fast on Montparnasse. At twenty minutes after four two projectiles
struck a house in the rue de Bac, and a moment later the first shell fell
in the Latin Quarter.
Braith was painting in bed when
West came in very much scared.
"I wish you would come down; our
house has been knocked into a cocked hat, and I'm afraid that some of the
pillagers may take it into their heads to pay us a visit to-night."
Braith jumped out of bed and bundled
himself into a garment which had once been an overcoat.
"Anybody hurt?" he inquired, struggling
with a sleeve full of dilapidated lining.
"No. Colette is barricaded in the
cellar, and the concierge ran away to the fortifications. There will be
a rough gang there if the bombardment keeps up. You might help us----"
"Of course," said Braith; but it
was not until they had reached the rue Serpente and had turned in the passage
which led to West's cellar, that the latter cried: "have you seen Jack
"No," replied Braith looking troubled,
"he was not at Ambulance Headquarters."
"He stayed to take care of Sylvia,
A bomb came crashing through the
roof of a house at the end of the alley and burst in the basement, showering
the street with slate and plaster. A second struck a chimney and plunged
into the garden, followed by an avalanche of bricks, and another exploded
with a deafening report in the next street.
They hurried along the passage to
the steps which led to the cellar. Here again Braith stopped.
"Don't you think I had better run
up to see if Jack and Sylvia are well intrenched? I can get back before
"No. Go in and find Colette and
"No, no, let me go, there's no danger."
"I know it," replied West calmly;
and dragging Braith into the alley pointed to the cellar steps. The iron
door was barred.
"Colette! Colette!" he called. The
door swung inward, and the girl sprang up the steps to meet them. At that
instant, Braith, glancing behind him, gave a startled cry, and pushing
the two before him into the cellar jumped down after them and slammed the
iron door. A few seconds later a heavy jar from outside shook the hinges.
"They are here," muttered West,
"That door," observed Colette calmly,
"will hold forever."
Braith examined the low iron structure,
now trembling with the blows rained on it from without. West glanced anxiously
at Colette who displayed no agitating, and this comforted him.
"I don't believe they will spend
much time here," said Braith; "they only rummage in cellars for spirits,
"Unless they hear that valuables
are buried there."
"But surely nothing is buried here?"
exclaimed Braith uneasily.
"Unfortunately there is," growled
West. "That miserly landlord of mine----"
A crash from outside followed by
a yell cut him short; then blow after blow shook the doors until there
came a sharp snap, a clinking of metal, and a triangular bit of iron fell
inwards leaving a hole through which struggled a ray of light.
Instantly West knelt, and shoving
his revolver through the aperture fired every cartridge. For a moment the
alley resounded with the racket of the revolver, then absolute silence
Presently a single questioning blow
fell upon the door, and a moment later another and another, and then a
sudden crack zigzagged across the iron plate.
"Here," said West, seizing Colette
by the wrist, "you follow me, Braith!" and he ran swiftly toward a circular
spot of light at the further end of the cellar. The spot of light came
from a barred man-hole above. West motioned Braith to mount on his shoulders.
"Push it over. You must!"
With little effort Braith lifted
the barrel cover, scrambled out on his stomach, and easily raised Colette
from West's shoulders.
"Quick, old chap!" cried the latter.
Braith twisted his legs around a
fence chain and leaned down again. The cellar was flooded with a yellow
light and the air reeked with the stench of petroleum torches. The iron
door still held, but a whole plate of metal was gone, and now as they looked
a figure came creeping through holding a torch.
"Quick!" whispered Braith, "Jump!"
and West hung dangling until Colette grasped him by the collar and he was
dragged out. Then her nerves gave way and she wept hysterically, but West
threw his arms around her and led her across the gardens into the next
street, where Braith, after replacing the man-hole cover and piling some
stone slabs from the wall over it, rejoined them. It was almost dark. They
hurried through the street now only lighted by burning buildings or the
swift glare of the shells. They gave wide berth to the fires, but at a
distance saw the flitting forms of pillagers among the débris. Sometimes
they passed a female fury crazed with drink shrieking anathemas upon the
world, or some slouching lout whose blackened face and hands betrayed his
share in the work of destruction. At last they reached the Seine and passed
the bridge, and then Braith said: "I must go back. I am not sure of Jack
and Sylvia." As he spoke, he made way for a crowd which came trampling
across the bridge, and along the river wall by the d'Orsay barracks. In
the midst of it West caught the measured tread of a platoon. A lantern
passed, a file of bayonets, then another lantern which glimmered on a deathly
face behind, and Colette gasped, "Hartman!" and he was gone. They peered
fearfully across the embankment, holding their breath. There was a shuffle
of feet on the quay and the gate of the barracks slammed. A lantern shone
for a moment at the postern, the crowd pressed to the grille, then came
the clang of the volley from the stone parade.
One by one the petroleum torches
flared up along the embankment, and now the whole square was in motion.
Down from the Champs Elysées and across the Place de la Concorde,
straggled the fragments of the battle, a company here, and a mob there.
They poured in from every street followed by women and children, and a
great murmur, borne on the icy wind, swept through the Arc de Triomphe
and cut down the dark avenue,--"Perdus! perdus!"
A ragged end of a battalion was
pressing past, the spectre of annihilation. West groaned. Then a figure
sprang from the shadowy ranks and called West's name, and when he saw it
was Trent he cried out. Trent seized him, white with terror.
West stared speechless, but Colette
moaned "Oh, Sylvia! Sylvia!--and they are shelling the Quarter!"
"Trent!" shouted Braith; but he
was gone, and they could not overtake him.
The bombardment ceased as Trent
crossed the Boulevard St. Germain, but the entrance to the rue de Seine
was blocked by a heap of smoking bricks. Everywhere the shells had torn
great holes in the pavement. The café was a wreck of splinters and
glass, the bookstore tottered, ripped from roof to basement, and the little
bakery, long since closed, bulged outward above a mass of slate and tin.
He climbed over the steaming bricks
and hurried into the rue de Tournon. On the corner a fire blazed, lighting
up his own street, and on the blank wall, beneath a shattered gas lamp,
a child was writing with a bit of cinder.
"HERE FELL THE FIRST SHELL."
The letters stared him in the face.
The rat-killer finished and stepped back to view his work, but catching
sight of Trent's bayonet, screamed, and fled, and as Trent staggered across
the shattered street, from holes and crannies in the ruins fierce women
fled from their work of pillage, cursing him.
At first he could not find his house,
for the tears blinded him, but he felt along the wall and reached the door.
A lantern burned in the concierge's lodge and the old man lay dead beside
it. Faint with fright he leaned a moment on his rifle, then, snatching
the lantern, sprang up the stairs. He tried to call, but his tongue hardly
moved. On the second floor he saw plaster on the stairway, and on the third
the floor was torn and the concierge lay in a pool of blood across the
landing. The next floor was his, theirs. The door hung from its hinges,
the walls gaped. He crept in and sank down by the bed, and there two arms
were flung around his neck, and a tear-stained face sought his own.
"Oh Jack! Jack! Jack!"
From the tumbled pillow beside them
a child wailed.
"They brought it; it is mine," she
"Ours," he whispered, with his arms
around them both.
"Then from the stairs below came
Braith's anxious voice.
"Trent! Is all well?"