Claudine's Doves by Mrs E. W. Latimer
A few days since, as I was driving in the Bois de Boulogne with a
friend, a slender, sweet young girl was pointed out to me. She was
walking beside her mother, and there was a loving, tender look in her
blue eyes, a shrinking modesty in her deportment, which interested me
at the first glance. She was apparently about fifteen. I observed to the
friend who pointed her out to me that she was fair, modest, and pretty.
"Yes," he replied, "and she is the heroine of a very pretty story."
Eight years ago her father and mother occupied an appartement, or
flat, in the Rue de Rivoli. Part of the Rue de Rivoli has houses only on
one side; the other is bordered by a high iron railing with gilt
spear-heads, inclosing the Garden of the Tuileries. At one point (which
was nearly opposite the house where Claudine lived) one tall pavilion of
the palace abutted on the sidewalk. The Rue de Rivoli is the most
beautiful street in Paris. The windows of the sitting-room of Claudine's
mother looked over the palace and its gardens, its chestnut-trees and
its fountains, the Seine and its quays, with a more distant view of the
Place de la Concorde and its obelisk, the Chambers of the Legislature,
and the gilded dome of the Tuileries. Every procession passed under
Claudine's windows. No little girl, I think, who lives in rooms
overlooking the Rue de Rivoli would wish to exchange them for any other
Claudine's parents, though of good birth and education, were not rich;
they lived on the third story. They had only one old servant. Claudine's
mother was her daughter's nurse and governess. Till the German army
marched on Paris they had a peaceful, refined, and happy home.
At the moment of which I am about to write, the siege had ceased, and
the terrible days of the Commune were almost over. The little family
began to breathe more freely—only in a certain sense, however, for they
were all gathered together in a little close room, which would have
looked into the court-yard of their house had not its windows been
blocked up by pillows, mattresses, and furniture. They dared not look
into the street, they dared not go into their own sitting-room, for the
Versailles troops were entering Paris, bomb-shells were bursting in all
directions, and volleys of musketry were being fired round every street
corner. Paris was like a city expecting to be sacked, with the
additional horror that each man's foes might be those of his own
Of a sudden they began to feel a stifling heat. Thick smoke rose all
around them. There was the sickening and suggestive smell of coal-oil in
the air. Claudine's father felt that he must know what was going on. To
look out of the windows might be death to all of them; still he ran into
the sitting-room, tore down the beds and pillows from a window, and
looked out on the Rue de Rivoli.
The palace before him was in flames. As he looked, the fire swept over
the venerable gray pile. Forked tongues of flame darted higher than the
Mansard roofs of its tall towers, and threatened the stores and
dwelling-houses across the way. Claudine's father looked below into the
street: there was no safety there. The men and women of the
neighborhood, driven from their rooms by falling fiery flakes from the
high roofs of the old palace, clustered together under shelter of the
great porte cochères—by which carriages drive into the court-yards of
French houses under the rooms of the first story. Muskets, rifles, and
mitrailleuses swept the street. To venture into it seemed sure
destruction. To stay beneath their blazing roof would expose them all to
perish in the flames. Bomb-shells were falling constantly to right and
left, knocking off pieces of the cornices of lofty, stately houses,
tearing off their iron balconies, and scattering shattered fragments of
wood, window-glass, iron, and plaster on the pavement.
The father of Claudine, aghast with fear and horror, stepped back into
the sitting-room. "I see no escape for us," he cried.
At that moment hoarse shouts below them in the court-yard announced that
a party of insurgents, accompanied by a band of the fiendish women they
called pétroleuses, had burst into the house that they inhabited.
Already the dangerous fluid from which these women took their name was
being poured over the wood-work of the staircase and the two lower
A cry ran through the house of "Save yourselves!" Claudine's father
gathered together some important papers, some money, and a few jewels.
The mother and her old servant spread a blanket on the floor, and flung
into it such objects as they could gather up in haste, tying it by the
four corners. As to Claudine, frantic with terror, she ran into her
bedroom and brought out what she valued most—a cage containing two
young turtle-doves. They were her only pets. She loved them better than
anything else in the world, except old Clémence and her father and
The torches of the Communards had already set fire to the wood-work
saturated with coal-oil. Flames were breaking out in every direction.
The inhabitants of the doomed houses were forced to make their way into
the street, or stay to be burned alive. The first to rush down the
staircase was Claudine, cage in hand. She ran into the street. A
bomb-shell burst as she reached it, and her terrified parents saw her
drop upon the sidewalk, while the cage fell at some distance, rolling
away out of her hand.
When her father saw her dead, as he supposed, he rushed into the street,
undaunted by the bursting of the shell, and picking up her body,
retreated with it under shelter of the porte cochère.
But Claudine was not dead, nor even wounded. She had fainted with
fright, and as her parents hung over her with tender words, she opened
her blue eyes and smiled at them. A moment after, she remembered her
dear doves. Before any one could stop her or forbid her she ran back
into the street through bullets thick as hail, caught up her cage, and
ran back with her recovered treasures. A pétroleuse who had seen her
stopped as she was setting fire to some furniture, and cried out, with a
"What was the use of running out to pick up those? They will be roast
birds anyhow in the next half-hour."
On hearing these cruel words little Claudine began to comprehend for the
first time the greatness of the danger. She drew back, darted a look of
reproach at the vile woman who stood laughing at her trouble, and then,
with the big tears rolling down her cheeks, "God will know how to keep
them safe," she said, and opened the cage door. The doves flew out. They
poised themselves a moment; then they rose into the air, and flew away
to seek a purer sky above the clouds of smoke and sulphur. In spite of
what the cruel woman said, the doves were saved.
A few moments later a drum was heard advancing up the street. The
drummers marched at the head of a body of troops—the soldiers had
come! "Vive l'armée!" cried the frightened householders.
In an instant pétroleuses, robbers, and insurgents scattered in all
directions. It is a queer sight to see a French crowd run when the
troops charge. Now, however, every soldier "thought on vengeance." The
incendiaries dropped fast before the iron hail.
Meantime all hands were busy putting out the flames. The fire was at
last got under. The furniture and wood-work of the first and second
stories were badly burned and broken, but the rest of the house was
Claudine and her family went back into their rooms, and let in the light
of day, the father and mother blessing God for the timely arrival of the
troops who had saved all Paris from fire and pillage. By degrees they
grew more calm. But one sad heart was inconsolable. Claudine's share in
the great catastrophe which had almost laid Paris "even with the ground"
was the loss of her dear turtle-doves.
The next morning when she came out early on the balcony to look at the
blackened ruins of the noble palace, and to mourn for her lost
favorites, she uttered a cry of joy. Her doves sat on the railing of the
balcony. They had flown back to their little mistress and their home.
"Mamma! mamma!" she cried, "God has sent me back my doves!" and her
little heart recovered the happiness that in her inexperience she
fancied had been lost forever.