28 October 2008

Expansion & Invasion: I Was 11 During the Franco-Prussian War...

By Jennifer Linforth

I was eleven when I saw the first wrinkle of worry crack the well-crafted mask of indifference that was my brother's face.

All my younger years my brother, Philippe Georges Marie, the Comte de Chagny, was in charge. A philanthropist, womanizer and pillar of Paris, an outrageous risk taker and man of irreproachable conscience and heart—he was always smiling, always in control never--fearful.

Never, until the echo of Prussian boots fell upon the muddy streets of Paris, dull against the cobbles yet echoing loudly the change that was to come. The eighteenth of January was the day a new German empire was declared at Versailles, a place of revelry for my brother and his kin, a place where I, as the Vicomte de Chagny, longed to one day roam.

I would not be roaming there during the winter of my eleventh year.

The comte tried to explain to me best he could why several enormous armies were established in France's provinces--this in light of the German blockade of Paris. All I knew was I could not go to the city I so adored as a child. I could not taste youthful pleasure in the seat of a salon. I could not dine at my favorite cafés. My estate became my prison. Chateau de Changy became a tomb as we avoided being seen outside its marbled walls. The French troops were marching toward Paris, I was told, to attack the Germans from all sides.

The Germans were ill-pleased. They bombarded my beloved city, which only tightened our French resolve. "We will prevail, mon frere." My brother's words were the only thing keeping my youthful and rash head from leaping upon my horse and joining the ranks. Within a few weeks time war broke out across my country as the German armies lay scattered--for they were not prepared for an occupation the of the whole of France.

I thought we had prevailed. How wrong I was. My eleven-year-old mind could not comprehend the months that had passed since January, and by October 10th fighting erupted near Orléans. I remember the wrinkles deepening upon my brother's brow as he received word of the battle from Duc de Orléans. Would Chagny be next? The Germans were victorious as first--making my heart sink like a hunk of lead--until word came that my countrymen were triumphant at Coulmiers. At last! A light had cracked in the gloom of this war and November looked to belong to France. But the Germans--well-trained, numerous, with their needle guns--joined their forces from north to south and my countrymen abandoned Orléans by bleak and white December.

War continued until January of 1871. Paris was starving, innocent people--unprivileged, like I--were left in the cold streets, and my brother's ami, Jules Favre, traveled to Versailles to discuss peace with Bismark.

By now, I was approaching my twelfth year, and Bismark was a name I hated.

France was victorious in these talks--to a degree. Bismark permitted food convoys to enter Paris and I was left slightly guilty, for my belly was never empty through all this. Chagny had is secret stores--for didn't all nobility have secrets kept from the coffers of their governments? Bismark placed conditions on this aid--the Government of the National Defense was to surrender key fortresses outside of Paris to his Prussian army. Opposed, but realistic they could not defend Paris without their forts, the Government gave in. Our president resigned. Favre took over.

He surrendered two days later...

It would not be until 10th May that the Treaty of Frankfurt was signed and the war ended. Yet it would not be over not for those with titles to our name.

Paris was changed. Our government was changed. I watched The Commune rise. I avoided the dungeons, the anger, and the resentment of the lower class thanks to my brother. As I grew into my title, my title would grow to a fossil of a bygone era thanks to the first dull echoes of Prussian boots on muddy cobbles.

Many years later I would see the Communard dungeons deep below in the cellars of the Opera Garnier. I would not be placed there by the lower class Parisians resentful of my titled name. I would be shackled and chained there by a deviant madman--a Phantom of the Opera. But that is a story for another time. Until then, I would leave my legacy carved on the cold stone walls....

R. C.

It was then, the first wrinkle of worry cracked the well-crafted mask of indifference that was my face...

~Raoul Jean-Paul Marie, Vicomte de Chagny.

No comments: