In mismatching, color-washed and weathered uniforms, a trio of depressed National Guard soldiers slowly dredged across the empty streets of downtrodden Paris.
It was the early morning of Wednesday, May 10, 1871.
No sooner had the trio crossed the intersection of Rue de Rivoli and Boulevard de Sebastopol, than a bearded man dressed in white appeared, out of the blue, in front of them.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” exclaimed Pierre Moreau—the young good-looking son of a wealthy soap factory owner, now a drafted soldier. His fellows, both volunteers since last September, frowned at the supplication betraying the kid’s catholic affliction. One of them, Alexandre Dupont, a Jacobin Republican and previously a book editor, was a Deist, while Gerard Roche, the other comrade, and commander of the trio, previously a factory accountant, was a radical socialist, and an atheist. Moreau bowed subjectedly, and loitered behind.
Tolerant, permissive Paris was the farthest from its centuries old reputation.
The dramatic change befell the ‘City of Light’ early in the yesteryear’s autumn, starting with a devastating defeat to Prussia, an inconsequential continental state. Followed the overthrow of the glorious eighteen-year-old, seemingly-infallible imperial regime. An excoriating siege by the detestably barbaric Germans then starved the two million residents for four months. The resilient Parisians however had to finally give in when the Prussians lost patience, and started bombarding the city heavily in January. Defeated, the French sought armistice. Negotiation with the Prussians proceeded, and nationwide elections were quickly held. Surprisingly, bringing back the conservatives and monarchists strongly into the National Assembly, whose representatives consequently formed the new government of the Third Republic. However, nothing deterred the Parisians nor humiliated them more than the conditions of the armistice concluded by the government of the elected National Assembly; main of which was the desecrating march of the victors in the streets of the capital. Citywide insurrection followed, and the treacherous government of the National Assembly quickly escaped the angry Parisians. La Commune de Paris was proclaimed the following day: an egalitarian utopic regime.
However, run by inefficiency, undercut by fantasies, and rampant with reciprocated accusations, the ‘Comité Central,’ and its successor elected body, the ‘Commune Council’ were both failing structures.
Now, Paris was under siege once again; this time by the troops of the government, now based in Versailles, consisting mainly of the French prisoners of war (freed by consent and collusion of the German Iron Chancellor, Otto Van Bismarck, who feared a success for revolutionaries might embolden the socialists back at home). With orders from Adolphe Thiers, head of the government, the army encircled the city (leaving the eastern and northern sides to the Germans, as per the armistice) and strangled it back to death.
Able men of the city were expected to defend the Commune, and no sooner, every citizen from every political, social, and ideological leaning was drafted.
As a result, persons less enthusiastic for the Commune, even dreadful of the scary Reds (radical communists and republicans) heading it, were drafted forcefully in the National Guard. Pierre Moreau, whose family had fled months earlier, while he foolishly stayed behind to be by the side of a ravishing brunette, was drafted a month ago. Moreover, based on their social class and apparent ideology, he and the other unlucky bourgeois youths were enlisted as junior cadre in brigades headed by fiercely committed socialists or Jacobin Republicans. His bad fortune brought him under none other than Gerard Roche, the notorious socialist.
Gerard Roche, a kid born in the misery of the Parisian proletariats, grew into an energetic young man riven with hatefulness for all what old France represented. With the Commune (finally!) established, he was more eager than ever to eradicate all values (and people) representative of the old order. Roche, the vicious Red, and fervent revolutionary was however an unseasoned leader of combustible character: one acting on impulse on almost every matter. Today, based on a stray, unconfirmed piece of information, he selected two soldiers, and himself, and launched upon a dangerous, almost-suicidal mission at the suburbs of the city.
Now, on route to the supposedly spot of action, there jumps upon them that man, with lush wavy black hair and beard, and dressed in white.
“Who the hell are you?”
“I’m an angel.”
“Shut up scumbag,” Roche, the radical red, shouted, while grabbing the man from his dense beard. The thirty-year-old man in the white robes didn’t move a limb; just displayed a mild warm smile.
“The poor soul must have grown mad,” ridiculed Roche, his scorn softening into a snarl, while pushing the solemnly smiling man to the ground. His comment was legitimate anyway; it wasn’t abnormal (even quite expected) for someone to snap in the midst of the catastrophe befalling the city.
“But his clothes are clean, and made of quite an expensive fabric,” remarked Dupont, the learned one of the trio, astutely.
The young man in white got up spiritedly, solemnly dusting his clothes, and looking them with the pleasantest of smiles. His eyes moved across the faces of the startled soldiers, starting with the son of the bourgeois family.
“Pierre Moreau, son of Henri Moreau and Anita Blanc. You have stayed in Paris to keep the side of Rosalyn, previously the love of your life and the wife of your dream. However, she isn’t anymore.” His gazing eyes shifted to the tall dark deist, “…and you are Alexandre Dupont, son of Frederic Dupont and Christine Bouchard, book editor, and man of letters, with a book yet to be published about your vision of a modern civilized France.” His eyes stopped finally at the vicious red, “…and you are Gerard Roche, son of Emile Roche, you are an egalitarian and socialist.”
Roche held him from his beard once again, while Dupont erupted the question this time, “Who the hell are you?”
“And how the fuck do you know about us?”
“Because I’m an angel, and as you may well know, angels are privy to certain things. Past things, present things, future things. For example just right now, the government army, the one commissioned by the National Assembly, will start bombarding the Point-du-Jour area, at the eastern side of the city.”
After a couple moments of silence, the bombardment started in deed, and exactly in the right direction.
“God, he’s right,” exclaimed Moreau in awe.
“You don’t really think he’s an angel?” retorted Dupont sardonically.
“I’m an angel,” confirmed the man in white once again.
Roche was pulling at his beard once again, this time with menace. “I know what you are. You’re a fucking spy for the National Assembly, and the government in Versailles. That’s how you know of the timing of their cannons.”
“And does that entail me of knowing that, yesterday, you’d dined on a canned tuna, and drank exactly two cups of rum, the second one causing you an unexplained diarrhea.”
“I also know about your secret mission.”
The trio of soldiers starred tentatively at the queer man. If he really knew about their mission, then he was truly, what he claimed he was. After all, no one but the three of them knew about the mission.
“Yesterday, Dupont spotted the dubious activity of the employees of the Bank of France,” said the man in white, “and he thinks that today they are delivering a shipment of gold, from the bank reserves, to a delegate of the National Assembly. Dupont entrusted you, Roche, with this information. However, you don’t pass the information to your higher command, because you don’t trust or respect them. You form your own unit and, here you’re today, hopefully to catch the traitors red-handed. Aren’t you?”
“Who the fuck are you?”
“And why are you here?” gasped Moreau.
“To help you, of course.”
“And why is that?” inquired Dupont skeptically.
“As always, I’m just given orders, seldom with explanations. However, in this case, I might have an opinion of my own.”
“And that is?”
“I’m here to help avert a major catastrophe that will slaughter tens of thousands.”
“Tens of thousands are killed already, you dirty bastard,” sneered Roche at him.
“Sure. However, what’s coming is unimaginable. Sorry, I can never tell you what it is. But rest assured, it’s something that Heavens really must get directly involved with. And here I’m to help you.”
Bound by the democratic code of the Commune and the National Guard, Roche took his soldiers to confer on the side.
“What do you think of this hallucinating dirt bag?”
“He’s confident and pious,” blurted Moreau
“Fuck you,” said Roche and looked to the soldier with the relatively comparable line of thought. Dupont was perplexed.
“I don’t believe he’s an angel. But, God, he’s telling facts right in the face. Perhaps, he’s talented in some way or another. There are tales of those visionaries throughout history after all. Maybe he’s the one in a million. The crazy visionary. My opinion is to keep him in bounds, and follow his hints and prophecies; but only after diligent scrutiny.”
Roche had to give in.
Tying his hands in front of him, the ‘Angel’ was told to proceed with his ‘divinely’ mission.
“First of all, based on a tip, you were going to ambush the envoy of the bank employees at the small forlorn gate of des Lilas, an hour before noon. This tip is wrong and misleading. We can go there now, and go atop one of the higher buildings in the rue de Belleville, and wait the following four hours watching over the gate; but nothing will happen, and our time and effort will be wasted. The meeting will happen four kilometers to the north, at Porte d’Aubervilliers, the gate near the Fort d’Aubervilliers.”
“The one at which the Prussian troops are garrisoned.”
“Of course. After all, the transaction will be supervised by Prussians, a provision dictated by the venomous Chancellor Bismarck himself.”
“Still, we will send Moreau to the old rendezvous point at Porte des Lilas, to keep watch, and signal us if the convoy approach his checkpoint,” contemplated Roche, “Meanwhile, we will accompany you through 19th arrondissement to the gate of d’Aubervilliers. It has a guards post there, headed by a Captain Renee Faucheux. We’ll reinforce them and wait for the convoy.” Roche started to move with determination.
“I’m afraid that would be the worst of strategies. After all, Captain Faucheux himself was bribed beforehand. I won’t doubt him delivering us to the Prussians the minute we step there.”
“You fucking liar,” Roche glared in the Angel’s face, holding him from his neck this time. “I can now see through your damned plans, you devious spy. Your mission is to sabotage our defenses by taking down the talented Captain Faucheux out of his post. After failing to conquer the city for a month, your dirty leaders think this gate could serve as the entry site of the invading troops.”
“On the contrary, I have a plan that would bring your false accusations to a failure,” smiled the angel back.
“And what is that?” Dupont intervened.
“Take a pair of the Montmartre cannons down to the gate. If I’m truthful, the treacherous employees will arrive at the gate of d’Aubervilliers and deliver the gold to the National Assembly delegate, all along in the company of a Prussian battalion. Of course, you could never overcome them; but following my lead, you can strategically place the cannons, and bombard the whole lot to death. If my allegations are a lie, you can just keep the cannons in the company of the gate guards or take it back to Montmartre, and have me shot or hanged on a tree.”
Roche was speechless. He let go of the angel’s neck, and looked into Dupont’s eyes. His republican friend obviously approved the stranger-in-white’s plan; even he, Roche, couldn’t come with a better one.
Moreau proceeded to the old rendezvous point, while Roche and Dupont, accompanied with the angel, went hastily up Montmartre; there, Roche quickly assembled a small convoy of two cannons and two wagons, all dragged by six cachectic horses.
After three hours, their short excursion was done with; one kilometer from the gate of d’Aubervilliers, the cannons were competently positioned and hidden in a garden, and pointed, as per the instructions of the angel, to the proper targets. Roche, Dupont, and the angel proceeded to a hideout overseeing the gate, while the gunners garrisoned in place, waiting for the signal.
Thirty minutes to noon, a wagon pulled by two horses dredged slowly towards Porte d’Aubervilliers. From the right window of the advancing wagon, Dupont could discern the faces of two of the bank employees. He hurried to a 19th arrondissement’s top building, jumping the stairs to the roof. There, standing motionless was Roche, with a magnifying glass glued to his eyes, inspecting the east.
“The wagon has arrived. At its current speed, it’ll reach the gate in ten minutes. How about the other side of the gate?”
“A battalion, three hundred men strong has arrived ten minutes ago.”
“Damn it. How did that being know such things?”
The angel, tied and sitting against a wall, smiled while Roche didn’t comment. Anything Roche might say would violate either his sense of integrity or his last ten years’ ideology of hardcore atheism.
Fifteen minutes later, the wagon stopped at the gates; the bank employees out, along with three big wooden chests. The gates opened and two men in French Government official dress, accompanied with two Prussian officers entered. The French officials greeted the bank employees and inspected the chests, while the Prussian officers kept watch from a distance.
Certain, angry, and humiliated by the angel’s veracity, Roche gave the signal to the gunners from atop the building.
The two La Hitte four-pounder cannons barraged the Porte d’Aubervilliers for thirty five minutes. The gate, the bank wagon, and a lot of soldiers were directly hit: all the French post soldiers and a majority of the Prussian troops were annihilated, the rest scurried away, wounded, frightened, and in shock.
Half an hour later, Roche and Dupont, along with angel quickly descended from their post on top the building, and within minutes were at the ravaged gate. The scene was overwhelming: scores of dead and injured men lay in the field, along with three heavy chests of gold.
Without conferring with his colleague, Roche relieved the angel of his restraints. He shook the man-in-white’s hand and thanked him curtly. Dupont followed suit.
An hour later, the convoy of two wagons (and the two cannons), carrying the trio of soldiers and the Angel, along with the chests of gold, marched through Rue de Rivoli in a victory parade; rallied all along with thousands of ecstatic patriots, jubilating over a long-awaited triumph coming after a series of never-ending failures and defeats.
At the Hôtel de Ville—previously the headquarters of municipality of Paris, and now the headquarters of the Commune—the trio of soldiers, along with their mysterious guest, were received rampantly.
After doing with congratulations and accolades, Roche asked the members of the Commune Counsel, ninety two persons in all, for a closed room conference. Inside the Salon Jaune, the trio were soon to trumpet the prescient abilities of the ‘Angel’; and to the surprise of the Commune’s leaders, like Delescluze, Rochefort and Pyat even to the surprise of his colleagues, it was Roche who bespoke the most of the abilities of the man in white.
However, he needed not do: for the ‘Angel’ repeated his feats of excavating the pasts of many persons at the conference room, telling each and every one of a particularly secret detail of their lives (though not particularly embarrassing ones).
Having garnered their full confidence, they were open-eared and -minded to his every next word.
“I can help you crush the treacherous Versailles government, and once and for all regain the rule of France to the people of France. Now may be the time the French Revolution, after ninety years of repression, succeeds at last.”
Applause broke allover.
“But first, you should get rid of the traitors and spies amongst you. As well, the ones whose unwise decisions, snobbery, and ill-will will definitely bring down the Commune.”
Silence prevailed for a long minute. Roche, now the most ardent believer, came forwards and ordered the ‘Angel’ to blurt out the names.
Of the hundred persons within, the Angel recited the names of thirty nine; including those of great and renowned revolutionaries—even including, to Roche’s surprise, the names of Dupont and Moreau.
A number of the spared, yet perplexed, members suggested that the ones signaled out by the Angel be kept in custody for the time being, but the face of the man in white showed consternation. Raoul Rigault, the notorious State Prosecutor, came to help and ordered their timely execution; Roche, and a dozen concurred.
Later in the day, the flagged ones were all shot without trial.
Now free of the traitors, the undecided, and the cowards, the enthusiasts of the Commune rescinded their powers, submitting their wills and reins to the Angel.
His plans, though based on his omniscient knowledge, as well showed excellent military strategy.
That day, upon his instructions, the commander of the National Guards of the gate of Point-du-Jour, at the western end of Paris, was directed to seek contact with the army sieging the city, and garrisoned outside the city wall. On meeting with General Patrice de Mac Mahon, the commander in chief of the Versailles government army, he asked for a hefty bribe and in return, he would open the gates at night.
After the conclusion of the agreement, the officer opened the gate, then guided the invading troops to the supposed place of concentration of the National Guards troops and their cannons in Belleville.
On arriving the now-abandoned neighborhood, Mac Mahon’s army was quickly entrapped and blocked from exist from outside.
This neighborhood was of course the spot where the Prussians would bombard, in that very moment, in retaliation to the massacre of their soldiers at the d’Aubervilliers gate.
The bombardment devastated Mac Mahon’s army: thousands were killed, while those of the baited army who were still standing and managed a flight, were quickly routed by the National Guards.
Early next day, the National Guard army marched quickly to Versailles, the seat of the National Assembly Government. Demoralized by pervious day’s defeat and perplexed by the news of an all-knowing oracle or angel in the leagues of the National Guards, the troops defending Versailles didn’t put on proper fight. Soon, the government officials were sacked, and summarily, Adolphe Thiers, along with scores of other politicians and officials were shot.
Nevertheless, the Communards couldn’t celebrate yet. A number of Versailles officials and members of the National Assembly had managed an escape to the forts still under Prussian control. The Prussian army, as per rumors (and the Angel’s prophecies) allied with the fallen treacherous government, and was expected to intercede soon.
“The Prussian army is now, numerically, unassuming,” said the Angel. “After their fake victory last year, their frivolous parade through Paris two months ago, and after the conclusion of the damned armistice, the main stay of their army left back into Germany. However, they are soon to reorganize and launch a major offensive. We have to attack now.”
And he, the Angel, as ever, knew the weakest point of the Prussian defenses. The Angel gave his instructions to Louis Rossel, Minister of War and Head of the National Guard, and soon they were on their way.
Roche and the prescient Angel were left at Versailles to form a new government.
However, as soon as the National Guard had left, the Angel suddenly fell into a state of lethargy that Roche had never seen him in before.
Two days later, the discomforting and alarming news started to pour in.
A series of explosions, targeting especially the most historic and monumental buildings, started to rock Berlin and Munich day after day. The culprits, the Berlin newspapers said, were French citizens of the Commune of Paris, aided by sympathetic Prussian Socialists. The fervent nationalists of the newly united German Reich were expectedly outraged and rallying the streets for revenge. A witch-hunt campaign started: hordes of German socialists were quickly arrested and sentenced to jail, and all their activities and parties outlawed by the newly sworn Chancellor of united Germany, Otto Van Bismarck. Reservists were recalled, and the large German army was assembled once again, and sent back to Paris to discipline the unruly French.
Fatigued by the almost yearlong fight, the siege, and the tumultuous political sentiment, the French National Guard (and what remained of the French army) was too weak to put up a fight, and were soon annihilated hastily and completely by the effective, highly functional German army.
However, the German military weren’t to stop here this time; they quickly invaded the rest of France. This time, Chancellor Bismarck opted to follow the Napoleonic policy of implementing a colluding government and of turning a defeated country into a puppet state.
At Versailles, and until the end, Roche and his small army stood their grounds against the huge invading army. The Angel hadn’t gone out of his lethargic quietude for over two weeks, refusing to offer advice or foresight for the troubled Roche.
Defeat now imminent, Roche put away with all remaining gratitude for the Angel, and was now once again at his throat.
“Why are you silent now? Why aren’t you telling us what to do? Why have you left us to such unimaginable defeats? What has happened to you? Have you lost connection with the Heavens or has your Heavens forsaken us? Why don’t you tell me what’s going to happen next, and how the hell should I proceed?”
The Angel glimpsed at the wall clock, then powerfully pushed the ardent red’s hand from his throat, pushing him to the ground. He adjusted his attire and combed through his beard. His voice came as cold, grim, and un-Heavenly as ever imaginable.
“Of course, I knew what was coming all around, what was to happen, and what will happen next. But that doesn’t have anything to do with angels, heavens or any other extra-ordinaries.”
“I’m not an angel. I’m an agent, from a 1942 English scientific institute, whose goal is to correct history.”
“What the devil are you talking about?”
“France is the sin of the European continent, and of the world. Of course, the French aren’t the most devilish or murderous of nations (although they are aplenty at that), but being savage isn’t their worst attribute. Your most dangerous flaw, the one that will bring the continent to its knee, not once, but a number of times, is the combination of multiple irreconcilable national traits. You French are proud nationalists, sensitive poets, good scientists, who will never forget the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Germans. But, and a big but, you have a very very poor bureaucratic state. Pair corruption and inefficiency of the departments of your state with the dangerous insecurities growing between the various factions, and you have a country that will never raise an army capable of exacting its vengeance against Germany. A number of wars will ensue; you, the French will fail to defeat the Germans, and eventually will drag in your allies, mainly the British, in two major wars. More than a million British people, in addition to tens of millions from other nations will die. Even today, I’m coming from the ongoing second great war that’s threatening the fall of my own country.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“In plain words, I’m saying, if France should fall, and French colonialism be scrapped for good, let it be now, and let’s save millions of lives that will be lost in vain, just for nothing but the inefficiency of the French government and its army in killing and destroying their enemies.”
“But why didn’t you do that to the Germans? Are they any better?”
“They are cold blooded assassins, but they are functional, and will maintain peace in the continent for twenty years under Bismarck, the remarkable strategist and astute planner. As well, per our intervention, I mean the 1942 scientific institute, we will intervene in good time and diagnose the throat disease of Crown Prince Friedrich. He is married to Queen Victoria’s daughter, and he’s an ardent believer of constitutional monarchy. By saving his life, we will help ensure his ascent to the throne promptly and safely. With democracy and a strong army and economy, Germany will, hopefully, maintain peace in Europe for the foreseen future. There is of course Russia, but that will be another story. For now, the German socialists are in prison, Carl Marx killed in a road accident two weeks ago, and...”
Roche was on his feet, scrambling for his gun.
But the Angel/future man was already over him, kicking the gun out of his hand. He had a device in his hand.
“Do you think that that journey you’ve accompanied me through is by the same person? It is and isn’t. Sure, I was the same person, but it was a journey carried twenty six times, back and forth; every time correcting a nuance and adding a detail. Biologically, I’m the same man all-along, but mentally, every time I’m an entirely different man with an expanding memory and an increasingly perceptive mind. I know everything about you, because I have seen it two dozen times before. I even know your next sentence.”
“You son of a bitch,” said Roche, while the man from the future echoing him all along.
“Sorryfully, here ends my repository of knowledge. I don’t know your next words or what will happen next to you, because I’ll be long gone. For you see, a cannonade will hit this palace in the next five seconds. Bye.”
He pressed a big red button on his device, and soon disappeared into thin air.
The Palace of Versailles was brought down to the ground within the next hour, with Roche buried underneath.
His last words before meeting his destiny, strangled with tears, were directed to the Heavens, “Why didn’t you send us a real angel?” He felt the question betrayed his every atheist thought, so he shut his mouth and swallowed his tears. A minute later, a cannon ball smashed his skull. He died angry, sorry, and undecided. Angry over his fate, sorry over his stupidity, and undecided whether he really deserved what was coming.