'Trip from a Hilltop Village
on the Marne to Paris'
in 1915
by Mildred Aldrich
from her book 'On the Edge of the War-Zone' 1917


A View from the Countryside

the latest fashion in war-time Paris - strolling with a wounded soldier
taken from Parisian humor magazines


June 1, 1915

Well, I have really had a very exciting time since I last wrote you. I have even had a caller. Also my neighbor at Voulangis, on the top of the hill, on the other side of the Morin, has returned from the States, to which she fled just before the Battle of the Marne. I even went to Paris to meet her. To tell you the actual truth, for a few days, I behaved exactly as if there were no war. I had to pinch myself now and then to remind myself that whatever else might be real or unreal, the war was very actual.

I must own that Paris seems to get farther and farther from it every day. From daybreak to sunset I found it hard to realize that it was the capital of an invaded country fighting for its very existence, and the invader no farther from the Boulevards than Noyon, Soissons, and Rheims — on a battle-front that has not changed more than an inch or two — and often an inch or two in the wrong direction — since last October.

I could not help thinking, as I rode up the Champs-Elysées in the sun — it was Sunday — how humiliated the Kaiser, that crowned head of Terrorizers, would be if he could have seen Paris that day.

Children were playing under the trees of the broad mall; automobiles were rushing up and down the avenue; crowds were sitting all along the way, watching the passers and chatting; all the big hotels, turned into ambulances, had their windows open to the glorious sunny warmth, and the balconies were crowded with invalid soldiers and white-garbed nurses; not even arms in slings or heads in bandages looked sad, for everyone seemed to be laughing; nor did the crippled soldiers, walking slowly along, add a tragic note to the wonderful scene.

It was strange — it was more than strange. It seemed to me almost unbelievable.

I could not help asking myself if it could last.

Every automobile which passed had at least one soldier in it. Almost every well-dressed woman had a soldier beside her. Those who did not, looked sympathetically at every soldier who passed, and now and then stopped to chat with the groups — soldiers on crutches, soldiers with canes, soldiers with an arm in a sling, or an empty sleeve, leading the blind, and soldiers with nothing of their faces visible but the eyes.

By every law I knew the scene should have been sad. But some law of love and sunshine had decreed that it should not be, and it was not.

It was not the Paris you saw, even last summer, but it was Paris with a soul, and I know no better prayer to put up than the cry that the wave of love which seemed to throb everywhere about the soldier boys, and which they seemed to feel and respond to, might not — with time — die down. I knew it was too much to ask of human nature. I was glad I had seen it.

In this atmosphere of love Paris looked more beautiful to me than ever. The fountains were playing in the Place de la Concorde, in the Tuileries gardens, at the Rond Point, and the gardens, the Avenue and the ambulances were bright with flowers. I just felt, as I always do when the sun shines on that wonderful vista from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, that nowhere in the world was there another such picture, unless it be the vista from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe. When I drove back up the hill at sunset, with a light mist veiling the sun through the arch, I felt so grateful to the fate which had decreed that never again should the German army look on that scene, and that a nation which had a capital that could smile in the face of fate as Paris smiled that day, must not, cannot, be conquered.

Of course after dark it is all different. It is then that one realizes that Paris is changed. The streets are no longer brilliantly lighted. There are no social functions. The city seems almost deserted. One misses the brightness and the activity. I really found it hard to find my way about and recognize familiar street corners in the dark. A few days of it were enough for me, and I was glad enough to come back to my quiet hilltop. At my age habits are strong.

Also let me tell you things are slowly changing here. Little by little I can feel conditions closing up about me, and I can see "coming events" casting "their shadows before."


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