- from the book
- 'Paris Waits'
- by M.E. Clarke (1915)
Sidelights of the War
SIDELIGHTS OF THE WAR
QUITE apart from all the actual effects of the war, life in Paris, since the mobilisation, has been interesting, and at times amusing. The wheels of everyday existence were so ruthlessly shaken out of their usual lines that everybody did something unexpected, either because they had to or because they wanted to. One of my friends found herself cheerfully trundling her own trunks down the boulevards on a handcart, or a 'pushcart,' as she called it, because she could not get a cab of any kind to do it for her. Her servant marched beside her carrying the mascot of the family, a black cat, named Moretta. They were coming in from the outskirts of the town for convenience, and their temporary lodging has now taken on the comforts of a permanency.
Shyness and social distinctions melted rapidly in the furnace of war, and when the painful happenings of August were made known to us in Paris we all fraternised and forgot past differences. The antagonisms of years died sudden, painless deaths before the advance of the Germans; and if it had not been so grave, the moment would have been intensely humorous. Lovers of solitude became suddenly gregarious and sought the companionship they had hitherto despised. The most ' superior people forgot their superiority in a human desire for sympathy, and even the power of money seemed for the moment to be in abeyance. Comfort came to all, even to the most logical, from the strangest sources. One's cook heard that a monsieur tres haut placé had told his mother that she would be safer in Paris than anywhere, and we all felt relieved. A soldier from the front assured us that it was 'all right,' and our fears were calmed, although he was but a simple soldier and as ignorant as ourselves about the way things were going. Even the baby trenches round the city gates and the strewing of branches on the roads made us feel that we were not utterly without defence should the enemy invade the city. But nothing soothed us so much as the rumour that the Russians - the Cossacks moreover - were coming from Archangel; and although the mystery of that rumour is still unexplained, it served a good purpose, for it kept up the hearts of thousands when all other rumours tended to discouragement.
It is only on looking back that we realise what an extremely primitive collection of human beings we were when the enemy was advancing; and Rumour had tired her head and painted her face so violently that she literally scared half Paris. We all faced, in imagination, the horrors of murder and sudden death; and the prospect failed to charm. We found out that we did not really want to die, even though we had raved against life and its miseries for years. So some of us went and some of us stayed; and all of us hoped for the best, even when we feared the worst. As things turned out, those who stayed had the better time. The weather was golden, Paris was more enchanting than I have ever known it; and I have a fancy to which I cling, that the Spirit of the city came forth in all her beauty during those anxious days, and disclosed, to those who remained, qualities which, to others, will never be revealed. All day the sunlight played about the empty spaces, and at night the moon shone softly down on towers and spires and gently flowing waters.
Even now, when Paris is comparatively full of busy, talkative, money-making people, the spirit of those days comes back to me at intervals and reconciles me to many things. Along the quais in the morning, the golden poplars fling a shower of leaves at my feet as I pass, and the river smiles up at me with intimate fondness. We have been through hard times together, and there is nothing so binding. In the evening again, along the same quais, the trees are dim and mysterious; so is the river, with its motionless barges and rare lights, red, green, and golden. On the opposite bank, the irregular line of dwelling-houses shows a ragged fringe of brilliant lights which here and there get into a dazzling tangle. It is at such moments that one reaps the compensation for having stayed with Paris when her very existence was in danger.
At a cafe on the boulevards 'ou l'on cause encore,' during the most anxious days journalists and seekers after the latest news used to congregate in the late afternoon and there proceed to air their opinions, optimistic, pessimistic, and merely non-committal. The tables were not crowded, the atmosphere was not heavy with smoke, and even men with a reputation for the most incurable persiflage could not disguise the mental strain which they were undergoing. The owner of Moretta used to come and cheer everyone by her persistent attitude of cheerful readiness to accept whatever came along. A French lover of Dickens showed a constant optimism which was very contagious. A silent Englishman had a way of discounting all pessimistic rumours by going on with what he had to do in a perfectly unmoved fashion; and every one, in his or her own way, clung steadily to the belief that, in spite of ministerial scares and diplomatic warnings, the military authorities knew what they were about, and the chances were good that they would be able to turn the enemy before it got to Paris. We had very little ground to go on, for we knew practically nothing; but, as M. de Mun said, there was always instinct to fall back on, and instinct had several times been proved more far-seeing than reason.
Stray soldiers-English, French and Belgian - used to come in with news from the front, and in the face of flagrantly bad communiqués they persisted in saying that things were going well. They agreed that Paris was enough to depress anyone, and they assured us that 'out there' life was much brighter. In the meantime, we had to make the best of our position, which materially was quite comfortable, but morally was most painful. Apart from the women of the people, who were always busy and steady, Paris showed some strange feminine types in those days. They must have crept out of niches in which they had been ensconced for years. Very old women, dressed in rusty black garments, would trail past one in the streets like sombre ghosts-slender figures of younger women who might have stepped out of a number of The Quiver in i886, with their pinched waists, wide shoulders, and flounced skirts. Haggard women of all ages hung about the cafe's looking hungry. Strange men in weird clothes, with beards suggestive of the patri- archs, and hoarse croaking voices-drug-takers, roof-dwellers from Montmartre - they all drifted to the boulevards in those days, to see what there was to be seen, and to hear what there was to be heard. They all longed to be in touch with something strong, something that would give them courage, and their lonely rooms repelled them.
At the American Embassy, Mr. Herrick, the acting ambassador, was supported unofficially by Mr. Sharpe, who was to succeed him, and by Mr. Robert Bacon who had preceded him. Both the embassy and the consulate staffs were very busy; for besides looking after their own people they had been called upon to do the work of many embassies, including our own, and also that of our consulate. They were responsible, also, for the welfare of Germans and Austrians, and had charge of the concentration camps, where many thousands were interned. For long weeks the embassy and the consulate staffs had been working to get Americans away from Paris, and that alone was a stupendous task. Moreover, the American Ambassador was called upon to play a very important r6le should the Germans get into the city. He was first of all to ensure the safety of Americans in the city, both their persons and their property. All American residents had registered themselves and their houses. Plaques were ready to be put on their houses, and orders were given that no American flag was to be flown until German permission had been obtained, should Paris be invested. The French Government counted greatly on American intervention in this case, and the presence of the three Ambassadors in Paris at that moment was probably one of those prearranged coincidences upon which diplomacy prides itself. As things happened, the good offices of America were not needed in this case; but the firm attitude of the embassy and consulate staff, their ready courtesy to the meanest of those under their official care, are things we should remember as we remember and appreciate American energy and generosity in helping to care for the sick and wounded soldiers.
A curious spy story came to us the other day which signifies yet once more how keen the chasse aux espions has become. An Engllsh lady bought and equipped a motor ambulance for fetching wounded from the front. She herself went with the car, accompanied by a chauffeur and a stretcher-bearer. Coming one night from Braisne, where the wounded were being brought in by hundreds from continuous fighting on the other side of the Aisne, she was arrested by two English officers. 'But I am English!' 'Nonsense, why you do not even speak English.' They were alluding to her slightly foreign accent, not her grammar, due to the fact that she has lived in France for a good many years and has chiefly moved in French circles. She protested, showed her papers, offered to produce more proofs in Paris, but all to no good. She was fair and she must be foreign, or she would not have that accent. So she was led away between two soldiers; and her wounded, with their attendants and the car, were guarded by others. On her way she met the chauffeur of a Frenchman whose family she knew well; so she called him to her side at once to ask if his master were with him. 'Oui, Mademoiselle, il dejeune en ce moment.' 'Tant mieux!' said the prisoner, 'Ask him to come here at once and tell him I am arrested as a spy.' Quicker than the wind 'Monsieur' arrived, and there followed volumes of explanations. She was vouched for over and over again. Her name, her family history, her friends in numbers, were all cited in her favour; but the English officers were hard to convince. Nothing would persuade them that she was English. If she were not German, then she must be Russian. Anyway, she answered absolutely to the description of the woman they had been warned to look out for. Eventually, however, she was delivered from their clutches, unwillingly they let her go, and to this day, I hear, they cling to their suspicions on account of that hint of an accent in her speech.
Another story direct from the war was of a French soldier, a simple piou-piou who, in times of peace, is a promising young barrister in Paris. During some weeks he had led the life of the fighting soldier under its roughest conditions. He had scarcely had the time to eat and sleep, and none at all to shave and wash. The w9rld of civilisation seemed far from him, and the subtleties of law were to him as though they had never been. To his utter confusion, during a lull in the operations, he was called upon to defend a man in his own regiment who was to be tried by court martial for mutiny. For a time, the. task seemed to him quite impossible. Every legal argument, every plausible phrase he had ever known, had slipped away from him, and he stood tongue-tied and impotent. But when he was just on the point of despair, he remembered the man he was asked to defend, and a great desire to be the means of getting him acquitted stung his mind to action and gave eloquence to his tongue. He pleaded his case so well that the man was acquitted, and he himself was complimented by his colonel.
I was asked this week to visit a lieutenant of the Royal Irish Rifles who was lying wounded in a Paris hospital. I remembered him as a boy at home and I went with some foreboding as I had heard that he had been badly hit in the face, and I should have to report truly to his mother. The hospital he had been taken to was run entirely by Englishwomen - women surgeons, women physicians, women nurses-only men patients. It was an immense relief to hear on inquiry that he was up and out of danger; and it was a greater relief to find that, beyond a scar, he would not be much the worse for his wound. There were two other officers in the room where he was sitting, and I stopped and talked with them for an hour. They were most delightful companions and none of them wore the 'anguished' expression which is supposed to mark the man who has been through the recent battles. They all agreed that the war was a very bad business and not one of them wanted to go back to the Aisne. 'It's an awful mess there,' said one of them, a big man with his head in bandages and a red blanket wrapped round his legs to supplement an inadequate dressing-gown. 'You see, we are practically fighting on the same ground all the time, and the Germans won't bury their dead and they won't let us do it for them.' Another man, with the cheerful, limpid, well-groomed expression some fair Englishmen seem to have, had been hit by a bullet which had gone right through his chest and had not touched his lungs. He, too, said he was prepared to see it through, but should certainly not be sorry when it was over. 'It's not war, it's slaughter.' The man I had gone to see was the youngest of the three and he had been in France since the beginning of the war. He had fought at Mons, at Le Cateau, and marched 125 miles in four days, during two of which they had not had anything to eat. 'We were all gibbering by the end of the second day, and we used to see things that were not there. We often ducked our heads to avoid railway bridges that did not exist, and I was always smelling food that never came. After that, however, it was better The people used to throw food at us as we passed, and we never quite starved again.'
I asked them if the dreadful stories of German atrocities were true, and they all said they were; but with no intent to prejudice me against the enemy, for they all agreed that the German soldiers were brave and wonderfully disciplined. They gave the blame of the pillaging and murder to the officers, and put much of their worst work down to drink. The man who had been hit by a bullet in his chest, told me that he had been taken prisoner by the Germans on one occasion. 'They were really very considerate, for they took me out of our own line of fire and put me in the charge of two men with fixed bayonets so that I could watch the show in safety. Every time our men rolled one of theirs over, I wanted to applaud; but I didn't, as you may imagine, and as the fire got hotter and hotter I wondered what was going to happen. Finally, our fellows got the better of them and they just scuttled and forgot all about me, which was lucky for me.'
The Royal Irish Rifles suffered badly on the Marne. They were in the thick of the fighting, and the lieutenant in hospital, who was the last officer to cross the bridge at Meaux before it was blown up, was also the only officer of his battalion at the end of the Marne battle who went home to tell the tale.
This morning I had a letter from a French friend who is nursing with the Croix Rouge at a little seaside place in Brittany. I saw her before she left Paris and she brought home to me very acutely how the women in France are suffering, and how bravely. Her only son, a boy of twenty-three, who has just finished his military service, was already in the fighting line. She knew he was in the north but she did not know where, and she had had no news from him for three weeks. As we were talking, her husband came in to ask her to decide whether she would accept to go with their ambulance to Chalons. 'Must I decide now ?' 'You must, I am afraid; the ambulance goes to-morrow, and if you will not go, some one else must be asked to take your place.' We both knew why she could not answer, and neither of us could say a word. Suddenly, as if the words were wrung from her, she turned to me and said in a voice I shall never forget, for it held the pain, the eternal pain, of motherhood in it : 'C'est que'il est dans le nord.
Her husband turned away his head and God only knows how his heart was wrung. But she went to Chalons, only to be ordered to evacuate it on the following day, and the Germans occupied it two days later. For many painful days they were journeying back to Paris, and finally they were ordered to Brittany. Their son has been fighting all the time, and has risen from corporal to lieutenant; but the mother's fears have not lessened with his promotion And she is but one of the thousands of mothers, of all nationalities, who are bearing the same burden.
Yet another story has come to us in these days which brings the war and all its horrors even more painfully and realistically home to us. A workgirl in whom we were interested, and who has been stranded in Paris since the beginning of the war with no work and no money and no natural protector of any kind, has at last heard news of her family in Lille. Her brother-in-law, who is employed on the Northern Railway, came into Paris this week and told her that since the war began he has completely lost sight of his wife, her sister, his children, and a second sister-in-law, who is looking after a poor little 'over-the- hatch' baby. 'They have all disappeared. I can get no news of them anywhere. I have tried every way I can think of, but all to no good. As to our home! It no longer exists. All that part of Lille is burned to the ground. The Germans were mad because they expected to find a lot of valuable machinery there, but it had already been taken away; so they burned and pillaged everywhere. Worse still, they have violated the women and girls, and then killed them with horrible brutality.' The man was dull and heavy with misery. So many of them are. And there is nothing to be said to comfort them.
THE RETURN OF THE SWALLOWS
October 1914. - When the poplars were turning gold along the river banks and the schools and colleges had announced the beginning of their winter term, Paris began to fill up again; and the calm and quiet which had reigned in the streets for some weeks gave way to a relative activity. But Paris is still a sober city, unhurried by day, and darkly silent by night; no cafe's, no amusements of any kind, no absinthe, and always the searchlights swinging across the sky and running races with the clouds.
The battle of the Aisne is going on as I write, and a week ago we had two visits from German aeroplanes, one of which dropped twenty bombs, killing several people and injuring others, as well as damaging slightly Notre-Dame. The second Taube aimed at the Gare du Nord, and actually dropped a bomb in the station, but without any result. The Parisians were exceedingly wroth about those two aeroplanes being allowed to fly over Paris, and since then there have been changes in the corps of flying men which is supposed to watch over the city. The story goes that they were all taking a holiday except one, and he had to be implored and exhorted to go up for the honour of his corps and to satisfy the public. How far this story is exact I cannot say; but it is all too true that the French temperament has always been inclined to make those little mistakes. It rises to an occasion with godlike competence and courage; but a sustained effort, until General Joffre took command, has been as little in its conception of war as was the necessity of methodical organisation in military hospitals. All French authorities get slack unless they are kept on the qui vive, and it is possible that those twenty bombs saved Paris from a worse disaster.
I heard a Frenchman say the other day that the finest victory of the war, so far, was that of the French people over their own nerves. Never, in all her history, has France been asked to endure what she has endured since the beginning of August; yet-and it is Lord Kitchener who said it-never have her soldiers fought as they have fought during the last few weeks. On the civilian side we may also say that never have the Parisians been put to such tests either. From the first day of mobilisation until this, the seventy- seventh day of the war, the citizens of Paris have been asked to do almost the impossible. They have had the Germans at their very gates-they have been kept in ignorance of the truth for weeks on end-they have heard rumours that were awful enough to turn an army, they have had their Governor changed at a critical moment, fortunately - they have seen ministerial changes - they have watched all the well-to-do people of the city, including the Government, leave hastily. But they themselves have never wavered for an instant. We, the bourgeoisie, have always said that the great danger to Paris was a revolution among the working-classes, the mob We were proved wrong, the mob stood steady when the bourgeoisie did not.
The reading of letters from the front is the most popular recreation in these days, and it is pathetic to see how worn and torn a letter gets as it travels about with its owner to be read many times over, aloud and in silence, until another comes to take its place. Most of these letters are remarkable for their simplicity. The writers make no attempt at literature or heroics, but they all tell of little intimate things in their inimitable French way-a way that is subtly witty but rarely broadly humorous. A description of what they are doing at the time, a laughing promise to tell wonderful stories when they come home, affectionate messages to the family, thanks for parcels, and through all and everything a cheerful acceptance of their own particular work in the war. No waving of the flag, no screeching patriotism or envenomed raging against the enemy, but the most admirable confidence in their own arms and a determination to hold on until victory comes to France. 'Dieu aime que nous nous donnions avec gaiete'' is what some one said; and surely the soldiers, French and English, are men after God's own heart!
We were asked to dine with two men one evening this week who were to join their regiments on the following day. One was a Serbian who had fought in eighteen campaigns already and who, not being able to get back to his own country, had joined the Foreign Legion in Paris. Some one brought him the news, as we were dining, that he had been gazetted lieutenant and congratulations were warm. He was a terrible fighter, that Serbian, and his gestures as he talked of the Alboches, and all he was going to do to those he came into contact with, were realistic. The other guest of the evening was a Roumanian studying medicine in Paris. He had joined the French Hussars and his pale-blue tunic with cherry- coloured breeches was extremely attractive, too attractive to German bullets it is feared, and it caused a chill to strike one's heart when the boy said, 'Look on the second page of the Echo de Paris for my name when I am at the front!'
Every one did all they could to cheer him; for he was going with plenty of courage, but no conviction of coming back. He talked of his mother whom he could not see, who did not even know that he was going, and his half-gay, half-resentful way of putting things struck a painful note all through the evening. The low brown room of the restaurant with its grotesque paintings, the smoky atmosphere and the strange gathering of men and women, will always stay with me as something very significant of Paris during the war, when people met together in all sorts of unexpected places. There was a French playwright, several English journalists, an English judge from West Africa, and two Englishwomen. Every one talked round the war, no one said anything that really mattered-people rarely do nowadays, for words seem of so little account. We wait on actions, and by them our future is being worked out. A big man, with a passion for sailing round mud-banks at the mouth of the Thames, showed extraordinary social talents when international relations became strained. I suppose that avoiding mud-banks teaches tact. One of the two Englishwomen sat between her husband and the French playwright, looking like a Gainsborough picture out of its frame, with both men to see that no harm should happen to it. The judge from West Africa was equally depaysé; and you felt afraid that his conclusions might result in a very severe verdict on the frivolity of every one present. An atmosphere of Tudoresque literature hung over him, and Velasquez would not have despised him as a model. He was versed in old customs and was given to rumination, and to have learned what he thought about Paris in war time would have interested me greatly. In times of peace, this little brown room is said to be a scene of gay revelry to which a man does not take his wife. In time of war it is a homely, quiet eating-house, with a big white placard hanging on one of its walls, which asks in large black letters for 'tricots pour nos soldats,' and the patronne, a woman of generous proportions, told us that she had already sent off two or three big bundles. At half-past nine, the room is empty and all the windows are darkened. Outside, the footsteps of two policemen echo loudly as they pass on their nightly round; for Montmartre, like the rest of Paris, keeps provincial hours under martial law.
We spent an interesting afternoon at a railway station one day this month and learned a good deal of what the work has been on the lines round Paris since the war began. At this particular station the organisation has been good, and the wounded who have passed through have been well looked after. An English army sister was installed on one of the platforms with all that was necessary for the dressing of wounds and for the providing of refreshing drinks and nourishment. When a troop train came through, she was ready with bread, matches, tobacco, and warm drinks for the tired soldiers; and when an ambulance train was signalled, she was prepared with the necessary hospital remedies. One of the interesting things she told us, among many others, was that it had been her experience to find that the wounds which had been left with their first dressings on were in a better state than those which had been re-dressed en route. And it was her opinion that if they could be packed up, and not re-dressed until they were safe in hospital, there would be less danger of germs getting in them. She was a small, slim woman with kind eyes and clever hands, and she made a pleasant sight on the dusty platform, with her white cap, grey and scarlet uniform, and her inimitable professional deftness. The soldiers showed their appreciation of her care by a prompt 'Thank you, Sister,' and a military salute. We, too, thanked her for tea and bread and butter, which she administered to us with the same delightful ease as if she were in her own hospital sitting-room. She had transformed a wooden shed into an orderly ward kitchen; and there was a bunch of fresh flowers in a jug, set on a small white cloth, which looked home4ike and feminine. 'A French soldier gave me those,' she said, 'and I give him a cup of tea every afternoon.' On the opposite side of the line the French Red Cross had set up its stall of provisions. Several nurses in uniform stood and sat with knitting in their hands waiting for the trains to come in, and the English soldiers who were billeted in the station benefited largely by their generosity. Hot coffee, milk, bread, and other luxuries were willingly offered to the khaki men; and it was amusing to hear the broken English and French which made up the conversation between the Dames de la Croix Rouge and the Tommies.
Another striking figure and dominant personality of the station was that of the English chaplain, a man who has played many parts since the beginning of the war, and played them all well. He has acted as British transport officer, station-master for the English, and interpreter for the two armies. He has been stretcher-bearer for the Red Cross, and has given spiritual comfort to Catholic and Protestant alike. The pantalons rouges are as dear to him as the khaki putties, and he has worked for England and France with equal fervour. Above the belt, his costume is mildly clerical; below the belt, it is suggestive of a country squire. His ruddy face and keen eyes are also reminiscent of that fast disappearing species, the sporting parson, and there is a mellow sound about his voice and a touch of the unorthodox about his speech which make him somewhat of a trial to the 'genteel' mind. To the soldier such qualities are in his favour and it was pleasant to see the good-fellowship between him and them. Since the war he has had a great deal of experience with English soldiers; and although he knew them pretty well before, having been military chaplain in his younger days, he had never had to deal with the men in war time and in a foreign country. 'They are all good fellows, but they are sometimes difficult to deal with,' was his conclusion, and he told us of a few of Tommy's eccentricities. 'He will sit anywhere but in the train: the roof, the steps, the engine-buffers-anywhere you like-but not on the seat of a carriage. The consequence is, accidents are always happening to him-sometimes very serious ones. One man had fallen from the roof of a carriage and had broken his thigh. Another was killed in a tunnel; and many of them, after falling from a dangerous perch, had limped into the station hours after their train had left, to ask in injured tones 'Where's my train ?
Sometimes they get thoroughly out of hand, and then there is trouble. One little group escaped from the station and hid in a café, with dire results to themselves ; for the chaplain has drastic methods of treating inebriate soldiers. He makes them drink strong doses of coffee and salt, and they quickly become very repentant and full of good resolutions. The worst case was at a station down the line, when a train4oad of Irishmen had to be kept in their carriages by the town guard. 'But on the whole they have been good fellows all the way through, and they have had to do a great deal of very hard work.' The French transport officer at the station was also an understanding man, and between him and the chaplain both French and English soldiers have been very fairly treated. Both men know just when to shut their eyes and the result has been most satisfactory; for there have been no complaints either at or about this very busy station. A great number of wounded have passed through and the hospitals of the town have received some of the worst cases from the front. In the beginning, lockjaw and gangrene were all too common; but lately there has been much less of both. The chaplain has helped many brave men to cross the borderland since the war began, and he has had to listen to the delirium of many men fresh from the firing line. How grim that task can be he knows to the full, and the men he has tried to help know how gentle he can be under the stress of a task as hard, in its way, as their own.
All the dogs of the neighbourhood know the chaplain; and in his own home, at the present moment, he is sheltering a dozen or more who were forgotten by their masters and mistresses when the town was threatened by a German invasion. There is a big pointer who nearly died of a broken heart and sat waiting on the station platform for many days, refusing food and moaning sadly all the time. He is only just beginning to forget, and that under the constant coaxing of the chaplain. There is a white woolly creature, of no particular race, who looks as if he might have been meant for a lamb to begin with; and there is a most fascinating little brown animal, rather like a dog and very much like a squirrel, who refuses to be given away, although the chaplain has found him more than one good home. Fox-terriers, pugs, and mongrels of many degrees keep the chaplain from being dull, and the spoiled darling of the household never leaves him. She is a short-haired little dog, very fat, named Fifi, and she must have been in a circus or a music-hall before she was found by the chaplain's wife during the floods of 1910; for she generally walks on her hind legs and paws the air with her front ones in a very music-hall manner. At the head of the staircase, a hastily mounted gate bars the way to these orphaned, four-footed victims of the war, but Fifi is allowed free access to the rooms which lie beyond, even to the chaplain's study. When all the swallows have come back, some of the dogs may prove to be less orphaned than they are at present.
PARIS THEN AND NOW
I CAME across a description of Paris in 1870 the other day which might easily stand for a picture of Paris in 1914. It was written by the witty, flippant pen of Mr. Labouchere, who, during the siege, was acting as special correspondent to the Daily News. Apparently, Imperial Paris was very like Republican Paris. The same charm, the same follies, the same extravagances, were common to society; and only the working- classes seem to have made any progress towards the better lines of civilisation. In the winter of 1870 he wrote:
'Landlords and tenants are as much at loggerheads here as they are in Ireland; the Government has issued three decrees to regulate the question. By the first is suspended all judicial proceedings on the part of landlords for their rent; by the second, it granted a delay of three months to all persons unable to pay the October term; by the third, it required all those who wished to profit by the second to make a declaration of inability to pay before a magistrate. To-day a fourth decree has been issued, again suspending the October term, and making the three previous decrees applicable to the January term, but giving to landlords a right to dispute the truth of the allegation of poverty on the part of their tenants; the question is a very serious one, for on the payments of rents depends, directly or indirectly, the means of livelihood of half the nation. Thus the landlords say that, if the tenants do not pay them, they cannot pay the interest of the mortgages on their properties. If this interest be not paid, however, the shareholders of the Credit Foncier and other mortgage banks get nothing. Paris, under the fostering care of the Emperor, had become, next to St. Petersburg, the dearest capital in Europe. Its prosperity was artificial and was dependent upon a long chain of connecting links remaining unbroken.
In the industrial quarters money was made by the manufacture of articles de Paris, and for these, as soon as the communications are reopened, there will be the same market as heretofore. As a city of pleasure, however, its prosperity must depend, like a huge watering-place, upon its being able to attract strangers. If they do not return, a reduction of prices will take place, which will ruin most of the shopkeepers, proprietors of houses, and hotel-keepers; but this, although unpleasant to individuals, would be to the advantage of the world at large. Extravagance in Paris makes extravagance the fashion everywhere; under the Empire, to spend money was the readiest road to social distinction. The old bourgeoisie still retained the careful habits of the days of Louis Philippe, and made fortunes by cheese- paring. Imperial Paris was far above this. Families were obliged to spend 20 per cent. of their incomes in order to lodge themselves; shops in favoured quarters were let for fabulous prices, and charged fabulous prices for their wares. Cocodettes of the Court, cocottes of the Bois, wives of speculators, shoddy squaws from New York, Calmucks recently imported from their native steppes, doubtful Italian princesses, gushing Polish countesses, and foolish Englishwomen, merrily raced along the road to ruin.
Good taste was lost in tinsel and glitter, what a thing cost was the only standard of its beauty. Great gingerbread palaces were everywhere run up, and let even before they were out of the builder's hands. It was deemed fashionable to drive about with a carriage with four horses, with perhaps a black man to drive, and an Arab sitting on the box by his side. Dresses by milliners in vogue gave a ready currency to their wearers. The Raphael of his trade gave himself the airs of a distinguished artist; he received his clients with vulgar condescension, and they, no matter what their rank, submitted to his insolence in the hope that he would enable them to outshine their rivals. Ambassadors' wives and Court ladies used to go to take tea with the fellow and dispute the honour of filling his cup or putting sugar in it. I once went into his shop, a sort of drawing-room hung round with dresses; I found him lolling on a chair, his legs crossed before the fire.
Around him were a bevy of women, some pretty, some ugly, listening to his observations with the rapt attention of the disciples of a sage. He called them up before him like schoolgirls, and, after inspecting them, praised or blamed their dresses. One, a pretty young girl, found favour in his eyes, and he told her that he must dream and meditate several days over her, in order to find the inspiration to make a gown worthy of her. " Why do you wear those ugly gloves ? " he said to another, "never let me see you in gloves of that colour again." She was a very grand lady; but she slipped off her gloves, and put them in her pocket with a guilty look. When there was going to be a ball at Court, ladies used to go down on their knees to him to make them beautiful. For some time he declined to dress any longer the wife of a great imperial dignitary who had not been sufficiently humble towards him; she came to him in tears, but he was obdurate and he only consented at last to make a gown for her on the condition that she would put it on for the first time in his shop. The Empress, who dealt with him, sent to tell him that if he did not abate his prices, she would leave him. "You cannot," he replied; and in fact she could not, for she stood by him to the last.
A morning dress by this artist, worth in reality about £4, cost £30; an evening gown, tawdry with flounces, ribbons and bad lace, could not be had under £70. There are about thirty shops in Paris where, as at this man-milliner's, the goods are no better than elsewhere, but they cost about ten times their value. They are patrornsed by fools with more money than wits, and chiefly by foreign fools. The proprietor of one of these establishments was complaining to me the other day of what he was losing by the siege; I told him that I sympathised with him about as much as I should with a Greek brigand bewailing a falling off of wealthy strangers in the district where he was in the habit of carrying on his commercial operations. The only tradesmen in Paris who are making a good thing out of their country's misfortunes are the liquor sellers and the grocers.'
With very few modifications beyond those which fashion has brought us, this is Paris as we knew it before the war of 1914. It is still the dearest capital in the world, and it is doubtful if Petrograd should be excepted. Extravagance and folly continue to mark its smart cosmopolitan society, and the man-milliner is still a power in the land; only he has increased and multiplied to such a dangerous extent that he now rules over all classes and all nations. He gives tango teas and costume balls, and hides his mercantile spirit under a hundred clever devices. He combines the business of an antiquaire with that of a dressmaker, and he pursues both in the most princely houses of the city. Queens and Empresses are not such favourite clientes with him as the wives of millionaires or popular actresses, and his prices are as uniformly high as his manners are superior. Landlords and tenants are waging war just now as they did forty-four years ago; and, since the war, the Government has issued the same decrees about the payment of rent as it did in 1870. Victims under these decrees cry out against them just as they did in the old days, and there is the same abuse of the privileges as there was hitherto. We know the rents were reduced as much as 25 per cent. In 1871, and we fully expect the same thing will happen after this war. The joy we shall all feel at seeing the prices reduced everywhere will be balanced by the inconvenience we shall experience in the increase of taxation; and the expected boom in trade will be more than counteracted by the debts we shall have incurred during these unproductive months.
Another writer of 1870, Mr. Gibson Bowles, who was correspondent for the Morning Post during the siege, throws many strange lights on the Paris of his time. He belonged to one of the best clubs of the day and tells many anecdotes heard among the club members. One man half-laughingly complains that his sergeant is his concierge in times of peace, and it is boring to ask him for permission to come and dine in town. Another complains that his sergeant rather bullies him because he bears him a grudge: 'My cook would not buy poultry from him before the war, and now he wreaks his vengeance on me.' The most interesting of all is the picture we get, from this writer, of the Parisian workman of 1870: 'He no longer rises early to spend his day in toil, all he has to do is to attend to National Guard drill, to mount his guard twice a week, and to walk about in his uniform. For this he gets fifteenpence a day, while his wife receives from the mairie tenpence a day for herself and fivepence for each of her children.
With these sums they can live in comparative comfort and are better off in all respects than they were in time of peace. The idle, flashy life which results from this system is quite to the taste of the Parisian workman, but it has developed some of his latent vices to an extraordinary extent. Nobody, for instance, will do any work. The Government, which offers six francs a day for unskilled labour, finds it impossible to get men even at this rate; and private employers are even worse off, so that, for instance, a bootmaker requires a month to make a pair of boots and will not absolutely promise them then. Idleness and drunkenness always go together, and I suppose there never was a time when the latter vice was so common in Paris. The National Guards are drunk upon the ramparts, the workmen drunk all about the streets, and even the cochers de facre are drunk on their boxes to an extent that is really astonishing. It is the thirty sous pay that does it all. They are so easily earned, and it is so pleasing to carry them off to the wine-shop.
The workman of to-day is much more serious than his ancestor. We grumble a great deal about him, and he grumbles a great deal about us; but at least he has behaved well since the war. He has been quiet and orderly, hard-working, when he was able to get work to do, and desperately serious about the war. In 1870 there were many more workmen left in Paris than there are to-day; and to-day, if we have to wait for our boots, it is simply because there are so few men left to work on them. Several writers of 1870 have said that the workmen need not have suffered want during the siege if they had chosen to work, and they declare that the only real sufferers were the poor women and children who were neglected by their menkind. To-day this is not at all the case: men and women have worked and suffered alike, so far. They have alsobenefited about equally; for the women have received State aid and the men are being helped to find work.
The theatres never quite closed in 1870 the Opera provided music at intervals, and patriotic plays were given; but as time went on, and the situation grew obviously serious, the lighter and more amusing elements of Parisian life were set on one side. The cafe's kept open as long as they could afford enough light, people dined and chattered and boasted. Pleasure, in fact, died hard.
Another identical point, between 1870 and 1914, is the position in which English residents in Paris found themselves in regard to their own embassy and consulate. Mr. Bowles put the case of 1870 in this way:
'I don't know how it strikes Englishmen in England or whether it has yet struck them at all; but to Englishmen in Paris it seems the most extraordinary and monstrous thing that we alone of all the nationalities here present should be utterly without any official person whatever to look after us and our interests in case of need. I speak advisedly when I say that, of all European nations (and I may include most of the Asiatic and South American), England is the only one whose representatives have packed up bag and baggage and gone off to a man, without making any provisions for their fellow-subjects. Several countries have left their Minister. Those that have not done that have left a consul, a secretary of legation, or an attaché; and Portugal, which is the only power whose representatives have gone away altogether, has handed her subjects over to the protection of the United States. English diplomacy alone has reserved for itself the shameful distinction of having entirely deserted its post, at a time when, of all others, it might have been of any use, without giving a thought or taking a step in behalf of those whom it has left behind. Ambassadors, secretaries, attachés, even the consul, all have fled and left, as sole representative of Great Britain, the porter of the embassy.'
In 1914, history repeated itself with but slight modifications due to different circumstances. The Embassy, for example, had no choice whether it should go or stay when the French Government decided to move to Bordeaux. But the consulate was a different matter. It should have remained open, whereas it closed quite early in the dangerous days, thus leaving English people in Paris without any official representative of the nation to whom they could apply for help or information. But for the efficiency and hard work of the English clergy, who never dreamed of leaving their posts, the position of many stranded English subjects would have been worse than it was. The clergy shared the honours with the officials of the American Embassy in helping British subjects with advice, money and information, and it is entirely due to them that the thousands of poor residents in Paris did not starve or have to fall back on French charities. They organised relief societies and collected money with promptitude and common sense, the result being that there is a probability that the distress in the English colony will not be beyond powers of relief, even though the winter be hard and the war long. Without their intervention, the case would have been very different.
The material position of the Parisians in 1914 compares very favourably with the position of those who went through 1870. Then, there was famine, or something very like it, bad administration, revolution and isolation. Added to anguish of mind there was bodily hunger and a thousand minor inconveniences. The gas would be cut off without any warning, and people had to go about with lanterns, water was scarce and fuel of any kind was at one time non-existent. It was bitterly cold and no provision was made to supply the people with the wherewithal to warm themselves, with the result that they turned out in bands and helped themselves to palings round waste ground, to old scaffoldings, to trees in private gardens; to anything, in fact, which was get-at-able. Finally, the Government caused a supply of timber from the woods of Vincennes and the Bois de Boulogne to be brought in, and the raiding ceased. We have had nothing like that to contend with yet. Our gas, our electric light, our coal even, is accorded us regularly if sparingly, and we have not suffered from want of food at all. Our meat is drawn from the cold-storage rooms, and except that we pay more dearly for almost everything, we have nothing to grumble about.
By the help of Mr. Gibson Bowles, we may also observe the English journalists of forty-four years ago, and compare them with those of to-day. Mr. Bowles describes his confreres, and himself as well we must presume, as forming 'one of the most amusing of all the strange sets of people here. The Daily News especially,' he says, 'has shown great qualities. From a commanding bedroom in the Grand Hotel, he views with unmoved courage all the fighting that takes place, and being thus always on the spot, is able to recount with every detail the incidents that occur at a distance of not more than seven or eight miles off. From another commanding chamber, which under certain circumstances might be almost under fire, the Pall Mall Gazette philosophises over principles of government, mutton cutlets, and the abuse of the Geneva Cross; while the Standard is understood to have enrolled himself in the sapeurs-pompiers, and to hold himself ready to put out fires at all hours of the day and night. Meantime, the Daily Telegraphs have become invisible, though I saw one of them at the attack on Le Bourget, with an ambulance card stuck in his hat, precisely as if he were basking in imperial favour in the enceinte du pesage of a meeting. It is The Times, however, who chiefly excites my admiration and envy. He rides about, in- securely on a horse, or securely in a brougham, covered with Geneva crosses, and in a gorgeous uniform with a violet velvet collar and a kepi covered with gold lace and embroidery. I thought he was a field-marshal at least, when first I saw this splendour; but I find he is orderly officer to the Bishop of Sumatra. Fancy The Times riding about after a converted bishop !'
It would be difficult to locate the many English newspaper men who have written on the war to-day. Even the recognised Paris correspondents have led a cinematographic existence, and many of them have been arrested by friends and foes alike. They have ridden in nothing securely, whether motorcar, train, aeroplane, or balloon. Nothing that they counted theirs have they been able to keep; cars and bicycles have all been requisitioned. Like Yellow Dog Dingo they have kept running because they 'had to,' and their lot has not been enviable. The very name 'journalist' makes a soldier impolite, and although the public reads nothing else but newspapers, it smites the hand which feeds it. I can only compare the position of an English war correspondent in the present war to that of a German soldier: his paper drives him forward and the army drives him back, and he stands between two fires, either of which is scorching. From this position he has to satisfy the public and pass the censor. Never has the power of the Press been more limited or more effective.
M. Maurice Barres and M. de Mun were rocks of strength to France when things were not going well. M. Hervé and M. Clémenceau struck some good blows for their country in the beginning of the war, and England has fed thousands of hungry French minds with news from her papers since hostilities began. The Times, the Morning Post, the Daily Chronicle, and the Daily Mail supply most of the news to the Paris dailies; and the French writers of renown supply leading articles which in some cases are gems of literature. Besides M. Barres and M., de Mun, whose death may be looked upon as a disaster to the country, there is M. Paul Bourget, M. René Bazin, M. Abel Hermant, and other litterateurs as well known, all of whom are writing inspiring articles for the morning papers at the present time.
Spies were almost as much feared in 1870 as they are to-day. 'Every day persons are arrested because they are supposed by lighted candles and other mysterious devices to be signalling to the enemy.' Even the men who caught the spies were convicted, later, of being spies themselves; and any foreigner, no matter how 'in order' might be his papers, was liable to arrest. The ambulances, the headquarters, the ranks, were all bristling with spies, and suspicion lurked in everybody's mind. There was even crying abuse of the Red Cross in 1870, and the slaughter of women and children was, apparently, not unknown. Even then the Prussian terrorised, when he might be said to be on his best behaviour-for he was winning, and he had not the world against him as he has today. It is interesting to read the flippant criticisms of Mr. Labouchere on the Germans and the role he thought they were likely to play in Europe; it is also interesting to find that he was hopelessly wrong in his conclusions. He says:
'It is impossible so to adapt the equilibrium of power that every great European Power shall be coequal in strength. The balance tips now on the side of Germany. That country has attained the unity after which she has long sighed and I do not think she will embroil the Continent in wars waged for conquest, for an 'idea,' or for the dynastic interests of her princes. The Germans are a brave race, but not a war-loving race, and I console myself with the thought that the result of the present war will be to consolidate peace.'
Here again is a point of identity between 1870 and 1914; for we, too, console ourselves with the thought that the benefit of our present sufferings will be reaped by future generations in a stable and enduring peace.
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