The Soul of the War
From The Soul of the War
by Philip Gibbs
THE SOUL OF PARIS
(not all sub-sections of this particular chapter have been posted)
In the beginning of the war it seemed as though the soul had gone out of Paris and that it had lost all its life.
I have already described those days of mobilization when an enormous number of young men were suddenly called to the colours out of all their ways of civil life, and answered that summons without enthusiasm for war, hating the dreadful prospect of it and cursing the nation which had forced this fate upon them. That first mobilization lasted for twenty-one days, and every day one seemed to notice the difference in the streets, the gradual thinning of the crowds, the absence of young manhood, the larger proportion of women and old fogeys among those who remained. The life of Paris was being drained of its best blood by this vampire, war. In the Latin Quarter most of the students went without any preliminary demonstrations in the café d'Harcourt, or speeches from the table-tops in the cheaper restaurants along the Boul' Miche, where in times of peace any political crisis or intellectual drama produces a flood of fantastic oratory from young gentlemen with black hair, burning eyes, and dirty finger-nails. They had gone away silently, with hasty kisses to little mistresses, who sobbed their hearts out for a night before searching for any lovers who might be left.
In all the streets of Paris there was a shutting up of shops. Every day put a new row of iron curtains between the window panes, until at the end of the twelfth day the city seemed as dismal as London on a Sunday, or as though all the shops were closed for a public funeral. Scraps of paper were pasted on the barred-up fronts.
"Le magasin est fermé a cause de la mobilisation." "M.Jean Cochin et quatre file sont an front des armées.'! Tout le personel de cet établissement est mobilisé."
A personal incident brought the significance of the general mobilization sharply to my mind. I had not realized till then how completely the business of Paris would be brought to a standstill, and how utterly things would be changed. Before leaving Paris for Nancy and the eastern frontier, I left a portmanteau and a rug in a hotel where I had become friendly with the manager and the assistant manager, with the hall porter, the liftman, and the valet de chambre. I had discussed the war with each of these men and from each of them had heard the same expressions of horror and dismay. The hall porter was a good- humoured soul, who confided to me that he had a pretty wife and a new-born babe, who reconciled him to the disagreeable side of a life as the servant of any stranger who might come to the hotel with a bad temper and a light purse.
On coming back from Nancy I went to reclaim my bag and rug. But when I entered the hotel something seemed different. At first I could not quite understand this difference. It seemed to me for a moment that I had come to the wrong place. I did not see the hotel porter nor the manager and assistant manager. There was only a sharp-featured lady sitting at the desk in loneliness, and she looked at me, as I stared round the hall, with obvious suspicion. Very politely I asked for my bag and rug, but the lady's air became more frigid when I explained that I had lost the cloak-room ticket and could not remember the number of the room I had occupied a few days before.
"Perhaps there is some means by which you could prove that you stayed here?" said the lady.
Certainly. I remember the hall porter. His name is Pierre, and he comes from the Midi."
She shook her head.
"There is no hall porter, Monsieur. He has gone."
And then the valet de chambre. His name is Francois. He has curly hair and a short brown moustache."
The lady shook her head in a most decided negative. "The present valet de chambre is a bald-headed man, and clean-shaven, monsieur. It must have been another hotel where you stayed."
I began to think that this must undoubtedly be the case and yet I remembered the geography of the hall, and the pattern of the carpet, and the picture of Mirabeau in the National Assembly.
Then it dawned on both of us.
"Ah! Monsieur was here before August 1. Since then everyone is mobilized. I am the manager's wife, Monsieur, and my husband is at the front, and we have hardly any staff here now. You will describe the shape of your bag. . .
The French Government was afraid of the soul of Paris. Memories of the Commune haunted the minds of men who did not understand that the character of the Parisian has altered somewhat since 1870. Ministers of France who had read a little history, were terribly afraid that out of the soul of Paris would come turbulence and mob-passion, crises de nerfs, rioting, political strife, and panics. Paris must be handled firmly, sobered down by every possible means, kept from the knowledge of painful facts, spoon- fed with cheerful communiqués whatever tile truth might be, guarded by strong but hidden force, ready at a moment's notice to smash up a procession, to arrest agitators, to quell a rebellion, and to maintain the strictest order.
Quietly, but effectively, General Gallieni, the military governor of "the entrenched camp of Paris," as it was called, proceeded to place the city under martial law in order to strangle any rebellious spirit which might be lurking in its hiding places. Orders and regulations were issued in a rapid volley fire which left Paris without any of its old life or liberty. The terrasses were withdrawn from the cafés. No longer could the philosophic Parisian sip his petit verre and watch the drama of the boulevards from the shady side of a marble-topped table. He must sit indoors like an Englishman, in the darkness of his public-house, as though ashamed of drinking in the open. Absinthe was banned by a thunder-stroke from the Invalides, where the Military Governor had established his headquarters, and Parisians who had acquired the absinthe habit trembled in every limb at this judgment which would reduce them to physical and moral wrecks, as creatures of the drug habit suddenly robbed of their nerve-controlling tabloids. It was an edict welcomed by all men of self-control who knew that France had been poisoned by this filthy liquid, but they too became a little pale when all the cafe's of Paris were closed at eight o'clock.
Sapristi ! Qu'est qu'on peut faire les soirs ? On ne peut pas dormir tout le temps! Et la guerre durera peut-etre trois mois !"
To close the cafe's at eight o'clock seemed a tragic infliction to the true Parisian, for whom life only begins after that hour, when the stupidity of the day's toil is finished and the mind is awakened to the intellectual interests of the world, in friendly conversation, in philosophical discussions, in heated arguments, in wit and satire. How then could they follow the war and understand its progress if the caf6s were closed at eight o'clock? But the edict was given and Paris obeyed, loyally and with resignation.
Other edicts followed, or arrived simultaneously like a broadside fired into the life of the city. Public processions "with whatever patriotic motive" were sternly prohibited. "Purveyors of false news, or of news likely to depress the public spirit" would be dealt with by courts-martial and punished with the utmost severity. No musical instruments were to be played after ten o'clock at night, and orchestras were prohibited in all restaurants. Oh, Paris, was even your laughter to be abolished, if you had any heart for laughter while your sons were dying on the fields of battle?
The newspaper censors had put a strangle grip upon the press, not only upon news of war but also upon expressions of opinion. Gustave Hervé signed his name three days a week to blank columns of extraordinary eloquence. Georges Clemenccau had a series of striking head-lines which had been robbed of all their text. The intellectuals of Paris might not express an opinion save by permission of the military censors, most of whom, strangely enough, had German names.
The civil police under direction of the Military Governor were very busy in Paris during the early days of the war. Throughout the twenty-four hours, and especially in the darkness of night, the streets were patrolled by blue-capped men on bicycles, who rode, four by four, as silently as shadows, through every quarter of the city. They had a startling habit of surrounding any lonely man who might be walking in the late hours and interrogating him as to his nationality, age and business.
Several times I was arrested in this way and never escaped the little frousse which came to me when these dark figures closed upon me, as they leapt from their bicycles and said with grim suspicion:
Vos papiers, s'il vous plait !
My pockets were bulging with papers, which I thrust hurriedly into the lantern-light for a close-eyed scrutiny.
They were very quick to follow the trail of a stranger, and there was no sanctuary in Paris in which he might evade them. Five minutes after calling upon a friend in the fifth floor fiat of an old mansion at the end of a courtyard in the Rue de Rivoli, there was a sharp tap at his door, and two men in civil clothes came into the room, with that sleuth-hound look which belongs to stage, and French, detectives. They forgot to remove their bowler hats, which seemed to me to be a lamentable violation of French courtesy.
"Vos papiers, s'il vous plait !
Again I produced bundles of papers-permis de séjour in Paris, Amiens, Rouen, Orleans, Le Mans; laisser-posser to Boulogne, Dieppe, Havre, Dunkirk, Aire-sur-Lys, Béthune and Hazebrouck; British passports and papiers visas by French consuls, French police, French generals, French mayors, and French stationmasters. But they were hardly satisfied. One man with an ugly bulge in his side pocket you have seen at Drury Lane - how quickly the revolver comes - out suggested that the whole collection was not worth an old railway ticket because I had failed to comply with the latest regulation regarding a photograph on the permis de séjour.
We parted, however, with mutual confidence and an expression of satisfaction in the Entente Cordiale. One scene is clear cut in my memory, as it was revealed in a narrow street of Paris where a corner lantern flung its rays down upon the white faces of two men and two women. It was midnight, and I was waiting outside the door of a newspaper office, where my assistant was inquiring for the latest bulletins of war. For some minutes I watched this little group with an intuition that tragedy was likely to leap out upon them. They belonged to the apache class, as it was easy to see by the cut of the men's trousers tucked into their boots, with a sash round the waist, and by the velvet bonnets pulled down sideways over their thin-featured faces and sharp jaws. The women had shawls over their heads and high-heeled shoes under their skirts. At the Alhambra in London the audience would have known what dance to expect when such a group had slouched into the glamour of the footlights. They were doing a kind of slow dance now, though without any music except that of women's sobs and a man S sibilant curses. The younger of the two men was horribly drunk, and it was clear that the others were trying to drag him home before trouble came. They swayed with him up and down, picked him up when he fell, swiped him in the face when he tried to embrace one of the women, and lurched with him deeper into the throat of the alley. Then suddenly the trouble came. Four of those shadows on bicycles rode out of the, darkness and closed in.
As sharp and distinct as pistol shots two words came to my ears out of the sudden silence and stillness which had arrested the four people: "Vos papiers.
There was no "s'il vous plait" this time.
It was clear that one at least of the men - I guessed it was the drunkard-had no papers explaining his presence in Paris, and that he was one of the embusqués for whom the Military Governor was searching in the poorer quarters of the city (in the richer quarters there was not such a sharp search for certain young gentlemen of good family who had failed to answer the call to the colours), and for whom there was a very rapid method of punishment on the sunny side of a white wall. Out of the silence of that night came shriek after shriek. The two women abandoned themselves to a wild and terror-stricken grief. One of them flung herself on to her knees, clutching at an agent de police, clasping him with piteous and pleading hands, until he jerked her away from him. Then she picked herself up and leant against a wall, moaning and wailing like a wounded animal. The drunkard was sobered enough to stand upright in the grasp of two policemen while the third searched him. By the light of the street lamp I saw his blanched face and sunken eyes. Two minutes later the police led both men away, leaving the women behind, very quiet now, sobbing in their shawls.
It was the general belief in Paris that many apaches were shot pour encourager les autres. I cannot say that is true-the police of Paris keep their own secrets-but I believe a front place was found for some of them in the fighting lines. Paris lost many of its rebels, who will never reappear in the Place Pigalle and the Avenue de Clichy on moonless nights. Poor devils of misery! They. did but make war on the well-to- do, and with less deadly methods, as a rule, than those encouraged in greater wars when, for trade interests also, men kill each other with explosive bombs and wrap each other's bowels round their bayonets and blow up whole companies of men in trenches which have been sapped so skilfully that at the word "Fire I" no pair of arms or legs remains to a single body and God Himself would not know His handiwork.
For several months there was a spy mania in Paris, and' the police, acting under military orders, showed considerable activity in "Boche" hunting. It was a form of chase which turned me a little sick when I saw the captured prey, just as I used to turn sick as a boy when I saw a rat caught in a trap and handed over to the dogs, or any other animal run to earth. All my instincts made me hope for the escape of the poor beast, vermin though it might be.
One day as I was sitting in the Café Napolitain on one of my brief excursions to Paris from the turmoil in the wake of war, I heard shouts and saw a crowd of people rushing towards a motor-car coming down the Boulevard des Italiens. One word was repeated with a long-drawn sibilance:
The spy was between two agents de police. He was bound with cords and his collar had been torn off, so that his neck was bare, like a man ready for the guillotine. Some-how, the look of the man reminded me in a flash of those old scenes in the French Revolution, when a French aristocrat was taken in a tumbril through the streets of Paris. He was a young man with a handsome, clear-cut face, and though he was very white except where a trickle of blood ran down his cheek from a gash on his forehead, he smiled disdainfully with a proud curl of the lip. He knew he was going to his death, but he had taken the risk of that when he stayed in Paris for the sake of his country. A German spy! Yes, but a brave man who went rather well to his death through the sunlit streets of Paris, with the angry murmurs of a crowd rising in waves about him.
On the same night I saw another episode of this spy-hunting period, and it was more curious. It happened in a famous restaurant not far from the Comédie Francaise, where a number of French soldiers in a variety of uniforms dined with their ladies before going to the front after a day's leave from the fighting lines. Suddenly, into the buzz of voices and above the tinkle of glasses and coffee-cups one voice spoke in a formal way, with clear, deliberate words. I saw that it was the manager of the restaurant addressing his clients.
"Messieurs et Mesdames, -My fellow-manager has just been arrested on a charge of espionage. I have been forbidden to speak more than these few words, to express my personal regret that I am unable to give my personal attention to your needs and pleasure."
With a bow this typical French "patron"-surely not a German spy !-turned away and retreated from the room. A look of surprise passed over the faces of the French soldiers. The ladies raised their pencilled eyebrows, and then - so quickly does this drama of war stale after its first experience - continued their conversation through whiffs of cigarette smoke.
But it was not of German spies that the French Government was most afraid. Truth to tell, Paris was thronged with Germans, naturalized a week or two before the war and by some means or other on the best of terms with the police authorities, in spite of spy-hunts and spy-mania, which sometimes endangered the liberty of innocent Englishmen, and Americans more or less innocent. It was only an accident which led to the arrest of a well-known milliner whose afternoon-tea parties among her mannequins were attended by many Germans with business in Paris of a private character. When this lady covered up the Teutonic name of her firm with a Red Cross flag and converted her showrooms into a hospital ward, excellently supplied except with wounded men, the police did not inquire into tjie case until a political scandal brought it into the limelight of publicity.
The French Government was more afraid of the true Parisians. To sober them down in case their spirit might lead to trouble, the streets of Paris were kept in darkness and all places of amusement were closed as soon as war was declared. In case riots should break forth from secret lairs of revolutionary propaganda, squadrons of Gardes Republicanes patrolled the city by day and night, and the agents de police were reinforced by fusiliers marins with loaded rifles, who-simple fellows as they are-could hardly direct a stranger to the Place de la Concorde or find their own way to the Place de Ia Bastille.
At all costs Paris was not to learn the truth about the war if there were any unpleasant truths to tell. For Paris there must always be victories and no defeats. They must not even know that in war time there were wounded men; otherwise they might get so depressed or so enraged that (thought the French Government) there might be the old cry of "Nous sommes trahis !" with a lopping off of Ministers' heads and dreadful orgies in which the streets of Paris would run red with blood. This reason alone-so utterly unreasonable, as we now know-may explain the farcical situation of the hospitals in Paris during the first two months of the war. Great hotels like the Astoria, Claridge's, and the Majestic had been turned into hospitals magnificently equipped and over-staffed. Nothing that money could buy was left unbought, so that these great palaces might be fully provided with all things necessary for continual streams of wounded men. High society in France gave away its wealth with generous enthusiasm. Whatever faults they might have they tried to wash them clean by charity, full-hearted and overflowing, for the wounded sons of France. Great ladies who had been the beauties of the salons, whose gowns had been the envy of their circles, took off their silks and chiffons and put on the simple dress of the infirmiere and volunteered to do the humblest work, the dirty work of kitchen-wenches and scullery-girls and bedroom- maids, so that their hands might help, by any service, the men who had fought for France. French doctors, keen and brilliant men who hold a surgeon's knife with a fine and delicate skill, stood in readiness for the maimed victims of the war. The best brains of French medical science were mobilized in these hospitals of Paris. But the wounded did not come to Paris until the war had dragged on for weeks. After the battle of the Marne, when the wounded were pouring into Orleans and other towns at the rate of seven thousand a day, when it was utterly impossible for the doctors there to deal with ail that tide of agony, and when the condition of the French wounded was a scandal to the name of a civilized country, the hospitals of Paris remained empty, or with a few lightly wounded men in a desert of beds. Because they could not speak French, perhaps, these rare arrivals were mostly Turcos and Senegalese, so that when they awakened in these wards and their eyes rolled round upon the white counter-panes, the exquisite flowers and the painted ceilings, and there beheld the beauty of women bending over their bed-sides-women whose beauty was famous through Europe-they murmured "Allahu akbar" in devout ecstasy and believed themselves in a Mohammedan paradise.
It was a comedy in which there was a frightful tragedy. The doctors and surgeons standing by these empty beds, wandering through operating-theatres magnificently appointed, asked God why their hands were idle when so many soldiers of France were dying for lack of help, and why Paris, the nerve-centre of all railway lines, so close to the front, where the fields were heaped with the wreckage of the war, should be a world away from any work of rescue. It was the same old strain of falsity which always runs through French official life. "Polities ! " said the doctors of Paris; those cursed politics
But it was fear this time. The Government was afraid of Paris, lest it should lose its nerve, and so all trains of wounded were diverted from the capital wandering on long and devious journeys, side-tracked for hours, and if any ambulances came it was at night, when they glided through back streets under cover of darkness, afraid of being seen.
They need not have feared, those Ministers of France. Paris had more courage than some of them, with a greater dignity and finer faith. When the French Ministry fled to Bordeaux without having warned the people that the enemy was at their gates, Paris remained very quiet and gave no sign of wild terror or of panic-stricken rage. There was no political cry or revolutionary outburst. No mob orator sprang upon a caf6 chair to say "Nous sommes trahis !"
There was not even a word of rebuke for those who had doctored the official communiqu6s and put a false glamour of hope upon hideous facts. Hurriedly and dejectedly over a million people of Paris fled from the city, now that the Government had led the way of flight. They were afraid, and there was panic in their exodus, but even that was not hysterical, and men and women kept their heads, though they had lost their hopes. It was rare to see a weeping woman. There was no wailing of a people distraught. Sadly those fugitives left the city which had been all the world to them, and the roads to the south were black with their multitudes, having left in fear but full of courage on the road, dejected, but even then finding a comedy in the misery of it, laughing-as most French women will laugh in the hour of peril even when their suffering was greatest and when there was a heartache in their humour.
After all the soul of Paris did not die, even in those dark days when so many of its inhabitants had gone, and when, for a little while, it seemed a deserted city. Many thousands of citizens remained, enough to make a great population, and although for a day or two they kept for the most part indoors, under the shadow of a fear that at any moment they might hear the first shells come shrieking overhead, or even the clatter of German cavalry, they quickly resumed the daily routine of their lives, as far as it was possible at such a time. The fruit- and vegetable-stalls along the hue St. Honor6 were thronged as usual by frugal housewives who do their shopping early, and down by Les Halles, to which I wended my way through the older streets of Paris, to note any change in the price of food, there were the usual scenes of bustling activity among the baskets and the litter of the markets. Only a man who knew Paris well could detect a difference in the early morning crowds-the absence of many young porters who used to carry great loads on their heads before quenching their thirst at the Chien Qui Fume, and the presence of many young girls of the midinette class, who in normal times lie later in bed before taking the Metro to their shops.
The shops were closed now. Great establishments like the Galeries Lafayette had disbanded their armies of girls and even many of the factories in the outer suburbs, like Charenton and La Villette, had suspended work, because their mechanics and electricians and male factory hands had been mobilized at the outset of the war. The women of Paris were plunged into dire poverty, and thousands of them into idleness, which makes poverty more awful. Even now I can hardly guess how many of these women lived during the first months of the war. There were many wives who had been utterly dependent for the upkeep of their little homes upon men who were now earning a sou a day as soldiers of France, with glory as a pourboire. So many old mothers had been supported by the devotion of sons who had denied themselves marriage, children, and the little luxuries of life in order that out of their poor wages in Government offices they might keep the woman to whom they owed their being. Always the greater part of the people of Paris lives precariously on the thin edge of a limited income, stinting and scraping, a sou here, a sou there, to balance the week's accounts and eke out a little of that joie do vivre, which to every Parisian is an essential need. Now by the edict of war all life's economies had been annihilated. There were no more wages out of which to reckon the cost of an extra meal, or out of which to squeeze the price of a seat at a Pathé cinema. Mothers and wives and mistresses had been abandoned to the chill comfort of national charity, and oh, the coldness of it.
The French Government had promised to give an allowance of 1 franc 25 centimes a day to the women who were dependent on soldier husbands. Perhaps it is possible to live on a shilling a day in Paris, though, by Heaven, I should hate to do it. Nicely administered it might save a woman from rapid starvation and keep her thin for quite a time.
But even this measure of relief was difficult to get. French officials are extraordinarily punctilious over the details of their work, and it takes them a long time to organize a system which is a masterpiece of safeguards and regulations and subordinate clauses. So it was with them in the first weeks of the war, and it was a pitiable thing to watch the long queues of women waiting patiently outside the mairies, hour after hour and sometimes day after day, to get that one franc twenty-five which would buy their children's bread. Yet the patience of these women never failed, and with a resignation which had something divine in it, they excused the delays, the official deliberations, the infinite vexations which they were made to suffer, by that phrase which has excused everything in France "C'est la guerre I " Because it was war, they did not raise their voices in shrill protest, or wave their skinny arms at imperturbable men who said, "Attendez, s'il vous plait I " with damnable iteration, or break the windows 6f Government offices in which bewildering regulations were drawn up in miles of red tape.
"C'est Ia guerre !" and the women of Paris, thinking of their men at the front, dedicated themselves to suffering and were glad of their very hunger pains, so that they might share the hardships of the soldiers. By good chance, a number of large-hearted men and women, more representative of the State than the Ministry in power, because they had long records of public service and united all phases of intellectual and religious activity in France, organized a system of private charity to supplement the Government doles, and under the title of the S6cours Nationale, relieved the needs of the destitute with a prompt and generous charity in which there was human love beyond the skinflint justice of the State. It was the Sécours Nationale which saved Paris in those early days from some of the worst miseries of the war and softened some of the inevitable cruelties which it inflicted upon the women and children. Their organization of ouvroirs, or workshops for unemployed girls, where a franc a day (not much for a long day's labour, yet better than nothing at all) saved many midinettes from sheer starvation.
There were hard times for the girls who had not been trained to needlework or to the ordinary drudgeries of life, though they toil hard enough in their own professions. To the dancing girls of Montmartre, the singing girls of the cabarets, and the love girls of the streets, Paris with the Germans at its gates was a city of desolation, so cold as they wandered with questing eyes through its loneliness, so cruel to those women of whom it has been very tolerant in days of pleasure. They were unnecessary now to the scheme of things. Their merchandise-tripping feet and rhythmic limbs, shrill laughter and roguish eyes, carmined lips and pencilled lashes, singing voices and cajoleries-had no more value, because war had taken away the men who buy these things, and the market was closed. These commodities of life were no more saleable than paste diamonds, spangles, artificial roses, the vanities of fashion showrooms, the trinkets of the jeweller in the Rue de Ia Paix, and the sham antiques in the Rue Mazarin. Young men, shells, hay, linen for bandages, stretchers, splints, hypodermic syringes were wanted in enormous quantities, but not night-loves, with cheap perfume on their hair, or the fairies of the footlights with all the latest tango steps. The dance music of life had changed into a funeral march, and the alluring rhythm of the tango had been followed by the steady tramp of feet, in common time, to the battlefields of France. Virtue might have hailed it as a victory. Raising her chaste eyes, she might have cried out a prayer of thankfulness that Paris had been cleansed of all its vice, and that war had purged a people of its carnal weakness, and that the young manhood of the nation had been spiritualized and made austere. Yes, it was true. War had captured the souls and bodies of men, and under her discipline of blood and agony men's wayward fancies, the seductions of the flesh, the truancies of the heart were tamed and leashed.
Yet a Christian soul may pity those poor butterflies of life who had been broken on the wheels of war. I pitied them, unashamed of this emotion, when I saw some of them flitting through the streets of Paris on that September eve when the city was very quiet, expecting capture, and afterwards through the long, weary weeks of war. They had a scared look, like pretty beasts caught in a trap. They had hungry eyes, filled with an enormous wistfulness. Their faces were blanched, because rouge was dear when food had to be bought without an income, and their lips had lost their carmine flush. Outside the Taverne Royale one day two of them spoke to me-I sat scribbling an article for the censor to cut out. They had no cajoleries, none of the little tricks of their trade. They spoke quite quietly and gravely.
"Are you an Englishman?"
"But not a soldier?
"No. You see my clothes
"Have you come to Paris for pleasure? That is strange, for now there is nothing doing in that way."
"Non, c'est vrai. Ii n'y a rien a' faire dans ce genre."
I asked them how they lived in war time.
One of the girls-she had a pretty delicate face and a serious way of speech-smiled, with a sigh that seemed to come from her little high-heeled boots.
"It is difficult to live. I was a singing girl at Montmartre. My lover is at the war. There is no one left. It is the same with all of us. In a little while we shall starve to death. Mais, pourquoi pas? A singing girl's death does not matter to France, and will not spoil the joy of her victory!
She lifted a glass of amer picon-for the privilege of hearing the truth she could tell me I was pleased to pay for it-and said in a kind of whisper, "Vive Ia France!" and then, touching her glass with her lips: "Vive l'Angleterre !
The other girl leaned forward and spoke with polite and earnest inquiry. "Monsieur would like a little love?
I shook my head.
"Ca ne marche pas. Je suis un homme serieux."
"It is very cheap to-day," said the girl. "Ca ne coute pas cher, en temps de guerre."
After the battle of the Marne the old vitality of Paris was gradually restored. The people who had fled by hundreds of thousands dribbled back steadily from England and provincial towns where they had hated their exile and had been ashamed of their flight. They came back to their small fiats or attic room rejoicing to find all safe under a layer of dust-shedding tears, some of them, when they saw the children's toys, which had been left in a litter on the floor, and the open piano with a song on the music-stand, which a girl had left as she rose in the middle of a bar, wavering off into a cry of fear, and all the domestic treasures which had been gathered through a life of toil and abandoned-for ever it seemed- when the enemy was reported within twenty miles of Paris in irresistible strength. The city had been saved. The Germans were in full retreat. The great shadow of fear had been lifted and the joy of a great hope thrilled through the soul of Paris, in spite of all that death la-has, where so many young men were making sacrifices of their lives for France.
As the weeks passed the streets became more thronged, and the shops began to re-open, their business conducted for the most part by women and old people. A great hostile army was entrenched less than sixty miles away. A ceaseless battle, always threatening the roads to Paris, from Amiens and Soissons, Rheims and Vic-sur-Aisne, was raging night and day, month after month. But for the moment when the enemy retreated to the Aisne, the fear which had been like a black pall over the spirit of Paris, lifted as though a great wind had blown it away, and the people revealed a sane, strong spirit of courage and confidence and patience, amazing to those who still believed in the frivolity and nervousness and unsteady emotionalism of the Parisian population.
Yet though normal life was outwardly resumed (inwardly all things had changed), it was impossible to forget the war or to thrust it away from one's imagination for more than half an hour or so of forgetfulness. Those crowds in the streets contained multitudes of soldiers of all regiments of France, coming and going between the base depots and the long lines of the front. The streets were splashed with the colours of all those uniforms-crimson of Zouaves, azure of chasseurs d'Afrique, the dark blue of gunners, marines. Figures of romance walked down the boulevards and took the sun in the gardens of the Tuileries. An Arab chief in his white burnous and flowing robes padded in soft shoes between the little crowds of cocottes who smiled into his grave face with its dark liquid eyes and pointed beard, like Othello the Moor. Senegalese and Turcos with rolling eyes and wreathed smiles sat at the tables in the Caf6 de Ia Paix, paying extravagantly for their fire-water, and exalted by this luxury of life after the muddy hell of the trenches and the humid climate which made them cough consumptively between their gusts of laughter. Here and there a strange uniform of unusual gorgeousness made all men turn their heads with a " Qui est ca? " such as the full dress uniform of a dandy flight officer of cardinal red from head to foot, with a golden wing on his sleeve. The airman of ordinary grade had no such magnificence, yet in his black leather jacket and blue breeches above long boots was the hero of the streets and might claim any woman's eyes, because he belonged to a service which holds the great romance of the war, risking his life day after day on that miracle of flight which has not yet staled in the imagination of the crowd, and winging his way god-like above the enemy's lines, in the roar of their pursuing shells.
Khaki came to Paris, too, and although it was worn by many who did not hold the King's commission but swaggered it as something in the Red Cross-God knows what the drab of its colour gave a thrill to all those people of Paris who, at least in the first months of the war, were stirred with an immense sentiment of gratitude because England had come to the rescue in her hour of need, and had given her blood generously to France, and had cemented the Entente Cordiale with deathless ties of comradeship.
Comme ils sont chics, ces braves anglais!
They did not soon tire of expressing their admiration for the "chic" style of our young officers, so neat and clean-cut and workmanlike, with their brown belts and brown boots, and khaki riding breeches.
"Allo. . . . Engleesh boy? Alright, eh?"
The butterfly girls hovered about them, spread their wings before those young officers from the front and those knights of the Red Cross, tempted them with all their wiles, and led them, too many of them, to their mistress Circe, who put her spell upon them.
At every turn in the street, or under the trees of Paris, some queer little episode, some startling figure from the great drama of the war arrested the interest of a wondering spectator. A glimpse of tragedy made one's soul shudder between two smiles at the comedy of life. Tears and laughter chased each other through Paris in this time of war.
"Coupe' gorge, comme ca. Sale boche, mort. Sa tete, voyez. Tombé A terre. Sang! Mains, en bain de sang. Comme ca!"
So the Turco spoke under the statue of Aphrodite in the gardens of the Tuileries to a crowd of smiling men and girls. He had a German officer's helmet. He described with vivid and disgusting gestures how he had cut oft the man's head-he clicked his tongue to give the sound of it-and how he had bathed his hands in the blood of his enemy, before carrying this trophy to his trench. He held out his hands, staring at them, laughing at them as though they were still crimson with German blood. . . . A Frenchwoman shivered a little and turned pale. But another woman laughed-an old creature with toothless gums-with a shrill, harsh note.
"Sale race I" she said; "a dirty race! I should be glad to cut a German throat!"
Outside the Invalides, motor-cars were always arriving at the headquarters of General Galienni. French staff officers came at full speed, with long shrieks on their motorhorns, and little crowds gathered round the ears to question the drivers.
"Ca marche, la guerre? Il y a du progrès ?"
British officers came also, with dispatches from headquarters, and two soldiers with loaded rifles in the back seats of ears that had been riddled with bullets and pock-marked with shrapnel.
Two of these men told their tale to me. They had left the trenches the previous night to come on a special mission to Paris, and they seemed to me like men who had been in some torture chamber and suffered unforgettable and nameless horrors. Splashed with mud, their faces powdered with a greyish clay and chilled to the bone by the sharp shrewd wind of their night near Soissons and the motor journey to Paris, they could hardly stand, and trembled and spoke with chattering teeth.
"I wouldn't have missed it," said one of them, "but I don't want to go through it again. It's absolutely infernal in those trenches, and the enemy's shell-fire breaks one's nerves."
They were not ashamed to confess the terror that still shook them, and wondered, like children, at the luck-the miracle of luck-which had summoned them from their place in the firing-line to be the escort of an officer to Paris, with safe seats in his motor-ear.
For several weeks of the autumn while the British were at Soissons, many of our officers and men came into Paris like this, on special missions or on special leave, and along the boulevards one heard all accents of the English tongue from John 0' Groats to Land's End and from Peckham Rye to Hackney Downs. The Kilties were the wonder of Paris, and their knees were under the fire of a multitude of eyes as they went swinging to the Gare du Nord The shopgirls of Paris screamed with laughter at these brawny lads in "jupes," and surrounded them with shameless mirth, while Jock grinned from ear to ear and Sandy, more bashful coloured to the roots of his fiery hair. Cigarettes were showered into the hands of these soldier lads. They could get drunk for nothing at the expense of English residents of Paris - the jockeys from Chantilly, the bank clerks of the Imperial Club, the bar loungers of the St. Petersbourg. The temptation was not resisted with the courage of Christian martyrs. The Provost-Marshal had to threaten some of his own military police with the terrors of court-martial.
The wounded were allowed at last to come to Paris, and the surgeons who had stood with idle hands found more than enough work to do, and the ladies of France who had put on nurses' dresses walked very softly and swiftly through long wards, no longer thrilled with the beautiful sentiment of smoothing the brows of handsome young soldiers, but thrilled by the desperate need of service, hard and ugly and terrible, among those poor bloody men, agonizing through the night, helpless in their pain, moaning before the rescue of death. The faint-hearted among these women fled panic-stricken, with blanched faces, to Nice and Monte Carlo and provincial chateaux, where they played with less unpleasant work. But there were not many like that. Most of them stayed, nerving themselves to the endurance of those tragedies, finding in the weakness of their womanhood a strange new courage, strong as steel, infinitely patient, full of pity cleansed of all false sentiment. Many of these fine ladies of France, in whose veins ran the blood of women who had gone very bravely to the guillotine, were animated by the spirit of their grandmothers and by the ghosts of French womanhood throughout the history of their country, from Genevieve to Sister Julie, and putting aside the frivolity of life which had been their only purpose, faced the filth and horrors of the hospitals without a shudder and with the virtue of nursing nuns.
Into the streets of Paris, therefore, came the convalescents and the lightly wounded, and one-armed or one-legged officers or simple poilus with bandaged heads and hands could he seen in any restaurant among comrades who had not yet received their baptism of fire, had not cried "Touché! after the bursting of a German shell.
It was worth while to spend an evening, and a louis, at Maxim's, or at Henry's, to see the company that came to dine there when the German army was still entrenched within sixty miles of Paris. They were not crowded, those places of old delight, and the gaiety had gone from them, like the laughter of fair women who have passed beyond the river. But through the swing doors came two by two, or in little groups, enough people to rob these lighted rooms of loneliness. Often it was the woman who led the man, lending him the strength of her arm. Yet when he sat at table-this young officer of the Chasseurs in sky- blue jacket, or this wounded Dragoon with a golden casque and long horse-hair tail-hiding an empty sleeve against the woman's side, or concealing the loss of a leg beneath the table cloth, it was wonderful to see the smile that lit up his face and the absence of all pain in it.
"Ah ! comme il fait bon!
I heard the sigh and the words come from one of these soldiers-not an officer but a fine gentleman in his private's uniform-as he looked round the room and let his brown eyes linger on the candle-lights and the twinkling glasses and snow-white table-cloths. Out of the mud and blood of the trenches, with only the loss of an arm or a leg, he had come back to this sanctuary of civilization from which ugliness is banished and all grim realities.
So, for this reason, other soldiers came on brief trips to Paris from the front. They desired to taste the fine flavour of civilization in its ultra-refinement, to dine delicately, to have the fragrance of flowers about them, to sit in the glamour of shaded lights, to watch a woman's beauty through the haze of cigarette- smoke, and to listen to the music of her voice. There was always a woman by the soldier's side, propping her chin in her hands and smiling into the depths of his eyes. For the soul of a Frenchman demands the help of women, and the love of women, however strong his courage or his self-reliance. The beauty of life is to him a feminine thing, holding the spirit of motherhood, romantic love and comradeship more intimate and tender than between man and man. Only duty is masculine and hard. .
The theatres and music-halls of Paris opened one by one in the autumn of the first year of war. Some of the dancing girls and the singing girls found their old places behind the footlights, unless they had coughed their lungs away, or grown too pinched and plain. But for a long time it was impossible to recapture the old spirit of these haunts, especially in the music-halls, where ghosts passed in the darkness of deserted promenoirs, and where a chill gave one gooseflesh in the empty stalls,
Paris was half ashamed to go to the Folies Bergères or the Renaissance, while away la-bas men were lying on the battlefields or crouching in the trenches. Only when the monotony of life without amusement became intolerable to people who have to laugh so that they may not weep, did they wend their way to these places for an hour or two. Even the actors and actresses and playwrights of Paris felt the grim presence of death not far away. The old Rabelaisianism was toned down to something like decency and at least the grosser vulgarities of the music-hall stage were banned by common consent.
The little indecencies, the sly allusions, the candour of French comedy remained, and often it was only stupidity which made one laugh. Nothing on earth could have been more ridiculous than the little lady who strutted up and down the stage, in the uniform of a British Tommy, to the song of "Tipperary," which she rendered as a sentimental ballad, with dramatic action. When she lay down on her front buttons and died a dreadful death from German bullets, still singing in a feeble voice : "Good-bye, Piccadilly; farewell, Leicester Square," there were British officers in the boxes who laughed until they wept, to the great astonishment of . a French audience, who saw no humour in the exhibition.
The kilted ladies of the Olympia would have brought a blush to the cheeks of the most brazen-faced Jock from the slums of Glasgow, though they were received with great applause by respectable French bourgeois with elderly wives. And yet the soul of Paris, the big thing in its soul, the spirit which leaps out to the truth and beauty of life, was there even in Olympia, among the women with the roving eyes, and amidst all those fooleries.
Between two comic "turns "a patriotic song would come. They were not songs of false sentiment, like those patriotic ballads which thrill the gods in London, but they had a strange and terrible sincerity, not afraid of death nor of the women's broken hearts, nor of the grim realities of war, but rising to the heights of spiritual beauty in their cry to the courage of women and the pity of God. They sang of the splendours of sacrifice for France and of the glory of that young manhood which had offered its blood to the Flag. The old Roman spirit breathed through the verses of these music-hall songs, written perhaps by hungry poets au sixieme 6tage, but alight with a little flame of genius. The women who sang them were artists. Every gesture was a studied thing. Every modulation of the voice was the result of training and technique. But they too were stirred with a real emotion, and as they sang something would change the audience, some thrill would stir them, some power, of old ideals, of traditions strong as natural instinct, of enthusiasm for their country of France, for whom men will gladly die and women give their heart's blood, shook them and set them on fire.
The people of Paris, to whom music is a necessity of life, were not altogether starved, though orchestras had been abolished in the restaurants. One day a well-known voice, terrific in its muscular energy and emotional fervour, rose like a trumpet-call in a quiet courtyard off the Rue St. Honoré. It was the voice of "Bruyant Alexandre" - "Noisy Alexander" - who had new songs to sing about the little soldiers of France and the German vulture and the glory of the Tricolour. Giving part of his proceeds to the funds for the wounded, he went from courtyard to courtyard and could trace his progress by vibration of tremendous sound-and other musicians followed him, so that often when I came up the Rue Royale or along quiet streets between the boulevards, I was tempted into the courts by the tinkle of guitars and women's voices singing some ballad of the war with a wonderful spirit and rhythm which set the pulses beating at a quicker pace. In the luncheon hour crowds of midinettes surrounded the singers, joining sometimes in the choruses, squealing with laughter at jests in verse not to be translated in sober English prose and finding a little moisture in their eyes after a song of sentiment which reminded them of the price which must be paid for glory by young men for whose homecoming they had waited through the winter and the spring.
No German soldier came through the gates of Paris, and no German guns smashed a way through the outer fortifications. But now and then an enemy came over the gates and high above the ramparts, a winged messenger of death, coming very swiftly through the sky, killing a few mortals down below and then retreating into the hiding-places behind the front. There were not many people who saw the "Taube "-the German dove-make its swoop and hurl its fire-balls. There was just a speck in the sky, a glint of metal and the far-humming of an aerial engine. Perhaps it was a French aviator coming back from a reconnaissance over the enemy's lines on the Aisne, or taking a joy ride over Paris to stretch his wings. The little shop-girls looked up and thought how fine it would be to go riding with him, as high as the stars- with one of those keen profiled men who have such roguish eyes when they come to earth. Frenchmen strolling down the boulevards glanced skywards and smiled. They were brave lads who defended the air of Paris. No Boche would dare to poke the beak of his engine above the housetops. . . But one or two men were uneasy and stood with strained eyes. There was something peculiar about the cut of those wings en haut. They seemed to bend back at the tips, unlike a Bl6riot, with its straight spread of canvas.
"Sapristi! une Taube! . . . Attention, mon vieux!"
In some side streets of Paris a hard thing hit the earth and opened it with a crash. A woman crossing the road with a little girl-she had just slipped out of her courtyard to buy some milk-felt the ground rise up and hit her in the face. It was very curious. Such a thing had never happened to her before. "Suzette? " She moaned and cried, "Suzette?
But Suzette did not answer. The child was lying sideways, with her face against the kerbstone. Her white frock was crimsoning with a deep and spreading stain. Something had happened to one of her legs. It was broken and crumpled up, like a bird's claw.
"Suzette! Ma petite ! 0, mon Dieu !"
A policeman was bending over little Suzette. Then he stood straight and raised a clenched fist to the sky.
"Sale Boche! . . . Assassin! . . . Sale cochon !"
People came running up the street and out of the courtyards. An ambulance glided swiftly through the crowd. A little girl whose name was Suzette was picked up from the edge of the kerbstone out of a pool of blood. Her face lay sideways on the policeman's shoulder, as white as a sculptured angel on a tombstone. It seemed that she would never walk again, this little Suzette, whose footsteps had gone dancing through the streets of Paris. It was always like that when a Taube came. That bird of death chose women and children as its prey, and Paris cursed the cowards who made war on their innocents. But Paris was not afraid. The women did not stay indoors because between one street and another they might be struck out of life, without a second's warning. They glanced up to the sky and smiled disdainfully. They were glad even that a Taube should come now and then, so that they, the women of Paris, might run some risks in this war and share its perils with their men, who every day in the trenches la-bas, faced death for the sake of France. "Our chance of death is a million to one," said some of them. "We should be poor things to take fright at that
But there were other death-ships that might come sailing through the sky on a fair night without wind or moon. The enemy tried to affright the soul of Paris by warnings of the destruction coming to them with a fleet of Zeppelins. But Paris scoffed. "Je m'en fiche de vos Zeppelins !" said the spirit or Paris. As the weeks passed by and the months, and still no Zeppelins came, the menace became a jest. The very word of Zeppelin was heard with hilarity. There were comic articles in the newspapers, taunting the German Count who had made those gas-bags. There were also serious articles proving the impossibility of a raid by airships. They would be chased by French aviators as soon as they were sighted. They would be like the Spanish Armada, surrounded by the little English warships, pouring shot and shell into their unwieldy hulks. Not one would escape down the wind.
The police of Paris, more nervous than the public, devised a system of signals if Zeppelins were sighted. There were to be bugle-calls throughout the city, and the message they gave would mean "lights out ! " in every part of Paris. For several nights there were rehearsals of darkness, without the bugle-calls, and the city was plunged into abysmal gloom, through which people who had been dining in restaurants lost themselves in familiar streets and groped their way with little shouts of laughter as they bumped into substantial shadows.
Paris enjoyed the adventure, the thrill of romance in the mystery of darkness, the weird beauty of it. The Tuileries gardens, without a single light except the faint gleams of star-dust, was an enchanted place, with the white statues of the goddesses very vague and tremulous in the shadow world above banks of invisible flowers which drenched the still air with sweet perfumes. The narrow streets were black tunnels into which Parisians plunged with an exquisite frisson of romantic fear. High walls of darkness closed about them, and they gazed up to the floor of heaven from enormous gulfs. A man on a balcony au cinquieme was smoking a cigarette, and as he drew the light made a little beacon-flame, illumining his face before dying out and leaving a blank wall of darkness. Men and women took hands like little children playing a game of bogey-man. Lovers kissed each other in this great hiding-place of Paris, where no prying eyes could see. Women's laughter, whispers, swift scampers of feet, squeals of dismay made the city murmurous. La Ville Lumi&e was extinguished and became an unlighted sepulchre thronged with ghosts. But the Zeppelins had not come, and in the morning Paris laughed at last night's jest and said, C'est idiot.
But one night - a night in March-people who had stayed lip late by their firesides, talking of their sons at the front or dozing over the Temps, heard a queer music in the streets below, like the horns of elf-land blowing. It came closer and louder, with a strange sing-song note in which there was something ominous.
"What is that? " said a man sitting up in an easy-chair and looking towards a window near the Boulevard St. Germain.
The woman opposite stretched herself a little wearily. "Some drunken soldier with a bugle. . . . Good gracious, it is one o'clock and we are not in bed!
The man had risen from his chair and flung the window open. "Listen . . They were to blow the bugles when the Zeppelins came. . . . Perhaps. There were other noises rising from the streets of Paris. Whistles were blowing, very faintly, in far places. Firemen's bells were ringing, persistently.
"L'alerte !" said the man. coming !"
The lamp at the street corner was suddenly extinguished, leaving absolute darkness.
"Fermez vos rideaux !" shouted a hoarse voice.
"The Zeppelins are coming.
Footsteps went hurriedly down the pavement and then were silent.
"It is nothing !" said the woman; "a false alarm !"
Paris was very quiet now. The bugle-notes were as faint as far-off bells against the wind. But there was no wind, and the air was still. It was still except for a peculiar vibration, a low humming note, like a great bee booming over clover fields. It became louder and the vibration quickened, and the note was like the deep stop of an organ. Tremendously sustained was the voice of a great engine up in the sky, invisible. Lights were searching for it now. Great rays, like immense white arms, stretched across the sky, trying to catch that flying thing. They crossed each other, flying backwards and forwards, travelled softly and cautiously across the dark vault as though groping through every inch of it for that invisible danger. The sound of guns shocked into the silence, with dull reports. From somewhere in Paris a flame shot up, revealing in a quick flash groups of shadow figures at open windows and on flat roofs.
"Look! " said the man who had a view across the Boulevard St. Germain.
The woman drew a deep breath.
"Yes, there is one of them I . . And another I . How fast they travel !"
There was a black smudge in the sky, blacker than the darkness. It moved at a great rate, and the loud vibrations followed it. For a moment or two, touched by one of the long rays of light it was revealed - a death-ship, white from stem to stern and crossing the sky like a streak of lightning. It went into the darkness again and its passage could only be seen now by some little flames which seemed to fall from it. They went out like French matches, sputtering before they died.
In all parts of Paris there were thousands of people watching the apparition in the sky. On the heights of the Sacré Coeur inhabitants of Montmartre gathered and thrilled to the flashing of the searchlights and the bursting of shrapnel.
The bugle-calls bidding everybody stay indoors had brought Paris out of bed and out of doors. The most bad-tempered people in the city were those who had slept through the alerte, and in the morning received the news with an incredulous " Quoi ? Non, ce n'est pas possible ! Les Zeppelins sont venus ? Je n'ai pas entendu le moindre bruit I
Some houses were smashed in the outer suburbs. A few people had been wounded in their beds. Unexploded bombs were found in gardens and rubbish heaps. After all, the Zeppelin raid had been a grotesque failure in the fine art of murder, and the casualty list was so light that Paris jeered at the death- ships which had come in the night. Count Zeppelin was still the same old blageur. His precious airships were ridiculous.
A note of criticism crept into the newspapers and escaped the censor. Where were the French aviators who had sworn to guard Paris from such a raid ? There were unpleasant rumours that these adventurous young gentlemen had taken the night off with the ladies of their hearts. It was stated that the telephone operator who ought to have sent the warning to them was also making la bombe, or sleeping away from his post. It was beyond a doubt that certain well-known aviators had been seen in Paris restaurants until closing time. . . . Criticism was killed by an official denial from General Galienni, who defended those young gentlemen under his orders, and affirmed that each man was at the post of duty. It was a denial which caused the scandalmongers to smile as inscrutably as Mona Lisa.
The shadow of war crept through every keyhole in Paris, and no man or woman shut up in a high attic with some idea or passion could keep out the evil genii which dominated the intellect and the imagination, and put its cold touch upon the senses, through that winter of agony when the best blood in France slopped into the waterlogged trenches from Flanders to the Argonne. Yet there were coteries in Paris which thrust the Thing away from them as much as possible, and tried to pretend that art was still alive, and that philosophy was untouched by these brutalities.
In the Restaurant des Beaux-Arts and other boites where men of ideas pander to the baser appetites for 1 franc 50 (vin compris), old artists, old actors, sculptors whose beards seemed powdered with the dust of their ateliers, and litterateurs who will write you a sonnet or an epitaph, a wedding speech, or a political manifesto in the C imest style of French poesy and prose (a little archaic in expression) assembled nightly just as in the days of peace.
Some of the youngest faces who used to be grouped about the tables had gone, and now and then there was silence for a second as one of the habitu6s would raise his glass to the memory of a soldier of France (called to the colours on that fatal day in August) who had fallen on the Field of Honour. The ghost of war stalked even into the Restaurant des Beaux-Arts, but his presence was ignored as much as might be by these long-haired Bohernians with grease-stained clothes and unwashed hands who discussed the spirit of Greek beauty, the essential viciousness of women, the vulgarity of the bourgeoisie, the prose of Anatole France, the humour of Rabelais and his successors, and other eternal controversies with a pretext of their old fire. if the theme of war slipped in it was discussed with an intellectual contempt, and loose-lipped old men found a frightful mirth in the cut-throat exploits of Moroccans and Senegalese, in the bestial orgies of drunken Boches, and in the most revolting horrors of bayonet charges and the corps-a-corps. It was as though they wanted to reveal the savagery of war to the last indescribable madness of its lust.
"Pah! " said an old cabotin, after one of these word-pictures. " This war is the last spasm of the world's barbarity. Human nature Will finish with it this time - Let us talk of the women we have loved. I knew a splendid creature once-she had golden hair, I remember .."
One of these shabby old gentlemen touched me on the arm.
"Would Monsieur care to have a little music? It is quite close here, and very beautiful. It helps one to forget the war, and all its misery."
I accepted the invitation. I was more thirsty for music than for vin ordinaire Or cordiale Médoc. Yet I did not expect very much round the corner of a restaurant frequented by shabby intellectuals. . . . That was my English stupidity.
A little group of us went through a dark courtyard lit by a high dim lantern, touching a sculptured figure in a far recess.
"Pas de bruit," whispered a voice through the gloom.
Up four flights of wooden stairs we came to the door of a flat which was opened by a bearded man holding a lamp.
"Soyez les bienvenus I " he said, with a strongly foreign accent.
It was queer, the contrast between the beauty of his salon into which we went and the crudeness of the restaurant from which we had come. It was a long room, with black wall-paper, and at the far end of it was a shaded lamp on a grand piano. There was no other light, and the faces of the people in the room, the head of a Greek god on a pedestal, some little sculptured figures on an oak table, and some portrait studies on the walls, were dim and vague until my eves became accustomed to this yellowish twilight. No word was spoken as we entered, and took a chair if we could find one. None of the company here seemed surprised at this entry of strangers - for two of us were that even conscious of it. A tall, cleat- shaven young man with a fine, grave face - certainly not French - was playing the violin, superbly; I could not see the man at the piano who touched the keys with such tenderness. Opposite me was another young man, with the curly hair and long, thin face of a Greek faun nursing a violoncello, and listening with a dream in his eyes. A woman with the beauty of some northern race sat in an oak chair with carved arms, which she clasped tightly. I saw the sparkle of a ring on her right hand. The stone had caught a ray from the lamp and was alive with light. Other people with strange, interesting faces were grouped about this salon, absorbed in that music of the violin, which played something of spring, so lightly, so delicately, that our spirit danced to it, and joy came into one's senses as on a sunlit day, when the wind is playing above fields of flowers. Afterwards the 'cellist drew long, deep chords from his great instrument, and his thin fingers quivered against the thick strings, and made them sing grandly and nobly. Then the man at the piano played alone, after five minutes of silence, in which a few words were spoken, about some theme which would work out with strange effects.
I will try it," said the pianist. " It amuses me to improvise. If it would not worry you
It was not wearisome. He played with a master-touch, and the room was filled with rushing notes and crashing harmonies. For a little time I could not guess the meaning of their theme. Then suddenly I was aware of it. It was the tramp of arms, the roar of battle, the song of victory And of death. Wailing voices came across fields of darkness, and then, with the dawn, birds sang, while the dead lay still.
The musician gave a queer laugh.
"Any good ?"
C'est la guerre ! " said a girl by my side. She shivered a little.
They were Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes in that room, with a few Parisians among them. Students to whom all life is expressed in music, they went on with their work in spite of the war. But war had touched their spirit too, with its great tragedy, and found expression in their art. It was but one glimpse behind the scenes of Paris, in time of war, and in thousands of other rooms, whose window-curtains were drawn to veil their light from hostile aircraft, the people who come to Paris as the great university of intellect and emotion, continued their studies and their way of life, with vibrations of fiddle-strings and scraping of palettes and adventures among books.
Even the artists' clubs had not all closed their doors, though so many young painters were mixing blood with mud and watching impressionistic pictures of ruined villages through the smoke of shells. Through cigarette smoke I gazed at the oddest crowd in one of these clubs off the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Slavs with matted hair, American girls in Futurist frocks, Italians like figures out of pre-Raphaelite frescoes, men with monkey faces and monkey manners, men with the faces of medieval saints a little debauched by devilish temptations, filled the long bare room, spoke in strange tongues to each other, and made love passionately in the universal language and in dark corners provided with ragged divans. A dwarf creature perched on a piano stool teased the keys of an untuned piano and drew forth adorable melody, skipping the broken notes with great agility. . . . It was the same old Paris, even in time of war.
The artists of neutral countries who still kept to their lodgings in the Quartier Latin and fanned the little flame of inspiration which kept them warm though fuel is dear, could not get any publicity for their works. There was no autumn or spring salon in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, where every year till war came one might watch the progress of French art according to the latest impulse of the time stirring the emotions of men and women who claim the fullest liberties even for their foolishness. War had killed the Cubists, and many of the Futurists had gone to the front to see the odd effects of scarlet blood on green grass. The Grand Palais was closed to the public. Yet there were war pictures here, behind closed doors, and sculpture stranger than anything conceived by Marinetti. I went to see the show, and when I came out again into the sunlight of the gardens5 I felt very cold, and there was a queer trembling in my limbs.
The living pictures and the moving statuary in the Grand Palais exhibited the fine arts of war as they are practised by civilized men using explosive shells, with bombs, shrapnel, hand-grenades, mitrailleuses, trench-mines, and other ingenious instruments by which the ordinary designs of God may be re-drawn and re-shaped to suit the modern tastes of men. I saw here the Spring Exhibition of the Great War, as it is catalogued by surgeons, doctors, and scientific experts in wounds and nerve diseases.
It was not a pretty sight, and the only thing that redeemed its ugliness was the way in which all those medical men were devoting themselves to the almost hopeless task of untwisting the contorted limbs of those victims of the war spirit, and restoring the shape of man botched by the artists of the death machines.
In the Great Hall through which in the days of peace pretty women used to wander with raised eyebrows and little cries of " Ciel ! " (even French women revolted against the most advanced among the Futurists), there was a number of extraordinary contrivances of a mechanical kind which shocked one's imagination, and they were being used by French soldiers in various uniforms and of various grades, with twisted limbs, and paralytic gestures. One young man, who might have been a cavalry officer, was riding a queer bicycle which never moved off its pedestal, though its wheels revolved to the efforts of its rider. He pedaled earnestly and industriously, though obviously his legs had stiffened muscles, so that every movement gave him pain. Another man, "bearded like the bard," sat with his back to the wall - clutching at two rings suspended from a machine and connected with two weights. Monotonously and with utterly expressionless eyes, he raised and lowered his arms a few inches or so, in order to bring back their vitality, which had been destroyed by a nervous shock. Many wheels were turning in that great room and men were strapped to them, as though in some torture chamber, devilishly contrived. In this place, however, the work was to defeat the cruelties of War the Torturer, after it had done its worst with human flesh.
The worst was in other rooms, where poor wrecks of men lay face downwards in hot-air boxes, where they stayed immovable and silent as though in their coffins, or with half their bodies submerged in electrolysed baths. Nurses were massaging limbs which had been maimed and smashed by shell-fire, and working with fine and delicate patience at the rigid fingers of soldiers, some of whom had lost their other arms, so that unless they could use their last remaining fingers, three or four to a hand, they would be useless for any work in the world. But most pitiable of all were the long rows of the paralysed and the blind, who lay in the hospital ward, motionless and sightless, with smashed faces. In the Palace of Fine Arts this statuary might have made the stones weep.
At last the spring song sounded through the streets of Paris with a pagan joy.
There was a blue sky over the city-so clear and cloudless that if any Zeppelin came before the night, it would have been seen a mile high, as a silver ship, translucent from stem to stern, sailing in an azure sea. One would not be scared by one of these death-ships on such a day as this, nor believe, until the crash came, that it would drop down destruction upon this dream city, all aglitter in gold and white, with all its towers and spires clean-cut against the sky.
It was hard to think of death and war; because spring had come with its promise of life. There was a thrill of new vitality throughout the city. I seemed to hear the sap rising in the trees along the boulevards. Or was it only the wind plunking at invisible harp-strings, or visible telephone wires, and playing the spring song in Parisian ears?
In the Tuileries gardens, glancing aslant the trees, I saw the first green of the year, as the buds were burgeoning and breaking into tiny leaves. The white statues of goddesses - a little crumbled and weather - stained after the winter-were bathed in a pale sunshine. Psyche stretched out her arms, still half-asleep, but waking at the call of spring. Pomona offered her fruit to a young student, who gazed at her with his black hat pushed to the back of his pale forehead.
Womanhood, with all her beauty carved in stone, in laughing and tragic moods, in the first grace of girlhood, and in full maturity, stood poised here in the gardens of the Tuileries, and seemed alive and vibrant with this new thrill of life which was pulsing in the moist earth and whispering through the trees, because spring had come to Paris.
There was no doubt about it. The flower girls who had been early to les Halles came up the rue Royale one morning with baskets full of violets, so that all the street was perfumed as though great ladies were passing and wafting scent in their wake. Even the old cocher who drove me down the rue Cambon had put on a new white hat. He had heard the glad tidings, this old wrinkled man, and he clacked his whip to let others know, and gave the glad-eye-a watery, wicked old eye-to half a dozen midinettes who came dancing along the rue St. Honoré. They knew without his white hat, and the clack of his whip. The ichor of the air had got into their blood. They laughed without the reason for a jest, and ran, in a skipping way, because there was the Spring-song in their feet.
Along the Champs i§lys6es there was the pathway of the sun. Through the Arc de Triomphe there was a glamorous curtain of cloth of gold, and arrows of light struck and broke upon the golden figures of Alexander's Bridge. Looking back I saw the dome of the Invalides suspended in space, like a cloud in the sky. It was painted over to baffle the way of hostile aircraft, but the paint was wearing off, and the gold showed through again, glinting and flashing in the air-waves.
The Seine was like molten liquid and the bridges which span it a down times or more between Notre Dame and the Pont de l'Alma were as white as snow, and unsubstantial as though they bridged the gulfs of dreams. Even the great blocks of stone and the balks of timber which lie on the mud banks below the Quai d'Orsay - it is where the bodies of suicides float up and bring new tenants to the Morgue-were touched with the beauty of this lady day, and invited an artist's brush.
The Eiffel Tower hung a cobweb in the sky. Its wires had been thrilling to the secrets of war, and this signal station was barricaded so that no citizens might go near, or pass the sentries pacing there with loaded rifles. But now it was receiving other messages, not of war. The wireless operator with the receiver at his ears must have heard those whispers coming from the earth: "I am spring. . . . The earth is waking. . . . I am coming with the beauty of life. . . . I am gladness and youth. . .
Perhaps even the sentry pacing up and down the wooden barricade heard the approach of some unseen presence when he stood still that morning and peered through the morning sunlight. " Halt ! who goes there ? " . . . " A friend." .
Pass, friend, and give the countersign."
The countersign was "Spring," and where the spirit of it stepped, golden crocuses had thrust up through the warming earth, not far from where, a night or two before, fire-balls dropped from a hostile air-craft. Oh, strange and tragic spring, of this year 1915 ! Was it possible that, while Nature was preparing her beauty for the earth, and was busy in the ways of life, men should be heaping her fields with death, and drenching this fair earth with blood ?
One could not forget. Even in Paris away from the sound of the guns which had roared in my ears a week before, and away from the moan of the wounded which had made my ears ache worse than the noise of battle, I could not forget the tragedy of all this death which was being piled up under the blue sky, and on fields all astir with the life of the year.
In the Tuileries gardens the buds were green. But there were black figures below them. The women who sat there all the afternoon, sewing, and knitting, or with idle hands in their laps, were clothed in widows' black. I glanced into the face of one of these figures as I passed. She was quite a girl to whom the spring-song should have called with a loud, clear note of joy. But her head drooped and her eyes were steadfast as they stared at the pathway, and the sunshine brought no colour into her white cheeks. . . . She shivered a little, and pulled her crepe veil closer about her face.
Down the broad pathway between the white statues came a procession of cripples. They wore the uniforms of the French army, and were mostly young men in the prime of life, to whom also the spring should have brought a sense of vital joy, of intense and energetic life. But they dragged between their crutches while their lopped limbs hung free. A little further off in a patch of sunshine beyond the wall of the Jeu de Paumes, sat half a dozen soldiers of France with loose sleeves pinned to their coats, or with only one leg to rest upon the ground. One of them was blind and sat there with his face to the sun, staring towards the fountain of the nymphs with sightless eyes. Those six comrades of war were quite silent, and did not "fight their battles o'er again. Perhaps they were sad because they heard the spring- song, and knew that they could never step out again to the dance-tune of youth.
And yet, strangely, there was more gladness than sadness in Paris now that spring had come, in spite of the women in black, and the cripples in the gardens. Once again it brought the promise of life. "Now that the spring is here," said the old cab-driver in the white hat, "France will soon be free and the war will soon be over."
This hopefulness that the fine weather would end the war quickly was a splendid superstition which buoyed up many hearts in France. Through the long, wet months of winter the women and the old people had agonized over the misery of their soldiers in the trenches. Now that the earth was drying again, and the rain clouds were vanishing behind a blue sky, there was new hope, and a wonderful optimism in the spirit of the people. "The spring will bring victory to France" was an article of faith which comforted the soul of the little midinette who sang on her way to the Rue Lafayette, and the French soldier who found a wild flower growing in his trench.
I have written many words about the spirit of Paris in war. Yet all these little glimpses I have given reveal only the trivial characteristics of the city. Through all these episodes and outward facts, rising above them to a great height of spirituality, the soul of Paris was a white fire burning with a steady flame. I cannot describe the effect of it upon one 5 senses and imagination. I was only conscious of it, so that again and again, in the midst of the crowded boulevards, or in the dim aisles of Notre Dame, or wandering along the left bank of the Seine, I used to say to myself, silently or aloud: "These people are wonderful! . . . They hold the spirit of an unconquerable race. . . . Nothing can smash this city of intellect, so gay, and yet so patient in suffering, so emotional and yet so stoical in pride and courage!" There. was weakness, and vanity, in Paris. The war had not cleansed it of all its vice or of all its corruption, but this burning wind of love for La Patrie touched the heart of every man and woman, and inflamed them so that sell-interest was almost consumed, and sacrifice for the sake of France became a natural instinct. The ugliest old hag in the markets shared this love with the most beautiful woman of the salons; the demi- mondaine with her rouged lips, knelt in spirit, like Mary Magdalene before the cross, and was glad to suffer for the sake of a pure and uncarnal love, symbolized to her by the folds of the Tricolour or by the magic of that word, "La France !" which thrilled her soul smirched by the traffic of the streets.
The most money-loving bourgeois, who had counted every son and cheated every other one, was lifted out of his meanness and materialism and did astounding things, without a murmur, abandoning his business to go back to the colours as a soldier of France, and regarding the ruin of a life's ambitions without a heartache so that France might be free. There were embusqués in Paris - perhaps hundreds, or even thousands of young men who searched for soft jobs which would never take them to the firing-line, or who pleaded ill- health with the successful influence of a family or political "pull." Let that be put down honestly, because nothing matters save the truth. But the manhood of Paris as a whole, after the first shudder of dismay, the first agonies of this wrench from the safe, familiar ways of life, rose superbly to the call of la Paine en danger! The middle-aged fathers of families and the younger sons marched away singing and hiding their sadness under a mask of careless mirth. The boys of eighteen followed them in the month of April, after nine months of war, and not a voice in Paris was raised to protest against this last and dreadful sacrifice. Paris cursed the stupidity of the war, cried "how long, 0 Lord, how long ?" as it dragged on in its misery, with accumulating sums of death, was faint at the thought of another winter campaign, and groaned in spirit when its streets were filled with wounded men and black-garbed women. But though Paris suffered with the finer agonies of the sensitive intelligence, it did not lose faith or courage, and found the heart to laugh sometimes, in spite of all its tears.
City of beauty, built out of the dreams of great artists and great poets, I have watched you through this time of war, walking through your silent streets in the ordeal of most dreadful days, mingling with your crowds when a multitude of cripples dragged their lopped limbs through the sunlight, studying your moods of depression, and hopefulness, and passionate fervour, wandering in your churches, your theatres and your hospitals, and lingering on mild nights under the star-strewn sky which made a vague glamour above your darkness; and always my heart has paid a homage to the spirit which after a thousand years of history and a thousand million crimes, still holds the fresh virtue of ardent youth, the courage of a gallant race, and a deathless faith in the fine, sweet, gentle things of art and life. The Germans, however great their army, could never have captured the soul of Paris.