Paris Prepares To Receive The Germans
( Originally Published 1915 )
NOW that we have got rid of our pessimists and the wealthy panicky element, the spirit of uneasiness and of unrest has left Paris. It would seem as if we had been exorcised, and the devil having been cast out, we find ourselves calm and peaceful and clothed in our right minds. We are accustomed to the fact that the Government and some of our newspapers have gone to Bordeaux, that the Bank of France and the other great establishments of credit have taken their gold and fled, that our armies have been thrown back in confusion to Chantilly, and that we may at any minute hear the German cannon renewing the tragic and humiliating days of 1870. We are quite accustomed, also, to daily visits of the German aeroplanes.
The soul of Paris presents a most interesting study to the psychologist. On the surface there is all the effervescence, the excitability, the fickleness, the changeableness, and the mad rush after pleasures.
The tourist sees, and the general reader hears, only of this side of Paris. This is natural, because it is the side in evidence. But the more one lives among Parisians, the more one sees that underneath this exterior, which attracts and disgusts as well, there is a solid substructure of purity, of industry, and of devotion to higher ideals. This comes out in the hour of trial.,
Never, in our generation, has Paris been put to the test that it faces today. Deep disappointment has followed several weeks of exultation. A week of uncertainty is now followed by the knowledge that overwhelming disasters have attended every effort of the Allies to check the German advance. In spite of this, and in spite of the suffering and anxiety from which not a single French family is free, Paris, the supposedly excitable, fickle and careless, is showing to the world a coolness and a sang-froid that no other city could surpass.
This morning I woke with a start, and jumped out of bed. A heavy rumble, quite different from that of a tram going up the hill on the Boulevard St. Michel or of a train in the Sceaux-Robinson subway, made me tingle with excitement.
"The German cannon at last !" I exclaimed as I hurried into my clothes. "The great days are beginning."
But I had forgotten to look out of the window.
The fig-trees in my little garden were passing on raindrops to the ground, scattering, fitful raindrops, but large ones. In my little patch of sky above, I could see the clouds marshaling for an assault. Thunder ! I had been deceived. What you are expecting, you see, you hear, you feel, you taste The senses are deceivers, slaves of the brain rather than its masters.,
I dressed more slowly after I had made up my mind what the rumble really was.
But the old idea kept coming back. Perhaps it was both thunder and cannon. I wanted it to be both! A hot flush of shame and confusion came over me when I made this confession to myself. Who wants to see the Germans beaten more than I dol And yet, I would like them to come within sight of the goal, and then lose out. So much greater the punishment for the covetousness that prompted the crime. That is the excuse. Is it the real reason of my secret wish?
As I went to the terrace of the Café du Panthéon for my morning coffee, the Druggist, whose three sons are at the front, hailed me.
"Did it fool you, too?" he asked.
"That unusually deep thunder."
"Yes, it did."
"I was disappointed when I found I was wrong," declared the Druggist. "If only we could have had the satisfaction of beating them right here!"
I felt better. Was the Druggist more honest, though, in his reason than I ? The craving for excitement, the love of being in a tight place, is innate. Did you ever see a child chuckling with the fear of his delight, afraid of the dancing bear and yet irresistibly drawn towards it; putting his hand a second time on the stove; crying with disappointment when the big dog from whose bark he shrank ran away without coming near; continuing to tease an older child although fully aware of the rising indignation that would bring upon him condign punishment? Some childish traits we do not outgrow. At least I do not. Nor does the Druggist.
While I am deciding whether my glass of coffee needs a second lump of sugar, two artists come up, bubbling over with the story of how they were painting in the Valley of the Ourcq when the Germans appeared. They were among the refugees who arrived in Paris while the froussards were leaving it.
"Have you been out to the fortifications to see what they are doing against the coming of the Germans?" asked the Artist with the Vandyke beard.
"A man in my line has to work daylight hours to earn a living and has n't time like you painters to go gallivanting ."
The Artist with the full moon face, who has no more hair on the top of his head than he has on the front of it, broke in.
"You ought to go," he said succinctly.
After lunch, I thought of taking a nap. Sunday afternoon is the one blessed time for that. But the words of the Artist with the fullmoon face came back to me. "You ought to go," he had said. I felt certain that there was little to be seen: for I had waved aside the stories I had been hearing for several days of cutting down the Bois de Boulogne and of blowing up houses. Nor could I figure out just what good a system of defense at the inner fortifications would do. And the nervousness about spies made me feel that an attempt to survey the outer fortifications was not just the restful Sunday afternoon occupation I wanted after a hard week's work.
Versailles ! The inspiration suddenly came to me that the Dentist was at Versailles, mobilized for Red Cross service, I had heard. Versailles it would be. I might see more there than at St. Cloud or St. Germain-en-Laye and I should have a valid excuse for wandering into forbidden precincts. I tried the Gare du Montparnasse : no trains. Then I went to the Gare des Invalides : no trains. So I thought of the tram from the Louvre. Five minutes in a taxi, and I was there.
One minute at the end of the tramway line sufficed to destroy my hopes of getting out of the city Versailles ward today. There were at least a thousand waiting in a line that extended to the Pont Neuf not a thousand serious minded investigators, but a thousand gay, laughing, Sunday attired Parisians. The men were mostly grandpas or boys, but the women were of all ages from seven months to seventy. They had baskets and boxes for the Sunday evening meal, and I heard numerous expressions of hope that they would get near enough to hear the Boches, if not to see them.
"Just think," exclaimed one Parisienne in her twenties, the size of whose three girls showed that she must have married very young; "we may see the Uhlans coming in, and my children will never forget that as long as they live."
I took the Metro to Porte Maillot, with the thought of St. Germain-en-Laye. In front of Luna Park, there was another crowd of the same hopeless length, en queue for the St. Germain tramway. No hope here.
As I turned away, I collided with the Archæologist. What luck! The last time I had seen him, he was showing me the walls of Jericho that had not been thrown down at the blasts of trumpets. He had unearthed them. There they were. The Bible was wrong. Through years I have remembered the look of disgust on his face, as he stood on the hot plain of the Jordan, running a handkerchief over his forehead, and shrugging his shoulders with despair at the stupidity of one whose faith could not be shaken.
"You here in Paris !" he exclaimed. "Where are your Turkish friends?"
"You here in Paris !" I echoed. "Where are your Austrian friends ? I should think you had lived and dug with them long enough to have become Viennese by now."
"For coffee's sake, I would be Viennese until death," he answered. "Not in Jericho, you understand, but on the Graben. But Paris is the old love, even if Marguery is dead, and Voisin's menu without prices is far more dangerous than it used to be. I was having some plates for my new book made here when the war broke out, and I have stopped on, waiting for a chance to do Red Cross field work. They don't seem to want me, in spite of my M.D., which I have resuscitated out of the past. So I am waiting, just as Paris is waiting. Flow long, and for what, I do not know."
The Archaeologist had also in mind. St. Germain-en-Laye. We spent half an hour wandering around Neuilly to find a taxi for the trip. Three chauffeurs would not go at our terms. So we decided to do the inner fortifications on foot.
Right at the Porte Maillot, before our eyes, we saw the elaborate preparations that we found afterwards to be practically the same at other gates. I suppose the same work has been done at all the fifty-eight. The gate is closed and boarded up. Little holes for inspection and rifle barrels have been cut every few inches. Outside the gate ditches have been dug for a distance of a hundred feet zigzag across the road. In the intervening spaces rows of iron X spikes, whose presence is concealed by branches of trees, form another barrier. On the sides of the road trees, cut down whole, have been placed ready to be thrown across the road at the moment of alarm. In the mounds of dirt formed by the excavations from each trench and the displaced paving stones, posts have been planted. These are connected. by a tangle of barbed wire.
We walked along the fortifications through the Bois to the gate at the end of the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne. The trees that had grown up in profusion over the talus have been cut down. At every angle, bags of cement are piled up to shelter the pickets. On the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne we found a taxi that took us around the fortifications as far as the Porte d'Orléans.
At the Porte d'Orleans several stone houses opposite the gate have been blown up to prevent their possible use as a shelter for the enemy's sharpshooters and machine guns. The little ticket office and waiting room for the Bourg-la-Reine steam tram way, that used to stand hard under the bastion wall at the left of the gate, has been demolished. The windows of the octroi bureau are bricked up. Barbed wire is lavished on the watermain that makes an unintentional bridge across the moat not far from the Porte d'Orleans toward Gentilly, and a solid wall of masonry is being built where the main reaches the fortifications. Meurtrières are being left in this wall. On either side of the gate itself, bags of cement give a crenelated form to the top of the talus.
We walked around at will, poking our canes into the foliage that concealed the X spikes, discussing the efficiency of the crossfire that could be directed from the top of the fortifications, and then followed the holiday crowd up to the very bags of cement behind which our soldiers are to shield themselves. A good natured policeman shooed us away. We walked a hundred feet farther along, and climbed up behind the policeman's back. He was merely "keeping the crowd moving." When he went to one spot, the crowd was entering the forbidden zone at the place he had just abandoned.
"Like all policemen the world over," I commented.
"No," said the Archeologist. "Leave out Germany. Fancy if this were Berlin preparing for a siege. Do you suppose a couple of foreigners like you and me, and all this holiday crowd, would be allowed to inspect the defenses this way? If we persisted, after we had been warned off, we should find ourselves at the Hauptquartier and in a very unpleasant pickle. A German crowd would know better than to try to climb up this slope to these defenses. It would never enter their heads !"
"A quoibon? A quoi bon?" a huge grandfather, who might have been a piano-mover in earlier days, was muttering near us. He hit the cement bags with his stick, and then turned his palms heavenward in an eloquent gesture of contempt. This is the Parision way. Be skeptical, but never unpleasantly skeptical. The grandfather was not scowling when he spoke. He was smiling. As he went away, he stooped to picked some dandelions.
" Evidently," said the Archaeologist, "the authorities are going to take no chances. They know as well as our citoyen there that these defenses have n't the ghost of a show against artillery, but they have studied to advantage what has been happening in Belgium, what probably is happening now in our own northern cities. These defenses are against automobiles blindés and Uhlans. A sudden dash through a city gate, a few soldiers once inside what could the two millions of Paris do? If they killed the soldiers, the Germans would claim that the civilian population had fired upon their troops. That would give them all the excuse they needed to bombard the city. I find the preparations very sensible. Lucky for Paris that she has these old fortifications."
I agreed heartily with the Archaeologist. There is some good in these elaborate preparations at the gates of the city, and I see how, in a totally different way from their original intention, the deep moat and walls are a blessing to the city. For they make us secure against German trickery.
Only two months ago I was writing an article in warm commendation of a scheme presented to the Municipal Council to do away with these obsolete fortifications in order that a boulevard encircling the city might be constructed in their place. "These ditches and stone walls are laughable," the Paris architects maintained. "They have absolutely no military value, and the space they take, together with the zone beyond them to which our military law forbids the granting of free title, deprives Paris of hundreds of acres of valuable land. We shall tear down the walls and fill in the moat, and use the space for a boulevard and for cheap dwellings for working men." "Amen !" all Paris cried. Some such similar agitation among architects has been going on for years about the Eiffel Tower. But today we say, "God bless the old landmarks : they are still our bulwark and our defense."
I mentioned the architects and the Eiffel Tower to the Archaeologist, and that put it into our heads to go over to the Trocadéro to see if by any chance the Tauben would be resuming their evening visit at six o'clock.
When we got there we saw that thousands of others had thought of the same thing. The quays on either side of the river, the Pont d'Iena, and especially the garden of the Trocadéro, the best vantage point everywhere Paris endimanchée was in evidence, Paris chattering and laughing, Paris searching the heavens. Enterprising boys, with opera glasses to rent, reaped a rich harvest. Half a dozen French aeroplanes were making circles around the Tower. We could not deceive ourselves into believing that they might possibly be les Boches.
We waited an hour, ever hopeful, ever watching for specks on the horizon that might grow larger until they took the form of shining Tauben. All around us were expressions of disgust. Up to the approach of dinner hour and darkness, there was still the ardent hope, "Pourvu qu'ils viennent!" If they would only come !
This is how Bernhardi's policy of "frightfulness" has affected Paris.