Paris - The Eiffel Tower
( Originally Published 1915 )
A WEEK ago, when the telegraph boy brought me a little blue slip, he looked at me with contempt and pity when I gave him a franc for a tip. I suppose he went down the stairs shaking his head and muttering, "These Americans !"
But if he had known what the three magic words "PARIS DEMAIN MATIN" meant to me, he would not have wondered that I thought the message he brought was worth a franc. I had been warned beforehand that I might expect good news, for a recent letter from the Girl had said: "Germans or no Germans, aeroplanes or no aeroplanes, I am going to bring the children home from St. Jean-du-Doigt. Do you realize that I have had four months f the Brittany coast, and two months f it without you, that newspapers are generally a week old, and that it is getting as cold without as it is within?"
So they came one morning at breakfast time, the Girl and the three babies, Yvonne, the French maid, to whom Paris is as water is to a fish, Dorothy, the English nurse, who was seeing Paris before she had seen London, and three cabs full of luggage that the Girl had managed to get through in spite of the formal order limiting travelers these days to one valise per ticket.
In their compartment on the train, a French officer, returning to the battle front after recovering from several shrapnel wounds, had expressed his surprise that any woman would be taking her children into the city when the Germans were still so near.
"Are n't you afraid?" he asked.
"No," answered the Girl.
"Because I have faith in you and the others who will stand successfully between my children and the Germans!"
"I shall fight better for that," he said. And his eyes filled with tears.
The Girl would edit this out f my manuscript, claiming that it has nothing to do with Paris during the German invasion, and especially with this chapter on the Eiffel Tower.
But I do not agree with her. It is not recorded here, because I am proud of the Girl, but because it gives the reason for the successful defense o Paris. There are a hundred thousand women in Paris today who feel just as the Girl feels, and who have let their faith be known to the red-trousered heiroes in the Argonne, on the Aisne, and in the North from Compiègne to Ostend. Faith is, in the last analysis, the undaunted spirit in the line of defense.
Then, too, this little story explains why the Girl and I were driving home tonight from a dinner party in Passy. Since the war began I have had no meal with friends except in restaurants. Now that the Girl has come home, the normal life begins again, and I resume wrestling with cufflinks and refractory ties.
We missed the last Metro, I after walking the length of the Rue de Passy without meeting a soul on the street. And it was only five minutes after ten !
We were saved by a lonely horse cab that came ambling through the Rue Franklin, just as we had made up our minds to a long walk across Paris. After we were in the cab (experience makes the inhabitant of the Montparnasse Quarter wait until he gets in a cab before giving his address) we told the lord of the box where we lived. He groaned and resigned himself. The horse would have groaned still louder had he understood.
We had not gone far when we began to doubt whether luck was with us after all: for the horse slipped and fell, breaking a bit f the shaft, in front of the Trocadéro.
It was pitch dark and beginning to rain. I got out to help the cocher. The Girl stayed put. A cab is yours as long as you are in it. Two policemen came up. We unharnessed the horse and tried to urge him to his feet. Several soldiers joined the group. Each of us had his way of doing the trick. Naturally we disagreed. The horse did nothing. He was quite comfortable where he was.
While we were engaged for half an hour in this most difficult feat known to the world of horsemanship, we had ample reason not to regret our mishap. For we had stopped within the military zone, and saw the precautions that were being taken to guard the Eiffel Tower against Zeppelins and other hostile aircraft.
In the garden of the Trocadero, behind a palisade, vertically shooting cannon have been placed, and artillerymen are on constant guard throughout the night, following the tireless sweep f the great electric projectors that pierce through the darkness in every direction around the tower.
"Since August second we have been Stationed here," a soldier told us. "We are ready for the attack when it comes. But two months have passed, and the Germans have not shown themselves. It is n't very exciting. We got all over that after the first few days. Oh, how we wish they would come! Here we are en panne, glued to this unholy spot. 'We feel like the British sailors that are cruising off Heligoland. The Germans don't give us a chance. This is not war."
"But there is always hope," put in another cheerfully. "The raid is bound to come, and if we got changed we would be cursing our luck not to have been in at the defense of the Eiffel Tower."
Our horse was on his feet now. They were reharnessing him, and patching up the broken shaft. The cocher hinted that we might possibly find another cab. But there are times when it pays to be a foreigner. It is so easy to pretend that you do not understand. We wanted to get home, and were not foolish enough to abandon our only hope of traveling Montparnasseward.
I emptied my cigarette case. We were profuse in our thanks. With mille remercîments to the policemen and bonne chance to the soldiers, we resumed our journey over the Pont d'Iena.
Within a mile radius around the Eiffel Tower there was not a single light. That the cocher could find his way was a marvel to us. Perhaps he could n't. We remembered that the stables of the Compagnie Génerale des Voitures Parisiennes is just the other side of the Invalides. Was there ever a horse that did not know the way home? So far,so good, and after that we might have the lights again.
As we passed under the shadow of the tower, if it can be said to have a shadow at night, the search-lights, meeting lower than their wont or their intention, placed before us the outline of the huge steel frame, tapering upward a thousand feet, and surmounted by a flag.
"The raid will surely come why surely?" The Girl was pondering over the confident statement of the soldier. "Is it just the hope of the one who watches, or has he reason for his belief? Why surely?"
She had spoken in French. The cocher caught her question. He turned in his seat. The horse, glad f the chance, stopped short.
Pointing with his whip toward the tower, the coachman said,
"Why not 'surely'? They must know, as we know, that the Eiffel Tower is today the hope of Paris, the indomitable symbol of our power to resist and to prevail. See the symbol, M'sieu-dame? It points heavenward. It soars above Faris. It keeps us in communication with the outside world. Let Paris be besieged again ! Who knows'? That may come. But it is not as in 1870. Then we were dependent upon carrier pigeons and balloons. Now, come what may, Paris can flash out to the provinces the message that all is well, and that victory is sure. More than that, it is the Eiffel Tower that enables us to give the lie to the German bulletins. It is our mouth : they cannot shut it. It is the voice of France : they cannot drown it."
The cocher paused to push back on his head as nearly straight as it ever could be placed there the oilcloth hat which had almost fallen off during the emphatic nods that punctuated every sentence of his oration.
"And do you know, M'sieu-dame, that some fool architects have long been urging that we take down the Eiffel Tower because it is not, in their opinion, artistic? We shall never hear that talk again!"
The horse started. The cocher said no more. Nor did we.