Liege Holds Firm
( Originally Published 1915 )
LIEGE holds firm. Exactly why I should be fool enough today to think that the war is over before it has begun I cannot analyze. And yet I do feel that way. Every one feels that way. When Madame placed my coffee on the zinc bar this morning, her face was smiling.
"My boys will soon be home," she said simply.
This took my breath away. I did not dare to contradict her. I have n't contradicted any one the whole day long. I started out not wanting to be a spoil sport. I have ended up by becoming intoxicated myself. This is Paris on the seventh day of August. From the depths of woe we have mounted to the heights of joy. It is only three days since the mad crowds besieged the grocery stores for provisions. Now we see on the walls at every street corner a proclamation of the Prefect of Police, urging the housewives to go to the Halles Centrales to buy the provisions that are spoiling there for want of purchasers. But Paris wants no green vegetables these days. The people are too busy eating up the rice and lentils and dried beans they laid in on Monday and Tuesday.' Foolish, is it not, to buy fresh vegetables when you have money invested in groceries for which there is no further need?
For Liége holds firm. LIEGE HOLDS FIRM. To walk down the Rue de Rennes, through the Rue de Seine, across the Pont des Arts, across the courtyard of the Louvre, and through the Rue Croix des Petits Champs towards the Bibliothèque Nationale this morning was like an Easter Sunday in Russia (with the regrettable omission of the privilege of receiving and bestowing kisses; for one sees a lot of pretty girls upon that walk). "Liége holds firm!" The cry is like,and I say it with all reverence the "Christ is Risen !" of the Russian Easter. For it is a resurrection of hope that was buried for the moment under the paralysis of fear. The Parisians see in the German check at Liége nothing less than salvation.
Small wonder that we read in the morning's papers a decree of the President of the Republic, bestowing upon the city of Liége the Cross of the Legion of Honor.
I could not force myself to get interested in Ottoman history of the fourteenth century at the library this morning. My engagement to lunch with the Artist was not until half past twelve. But I found myself turning in my books, handing my bulletin de sortie to the severe individual with the cocked hat who guards the door of the Salle de Travail, and hurrying out into the Rue Richelieu—at eleven o'clock! Unfaithfulness in the pursuit of knowledge, this is, on the part of one who is posing as a research scholar.
Some impulse drove me to the nearest police station, where I wrote out a telegram to my wife, stating that Liége is the tomb of German pride. I received a smile of warm approval with the censor's rubber stamp. The same smile greeted me when I handed in my telegram at the post office. "Liége," I wired, "is the tomb of German pride." It is so. Paris is freed from the nightmare of a bloody war.
And then, I said to myself, "Is it so?" I thought of the laborious years of German preparation their methods and their army, of which I have been privileged to know and see so much. What will the sober political judgment, the keen intuition of a wife who knows Europe to the sub-subchancelleries think of such a telegram?
Feeling that I needed the opinion of a neutral, I dropped in upon the Lawyer. He was very busy with a desk full of important documents, and had no time to talk it over. But he had time to beam upon me for a brief moment.
"It is finished, finished, I tell you ! The Germans intended to fall on Paris like a whirlwind! Liége has fooled them. All the plans of the German General Staff gone up in smoke !" And he waved his pen aloft as he turned back in his swivel chair to his work.
"See you tonight, or tomorrow night, at five. We'll celebrate. To think of living forty-four years under an idle menace !"
As I walked through the Tuileries to my rendezvous with the Artist, I thought to myself that the Lawyer was a pretty poor sort of neutral to have gone to for an opinion. When it comes to Germans, his keen legal mind is worthless. For who insult or belittle or attack France are to him beyond the pale of civilization. Since the war started, he is the first whom I remember to have heard call the Germans by their now common name of Barbarians.
So, as I walked along the Rue du Bac, I thought of the Italian Grocer, whose Chianti and black olives have no equal in Paris. I found him slicing Yorkshire ham for an excited mite of a grandmother. She was pouring into his ears the virtues of the Belgian nation. He was agreeing with her, and there was a sincerity in his tone that bespoke more than the perfunctory assent of the seller to the buyer's whim.
As the little woman went out of the shop, clutching and waving her package of ham with the hand free of the stick, and still paeaning, the Italian Grocer turned from the till with an enquiring expression that took in all his attractive étalage, from the hams hanging on the rafters to the kegs of pickles and herrings nestling close to the sawdust.
"No, I want nothing today, Luigi. Madame is still in the country, and I am eating out. But, on the strength of our friendship begun so many years ago through the discovery of the fact that you could supply American canned sugar corn, I ask your opinion on the significance of the German check at Liége."
"I have served about two hundred customers this morning," he replied, "and you know how frequency of assent brings belief."
"There 's where I am," I complained. "I have got so enthusiastic about this Liége business that I telegraphed my wife this morning that it 's all up with the Germans."
"So it is," he cried.
"So it is," I echoed.
A crowd of half-grown boys was passing in the street, carrying Belgian flags and making a rather unsuccessful, but none the less hearty, attempt to sing the Brabançonne. The Italian Grocer and I parted with a warm handshake. A man of understanding, the Italian Grocer.