The Soul of the War
Part 5 out of 7
clay even to their top-hats. They were earth-men, with the blanched
look of creatures who live below ground. The news was whispered
about that the enemy was breaking through along one of the roads
between Nieuport and Fumes. Then the report came through that
they had smashed their way to Wulpen.
"We hope to hold them," said an officer, "but Fumes is in danger. It
will be necessary to clear out."
In consequence of this report, it was necessary to be quick in the
search for the wounded who had been struck down in the night. The
medical men were resolute not to go until they had taken in all that
could be removed in time. A little crowd of them were in a small villa
along the road. They were wet to the skin and quite famished, without
food or drink. A car went back for hot coffee and bread. There was
another group of wounded in the church of Oudecapelle.
They were bad cases, and lay still upon the straw. I shall never forget
the picture of that church with its painted statues huddled together
and toppled down. St. Antony of Padua and St. Sebastian were there
in the straw, and crude pictures of saints on the walls stared down
upon those bodies lying so quiet on the floor. It was the house of
God, but it was filled with the cruelty of life, and those statues seemed
to mock at men's faith.
In Furnes the news of the danger seemed to have been scented by
the people. They had packed a few things into bundles and made
ready to leave their homes. In the convent where I had helped to
wash up and to fill the part of odd-job man when I was not out with
the "flying column," the doctors and nurses were already loading the
ambulances with all their cases. The last of the wounded was sent
away to a place of safety. He was a man with a sabre-cut on his
head, who for four days had lain quite still, with a grave Oriental face,
which seemed in the tranquillity of death.
A group of nuns pleaded to be taken with the doctors and nurses.
They could help in the wards or in the kitchen--if only they might go
and escape the peril of the German soldiery.
I went across the square to my own room in the Hotel de la
Couronne, and put a few things together. A friend of mine who helped
me told the story of a life--the mistakes that had nearly ruined it, the
adventures of a heart. A queer conversation at a time when the
enemy was coming down the road. The guns were very loud over
Wulpen way. They seemed to be coming closer. Yet there was no
panic. There was even laughter in the courtyard of the hospital, where
the doctors tossed blankets, mattresses, food stores and stoves into
the motor ambulances. They were in no hurry to go. It was not the
first or the second time they had to evacuate a house menaced by
the enemy. They had made a habit of it, and were not to be flurried. I
helped the blue-eyed boy to lift the great stoves. They were "some"
weight, as an American would say, and both the blue-eyed boy and
myself were plastered with soot, so that we looked like sweeps calling
round for orders. I lifted packing-cases which would have paralysed
me in times of peace and scouted round for some of the thousand
and one things which could not be left behind without a tragedy. But
at last the order was given to start, and the procession of motor-cars
started out for Poperinghe, twenty-five kilometres to the south. Little
by little the sound of the guns died away, and the cars passed
through quiet fields where French troops bivouacked round their
camp fires. I remember that we passed a regiment of Moroccans half-
way to Poperinghe, and I looked back from the car to watch them
pacing up and down between their fires, which glowed upon their red
cloaks and white robes and their grave, bearded Arab faces. They
looked miserably cold as the wind flapped their loose garments, but
about these men in the muddy field there was a sombre dignity which
took one's imagination back to the day when the Saracens held
It was dark when we reached Poperinghe and halted our cars in the
square outside the Town Hall, among a crowd of other motor-cars,
naval lorries, mitrailleuses, and wagons. Groups of British soldiers
stood about smoking cigarettes and staring at us curiously through
the gloom as though not quite sure what to make of us. And indeed
we must have looked an odd party, for some of us were in khaki and
some of us in civilian clothes with Belgian caps, and among the
crowd of nurses was a carriage-load of nuns, huddled up in their
black cloaks. Warning of our arrival in Poperinghe should have been
notified to the municipal authorities, so that they might find lodgings
for us; and the Queen of the Belgians had indeed sent through a
message to that effect, But there seemed to be some trouble about
finding a roof under which to lay our heads, and an hour went by in
the square while the lady in charge of the domesticity department
interviewed the mayor, cajoled the corporation, and inspected
convents down side streets. She came back at last with a little
hopelessness in her eyes.
"Goodness knows where we can go! There doesn't seem room for a
mouse in Poperinghe, and meanwhile the poor nurses are dying of
hunger. We must get into some kind of shelter."
I was commissioned to find at least a temporary abode and to search
around for food; not at all an easy task in a dark town where I had
never been before and crowded with the troops of three nations. I
was also made the shepherd of all these sheep, who were
commanded to keep their eyes upon me and not to go astray but to
follow where I led. It was a most ridiculous position for a London
journalist of a shy and retiring nature, especially as some of the
nurses were getting out of hand and indulging in private adventures.
One of them, a most buxom and jolly soul, who, as she confided to
me, "didn't care a damn," had established friendly relations with a
naval lieutenant, and I had great trouble in dragging her away from
his engaging conversation. Others had discovered a shop where hot
coffee was being served to British soldiers who were willing to share it
with attractive ladies. A pretty shepherd I looked when half my flock
had gone astray!
Then one of the chauffeurs had something like an apoplectic stroke in
the street--the effect of a nervous crisis after a day under shell-fire--
and with two friendly "Tommies" I helped to drag him into the Town
Hall. He was a very stout young man, with well-developed muscles,
and having lain for some time in a state of coma, he suddenly
became delirious and tried to fight me. I disposed of him in a
backyard, where he gradually recovered, and then I set out again in
search of my sheep. After scouting about Poperinghe in the
darkness, I discovered a beer tavern with a fair-sized room in which
the party might be packed with care, and then, like a pocket patriarch
with the children of Israel, I led my ladies on foot to the place of
sanctuary and disposed the nuns round the bar, with the reverend
mother in the centre of them, having a little aureole round her head
from the glamour of the pewter pots. The others crowded in anyhow
and said in a dreadful chorus, like Katherine in "The Taming of the
Shrew," "We want our supper!"
A brilliant inspiration came to me. As there were British troops in
Poperinghe, there must also be British rations, and I had glorious
visions of Maconochie and army biscuits. Out into the dark streets
again I went with my little car, and after wayside conversations with
British soldiers who knew nothing but their own job, found at last the
officer in charge of the commissariat. He was a tall fellow and rather
haughty in the style of a British officer confronted abruptly with an
unusual request. He wanted to know who the devil I was, not liking
my civilian clothes and suspecting a German spy. But he became
sympathetic when I told him, quite dishonestly, that I was in charge of
a British field ambulance under the Belgian Government, which had
been forced to evacuate Fumes as the enemy had broken through
the Belgian lines. I expressed my gratitude for his kindness, which I
was sure he would show, in providing fifty-five army rations for fifty-
five doctors and nurses devilishly hungry and utterly destitute. After
some hesitation he consented to give me a "chit," and turning to a
sergeant who had been my guide down a dark street, said: "Take this
officer to the depot and see that he gets everything he wants." It was
a little triumph not to be appreciated by readers who do not know the
humiliations experienced by correspondents in time of war.
A few minutes later the officer came padding down the street after
me, and I expected instant arrest and solitary confinement to the end
of the war. But he was out for information.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, very politely, "but would you mind
giving me a sketch of the military situation round your part?"
I gave him an outline of the affair which had caused the Belgian
headquarters staff to shift from Furnes, and though it was, I fancy,
slightly over-coloured, he was very much obliged... So, gloriously, I
drove back to the beer-tavern with the fifty-five army rations which
were enough to feed fifty-five starving people for a week, and was
received with cheers. That night, conscious of good deeds, I laid
down in the straw of a school-house which had been turned into a
barracks, and by the light of several candle-ends, scribbled a long
dispatch, which became a very short one when the British censor had
worked his will with it.
After all, the ambulance column did not have to stay in Poperinghe,
but went back to their old quarters, with doctors, nurses and nuns,
and all their properties. The enemy had not followed up its
advantages, and the Belgian troops, aided by French marines and
other French troops who now arrived in greater numbers, thrust them
back and barred the way to Dunkirk. The waters of the Yser had
helped to turn the tide of war. The sluice-gates were opened and
flooded the surrounding fields, so that the enemy's artillery was
bogged and could not move.
For a little while the air in all that region between Furnes and Nieuport,
Dixmude and Pervyse, was cleansed of the odour and fume of battle.
But there were other causes of the German withdrawal after one day,
at least, when it seemed that nothing short of miraculous aid could
hold them from a swift advance along the coast. The chief cause was
to be found at Ypres, where the British army sustained repeated and
most desperate onslaughts. Ypres was now the storm centre in a ten-
days' battle of guns, which was beyond all doubt the most ferocious
and bloody episode in the first year of war on the Western side of
operations. Repeatedly, after being checked in their attacks by a
slaughter which almost annihilated entire regiments, the Germans
endeavoured to repair their shattered strength by bringing up every
available man and gun for another bout of blood. We know now that it
was one of the most awful conflicts in which humanity has ever
agonized. Heroism shone through it on both sides. The resistance
and nerve strength of the British troops were almost superhuman;
and in spite of losses which might have demoralized any army,
however splendid in valour, they fought on with that dogged spirit
which filled the trenches at Badajoz and held the lines of Torres
Vedras, a hundred years before, when the British race seemed to be
stronger than its modern generation.
There were hours when all seemed lost, when it was impossible to
bring up reserves to fill the gaps in our bleeding battalions, when so
many dead and wounded lay about and so few remained to serve the
guns and hold the trenches that another attack pushed home would
have swept through our lines and broken us to bits. The cooks and
the commissariat men took their places in the trenches, and every
man who could hold a rifle fired that day for England's sake, though
England did not know her peril.
But the German losses were enormous also, and during those ten
days they sacrificed themselves with a kind of Oriental valour, such
as heaped the fields of Omdurman with Soudanese. The Kaiser was
the new Mahdi for whom men died in masses, going with fatalistic
resignation to inevitable death. After a lull for burning and burial, for
the refilling of great gaps in regiments and divisions, the enemy
moved against us with new masses, but again death awaited them, in
spite of all their guns, and the British held their ground.
They held their ground with superb and dauntless valour, and out of
the general horror of it all there emerges the fine, bright chivalry of
young officers and men who did amazing deeds, which read like fairy
tales, even when they are told soberly in official dispatches. In this
slaughter field the individual still found a chance now and then of
personal prowess, and not all his human qualities had been
annihilated or stupefied by the overwhelming power of artillery.
The town of Ypres was added to the list of other Belgian towns like
those in which I saw the ruin of a nation.
It existed no longer as a place of ancient beauty in which men and
women made their homes, trustful of fate. Many of its houses had
fallen into the roadways and heaped them high with broken bricks
and shattered glass. Others burned with a fine, fierce glow inside the
outer walls. The roofs had crashed down into the cellars. All between,
furniture and panelling and household treasures, had been burnt out
into black ash or mouldered in glowing embers.
The great Cloth Hall, which had been one of the most magnificent
treasures of ancient architecture in Europe, was smashed and
battered by incessant shells, so that it became one vast ruin of
broken walls and fallen pillars framed about a scrapheap of twisted
iron and calcined statues, when one day later in the war I wandered
for an hour or more, groping for some little relic which would tell the
tale of this tragedy.
On my desk now at home there are a few long, rusty nails, an old lock
of fifteenth-century workmanship, and a little broken window with
leaded panes, which serve as mementoes of this destruction.
The inhabitants of Ypres had gone, unless some of them were hiding,
or buried in their cellars. A few dogs roamed about, barking or
whining at the soldiers who passed through the outskirts staring at all
this destruction with curious eyes, and storing up images for which
they will never find the right words.
Two young naval officers who went into Ypres one day tried to coax
one of the dogs to come with them. "Might have brought us luck,"
they said, hiding their pity for a poor beast. But it slunk back into the
ruin of its master's house, distrustful of men who did things not
belonging to the code of beasts.
Human qualities were not annihilated, I have said. Yet in a general
way that was the effect of modern weapons, and at Ypres masses of
men did not fight so much as stand until they died.
"We just wait for death," said a Belgian officer one night, "and wonder
if it doesn't reach us out of all this storm of shells. It is a war without
soul or adventure. In the early days, when I scoured the country with
a party of motor scouts there was some sport in it. Any audacity we
had, or any cunning, could get some kind of payment. The individual
"But now, in the business round Ypres, what can men do--infantry,
cavalry, scouts? It is the gun that does all the business heaving out
shells, delivering death in a merciless way. It is guns, with men as
targets, helpless as the leaves that are torn from these autumn trees
around us by a storm of hail. Our men are falling like the leaves, and
the ground is heaped with them, and there is no decisive victory on
either side. One week of death is followed by another week of death.
The position changes a little, that is all, and the business goes on
again. It is appalling."
The same words were used to me on the same night by a surgeon
who had just come from the station of Dunkirk, where the latest batch
of wounded--a thousand of them--were lying on the straw. "It is
appalling," he said. "The destruction of this shell-fire is making a
shambles of human bodies. How can we cope with it? What can we
do with such a butchery?"
Round about Furnes there was a fog in the war zone. In the early
dawn until the morning had passed, and then again as the dusk fell
and the mists crept along the canals and floated over the flat fields,
men groped about it like ghosts, with ghostly guns.
Shells came hurtling out of the veil of the mist and burst in places
which seemed hidden behind cotton-wool. An unseen enemy was
killing unseen men, and other guns replied into this grim, grey
mystery, not knowing what destruction was being done.
It was like the war itself, which was utterly shrouded in these parts by
a fog of mystery. Watching it close at hand (when things are more
difficult to sort into any order of logic) my view was clouded and
perplexed by the general confusion. A few days previously, it seemed
that the enemy had abandoned his attack upon the coast-line and the
country between Dixmude and Nieuport. There was a strange silence
behind the mists, but our aeroplanes, reconnoitring the enemy's lines,
were able to see movements of troops drifting southwards towards
the region round Ypres.
Now there was an awakening of guns in places from which they
seemed to be withdrawn. Dixmude, quiet in its ruins, trembled again,
and crumbled a little more, under the vibration of the enemy's shells,
firing at long range towards the Franco-Belgian troops.
Here and there, near Pervyse and Ramscapelle, guns, not yet
located, fired "pot shots" on the chance of killing something--soldiers
or civilians, or the wounded on their stretchers.
Several of them came into Furnes, bursting quite close to the
convent, and one smashed into the Hotel de la Noble Rose, going
straight down a long corridor and then making a great hole in a
bedroom wall. Some of the officers of the Belgian staff were in the
room downstairs, but not a soul was hurt.
French and Belgian patrols thrusting forward cautiously found
themselves under rifle-fire from the enemy's trenches which had
previously appeared abandoned. Something like an offensive
developed again, and it was an unpleasant surprise when Dixmude
was retaken by the Germans.
As a town its possession was not of priceless value to the enemy.
They had retaken a pitiful ruin, many streets of skeleton houses filled
with burnt-out ashes, a Town Hall with gaping holes in its roof, an
archway which thrust up from a wreck of pillars like a gaunt rib, and a
litter of broken glass, bricks and decomposed bodies.
If they had any pride in the capture it was the completeness of their
destruction of this fine old Flemish town.
But it was a disagreeable thing that the enemy, who had been thrust
back from this place and the surrounding neighbourhood, and who
had abandoned their attack for a time in this region, should have
made such a sudden hark-back in sufficient strength to regain ground
which was won by the Belgian and French at the cost of many
thousands of dead and wounded.
The renewed attack was to call off some of the allied troops from the
lines round Ypres, and was a part of the general shock of the
offensive all along the German line in order to test once more the
weakest point of the Allies' strength through which to force a way.
The character of the fighting in this part of Flanders entered into the
monotone of the winter campaign and, though the censorship was
blamed for scarcity of news, there was really nothing to conceal in the
way of heroic charges by cavalry, dashing bayonet attacks, or rapid
counter-movements by infantry in mass. Such things for which public
imagination craved were not happening.
What did happen was a howling gale shrieking across the dunes, and
swirling up the sands into blinding clouds, and tearing across the flat
marshlands as though all the invisible gods of the old ghost world
were racing in their chariots.
In the trenches along the Yser men crouched down close to the moist
mud to shelter themselves from a wind which was harder to dodge
than shrapnel shells. It lashed them with a fierce cruelty. In spite of all
the woollen comforters and knitted vests made by women's hands at
home, the wind found its way through to the bones and marrow of the
soldiers so that they were numbed. At night it was an agony of cold,
preventing sleep, even if men could sleep while shells were searching
for them with a cry of death.
The gunners dug pits for themselves, and when they ceased fire for a
time crawled to shelter, smoking through little outlets in the damp
blankets in which they had wrapped their heads and shoulders. They
tied bundles of straw round their legs to keep out the cold and packed
old newspapers inside their chests as breast-plates, and tried to keep
themselves warm, at least in imagination.
There was no battlefield in the old idea of the world. How often must
one say this to people at home who think that a modern army is
encamped in the fields with bivouac fires and bell tents? The battle
was spread over a wide area of villages and broken towns and
shattered farmhouses, and neat little homesteads yet untouched by
fire or shell. The open roads were merely highways between these
points of shelter, in which great bodies of troops were huddled--the
internal lines of communication connecting various parts of the
It was rather hot, as well as cold, at Oudecapelle and Nieucapelle,
and along the line to Styvekenskerke and Lom-bardtzyde. The
enemy's batteries were hard at work again belching out an
inexhaustible supply of shells. Over there, the darkness was stabbed
by red flashes, and the sky was zigzagged by waves of vivid
splendour, which shone for a moment upon the blanched faces of
men who waited for death.
Through the darkness, along the roads, infantry tramped towards the
lines of trenches, to relieve other regiments who had endured a spell
in them. They bent their heads low, thrusting forward into the heart of
the gale, which tore at the blue coats of these Frenchmen and
plucked at their red trousers, and slashed in their faces with cruel
whips. Their side-arms jingled against the teeth of the wind, which
tried to snatch at their bayonets and to drag the rifles out of their grip.
They never raised their heads to glance at the Red Cross carts
Some of the French officers, tramping by the side of their men,
shouted through the swish of the gale:
"Courage, mes petits!"
"II fait mauvais temps pour les sales Boches!"
In cottage parlours near the fighting lines--that is to say in the zone of
fire, which covered many villages and farmsteads, French doctors,
buttoned up to the chin in leather coats, bent over the newest
batches of wounded.
"Shut that door! Sacred name of a dog; keep the door shut! Do you
want the gale to blow us up the chimney?"
But it was necessary to open the door to bring in another stretcher
where a man lay still.
"Pardon, mon capitaine," said one of the stretcher-bearers, as the
door banged to, with a frightful clap.
Yesterday the enemy reoccupied Dixmude.
So said the official bulletin, with its incomparable brevity of eloquence.
For a time, during this last month in the first year of the war, I made
my headquarters at Dunkirk, where without stirring from the town
there was always a little excitement to be had. Almost every day, for
instance, a German aeroplane--one of the famous Taube flock--
would come and drop bombs by the Town Hall or the harbour, killing
a woman or two and a child, or breaking many panes of glass, but
never destroying anything of military importance (for women and
children are of no importance in time of war), although down by the
docks there were rich stores of ammunition, petrol, and material of
every kind. These birds of death came so regularly in the afternoon
that the Dunquerquoises, who love a jest, even though it is a bloody
one, instead of saying "Trois heures et demie," used to say, "Taube
et demie" and know the time.
There was a window in Dunkirk which looked upon the chief square.
In the centre of the square is the statue of Jean-Bart, the famous
captain and pirate of the seventeenth century, standing in his sea-
boots (as he once strode into the presence of the Sun-King) and with
his sword raised above his great plumed hat. I stood in the balcony of
the window looking down at the colour and movement of the life
below, and thinking at odd moments--the thought always thrust
beneath the surface of one's musings--of the unceasing slaughter of
the war not very far away across the Belgian frontier. All these people
here in the square were in some way busy with the business of death.
They were crossing these flagged stones on the way to the
shambles, or coming back from the shell-stricken towns, la bas, as
the place of blood is called, or taking out new loads of food for guns
and men, or bringing in reports to admirals and the staff, or going to
churches to pray for men who have done these jobs before, and now,
perhaps, lie still, out of it.
This square in Dunkirk contained many of the elements which go to
make up the actions and reactions of this war. It seemed to me that a
clever stage manager desiring to present to his audience the typical
characters of this military drama--leaving out the beastliness, of
course--would probably select the very people and groups upon
whom I was now looking down from the window. Motor-cars came
whirling up with French staff officers in dandy uniforms (the stains of
blood and mud would only be omitted by Mr. Willie Clarkson). In the
centre, just below the statue of Jean-Bart, was an armoured-car
which a Belgian soldier, with a white rag round his head, was
explaining to a French cuirassier whose long horse-hair queue fell
almost to his waist from his linen-covered helm. Small boys mounted
the step and peered into the wonder-box, into the mysteries of this
neat death-machine, and poked grubby fingers into bullet-holes which
had scored the armour-plates. Other soldiers--Chasseurs Alpins in
sky-blue coats, French artillery men in their dark-blue jackets, Belgian
soldiers wearing shiny top-hats with eye-shades, or dinky caps with
gold or scarlet tassels, and English Tommies in mud-coloured khaki--
strolled about the car, and nodded their heads towards it as though to
say, "That has killed off a few Germans, by the look of it. Better sport
than trench digging."
The noise of men's voices and laughter--they laugh a good deal in
war time, outside the range of shells--came up to the open window;
overpowered now and then by the gurgles and squawks of motor-
horns, like beasts giving their death-cries. With a long disintegrating
screech there came up a slate-grey box on wheels. It made a
semicircular sweep, scattering a group of people, and two young
gentlemen of the Royal Naval Air Service sprang down and shouted
"What-ho!" very cheerily to two other young gentlemen in naval
uniforms who shouted back "Cheer-o!" from the table under my
I knew all of them, especially one of the naval airmen who flies what
he calls a motor-bus and drops bombs with sea curses upon
the heads of any German troops he can find on a morning's
reconnaissance. He rubs his hand at the thought that he has "done
in" quite a number of the "German blighters." With a little luck he
hopes to nobble a few more this afternoon. A good day's work like
this bucks him up wonderfully, he says, except when he comes down
an awful whop in the darned old motor-bus, which is all right while she
keeps going but no bloomin' use at all when she spreads her skirts in
a ploughed field and smashes her new set of stays. Oh, a bad old
vixen, that seaplane of his! Wants a lot of coaxin'.
A battery of French artillery rattled over the cobblestones. The wheels
were caked with clay, and the guns were covered with a grey dust.
They were going up Dixmude way, or along to Ramscapelle. The
men sat their horses as though they were glued to the saddles. One
of them had a loose sleeve pinned across his chest, but a strong grip
on his bridle with his left hand. The last wheels rattled round the
corner, and a little pageant, more richly coloured, came across the
stage. A number of Algerian Arabs strode through the square, with a
long swinging gait. They were wearing blue turbans above the flowing
white "haik" which fell back upon their shoulders, and the white
burnous which reached to their ankles. They were dark, bearded
men; one of them at least with the noble air of Othello, the Moor, and
with his fine dignity.
They stared up at the statue of Jean-Bart, and asked a few questions
of a French officer who walked with a shorter step beside them. It
seemed to impress their imagination, and they turned to look back at
that figure with the raised sword and the plumed hat. Three small
boys ran by their side and held out grubby little hands, which the
Arabs shook, with smiles that softened the hard outlines of their
Behind them a cavalcade rode in. They were Arab chiefs, on little
Algerian horses, with beautifully neat and clean limbs, moving with
the grace of fallow deer across the flagged stones of Dunkirk. The
bridles glistened and tinkled with silver plates. The saddles were
covered with embroidered cloths. The East came riding to the West.
These Mohammedans make a religion of fighting. It has its ritual and
its ceremony--even though shrapnel makes such a nasty mess of
So I stood looking down on these living pictures of a city in the war
zone. But now and again I glanced back into the room behind the
window, and listened to the scraps of talk which came from the
lounge and the scattered chairs. There was a queer collection of
people in this room. They, too, had some kind of business in the job
of war, either to kill or to cure. Among them was a young Belgian
lieutenant who used to make a "bag" of the Germans he killed eaeh
day with his mitrailleuse until the numbers bored him and he lost
count. Near him were three or four nurses discussing wounds and
dying wishes and the tiresome hours of a night when a thousand
wounded streamed in suddenly, just as they were hoping for a quiet
cup of coffee. A young surgeon spoke some words which I heard as I
turned my head from the window.
"It's the frightful senselessness of all this waste of life which makes
one sick with horror..."
Another doctor came in with a tale from Ypres, where he had taken
his ambulances under shell-fire.
"It's monstrous," he said, "all the red tape! Because I belong to a
volunteer ambulance the officers wanted to know by what infernal
impudence I dared to touch the wounded. I had to drive forty miles to
get official permission, and could not get it then... And the wounded
were lying about everywhere, and it was utterly impossible to cope
with the numbers of them... They stand on etiquette when men are
crying out in agony! The Prussian caste isn't worse than that."
I turned and looked out of the window again. But I saw nothing of the
crowd below. I saw only a great tide of blood rising higher and higher,
and I heard, not the squawking of motor-horns, but the moans of men
in innumerable sheds, where they lie on straw waiting for the
surgeon's knife and crying out for morphia. I saw and heard, because
I had seen and heard these things before in France and Belgium.
In the room there was the touch of quiet fingers on a piano not too
bad. It was the music of deep, soft chords. A woman's voice spoke
"Oh! Some one can play. Ask him to play! It seems a thousand years
since I heard some music. I'm thirsty for it!"
A friend of mine who had struck the chords while standing before the
piano, sat down, and smiled a little over the notes.
"What shall it be?" he asked, and then, without waiting for the answer,
played. It was a reverie by Chopin, I think, and somehow it seemed to
cleanse our souls a little of things seen and smelt. It was so pitiful that
something broke inside my heart a moment. I thought of the last time
I had heard some music. It was in a Flemish cottage, where a young
lieutenant, a little drunk, sang a love-song among his comrades, while
a little way off men were being maimed and killed by bursting shells.
The music stopped with a slur of notes. Somebody asked, "What was
There was the echo of a dull explosion and the noise of breaking
glass. I looked out into the square again from the open window, and
saw people running in all directions.
Presently a man came into the room and spoke to one of the doctors,
"Another Taube. Three bombs, as usual, and several people
wounded. You'd better come. It's only round the corner."
It was always round the corner, this sudden death. Just a step or two
from any window of war.
Halfway through my stay at Dunkirk I made a trip to England and
back, getting a free passage in the Government ship Invicta, which
left by night to dodge the enemy's submarines, risking their floating
mines. It gave me one picture of war which is unforgettable. We were
a death-ship that night, for we carried the body of a naval officer who
had been killed on one of the monitors which I had seen in action
several times off Nieuport. With the corpse came also several
seamen, wounded by the same shell. I did not see any of them until
the Invicla lay alongside the Prince of Wales pier. Then a party of
marines brought up the officer's body on a stretcher. They bungled
the job horribly, jamming the stretcher poles in the rails of the
gangway, and, fancying myself an expert in stretcher work, for I had
had a little practice, I gave them a hand and helped to carry the
corpse to the landing-stage. It was sewn up tightly in canvas, exactly
like a piece of meat destined for Smithfield market, and was treated
with no more ceremony than such a parcel by the porters who
"Where are you going to put that, Dick?"
"Oh, stow it over there, Bill!"
That was how a British hero made his home-coming.
But I had a more horrible shock, although I had been accustomed to
ugly sights. It was when the wounded seamen came up from below.
The lamps on the landing-stage, flickering in the high wind, cast their
white light upon half a dozen men walking down the gangway in
Indian file. At least I had to take them on trust as men, but they
looked more like spectres who had risen from the tomb, or obscene
creatures from some dreadful underworld. When the German shell
had burst on their boat, its fragments had scattered upwards, and
each man had been wounded in the face, some of them being
blinded and others scarred beyond human recognition. Shrouded in
ship's blankets, with their heads swathed in bandages, their faces
were quite hidden behind masks of cotton-wool coming out to a point
like beaks and bloody at the tip. I shuddered at the sight of them, and
walked away, cursing the war and all its horrors.
After my return to Dunkirk, I did not stay very long there. There was a
hunt for correspondents, and my name was on the black list as a
man who had seen too much. I found it wise to trek southwards,
turning my back on Belgium, where I had had such strange
adventures in the war-zone. The war had settled down into its winter
campaign, utterly dreary and almost without episodes in the country
round Furnes. But I had seen the heroism of the Belgian soldiers in
their last stand against the enemy who had ravaged their little
kingdom, and as long as life lasts the memory of these things will
remain to me like a tragic song. I had been sprinkled with the blood of
Belgian soldiers, and had helped to carry them, wounded and dead. I
am proud of that, and my soul salutes the spirit of those gallant men--
the remnants of an army--who, without much help from French or
English, stood doggedly in their last ditches, refusing to surrender,
and with unconquerable courage until few were left, holding back the
enemy from their last patch of soil. It was worth the risk of death to
see those things.
The Soul Of Paris
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 cafe 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 ferme a cause de la mobilisation."
"M. Jean Cochin et quatre fils sont au front des armees."
"Tout le personel de cet etablissement est mobilise."
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
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 communiques
whatever the 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 Galieni, 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 cafes. 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 cafes 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 cafes 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
cafes 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
Herve signed his name three days a week to blank columns of
extraordinary eloquence. Georges Clemenceau 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
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
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 flat 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 sejour in Paris,
Amiens, Rouen, Orleans, Le Mans; laisser-passer to Boulogne,
Dieppe, Havre, Dunkirk, Aire-sur-Lys, Bethune and Hazebrouck;
British passports and papiers vises 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 sejour... 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
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 embusques 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!"
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 Cafe 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
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. Somehow, 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 Comedie 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
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 the 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
Republicains 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 la 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
all 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
counterpanes, the exquisite flowers and the painted ceilings, and
there beheld the beauty of women bending over their bedsides--
women whose beauty was famous through Europe--they murmured
"Allahu akbar" in devout ecstasy and believed themselves in a
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. "Politics!" 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 cafe chair to say "Nous sommes trahis!" There was
not even a word of rebuke for those who had doctored the official
communiques 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
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 Rue St. Honore 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 de 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 Pathe 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!" 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!" with damnable iteration, or break the
windows of Government offices in which bewildering regulations were
drawn up in miles of red tape.
"C'est la 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
Secours 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 Secours 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
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 la 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 light o' 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. Il 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-
"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 la France!" and then, touching her glass with her lips:
The other girl leaned forward and spoke with polite and earnest
"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 flats 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-rack, 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-bas, 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 Cafe de la 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
"Ulloh... Engleesh boy? Ahlright, 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
"Coupe gorge, comme ca. Sale boche, mort. Sa tete, voyez. Tombe
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 off 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!" she said; "a dirty race! I should be glad to cut a German
Outside the Invalides, motor-cars were always arriving at the
headquarters of General Galieni. French staff officers came at full
speed, with long shrieks on their motor-horns, and little crowds
gathered round the cars to question the drivers.
"Ca marche, la guerre? Il y a du progres?"
British officers came also, with dispatches from headquarters, and
two soldiers with loaded rifles in the back seats of cars 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-car.
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 o' 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
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 be seen in any
restaurant among comrades who had not yet received their baptism
of fire, had not cried "Touche!" 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 goose-
flesh in the empty stalls,
Paris was half ashamed to go to the Folies Bergeres 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 etage, 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. Honore. 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--one 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
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 clouds. 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 Bleriot, 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! O, 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 of 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 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 Lumiere 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 up 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...
There were other noises rising from the streets of Paris. Whistles
were blowing, very faintly, in far places. Firemen's bells were ringing,
"L'alerte!" said the man. "The Zeppelins are coming!"
The lamp at the street corner was suddenly extinguished, leaving
"Fermez vos rideaux!" shouted a hoarse voice.
Footsteps went hurriedly down the pavement and then were silent.
"It is nothing!" said the woman; "a false alarm!" "Listen!"
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.
The woman drew a deep breath.
"Yes, there is one of them! ... And another! ... 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
In all parts of Paris there were thousands of people watching the
apparition in the sky. On the heights of the Sacre 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
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 blagueur. His precious airships
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 Galieni,
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 finest 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 habitues 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 Bohemians 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,
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 Medoc. 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!" 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 eyes
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--or even conscious of it. A tall, clean-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
"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 mediaeval 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 gardens, 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 pedalled 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
Back to Full Books