Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Ch. 1: The Look of Paris

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 1
    (AUGUST, 1914--FEBRUARY, 1915)



    On the 30th of July, 1914, motoring north from Poitiers, we had
    lunched somewhere by the roadside under apple-trees on the edge of a
    field. Other fields stretched away on our right and left to a border
    of woodland and a village steeple. All around was noonday quiet, and
    the sober disciplined landscape which the traveller's memory is apt
    to evoke as distinctively French. Sometimes, even to accustomed
    eyes, these ruled-off fields and compact grey villages seem merely
    flat and tame; at other moments the sensitive imagination sees in
    every thrifty sod and even furrow the ceaseless vigilant attachment
    of generations faithful to the soil. The particular bit of landscape
    before us spoke in all its lines of that attachment. The air seemed
    full of the long murmur of human effort, the rhythm of oft-repeated
    tasks, the serenity of the scene smiled away the war rumours which
    had hung on us since morning.

    All day the sky had been banked with thunder-clouds, but by the time
    we reached Chartres, toward four o'clock, they had rolled away under
    the horizon, and the town was so saturated with sunlight that to
    pass into the cathedral was like entering the dense obscurity of a
    church in Spain. At first all detail was imperceptible; we were in a
    hollow night. Then, as the shadows gradually thinned and gathered
    themselves up into pier and vault and ribbing, there burst out of
    them great sheets and showers of colour. Framed by such depths of
    darkness, and steeped in a blaze of mid-summer sun, the familiar
    windows seemed singularly remote and yet overpoweringly vivid. Now
    they widened into dark-shored pools splashed with sunset, now
    glittered and menaced like the shields of fighting angels. Some were
    cataracts of sapphires, others roses dropped from a saint's tunic,
    others great carven platters strewn with heavenly regalia, others
    the sails of galleons bound for the Purple Islands; and in the
    western wall the scattered fires of the rose-window hung like a
    constellation in an African night. When one dropped one's eyes form
    these ethereal harmonies, the dark masses of masonry below them, all
    veiled and muffled in a mist pricked by a few altar lights, seemed
    to symbolize the life on earth, with its shadows, its heavy
    distances and its little islands of illusion. All that a great
    cathedral can be, all the meanings it can express, all the
    tranquilizing power it can breathe upon the soul, all the richness
    of detail it can fuse into a large utterance of strength and beauty,
    the cathedral of Chartres gave us in that perfect hour.

    It was sunset when we reached the gates of Paris. Under the heights
    of St. Cloud and Suresnes the reaches of the Seine trembled with the
    blue-pink lustre of an early Monet. The Bois lay about us in the
    stillness of a holiday evening, and the lawns of Bagatelle were as
    fresh as June. Below the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees sloped
    downward in a sun-powdered haze to the mist of fountains and the
    ethereal obelisk; and the currents of summer life ebbed and flowed
    with a normal beat under the trees of the radiating avenues. The
    great city, so made for peace and art and all humanest graces,
    seemed to lie by her river-side like a princess guarded by the
    watchful giant of the Eiffel Tower.

    The next day the air was thundery with rumours. Nobody believed
    them, everybody repeated them. War? Of course there couldn't be war!
    The Cabinets, like naughty children, were again dangling their feet
    over the edge; but the whole incalculable weight of
    things-as-they-were, of the daily necessary business of living,
    continued calmly and convincingly to assert itself against the
    bandying of diplomatic words. Paris went on steadily about her
    mid-summer business of feeding, dressing, and amusing the great army
    of tourists who were the only invaders she had seen for nearly half
    a century.

    All the while, every one knew that other work was going on also. The
    whole fabric of the country's seemingly undisturbed routine was
    threaded with noiseless invisible currents of preparation, the sense
    of them was in the calm air as the sense of changing weather is in
    the balminess of a perfect afternoon. Paris counted the minutes till
    the evening papers came.

    They said little or nothing except what every one was already
    declaring all over the country. "We don't want war--_mais it faut
    que cela finisse!_" "This kind of thing has got to stop": that was
    the only phase one heard. If diplomacy could still arrest the war,
    so much the better: no one in France wanted it. All who spent the
    first days of August in Paris will testify to the agreement of
    feeling on that point. But if war had to come, the country, and
    every heart in it, was ready.

    At the dressmaker's, the next morning, the tired fitters were
    preparing to leave for their usual holiday. They looked pale and
    anxious--decidedly, there was a new weight of apprehension in the
    air. And in the rue Royale, at the corner of the Place de la
    Concorde, a few people had stopped to look at a little strip of
    white paper against the wall of the Ministere de la Marine. "General
    mobilization" they read--and an armed nation knows what that means.
    But the group about the paper was small and quiet. Passers by read
    the notice and went on. There were no cheers, no gesticulations: the
    dramatic sense of the race had already told them that the event was
    too great to be dramatized. Like a monstrous landslide it had fallen
    across the path of an orderly laborious nation, disrupting its
    routine, annihilating its industries, rending families apart, and
    burying under a heap of senseless ruin the patiently and painfully
    wrought machinery of civilization...

    That evening, in a restaurant of the rue Royale, we sat at a table
    in one of the open windows, abreast with the street, and saw the
    strange new crowds stream by. In an instant we were being shown what
    mobilization was--a huge break in the normal flow of traffic, like
    the sudden rupture of a dyke. The street was flooded by the torrent
    of people sweeping past us to the various railway stations. All were
    on foot, and carrying their luggage; for since dawn every cab and
    taxi and motor--omnibus had disappeared. The War Office had thrown
    out its drag-net and caught them all in. The crowd that passed our
    window was chiefly composed of conscripts, the _mobilisables _of the
    first day, who were on the way to the station accompanied by their
    families and friends; but among them were little clusters of
    bewildered tourists, labouring along with bags and bundles, and
    watching their luggage pushed before them on hand-carts--puzzled
    inarticulate waifs caught in the cross-tides racing to a maelstrom.

    In the restaurant, the befrogged and red-coated band poured out
    patriotic music, and the intervals between the courses that so few
    waiters were left to serve were broken by the ever-recurring
    obligation to stand up for the Marseillaise, to stand up for God
    Save the King, to stand up for the Russian National Anthem, to stand
    up again for the Marseillaise. "_Et dire que ce sont des Hongrois
    qui jouent tout cela!"_ a humourist remarked from the pavement.

    As the evening wore on and the crowd about our window thickened, the
    loiterers outside began to join in the war-songs. "_Allons, debout!_
    "--and the loyal round begins again. "La chanson du depart" is a
    frequent demand; and the chorus of spectators chimes in roundly. A
    sort of quiet humour was the note of the street. Down the rue
    Royale, toward the Madeleine, the bands of other restaurants were
    attracting other throngs, and martial refrains were strung along the
    Boulevard like its garlands of arc-lights. It was a night of singing
    and acclamations, not boisterous, but gallant and determined. It was
    Paris _badauderie _at its best.

    Meanwhile, beyond the fringe of idlers the steady stream of
    conscripts still poured along. Wives and families trudged beside
    them, carrying all kinds of odd improvised bags and bundles. The
    impression disengaging itself from all this superficial confusion
    was that of a cheerful steadiness of spirit. The faces ceaselessly
    streaming by were serious but not sad; nor was there any air of
    bewilderment--the stare of driven cattle. All these lads and young
    men seemed to know what they were about and why they were about it.
    The youngest of them looked suddenly grown up and responsible; they
    understood their stake in the job, and accepted it.

    The next day the army of midsummer travel was immobilized to let the
    other army move. No more wild rushes to the station, no more bribing
    of concierges, vain quests for invisible cabs, haggard hours of
    waiting in the queue at Cook's. No train stirred except to carry
    soldiers, and the civilians who had not bribed and jammed their way
    into a cranny of the thronged carriages leaving the first night
    could only creep back through the hot streets to their hotel and
    wait. Back they went, disappointed yet half-relieved, to the
    resounding emptiness of porterless halls, waiterless restaurants,
    motionless lifts: to the queer disjointed life of fashionable hotels
    suddenly reduced to the intimacies and make-shift of a Latin
    Quarter _pension._ Meanwhile it was strange to watch the gradual
    paralysis of the city. As the motors, taxis, cabs and vans had
    vanished from the streets, so the lively little steamers had left
    the Seine. The canal-boats too were gone, or lay motionless: loading
    and unloading had ceased. Every great architectural opening framed
    an emptiness; all the endless avenues stretched away to desert
    distances. In the parks and gardens no one raked the paths or
    trimmed the borders. The fountains slept in their basins, the
    worried sparrows fluttered unfed, and vague dogs, shaken out of
    their daily habits, roamed unquietly, looking for familiar eyes.
    Paris, so intensely conscious yet so strangely entranced, seemed to
    have had _curare _injected into all her veins.

    The next day--the 2nd of August--from the terrace of the Hotel
    de Crillon one looked down on a first faint stir of returning life.
    Now and then a taxi-cab or a private motor crossed the Place de la
    Concorde, carrying soldiers to the stations. Other conscripts, in
    detachments, tramped by on foot with bags and banners. One
    detachment stopped before the black-veiled statue of Strasbourg and
    laid a garland at her feet. In ordinary times this demonstration
    would at once have attracted a crowd; but at the very moment when it
    might have been expected to provoke a patriotic outburst it excited
    no more attention than if one of the soldiers had turned aside to
    give a penny to a beggar. The people crossing the square did not
    even stop to look. The meaning of this apparent indifference was
    obvious. When an armed nation mobilizes, everybody is busy, and busy
    in a definite and pressing way. It is not only the fighters that
    mobilize: those who stay behind must do the same. For each French
    household, for each individual man or woman in France, war means a
    complete reorganization of life. The detachment of conscripts,
    unnoticed, paid their tribute to the Cause and passed on...

    Looked back on from these sterner months those early days in Paris,
    in their setting of grave architecture and summer skies, wear the
    light of the ideal and the abstract. The sudden flaming up of
    national life, the abeyance of every small and mean preoccupation,
    cleared the moral air as the streets had been cleared, and made the
    spectator feel as though he were reading a great poem on War rather
    than facing its realities.

    Something of this sense of exaltation seemed to penetrate the
    throngs who streamed up and down the Boulevards till late into the
    night. All wheeled traffic had ceased, except that of the rare
    taxi-cabs impressed to carry conscripts to the stations; and the
    middle of the Boulevards was as thronged with foot-passengers as an
    Italian market-place on a Sunday morning. The vast tide swayed up
    and down at a slow pace, breaking now and then to make room for one
    of the volunteer "legions" which were forming at every corner:
    Italian, Roumanian, South American, North American, each headed by
    its national flag and hailed with cheering as it passed. But even
    the cheers were sober: Paris was not to be shaken out of her
    self-imposed serenity. One felt something nobly conscious and
    voluntary in the mood of this quiet multitude. Yet it was a mixed
    throng, made up of every class, from the scum of the Exterior
    Boulevards to the cream of the fashionable restaurants. These
    people, only two days ago, had been leading a thousand different
    lives, in indifference or in antagonism to each other, as alien as
    enemies across a frontier: now workers and idlers, thieves, beggars,
    saints, poets, drabs and sharpers, genuine people and showy shams,
    were all bumping up against each other in an instinctive community
    of emotion. The "people," luckily, predominated; the faces of
    workers look best in such a crowd, and there were thousands of them,
    each illuminated and singled out by its magnesium-flash of passion.

    I remember especially the steady-browed faces of the women; and also
    the small but significant fact that every one of them had remembered
    to bring her dog. The biggest of these amiable companions had to
    take their chance of seeing what they could through the forest of
    human legs; but every one that was portable was snugly lodged in the
    bend of an elbow, and from this safe perch scores and scores of
    small serious muzzles, blunt or sharp, smooth or woolly, brown or
    grey or white or black or brindled, looked out on the scene with the
    quiet awareness of the Paris dog. It was certainly a good sign that
    they had not been forgotten that night.


    WE had been shown, impressively, what it was to live through a
    mobilization; now we were to learn that mobilization is only one of
    the concomitants of martial law, and that martial law is not
    comfortable to live under--at least till one gets used to it.

    At first its main purpose, to the neutral civilian, seemed certainly
    to be the wayward pleasure of complicating his life; and in that
    line it excelled in the last refinements of ingenuity. Instructions
    began to shower on us after the lull of the first days: instructions
    as to what to do, and what not to do, in order to make our presence
    tolerable and our persons secure. In the first place, foreigners
    could not remain in France without satisfying the authorities as to
    their nationality and antecedents; and to do this necessitated
    repeated ineffective visits to chanceries, consulates and police
    stations, each too densely thronged with flustered applicants to
    permit the entrance of one more. Between these vain pilgrimages, the
    traveller impatient to leave had to toil on foot to distant railway
    stations, from which he returned baffled by vague answers and
    disheartened by the declaration that tickets, when achievable, must
    also be _vises_ by the police. There was a moment when it seemed
    that ones inmost thoughts had to have that unobtainable _visa_--to
    obtain which, more fruitless hours must be lived on grimy stairways
    between perspiring layers of fellow-aliens. Meanwhile one's money
    was probable running short, and one must cable or telegraph for
    more. Ah--but cables and telegrams must be _vises _too--and even
    when they were, one got no guarantee that they would be sent! Then
    one could not use code addresses, and the ridiculous number of words
    contained in a New York address seemed to multiply as the francs in
    one's pockets diminished. And when the cable was finally dispatched
    it was either lost on the way, or reached its destination only to
    call forth, after anxious days, the disheartening response:
    "Impossible at present. Making every effort." It is fair to add
    that, tedious and even irritating as many of these transactions
    were, they were greatly eased by the sudden uniform good-nature of
    the French functionary, who, for the first time, probably, in the
    long tradition of his line, broke through its fundamental rule and
    was kind.

    Luckily, too, these incessant comings and goings involved much
    walking of the beautiful idle summer streets, which grew idler and
    more beautiful each day. Never had such blue-grey softness of
    afternoon brooded over Paris, such sunsets turned the heights of the
    Trocadero into Dido's Carthage, never, above all, so rich a moon
    ripened through such perfect evenings. The Seine itself had no small
    share in this mysterious increase of the city's beauty. Released
    from all traffic, its hurried ripples smoothed themselves into long
    silken reaches in which quays and monuments at last saw their
    unbroken images. At night the fire-fly lights of the boats had
    vanished, and the reflections of the street lamps were lengthened
    into streamers of red and gold and purple that slept on the calm
    current like fluted water-weeds. Then the moon rose and took
    possession of the city, purifying it of all accidents, calming and
    enlarging it and giving it back its ideal lines of strength and
    repose. There was something strangely moving in this new Paris of
    the August evenings, so exposed yet so serene, as though her very
    beauty shielded her.

    So, gradually, we fell into the habit of living under martial law.
    After the first days of flustered adjustment the personal
    inconveniences were so few that one felt almost ashamed of their not
    being more, of not being called on to contribute some greater
    sacrifice of comfort to the Cause. Within the first week over two
    thirds of the shops had closed--the greater number bearing on their
    shuttered windows the notice "Pour cause de mobilisation," which
    showed that the "patron" and staff were at the front. But enough
    remained open to satisfy every ordinary want, and the closing of the
    others served to prove how much one could do without. Provisions
    were as cheap and plentiful as ever, though for a while it was
    easier to buy food than to have it cooked. The restaurants were
    closing rapidly, and one often had to wander a long way for a meal,
    and wait a longer time to get it. A few hotels still carried on a
    halting life, galvanized by an occasional inrush of travel from
    Belgium and Germany; but most of them had closed or were being
    hastily transformed into hospitals.

    The signs over these hotel doors first disturbed the dreaming
    harmony of Paris. In a night, as it seemed, the whole city was hung
    with Red Crosses. Every other building showed the red and white band
    across its front, with "Ouvroir" or "Hopital" beneath; there
    was something sinister in these preparations for horrors in which
    one could not yet believe, in the making of bandages for limbs yet
    sound and whole, the spreading of pillows for heads yet carried
    high. But insist as they would on the woe to come, these warning
    signs did not deeply stir the trance of Paris. The first days of the
    war were full of a kind of unrealizing confidence, not boastful or
    fatuous, yet as different as possible from the clear-headed tenacity
    of purpose that the experience of the next few months was to
    develop. It is hard to evoke, without seeming to exaggerate it, that
    the mood of early August: the assurance, the balance, the kind of
    smiling fatalism with which Paris moved to her task. It is not
    impossible that the beauty of the season and the silence of the city
    may have helped to produce this mood. War, the shrieking fury, had
    announced herself by a great wave of stillness. Never was desert
    hush more complete: the silence of a street is always so much deeper
    than the silence of wood or field.

    The heaviness of the August air intensified this impression of
    suspended life. The days were dumb enough; but at night the hush
    became acute. In the quarter I inhabit, always deserted in summer,
    the shuttered streets were mute as catacombs, and the faintest
    pin-prick of noise seemed to tear a rent in a black pall of silence.
    I could hear the tired tap of a lame hoof half a mile away, and the
    tread of the policeman guarding the Embassy across the street beat
    against the pavement like a series of detonations. Even the
    variegated noises of the city's waking-up had ceased. If any
    sweepers, scavengers or rag-pickers still plied their trades they
    did it as secretly as ghosts. I remember one morning being roused
    out of a deep sleep by a sudden explosion of noise in my room. I sat
    up with a start, and found I had been waked by a low-voiced exchange
    of "Bonjours" in the street...

    Another fact that kept the reality of war from Paris was the curious
    absence of troops in the streets. After the first rush of conscripts
    hurrying to their military bases it might have been imagined that
    the reign of peace had set in. While smaller cities were swarming
    with soldiers no glitter of arms was reflected in the empty avenues
    of the capital, no military music sounded through them. Paris
    scorned all show of war, and fed the patriotism of her children on
    the mere sight of her beauty. It was enough.

    Even when the news of the first ephemeral successes in Alsace began
    to come in, the Parisians did not swerve from their even gait. The
    newsboys did all the shouting--and even theirs was presently
    silenced by decree. It seemed as though it had been unanimously,
    instinctively decided that the Paris of 1914 should in no respect
    resemble the Paris of 1870, and as though this resolution had passed
    at birth into the blood of millions born since that fatal date, and
    ignorant of its bitter lesson. The unanimity of self-restraint was
    the notable characteristic of this people suddenly plunged into an
    unsought and unexpected war. At first their steadiness of spirit
    might have passed for the bewilderment of a generation born and bred
    in peace, which did not yet understand what war implied. But it is
    precisely on such a mood that easy triumphs might have been supposed
    to have the most disturbing effect. It was the crowd in the street
    that shouted "A Berlin!" in 1870; now the crowd in the street
    continued to mind its own business, in spite of showers of extras
    and too-sanguine bulletins.

    I remember the morning when our butcher's boy brought the news that
    the first German flag had been hung out on the balcony of the
    Ministry of War. Now I thought, the Latin will boil over! And I
    wanted to be there to see. I hurried down the quiet rue de
    Martignac, turned the corner of the Place Sainte Clotilde, and came
    on an orderly crowd filling the street before the Ministry of War.
    The crowd was so orderly that the few pacific gestures of the police
    easily cleared a way for passing cabs, and for the military motors
    perpetually dashing up. It was composed of all classes, and there
    were many family groups, with little boys straddling their mothers'
    shoulders, or lifted up by the policemen when they were too heavy
    for their mothers. It is safe to say that there was hardly a man or
    woman of that crowd who had not a soldier at the front; and there
    before them hung the enemy's first flag--a splendid silk flag, white
    and black and crimson, and embroidered in gold. It was the flag of
    an Alsatian regiment--a regiment of Prussianized Alsace. It
    symbolized all they most abhorred in the whole abhorrent job that
    lay ahead of them; it symbolized also their finest ardour and their
    noblest hate, and the reason why, if every other reason failed,
    France could never lay down arms till the last of such flags was
    low. And there they stood and looked at it, not dully or
    uncomprehendingly, but consciously, advisedly, and in silence; as if
    already foreseeing all it would cost to keep that flag and add to it
    others like it; forseeing the cost and accepting it. There seemed to
    be men's hearts even in the children of that crowd, and in the
    mothers whose weak arms held them up. So they gazed and went on, and
    made way for others like them, who gazed in their turn and went on
    too. All day the crowd renewed itself, and it was always the same
    crowd, intent and understanding and silent, who looked steadily at
    the flag, and knew what its being there meant. That, in August, was
    the look of Paris.



    FEBRUARY dusk on the Seine. The boats are plying again, but they
    stop at nightfall, and the river is inky-smooth, with the same long
    weed-like reflections as in August. Only the reflections are fewer
    and paler; bright lights are muffled everywhere. The line of the
    quays is scarcely discernible, and the heights of the Trocadero are
    lost in the blur of night, which presently effaces even the firm
    tower-tops of Notre-Dame. Down the damp pavements only a few street
    lamps throw their watery zigzags. The shops are shut, and the
    windows above them thickly curtained. The faces of the houses are
    all blind.

    In the narrow streets of the Rive Gauche the darkness is even
    deeper, and the few scattered lights in courts or "cites" create
    effects of Piranesi-like mystery. The gleam of the
    chestnut-roaster's brazier at a street corner deepens the sense of
    an old adventurous Italy, and the darkness beyond seems full of
    cloaks and conspiracies. I turn, on my way home, into an empty
    street between high garden walls, with a single light showing far
    off at its farther end. Not a soul is in sight between me and that
    light: my steps echo endlessly in the silence. Presently a dim
    figure comes around the corner ahead of me. Man or woman? Impossible
    to tell till I overtake it. The February fog deepens the darkness,
    and the faces one passes are indistinguishable. As for the numbers
    of the houses, no one thinks of looking for them. If you know the
    quarter you count doors from the corner, or try to puzzle out the
    familiar outline of a balcony or a pediment; if you are in a strange
    street, you must ask at the nearest tobacconist's--for, as for
    finding a policeman, a yard off you couldn't tell him from your

    Such, after six months of war, are the nights of Paris; the days are
    less remarkable and less romantic.

    Almost all the early flush and shiver of romance is gone; or so at
    least it seems to those who have watched the gradual revival of
    life. It may appear otherwise to observers from other countries,
    even from those involved in the war. After London, with all her
    theaters open, and her machinery of amusement almost unimpaired,
    Paris no doubt seems like a city on whom great issues weigh. But to
    those who lived through that first sunlit silent month the streets
    to-day show an almost normal activity. The vanishing of all the
    motorbuses, and of the huge lumbering commercial vans, leaves many a
    forgotten perspective open and reveals many a lost grace of
    architecture; but the taxi-cabs and private motors are almost as
    abundant as in peace-time, and the peril of pedestrianism is kept at
    its normal pitch by the incessant dashing to and fro of those
    unrivalled engines of destruction, the hospital and War Office
    motors. Many shops have reopened, a few theatres are tentatively
    producing patriotic drama or mixed programmes seasonal with
    sentiment and mirth, and the cinema again unrolls its eventful

    For a while, in September and October, the streets were made
    picturesque by the coming and going of English soldiery, and the
    aggressive flourish of British military motors. Then the fresh faces
    and smart uniforms disappeared, and now the nearest approach to
    "militarism" which Paris offers to the casual sight-seer is the
    occasional drilling of a handful of _piou-pious _on the muddy
    reaches of the Place des Invalides. But there is another army in
    Paris. Its first detachments came months ago, in the dark September
    days--lamentable rear-guard of the Allies' retreat on Paris. Since
    then its numbers have grown and grown, its dingy streams have
    percolated through all the currents of Paris life, so that wherever
    one goes, in every quarter and at every hour, among the busy
    confident strongly-stepping Parisians one sees these other people,
    dazed and slowly moving--men and women with sordid bundles on their
    backs, shuffling along hesitatingly in their tattered shoes,
    children dragging at their hands and tired-out babies pressed
    against their shoulders: the great army of the Refugees. Their faces
    are unmistakable and unforgettable. No one who has ever caught that
    stare of dumb bewilderment--or that other look of concentrated
    horror, full of the reflection of flames and ruins--can shake off
    the obsession of the Refugees. The look in their eyes is part of the
    look of Paris. It is the dark shadow on the brightness of the face
    she turns to the enemy. These poor people cannot look across the
    borders to eventual triumph. They belong mostly to a class whose
    knowledge of the world's affairs is measured by the shadow of their
    village steeple. They are no more curious of the laws of causation
    than the thousands overwhelmed at Avezzano. They were ploughing and
    sowing, spinning and weaving and minding their business, when
    suddenly a great darkness full of fire and blood came down on them.
    And now they are here, in a strange country, among unfamiliar faces
    and new ways, with nothing left to them in the world but the memory
    of burning homes and massacred children and young men dragged to
    slavery, of infants torn from their mothers, old men trampled by
    drunken heels and priests slain while they prayed beside the dying.
    These are the people who stand in hundreds every day outside the
    doors of the shelters improvised to rescue them, and who receive, in
    return for the loss of everything that makes life sweet, or
    intelligible, or at least endurable, a cot in a dormitory, a
    meal-ticket--and perhaps, on lucky days, a pair of shoes...

    What are the Parisians doing meanwhile? For one thing--and the sign
    is a good one--they are refilling the shops, and especially, of
    course, the great "department stores." In the early war days there
    was no stranger sight than those deserted palaces, where one strayed
    between miles of unpurchased wares in quest of vanished salesmen. A
    few clerks, of course, were left: enough, one would have thought,
    for the rare purchasers who disturbed their meditations. But the few
    there were did not care to be disturbed: they lurked behind their
    walls of sheeting, their bastions of flannelette, as if ashamed to
    be discovered. And when one had coaxed them out they went through
    the necessary gestures automatically, as if mournfully wondering
    that any one should care to buy. I remember once, at the Louvre,
    seeing the whole force of a "department," including the salesman I
    was trying to cajole into showing me some medicated gauze, desert
    their posts simultaneously to gather about a motor-cyclist in a
    muddy uniform who had dropped in to see his pals with tales from the
    front. But after six months the pressure of normal appetites has
    begun to reassert itself--and to shop is one of the normal appetites
    of woman. I say "shop" instead of buy, to distinguish between the
    dull purchase of necessities and the voluptuousness of acquiring
    things one might do without. It is evident that many of the
    thousands now fighting their way into the great shops must be
    indulging in the latter delight. At a moment when real wants are
    reduced to a minimum, how else account for the congestion of the
    department store? Even allowing for the immense, the perpetual
    buying of supplies for hospitals and work-rooms, the incessant
    stoking-up of the innumerable centres of charitable production,
    there is no explanation of the crowding of the other departments
    except the fact that woman, however valiant, however tried, however
    suffering and however self-denying, must eventually, in the long
    run, and at whatever cost to her pocket and her ideals, begin to
    shop again. She has renounced the theatre, she denies herself the
    teo-rooms, she goes apologetically and furtively (and economically)
    to concerts--but the swinging doors of the department stores suck
    her irresistibly into their quicksand of remnants and reductions.

    No one, in this respect, would wish the look of Paris to be changed.
    It is a good sign to see the crowds pouring into the shops again,
    even though the sight is less interesting than that of the other
    crowds streaming daily--and on Sunday in immensely augmented
    numbers--across the Pont Alexandre III to the great court of the
    Invalides where the German trophies are displayed. Here the heart of
    France beats with a richer blood, and something of its glow passes
    into foreign veins as one watches the perpetually renewed throngs
    face to face with the long triple row of German guns. There are few
    in those throngs to whom one of the deadly pack has not dealt a
    blow; there are personal losses, lacerating memories, bound up with
    the sight of all those evil engines. But personal sorrow is the
    sentiment least visible in the look of Paris. It is not fanciful to
    say that the Parisian face, after six months of trial, has acquired
    a new character. The change seems to have affected the very stuff it
    is moulded of, as though the long ordeal had hardened the poor human
    clay into some dense commemorative substance. I often pass in the
    street women whose faces look like memorial medals--idealized images
    of what they were in the flesh. And the masks of some of the
    men--those queer tormented Gallic masks, crushed-in and squat and a
    little satyr-like--look like the bronzes of the Naples Museum, burnt
    and twisted from their baptism of fire. But none of these faces
    reveals a personal preoccupation: they are looking, one and all, at
    France erect on her borders. Even the women who are comparing
    different widths of Valenciennes at the lace-counter all have
    something of that vision in their eyes--or else one does not see the
    ones who haven't.

    It is still true of Paris that she has not the air of a capital in
    arms. There are as few troops to be seen as ever, and but for the
    coming and going of the orderlies attached to the War Office and the
    Military Government, and the sprinkling of uniforms about the doors
    of barracks, there would be no sign of war in the streets--no sign,
    that is, except the presence of the wounded. It is only lately that
    they have begun to appear, for in the early months of the war they
    were not sent to Paris, and the splendidly appointed hospitals of
    the capital stood almost empty, while others, all over the country,
    were overcrowded. The motives for the disposal of the wounded have
    been much speculated upon and variously explained: one of its
    results may have been the maintaining in Paris of the extraordinary
    moral health which has given its tone to the whole country, and
    which is now sound and strong enough to face the sight of any

    And miseries enough it has to face. Day by day the limping figures
    grow more numerous on the pavement, the pale bandaged heads more
    frequent in passing carriages. In the stalls at the theatres and
    concerts there are many uniforms; and their wearers usually have to
    wait till the hall is emptied before they hobble out on a supporting
    arm. Most of them are very young, and it is the expression of their
    faces which I should like to picture and interpret as being the very
    essence of what I have called the look of Paris. They are grave,
    these young faces: one hears a great deal of the gaiety in the
    trenches, but the wounded are not gay. Neither are they sad,
    however. They are calm, meditative, strangely purified and matured.
    It is as though their great experience had purged them of pettiness,
    meanness and frivolity, burning them down to the bare bones of
    character, the fundamental substance of the soul, and shaping that
    substance into something so strong and finely tempered that for a
    long time to come Paris will not care to wear any look unworthy of
    the look on their faces.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 1
    If you're writing a Edith Wharton essay and need some advice, post your Edith Wharton essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?