A Naturalist in Paris
BY WILLIAM BEEBE
THE end of the fourth winter of war finds a front-line trench within eighty miles of the city of Paris. Forty minutes in a swift Spad brings one from the Tour Eiffel to temporary Bocheland. With the right wind a salvo of heavy German guns rattles the windows on the Bois de Boulogne. And yet Paris, to the seeker of truth about the war, is a veritable tower of Babel. Sources of information are as unstable as weathercocks; the wires of truth are crossed and short-circuited. The probable length of the war; the present morale of the French, the English, the Germans; the relation between the French and American poilus — these can be estimated with equal clarity and greater accuracy from a newspaper in the Waldorf, or a Wall Street rumor, than from inquiries or researches in Paris.
The reason for this is an explanation also of the relative scarcity of firstrate literature concerning the war — namely, a lack of perspective; a proximity in time and space respectively, which beclouds larger generalizations and emphasizes the individual, magnifying moods, coloring enthusiasms, encouraging a vain attempt to interpret a palimpsest of emotions. In my little red French dictionary futur is the next word to futilité; and at present Paris is no place for a prophet. He may take his choice of two methods: to stay at home and study the present turn of the wheel in corresponding past cycles of human history and philosophy; or to lie on his stomach on halffrozen mud in helmet and gas-mask, beside a horizon-blue-clad poilu, and seek for his answer in the whine of the five-point-nine arrivés, or the muffled chanson of the troglodyte reserves crowded in their subterranean burrows.
In these days when the very life and existence of individuals and nations are at hair-trigger poise, it is well to have lived in Paris and at the Front. One longs to be in both places at once. Yet there is a veritable monotony of excitement in the first lines: we can kill in only a certain number of ways, and one has a fixed number of limbs and organs to be injured. But behind the lines, in Paris, the ways of living, of physical and mental healing, of readjustment, of temporary despair and sorrow, of eternal hope, of selfishness and altruism — these are myriad in number and wholly absorbing in interest.
Three things impress the American on the first day of his arrival in Paris: the deliciousness of the crusty warbread, the world’s congress of uniforms and insignia, and the apparent callousness and disregard of the war on the part of the Parisians. The first-mentioned impression merely deepened with time; and in fact the abundance and excellent quality of the food in general was a constant source of surprise. In New York I had become accustomed to meatless and wheatless days, and had only just escaped the heatless ones; but here I learned that the Latin cannot deny his stomach as can the Anglo-Saxon. But in scores of other ways he puts to shame our economies and self-sacrifice.
This apparent abundance of food has another, sadder explanation, in the lack of money among the greater part of the population, who are thus unable to purchase as much as in more normal times. Hence food, although less in quantity, accumulates rapidly and is at the command of the minority. Candy and chocolate stores are closed two days of the week, while sugar and bread are scarce enough to be given special thought. The Baron de— would be delighted to have you take déjeuner with Madame la Baronne and himself; then follows a little postscript, ‘ Apportez un pen de pain si vous le voulez’—and we trudge Baronwards with four inches of the most excellent war-bread in our pocket!
The uniforms and insignia were as confusing as water-marked postagestamps or sub-specific variations of birds. The tunic of an Anzac who had been detailed from his company to ground work in aviation, and at present was serving in a tank, bore considerable resemblance to that of Joseph. I was glad to learn that the flaming scarlet trousers and caps of the French soldiers were worn on the boulevards only from motives of economy, and would be exchanged for uniforms of faded blue when they left for the front. One’s love of symbolism was aroused by the spread wings of the airmen and the rampant dragon of the men of the tanks; but why a scarlet patch with a hole, sewed on the back of overcoat and tunic, should indicate that the Canadian within was an erecter of light railways was unfathomable.
Of still greater interest than the modern symbolism were the quaint atavistic decorations—generally as useless as most atavisms, and sometimes actually harmful. The horse in modern warfare is almost an anachronism, but evidence of his importance in past wars is widespread. En voici deux.
When a regiment as a whole is decorated, the flag receives the decoration, while all the individuals enlisted in the fortunate command are permitted to wear a fourragère — which is a braided cord extending from a front button of the tunic over and around the left shoulder and arm. In times long past this shoulder-cord was less decorative and more useful, and, true to its name, was a rope of any sort which the cavalryman kept wrapped around his shoulder to bind up a bundle of forage for his horse’s dinner. A second, less remote equine reminder are spurs, which, upon a lieutenant of aviation, seem as appropriate as would sheepskin ‘chaps’ on a machine-gunner. Many of the officers who stride along the boulevards, booted and spurred, have never thrown leg across a horse’s back, and I recall two instances of broken and sprained ankles from spurs catching in the rugs or doors of automobiles.
I have already mentioned the remarkable dorsal insignia of the light-railway men. Another nuchal spot is of real historic interest. A widening patch of black cloth, extending down behind, over and below the collar, and with a zigzag lower border, characterizes the Welsh Fusiliers, but does not indicate a vital interest in captive balloons or submarine engines. In days gone by, the men of all British regiments wore powdered wigs with dangling pigtails, and to prevent the powder and grease from soiling the back of the coats, a bit of special cloth was always worn behind. To this day the Welsh Fusilier preceding you down the avenue de l’Opéra, although with hair close-cropped and in khaki undress, still exhibits this link with the wars of our forefathers. Wigs and matchlocks have gone — but the grease-patch is still there.
The subject is inexhaustible, and there are many sides to it. One phase of intense interest is the readoption of armor and missiles long since discarded, such as steel helmets and various weapons for infighting. In a little curiosity shop in Montparnasse, I was attracted by the excellent quality and low price of a steel battle-axe and mace, both of small size but most beautifully damascened, and handled with tanned snakeskin. Later an Anzac friend brought me two more, and told me of twentyseven being captured in one raid on the Boche trenches. There was no doubt of their age and authenticity; but how they ever made their way from the Orient to the Boche front is a mystery. They are powerful weapons and well adapted for trench-warfare as it is waged in 1918, in competition with bayonets, daggers, and brass knuckles.
Walking along the boulevards of Paris one feels somehow as if one had slipped back into mediæval times, the emphasis of color and ornament is so reversed. Almost every man is clad in bright hues, or with some warm splash or stripe, and most are adorned with medals and citations. So many women are in dark colors, if not in crape, that one’s thought of their costumes in general is of sombreness of hue.
How distinctly national traits and characteristics are emphasized by the self-consciousness of uniforming! Individuality is lessened, nationality is augmented almost to caricature. The British Imperialist strides along, the least self-conscious of all; here soldiering is a fine art, so thoroughly mastered that he can spare time for every detail of dress. He is a fashion-plate of neatness, glossy leather, and shining metal, with cane of correct length and exact material. However carefully one has groomed one’s self, one feels fairly out at heel when a British colonel passes.
The Anzac or the Canadian private gives us a thrill of the open air. We sense the great spaces, ozone-laden, which have given these men the vitality that seems to fill their frames. On leave they throw off all military stiffness, individuality creases their uniforms, tips their caps a bit awry. A British officer looks askance at the hand in the pocket, but he will not soon forget the fineness of profile of the New Zealand triumvirate who just passed.
The most conservative Briton admits that nothing can equal the Canadians in offensive work, but in defense they are hopeless. They go doggedly ahead and, in spite of any percentage of casualties, take whatever objective is pointed out. Then they dig in like fox-terriers — each man a hole to himself; and if left to their own devices, there they would take root, like lines of newly planted saplings, with no thought of consolidation, or aught but stalking above ground through machine-gun fire when a cigarette light is needed. An officer of artillery told of two instances not far from the ‘Wipers’ salient where a heavy barrage was maintained for the express purpose of confining a Canadian advance to the indicated objective, and not allowing them to keep on, headed for the Rhine and annihilation.
Italian officers, slender and dark, are swathed in close-fitting puttees and uniforms, while Serbian giants swing proudly along. We turn and watch the latter: they are seldom seen, their race is scattered, their numbers pitifully few. Belgians are everywhere and of many types — one thinks of them en masse as sturdy soldiers in khaki, each with a tassel swaying from his cap. Even the composite American offers a more concrete type — reminding one most of the Colonials, but always more or less self-conscious. There was no doubt as to the resolution and enthusiasm with which they had plunged into military life in this fourth year; but the grip on rifle and sword was a bit unsteady as yet; palms were moulded more accurately to plough or axe, the habit of fingers was still too facile with pen or brush or lever. Raw as we seemed to the game, nothing but assurance of the ultimate worth and skill of these big, clean men ever came to one’s ears from any of their allied brethren. One loved them all the more to see approaching groups searching nervously for any officer’s insignia which they might miss. And for a lieutenant unconsciously to lift his cap to a fellow countrywoman, was a delight.
The Americans at the present time were the newest recruits to this worldgame of war, but the past masters were not of the Continent of Europe. Down the Bois de Boulogne would come a quartet of great Sikhs; handsome as etchings, proud as only Sikhs can be, unconscious as camels, with turban ends swinging, patrician descendants of forbears who were warriors when Britons and Gauls roamed as nomad tribes.
As any vista of trees or sea or plain is always in contrast with the blue of the sky, so the ever-changing patterns and colors of the various Allied nations were always seen against one tint — the horizon blue of the omnipresent poilu. He combined many qualities; yet whether perfectly groomed officer or disheveled arrivé from the trenches, he was the embodiment of patience and ability, of consecrated devotion, of unalterable determination. There passed Athos, Porthos, and Aramis — not the revelers, the youthful seekers of combats, but the veterans of later years. D’Artagnan I have seen, too,—but not in Paris, — and his eyes will haunt me forever.
This great assemblage of soldiers was strange in many ways. During all my stay in Paris I heard never a note of martial music — no beat of drum or note of bugle. Scarcely a flag in the whole city, except dingy drapeaux on official buildings. Never a parade — only twice the muffled beat of feet, marching to their own rhythm: once of poilus off for the front, once of a company of Americans fresh from the gare.
And this thought brings me to the third vivid impression which Paris gives — the apparent abstracted life and thought of the Parisians. In New York I had been accustomed to miles of waving flags and banners, to frantic protestations of patriotism on every hand, to bands and glaring posters and headlines, to the public materialization of endless socks and sweaters between the Bronx and Bowling Green. I had, perhaps unconsciously, expected to find the same thing leavened with French art and enthusiasm. A day sufficed to reorient my thoughtlessness. France is naturally no longer inspired with the white-hot spirit of exaltation and enthusiasm which infused her during the first part of the war; nor, on the other hand, in this fourth year is there manifest the slightest desire to make any but a satisfactory end. But our entrance has caused a relaxation, a certain sub-conscious shifting of a part of the responsibility; and as at present we are in evidence more as casuals than as legions, there is an air of suspense, of waiting, which is omnipresent.
In Paris one realized at last the meaning of the ‘business of war.’ It had entered into every phase of life. As our men commute to business, so the poilus commute to the trenches, each trip of uncertain length; and in place of competition, financial or otherwise, they go to a business of life and death. Few men could show the same vigor and enthusiasm as do these poilus. For years they had faced high adventure that most men know, if at all, only in an annual vacation. To myself and to others whose life-work carries them into dangers from the elements and from savage men, war held no absolute novelty. But think of the gunner formerly a traveling salesman for women’s hosiery, of the stretcherbearer who was a floor-walker in a department store! Did the florist whom I met ever conceive that he would be removed from sausage-balloon duty because of unconquerable air-sickness?
Think of the children in Paris old enough to talk and walk, who have never known a world free from universal war, and it will be easier to realize the daily, monthly, yearly labor and worry which have worn for themselves ruts deep into the life-routine and emotions of this Latin people. As the medical student loses all sensitiveness concerning the handling of human fingers and feet and hands, so the participants in the war, without being really callous or insensitive, come to take danger, wounds, disability, as incidents, not finalities.
One’s geography of Paris would read: the city is bounded on the north by supply dépôts, on the south by hospitals, and on the west by aerodromes. Its principal imports and exports are bandages, crape, wooden legs, and Colonials; its products are war-bread, warliterature, faith, and hope.
I had become familiar with the poilus at the front, the never-to-be-forgotten sight of a regiment of blues coming from trench-duty — besmeared with blood and mud, grimy and unshaven, with faces heavy-eyed and deep-lined. Dress and men are all forgotten in those eyes, weary with a world of weariness, but terrible with the memory of things seen, and the vision of coming achievement. When we meet the arrivés in Paris, as they pile off the train at the Gare de l’Est, they are transformed, as much as soap, razor, fresh uniforms, and puttees will permit. But the eyes are unchanged. When I look back in future years to memories of this war, it will be the eyes of the soldiers which remain most vivid. It is not anything which lends itself to definite phrasing, but an impersonal peering into the distance. They look at you, yet their gaze is beyond, there is an abstraction wholly lacking in tire glance of the civilian. Their eyes never smile. The whole face may break into a hearty appreciation of something witty, spirituel, but the eyes still search the distance. They are surcharged with some supersense thing, something apart from the direct contact with their surroundings and home.
The women at the station wait quietly. One wishes that they would weep, or show their anxiety and fear with more human emotion. Many are already in black; but as the mob of men in faded blue comes surging out, they simply stand at the sides and wait. Peasant women in strange, whitestarched, outstanding head-dresses, women of caste, women painted and women of natural beauty — all wait. Now and then one turns and goes out with a soldier. Their hands are clasped together, and they chatter as only Parisians can, but they seldom look at each other. Now that the moment of moments is past, the outside world again rushes into their consciousness.
After watching forty or fifty couples and groups meet and pass on, one wonders casually how so many of the men happened to marry such young wives. Another thought, and I look closer and know the truth. In the instant of meeting the wives have banished the hunted, gnawing fear and their faces have become young. But the men are young only behind their faces. Four years of this terrible work has trebled the ravages which time would have demanded of that period.
Now and then two gaunt trenchmen come out arm in arm, — they are always in twos, — unshaven, with mud but scraped from their clothes, reckless-looking, more deeply lined than the rest, and almost always with glittering croix de guerre pinned on their discolored tunics. Some have the caps of Zouaves, and they look about them only with curiosity. There is no one to meet them. Two such giants stopped near me — terrible men, who might have been welcomed as worthy additions to the crew of Henry Morgan himself. I wondered upon what wild revels they would launch, and listened.
‘ Que voulez-vous? Un cinema ?'
‘ Mais oui, c’ est très bien.’
And out they trudged.
I turned to go and then wished I had not, for I almost stumbled over a very tiny boy, clad in a dirty blue smock, who at this instant reached up to a bigbearded poilu, and said, in a halfunderstanding voice, as if he had been told to say it, ‘Maman est morte.' The poilu looked at me, or rather beyond me, took the tiny hand held out to him, and went out into the street with no word, no change of expression.
I was used to the sight of the women who slipped away alone, but this was a reversal of tragedy which was not in the routine of the ruck of war. I wondered whether hereafter the bearded poilu would return, heedless of his appearance, and would go to a cinema with some lonely comrade. I have never been back to the Gare de l’Est and I do not wish to, but I should like to have every slacker, every pacifist, every doubter of the necessity of pushing the war through to a complete decision, look into the eyes of these soldiers. Their bodies are weary, their souls firmer than ever.
These are some of the direct objective reflections of the struggle waged from the two opposing lines of ditches, a few miles to the north. Between flights and my visits to the Front, I watched Paris obliquely, from a corner of my eye, and at times almost forgot the war in the great joy of little things.
One day I remember as being particularly rich in small adventures.
After an unusually high and futile flight I motored back to Paris one gray morning, and was seized with the desire to visit my old stamping grounds in the Jardin des Plantes. Six years ago, in happier times, I had trudged day after day between the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle and the Hotel Lutetia, until I knew every rue and alley by heart. And now in the Parc Zoölogique I found curiously accurate reflections of national conditions outside.
I was greeted by a most forlorn moulting stork, who sadly clattered his beak, appearing the very embodiment of hopelessness. Indeed, for most of his class he was a true prophet, for I found the birds to be in scant numbers and of very ordinary interest. A peacock in a high tree made repeated feints and false starts at flight. He was facing the east and may have had it in mind to depart this dreary France and seek his native Indian terai. A marabou stood listlessly and tore off bits of bark, champing them with closed eyes as if imagining a poissondélicieusement ancien; its mate, however, making no effort to share in this power of will, shivered in hunched-up misery, as if fully convinced of the error of existence.
Passing cages and aviaries, rusty and untenanted, I found an abundance of gulls and birds of prey. These could exist on fish-heads and offal, and so had proved themselves the fit ones to survive in this new critical phase of life. Some of the African eagles were in excellent condition. An emaciated lezard ocelle and a small boa wandering about its cage were the only reptiles in sight. As in the case of birds, the meateating mammals were in the majority, although deer and antelopes were devouring carrot-parings and the wilted tops of greens. The vultures and hyenas appeared the best fed and most contented natives of France that I had seen. When there appeared a big haunch of horse-meat which no censor would have passed, the hyenas grinned horribly and the vultures hissed, with at least the incentive to think with satisfaction, ‘C’ est la guerre!’
My last glance at the menagerie showed a big black curassow on a perch snuggled close up to an Australian crested pigeon — the sole inmates of a large inclosure; and this brought vividly to my mind an association of corresponding nationalities which I had observed the night before on the Boulevard des Italiens — an American and an Anzac trudging arm-in-arm and turning finally into one of those phonograph places in which the French delight. I watched them through the window, and soon saw them seated side by side, with tubes to ears in attitudes of rapt attention, one with a blissful smile, the other with a puzzled expression of impatience. I entered and saw that they were absorbing the auricular vibrations of Harry Lauder and the crashing overture to an Italian opera. The Australian and the man from Maine — the curassow and the pigeon; again, c’est la guerre which makes strange companions!
I later attended a meeting of the Société Nationale d’Acclimatation, and was profoundly impressed by the spirit of these few elderly scientists. With all the young men dead or at the front, they were yet striving with all their might to keep up the spirit of scientific research, so that, in this as in other fields, après la guerre, France may have something of a flying start to maintain her place in the domain of science. Old men of the past generation had renewed their life-interests and argued politely and volubly about the possibilities of the introduction of certain new exotic plants and birds. It was a wholly futile discussion by a score of brave French gentlemen, and affected me as does a remnant of a Zouave regiment in a passing parade.
It was late afternoon when I came out upon the street, and the low winter sun was pale through the mist, while overhead was the strangely unfamiliar sight of blue sky. I stopped in an old book-shop on rue Hautefeuille, which had no sense of the war. It was an old, old publishing house, and on the shelves were sets of Buffon still tied up in ancient packets and for sale at the same prices which they brought so many years ago, when the type was fresh from the press. After considerable argument I succeeded in purchasing a classic work on spiders which I had long desired. This was indeed a most modern publication for this establishment, as it appeared only two decades ago. The kindly old man was persuaded that I was laboring under some delusion, and that an American aviator could have no use for any Études des Araignées, He seemed to fear that I had been injured in the head as well as the wrist, and his last reassuring words were that, if I found the work to be not the one I wished, I was to return it without hesitation. Without doubt my transaction did not tend to clarify one Frenchman’s idea of American participation in the war.
Turning homewards, I walked slowly, with thoughts of my spider volumes and their quaint memories still dominant. Then I caught sight of a little Frenchwoman whom I had seen in the Jardin des Plantes. She was very aged and very crooked, and she hobbled pitifully along in a huge pair of soldier’s brogans. A long black veil trailed from her faded bonnet, and as she walked ahead of me I could see that it was a mosaic of three bits of crape. Her face was wreathed and wrinkled, but in her wizened cheeks was still a suspicion of color, and in her manner the quick femininity which often survives all other characteristics in the tragic women of France.
In the Jardin I had stood near and watched her throw a few crumbs from the bottom of her bag to a brown peahen. She was talking to the bird and I caught, ‘Vous avez faim comme moi’; and later, ‘Mais vous avez votre mari.' Not until now had I realized the extreme poverty, the thinness of the shoes, the scantiness of her clothing.
I reached her and spoke: ‘Permettez moi, madame — ’pour plus de pains pour les oiseaux; j’ aime les oiseaux; je suis un naturaliste ! ’
For a moment I thought she would refuse my offering; but with a graceful courtesy she accepted the little deception. ‘Vous êtes plus qu’un naturaliste’; and I forgot the gracious language and murmured something harsh and bromidic in English and passed on swiftly. As I turned into another street I looked up and saw by the shining blue sign that I was leaving the rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie.
My next little adventure befell on the Pont Neuf, and was delightful in its spontaneity. A push-cart, or rather pull-cart, heavily laden with apples, passed me, with a smocked peasant and a big shaggy dog in the traces. I was nibbling a piece of chocolate, — the greatest delicacy which Paris can afford in these days, — and I idly snapped my fingers at the dog and held out the cake. With hardly a moment’s hesitation the great black beast backed out of his collar, and came leaping toward me, tail waving frantically as a friendly countersign. I was so surprised that I gave him the whole cake, which he took gently, bolted whole, and returning, half leaped upon the toiling man, with a lick or two at his hands. Then, dropping back, the dog nuzzled the dangling, partly closed collar until his nose worked its way inside, then with a forward rush slipped it over his head. The tail sank at once to half-mast, and straining steadily outward and forward, the dear beast voluntarily assumed his full share of the labor.
The whole incident hardly seemed real, so used are we Americans to dogs as friends and not as draft animals. The man gave me a smile and a low ‘ Merc m’s’u,' and I knew that he must be a good man who could possess such a dog. I thought of the dog I had seen near the front with its leg in a sling; of the police dogs; of the adored canine mascot of Paderewski’s Polish regiment, and of a score of others; then of the hundreds of horses pulling the guns to the front and suffering hunger and often death with their masters. And it became clearer than ever before who were man’s best friends on the earth. Cows give their milk and hens lay eggs, but so does a sausage-machine produce for man uncountable links. In a time of stress like the present, those creatures, catwise, walk alone, and are rather organic machines than friends. For the French horses and dogs alone, c’est la guerre.
The Seine was flooded, with the water lapping the walls and near the danger-mark, and in the dim light I sat in an embrasure and watched the last of the ancient fishers cast from the stone steps a last cast, and then unjoint their rods and start for home. Automatically searching for planes, my eye caught a great eagle, high in air, still in full sunlight, circling around and around over the great city, whose streets were merging into the same dismal half-lighting which must have characterized them in mediæval times. Thus ended one of my days of small adventure.
Then came the time of the great adventure — the night raid by sixty Gothas. Like the low distant rumbling presaging an approaching storm, or the whine of an oncoming shell, I had been hearing on every front the persistent, muttered rumors of a night raid on Paris. For over a year there had been some kind of tacit understanding — that, if the French would leave the German towns alone, Paris would remain inviolate; and rumor had it that this would soon end. Then one day appeared a casual half-column in the papers, almost apologetic, from the Prefect of Police, recalling the more important regulations in case of the ‘very unlikely occasion of a raid.’ A few days later, on another front, two Boche airmen were taken, and I heard them boast of their three hundred planes which were to smother Paris with gas-bombs. This continual reiteration sharpened the channels of sense, and, night after night, between trips to the Front I was awakened by screeching taxi-horns, and sat up listening. Once, several screams aroused me to a realization that it was only a small band of revelers. And night after night the kindly dense mist enfolded the great, darkened, saddened city in a blanket camouflage of safety.
One afternoon I visited a wellbeloved general in the hospital where he was recovering from a wound. With characteristic altruism, he made no comment on his own miraculous escape, but grieved only for the terrible death of the splendid French officers and men, who were standing in front and whose bodies had saved the lives of our Americans. As I was leaving he said jokingly, ‘Well, it will be my luck now to have the Boche raid Paris to-night.’
I went out and wandered across the Seine, up boulevard Saint-Germain and rue Monge to rue des Arénes. The name conveyed nothing unusual to me, until I turned a corner and saw for the first time the old Roman amphitheatre. Before one reaches the corner, there is nothing to be seen but a great front of very ordinary buildings — rather cheap flats, with dismal shops beneath. Skirting the end of these, I saw that they were but of cardboard thickness, a single room’s width, like the prow of the flatiron building. Immediately behind was the little park enclosing the amphitheatre; and I walked across the old arena, sat on the rows of mossy stone seats, and watched the sparrows feeding on crumbs of war-bread which a poilu and his wife threw to them.
Suddenly these sparrows (dingy little feathered replicas of their brethren in our own parks) assumed a new importance and I looked at them with renewed interest. Fifteen hundred years ago, when these same seats were occupied by Romans and Gauls waiting for the coming of the beasts and the gladiators, the far-distant ancestors of these sparrows hopped about and chirped in this self-same arena, quite unchanged, quite as dingy, seeking the bits of food which might fall from patrician or piebeian. The little 1918 birds linked me closely with the past centuries, going about their daily business regardless of wars and the passing of peoples, stuffing the unkempt bundle of straw which they call home, with yearly regularity and perennial equanimity, in a crevice of the amphitheatre, beneath a NotreDame gargoyle, or in the rusting framework of a fallen aeroplane. My mind drifted easily to memory of the calmness of distant jungles, of the myriads of tropical blossoms just opening, and there came to my ear the humming of lazy, yellow-thighed bumble-bees. Then I glanced upward, to where a French biplane drew slowly across a bit of blue sky, and filled the air with its twanging hum.
After dinner I walked up the avenue de l’Opéra, in a light mist, with the moon striving to shine through, and, tired out from my week in the trenches, turned in at once in my comfortable room in the American University Union.
It was before midnight when the wailing moan of sirens brought me to my senses, and I heard two fire-engines race past, filling the air with this, the most fearsome of all noises of human manufacture. Then, from the street below, I heard an American voice call out, ‘Put out that light in 103, damn quick!’ Half-dressed, I went into the hall and joined a group of American officers, and by common consent we went to the front balcony of the room of a Cornell lieutenant, who assured us it was the best seat in the house. We crowded close together for sight and for warmth and waited for the performance to begin.
The reaction from warm beds demanded a forced gayety, and we cheered as the first star-rockets went up. Then the quick winking flash of shrapnel sobered us, and we listened to the bark of anti-aircraft guns from the Tour Eiffel and elsewhere. The lop-sided moon looked down calmly on it all, as undisturbed as I had seen it silvering the jungle, or as it illumined the earth before the first man stood upright or fashioned speech.
The stars were out, and to those fixed constellations were added numerous green and white comets and steadily unwinking planets which throbbed across the heavens — French planes patrolling all heights. Then the gunfire grew louder, and occasionally a staccato mitrailleuse spoke out viciously. Then the bombs began — distant, deeper, still more ominous notes in this celestial overture; and at last came the unmistakable humming of a Boche plane. Nothing could be seen against the blue-black sky, but we knew it was close overhead. Instinctively we drew back. Personally I felt more conspicuous than I can remember; my halfdraped figure seemed the focus of the whole sky.
Without further warning a great orange gleam shot up a few blocks away and the deep smothered boom of a bomb shook every window. This sent us back to our rooms, where we dressed as best we could and went downstairs. Two more bombs were heard; then a white-faced little Frenchman ran in and incoherently told of having trod on things which he found were legs, and not with their body. We started out, and a few minutes away came to an American ambulance in which two bodies had just been placed. The bomb had fallen inside a house, and a soldier and a civilian had been killed in the street. Broken glass was everywhere.
Again came the humming, and we all moved along restlessly. Two of us agreed that the open Tuileries Gardens sounded most healthy, and off we set. A great red glow showed where a fire had started somewhere in the suburbs.
Then I saw something which perhaps meant more to me than to the others. A plane — apparently a French one, as it carried a green light — was fighting for equilibrium, out of control, and jockeying for a landing-place. Like a crippled bird struggling for balance, the pilot used every means to fight the deadly pull of gravity. Twice his engine started and he gained a little, only to lose it at once, and was compelled to volplane steeply lest he should slacken below the forty-mile danger speed and side-slip. I watched him, tense with sympathy, until he sank from view. Later, I found that he had cleverly sought the open Place de la Concorde, had managed to skirt the obelisk, but struck a pillar, wounding himself and killing his observer.
The streets were almost deserted, except for occasional American soldiers and some of the poorer classes. Every light was quenched and seldom a sound of any kind was heard. But it was not the silence of sleep, but of silent waiting. Peering into corridors or hallways, one could see families crouched together, while the hotels were crowded with half-dressed people muffled in cloaks, waiting. Ambulances were stationed near every large hotel and at many corners. Now and then a motorcyclist streaked past, causing more alarm with his muffler open than the arrival of another bomb. Sometimes a group of men and women rushed by, whimpering and dodging into doorways. One thought of Pompeii — only here there was no localization of the volcano. Any portion of the heavens might give forth death at any moment.
It was a curious feeling, to have no sense of security in houses, and we sympathized with the crowds which took shelter in the metro, deep underground. I was surprised to hear women laughing now and then, and so repeatedly that I wondered at it. It was not altogether hysterical laughter, and I believe the solution to be the actual relief from silent worry and waiting for the ever-fateful news of the front. Here were vital, dynamic happenings, and it must have been a very real temporary relief. For of all the suffering and worthy bravery of war I place first that of the months and years of waiting at home, with inaction and worry eating into normal living; and second, the years of watchfulness of the British fleet:, in the darkness and cold of the North Sea — the very lack of anything vital sapping the nerves more than any active trench-warfare.
I saw cases of funk among our own and other soldiers — sudden collapses of manliness, a clinging together, in the throes of an imagination which pictured the swift, immediate descent of the next bomb; and I knew that these very men would make brave soldiers when the real test came.
As we walked under the trees I saw groups of stock doves perched quietly, sleeping. At eleven-thirty the sirens had announced the attack; at two in the morning the fire-engines went the rounds again with bugles, signaling that the raid was over.
The whole feeling of the raid was a sinister one, and I doubt if any one was wholly without an uncomfortable sense of dread at the invisibility of the danger. It was a severe raid, there being about seventy bombs dropped in all, resulting in two hundred and fifty-odd casualties, of which eighteen were children and over a hundred women.
During the next week a few people left the city, apparently of the classes whose absence enriches any city. The object of the Boche was evidently to terrorize the people; instead of which, the effect during succeeding days was an all-pervading curiosity to see the damage done, and a tireless search for souvenir bits of bomb. One heard short, succinct remarks as to the martyred women and children. The French memory is long and very patient. I do not think such things will be forgotten when the final reckoning comes. I saw two officer poilus following tiny coffins, and there was a look on their faces which it is not good to see on the faces of men — without good cause! Paris is weary — Paris is sad — but Paris is absolutely confident; and that we, however laggardly, are at last permitted to take our place beside these poilus, should be the greatest cause for thanksgiving which we, as Americans, can conceive.