Chapter II. Paris At Bay
They did not get into our compartment, but into the one next to it, and as there was no place to sit down, stood in patient Arab fashion, and after a time gradually edged into ours, where they squatted on the floor. They talked broken French or Italian or their native speech and now and then broke into snatches of a wild sort of song. In Paris girls ran into the street and threw their arms about the brave "Marocs" as they marched by, but the lady with the little girls felt that they were a trifle smelly, and, fishing out a bottle of scent, she wet a handkerchief with it and passed it round.
The young Frenchman lit a match - three-twenty. The little boy, rousing from his corner, suddenly announced, apropos of nothing, that the Germans ought to be dropped into kettles of boiling water; at once came the voice of one of the little girls, sound asleep apparently before this, warning him that he must not talk like that or the Germans might hear and shoot them. We jolted on, backed, and suddenly one became aware that the gray light was not that of the moon. The lady at my left sat upright. "The day comes!" she said briskly. It grew lighter. We passed sentries, rifles stacked on station platforms, woods - the forest of St. Germain. These woods were misty blue in the cool autumn morning, there were bivouac fires, coffee-pots on the coals, and standing beside these fires soldiers in kepis and red trousers and heavy blue coats with the flaps pinned back. Just such soldiers and scenes you have seen in the war pictures of Detaille and De Neuville. Bridges, more houses, the rectangular grass-covered faces of forts at last; just as Paris was getting up for breakfast, into St. Lazare station, heaped with trunks and boiling with people, Parisians, belated American tourists, refugees from northeast villages, going somewhere, anywhere, to get away. It was September 2.
There were miles of closed shops with placards on the shutters: "Proprietor and personnel have been called to the colors"; no buses or trams, the few 'cabs piled with the luggage of those trying to get away, almost no way to traverse the splendid distances but to walk. Papers could not be cried aloud on the streets, and the only news was the official communique and a word about some Servian or Russian victory in some un-pronounceable region of the East.
"France is a history, a life, an idea which has taken its place in the world, and the bit of earth from which that history, that life, that thought, has radiated, we cannot sacrifice without sealing the stone of the tomb over ourselves and our children and the generations to follow us." Thus George Clemenceau was writing in L'Homme Libre, and people knew that this was true. And yet in that ghastly silence of Paris, broken only by the constant flight of military automobiles, screaming through the streets on missions nobody understood, those left behind did not even know where the enemy was, where the defenders were, or what was being done to save Paris. And it gradually, and not unnaturally, seemed to the more nervous that nothing had been done - the forts were paper, the government faithless, revolution imminent - one heard the wildest things.
Late that afternoon I walked down from the Madeleine toward the river. It was the "hour of the aperitif" - there were still enough people to fill cafe tables - and since Sunday it had been the hour of the German aeroplane. It had come that afternoon, dropped a few bombs - "quelques ordures" - and sailed away to return next day at the same hour. "You have remarked," explained one of the papers, "that people who are without wit always repeat their jokes." And just as I came into the Place de la Concorde, "Mr. Taube" came up out of the north.
You must imagine that vast open space, with the bridge and river and Invalides behind it, and beyond the light tracery of the Eiffel Tower, covered with little specks of people, all looking upward. Back along the boulevards, on roofs on both banks, all Paris, in fact, was similarly staring - "Le nez en l'air." And straight overhead, so far up that even the murmur of the motor was unheard, no more than a bird, indeed, against the pale sky, "Mr. Taube," circling indolently about, picking his moment, plotting our death.
I thought of the shudder of outraged horror that ran over Antwerp when the first Zeppelin came. It seemed the last unnecessary blow to a heroic people who had already stood so much. Very different was "Mr. Taube's" reception here. He might have been a holiday balloon or some particularly fancy piece of fireworks. Everywhere people were staring upward, looking through their closed fists, through opera-glasses. Out of the arcades of the Hotel de Crillon one man in a bath-robe and another in a suit of purple underclothes came running, to gaze calmly into the zenith until the "von" had gone.