THIS morning I left my hotel with two “first things” in my head : money and a typewriter. Both were intimately connected with the war, however, and with each other. It was not that I anticipated much difficulty in getting either, but that I needed both badly. When I got over to the region of the Opera, I found that I had been taking too much for granted.
I tried first for money. At the Crédit Lyonnais there was a line greater than one would find in New York for the dollar seats on a Caruso night. I felt pleased with myself that my eggs were not all in one basket. I had an account in an American bank. I turned my steps in the direction of the Boulevard Haussmann, quickly mapping out my time. Half an hour for the bank, half an hour for renting a typewriter, half an hour to get back to my hotel in a cab with the machine, and by one o’clock I would have my letter ready to mail. Then after lunch I could cast around and see who was in town.
For the first time in his life, François, the most urbane elevator man in the world, was not smiling. I could hardly believe eyes and ears when he answered my usual salutation with a grunt, and shoved me into the lift with half a dozen others. But when I stepped out into the corridor between the American clients’ guichets and the post office desk where you get your mail, I forgave François. No, more than that. I wondered that he had the will left to so much as grunt, after having carried that unmannerly mob upstairs.
I made my way through the reading-room, sized up the situation, decided that the typewriter was more pressing than money, and made a dive back for the elevator. In the course of my dive I met a persistent obstacle, which refused to yield to silent persuasion or to be moved by a gentle “I beg your pardon.”
“Say,” remonstrated the obstacle. “This is Nineteen-Fourteen and not Noughty-One. What mental aberration has led you to think you have turned the hands of the clock back fifteen years, that my direction is the goal towards which you are trying to push the pigskin, and that your fifteen-stone of fat is worth the ten-stone of muscle you wielded in the good old days?”
I looked up with joy. The hands-across-the-sea mixture of his metaphor was as sure an indication to me as his drawl. “Why, it is the Sculptor !” I cried joyously.
“No other person,” he answered. “Where is the Artist? Seeing one bad egg, you understand, makes me think of”
“The good one?” I interrupted.
It was impossible to talk in that hubbub of :
PLAINTIVE QUERY: “Why can I have only five hundred francs? I carry a large balance with you.”
PLEASANT ANSWER: “It is the new law passed today, Madame, the moratorium. You can draw two hundred and fifty francs and five per cent. of your balance.”
GRUFF DEMAND (masculine “self made” voice, of course) : “Gi’ me these in gold.”
PLEASANT ANSWER: “I am sorry, sir, but these are not our travelers’ checks, nor are they of our correspondents. Anyway, we would have no gold to give for our own checks today.”
SHRILL, HYSTERICAL CRY: “And is my letter of credit any good now?”
PLEASANT ANSWER: “Yes, Madame, we can give you the equivalent of twenty-five pounds sterling.”
CONTINUANCE OF SAME CRY : “But I have to buy some gowns.”
CONTINUANCE OF SAME PLEASANT ANSWER: “I am sorry, Madame, but we can give no more than the equivalent of twenty-five pounds today.” And so forth; and so forth; AND SO FORTH !
François took us downstairs. When we got out into the open air, the Sculptor said:
“Think I’ll do a golden calf for the Pan-American, and call it: Paris, August third, 1914. No use bothering my brain to hunt subjects; they always come to you thrust upon you.”
The Sculptor was not interested in my quest for a typewriter. We parted with the understanding that each would keep an eye open for the Artist and that we should meet in the evening to dine at Marie’s.
On the Boulevard des Italiens I found all the evidences of “the morning after.” The places that had been wrecked were boarded up. Policemen in double rows mounted guard at the Café Viennois and other suspected places. Most of the shops had closed, and bore the sign Maison Française: fermée pour cause de mobilization (French establishment: closed for the mobilization). As a great many of the boulevard shopkeepers have names which are not typically French, the assertion Maison Française and the ostentatious display of the French flag was as ludicrous as if Lower Broadway were decked in green for St. Patrick’s Day. Mr. Rosenbaum or Mr. Bern-stein may be French or Irish, but there is at least a reasonable doubt ! In many windows, certificates of French origin, stamped by the Prefecture of Police, were displayed, or, in default of these, Russian, British, Italian and Belgian passports. For more than one fair dame, accustomed to dress as jeune fille and hide the gray by henna, this was a public confession of age. But was not that better than the risk of having plate glass broken and shop looted?
Hunting for a typewriter on the Boulevards, in the Rue le Peletier and the Rue Richelieu, afforded curious revelations concerning the origin of shop-keepers and their goods. I remember as a boy wondering why in the New York markets choice fowls were always labeled “Philadelphia poultry,” and in the Philadelphia markets “New York poultry.” Is it true even of the denizens of the barnyard that they are without honor in their own country’? Why do we always attach a greater value to the thing that comes from some other place than that in which we live? Why is “imported” the magic word that sells? Today in Paris Vienna bakers, British and American tailors, Italian restaurant keepers are all loyal Frenchmen leaving for the battle line. English home spun comes from Lille, Austrian pottery from Limoges, eau-de-Cologne from Soissons, Frankfurter sausages from Tours, sauerkraut from Nancy and bière de Munich from the suburbs of Paris. Only sewing machines and typewriters are not home made. But this brings me back to my quest.
That there should have been a paralysis in the business life of French firms through the crisis in the money market and through the calling out of their managers for an indefinite period of war service is wholly understandable. But I do not know why a number of American typewriter firms had closed shop, and why in the one great concern which I found open the American manager, a true New Yorker, was wholly “up in the air.” To hear him talk, one would believe that the end of the world had come and that what the morrow would bring forth no man knew. I tried to reason with him, for I wanted a typewriter badly. He would not rent one. He would not accept a deposit, as a guarantee of my good faith. Typewriters there were galore around him, but not one would be allowed to leave the premises unless I paid him seven hundred francs in cash. When I told him that I already had one of his typewriters, bought only a few months before, at my country home and another machine at Havre and that I did not care to purchase a third, the interview for him was at an end. In desperation, for I knew the other places were closed, I offered to pay the man the seven hundred francs if he would take the machine back the next day, and give me my money back. No, he would not do that. I suggested that I take one of his old machines and deposit the seven hundred francs. “If I do not bring the machine back,” I said, “you will have sold a second-hand machine for seven hundred francs.” That would not do.
The only other thing I could think of was that he deliver me a machine on rental in care of a hundred million dollar American corporation, whose large office-building was near his establishment, and who would be a guarantee of my good faith. No, he would not do that either. So I left the imbecile running his hands through his hair, and waiting for the deluge to come. I cite this story in extenso, because it illustrates how the panic in business was affecting even Americans in responsible positions.
It was now three o’clock, and I did not have my typewriter. Suddenly, I thought of a large American firm who had a buying office in the wholesale quarter. I did not know the French manager, but had credentials which made me feel that he might be induced to lend me one of his office machines.
I met him in the hallway, and started to explain what I wanted. He cut me short.
“I am leaving for the front tomorrow,” he said, “and my English stenographer cleared out this morning. In my office, you can have the machine.”
“Good,” I answered. “Here is my address. Please send a boy over with it to my hotel.”
He fingered my card, and looked at me with astonishment. “Young man,” he said, “if you really want that typewriter, you just take it off the table and carry it out of here yourself right away.”
I shall never forget walking down the Boulevards all the way from Marguery’s to the Opéra Comique without seeing a single free taxi. On the afternoon of a summer day such an experience in Paris seemed unbelievable. But it was very real to me with that typewriter banging against my leg at every step. Before I got back to my hotel it was five o’clock.
Now I am at my hard-earned machine. One only knows what a typewriter means when he wants it badly and hasn’t got it.
Ten p. m.
The typewriter occupied my thoughts so fully this afternoon that I did not think of money until after I had posted my letter. It was then half past six. I still had my hundred-franc note unbroken,and unbreakable. The five-franc pieces the Lawyer had given me on Sunday afternoon were gone.
Luckily, there was the rendezvous with the Sculptor for dinner at Marie’s. As I turned away from the post office and crossed the Place de Rennes in front of the Gare du Montparnasse, I found myself in the midst of a man hunt. Some one had said that a man making for the station was a German, and that he had cried in a loud voice, “Vive l’Allemagne.” No one stopped to ascertain if the charge were true or not. The victim was hit several times over the head by the inner ring of the crowd that gathered. He evidently had some friend, though. For, as I worked my way in to see what the matter was, he had succeeded in getting clear, and ran into the Café Lavenue. The crowd started after him. Quick as a flash, the café doors were closed. I managed to get in by another door.
Some fifty men were inside the café. It was a strange sight to see the “spy” jammed against the wall on the high box where Paris had so long been accustomed to watch Schumaker bring forth delightful melodies from his violin. The man was trying to talk. His words were drowned in the angry roar. The police came just in time. First they cleared us out of the café, and then formed a cordon around the supposed German, and got him across the street into the railway station.
“Is he really a German spy?” I asked the waiter on the terrace of Lavenue.
“Why, no. I ‘m sure he is not. He is a wholesale wine merchant who lives at Meudon, and from whom all the cafés around here buy. He is just as French as I am.”
“But if you know him, why did n’t you vouch for him the proprietor and you other men of the café?”
The waiter shook his head. “That would have been a dangerous game,” he said. “Who can reason with a crowd? Our whole place would have been wrecked.”
I looked at him in admiration. If you want a keen judge of human nature, get a waiter.
As I walked down the Boulevard du Montparnasse, I ran into my old concierge. “Tiens!” he exclaimed. “Where did you come from? Are Madame and the children with you`?”
I told him how I had come to town to see the mobilization. He shook his head in wonder at the things Americans would do. Some were crazy to get out. Others were flying straight to Paris at a time like this !
“But the Germans are not here and I think they will not get here very soon,if ever. I am more interested in the prospects of changing a hundred-franc note than in the Germans.”
“A hundred-franc note is not money now,” he commented. Just as we were parting, he grabbed my sleeve impulsively. “But does Monsieur need money?” he asked. “I can give you some silver.”
“René,” I said, “how much real money, as you call it, have you got?”
“Forty francs,” he replied, and took out his purse. “But half of it is yours.”
I did not need the money, for I was going to meet the Sculptor. But I would not have hesitated to borrow from René. The gruff exterior of a Paris concierge covers the warmest heart that beats. Men or women, they are the same. They scold and they growl, but they will share their last crust with you. One who has had an apartment in Paris need never feel that he lacks a friend.
The Sculptor had been to the Rue Descartes. No Artist yet ! Marie’s was full of parting reservists. The whole large family, connected mysteriously with the restaurant which would hardly seem large enough for themselves to eat in, was gathered around one table in the corner. We had to wait a bit for our meal. They were leaving, sons and sons-in-law, brothers and brothers-in-law, at seven o’clock. If there were tears, aprons were used adroitly; for we did not see them. It was a boisterous send off, to which we contributed the price of three bottles of Beaujolais.
After they were gone, we ate our meal in haste at a little table on the sidewalk. Marie said the order had come to close at eight o’clock. No leisurely glass of coffee after the meal. We could not understand this sudden cutting off of what seemed to be as essential to one’s everyday life as the air one breathed. After the Sculptor had paid, we walked down to the Closerie des Lilas. Shut up tight. It was the same on the Boulevard St. Michel. This was the consequence no, more than that, the solutionof the events of last night. On a wall we read the proclamation of General Michel, the military governor. Cafés are to close in Paris at eight o’clock. The sale of absinthe is prohibited at all hours of the day.
The Sculptor said he would go to bed. There was nothing else to do. I made the same decision. I walked back to my hotel along a silent boulevard. No lights except an occasional gas lamp of the last decade; no tramways, no motor busses. The only noise was the steady tramp of regiments passing silently toward the Gare.
The war is on ! Paris is taking it in earnest.