AT the time of the advance of the Bulgarians on Constantinople two years ago, we who were in the Turkish capital did not realize that the Turks had been defeated in Thrace until hordes of frightened refugees began to fill the streets of old Stamboul. They gave the lie eloquently and irrefutably to the official communiqués. We have some refugees in Paris. They are said to be all Belgians. Yesterday, however, I saw some who admitted that they had come from Lille.
But if we wanted proof that the Government has withheld news of reverses from us, it was furnished today in a romantic and dramatic fashion. Perhaps it has been accompanied by tragedy. That I have not yet been able to ascertain.
Shortly after noon a German aviator, flying at the height of six thousand feet, was seen appearing from the direction of Montmartre. He came over the city as far as the Gare du Nord, to destroy which he let fall three bombs. A pennant of the German colors, eight feet long and weighted by a sand bag, fell in the Rue des Vinaigriers. It bore the message:
“The German army is at the gates of Paris. There is nothing for you to do except surrender. Lieutenant von Heidssen.”
The Germans have devised a startling method for giving us information not yet published by our newspapers. Is it any truer than what our journals tell us? An aeroplane can come a long distance. The aviator may have started his daring flight in Belgium, for all we know.
Paris has taken this first omen of evil days with remarkable sang-froid. Among the people, I find neither depression nor nervousness. There is no tendency to attach importance to this raid.
Tonight I dined in a boulevard café with two volunteers of the Foreign Legion in training at Revil. The Irishman, whom I had barely seen except in tablier or redingote, looked more like comic opera than stem reality in cowhide boots, baggy red trousers, flapping overcoat, and a képi that hardly covered half of the shock of black hair surmounting his engaging grin. You see my eyes have followed him from foot to head rather than from head to foot.
But with the Irishman, one always comes back to the grinthat grin in which nose and eyes are indissolubly associated with the mouth.
If the Irishman looked out of fit in his French outfit, what shall I say of the Norwegian, who has been for so long the Irishman’s companion-at-brushes in a famous little studio of the Rue Vercingetorix and who is now his companion-at-arms’? The Norwegian (he comes from Iowa, if you please) has a northland face, on which is the stamp of southland refinement. If I did not know that he was a painter, I would take him for a college professor who fed on Emerson and Robert Louis Stevenson, and who could be accused of having a longer row of poets on his bookshelves than of the authorities in the field in which he professed.
There was no gloom in the restaurant. That was because every table was like our own. These were real folks eating around us, to whom the events of the day were matters of fact, to be accepted and faced, rather than to be rejected and run away from. They were folks who had work to do, and were doing it. They had not time to think of bombs falling upon them. It is only the empty head that has room for imaginary fears. Having done their day’s work, these honest Parisians were enjoying the reward of it in a well cooked and well washed down meal.
In such an atmosphere we felt at home, the Irishman, the Norwegian, and I. We read the evening communiqué which announced that the houses within the zone of action of the Paris forts were to be razed, and so to be evacuated within four days. our military governor is certainly taking Lieutenant von Heidssen at his word, in so far as the first sentence of his message to Paris goes. But he believes, as we all believe, that, even if the Germans are at our gates, there is something else to do but surrender!
When we talked of the German aviator who dared to fly over Paris, the Irishman raised his glass.
“Far be it from one wearing the uniform that I wear to drink to the health of a German. But I cannot help wishing good luck to the first German invader of Paris. Mighty fine flying that ! I admire the rascal’s nerve, and am sorry that he had to be a Boche.’ Here ‘s to him!”
The Irishman expressed the prevailing sentiment of Parisians this evening. Would n’t Von Heidssen be surprised if he knew that those whom he came to frighten are surreptitiously toasting him’?
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday the German aviators have come to regard their visit to Paris a part of their daily routine. We are getting to know the Tauben.
A few minutes ago, above the rattle of the typewriter as I was dictating a statement that the patrol organization of the Army Aviation Corps is now so well organized that further visits from German aeroplanes are impossible, I heard the unmistakable whirr of a propeller, followed by shot after shot. My secretary and I stopped short : we ran to the window. There, right above us, flying so low that we could see the two men piloting her, a Taube sailed calmly over the Boulevard Saint Michel. Above the Ecole des Mines the glistening machine made a beautiful turn to avoid the shots that were coming from the Val-de-Grâce, and flew back in the direction of the north.
There is still the unwilling tribute to the daring of the enemy’s airmen. But I can no longer drink a toast to them as I did with the Irishman on Sunday night. For their exploits have included deliberately murderous bomb throwing. No military advantage has been gained by these bombs. Innocent noncombatants, women and children, have been struck down upon the streets. Why did this have to be’? Why has daring that wrested unwilling admiration from all been marred in this way?
Now that we see the reason for these raids, we despise the spirit which prompted them. We pity the mentality of those who planned and executed them.
These airmen have come over our city in order to scare us, to strike terror into our hearts, to cause the people to rise up and demand peace in order that Paris may be spared a bombardment.
But this purpose has not been accomplished. When the fourth daily visitor interrupted our work a few minutes ago, I put on my hat and hurried out into the street to see how the airman’s visit affected the people. On the Boulevard Saint Michel, on the Boulevard Saint Germain, and on the quays, every one was looking towards the Taube, now a speck upon the horizon over Sacre Coeur. If there was excitement, it was because some claimed still to see the machine, and were soundly rating the stupidity of those who could not see it still and maintained that it had disappeared. What comments I heard were prompted by indignation and curiosity and by disgust for the inability of our aviators to prevent the raid.
Fear? I saw no signs of it.
When the aeroplane had certainly disappeared, the Parisians went back to their work or to their apéritifs. Newspapers were opened again, and fresh cigarettes lit. The Taube had gone. Why think more about it?
But this evening some have thought more,and will think more through the lonely years ahead. For lifeless forms have been lifted from the streets, and many a family, care-free an hour ago, is gathered in the death-chamber of a loved one.