IF a visitor were to arrive for the first time in Paris today, he would find nothing to indicate that the fate of France is being decided within a hundred miles of the city. Only one familiar with the Paris of a normal August would note that there are fewer automobiles and no bus’s, and that there are less shoppers than usual. The underground railways and the surface tramways are running. Train service to the suburbs and to the seashore has been resumed. Most of the shops have opened again. Not until evening does one realize that this is a different Paris.
What boils over quickly, as quickly cools. No people in the world are more adaptable than the Parisians. They have already adjusted themselves to the fact that the titanic struggle has commenced, and that the city has been drained of its virile, masculine element. The confusion of the mobilization is over. The fear of a sudden German raid upon the city has been allayed. The Parisians left behind are beginning, perforce, to think of other things than the war. The life of a great metropolis cannot be upset for many days.
And yet it would be a mistake to think that the Parisians are over confident, and that they do not realize the enormousness of the struggle upon which their country has embarked. They have simply accepted the fact that the war is on, that men must die, that battles will probably be lost. In spite of the initial check at Liége and the successful raid into Alsace, they do not forget that the bulk of the German army is yet to be faced, and that the testing time is still ahead. The surprising events of the past week, so utterly unexpected, have not brought exultation and premature rejoicing. Facing any task worth while is appalling. But the necessity of effort brings dismay only when one has not counted the cost, or is unwilling to pay the price of success. Paris has counted the cost. There is readiness for the sacrifice.
The quiet, earnest resolution of the French belies the charge that they are a degenerate and divided race. Is there anything in the world more admirable, more inspiring, than to see a people whose women have the willingness and the ability to do their husbands’ work when the men are fighting? The tramways, the underground railways, the cabs, and the shops are being run, and run well, by that other army of France, which has mobilized itself for service at home. The government, with the supplementary calls for the classes of 1914 and 1915, has sent to the front, or put into some sort of official service, practically every ablebodied man in Paris under forty-five years of age. For all this, everything moves in Paris almost as if the men had not gone.
The strongest hope for the final victory of France is the character of her women. Instead of repining and grieving and worrying, the women of Paris are bearing successfully the burden of their husbands’ work in addition to that of their own. And they are doing it with a smile on their faces. If the tears were not all shed at the moment of parting, they are saved for the night watches. There is no more important factor in keeping up a soldier’s spirit than to have the precious knowledge that the little woman back home is attending to the business, and that she has brains and ability enough not only to keep herself and the children from starving, but to conserve the financial interests of the family.
But there is more than this in the support given to the army in the field by the army at home. The soldier knows that his wife and his mother are proud of the fact that he is where he is. They do not want to see him lay down his arms until the victory is assured: they do not want him home until his duty is done. It is only in cheap fiction that one hears of the lack of courage of the French; cheap fiction written by Anglo-Saxons and Teutons who do not know that the Frenchwoman has an intense, physical loathing for any exhibition of a lack of courage, and that she can make a lion out of her man. If the British are granted the privilege during this war of fighting side by side with the French, they will see with their own eyes what will correct this stupid and erroneous notion.
Here is the story of a woman of Paris to illustrate what I wrote a month ago.
Last Thursday, in one of the suburbs near the firing-line, a young wife learned that her husband’s regiment was going to pass through a neighboring suburb in the retreat towards the Marne. She took her three-year-old boy to a place where the regiment was to pass. When her husband’s company came by, a corporal who knew her saw her standing on the curb. He ran out of the line, and grabbed her arm, saying, “Courage, courage, Madame; your husband fell at my side yesterday at Meaux.” The line had halted for a moment, owing to some obstacle ahead, so soldiers and bystanders heard and realized the tragedy that was being enacted.
The young woman stood for a second with closed eyes. Then she lifted her boy above her head, and presented him to the regiment, crying, “Vive la France!”
If Frenchmen were the equals of their women, the world would soon find itself under the supremacy of the Gauls.