THE girl and I came up from the river through the Rue Saint-Geneviève this afternoon, and went into Saint Etienne-du-Mont. The women whom the Girl is hunting are frequently to be found in churches these days. If they go anywhere, it is only to God. You have to seek them out.
Around the Tomb of Clovis there were many candles but no worshipers. Saint Geneviève had her devotees, but not in such large numbers as last month. No one is thinking any more about the Germans coming to Paris, and, as has always been the case since the world began, we do not pray much to those of whose peculiar blessing we feel no need. To most people praying is asking. We do not ask unless we want. But Saint Antoine-de-Padua was in great demand, and in the chapel of the Virgin no place was vacant. It was not our Lady of Victories that was being invoked, but Our Lady Protectress of Soldiers.
When we left the church, and skirted around the Panthéon to pass through the Rue Soufflot, we noticed that a door of the Panthéon was open. We entered.
The crowd was different from any that we had ever seen in the temple of a grateful country to her sons.” Ordinarily tourists and Parisian, mingled promiscuously, make the rounds of the mural paintings that depict the history of France and Paris, one and indivisible. With gay laughter and keen interest in the work f Puvis de Chavannes and others, they are moved by artistic sentiment or historic imagination to outspoken admiration aid comment.
This afternoon there were no tourists. There was no laughter and no enthusiasm. The people seemed to have come just for something to do. Their conversation was not of France and her past and present glory, but of sons and brothers and fathers who were “out there.” This vague term has become common parlance since the war began, because there is no other that can be used. None knows where loved ones are, or even if there are loved ones still. Fighting, wounded, prisoners, deadwhich? Who knows’? Some who had come home were there this afternoon. A splendid boy not more than twenty years old was leaning on his crutches in front of the picture of Attila, thinking perhaps of the Kaiser, and whether he was really to blame for the leg that had been lost. Refugees from the North were visiting the Pantheon for the first time, standing before the scenes of devastation and massacre f the fifth century. Did the paintings awaken last month’s memories of the twentieth century counterpart through which they themselves had lived?
Before we had gone half way round, a feeling of depression gave us the common impulse to get out into the open air. The Panthéon may be inspiring in the time of peace. In time of war it is too reminiscent of the hell in which we are living.
As I turned toward the door, the Girl took my arm and led me up what ought to be chancel steps to the altarless apse. There we saw a contrast, Détaille’s group Vers la Gloire! on the wall, and a group before the picture which showed us the result of that unholy aspiration which has misguided not only France but the world. A young woman in mourning was holding a baby in her arms. At her skirts three other children were clutching. She looked with unseeing eyes at Detaille’s masterpiece. Near her two soldiers, one with his arm in a sling, and the other with a face that had been horribly disfigured by the bursting f a shell, were gazing apathetically at the imaginary soldiers of France winning imaginary glory. We could not read the woman’s mind. We could not hear the soldiers’words. But I think our guess was not far from the mark.
“Did he die for glory? Is this the glory that he wonmy babies and Iour broken life?” she must have been thinking.
“Put the artist who made that picture, the writers who have glorified that ideal, and the politicians who have caused this war into the trenches where we were, and let them face life maimed as we are is it glory?” they were probably saying.
“There is no glory in it. It has been a lieit is a lie !” The Girl was almost sobbing, as we brushed by the legless soldier into the open.
But she did n’t sobnot quite. For she had other things to think about. She took from her pocket the list of twenty odd women whose husbands are at the war, who are expecting babies, and who have no money for nourishing the children already bornlet alone buying clothes for the new-comer. She looked up the nearest address on the list.
We left behind us the Panthéon and Détaille’s conception, and went to find the next victim of glory !