Captain Ware felt singularly young, boyishly exhilarated, as he walked out early next morning for his first view of Paris. It was not yet eight o’clock, but the day was beautiful, promising warmth; the skies were clear; the whole appearance of things one of perfect peace and quiet. The city did not seem one threatened by war. The streets, as he walked up the rue de Rivoli, were almost deserted. It was early for Parisians to be abroad.
The city astounded him, captivated him, gave him a feeling of humility. He was familiar with Detroit, had seen Chicago and New York, but Paris—Paris was different. His experience gave him nothing with which to compare it. Chicago and New York were unsightly upheavals; the fantastic work of tremendous industrial forces in irresistible motion. They reared. Paris did not rear; it reposed; it had not been upheaved tumultuously—it had been dreamed and dreamed by genius which comprehended beauty.
The city affected him almost to breathlessness as it opened before him when he passed the ancient grayness of the Louvre. He turned to the left and stood between the wide jaws of the Louvre, the mouth of the Place du Carrousel, and, standing there, looked westward through the reaches of the Tuileries and beyond to where, silhouetted with massive grandeur, uprose Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe…. It was impossible—incredibly magnificent. At that instant began the first great change in his life. He might not consciously have dated it from that instant, and possibly he never dated it at all, but Paris had set the hand of her beauty upon him; her spell had touched him with its magic.
“Why,” he said to himself, “anything could happen here!” And presently, “The Germans drop bombs on this … they try to destroy this.”
For the first time came an appreciation, not yet a full appreciation, but far more than an inkling, that a great event had overtaken him: he had left the Middle West behind him; he felt that he was not only about to see, but to be a part of, a new and wonderful mode of life and of thought. There came to him a hint that there might be something to life besides merely living it. Though he did not know the phrase, he felt something of the meaning it bears—Joie de vivre. Later he would, perhaps, appreciate a remark made to him by a French officer. “It is not savoir faire that is the great knowledge, it is savoir vivre.” It is not so important to know how to conduct oneself as it is to know how to make the most of life….
He retraced his steps to the rue de Rivoli, stopped to regard the golden Jeanne d’Arc about which he said to himself that he would have liked it better if it had been bronze or marble, and that the sculptor had made Jeanne “huskier” than he had pictured her to himself. That was the word he used—“huskier.” Somehow he had always conceived Jeanne d’Arc—what slight conception he had of her—as rather anemic and thin and fragile…. His conception of Jeanne was like the conception many good Americans have made for themselves of France. Two millions of them would soon be on French soil to see for themselves that it was not an anemic, fragile country, but robust, healthy, capable not only of visions, but of battles….
He walked on to pause again in the Place de la Concorde and to marvel at such prodigality of open space in the very heart of a great city. He even tried to calculate to himself the money worth of so many acres in the retail section of New York, say along Fifth Avenue from Thirty-fourth Street north and west…. It was a typical American calculation. Beyond him the Champs Élysées reached on, climbing its little gradient to the Arc dc Triomphe. It was splendid and beautiful. It “got under his skin,” as he phrased it.
He stood there looking off across the river toward the Chamber of Deputies, over the roof of which could be seen the dome of Napoleon’s Tomb. Then he turned and surveyed the path he had just traversed, that reach of low, symmetrical buildings facing the Jardin des Tuileries. He was not exactly inarticulate, but he was not eloquent. “I’ll be damned,” he said under his breath. “Well, I’ll be damned.”
Now he was hungry, and, walking more rapidly, he returned to the University Union to find the dining-room open and a few American officers at petit déjeuner. For the most part they were eating bread and confiture and washing it down with chocolate. A few were taking the American breakfast, actually eating two eggs and other food—a thing to convince the Parisian that these visitors were indeed mad, or at least barbarians.
“Yea, boy!” said a loud voice, just as Captain Ware was endeavoring to give his order to one of the two pretty French girls who were the waitresses. It was his first sight of the Parisienne, and it had rather surprised him. They did not wear short skirts and high-heeled slippers, with more than enough black-stockinged ankle to regard. They had not saucy eyes and rétroussé noses, nor did they whisk about flirtatiously. They were pretty, indeed they were charming, but they were quiet, even subdued, and they looked nice. That was a good American word he could apply to them. He liked their looks, even if they failed to come up to his ideas of what a French waitress should be.
He looked up from the pad on which he had been checking off the petit déjeuner, to see facing him across the table, in a captain’s uniform and Sam Brown belt which made him almost unrecognizable, a man with whom he had been more than friendly through four years in Ann Arbor.
“Bert Stanley!” he exclaimed, jumping to his feet and extending his hand.
“They all come here,” said Stanley to himself, “all of them—if you just wait long enough…. When did you land?”
“Day before yesterday.”
“And got to Paris so soon? How did you work that?”
“Ordered…. What are you doing here?”
“Making marks on pieces of paper. That’s what I got for knowing anything about architectural engineering. I’m in the Signal Corps and I’m drawing plans for aeroplane-sheds…. What are you?” He looked down at Kendall’s collar markings.
“Intelligence! I’m one of the fellows who find out everything about everything in the world and tell it to the army for its good.”
“Don’t know. Report this morning.”
“Fix it, son, fix it…. It’s a great guerre, and this battle of Paris—”
“Beurre, monsieur?” asked the waitress.
“Eh? What’s that?”
“She wants to know,” explained Stanley, with exaggerated patience, “if you want butter. It’s extra.”
Kendall signified his desire for butter. “I’ve just been out looking at the town,” he said. “The fellows that built it knew what they were doing, didn’t they?”
“They knew how to do a lot of things. Staying here, of course.”
“Didn’t know where else to go. You, too?”
“Have been a month, but if I’m going to live here for the duration, and it looks as if I were, I’d like to get somebody and take a little apartment somewhere…. Over in the Quartier Latin or up on one of the streets off the Étoile. Have some comfort. Live cheaper, too. Get a cook for sixty or seventy francs, and be regular people…. Say, if you’re set down in Paris, come on in with me.”
“Sounds reasonable,” said Kendall, tentatively. “Haven’t the least idea what they’ll do with me, though.”
“Well, you run up and see, and, whatever happens, meet me here at half past six and I’ll take you to a regular place to eat, and then we’ll go out and look at the sights.”
“You’re on,” said Kendall, “bigger than a house.”
Captain Ware had hoped to be assigned to active duty with a combat unit. He had studied and trained himself for the duties of an intelligence officer at the front, and for months had looked forward with enthusiasm to those interesting and invaluable duties which such an officer performs. He was not a young man to welcome a desk job or to be contented with a position in the Safety of the Service of Supplies region. In that he resembled thousands of other young officers whose fortune it would never be to hear a cannon fired in battle, to take part in a charge, or to be nearer to the front than some small town in the interior of France. None of them had chosen their places. They had been sent where they were most needed and where their work was essential to the victories to be won against the enemy…. Captain Ware, like these others, must perform the task set for him, wherever it might lie—hoping always for a new assignment that should carry him to the dugout and to the trench. It was, therefore, with grievous disappointment that he learned he was to be stationed in Paris, apparently in permanence. He could still hope, for in the army in France no man can tell what to-morrow will bring him. Orders come and men go…. Somehow it did not seem possible to him that he would thus go to war without going to war; that he should journey across the ocean to this mightiest of all conflicts without the experience of battle….
At half after six he was again at the Union, where he found Bert Stanley waiting for him in the lounge, whiling away the time very pleasantly in conversation with charming Annette of the pert face, white teeth, and busy chatter—a chatter made up in very large part of excellent American idiom learned from the patrons of the cigar-and-candy case of which she was custodian. Hundreds of American officers will return to their country after the war with pleasant memories of wise little Annette, the little French girl who sold cigarettes and candy and wrist watches and post-cards at the stand in the Union.
Kendall ascended to his room in the queer little elevator whose conductor was a tiny Belgian boy, proud of a few words of American, and presently walked down the five flights—for in France it is not considered good manners in war-time to use an elevator for descent—and rejoined Stanley.
“Well,” said Stanley, “what luck?”
“It looks like Paris for mine,” said Kendall, still depressed by his disappointment.
“Might be worse…. Might have been Chaumont.”
They walked north on the rue de Richelieu, past the Molière fountain, and by the door of Marty’s which Kendall was to know very well later on. At the rue St.-Marc they turned to the left until the Opéra Comique uprose before them, and then made their way into the up-stairs dining-room of the Café Poccardi on rue Favart.
“It’s early. The crowd doesn’t show up before seven-thirty, so we can get a table up front where we can see the show,” said Stanley. “Besides, there’s a waiter there who speaks English.”
They found seats with their backs toward the windows, a point of vantage from which they could view the large, mirrored room with its rows of small, closely set tables. Only a few were occupied, but gradually the patrons straggled in—a truly Parisian gathering. There were handsome men in officers’ uniforms with many gold service stripes on the sleeve, and some with two, three, or even four wound chevrons on the opposite sleeve. They were accompanied by well-dressed women, mostly young, always very neat…. It was their shoes that demanded Kendall’s attention. This was a matter that had been impressing itself upon him through the day—that the Parisienne knew how to dress her feet. There were poilus on leave, each with his girl, or even with two girls. There were one or two old but immaculate men with women young enough to be their granddaughters. A few women entered alone and seated themselves quietly at tables to await their partners—perhaps the café was their place of rendezvous…. Two women, beautifully dressed in black, with widows’ veils, occupied a table just across from Kendall and his companion. They were very young, and one was remarkably lovely…. The sight rather depressed Kendall. This was one of the meanings of war—this youthful widowhood! Here was the cruelty of it, the bitterness of it!
“France must be filled with widows,” he said to Stanley.
Bert grinned. “Camouflage,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“If you’re thinking about our friends opposite, don’t get too sympathetic. They’re no more widows than I am. Camouflage. It’s the style. But they’re overdoing it. Everybody’s next, now, even us Americans. Bait, sonny, bait, that’s what it is.”
Bert looked over at the widows and smiled, and the lovelier one smiled in reply, not brazenly, not with the red-lipped, painted-cheeked smile of the Anglo-Saxon siren, but demurely, pleasantly, as if she were merely returning his smile out of courtesy and from an abundance of gentle good nature.
“See?” said Bert.
“But they look nice.” Again Kendall used that word.
“They are nice…. This isn’t Terre Haute, son.”
Everybody was drinking wine, Kendall noticed. It was universal, and as the meal progressed he spoke about it.
“Everybody is going to the wine,” he said, “but nobody gets noisy.”
“Nobody does,” said Bert. “Do we get noisy at home when we drink coffee?”
Kendall watched. He saw a man half fill his companion’s glass with red wine, then pour in as much water as there was wine. This, he saw, was almost universally done…. Conversation was animated. There was gay laughter and lightness, but it was not the gaiety of wine.
At a table well within view sat two poilus with their wives or sweethearts. Kendall watched them, for it was by far the jolliest, least restrained party in the room…. And then he saw the larger soldier throw his arm around the neck of his buxom companion and kiss her soundly…. It rather shocked him. The idea of demonstrative affection in, for instance, the dining-room of the McAlpin, or in one of the better-class cafés of Detroit, was impossible to entertain. He watched for a waiter to protest, perhaps to eject the couple from the place…. But there were only tolerant smiles when any notice whatever was taken of the event…. And it was an event which was repeated—the sound of hearty smacks coming even to Kendall’s ear…. He saw other men come in, and before they sat down beside waiting companions they would stoop to salute with a kiss…. The thing was not universal, not even general, but there was enough of it for him to become aware that it was not exceptional…. But for all that, it made him feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. Apparently, if people had kissing to do they simply did it…. He was to recognize this later as one manifestation of the frank, unaffected genuineness of the people. Now it seemed rather gross to him, gross and exotic. The idea did not occur to him then that it was he with his American notions and antecedents, with his inheritances from Plymouth Rock, that was exotic.
He wondered who all these people were; he wondered if they were married. Were these men and women husbands and wives, or were the women those mysterious, very French, somewhat exciting persons whom he had read about in novels and who were called mistresses?
He did not put the question to Stanley because he was afraid of appearing provincial. He might as well have done so, for in all probability Stanley, with all of his month’s experience in Paris, was pondering the same matter…. Anyhow, he felt that he was seeing life; that he was beholding things which he could tell about later to interested audiences…. It is a peculiarity of the Anglo-Saxon mind that everything which is strange to it appears to it as necessarily tinged with naughtiness.
At another table, over to Kendall’s left, two girls were eating alone, and he watched them with interest and considerable curiosity, wondering who and what they were. One of them attracted him particularly. She was young, in the neighborhood of twenty, he judged. She was dressed in white, a suit of some knit material that reminded him of a light jersey, and on her very black and wavy hair was a shapeless white cap of the tam-o-’shanter variety. Her skin was a delightful olive, and her eyes black, with shadows under them. She was not beautiful, unless her eyes made her so. She was small and almost thin. She addressed herself to her food in a very business-like manner, not often looking up from her plate, but once in a while she smiled as she replied to some comment of her companion, and her teeth were very white and regular. There was no appearance of wealth about her, but every feature spoke of intelligence—indeed, of a certain keenness…. She was very attractive.
“Look,” he said to Bert. “I wonder who she is. She looks as if she had ‘class.’”
“Pretty kid,” said Bert, who, just then, was more interested in poule au riz than in Parisiennes.
He continued to stare, unconscious of his rudeness, until she lifted her eyes to his. For a moment she regarded him, with no especial interest, certainly with no sign which could be interpreted as provocative, and dropped her eyes again to her plate…. Kendall was conscious at once of disappointment and satisfaction. Here was another girl that he had estimated as “nice,” and this time, apparently, he was right.
In a moment he heard her name, for her companion uttered it. “Andree.” Somehow it suited her, Kendall thought, and he thought, too, that it was a decidedly pretty name … “Andree.”
From time to time, as he was finishing his dinner, Kendall glanced at Andree. But he did not meet her eyes again. She was not interested in him, apparently, and even when he walked past her table on his way out she did not look up or manifest by a sign that she was conscious of his existence.
“Where now?” he said as they debouched onto the broad Boulevard des Italiens.
“Might as well take in the ‘Folies Bergère.’ It’s one of the sights.”
They walked along in silence, crossing the boulevard and turning up a narrow street toward the theater. Kendall continued to think about the little girl with the black eyes. Somehow she had made an impression of some sort upon him. He could not have described it nor estimated it. All he knew was that he liked her looks immensely and was curious about her. Probably he would never see her again, but he found himself hoping that he might.
They bought tickets for the “Folies” and entered, traversing the large hall filled with tables at which the audience was expected to refresh itself between the acts, or even during the performance, and, after buying programs, were conducted to their seats by a girl usher who stood sternly by until she received her tip—a tip that she would have suggested if it had not been tendered.
Then the performance began—a very disappointing performance to a Middle-Western young man who had heard tales of the naughtiness of the French stage. It turned out to be a rather clumsy musical comedy which was more vaudeville than either music or comedy. It was not naughty at all, he said to himself—but perhaps that was because he failed to understand the dialogue. Anyhow, he had seen much franker costumes and much more suggestive incident in Mr. Ziegfeld’s “Follies” or at the Winter Garden.
The audience was more than half American; the music was adapted from American shows, and between the acts a jazz orchestra, “straight from Broadway,” made the ears ring. Everybody got up between the acts and promenaded or sat at the little tables…. Girls wandered about and spoke to one, and made Kendall feel uncomfortable and embarrassed again. He was glad when they returned to their seats.
The performance rather bored him, and he suggested leaving. Bert was ready, too, so they sauntered out onto the dark streets, making their way to the Avenue de l’Opéra and past the huge bulk of that wonderful building which France had erected even while she was paying to Germany the billion-franc indemnity exacted after 1870. Once or twice soft voices accosted them out of the darkness, but they walked on toward the Union, and presently were ordering ice-cream and listening to a lieutenant play ragtime on the piano.
Then, suddenly, the air was rent by a startling, metallic shriek, a long-sustained, nerve-twanging, raucous blast.
“Raid!” said Stanley, getting to his feet.
“Bomb raid?” asked Kendall, instantly excited.
“Yes. Let’s go out and take a look.”
So, with characteristic foolhardiness, they sallied out and hurried up the rue de Rivoli to the Place de la Concorde, where they sat on a stone balustrade and waited. They were not alone. About that open space were scattered a dozen Americans impelled by absurd curiosity—a curiosity they would discard very shortly and become more circumspect in their behavior as well as more respectful toward the Gothas.
Still the alerte sounded, more terrifying than the sound of the barrage which was presently to begin. Sirens mounted on fire-engines were giving the alarm, tearing madly through the black streets, and with horrid voice commanding Paris to seek sanctuary in abri or in the tunnels of the Metropolitan.
Kendall was not frightened; he was hardly apprehensive. Even when the guns opened toward the north and he could see bright star-flashes as shrapnel burst high above, he was only exhilarated and very interested. The thing did not seem serious to him. But it was serious, he knew. It was war, and such barbarous war as held the world in a spell of horror. Presently the air was filled with the crashes of cannon, and one could trace the course of the enemy by the spreading of the ring of fire about the city…. Once in a while would come a deep, dull, thunderous boom, as a bomb, released by a Gotha, would fall in the distant suburbs, perhaps upon the home of some laborer, burying himself with his wife and babies in the ruins, or destroying them utterly so that no trace of their human shell would ever be discovered…. The firing moved westward, and then swung around to the south as the hostile aeroplanes strove vainly to penetrate the city…. This continued for half an hour. Then there was a time of quietness, after which came the pleasant voices of bugles notifying a cowering population that all was clear…. The raid had been abortive—it had succeeded in killing only half a dozen defenseless civilians!
Kendall and Stanley walked back to the Union—to have another dish of ice-cream. As they walked up-stairs in the darkness Kendall said to his friend: “I wonder who that girl was … the one in the restaurant. Her name was Andree.”