October 10, 1914
Amelie and I went up to Paris day before yesterday, for the first time since the battle,—you see everything here dates “before” and “after” the battle, and will for a long time.
Trains had been running between Paris and Meaux for ten days, and will soon go as far as Chalons, where the Etat-Major was the last time we heard of it. Isn’t that pretty quick work? And with three big bridges to build? But the army needed the road, and the engineers were at work five days after the battle.
There are but few trains—none yet on our branch road—so we had to go to Esbly. It took two hours to get to Paris—hardly more than twelve miles. We simply crawled most of the way. We crept through the tunnel this side of Lagny, and then stood on this side of the Marne, and whistled and shrieked a long time before we began to wiggle across the unfinished bridge, with workmen hanging up on the derricks and scaffoldings in all sorts of perilous positions, and all sorts of grotesque attitudes. I was glad when we were over.
I found the town more normal than it was when I was there six weeks ago. If I had not seen it in those first days of the mobilization it would have seemed sadder than it did, and, by contrast, while it was not the Paris that you know, it was quiet and peaceful,—no excitement of any sort in the streets, practically no men anywhere. All the department shops were open, but few people were in them, and very little to sell. Many of the small shops were closed, and will be, I imagine, until the end of the war. All the Austrian and German shops, and there were many of them, are, of course, closed for good, making wide spaces of closed shutters in the Avenue de l’Opera and the rue de la Paix, and the rue Scribe, where so many of the steamship offices are. That, and the lack of omnibuses and tramways and the scarcity of cabs, makes the once brilliant and active quarter look quite unnatural. However, it gives one a chance to see how really handsome it is.
A great many of the most fashionable hotels are turned to hospitals, and everywhere, especially along the Champs-Elysees, the flags of the Red Cross float over once gay resorts, while big white bunting signs extend across almost every other facade, carrying the name and number of a hospital.
Every sort of business is running short-handed, and no big office or bank is open between the hours of noon and two o’clock.
I saw no one—there was no one to see. I finished the little business I had to do and then I went back to the station and sat on the terrace of the cafe opposite, and, for an hour, I watched the soldiers going in at one gate, and the public—Indian file—presenting its papers at another. No carriages can enter the courtyard. No one can carry anything but hand luggage, and porters are not allowed to pass the gates, so one had to carry one’s bundles one’s self across the wide, paved court. However, it is less trying to do this than it was in other days, as one runs no risk from flying motor-cabs.