And, monsieur, all those barricades put up for nothing! They will not need the cattle gathered on Long-champs race-track and in the parks at Versailles for a siege. The people who laid in stocks of tinned goods till the groceries of Paris were empty of everything in tins—they will either have to live on canned food or confess that they were pigs, hein? Those volunteers, whether young men who had been excused because they were only sons or for weak hearts which now let them past the surgeons, whether big, hulking farmers, or labourers, or stooped clerks, drilling in awkward squads in the suburbs till they are dizzy, they will not have to defend Paris; but, perhaps, help to regain Alsace and Lorraine.
Then there were stories going the rounds; stories of French courage and elan which were cheering to the ears of those who had to remain at home. Did you hear about the big French peasant soldier who captured a Prussian eagle in Alsace? They had him come to Paris to give him the Legion of Honour and the great men made a ceremony of it, gathering around him at the Ministry of War. The simple fellow looked from one to another of the group, surprised at all this attention. It did not occur to him that he had done anything remarkable. He had seen a Prussian with a standard and taken the standard away from the Prussian.
“If you like this so well,” said that droll one, “I’ll try to get another!”
Though the Germans were going, the siege by the cordon of French guards around Paris had not been raised. To them every civilian was a possible spy. So they let no civilians by. Must one remain for ever in Paris, screened from any view of the great drama? Was there no way of securing a blue card which would open the road to war for an atom of humanity who wanted to see Frenchmen in action and not to pry into generals’ plans?
Happily, an army winning is more hospitable than an army losing; and bonds of friendship which stretch around the world could be linked with authority which has only to say the word, in order that one might have a day’s glimpse of the fields where von Kluck’s Germans were showing their heels to the French.
Ours, I think, was the pioneer of the sight-seeing parties which afterwards became the accepted form of war correspondence with the French. None could have been under more delightful auspices in companionship or in the event. Victory was in the hearts of our hosts, who included M. Paul Doumer, formerly President of the Chamber of Deputies and Governor of French Indo-China and now a senator, and General Febrier, of the French Medical Service, who was to have had charge of the sanitation of Paris in case of a siege.
M. Doumer was acting as Chef de Cabinet to General Gallieni, the commandant of Paris, and he and General Febrier and two other officers of Gallieni’s staff, who would have been up to their eyes in work if there had been a siege, wanted to see something of that army whose valour had given them a holiday. Why should not Roberts and myself come along? which is the pleasant way the French have of putting an invitation.