At the Place de la Concorde the fiacre had to stop altogether. The immense square was a sea of white hats and flowers and happy faces, with carriages anchored like boats on its surface. Flag after flag waved out from neighbouring roofs in the breeze that tempered the August sun. Then hats began to go up, and cheers rolled across the square like echoes of firing in an enclosed valley. Chirac’s driver jumped madly on to his seat, and cracked his whip.
“Vive la France!” he bawled with all the force of his lungs.
A thousand throats answered him.
Then there was a stir behind them. Another carriage was being slowly forced to the front. The crowd was pushing it, and crying, “Marseillaise! Marseillaise!” In the carriage was a woman alone; not beautiful, but distinguished, and with the assured gaze of one who is accustomed to homage and multitudinous applause.
“It is Gueymard!” said Chirac to Sophia. He was very pale. And he too shouted, “Marseillaise!” All his features were distorted.
The woman rose and spoke to her coachman, who offered his hand and she climbed to the box seat, and stood on it and bowed several times.
“Marseillaise!” The cry continued. Then a roar of cheers, and then silence spread round the square like an inundation. And amid this silence the woman began to sing the Marseillaise. As she sang, the tears ran down her cheeks. Everybody in the vicinity was weeping or sternly frowning. In the pauses of the first verse could be heard the rattle of horses’ bits, or a whistle of a tug on the river. The refrain, signalled by a proud challenging toss of Gueymard’s head, leapt up like a tropical tempest, formidable, overpowering. Sophia, who had had no warning of the emotion gathering within her, sobbed violently. At the close of the hymn Gueymard’s carriage was assaulted by worshippers. All around, in the tumult of shouting, men were kissing and embracing each other; and hats went up continually in fountains. Chirac leaned over the side of the carriage and wrung the hand of a man who was standing by the wheel.
“Who is that?” Sophia asked, in an unsteady voice, to break the inexplicable tension within her.
“I don’t know,” said Chirac. He was weeping like a child. And he sang out: “Victory! To Berlin! Victory!”
Sophia walked alone, with tired limbs, up the damaged oak stairs to the flat. Chirac had decided that, in the circumstances of the victory, he would do well to go to the offices of his paper rather earlier than usual. He had brought her back to the Rue Breda. They had taken leave of each other in a sort of dream or general enchantment due to their participation in the vast national delirium which somehow dominated individual feelings. They did not define their relations. They had been conscious only of emotion.
The stairs, which smelt of damp even in summer, disgusted Sophia. She thought of the flat with horror and longed for green places and luxury. On the landing were two stoutish, ill-dressed men, of middle age, apparently waiting. Sophia found her key and opened the door.