When we awoke, in a fine morning lightly veiled by silvery mists, the suburbs of Paris were already visible.
We passed through the forest of Fontaine-bleau, where troops were camping amid the broom and bracken, and rolled on through the woods in which the white walls and red roofs of the villas made a gay splash on the green background. The gardens were a mass of flowers ; huge sunflowers turned their golden faces towards us.
We almost forgot the tragedy of the moment.
Sunday! The bells were ringing. Besides, Paris was quite close now, and the magnetic power of the great city was already making itself felt. The Parisians in the carriage could hardly keep still.
Suddenly, after this dreary journey, and although it would have been difficult to explain why or how, hope was rekindled in spite of some more bad news we had learnt on the way, namely, that the Germans had
reached Creil without opposition.
It was not the strength of the entrenched camp of Paris, of its garrison, nor of its heavy artillery which restored our confidence; it was rather the instinctive faith of a child, who, having returned home, feels irresistible because there seems to be a sort of reassuring sympathy between himself and surrounding objects — even the elements. What again sent the blood coursing through our veins was the indescribable yet definite sensation caused by the presence of something immortal, of something loved and revered. It was like a breath
of life, like the comforting support of an invincible Personality, an all-powerful Divinity.
And then, as Hutin kept repeating : “There! That’s Paris! That’s Paris!”
A convoy of British troops was passing us. The men shouted and waved their kepis.
At Villeneuve-Saint-Georges the station was thronged with Highlanders. Our train came to a standstill and was immediately surrounded by a crowd of kilted soldiers intent upon examining our guns. Lebidois acted as
interpreter, and there was much hand-shaking and cheering.
Little Millon stopped a burly Highlander with tattooed wrists and knees and asked him whether he wore any drawers under his kilt. The other did not understand and laughed.
“That’s so, isn’t it ? ” said Millon. ” If only you’d got a little more hair on your head and a little less on your paws — why, in that skirt they’d take you for a girl!”
We detrained at Pantin. Except for inscriptions on the wooden panels or steel shutters of the shops, such as “Owner away at the front,” or, in letters a foot high, “We are French,” and save for the faded mobilization placards, Pantin wore the usual aspect common to such places on summer Sundays.
On the pavement and in the roadway swarmed crowds of women in light-coloured dresses, carefully corseted, their figures curving with that grace which only Parisian women seem to possess. Soldiers of every rank and regiment strolled in and out the crush. A Territorial passed with a woman on one arm, while with the other he led a little boy by the hand.
Was it possible that the enemy was at the gates ?
At Rosny-sous-Bois we camped on a plateau overlooking the town on one side and the plain of Brie on the other — a depressing enough spot, devoid of all charm. Far off, towards the south-east, the sound of guns
In the streets, between the greenery of the gardens and the Hght-coloured fronts of the villas, the scarlet uniforms, white blouses, and variegated parasols chequered the crowd with bright dashes of colour.
The Zouaves had come down from the forts.
On the terraces of the cafes, where not a single place remained vacant, the white aprons of the waiters fluttered in and out among the multicoloured uniforms of the Chasseurs, Army Service Corps officers. Artillerymen, Tirailleurs, and Spahis. In front of the Post Office and round the doors of the bakeries and
confectioners’ shops the crowd collected in animated groups. Women ran to and fro greeting the soldiers, asking questions, searching for a husband, son, brother, or lover whom they were expecting to arrive.
Every one jostled together, hailed each other, drank, ate, smoked, and laughed. Families of placid tradespeople, mildly inquisitive, strutted in and out the crowd with short, conceited little steps.
The guns were still roaring, but in order to hear them one had to separate from the crowd and enter the quiet little streets between the gardens.
We heard that fighting was in progress on the Grand Morin.