Madame Vérone, one of the leading lawyers and feminists of Paris, told me that without the help of the women France could not have remained in the field six months. This is no doubt true. Probably it has been true of every war that France has ever waged. Nor has French history ever been reluctant to admit its many debts to the sex it admires, without idealization perhaps, but certainly in more ways than one. As far back as the reign of Louis XI memoirs pay their tribute to the value of the French woman both in peace and in war. This war has been one of the greatest incentives to women in all the belligerent countries that has so far occurred in the history of the world, and the outcome is a problem that the men of France, at least, are already revolving in their vigilant brains.
On the other hand the inept have just managed to exist. Madame Vérone took me one day to a restaurant on Montmartre. It had been one of the largest cabarets of that famous quarter, and at five or six tables running its entire length I saw seven hundred men and women eating a substantial déjeuner of veal swimming in spinach, dry purée of potatoes, salad, apples, cheese, and coffee. For this they paid ten cents (fifty centimes) each, the considerable deficit being made up by the ladies who had founded the oeuvre and run it since the beginning of the war.
Nearly all of these people escaping charity by so narrow a margin had been second-rate actors and scene shifters, or artists---of both sexes---the men being either too old or otherwise ineligible for the army. This was their only square meal during twenty-four hours. They made at home such coffee as they could afford, and went without dinner more often than not. The daughter of this very necessary charity, a handsome strongly built girl, told me that she had waited on her table without a day's rest for eighteen months.
I am frank to say that I could not eat the veal and spinach, and confined myself to the potatoes and bread. But no doubt real hunger is a radical cure for fastidiousness.
Later in the day Madame Vérone took me to the once famous Abbaye, now a workroom for the dressers of dolls, a revived industry which has given employment to hundreds of women. Some of the wildest revels of Paris had taken place in the restaurant now incongruously lined with rows of dolls dressed in every national costume of Allied Europe. They sat sedately against the walls, Montenegrins, Serbians, Russians, Italians, Sicilians, Roumanians, Poilus, Alsatians, Tommies,[C] a strange medley, correctly but cheaply dressed. At little tables, mute records of disreputable nights, sat women stitching, and outside the streets of Montmartre were as silent as the grave.
A few days later I was introduced to a case of panurgy that would have been almost extreme in any but a Frenchwoman.
Madame Camille Lyon took me to call on Madame Pertat, one of the most successful doctors in Paris. I found both her history and her personality highly interesting, and her experience no doubt will be a severe shock to many Americans who flatter themselves that we alone of all women possess the priceless gift of driving initiative.
Madame Pertat was born in a provincial town, of a good family, and received the usual education with all the little accomplishments that were thought necessary for a young girl of the comfortable bourgeoisie. She confessed to me naively that she had coquetted a good deal. As her brother was a doctor and brought his friends to the house it was natural that she should marry into the same profession; and as she continued to meet many doctors and was a young woman of much mental curiosity and a keen intelligence it was also natural that she should grow more and more deeply interested in the science of medicine and take part in the learned discussions at her table.
One day her husband, after a warm argument with her on the new treatment of an old disease, asked her why she did not study medicine. She had ample leisure, no children, and, he added gallantly, a mind to do it justice.
The suggestion horrified her, as it would have horrified her large family connection and circle of friends in that provincial town where standards are as slowly undermined as the cliffs of France by the action of the sea.
Shortly afterward they moved to Paris, where her husband, being a man of first-rate ability and many friends, soon built up a lucrative practice.
Being childless, full of life, and fond of variety, they spent far more money than was common to their class, saving practically nothing. They had a handsome apartment with the usual number of servants; Madame Pertat's life was made up of a round of dressmakers, bridge, calls during the daytime, and companioning her husband at night to any one of the more brilliant restaurants where there was dancing. Sometimes they dined early and went to the opera or the play.
Suddenly the really serious mind of this woman revolted. She told me that she said to her husband: "This is abominable. I cannot stand this life. I shall study medicine, which, after all, is the only thing that really interests me."
She immediately entered upon the ten years' course, which included four years as an interne. France has now so far progressed that she talks of including the degree of baccalaureate in the regular school course of women, lest they should wish to study for a profession later; but at that time Madame Pertat's course in medicine was long drawn out, owing to the necessity of reading for this degree.
She was also obliged to interrupt her triumphal progress in order to bring her first and only child into the world; but finally graduated with the highest honors, being one of the few women of France who have received the diploma to practice.
To practice, however, was the least of her intentions, now that she had a child to occupy her mind and time. Then, abruptly, peace ended and war came. Men disappeared from their usual haunts like mist. It was as if the towns turned over and emptied their men on to the ancient battlefields, where, generation after generation, war rages on the same historic spots but re-naming its battles for the benefit of chronicler and student.
M. le Docteur Pertat was mobilized with the rest. Madame's bank account was very slim. Then once more she proved that she was a woman of energy and decision. Without any formalities she stepped into her husband's practice as a matter of course. On the second day of the war she ordered out his runabout and called on every patient on his immediate list, except those that would expect attention in his office during the usual hours of consultation.
Her success was immediate. She lost none of her husband's patients and gained many more, for every doctor of military age had been called out. Of course her record in the hospitals was well known, not only to the profession but to many of Dr. Pertat's patients. Her income, in spite of the war, is larger than it ever was before.
She told me that when the war was over she should resign in her husband's favor as far as her general practice was concerned, but should have a private practice of her own, specializing in skin diseases and facial blemishes. She could never be idle again, and if it had not been for the brooding shadow of war and her constant anxiety for her husband, she should look back upon those two years of hard medical practice and usefulness as the most satisfactory of her life.
She is still a young woman, with vivid yellow hair elaborately dressed, and it was evident that she had none of the classic professional woman's scorn of raiment. Her apartment is full of old carved furniture and objets d'art, for she had always been a collector. Her most conspicuous treasure is a rare and valuable Russian censer of chased silver. This was on the Germans' list of valuables when they were sure of entering Paris in September, 1914. Through their spies they knew the location of every work of art in the most artistic city in the world.
Madame Pertat is one of the twenty-five women doctors in Paris. All are flourishing. When the doctors return for leave of absence etiquette forbids them to visit their old patients while their brothers are still at the Front; and the same rule applies to doctors who are stationed in Paris but are in Government service. The women are having a magnificent inning, and whether they will be as magnanimous as Madame Pertat and take a back seat when the men return remains to be seen. The point is, however, that they are but another example of the advantage of technical training combined with courage and energy.
On the other hand, I heard of many women who, thrown suddenly out of work, or upon their own resources, developed their little accomplishments and earned a bare living. One daughter of an avocat, who had just managed to keep and educate his large family and was promptly mobilized, left the Beaux Arts where she had studied for several years, and after some floundering turned her knowledge of designing to the practical art of dress. She goes from house to house designing and cutting out gowns for women no longer able to afford dressmakers but still anxious to please. She hopes in time to be employed in one of the great dressmakers' establishments, having renounced all thought of being an artist in a more grandiose sense. Meanwhile she keeps the family from starving while her mother and sisters do the housework. Her brothers are in the military colleges and will be called out in due course if the war continues long enough to absorb all the youth of France.
Mlle. E., the woman who told me her story, was suffering from the effects of the war herself. I climbed five flights to talk to her, and found her in a pleasant little apartment looking out over the roofs and trees of Passy. Formerly she had taken a certain number of American girls to board and finish off in the politest tongue in Europe. The few American girls in Paris to-day (barring the anachronisms that paint and plume for the Ritz Hotel) are working with the American Ambulance, the American Fund for French Wounded, or Le Bien-Être du Blessé, and she sits in her high flat alone.
But she too has adapted herself, and kept her little home. She illuminates for a Bible house, and paints exquisite Christmas and Easter cards. Of course she had saved something, for she was the frugal type and restaurants and the cabaret could have no call for her.
But alas! said she, there were the taxes, and ever more taxes. And who could say how long the war would last? I cheerfully suggested that we might have entered upon one of those war cycles so familiar in history and that the world might not know peace again for thirty years. Although the French are very optimistic about the duration of this war (and, no doubt prompted by hope, I am myself) she agreed with me, and reiterated that one must not relax effort for a moment.
Of course she has her filleul (godson) at the Front, a poor poilu who has no family; and when he goes out the captain finds her another. She knits him socks and vests, and sends him such little luxuries as he asks for, always tobacco, and often chocolate.
The French bourgeoisie---or French women of any class for that matter---do not take kindly to clubs. For this reason their organizations limped somewhat in the earlier days and only their natural financial genius, combined with the national practice of economy, enabled them to develop that orderly team work so natural to the Englishwoman. Mlle. E. told me with a wry face that she detested the new clubs formed for knitting and sewing and rolling bandages. "It is only old maids like myself," she added, "who go regularly. After marriage French women hate to leave their homes. Of course they go daily to the ouvroirs, where they have their imperative duties, but they don't like it. I shall belong to no club when the war is over and my American girls have returned to Paris."
Madame Pierre Goujon is another young Frenchwoman who led not only a life of ease and careless happiness up to the Great War, but also, and from childhood, an uncommonly interesting one, owing to the kind fate that made her the daughter of the famous Joseph Reinach.
M. Reinach, it is hardly worth while to state even for the benefit of American readers, is one of the foremost "Intellectuals" of France. Born to great wealth, he determined in his early youth to live a life of active usefulness, and began his career as private secretary to Gambetta. His life of that remarkable Gascon is the standard work. He was conspicuously instrumental in securing justice for Dreyfus, championing him in a fashion that would have wrecked the public career of a man less endowed with courage and personality: twin gifts that have carried him through the stormy seas of public life in France.
His history of the Dreyfus case in seven volumes is accepted as an authoritative however partisan report of one of the momentous crises in the French Republic. He also has written on alcoholism and election reforms, and he has been for many years a Member of the Chamber of Deputies, standing for democracy and humanitarianism.
On a memorable night in Paris, in June, 1916, it was my good fortune to sit next to Monsieur Reinach at a dinner given by Mr. Whitney Warren to the American newspaper men in Paris, an equal number of French journalists, and several "Intellectuals" more or less connected with the press. The scene was the private banquet room of the Hotel de Crillon, a fine old palace on the Place de la Concorde; and in that ornate red and gold room where we dined so cheerfully, grim despots had crowded not so many years before to watch from its long windows the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
I was the only woman, a whim of Mr. Warren's, and possibly that is the reason I found this dinner in the historic chamber above a dark and quiet Paris the most interesting I ever attended! Perhaps it was because I sat at the head of the room between Monsieur Reinach and Monsieur Hanotaux; perhaps merely because of the evening's climax.
Of course we talked of nothing but the war (one is bored to death in Paris if any other subject comes up). Only one speech was made, an impassioned torrent of gratitude by Monsieur Hanotaux directed at our distinguished host, an equally impassioned "Friend of France." I forget just when it was that a rumor began to run around the room and electrify the atmosphere that a great naval engagement had taken place in the North Sea; but it was just after coffee was served that a boy from the office of Le Figaro entered with a proof-sheet for Monsieur Reinach to correct---he contributes a daily column signed "Polybe." Whether the messenger brought a note from the editor or merely whispered his information, again I do not know, but it was immediately after that Monsieur Reinach told us that news had come through Switzerland of a great sea fight in which the Germans had lost eight battleships.
"And as the news comes from Germany," he remarked dryly, "and as the Germans admit having lost eight ships we may safely assume that they have lost sixteen." And so it proved.
The following day in Paris was the gloomiest I have ever experienced in any city, and was no doubt one of the gloomiest in history. Not a word had come from England. Germany had claimed uncontradicted an overwhelming victory, with the pride of Britain either at the bottom of the North Sea or hiding like Churchill's rats in any hole that would shelter them from further vengeance. People, both French and American, who had so long been waiting for the Somme drive to commence that they had almost relinquished hope went about shaking their heads and muttering: "Won't the British even fight on the sea?"
I felt suicidal. Presupposing the continued omnipotence of the British Navy, the Battle of the Marne had settled the fate of Germany, but if that Navy had proved another illusion the bottom had fallen out of the world. Not only would Europe be done for, but the United States of America might as well prepare to black the boots of Germany.
When this war is over it is to be hoped that all the censors will be taken out and hanged. In view of the magnificent account of itself which Kitchener's Army has given since that miserable day, to say nothing of the fashion in which the British Navy lived up to its best traditions in that Battle of Jutland, it seems nothing short of criminal that the English censor should have permitted the world to hold Great Britain in contempt for twenty-four hours and sink poor France in the slough of despond. However, he is used to abuse, and presumably does not mind it.
On the following day he condescended to release the truth. We all breathed again, and I kept one of my interesting engagements with Madame Pierre Goujon.
This beautiful young woman's husband was killed during the first month of the war. Her brother was reported missing at about the same time, and although his wife has refused to go into mourning there is little hope that he will ever be seen alive again or that his body will be found. There was no room for doubt in the case of Pierre Goujon.
Perhaps if the young officer had died in the natural course of events his widow would have been overwhelmed by her loss, although it is difficult to imagine Madame Goujon a useless member of society at any time. Her brilliant black eyes and her eager nervous little face connote a mind as alert as Monsieur Reinach's. As it was, she closed her own home---she has no children---returned to the great hôtel of her father in the Parc Monceau, and plunged into work.
It is doubtful if at any period of the world's history men have failed to accept (or demand) the services of women in time of war, and this is particularly true of France, where women have always counted as units more than in any European state. Whether men have heretofore accepted these invaluable services with gratitude or as a matter-of-course is by the way. Never before in the world's history have fighting nations availed themselves of woman's co-operation in as wholesale a fashion as now; and perhaps it is the women who feel the gratitude.
Of course the first duty of every Frenchwoman in those distracted days of August, 1914, was, as I have mentioned before, to feed the poor women so suddenly thrown out of work or left penniless with large families of children. Then came the refugees pouring down from Belgium and the invaded districts of France; and these had to be clothed as well as fed.
In common with other ladies of Paris, both French and American, Madame Goujon established ouvroirs after the retreat of the Germans, in order to give useful occupation to as many of the destitute women as possible. But when these were in running order she joined the Baroness Lejeune (born a Princess Murat and therefore of Napoleon's blood) in forming an organization both permanent and on the grand scale.
The Baroness Lejeune also had lost her husband early in the war. He had been detached from his regiment and sent to the Belgian front to act as bodyguard to the Prince of Wales. Receiving by a special messenger a letter from his wife, to whom he had been married but a few months, he separated himself from the group surrounding the English Prince and walked off some distance alone to read it. Here a bomb from a taube intended for the Prince hit and killed him instantly.
Being widows themselves it was natural they should concentrate their minds on some organization that would be of service to other widows, poor women without the alleviations of wealth and social eminence, many of them a prey to black despair. Calling in other young widows of their own circle to help (the number was already appalling), they went about their task in a business-like way, opening offices in the Rue Vizelly, which were subsequently moved to 20 Rue Madrid.
When I saw these headquarters in May, 1916, the oeuvre was a year old and in running order. In one room were the high chests of narrow drawers one sees in offices and public libraries. These were for card indexes and each drawer contained the dossiers of widows who had applied for assistance or had been discovered suffering in lonely pride by a member of the committee. Each dossier included a methodical account of the age and condition of the applicant, of the number of her children, and the proof that her husband was either dead or "missing." Also, her own statement of the manner in which she might, if assisted, support herself.
Branches of this great work---Association d'Aide aux Veuves Militaires de la Grande Guerre---have been established in every department of France; there is even one in Lille. The Central Committee takes care of Paris and environs, the number of widows cared for by them at that time being two thousand. No doubt the number has doubled since.
In each of the rooms I visited a young widow sat before a table, and I wondered then, as I wondered many times, if all the young French widows really were beautiful or only created the complete illusion in that close black-hung toque with its band of white crêpe just above the eyebrows and another from ear to ear beneath the chin. When the eyes are dark, the eyebrows heavily marked, no hair visible, and the profile regular, the effect is one of poignant almost sensational beauty. Madame Goujon looks like a young abbess.
I do not wish to be cynical but it occurred to me that few of these young widows failed to be consoled when they stood before their mirrors arrayed for public view, however empty their hearts. Before I had left Paris I had concluded that it was the mothers who were to be pitied in this accursed war. Life is long and the future holds many mysteries for handsome young widows. Nevertheless the higher happiness is sometimes found in living with a sacred memory and I have an idea that one or two of these young widows I met will be faithful to their dead.
Smooth as this oeuvre appeared on the surface it had not been easy to establish and every day brought its frictions and obstacles. The French temperament is perhaps the most difficult in the world to deal with, even by the French themselves. Our boasted individuality is merely in the primal stage compared with the finished production in France. Even the children are far more complex and intractable than ours. They have definite opinions on the subject of life, character, and the disposition of themselves at the age of six.
Madame Goujon told me that every widow in need of help, no matter how tormented or however worthy, had to be approached with far more tact than possible donors, and her idiosyncrasies studied and accepted before anything could be done with her, much less for her.
Moreover there was the great problem of the women who would not work. These were either of the industrial class, or of that petite bourgeoisie whose husbands, called to the colors, had been small clerks and had made just enough to keep their usually childless wives in a certain smug comfort.
These women, whose economical parents had married them into their own class, or possibly boosted them one step higher, with the aid of the indispensable dot, never had done any work to speak of, and many of them manifested the strongest possible aversion from working, even under the spur of necessity. They had one-franc-twenty-five a day from the Government and much casual help during the first year of the war, when money was still abundant, from charitable members of the noblesse or the haute bourgeoisie. As their dot had been carefully invested in rentes (bonds) if it continued to yield any income at all this was promptly swallowed up by taxes.
As for the women of the industrial class, they not only received one-franc-twenty-five a day but, if living in Paris, seventy-five centimes for each child---fifty if living in the provinces; and families in the lower classes of France are among the largest in the world. Five, ten, fifteen children; I heard these figures mentioned daily, and, on one or two occasions, nineteen. Mrs. Morton Mitchell of San Francisco, who lives in Paris in the Avenue du Bois de Bologne, discovered after the war broke out that the street-sweeper to whom she had often given largesse left behind him when called to the Front something like seventeen dependents. Indeed, they lost no time acquainting her with the fact; they called on her in a body, and she has maintained them ever since.
While it was by no means possible in the case of the more moderate families to keep them in real comfort on the allocation, the women, many of them, had a pronounced distaste for work outside of their little homes, as they had their liberty for the first time in their drab and overworked lives and proposed to enjoy it. No man to dole them out just enough to keep a roof over their heads and for bread and stew, while he spent the rest on tobacco, at the wine-shops, or for dues to the Socialist or Syndicalist Club. Every centime that came in now was theirs to administer as they pleased.
The Mayoress of a small town near Paris told me that she had heard these women say more than once they didn't care how long the war lasted; owing to the prevalence of the alcoholism octopus which has fastened itself on France of late years the men often beat their wives as brutally as the low-class Englishmen, and this vice added to the miserliness of their race made their sojourn in the trenches a welcome relief. Of course these were the exceptions, for the Frenchman in the main is devoted to his family, but there were enough of them to emerge into a sudden prominence after the outbreak of the war when charitable women were leaving no stone unturned to relieve possible distress.
There is a story of one man with thirteen children who was called to the colors on August second, and whose wife received allocation amounting to more than her husband's former earnings. It was some time after the war began that the rule was made exempting from service every man with more than six children. When it did go into effect the fathers of large flocks hastened home, anticipating a joyful reunion. But the wife of this man, at least, received him with dismay and ordered him to enlist---within the hour.
"Don't you realize," she demanded, "that we never were so well off before? We can save for the first time in our lives and I can get a good job that would not be given me if you were here. Go where you belong. Every man's place is in the trenches."
There is not much romance about a marriage of that class, nor is there much romance left in the harried brain of any mother of thirteen.
Exasperating as those women were who preferred to live with their children on the insufficient allocation, it is impossible not to feel a certain sympathy for them. In all their lives they had known nothing but grinding work; liberty is the most precious thing in the world and when tasted for the first time after years of sordid oppression it goes to the head. Moreover, the Frenchwoman has the most extraordinary faculty for "managing." The poorest in Paris would draw their skirts away from the slatterns and their dirty offspring in our own tenement districts.
One day I went with Madame Paul Dupuy over to what she assured me was one of the poorest districts of Paris. Our visit had nothing to do with the war. She belonged to a charitable organization which for years had paid weekly visits to the different parishes of the capital and weighed a certain number of babies. The mothers that brought their howling offspring (who abominated the whole performance) were given money according to their needs---vouched for by the priest of the district---and if the babies showed a falling off in weight they were sent to one of the doctors retained by the society.
The little stone house (situated, by the way, in an old garden of a hunting-lodge which is said to have been the rendezvous de chasse of Madame du Barry), where Madame Dupuy worked, with an apron covering her gown and her sleeves rolled up, was like an ice-box, and the naked babies when laid on the scales shrieked like demons. One male child, I remember, sat up perfectly straight and bellowed his protest with an insistent fury and a snorting disdain at all attempts to placate him that betokened the true son of France and a lusty long-distance recruit for the army. All the children, in fact, although their mothers were unmistakably poor, looked remarkably plump and healthy.
After a time, having no desire to contract peritonitis, I left the little house and went out and sat in the car. There I watched for nearly an hour the life of what we would call a slum. The hour was about four in the afternoon, when even the poor have a little leisure. The street was filled with women sauntering up and down, gossiping, and followed by their young. These women and children may have had on no underclothes: their secrets were not revealed to me; but their outer garments were decent. The children had a scrubbed look and their hair was confined in tight pigtails. The women looked stout and comfortable.
They may be as clean to-day but I doubt if they are as stout and as placid of expression. The winter was long and bitter and coal and food scarce, scarcer, and more scarce.
The two classes of women with whom Madame Goujon and her friends have most difficulty are in the minority and merely serve as the shadows in the great canvas crowded with heroic figures of French women of all classes who are working to the limit of their strength for their country or their families. They may be difficult to manage and they may insist upon working at what suits their taste, but they do work and work hard; which after all is the point. Madame Goujon took me through several of the ouvroirs which her society had founded to teach the poor widows---whose pension is far inferior to the often brief allocation---a number of new occupations under competent teachers.
Certainly these young benefactors had exercised all their ingenuity. Some of the women, of course, had been fit for nothing but manual labor, and these they had placed as scrub-women in hospitals or as servants in hôtels or families. But in the case of the more intelligent or deft of finger no pains were being spared to fit them to take a good position, or, as the French would say, "situation," in the future life of the Republic.
In a series of rooms lent to the society by one of the great dressmakers, I saw keen-looking women of all ages learning to retouch photographs, to wind bobbins by electricity, to dress hair and fashion wigs, to engrave music scores, articulate artificial limbs, make artificial flowers, braces for wounded arms and legs, and artificial teeth! Others are taught nursing, bookkeeping, stenography, dentistry.
One of Madame Goujon's most picturesque revivals is the dressing of dolls. Before the Franco-Prussian war this great industry belonged to France. Germany took it away from France while she was prostrate, monopolizing the doll trade of the world, and the industry almost ceased at its ancient focus. Madame Goujon was one of the first to see the opportunity for revival in France, and with Valentine Thompson and Madame Vérone, to mention but two of her rivals, was soon employing hundreds of women. A large room on the ground floor of M. Reinach's hotel is given over as a storeroom for dolls, all irreproachably dressed and indisputably French.
It will take a year or two of practice and the co-operation of male talent after the war to bring the French doll up to the high standard attained by the Germans throughout forty years of plodding efficiency. The prettiest dolls I saw were those arrayed in the different national costumes of Europe, particularly those that still retain the styles of musical comedy. After those rank the Red Cross nurses, particularly those that wear the blue veil over the white. And I never saw in real life such superb, such imperturbable brides.
Another work in which Madame Goujon is interested and which certainly is as picturesque is Le Bon Gite. The gardens of the Tuilleries when regarded from the quay present an odd appearance these days. One sees row after row of little huts, models of the huts the English Society of Friends have built in the devastated valley of the Marne. Where hundreds of families were formerly living in damp cellars or in the ruins of large buildings, wherever they could find a sheltering wall, the children dying of exposure, there are now a great number of these portable huts where families may be dry and protected from the elements, albeit somewhat crowded.
The object of Le Bon Gite is to furnish these little temporary homes---for real houses cannot be built until the men come back from the war---and these models in the Tuilleries Gardens show to the visitor what they can do in the way of furnishing a home that will accommodate a woman and two children, for three hundred francs (sixty dollars).
It seems incredible, but I saw the equipment of several of these little shelters (which contain several rooms) and I saw the bills. They contained a bed, two chairs, a table, a buffet, a stove, kitchen furnishings, blankets, linen, and crockery. There were even window curtains. The railway authorities had reduced freight rates for their benefit fifty per cent; and at that time (July, 1916) they had rescued the poor of four wrecked villages from reeking cellars and filthy straw and given some poor poilus a home to come to during their six days' leave of absence from the Front.
The Marquise de Ganay and the Comtesse de Bryas, two of the most active members, are on duty in the offices of their neat little exhibition for several hours every day, and it was becoming one of the cheerful sights of Paris.
There is little left of the Tuilleries to-day to recall the ornate splendors of the Second Empire, when the Empress Eugenie held her court there, and gave garden parties under the oaks and the chestnuts. There is a vast chasm between the pomp of courts and huts furnished for three hundred francs for the miserable victims of the war; but that chasm, to be sure, was bridged by the Commune and this war has shown those that have visited the Military Zone that a palace makes a no more picturesque ruin than a village.
A more curious contrast was a concert given one afternoon in the Tuilleries Gardens for the purpose of raising money for one of the war relief organizations. Madame Paul Dupuy asked me if I would help her take two blind soldiers to listen to it. We drove first out to Reuilly to the Quinze Vingts, a large establishment where the Government has established hundreds of their war blind (who are being taught a score of new trades), and took the two young fellows who were passed out to us. The youngest was twenty-one, a flat-faced peasant boy, whose eyes had been destroyed by the explosion of a pistol close to his face. The older man, who may have been twenty-six, had a fine, thin, dark face and an expression of fixed melancholy. He had lost his sight from shock. Both used canes and when we left the car at the entrance to the Tuilleries we were obliged to guide them.
The garden was a strange assortment of fashionable women, many of them bearing the highest titles in France, and poilus in their faded uniforms, nearly all maimed---réformés, mutilés! The younger of our charges laughed uproariously, with the other boys, at the comic song, but my melancholy charge never smiled, and later when, under the thawing influence of tea, he told us his story, I was not surprised.
He had been the proprietor before the war of a little business in the North, prosperous and happy in his little family of a wife and two children. His mother was dead but his father and sister lived close by. War came and he left for the Front confident that his wife would run the business. It was only a few months later that he heard his wife had run away with another man, that the shop was abandoned, and the children had taken refuge with his father.
Then came the next blow. His sister died of successive shocks and his father was paralyzed. Then he lost his sight. His children were living anyhow with neighbors in the half ruined village, and he was learning to make brushes.
So much for the man's tragedy in war time. It is said that as time goes on there are more of them. On the other hand, during the first year, when the men were not allowed to go home, they formed abiding connections with women in the rear of the army, and when the six days' leave was granted preferred to take these ladies on a little jaunt than return to the old drab existence at home.
These are what may be called the by-products of war, but they may exercise a serious influence on a nation's future. When the hundreds of children born in the North of France, who are half English, or half Scotch, or half Irish, or half German, or half Indian, or half Moroccan, grow up and begin to drift about and mingle with the general life of the nation, the result may be that we shall have been the last generation to see a race that however diversified was reasonably proud of its purity.
I had gone to Lyons to see the war relief work of that flourishing city and Madame Goujon went South at the same time to visit her husband's people. We agreed to meet in the little town of Bourg la Bresse, known to the casual tourist for its church erected in the sixteenth century by Margaret of Austria and famous for the carvings on its tombs.
Otherwise it is a picturesque enlarged village with a meandering stream that serves as an excuse for fine bridges; high-walled gardens, ancient trees, and many quaint old buildings.
Not that I saw anything in detail. The Mayor, M. Loiseau, and Madame Goujon met me at the station, and my ride to the various hospitals must have resembled the triumphal progress of chariots in ancient Rome. The population leaped right and left, the children even scrambling up the walls as we flew through the narrow winding streets. It was apparent that the limited population of Bourg did not in the least mind being scattered by their Mayor, for the children shrieked with delight, and although you see few smiles in the provinces of France these days, and far more mourning than in Paris, at least we encountered no frowns.
The heroine of Bourg is Madame Dugas. Once more to repeat history: Before the war Madame Dugas, being a woman of fashion and large wealth, lived the usual life of her class. She had a château near Bourg for the autumn months: hunting and shooting before 1914 were as much the fashion on the large estates of France as in England. She had a villa on the Rivera, a hôtel in Paris, and a cottage at Dinard. But as soon as war broke out all these establishments were either closed or placed at the disposal of the Government. She cleaned out a large hotel in Bourg and installed as many beds as it was possible to buy at the moment. Then she sent word that she was ready to accommodate a certain number of wounded and asked for nurses and surgeons.
The Government promptly took advantage of her generous offer, and her hospital was so quickly filled with wounded men that she was obliged to take over and furnish another large building. This soon overflowing as well as the military hospitals of the district, she looked about in vain for another house large enough to make extensive installations worth while.
During all those terrible months of the war, when the wounded arrived in Bourg by every train, and household after household put on its crêpe, there was one great establishment behind its lofty walls that took no more note of the war than if the newspapers that never passed its iron gates were giving daily extracts from ancient history. This was the Convent de la Visitation. Its pious nuns had taken the vow never to look upon the face of man. If, as they paced under the great oaks of their close, or the stately length of their cloisters telling their beads, or meditating on the negation of earthly existence and the perfect joys of the future, they heard an echo of the conflict that was shaking Europe, it was only to utter a prayer that the souls of those who had obeyed the call of their country and fallen gloriously as Frenchmen should rest in peace. Not for a moment did the idea cross their gentle minds that any mortal force short of invasion by the enemy could bring them into contact with it.
But that force was already in possession of Bourg. Madame Dugas was a woman of endless resource. Like many another woman in this war the moment her executive faculties, long dormant, were stirred, that moment they began to develop like the police microbes in fevered veins.
She had visited that convent. She knew that its great walls sheltered long rooms and many of them. It would make an ideal hospital and she determined that a hospital it should be.
There was but one recourse. The Pope. Would she dare? People wondered. She did. The Pope, who knew that wounded men cannot wait, granted the holy nuns a temporary dispensation from their vows; and when I walked through the beautiful Convent of the Visitation with Madame Dugas, Madame Goujon, and M. Loiseau, there were soldiers under every tree and nuns were reading to them.
Nuns were also nursing those still in the wards, for nurses are none too plentiful in France even yet, and Madame Dugas had stipulated for the nuns as well as for the convent.
It was a southern summer day. The grass was green. The ancient trees were heavy with leaves. Younger and more graceful trees drooped from the terrace above a high wall in the rear. The sky was blue. The officers, the soldiers, looked happy, the nuns placid. It was an oasis in the desert of war.
I leave obvious ruminations to the reader.
When I met Madame Dugas, once more I wondered if all Frenchwomen who were serving or sorrowing were really beautiful or if it were but one more instance of the triumph of clothes. Madame Dugas is an infirmière major, and over her white linen veil flowed one of bright blue, transparent and fine. She wore the usual white linen uniform with the red cross on her breast, but back from her shoulders as she walked through the streets with us streamed a long dark blue cloak. She is a very tall, very slender woman, with a proud and lofty head, a profile of that almost attenuated thinness that one sees only on a Frenchwoman, and only then when the centuries have done the chiseling. As we walked down those long, narrow, twisted streets of Bourg between the high walls with the trees sweeping over the coping, she seemed to me the most strikingly beautiful woman I had ever seen. But whether I shall still think so if I see her one of these days in a Paris ballroom I have not the least idea.
Madame Dugas runs three hospitals at her own expense and is her own committee. Like the rest of the world she expected the war to last three months, and like the rest of her countrywomen who immediately offered their services to the state she has no intention of resigning until what is left of the armies are in barracks once more. She lives in a charming old house in Bourg, roomy and well furnished and with a wild and classic garden below the terrace at the back. (Some day I shall write a story about that house and garden.) Here she rests when she may, and here she gave us tea.
One wonders if these devoted Frenchwomen will have anything left of their fortunes if the war continues a few years longer. Madame Dugas made no complaint, but as an example of the increase in her necessary expenditures since 1914 she mentioned the steadily rising price of chickens. They had cost two francs at the beginning of the war and were now ten. I assumed that she gave her grands blessés chicken broth, which is more than they get in most hospitals.
Many of the girls who had danced in her salons two years before, and even their younger sisters, who had had no chance to "come out," are helping Madame Dugas, both as nurses and in many practical ways; washing and doing other work of menials as cheerfully as they ever played tennis or rode in la chasse.
Curiously enough, the next woman whose work has made her notable, that Madame Goujon took me to see, was very much like Madame Dugas in appearance, certainly of the same type.
Val de Grace is the oldest military hospital in Paris. It covers several acres and was begun by Louis XIII and finished by Napoleon. Before the war it was run entirely by men, but one by one or group by group these men, all reservists, were called out and it became a serious problem how to keep it up to its standard. Of course women were all very well as nurses, but it took strong men and many of them to cook for thousands of wounded, and there was the problem of keeping the immense establishment of many buildings well swept and generally clean. But the men had to go, réformés were not strong enough for the work, every bed was occupied---one entire building by tuberculars---and they must both eat and suffer in sanitary conditions.
Once more they were obliged to have recourse to Woman.
Madame Olivier, like Madame Dugas a dame du monde and an infirmière major, went to one of the hospitals at the Front on the day war broke out, nursed under fire, of course, but displayed so much original executive ability as well as willingness to do anything to help, no matter what, that she was soon put in charge of the wounded on trains. After many trips, during which she showed her uncommon talent for soothing the wounded, making them comfortable even when they were packed like sardines on the floor, and bringing always some sort of order out of the chaos of those first days, she was invited to take hold of the problem of Val de Grace.
She had solved it when I paid my visit with Madame Goujon. She not only had replaced all the men nurses and attendants with women but was training others and sending them off to military hospitals suffering from the same sudden depletions as Val de Grace. She also told me that three women do the work of six men formerly employed, and that they finished before ten in the morning, whereas the men never finished. The hospital when she arrived had been in a condition such as men might tolerate but certainly no woman. I walked through its weary miles (barring the tuberculosis wards) and I never saw a hospital look more sanitarily span.
But the kitchen was the show place of Val de Grace, little as the women hard at work suspected it. Where Madame Olivier found those giantesses I cannot imagine; certainly not in a day. She must have sifted France for them. They looked like peasant women and no doubt they were. Only the soil could produce such powerful cart-horse females. And only such cart-horses could have cooked in the great kitchen of Val de Grace. On a high range that ran the length of the room were copper pots as large as vats, full of stew, and these the Brobdinagians stirred with wooden implements that appeared to my shattered senses as large as spades. No doubt they were of inferior dimensions, but even so they were formidable. How those women stirred and stirred those steaming messes! I never shall forget it. And they could also move those huge pots about, those terrible females. I thought of the French Revolution.
Madame Olivier, ruling all this force, giantesses included, with a rod of iron, stood there in the entrance of the immaculate kitchen looking dainty and out of place, with her thin proud profile, her clear dark skin, beautifully tinted in the cheeks, her seductive infirmière uniform. But she has accomplished one of the minor miracles of the war.
I wonder if all these remarkable women of France will be decorated one of these days? They have earned the highest citations, but perhaps they have merely done their duty as Frenchwomen. C'est la guerre.
Fortunate are those women who not only are able to take care of themselves but of their dependents during this long period of financial depression; still more fortunate are those who, either wealthy or merely independent, are able both to stand between the great mass of unfortunates and starvation and to serve their country in old ways and new.
More fortunate still are the few who, having made for themselves by their talents and energy a position of leadership before the war, were immediately able to carry their patriotic plans into effect.
In March, 1914, Mlle. Valentine Thompson, already known as one of the most active of the younger feminists, and distinctly the most brilliant, established a weekly newspaper which she called La Vie Feminine. The little journal had a twofold purpose: to offer every sort of news and encouragement to the by-no-means-flourishing party and to give advice, assistance, and situations to women out of work.
Mlle. Thompson's father at the moment was in the Cabinet, holding the portfolio of Ministre du Commerce. Her forefathers on either side had for generations been in public life. She and her grandmother had both won a position with their pen and therefore moved not only in the best political but the best literary society of Paris. Moreover Mlle. Thompson had a special penchant for Americans and knew more or less intimately all of any importance who lived in Paris or visited it regularly. Mrs. Tuck, the wealthiest American living in France---it has been her home for thirty years and she and her husband have spent a fortune on charities---was one of her closest friends. All Americans who went to Paris with any higher purpose than buying clothes or entertaining duchesses at the Ritz, took letters to her. Moreover, she is by common consent, and without the aid of widow's bonnet or Red Cross uniform, one of the handsomest women in Paris. She is of the Amazon type, with dark eyes and hair, a fine complexion, regular features, any expression she chooses to put on, and she is always the well-dressed Parisienne in detail as well as in effect. Her carriage is haughty and dashing, her volubility racial, her enthusiasm, while it lasts, bears down every obstacle, and her nature is imperious. She must hold the center of the stage and the reins of power. I should say that she was the most ambitious woman in France.
She is certainly one of its towering personalities and if she does not stand out at the end of the war as Woman and Her Achievements personified it will be because she has the defects of her genius. Her restless ambition and her driving energy hurl her headlong into one great relief work after another, until she has undertaken more than any mere mortal can carry through in any given space of time. She is therefore in danger of standing for no one monumental work (as will be the happy destiny of Mlle. Javal, for instance), although no woman's activities or sacrifices will have been greater.
It may be imagined that such a woman when she started a newspaper would be in a position to induce half the prominent men and women in France either to write for it or to give interviews, and this she did, of course; she has a magnificent publicity sense. The early numbers of La Vie Feminine were almost choked with names known to "tout Paris." It flourished in both branches, and splendid offices were opened on the Avenue des Champs Elysées. Women came for advice and employment and found both, for Mlle. Thompson is as sincere in her desire to help the less fortunate of her sex as she is in her feminism.
Then came the War.
Mlle. Thompson's plans were formed in a day, her Committees almost as quickly. La Vie Feminine opened no less than seven ouvroirs, where five hundred women were given work. When the refugees began pouring in she was among the first to ladle out soup and deplete her wardrobe. She even went to the hastily formed hospitals in Paris and offered her services. As she was not a nurse she was obliged to do the most menial work, which not infrequently consisted in washing the filthy poilus wounded after weeks of fighting without a bath or change of clothing. Sometimes the dirt-caked soldiers were natives of Algiers. But she performed her task with her accustomed energy and thoroughness, and no doubt the mere sight of her was a God-send to those men who had for so long looked upon nothing but blood and death and horrors.
Then came the sound of the German guns thirty kilometers from Paris. The Government decided to go to Bordeaux. Mlle. Thompson's father insisted that his daughter accompany himself and her mother. At first she refused. What should she do with the five hundred women in her ouvroirs, the refugees she fed daily? She appealed to Ambassador Herrick. But our distinguished representative shook his head. He had trouble enough on his hands. The more beautiful young women who removed themselves from Paris before the Boche entered it the simpler would be the task of the men forced to remain. It was serious enough that her even more beautiful sister had elected to remain with her husband, whose duties forbade him to flee. Go, Mademoiselle, and go quickly.
Mlle. Thompson yielded but she made no precipitate flight. Collecting the most influential and generous members of her Committees, she raised the sum needed for a special train of forty cars. Into this she piled the five hundred women of her ouvroirs and their children, a large number of refugees, and an orphan asylum---one thousand in all. When it had steamed out of Paris and was unmistakably on its way to the South she followed. But not to sit fuming in Bordeaux waiting for General Joffre to settle the fate of Paris. She spent the three or four weeks of her exile in finding homes or situations for her thousand helpless charges, in Blanquefort, Lourdes, Bayonne, Marseilles, Bordeaux and other southern cities and small towns, forming in each a Committee to look out for them.
Soon after her return to Paris she conceived and put into operation the idea of an École Hôtelière.
Thousands of Germans and Austrians, employed as waiters or in other capacities about the hotels, either had slunk out of Paris just before war was declared or were interned. Even the Swiss had been recalled to protect their frontiers. The great hotels supplied the vacancies with men hastily invited from neutral countries, very green and very exorbitant in their demands. Hundreds of the smaller hotels were obliged to close, although the smallest were, as ever, run by the wife of the proprietor, and her daughters when old enough.
But that was only half of the problem. After the war all these hotels must open to accommodate the tourists who would flock to Europe. The Swiss of course could be relied upon to take the first train to Paris after peace was declared, but the Germans and Austrians had been as thick in France as flies on a battlefield, and it will be a generation before either will fatten on Latin credulity again. Even if the people of the Central Powers revolt and set up a republic it will be long before the French, who are anything but volatile in their essence, will be able to look at a Boche without wanting to spit on him or to kick him out of the way as one would a vicious cur.
To Mlle. Thompson, although men fall at her feet, the answer to every problem is Woman.
She formed another powerful Committee, roused the enthusiasm of the Touring Club de France, rented a dilapidated villa in Passy, and after enlisting the practical sympathies of furnishers, decorators, "magazins," and persons generally whose business it is to make a house comfortable and beautiful, she advertised not only in the Paris but in all the provincial newspapers for young women of good family whose marriage prospects had been ruined by the war and who would wish to fit themselves scientifically for the business of hotel keeping. Each should be educated in every department from directrice to scullion.
The answers were so numerous that she was forced to deny many whose lovers had been killed or whose parents no longer could hope to provide them with the indispensable dot. The repairs and installations of the villa having been rushed, it was in running order and its dormitories were filled by some thirty young women in an incredibly short time. Mlle. Jacquier, who had presided over a somewhat similar school in Switzerland, was installed as directrice.
Each girl, in addition to irreproachable recommendations and the written consent of her parents, must pay seventy francs a month, bring a specified amount of underclothing, etc.; and, whatever her age or education, must, come prepared to submit to the discipline of the school. In return they were to be taught not only how to fill all positions in a hotel, but the scientific principles of domestic economy, properties of food combined with the proportions necessary to health, bookkeeping, English, correspondence, geography, arithmetic---"calcul rapide"---gymnastics, deportment, hygiene.
Moreover, when at the end of the three months' course they had taken their diplomas, places would be found for them. If they failed to take their diplomas and could not afford another course, still would places, but of an inferior order, be provided. After the first students arrived it became known that an ex-pupil without place and without money could always find a temporary refuge there. Even if she had "gone wrong" she might come and ask for advice and help.
When I arrived in Paris I had two letters to Mlle. Thompson and after I had been there about ten days I went with Mr. Jaccaci to call on her at the offices of La Vie Feminine, and found them both sumptuous and a hive of activities. In the course of the rapid give-and-take conversation---if it can be called that when one sits tight with the grim intention of pinning Mlle. Thompson to one subject long enough to extract definite information from her---we discovered that she had translated one of my books. Neither of us could remember which it was, although I had a dim visualization of the correspondence, but it formed an immediate bond. Moreover---another point I had quite forgotten---when her friend, Madame Leverrière, had visited the United States some time previously to put Mlle. Thompson's dolls on the market, I had been asked to write something in favor of the work for the New York Times. Madame Leverrière, who was present, informed me enthusiastically that I had helped her énormément, and there was another bond.
The immediate consequence was that, although I could get little that was coherent from Mlle. Thompson's torrent of classic French, I was invited to be an inmate of the École Hôtelière at Passy. I had mentioned that although I was comfortable at the luxurious Hôtel de Crillon, still when I went upstairs and closed my door I was in the atmosphere of two years ago. And I must have constant atmosphere, for my time was limited. I abominated pensions, and from what I had heard of French families who took in a "paying guest," or, in their tongue, dame pensionnaire, I had concluded that the total renouncement of atmosphere was the lesser evil.
Would I go out and see the École Feminine? I would. It sounded interesting and a visit committed me to nothing. Mlle. Thompson put it charmingly. I should be conferring a favor. There was a guest chamber and no guest for the pupils to practice on. And it would be an honor, etc.
We drove out to Passy and I found the École Feminine in the Boulevard Beauséjour all and more than Mlle. Thompson had taken the time to portray in detail. The entrance was at the side of the house and one approached it through a large gateway which led to a cul-de-sac lined with villas and filled with beautiful old trees that enchanted my eye. I cursed those trees later but at the moment they almost decided me before I entered the house.
The interior, having been done by enthusiastic admirers of Mlle. Thompson, was not only fresh and modern but artistic and striking. The salon was paneled, but the dining-room had been decorated by Poiret with great sprays and flowers splashed on the walls, picturesque vegetables that had parted with their humility between the garden and the palette. Through a glass partition one saw the shining kitchen with its large modern range, its rows and rows of the most expensive utensils---all donations by the omnifarious army of Mlle. Thompson's devotees.
Behind the salon was the schoolroom, with its blackboard, its four long tables, its charts for food proportions. All the girls wore blue linen aprons that covered them from head to foot.
I followed Mlle. Thompson up the winding stair and was shown the dormitories, the walls decorated as gaily as if for a bride, but otherwise of a severe if comfortable simplicity. Every cot was as neat as a new hospital's in the second year of the war, and there was an immense lavatory on each floor.
Then I was shown the quarters destined for me if I would so far condescend, etc. There was quite a large bedroom, with a window looking out over a mass of green, and the high terraces of houses beyond; the garden of a neighbor was just below. There was a very large wardrobe, with shelves that pulled out, and one of those wash-stands where a minute tank is filled every morning (when not forgotten) and the bowl is tipped into a noisy tin just below.
The room was in a little hallway of its own which terminated in a large bathroom with two enormous tubs. Of course the water was heated in a copper boiler situated between the tubs, for although the École Feminine was modern it was not too modern. The point, however, was that I should have my daily bath, and that the entire school would delight in waiting on me.
It did not take me any time whatever to decide. I might not be comfortable but I certainly should be interested. I moved in that day. Mlle. Thompson's original invitation to be her guest (in return for the small paragraph I had written about the dolls) was not to be entertained for a moment. I wished to feel at liberty to stay as long as I liked; and it was finally agreed that at the end of the week Mlle. Thompson and Mlle. Jacquier should decide upon the price.
I remained something like three months. There were three trolley lines, a train, a cab-stand, a good shopping street within a few steps, the place itself was a haven of rest after my long days in Paris meeting people by the dozen and taking notes of their work, and the cooking was the most varied and the most delicate I have ever eaten anywhere. A famous retired chef had offered his services three times a week for nothing and each girl during her two weeks in the kitchen learned how to prepare eggs in forty different ways, to say nothing of sauces and delicacies that the Ritz itself could not afford. I received the benefit of all the experiments. I could also amuse myself looking through the glass partition at the little master chef, whose services thousands could not command, rushing about the kitchen, waving his arms, tearing his hair, shrieking against the incredible stupidity of young females whom heaven had not endowed with the genius for cooking; and who, no doubt, had never cooked anything at all before they answered the advertisement of Mlle. Thompson. Few that had not belonged to well-to-do families whose heavy work had been done by servants.
A table was given me in a corner by myself and the other tables were occupied by the girls who at the moment were not serving their fortnight in the kitchen or as waitresses. These were treated as ceremoniously (being practiced on) as I was, although their food, substantial and plentiful, was not as choice as mine. I could have had all my meals served in my rooms if I had cared to avail myself of the privilege; but not I! If you take but one letter to Society in France you may, if you stay long enough, and are not personally disagreeable, meet princesses, duchesses, marquises, countesses, by the dozen; but to meet the coldly aloof and suspicious bourgeoisie, who hate the sight of a stranger, particularly the petite bourgeoisie, is more difficult than for a German to explain the sudden lapse of his country into barbarism. Here was a unique opportunity, and I held myself to be very fortunate.
Was I comfortable? Judged by the American standard, certainly not. My bed was soft enough, and my breakfast was brought to me at whatever hour I rang for it. But, as was the case all over Paris, the central heat had ceased abruptly on its specified date and I nearly froze. During the late afternoon and evenings all through May and the greater part of June I sat wrapped in my traveling cloak and went to bed as soon as the evening ceremonies of my two fortnightly attendants were over. I might as well have tried to interrupt the advance of a German taube as to interfere with any of Mlle. Jacquier's orthodoxies.
Moreover four girls, with great chattering, invariably prepared my bath---which circumstances decided me to take at night---and I had to wait until all their confidences---exchanged as they sat in a row on the edge of the two tubs---were over. Then something happened to the boiler, and as all the plumbers were in the trenches, and ubiquitous woman seemed to have stopped short in her new accomplishments at mending pipes, I had to wait until a permissionnaire came home on his six days' leave, and that was for five weeks. More than once I decided to go back to the Crillon, where the bathrooms are the last cry in luxury, for I detest the makeshift bath, but by this time I was too fascinated by the École to tear myself away.
Naturally out of thirty girls there were some antagonistic personalities, and two or three I took such an intense dislike to that I finally prevailed upon Mlle. Jacquier to keep them out of my room and away from my table. But the majority of the students were "regular girls." At first I was as welcome in the dining-room as a Prussian sentinel, and they exchanged desultory remarks in whispers; but after a while they grew accustomed to me and chattered like magpies. I could hear them again in their dormitories until about half-past ten at night. Mlle. Jacquier asked me once with some anxiety if I minded, and I assured her that I liked it. This was quite true, for these girls, all so eager and natural, and even gay, despite the tragedy in the background of many, seemed to me the brightest spot in Paris.
It is true that I remonstrated, and frequently, against the terrific noise they made every morning at seven o'clock when they clamped across the uncarpeted hall and down the stairs. But although they would tiptoe for a day they would forget again, and I finally resigned myself. I also did my share in training them to wait on a guest in her room! Not one when I arrived had anything more than a theoretical idea of what to do beyond making a bed, sweeping, and dusting. I soon discovered that the more exacting I was---and there were times when I was exceeding stormy---the better Mlle. Jacquier was pleased.
She had her hands full. Her discipline was superb and she addressed each with invariable formality as "Mademoiselle------"; but they were real girls, full of vitality, and always on the edge of rebellion. I listened to some stinging rebukes delivered by Mlle. Jacquier when she would arise in her wrath in the dining-room and address them collectively. She knew how to get under their skin, for they would blush, hang their heads, and writhe.
But Mlle. Jacquier told me that what really kept them in order was the influence of Mlle. Thompson. At first she came every week late in the afternoon to give them a talk; then every fortnight; then---oh là! là!
I listened to one or two of these talks. The girls sat in a semicircle, hardly breathing, their eyes filling with tears whenever Mlle. Thompson, who sat at a table at the head of the room, played on that particular key.
I never thought Valentine Thompson more remarkable than during this hour dedicated to the tuning and exalting of the souls of these girls. Several told me that she held their hearts in her hands when she talked and that they would follow her straight to the battlefield. She, herself, assumed her most serious and exalted expression. I have never heard any one use more exquisite French. Not for a moment did she talk down to those girls of a humbler sphere. She lifted them to her own. Her voice took on deeper tones, but she always stopped short of being dramatic. French people of all classes are too keen and clear-sighted and intelligent to be taken in by theatrical tricks, and Mlle. Thompson made no mistakes. Her only mistake was in neglecting these girls later on for other new enterprises that claimed her ardent imagination.
She talked, I remember, of patriotism, of morale, of their duty to excel in their present studies that they might be of service not only to their impoverished families but to their beloved France. It was not so much what she said as the lovely way in which she said it, her impressive manner and appearance, her almost overwhelming but, for the occasion, wholly democratic personality.
Once a week Mlle. Thompson and the heads of the Touring Club de France had a breakfast at the École and tables were laid even in the salon. I was always somebody's guest upon these Tuesdays, unless I was engaged elsewhere, and had, moreover, been for years a member of the Touring Club. Some of the most distinguished men and women of Paris came to the breakfasts: statesmen, journalists, authors, artists, people of le beau monde, visiting English and Americans as well as French people of note. Naturally the students became expert waitresses and chasseurs as well as cooks.
Altogether I should have only the pleasantest memories of the École Feminine had it not been for the mosquitoes. I do not believe that New Jersey ever had a worse record than Paris that summer. Every leaf of every one of those beautiful trees beyond my window, over whose tops I used to gaze at the airplanes darting about on the lookout for taubes, was an incubator. I exhausted the resources of two chemist shops in Passy and one in Paris. I tried every invention, went to bed reeking with turpentine, and burned evil-smelling pastiles. Mlle. Jacquier came in every night and slew a dozen with a towel as scientifically as she did everything else. All of no avail. At one time I was so spotted that I had to wear a still more heavily spotted veil. I looked as if afflicted with measles.
Oddly enough the prettiest of the students, whose first name was Alice, was the only one of us all ignored by the mosquitoes. She had red-gold hair and a pink and white skin of great delicacy, and she might have been the twin of Elsie Ferguson. A few of the other girls were passably good-looking but she was the only one with anything like beauty---which, it would seem, is practically confined to the noblesse and grande bourgeoisie in France. Next to her in looks came Mlle. Jacquier, who if she had a dot would have been snapped up long since.
Alice had had two fiancés (selected by her mother) and both young officers; one, an Englishman, had been killed in the first year of the war. She was only eighteen. At one time the northern town she lived in was threatened by the Germans, and Mrs. Vail of Boston (whose daughter is so prominent at the American Fund for French Wounded headquarters in Paris), being on the spot and knowing how much there would be left of the wildrose innocence that bloomed visibly on Alice's plump cheeks, whisked her off to London. There she remained until she heard of Mlle. Thompson's School, when Mrs. Vail brought her to Paris. As she was not only pretty and charming but intelligent, I exerted myself to find her a place before I left, and I believe she is still with Mrs. Thayer in the Hotel Cecilia.
The École Féminine, I am told, is no more. Mlle. Thompson found it impossible to raise the necessary money to keep it going. The truth is, I fancy, that she approached generous donators for too many different objects and too many times. Perhaps the École will be reopened later on. If not it will always be a matter of regret not only for France but for Valentine Thompson's own sake that she did not concentrate on this useful enterprise; it would have been a definite monument in the center of her shifting activities.
I have no space to give even a list of her manifold oeuvres, but one at least bids fair to be associated permanently with her name. What is now known in the United States as the French Heroes' Fund was started by Mlle. Thompson under the auspices of La Vie Féminine to help the réformés rebuild their lives. The greater number could not work at their old avocations, being minus an arm or a leg. But they learned to make toys and many useful articles, and worked at home; in good weather, sitting before their doors in the quiet village street. A vast number of these Mlle. Thompson and various members of her Committee located, tabulated, encouraged; and, once a fortnight, collected their work. This was either sold in Paris or sent to America.
In New York Mrs. William Astor Chanler and Mr. John Moffat organized the work under its present title and raised the money to buy Lafayette's birthplace. They got it at a great bargain, $20,000; for a large number of acres were included in the purchase. Another $20,000, also raised by Mr. Moffatt, repaired and furnished the château, which not only is to be a sort of French Mt. Vernon, with rooms dedicated to relics of Lafayette and the present war, as well as a memorial room for the American heroes who have fallen for France, but an orphanage is to be built in the grounds, and the repairs as well as all the other work is to be done by the blind and the mutilated, who will thus not be objects of charity but made to feel themselves men once more and able to support their families. The land will be rented to the réformés, the mutilés and the blind.
Mlle. Thompson and Mrs. Chanler, with the help of a powerful Committee, are pushing this work forward as rapidly as possible in the circumstances and no doubt it will be one of the first war meccas of the American tourists so long separated from their beloved Europe.
The most insistent memory of my life in Passy at the Hôtel Féminine is the Battle of the Somme. After it commenced in July I heard the great guns day and night for a week. That deep, steady, portentous booming had begun to exert a morbid fascination before the advance carried the cannon out of my range, and I had an almost irresistible desire to pack up and follow it. The ancestral response to the old god of war is more persistent than any of us imagine, I fancy. I was close to the lines some weeks later, when I went into the Zone des Armées, and it is quite positive that not only does that dreary and dangerous region exert a sinister fascination but that it seems to expel fear from your composition. It is as if for the first time you were in the normal condition of life, which during the centuries of the ancestors to whom you owe your brain-cells, was war, not peace.
One has learned to associate Madame Waddington so intimately with the glittering surface life of Europe that although every one knows she was born in New York of historic parentage, one recalls with something of a shock now and then that she was not only educated in this country but did not go to France to live until after the death of her father in 1871.
This no doubt accounts for the fact that meeting her for the first time one finds her unmistakably an American woman. Her language may be French but she has a directness and simplicity that no more identifies her with a European woman of any class than with the well-known exigencies of diplomacy. Madame Waddington strikes one as quite remarkably fearless and downright; she appears to be as outspoken as she is vivacious; and as her husband had a highly successful career as a diplomatist, and as his debt to his brilliant wife is freely conceded, Madame Waddington is certainly a notable instance of the gay persistence of an intelligent American woman's personality, combined with the proper proportion of acuteness, quickness, and charm which force a highly conventionalized and specialized society to take her on her own terms. The greater number of diplomatic women as well as ladies-in-waiting that I have run across during my European or Washington episodes have about as much personality as a door-mat. Many of our own women have been admirable helpmates to our ambassadors, but I recall none that has played a great personal rôle in the world. Not a few have contributed to the gaiety of nations.
Madame Waddington has had four separate careers quite aside from the always outstanding career of girlhood. Her father was Charles King, President of Columbia College and son of Rufus King, second United States Minister to England. When she married M. Waddington, a Frenchman of English descent, and educated at Rugby and Cambridge, he was just entering public life. His château was in the Department of the Aisne and he was sent from there to the National Assembly. Two years later he was appointed Minister of Public Instruction, and in January, 1876, he was elected Senator from the Aisne. In December of the following year he once more entered the Cabinet as Minister of Public Instruction, later accepting the portfolio for Foreign Affairs.
During this period, of course, Madame Waddington lived the brilliant social and political life of the capital. M. Waddington began his diplomatic career in 1878 as the first Plenipotentiary of France to the Congress of Berlin. In 1883 he was sent as Ambassador Extraordinary to represent France at the coronation of Alexander III; and it was then that Madame Waddington began to send history through the diplomatic pouch, and sow the seeds of that post-career which comes to so few widows of public men.
Madame Waddington's letters from Russia, and later from England where her husband was Ambassador from 1883 to 1893 are now so famous, being probably in every private library of any pretensions, that it would be a waste of space to give an extended notice of them in a book which has nothing whatever to do with the achievements of its heroines in art and letters in that vast almost-forgotten period, Before the War. Suffice it to say that they are among the most delightful epistolary contributions to modern literature, the more so perhaps as they were written without a thought of future publication. But being a born woman of letters, every line she writes has the elusive qualities of style and charm; and she has besides the selective gift of putting down on paper even to her own family only what is worth recording.
When these letters were published in Scribner's Magazine in 1902, eight years after M. Waddington's death, they gave her an instant position in the world of letters, which must have consoled her for the loss of that glittering diplomatic life she had enjoyed for so many years.
Not that Madame Waddington had ever dropped out of society, except during the inevitable period of mourning. In Paris up to the outbreak of the war she was always in demand, particularly in diplomatic circles, by far the most interesting and kaleidoscopic in the European capitals. I was told that she never paid a visit to England without finding an invitation from the King and Queen at her hotel, as well as a peck of other invitations.
I do not think Madame Waddington has ever been wealthy in our sense of the word. But, as I said before, her career is a striking example of that most precious of all gifts, personality. And if she lives until ninety she will always be in social demand, for she is what is known as "good company." She listens to you but you would far rather listen to her. Unlike many women of distinguished pasts she lives in hers very little. It is difficult to induce the reminiscent mood. She lives intensely in the present and her mind works insatiably upon everything in current life that is worth while.
She has no vanity. Unlike many ladies of her age and degree in Paris she does not wear a red-brown wig, but her own abundant hair, as soft and white as cotton and not a "gray" hair in it. She is now too much absorbed in the war to waste time at her dressmakers or even to care whether her placket-hole is open or not. I doubt if she ever did care much about dress or "keeping young," for those are instincts that sleep only in the grave. War or no war they are as much a part of the daily habit as the morning bath. I saw abundant evidence of this immortal fact in Paris during the second summer of the war.
Nevertheless, the moment Madame Waddington enters a room she seems to charge it with electricity. You see no one else and you are impatient when others insist upon talking. Vitality, an immense intelligence without arrogance or self-conceit, a courtesy which has no relation to diplomatic caution, a kindly tact and an unmistakable integrity, combine to make Madame Waddington one of the most popular women in Europe.
This brings me to Madame Waddington's fourth career. The war which has lifted so many people out of obscurity, rejuvenated a few dying talents, and given thousands their first opportunity to be useful, simply overwhelmed Madame Waddington with hard work and a multitude of new duties. If she had indulged in dreams of spending the rest of her days in the peaceful paths of literature when not dining out, they were rudely dissipated on August 1st, 1914.
Madame Waddington opened the Ouvroir Holophane on the 15th of August, her first object being to give employment and so countercheck the double menace of starvation and haunted idleness for at least fifty poor women: teachers, music-mistresses, seamstresses, lace makers, women of all ages and conditions abruptly thrown out of work.
Madame Waddington, speaking of them, said: "We had such piteous cases of perfectly well-dressed, well-educated, gently-bred women that we hardly dared offer them the one-franc-fifty and 'gouter' (bowl of café-au-lait with bread and butter), which was all we were able to give for four hours' work in the afternoon."
However, those poor women were very thankful for the work and sewed faithfully on sleeping-suits and underclothing for poilus in the trenches and hospitals. Madame Waddington's friends in America responded to her call for help and M. Mygatt gave her rooms on the ground floor of his building in the Boulevard Haussmann.
When the Germans were rushing on Paris and invasion seemed as inevitable as the horrors that were bound to follow, Mr. Herrick insisted that Madame Waddington and her sister Miss King, who was almost helpless from rheumatism, follow the Government to the South. This Madame Waddington reluctantly did, but returned immediately after the Battle of the Marne.
It was not long before the Ouvroir Holophane outgrew its original proportions, and instead of the women coming there daily to sew, they called only for materials to make up at home. For this ouvroir (if it has managed to exist in these days of decreasing donations) sends to the Front garments of all sorts for soldiers ill or well, pillow-cases, sheets, sleeping-bags, slippers.
Moreover, as soon as the men began to come home on their six days' leave they found their way to the generous ouvroir on the Boulevard Haussmann, where Madame Waddington, or her friend Mrs. Greene (also an American), or Madame Mygatt, always gave the poor men what they needed to replace their tattered (or missing) undergarments, as well as coffee and bread and butter.
The most difficult women to employ were those who had been accustomed to make embroidery and lace, as well as many who had led pampered lives in a small way and did not know how to sew at all. But one-franc-fifty stood between them and starvation and they learned. To-day nearly all of the younger women assisted by those first ouvroirs are more profitably employed. France has adjusted itself to a state of war and thousands of women are either in Government service and munition factories, or in the reopened shops and restaurants.
The Waddingtons being the great people of their district were, of course, looked upon by the peasant farmers and villagers as aristocrats of illimitable wealth. Therefore when the full force of the war struck these poor people---they were in the path of the Germans during the advance on Paris, and ruthlessly treated---they looked to Madame Waddington and her daughter, Madame Francis Waddington, to put them on their feet again.
Francis Waddington, to whom the château descended, was in the trenches, but his mother and wife did all they could, as soon as the Germans had been driven back, to relieve the necessities of the dazed and miserable creatures whose farms had been devastated and shops rifled or razed. Some time, by the way, Madame Waddington may tell the dramatic story of her daughter-in-law's escape. She was alone in the château with her two little boys when the Mayor of the nearest village dashed up with the warning that the Germans were six kilometers away, and the last train was about to leave.
She had two automobiles, but her chauffeur had been mobilized and there was no petrol. She was dressed for dinner, but there was no time to change. She threw on a cloak and thinking of nothing but her children went off with the Mayor in hot haste to catch the train. From that moment on for five or six days, during which time she never took off her high-heeled slippers with their diamond buckles, until she reached her husband in the North, her experience was one of the side dramas of the war.
I think it was early in 1915 that Madame Waddington wrote in Scribner's Magazine a description of her son's château as it was after the Germans had evacuated it. But the half was not told. It never can be, in print. Madame Huard, in her book, My Home on the Field of Honor, is franker than most of the current historians have dared to be, and the conditions which she too found when she returned after the German retreat may be regarded as the prototype of the disgraceful and disgusting state in which these lovely country homes of the French were left; not by lawless German soldiers but by officers of the first rank. Madame Francis Waddington did not even run upstairs to snatch her jewel case, and of course she never saw it again. Her dresses had been taken from the wardrobes and slashed from top to hem by the swords of these incomprehensible barbarians. The most valuable books in the library were gutted. But these outrages are almost too mild to mention.
The next task after the city ouvroir was in running order was to teach the countrywomen how to sew for the soldiers and pay them for their work. The region of the Aisne is agricultural where it is not heavily wooded. Few of the women had any skill with the needle. The two Madame Waddingtons concluded to show these poor women with their coarse red hands how to knit until their fingers grew more supple. This they took to very kindly, knitting jerseys and socks; and since those early days both the Paris and country ouvroirs had sent (June, 1916) twenty thousand packages to the soldiers. Each package contained a flannel shirt, drawers, stomach band, waistcoat or jersey, two pairs of socks, two handkerchiefs, a towel, a piece of soap. Any donations of tobacco or rolled cigarettes were also included.
This burden in the country has been augmented heavily by refugees from the invaded districts. Of course they come no more these days, but while I was in Paris they were still pouring down, and as the Waddington estate was often in their line of march they simply camped in the park and in the garage. Of course they had to be clothed, fed, and generally assisted.
As Madame Waddington's is not one of the picturesque ouvroirs she has found it difficult to keep it going, and no doubt contributes all she can spare of what the war has left of her own income. Moreover, she is on practically every important war relief committee, sometimes as honorary president, for her name carries great weight, often as vice-president or as a member of the "conseil." After her ouvroirs the most important organization of which she is president is the Comité International de Pansements Chirurgicaux des Etats Unis---in other words, surgical dressings---started by Mrs. Willard, and run actively in Paris by Mrs. Austin, the vice-president. When I visited it they were serving about seven hundred hospitals, and no doubt by this time are supplying twice that number. Two floors of a new apartment house had been put at their disposal near the Bois, and the activity and shining whiteness were the last word in modern proficiency (I shall never use that black-sheep among words, efficiency, again).
One of Madame Waddington's more personal oeuvres is the amusement she, in company with her daughter-in-law, provides for the poilus in the village near her son's estate. Regiments are quartered there, either to hold themselves in readiness, or to cut down trees for the army. They wandered about, desolate and bored, until the two Madame Waddingtons furnished a reading-room, provided with letter paper and post-cards, books and, I hope, by this time a gramophone. Here they sit and smoke, read, or get up little plays. As the château is now occupied by the staff the two patronesses are obliged to go back and forth from Paris, and this they do once a week at least.
Madame Waddington, knowing that I was very anxious to see one of the cantines at the railway stations about which so much was said, took me late one afternoon to St. Lazare. Into this great station, as into all the others, train after train hourly gives up its load of permissionnaires---men home on their six days' leave---; men for the éclopé stations; men from shattered regiments, to be held at Le Bourget until the time comes to be sent to fill other gaps made by the German guns; men who merely arrive by one train to take another out, but who must frequently remain for several hours in the dépôt.
I have never entered one of these gares to take a train that I have not seen hundreds of soldiers entering, leaving, waiting; sometimes lying asleep on the hard floor, always on the benches. It is for all who choose to take advantage of them that these cantines are run, and they are open day and night.
The one in St. Lazare had been organized in February, 1915, by the Baronne de Berckheim (born Pourtales) and was still run by her in person when I visited it in June, 1916. During that time she and her staff had taken care of over two hundred thousand soldiers. From 8 to 11 A.M. café-au-lait, or café noir, or bouillon, paté de foie or cheese is served. From 11 to 2 and from 6 to 9, bouillon, a plate of meat and vegetables, salad, cheese, fruits or compote, coffee, a quart of wine or beer, cigarettes. From 2 to 6 and after 9 P.M., bouillon, coffee, tea, paté, cheese, milk, lemonade, cocoa.
The rooms in the station are a donation by the officials, of course. The dining-room of the St. Lazare cantine was fitted up with several long tables, before which, when we arrived, every square inch of the benches was occupied by poilus enjoying an excellent meal of which beef à la mode was the pièce de résistance. The Baroness Berckheim and the young girls helping her wore the Red Cross uniform, and they served the needs of the tired and hungry soldiers with a humble devotion that nothing but war and its awful possibilities can inspire. It was these nameless men who were saving not only France from the most brutal enemy of modern times but the honor of thousands of such beautiful and fastidious young women as these. No wonder they were willing and grateful to stand until they dropped.
It was evident, however, that their imagination carried them beyond man's interiorities. The walls were charmingly decorated not only with pictures of the heroes of the war but with the colored supplements of the great weekly magazines which pursue their even and welcome way in spite of the war. Above there were flags and banners, and the lights were very bright. Altogether there was no restaurant in Paris more cheerful---or more exquisitely neat in its kitchen. I went behind and saw the great roasts in their shining pans, the splendid loaves of bread, the piles of clean dishes. Not a spot of grease in those crowded quarters. In a corner the President of the Chamber of Commerce was cashier for the night.
Adjoining was a rest-room with six or eight beds, and a lavatory large enough for several men simultaneously to wash off the dust of their long journey.
These cantines are supported by collections taken up on trains. On any train between Paris and any point in France outside of the War Zone girls in the uniform of the Croix Rouge appear at every stop and shake a box at you. They are wooden boxes, with a little slit at the top. As I have myself seen people slipping in coppers and, no doubt, receiving the credit from other passengers of donating francs, I suggested that these young cadets of the Red Cross would add heavily to their day's toll if they passed round open plates. Certainly no one would dare contribute copper under the sharp eyes of his fellows. This, I was told, was against the law, but that it might be found practicable to use glass boxes.
In any case the gains are enough to run these cantines. The girls are almost always good looking and well bred, and they look very serious in their white uniform with the red cross on the sleeves; and the psychotherapeutic influence is too strong for any one to resist.
Madame Waddington had brought a large box of chocolates and she passed a piece over the shoulder of each soldier, who interrupted the more serious business of the moment to be polite. Other people bring them flowers, or cigarettes, and certainly there is no one in the world so satisfactory to put one's self to any effort for as a poilu. On her manners alone France should win her war.