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"The little girls of the Luxembourg have enlisted for Red Cross duty"

The Little Children of the Luxembourg


Author of "Paris Reborn," etc.
Photographs by Harry B. Lachman

Na June afternoon seven years ago

Luxembourg what had been for her childhood and adolescent memories and for me a passing acquaintance. As we walked by the row of statues against the wall of the musée and skirted the tennis-courts to find a bench in the parterre, we little realized that the girl was to add motherhood memories, deeper and more precious, and that my acquaintance was to ripen into friendship.

A few hundred yards away, in the direction of the Panthéon, a band was playing. From the opposite side of the parterre came the pom-pom of the guignol-man. Everywhere, right and left, near and far, children's feet and children's voices made

the best noise of all. Wonderful it was to us that day. We were in dreamland; a spell we did not wish to attempt to analyze possessed us. The morning's express had brought us from Marseilles. Two weeks before, in the interior of Turkey, we had been suffering the horrors of the Armenian massacre. A far cry from Asia to Europe, from savagery to civilization, from the devil in man to the God in child. That was the spell. We understand it in retrospect. Not the waltz of "La veuve joyeuse"; not flowers and trees and fountains; not seeing again, after a year under the shadow of Islam, people of our own kind; not a park and a bench, the old familiar blessings of Occidental city life, which one never appreciates until he has

lived away from them. The little children of the Luxembourg! The devil might rage, but the world still belonged to God because of His children. The massacres were simply a hideous nightmare; our suffering was intensified, and lasted, because we had regarded them as reality. No experience of evil, of pain, of bereavement can crush when there are children around. Life still holds everything; not some things, but everything, for in the renewing of life nothing is lost.

A pair of youngsters in their twenties. could hardly have appreciated this great truth had it not been for the fact that a baby-carriage stood before them as they sat under the spell of the little children of the Luxembourg. It was our first purchase at the Bon Marché that morning. We had bubbled over with pleasure and pride when we had it taken right down in the elevator and out on the rue de Sèvres. For there was something to put in it, and there she lay, our three-weeks-old baby, who had already traveled in three conti


A wee apartment was found in the rue Servandoni, two minutes' walk from the Luxembourg. We furnished it in one hour for five hundred francs-all the money we had in the world. That was why I had to write something quickly. While the girl was getting supper that evening, I unpacked my type-writer from its battered leather case, drew a sigh of relief that nothing was broken, and put it on our one and only table. Before giving way to plates and knives and forks, there was time to make a start at least. I typed out the title, "The Little Children of the Luxembourg," and just then the girl called for me to run out and buy some butter. Back at my work, I started in: "It was-" A can of peas had to be opened. The girl confessed that this was a mystery to her, and I found that it was a trick requiring time and thought on her husband's part. Then the table was needed, and the type-writer went to the floor.

It ended there; other things came up. In those days continuity of effort had no

place in the vision of a littérateur who saw the goal shining so brightly that the way to get there was obscured. After all, there was nothing particular to say about the little children of the Luxembourg without grinding it out, and the girl sympathized with the littérateur in confusing inspiration and application. Editors, who appreciated neither poems nor essays, were anathema to her, too.

Seven years! Bored with the general "bum feeling" of a cold in the head, the littérateur, who had evolved into one of a hundred newspapermen in Paris, was trying to find some novel form of amusement to while away an afternoon's absence from his office. He picked up a bundle, labeled "Articles to be written," which had not. been untied since the golden days of the rue Servandoni. What could be more fun than to go through them? The paper came to light: "The Little Children of the Luxembourg. It was-"

With the years, pleasant changes had come, and I knew more about the little children of the Luxembourg, summer and winter, spring and autumn. I knew more because the three-weeks-old traveler in three continents was now the eldest of four. A brother and sister played with her in the Luxembourg, and there was still a three-weeks-old baby for the carriage! I knew more because there is no truth in the old maid and bachelor saying that parents think only of their own children, and have no time for, or interest in, those of others. Let spinsters and bachelors say all they want; they don't know, that 's all. The more kiddies you have yourself, the more you appreciate other people's kiddies. And other people who have kiddies do not need to be assured that this is true.

To grown-ups the Luxembourg means a delightful and embarrassing choice of places to sit. Every bench, from the peargarden at the rue Vavin entrance to the fountain of Catharine de' Medici over by the Odéon, has seen me unfold my "Temps" of a summer evening with a sigh of contentment as I sniffed flowers and grass and leaves. Every nook from

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the kiosk of the old woman who sells the best hoops at the upper rue de Vaugirard entrance to the shady wall of the Ecole des Mines by the Boul' Miche' has welcomed me to the joy of an undisturbed hour with my book. And yet, when I go to the Luxembourg, I never know where to sit. Even an Englishman would find it hard. to become wedded to one spot where all are alluring. Oh, this bother of choice! I suppose that is why I have never resented the mob of a Sunday afternoon; for then the problem of choice does not confront you. If there is a place, you sit where that place is.

To children the Luxembourg means a delightful choice of things to do, and choice is not a problem to them. They are free from the torture of decision. What comes first they tackle, and then go on to the next thing. If children did not get tired once in a while, perpetual motion would have been discovered outside of the laboratory. As it is, parents are nearer finding it than physicists. It is lucky for me that the older I get the less inspired

the "Temps" is, and the less I feel the necessity of reading all the news for fear something escapes me. It is lucky for me that the older I get the less I hold to book knowledge. After all, the summum bonum of much knowledge (in the objective form) is to feel that it really is a weariness to the flesh. The infallible sign of intelligent growth in wisdom is an increasing inability to take oneself seriously. If I regarded my duties and my own importance in the scheme of things as I used to when I first thought I was shouldering responsibilities, I should long ago have broken down under their burden. Physicians have made much money by having to bother with people who have never come to themselves. But would they not rather have done without the fees? The near-sick are the soul-squeezers of the practitioner.

What I wrote about sitting in the Luxembourg refers to the past and not to the present. I am glad that I feel as I do about the "Temps," for there is no longer one wee baby who "stays put" in her car


"Everywhere the children have organized themselves into armies "

riage and demands attention only from her mother. Three husky, rollicking children claim me the very moment I appear. I might avoid them, but, funnily enough, I do not want to, even to secure for myself the luxury of sitting on a bench, biting the end off a carré à deux sous, and reading. The match-box stays in my pocket; so does the "Temps." I am taken in tow, and appropriated for definite purposes; then begins the round that never tires. It is always the same; but it never tires.

First the beehives, where the story must be told of how honey is made and why the honeymakers had better be left untouched. That does n't last long. Children are as keen for action in papa as editors for action in stories.

The allée leading from the rue de Fleurus to the grand bassin means nothing to the tourist. His eyes are fixed upon the dome of the Panthéon, framed by the halfmile of foliage that shuts out everything else. He looks neither to the right nor to the left until he reaches the parterre. To the children that parterre is the end of

a half-day's journey, for here, in the allée, are the balançoirs, the chevaux de bois steeplechase, the chevaux de bois merrygo-round, and the guignol. Here also are the kiosks for pain d'épice and the waffle


Were you justifying your existence by the work you did to-day in your atelier? Not a bit of it! The children show you how absurd a thought that was. The world would wag on just as well without your work; not a living soul would miss it. But here, to three precious living souls, papa's strong arms to put them on the wooden horses are indispensable, and more indispensable still the sous from papa's purse to pay for the fun. Titine and Lloyd and Mimi choose their steeds. Titine, ever a cautious baby, has a preference for Madame Giraffe. The neck is thin enough to give a feeling of security, since little arms can encircle it, and this is more than can be said of other animals who have been tried and passed up. From the first day he made bold to ride, Lloyd has been fascinated by the very yellow

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Monsieur Lion, whose neck is frozen in a turn, and who grins reassuringly at his rider. Only this last month has Mimi graduated from the ignominious safety of the chariot with red plush cushions, which rests on half-swans, to the daring of a whole animal. She is trying them all, and has not settled upon one to cling to. But already-how immediately independence asserts itself!-she resents the straps, those shameful symbols of babyhood.

The merry-go-round, however, is by no means just for fun. Play with children has invariably a serious purpose, which is more than one can say of work with their elders. Grown-ups have lost the art of play because they have forgotten how to be sincerely serious-serious by instinct. We are serious by effort; ergo, we are clumsy and half-hearted in our play. It is heresy, dreadful heresy, to say it, I know, but I often think that here is the secret of the craving for alcohol. Man wants to get away from his stupid, habitual self as evolved, the sad product of repression of instinct and expression of volition.

When the music starts, Titine and Lloyd fall to grabbing rings and hoping for the brass one, which means a stick of candy. Look at their faces, and be convinced that children are lucky wild birds until they get in the cage of our educational system, bred of convention and breeder of mediocrity. From the Irish mouth under Mimi's turned-up nose comes a chortle of glee that cannot be drowned by the wheezy organ-pipes. Her freckles shine with joy, and her red hair is tossed in the pride of being 'way up there on the great big zebra. She looks down with contempt on frightened babies who refused to ride, and lost

The good they might have won
By fearing to attempt.

The mother of the merry-go-round is wise in her many days and three generations. She learned long ago not to discriminate, and that is why she has made. her fortune in catering to children. A stick of candy goes with the brass ring, but every other kid gets a stick of candy,

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