Now It Can Be Told

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Author: Philip Gibbs

XVIII

I suppose it was three months later when I saw the first crowds coming back to their homes in Amiens. The tide had turned and the enemy was in hard retreat. Amiens was safe again! They had never had any doubt of this homecoming after that day nearly three months before, when, in spite of the enemy’s being so close, Foch said, in his calm way, "I guarantee Amiens." They believed what Marshal Foch said. He always knew. So now they were coming back again with their little bundles and their babies and small children holding their hands or skirts, according as they had received permits from the French authorities. They were the lucky ones whose houses still existed. They were conscious of their own good fortune and came chattering very cheerfully from the station up the Street of the Three Pebbles, on their way to their streets. But every now and then they gave a cry of surprise and dismay at the damage done to other people’s houses.

"O la la! Regardez ca! c’est affreux!"

There was the butcher’s shop, destroyed; and the house of poor little Madeleine; and old Christopher’s workshop; and the milliner’s place, where they used to buy their Sunday hats; and that frightful gap where the Arcade had been. Truly, poor Amiens had suffered martyrdom; though, thank God, the cathedral still stood in glory, hardly touched, with only one little shellhole through the roof.

Terrible was the damage up the rue de Beauvais and the streets that went out of it. To one rubbish heap which had been a corner house two girls came back. Perhaps the French authorities had not had that one on their list. The girls came tripping home, with light in their eyes, staring about them, ejaculating pity for neighbors whose houses had been destroyed. Then suddenly they stood outside their own house and saw that the direct hit of a shell had knocked it to bits. The light went out of their eyes. They stood there staring, with their mouths open. . . Some Australian soldiers stood about and watched the girls, understanding the drama.

"Bit of a mess, missy!" said one of them. "Not much left of the old home, eh?"

The girls were amazingly brave. They did not weep. They climbed up a hillock of bricks and pulled out bits of old, familiar things. They recovered the whole of a child’s perambulator, with its wheels crushed. With an air of triumph and shrill laughter they turned round to the Australians.

"Pour les bebes!" they cried.

"While there’s life there’s hope," said one of the Australians, with sardonic humor.

So the martyrdom of Amiens was at an end, and life came back to the city that had been dead, and the soul of the city had survived. I have not seen it since then, but one day I hope I shall go back and shake hands with Gaston the waiter and say, "Comment ca va, mon vieux?" ("How goes it, my old one?") and stroll into the bookshop and say, "Bon jour, mademoiselle!" and walk round the cathedral and see its beauty in moonlight again when no one will look up and say, "Curse the moon!"

There will be many ghosts in the city at night—the ghosts of British officers and men who thronged those streets in the great war and have now passed on.

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Chicago: Philip Gibbs, "XVIII," Now It Can Be Told, ed. F. N. Maude and trans. James Legge in Now It Can Be Told Original Sources, accessed July 16, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LIUSS4JAJT421J.

MLA: Gibbs, Philip. "XVIII." Now It Can Be Told, edited by F. N. Maude, and translated by James Legge, in Now It Can Be Told, Original Sources. 16 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LIUSS4JAJT421J.

Harvard: Gibbs, P, 'XVIII' in Now It Can Be Told, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Now It Can Be Told. Original Sources, retrieved 16 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LIUSS4JAJT421J.