Mourning and Khaki Worn on Parisian Promenades in Rain Storm
PALL HOVERS OVER CAPITAL
BY MARGARET MASON,
Written for the United Press.
Paris, April 5. France’s sublime patriotism—the noble self-sacrifice of her women—was weirdly and wonderfully demonstrated by the strangest Easter recorded since Paris became the world’s fashion center.
The heavens, moved to pity, wept throughout the day. The clouds cooperated with the colorless feminine attire and the absentee of flowers to produce a Black Easter sharply in contrast to the gaiety and the colorful scenes of normal years.
There was no fashion parade in the boulevards. Bois Boulogne was deserted. The scene of the fashionable Madeleine and of the poorer quarters of Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame were virtually duplicated. The usual contrast between the wealthy and the poorer dressers was lost in the black pall.
The only relieving colors were occasional splotches of blue gray coats, red trousers and the white bandages of wounded soldiers. The only young men in sight were those in uniforms, the other males were old men and little children.
Ninety-five per cent of the women were gowned in black. The only new women’s attire shown as in mourning bonnets and dresses. Hundreds self- sacrificing were wearing last year’s creations, even the fashionable Madeleine failing to show a single new chic creation. The only relief from black, which has become intentionally the women’s khaki, was an occasional white wing or flower hat or less frequently, a purple.
In the taper-lighted Notre Dame the vast audience seemed composed entirely of swaying shadows. Sex was undeterminable because of the absence of colors until a wave of sobs from the feminine worshippers mingling with the soprano carols revealed the actual sufferers of the war’s cruelties.
At the dismissal of the services the women were dry-eyed again. Their buoyancy not only offset the black pall but also revealed the inspiration for the noble deeds of France’s sons.
Much to do to prepare for Christmas so a quick post on mourning and Christmas in old Russia.
A STRANGE CHRISTMAS PARTY
December and the year had almost unwound themselves. We were among the scantily clothed days at the end of the year. There was now no snow on the ground, or if there were any, it was not of the time; it survived from earlier days when the skies had been prodigal. It rained a little and froze a little and the feeble air blew up in little gusts or lay exhausted in mists. The mists trailed over the withered maize fields or lay listlessly about the green roofs of the village houses, or cleared for a few hours to show the bases of the mountains. I was living in the far South of Russia.
I stood one morning in the little cemetery and looked around me. It seemed the mist had just cleared a space. The graves and the stones and the crosses, the grass and last summer’s withered flowers could be seen quite clearly, and even the low green paling that fenced the graveyard in. But beyond these the mist had dominion. My world had for the time shrunk, and the unknowable boundlessly increased. As I stood there I felt the mist encroaching, encroaching—like oblivion upon memory; as if it would limit even to the seven feet of shadow I cast upon the ground.
Around me were many green wooden crosses, crosses that had weathered many rains and dried in hot suns, and become wet again in mist and rain, or white and green in snow, or silvered in frost. They were all fragile and unstable as if put up for sport by children, and the winds had tumbled them so that they pointed at all angles, as it were, at every star in heaven. Round the necks of the crosses hung little ikons or artificial-flower wreaths, a prayer book, a shape, a token; and below, one read the legend:
“Here lies buried the body of a slave of God.”
It was an ancient graveyard full of dead, and had served several little villages for a century or more. Its fresh dark earth exhaled an incense to the mind, a remembrance of tears and prayers.
Fast underground lie the poor joinered coffins, most of which the moujiks had made for themselves before they died. All the fair form and flesh has vanished away, and with them the personality and lovableness of those whose life’s limit was marked by these crosses. But to the Russian it is the cross planted upon the grave that nullifies the grave, signifying the triumph of Christ over death. No crosses are of stone, and the wood is for him the wood of the Tree of Life.
For there are no dead in Russia … all who have passed the dark portal are alive for evermore.
Suddenly out of the mist a form emerged, as if the mist itself had taken form. An old woman, tall, and bent with age, came slowly forward, gathering sticks here and there as she walked. She did not notice me, but wandered to and fro among the graves. Then as I reflected what she might be doing, a grey-headed crow fluttered down from an unseen tree and balanced itself upon a cross in front of her. Whereupon she turned hurriedly from the bird of evil omen, and I saw that she was a worshipper at a grave. At some distance from me, where little rustic seats had been placed about a grey-green cross, a candle was burning, and a young woman was arranging some tribute upon the low mound—a wreath perhaps. I approached and recognised my neighbour who lives in the house facing the white church on the green.
I did not go nearer, but I saw they had planted a new Christmas tree before a grave, and they had hung it with little ornaments and candles. The old lady lit a little fire with the sticks she had gathered, and the young one, her daughter, spread out a cloth in which was a portion of cake from their Christmas table. They had come to share their rejoicing and their festival with one who had died, a daughter and a sister.
The fire crackled and sent up clouds of blue smoke, and the little lights twinkled on the tree upon the grave. The red and yellow candles gleamed. The liquid mist flowed about the scene like staring ghosts, and I was the only human witness.
Presently, after crossing herself, and kissing the ground, the old lady rose. She placed a little cake upon the mound for the dead one, and took to herself a little, and gave a little to her living daughter; then to myself in my heart the sacred fare also was given, and we made up this strangest Christmas party. There were four present; there were four thousand—the ghosts pressed around in the mist, a mob of the dead. I felt like Ulysses in quest of Tiresias.
She who had died was a beloved daughter, and the tears streamed down the face of the old mother, and though the younger did not weep, I have learned there were as many tears in her heart as in the eyes of the other. The old woman, the babushka, belonged to Old Russia, and the young one belongs to the newest of the new.
I have more to say of them. They took the toys from the tree and gave them to the poor children round about their home, and to these also gave of the cake. For the younger woman had learned the lesson that in the living we can find all our dead again.
Undiscovered Russia, Stephen Graham, 1912
Graham [1884-1975] was a British journalist and travel writer, who wrote several dozen books about Russia, the First World War, social issues, biography, and “tramping.” He began traveling in Russia in the heady, pre-Revolutionary days when a remaking of the world seemed possible and seems to have felt a mystic connection to the peasants, to tramps, and those who toiled on the land.
I have collected several heartbreaking accounts from 19th-century United States newspapers of placing decorated Christmas trees on the graves of children. The practice continues to this day.
I paid a visit, the other day, says Madame de la Barca, which merits to be recorded. It was to the rich Senora , whose first visit I had not yet returned. She was at home, and I was shown into a very large drawing-room, where, to my surprise, I found the lamps, mirrors, etc., covered with black crape, as in cases of mourning here. I concluded that some one of the family was dead, and that I had made a very ill-timed first visit. However, I sat down, when my eyes were instantly attracted by something awful placed directly in front of the sofa where I sat. There were six chairs ranged together, and on these lay, stretched out, a figure, apparently a dead body, about six feet long, enveloped in black cloth, the feet alone visible, from their pushing up the cloth. Oh, horror! Here I sat, my eyes fixed upon this mysterious apparition, and lost in conjecture as to whose body it might be. The master of the house? He was very tall, and being in bad health, might have died suddenly. My being received argued nothing against this, since the first nine days after a death the house is invariably crowded with friends and acquaintances, and the widow, or orphan, or childless mother, must receive the condolences of all and sundry, in the midst of her first bitter sorrow. There seems to be no idea of grief wishing for solitude.
Pending these reflections, I sat uneasily, feeling or fancying a heavy air in the apartment, and wishing most sincerely that some living person would enter. I thought even of slipping away, but feared to give offence, and in fact began to grow so nervous, that when the Senora de __ entered at length, I started up as if I had heard a pistol. She wore a coloured muslin gown and a blue shawl; no signs of mourning.
After the usual complimentary preface, I asked particularly after her husband, keeping a side glance on the mysterious figure. He was pretty well. Her family? Just recovered from the small pox, after being severely ill. “Not dangerously?” said I, hesitatingly, thinking she might have a tall son, and that she alluded to the recovery of others. “No;” but her sister’s children had been alarmingly ill. “Not lost any, I hope?” “None.” Well, so taken up was I, that conversation flagged, and I answered and asked questions at random, until, at last, I happened to ask the lady if she were going to the country soon. “Not to remain. But to-morrow we, are going to convey a Santo Cristo (a figure of the crucifixion) there, which has just been made for the chapel;” glancing towards the figure; “for which reason this room is, as you see, hung with black.”