Chapter II. Paris At Bay
The Calais and Boulogne routes were already closed. Dieppe and Havre might at any moment follow. You must go now, people said in London, if you want to get there at all.
And yet the boat was crowded as it left Folkstone. In bright afternoon sunshine we hurried over the Channel, empty of any sign of war, unless war showed in its very emptiness. Next to me sat a young Frenchman, different from those we had met before hurrying home to fight. Good-looking, tall, and rather languid in manner, he spoke English with an English accent, and you would have taken him for an Englishman. A big canvas bag full of golf-clubs leaned against the wall behind him, and he had been trying to play golf at one of the east-coast seaside places in England. But one couldn't play in a time like this, and the young man sighed and waved his hands rather desperately - one couldn't settle down to anything. So he was going home. To fight ? - I suggested. Possibly, he said - the army had refused him several years ago - maybe they would take him now. Very politely, in his quiet manner, he asked me down to tea. When he stood by the rail watching the tawny French cliffs draw nearer, one noticed a certain weary droop to his shoulders, in contrast to his well-tanned, rather athletic-looking, face - born a little tired, perhaps, like the young nobleman in Bernstein's "Whirlwind." His baggage was addressed to a Norman chateau.
On the other side was a pink-cheeked boy of seventeen, all French, though he spoke English and divided his time between writing post-cards to the boys he had been visiting in England and reading General von Bernhardi. "The first chapter, 'The Right to Make War,'" he said, "I understand that - yes! But the second chapter - 'The Duty to Make War'" - he laughed and shook his head.
"No - no - no!" He was the son of an insurance agent who was already at the front, and, although under age, he hoped to enlist. We drew nearer Dieppe - tall French houses leaning inward with tricolors in the windows, a quay with the baggy red breeches of French soldiers showing here and there - just such a scene as they paint on theatre curtains at home. A smoky tug whistled uproariously, there was a patter of wooden shoes as children clattered along the stone jetty, and from all over the crowd that had come down to greet us came brave shouts of "Eep-eep Hoorah! Eep-eep Hoorah!"
No news, or at least no reliable news. A lot of wounded had been brought in, business was stopped, the great beach deserted; some thought the Germans would be in Dieppe in a day or two. Our train was supposed to start as soon as the boat arrived and reach Paris before ten that night. It was after dark before we got away and another day before we crawled into St. Lazare.
There was a wild rush for places as soon as the gates opened; one took what one could, and nine of us, including three little children, were glad enough to crowd into a third-class compartment. Two ladies, with the three little children, were hurrying away from the battle that their husbands .thought was going to be fought near Dieppe within a day or two. From Paris they hoped to get to the south of France. Over and over again the husbands said good-by, then the guards whistled for the last time.
"Albaire!" ... and a boy of about six went to the door of the compartment to receive his father's embrace. "Don't let the Germans get you!" cried the father, with a great air of gayety, and kissed the boy again and again. He returned to his corner, rubbed his fists into his eyes, and the tears rolled out under them. Then the two little girls - twins, it seemed, about four years old, in little mushroom hats - took their turns, and they put their fists into their eyes and cried, and then the two mothers began to cry, and the men, dabbing their eyes and puffing vigorously at their cigars, cried good-by over and over, and so at last we moved out of the station.
The long train crept, stopped, backed, crept on again. Through the open windows one caught glimpses of rows of poplar-trees and the countryside lying cool and white in the moonlight. Then came stations with sentries, stray soldiers hunting for a place to squeeze in, and now and then empty troop-trains jolted by, smelling of horses. In the confusion at Dieppe we had had no time to get anything to eat, and several hours went by before, at a station lunchroom, already supposed to be closed, I got part of a loaf of bread. One of the young mothers brought out a bit of chocolate, the other a bottle of wine, and so we had supper - a souper de luxe, as one of them laughed - all, by this time, old friends.
Eleven o'clock - midnight - the gas, intended for a short journey, grew dimmer and dimmer, presently flickered out. We were in darkness - all the train was in darkness - we were alone in France, wrapped in war and moonlight, half real beings who had been adventuring together, not for hours, but for years. The dim figure on the left sighed, tried one position and another uneasily, and suddenly said that if it would not derange monsieur too much, she would try to sleep on his shoulder. It would not derange monsieur in the least. On the contrary...
"You must make yourself at home in France," laughed the mother of the two little girls. But the other was even more polite.
"Nous sommes en Amerique!" she murmured. The train jolted slowly on. An hour or two after midnight it stopped and a strange figure in turban and white robe peered in. "Complet! Complet!" cried the lady with the little girls. But the figure kept staring in, and, turning, chattered to others like him. There was a crowd of them, men from France's African colonies, from Algeria or Morocco, who had been working in the French mines and were now going back to take the places of trained soldiers - the daredevil "Turcos" - sent north to fight the Germans.