Chapter V. Paris Again - And Bordeaux: Journal of a Flight from a London Fogs

Belgian officers, parks of Belgian military automobiles; up-country a little way the Germans going down in tens of thousands to win their "gate to England" - yet we came across on the Channel boat last evening as usual and had little trouble finding a room. There were tons of Red Cross supplies on board - cotton, chloroform, peroxide; Belgian soldiers patched up and going back to fight; and various volunteer nurses, including two handsome young Englishwomen of the very modern aviatrix type - coming over to drive motor-cycle ambulances - and so smartly gotten up in boots and khaki that a little way off you might have taken them for British officers. At the wharf were other nurses, some of whom I had last seen that Thursday afternoon in Antwerp as they and their wounded rolled away in London buses from the hospital in the Boulevard Leopold.

This morning, strolling round the town, I ran into a couple of English correspondents. There were yet several hours before they need address themselves to the arduous task of describing fighting they had not seen, and they talked, with a good humor one sometimes misses in their correspondence, of German collectivism and similar things. One had spent a good deal of time in Germany.

"They're the only people who have solved the problem of industrial cities without slums - you must say that for them. Of course, in those model towns of theirs, you've got to brush your teeth at six minutes past eight and sleep on your left side if the police say so - they're astonishing people for doing what they're told.

"One day in Dresden I walked across a bit of grass the public weren't supposed to cross. An old gentleman fairly roared the instant he saw me. He was ready to explode at the mere suggestion that any one could think of disobeying a rule made for all of them.

"'Das kann man nicht thun! Es ist verboten!'"

The other quoted the answer of an English factory-owner to some of his employees who did not want to enlist. "They've done a lot for working men over there," the man said. "Accident-insurance, old-age pensions, and all that - what do we want to fight the Kaiser for? We'd just about as soon be under Billy as George." And X - - - said to them: "If you were under Kaiser Billy, you'd enlist right enough, there's no doubt of that!"

Boulogne, Saturday.

He sat in the corner of our compartment coming down from Calais this afternoon, an old Algerian soldier, homeward bound, with a big, round loaf of bread and a military pass. He had a blue robe, bright-red, soft boots, a white turban wound with a sort of scarf of brown cord and baggy corduroy underneath, concealing various mysterious pockets.

"Paris? To-night?" he grunted in his queer French. The big Frenchman next him, who had served in Africa in his youth and understood the dialect, shook his head. "To-morrow morning!" he said. He laid his head on his hand to suggest a man sleeping, and held up three fingers. "Three days - Marseilles!" The old goumier's dark eyes blazed curiously, and he opened and shut his mouth in a dry yawn - like a tiger yawning.

Wounded? No - he pointed to his eyes, which were bloodshot, patted his forehead to suggest that it was throbbing, rubbed his legs, and scowled. "Rheumatism!" said the Frenchman. The Algerian pressed his palms together six times, then held up two fingers. "He's sixty-two years old!" said the Frenchman, and the old warrior obligingly opened his jaws and pointed to two or three lone brown fangs to prove it. They talked for a moment in the vernacular, and the Frenchman explained again, "Volunteer!" and then, "Scout!"

The old Arab made the motion of sighting along a rifle, then of brushing something over, and tapped himself on the chest.

"Deux!" he said. "Two Germans - me!" Evidently he was going back to the desert satisfied.

Train after train passed us, northward bound, some from Boulogne, some from the trenches north of Paris evidently, bringing artillery caked with mud - all packed with British soldiers leaning from doors of their cattle-cars, hats pushed back, pipes in their faces, singing and joking. At the end of each train, in passenger-coaches, their officers - tall, slim-legged young Olympians in leather puttees and short tan greatcoats, with their air of elegant amateurs embarking on some rather superior sort of sport.

The same cars filled with French soldiers equally brave, efficient, light-hearted would be as different as Corneille and Shakespeare, as Dickens and Dumas - and in the same ways!

An Englishman had been telling me in a London club a few nights before of the "extraordinary detachment" of Tommy Atkins.

"Take almost any of those little French soldiers - they've got a pretty good idea what the war is about - at any rate, they've got a sentiment about it perfectly clear and conscious, and they'll go to their death shouting for la patrie. Now, Tommy Atkins isn't the least like that. He doesn't fight - and you know how he does fight - for patriotism or glory, at least not in the same conscious way. He'd fight just as well against another of his own regiments - if you know what I mean. He's just - well, look at the soldiers' letters. The Germans are sentimental - they are all martyrs. The Frenchmen are all heroes. But Tommy Atkins - well, he's just playing football!"

The idea this Englishman was trying to express was put in another way by a British sailor at the time of the sinking of the Aboukir, Cressy, and Rogue.