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

Imagine, for a moment, that scene - the three great ships going over like stricken whales, men slipping down their slimy flanks into the sea, boats overturned and smashed, in the thick of it the wet nose of the German submarine coming up for a look round, and then, out of that hideous welter, the voice of a sailor, the unalterable Briton in the face of all this modern science and sea magic, grabbing an anchor or whatever it was he saw first, and bellowing:

"Smash the blighter's head!"

There are phrases like these which could only have been said by the people who say them; they are like windows suddenly opening down cycles of racial history and difference. At a Regent Street moving-picture show a few evenings ago two young Frenchwomen sat behind us, girls driven off the Paris boulevards by the same impartial force which has driven grubbing peasant women from the Belgian beet-fields. One spoke a little English, and as the pictures changed she translated for her companion.

There were pictures of the silk industry in Japan - moths emerging from cocoons, the breeding process, the hatching of the eggs, the life history of these anonymous little specks magnified until for the moment they almost had a sort of personality. And one murmured:

"Comme c'est drole, la nature!"

Sunday.

It was dusk when we reached Boulogne last night - frosty dusk, with the distant moan of a fog-horn, and under the mist hilly streets busy with soldiers and bright with lights. It made one think of a college town at home on the eve of the great game, so keen and happy seemed all these fit young men - officers swinging by with their walking-sticks, soldiers spinning yarns in smoky cafes - for the great game of war.

The hotels were full of wounded or officers - to Boulogne comes the steady procession of British transports - but an amiable porter led me to a little side street and a place kept by a retired English merchant-marine officer who had married a Frenchwoman. Paintings, such as sailor-artists make, of the ships he had served in were on the walls, a photograph of himself and his mates taken in the sunshine of some tropical port; and with its cheerful hot stove, the place combined the air of a French cafe with the cosiness of an English inn.

Very comfortable, indeed, I leaned over one of the tables that ran along the wall, while two British soldiers alongside gossiped and sipped their beer, and ran over the columns of La Boulonnaise. Here, too, war seemed a jolly man's game, and I came to "Military Court Sitting at Boulogne," and beneath it the following:

Seventh, eighth, and ninth cases. Thefts by German prisoners of war. The accused are Antoine Michels, twenty-five years, native of Treves, Twenty-seventh German Chasseurs, made prisoner at Lens. Henriede Falk, twenty-seven years, native of Landenheissen (Grand Duchy of Hesse), Fourth Regiment Dragoons, made prisoner at Lille. Max Benninghoven, twenty-two years, Seventh German Chasseurs, made prisoner at Bailleul.

"The three had in their possession at the moment of their capture: Michels, two pairs of earrings, a steel watch, two medals representing the town of Arras, and a cigar-holder; Falk, a woman's watch and chain in addition to his own; Benninghoven, a pocketbook, a pack of cards, and money that did not belong to him.

"All were subjected to a severe examination and condemned: Michels, to five years in prison and a fine of five hundred francs; Falk, to twenty years at forced labor..."

And these few words of newspaper type, which nobody else seemed to be noticing, somehow - as if one had stubbed one's toe - disturbed the picture. They did not fit in with the rakish gray motor-car, labelled "Australia," I saw after dinner, nor the young infantryman I ran across on a street corner who had been in the fighting ever since Mons and was but down "for a rest" before jumping in again, nor the busy streets and buzzing cafes. But across them, for some reason, all evening, one couldn't help seeing Henriede Falk, twenty-seven years old, of Landenheissen, starting down toward Paris last August, singing "Deutschland uber Alles!" and wondering what he might be thinking about the great game of war fifteen years from now.

While I was taking coffee this morning my mariner-host walked up and down the cafe, delivering himself on the subject of mines in the North Sea. The Germans began it, now the English must take it up; but as for him, speaking as one who had followed the sea, it was poor business. Why couldn't people knock each other out in a stand-up fight like men in a ring, instead of strewing the open road with explosives?

Walking about town after breakfast, I ran into a young man whom I had last seen in a white linen uniform, waiting patiently on the orderlies' bench of the American Ambulance at Neuilly. The ambulance is as hard to get into as an exclusive club, for the woods are full these days of volunteers who, leading rather decorative lives in times of peace, have been shaken awake by the war into helping out overtaxed embassies, making beds in hospitals, doing whatever comes along with a childlike delight in the novelty of work. This young man wore a Red Cross button now and paused long enough to impart the following - characteristic of the things we non-combatants hear daily, and which, authentic or not, help to "make life interesting":

1. An English general just down from the front had told him that four thousand soldiers had been sent out as a burial party after the fighting along the Yser, and had buried, by actual count, thirty-nine thousand Germans.

2. In a temporary hospital near the front some fifty German and Indian wounded were put in the same ward. In the night the Indians got up and cut the Germans' throats.