A few yards further on we passed a group of refugees who were stumbling
aimlessly along in the dark--there were men and women, trying to console
each other, and whimpering children, sick with hunger, clinging to their
mothers' skirts. Their plaintive cry was like a knife through the heart.
After picking a toilsome way through the crowds we arrived in the
quarter of the big hotels and found there was not a room to be had. Not
at all daunted, we retraced our steps and sought the small hotels--there
were no rooms. Still, with courage--even amusement (the affair was
taking on a spirit of adventure) we attacked the _pensions de
famille_--not a cot; not a corner. Then we stopped in the _Place_ to
review the situation, which began to look dull gray. There were still
the _cabarets_, or we could sit in the street all night. We chose the
_cabarets_ and with newborn hope started on, systematically taking one
street after another, knocking at most dreadful-looking places, even
along the waterfront. A woman's voice from behind barred shutters
usually responded. Every chair, every table, every square inch of floor
was spoken for. Then the warm, brightly-lighted railroad station,
opposite the pier, leaped into our numbed consciousness--why had we not
thought of it before? The military authorities forbade loitering there.
Out in the dark, once more we looked at each other inquiringly. That was
a curious joke. Fate had never dealt us such a hand of cards before! We
viewed the landscape--half of it was water and the little waves lapping
against the _quai_ were rather mocking.
Suddenly, dark and smug, a swaying object which we had not observed till
then, took monstrous form before our eyes and in it we recognized an old
friend, the Channel boat _Elfrida_, which lay basking in the velvet
shadows like a dozing cat and gently pulling on her cables. Why not? We
did! Nothing prevented our going aboard but a sleepy guard, who was
quickly consoled with a five-franc piece, and we made ourselves
comfortable for the night on the yellow, velvet cushions in the
captain's salon, behind the wheel-house.
Who can assert that it has not all been arranged for us? Otherwise, I
fear, our own poor efforts would land us too often in the mud.
_November 10th, Tuesday._
Left Calais at nine A. M. The sun was pouring its cheerful rays
over the glorious land. It ought to be free--this smiling France!
Wherever the eye rested were soldiers drilling, building, maneuvering
and digging. Every few hundred yards the railroad was intersected by
lines of trenches. These latter appeared to be about seven feet
deep--cut true as a die into the ground and were braced with a lining of
woven reeds, like basket work. The front wall of these trenches was
crenated about every two feet, forming little niches for the soldiers
and protection against flank shots. The poppies and corn flowers blowingDownload<<BackPagesMainNext>>