“LIBERTE, LIBERTE, CHERIE!”
Just escaped from the prison-house of Russia, I had reached Marseilles. The whole city, the bay, and the surrounding hills, bright with villas and farms, glittered in sunshine. So did the spidery bridge that swings the ferry across the Old Harbour’s mouth. Even the fortifications looked quite amiable under such a sky. Booming sirens sounded the approach of great liners, moving slowly to their appointed docks. Little steamers hurried from point to point along the shores with crowded decks, and the lighthouses stood white against the Mediterranean blue.
The streets were thronged with busy people. The shops and cafes were thronged. At all the bathing places along the bay crowds of men, women, and children were plunging with joy into the cool, transparent water. The walls and kiosks were covered with gay advertisements of balls, concerts, theatres, and open air music-halls. Flaunting and flirting to and fro, women recalled what pleasure was. Electric trams went clanging down the lines. Motors hooted as they set off for tours in the Alps. Little carriages, with many-coloured hoods, loitered temptingly beside tine pavements. The stalls along the quay shone with every variety of gleaming fish, and every produce of the kindly earth. The sun went smiling through the air; the sea smiled in answer. And over all, high upon her rocky hill, watched the great image of Notre Dame de la Garde.
“This is civilisation! This is liberty!” cried a Frenchman, who had joined our ship in Turkey, and was now seated beside me, enjoying the return to security, peace, and the comfort of his own language.
Yes; it was civilisation, and it was liberty. Has not the name of Marseilles breathed the very spirit of liberty all over the world? And yet his words recalled to me another scene, and the remark of another native of Marseilles.
We were steaming slowly along the West Coast of Africa, landing cargo at point after point, or calling for it as required. Day by day we wallowed through the oily water, under a misty sun, that did not roast, but boiled. Day by day we watched the low-lying shore—the unvarying line of white beach, almost as white as the foam which dashed against it; and beyond the beach, the long black line of unbroken forest. Nothing was to be seen but those parallel lines of white beach and black forest, stretching both ways to the horizon. At dawn they were partly concealed by serpentining ghosts of mist that slowly vanished under the increasing heat; and at sunset the mists stole silently over them again. But all day and all night the sickly stench of vegetation, putrefying in the steam of those forests from age to age, pervaded the ship as with the breath of plague.