I need not have worried. Except that once we killed a brown chicken, and that another time we almost skidded into the canal, the journey was uneventful, almost calm. One thing cheered me—all the other machines were going as fast as mine. A car that eased up its pace would be rammed from behind probably. I am like the English—I prefer a charge to a rearguard engagement.
My pass took me into Dunkirk.
It was dusk by that time. I felt rather lost and alone. I figured out what time it was at home. I wished some one would speak English. And I hated being regarded as a spy every mile or so, and depending on a slip of paper as my testimonial of respectability. The people I knew were lunching about that time, or getting ready for bridge or the matinee. I wondered what would happen to me if the pass blew out of the orderly’s hands and was lost in the canal.
The chauffeur had been instructed to take me to the Mairie a great dark building of stone halls and stairways, of sentries everywhere, of elaborate officers and much ceremony. But soon, in a great hall of the old building piled high with army supplies, I was talking to General Melis, and my troubles were over. A kindly and courteous gentleman, he put me at my ease at once. More than that, he spoke some English. He had received letters from England about me, and had telegraphed that he would meet me at Calais. He had, indeed, taken the time out of his busy day to go himself to Calais, thirty miles by motor, to meet me.
I was aghast. “The boat went to Boulogne,” I explained. “I had no idea, of course, that you would be there.”
“Now that you are here,” he said, “it is all right. But—exactly what can I do for you?”
So I told him. He listened attentively. A very fine and gallant soldier he was, sitting in that great room in the imposing uniform of his rank; a busy man, taking a little time out of his crowded day to see an American woman who had come a long way alone to see this tragedy that had overtaken his country. Orderlies and officers came and went; the Mairie was a hive of seething activities. But he listened patiently.
“Where do you want to go?” he asked when I had finished.
“I should like to stay here, if I may. And from here, of course, I should like to get to the front.”
“Can I get to Ypres?”
“It is not very safe.”
I proclaimed instantly and loudly that I was as brave as a lion; that I did not know fear. He smiled. But when the interview was over it was arranged that I should have a permis de sejour to stay in Dunkirk, and that on the following day the general himself and one of his officers having an errand in that direction would take me to Ypres.
That night the town of Dunkirk was bombarded by some eighteen German aeroplanes.