“Bailleul,” said the Tommies over and over, but they pronounced it “Berlue,” and the villagers only laughed.
The officer in the car explained.
“‘Berlue,’” he said, “is—what do you Americans say—dotty? They are telling the villagers they want to go crazy!”
So he got out and explained. Also he found out their road for them and sent them off, rather sheepish, but laughing.
“I never get over the surprises of this war,” said the officer when he returned. “Think of those boys, with not a word of French, taking that lorry from the coast to the English lines! They’ll get there too. They always do.”
As we left the flat land toward the coast the country grew more and more beautiful. It rolled gently and there were many trees.
The white houses with their low thatched roofs, which ended in a bordering of red tiles, looked prosperous. But there were soldiers again. We were approaching the war zone.
THE MAN OF YPRES
The sun was high when we reached the little town where General Foch, Commander of the Armies of the North, had his headquarters. It was not difficult to find the building. The French flag furled at the doorway, a gendarme at one side of the door and a sentry at the other, denoted the headquarters of the staff. But General Foch was not there at the moment. He had gone to church.
The building was near. Thinking that there might be a service, I decided to go also. Going up a steep street to where at the top stood a stone church, with an image of the Christ almost covered by that virgin vine which we call Virginia creeper, I opened the leather-covered door and went quietly in.
There was no service. The building was quite empty. And the Commander of the Armies of the North, probably the greatest general the French have in the field to-day, was kneeling there alone.
He never knew I had seen him. I left before he did. Now, as I look back, it seems to me that that great general on his knees alone in that little church is typical of the attitude of France to-day toward the war.
It is a totally different attitude from the English—not more heroic, not braver, not more resolute to an end. But it is peculiarly reverential. The enemy is on the soil of France. The French are fighting for their homes, for their children, for their country. And in this great struggle France daily, hourly, on its knees asks for help.
I went to the hotel—an ancient place, very small, very clean, very cold and shabby. The entrance was through an archway into a cobble-paved courtyard, where on the left, under the roof of a shed, the saddles of cavalry horses and gendarmes were waiting on saddle trestles. Beyond, through a glazed door, was a long dining room, with a bare, white-scrubbed floor and whitewashed walls. Its white table-cloths, white walls and ceiling and white floor, with no hint of fire, although a fine snow had commenced to fall, set me to shivering. Even the attempt at decoration of hanging baskets, of trailing vines with strings of red peppers, was hardly cheering.