But after a third of the journey was over, the snow began to lessen and the roads to clear. We dropped first into a seaport town which offered much the same mingled scene of French and English, of English nurses, and French poilus, of unloading ships, and British soldiers, as the bases we had left, only on a smaller scale. And beyond the town we climbed again on to the high land, through a beautiful country of interwoven downs, and more plentiful habitation. Soon, indeed, the roads began to show the signs of war—a village or small town, its picturesque market-place filled with a park of artillery wagons; roads lined with motor lorries with the painted shell upon them that tells ammunition; British artillerymen in khaki, bringing a band of horses out of a snow-bound farm; closed motor-cars filled with officers hurrying past; then an open car with King’s Messengers, tall, soldierly figures, looking in some astonishment at the two ladies, as they hurry by. And who or what is this horseman looming out of the sleet—like a figure from a piece of Indian or Persian embroidery, turbaned and swarthy, his cloak swelling out round his handsome head and shoulders, the buildings of a Norman farm behind him? “There are a few Indian cavalry about here,” says our guide—“they are billeted in the farms.” And presently the road is full of them. Their Eastern forms, their dark, intent faces pass strangely through the Norman landscape.
Now we are only some forty miles from the line, and we presently reach another town containing an important British Headquarters, where we are to stop for luncheon. The inn at which we put up is like the song in “Twelfth Night,” “old and plain”—and when lunch is done, our Colonel goes to pay an official call at Headquarters, and my daughter and I make our way to the historic church of the town. The Colonel joins us here with another officer, who brings the amazing news that “G.H.Q.”—General Headquarters—that mysterious centre and brain of all things—invites us for two days! If we accept, an officer will come for us on the morning of March 1st to our hotel in Boulogne and take us by motor, some forty miles, to the guest-house where G.H.Q. puts up its visitors. “Accept!" Ah, if one could only forget for a moment the human facts behind the absorbing interest and excitement of this journey, one might be content to feel only the stir of quickened pulses, of gratitude for a further opportunity so tremendous.
As it was, I saw all the journey henceforward with new eyes, because of that to which it was bringing us. On we sped, through the French countryside, past a great forest lying black on the edge of the white horizon—I open my map and find it marked Bois de Crecy!—past another old town, with Agincourt a few miles to the east, and so into a region of pine and sand that borders the sea. Darkness comes down, and we miss our way. What are these lines of light among the pine woods? Another military and hospital camp, which we are to see on the morrow—so we discover at last. But we have overshot our goal, and must grope our way back through the pine woods to the sea-shore, where a little primitive hotel, built for the summer, with walls that seem to be made of brown paper, receives us. But we have motored far that day, and greet it joyfully.