It was late on the 29th of February that we reached our next resting-place, to find a kind greeting from another Base Commandant and final directions for our journey of the morrow. We put up at one of the old commercial inns of the town (it is not easy to find hotel quarters of any kind just now, when every building at all suitable has been pressed into the hospital service) and I found delight in watching the various types of French officers, naval and military, who came in to the table d’hote, plunging as soon as they had thrown off their caps and cloaks, and while they waited for their consomme, into the papers with the latest news of Verdun. But we were too tired to try and talk! The morning came quickly, and with it our escort from G.H.Q. We said good-bye to Colonel S., who had guided our journey so smoothly through all the fierce drawbacks of the weather, and made friends at once with our new guide, the staff-officer who deals with the guests of G.H.Q. Never shall I forget that morning’s journey! I find in my notes: “A beautiful drive—far more beautiful than I had expected—over undulating country, with distant views of interlocking downs, and along typical French roads, tree or forest bordered, running straight as a line up-hill and down-hill, over upland and plain. One exquisite point of view especially comes back to me, where a road to the coast—that coast which the Germans so nearly reached!—diverged upon our left, and all the lowlands westward came into sight. It was pure Turner, the soft sunlight of the day, with its blue shadows, and pale-blue sky; the yellow chalk hills, still marked with streaks of snow; the woods, purple and madder brown, the distances ethereally blue; and the villages, bare and unlovely compared with the villages of Kent and Sussex, but expressing a strong old historic life, sprung from the soil, and one with it. The first distant glimpse, as we turned a hill-corner, of the old town which was our destination—extraordinarily fine!—its ancient church a towered mass of luminous grey under the sunshine, gathering the tiled roofs into one harmonious whole.”
But we avoided the town itself and found ourselves presently descending an avenue of trees to the eighteenth-century chateau, which is used by G.H.Q. as a hostel for its guests—allied and neutral correspondents, military attaches, special missions, and the like. In a few minutes I found myself standing bewildered by the strangeness and the interest of it all, in a charming Louis-Quinze room, plain and simple in the true manner of the genuine French country house, but with graceful panelled walls, an old armoire of the date, windows wide open to the spring sun, and a half-wild garden outside. A femme de menage, much surprised to be waiting on two ladies, comes to look after us. And this is France!—and we are only thirty miles from that fighting line, which has drawn our English hearts to it all these days.