“You’ll get the white feather, old man.”
“No pretty young thing would give it you. Why, you wouldn’t look medically fit in mufti!”
“Fancy seeing a woman who isn’t dirty and can talk one’s own lingo!”
So we came to Folkestone, and all the people on the pier smiled at us. We scuttled ashore and shook ourselves for delight. There was a policeman, a postman. Who are these fussy fellows with badges on their arms? Special constables, of course!
Spurning cigarettes and bovril we rushed to the bar. We all noticed the cleanness of the barmaid, her beauty, the neatness of her dress, her cultivated talk. We almost squabbled about what drinks we should have first. Finally, we divided into parties—the Beers and the Whisky-and-Sodas. Then there were English papers to buy, and, of course, we must have a luncheon-basket....
The smell of the musty S.-E. & C.R. compartment was the scent of eastern roses. We sniffed with joy in the tunnels. We read all the notices with care. Nearing London we became silent. Quite disregarding the order to lower the blinds, we gazed from the bridge at a darkened London and the searchlight beams. Feverishly we packed our kit and stood up in the carriage. We jerked into the flare of Victoria. Dazzled and confused, we looked at the dense crowd of beaming, anxious people. There was a tug at my elbow, and a triumphant voice shouted—
“I’ve found him! Here he is! There’s your Mother.” ...
* * * * *
This strange familiar country seemed to us clean, careless, and full of men. The streets were clean; the men and women were clean. Out in Flanders a little grime came as a matter of course. One’s uniform was dirty. Well, it had seen service. There was no need to be particular about the set of the tunic and the exact way accoutrements should be put on. But here the few men in khaki sprinkled about the streets had their buttons cleaned and not a thing was out of place. We wondered which of them belonged to the New Armies. The women, too, were clean and beautiful. This sounds perhaps to you a foolish thing to say, but it is true. The Flemish woman is not so clean as she is painted, and as for women dressed with any attempt at fashionable display—we had seen none since August. Nadine at Dour had been neat; Helene at Carlepont had been companionable; the pretty midinette at Maast had been friendly and not over-dirty. For a day or two after I returned to my own country I could not imagine how anybody ever could leave it.
And all the people were free from care. However cheerful those brave but irritating folk who live behind the line may be, they have always shadows in their eyes. We had never been to a village through which the Germans had not passed. Portly and hilarious the Teuton may have shown himself—kindly and well-behaved he undoubtedly was in many places—there came with him a terror which stayed after he had gone, just as a mist sways above the ground after the night has flown.