Everybody had funny stories to tell about the adventures of soldiers in a foreign land. The French were all right, of course, especially the girls; but the shop-keepers were frugal, and you had better count your change, and bite the coins they offered you. As for the language—holy smoke! Why did civilized people want to talk a lingo that made you grunt like a pig—or like a penful of pigs of all sizes? Across the way sat a Chicago street-car conductor with a little lesson book, and now and then he would read something out loud. An, in, on, Un, and many different sizes of pigs! When you wanted bread, you asked for a pain, and when you wanted a dish of eggs, you asked for a cat-roof omelette. How was this for a tongue-twister—say five hundred and fifty-five francs in French!
Fortunately you didn’t have to say that many—not on the pay of a dough-boy, put in a plumber from up-state in New York. For his part, he did not bother to grunt—he would make drinking motions or eating motions, and they would bring him things till they found what he wanted. One time he had met a girl that he thought was all right, and he wanted to treat her to a feed, so he drew a picture of a chicken, thinking he would get it roasted. She had chattered away to the waiter, and he had come back with two soft-boiled eggs. That was the French notion of taking a girl out to dinner!
They loaded Jimmie into a motor-lorry and whirled him away. You knew you were going to the war then, by heck; there were two almost solid processions of wagons and trucks, loaded with French soldiers and materials going, and damaged French soldiers returning. It was like Broadway at the most crowded hour; only here everything went by in a whirl of dust—you got quick glimpses of drivers with tense faces and blood-shot eyes. Now and then there would be a blockade, and men would swear and fume in mixed languages; staff-cars in an extra hurry would go off the road and bump along across country, while gangs of negro labourers, French colonials, seized the opportunity to fill up the ruts worn in the highway.
They put Jimmie off at a village where his motor-unit was located, in a long shed made of corrugated iron, the sort of shed which the army threw up overnight. Here were a score of men working at repairs, and Jimmie stopped for no formalities, but took off his coat and pitched in. There was plenty of work he could see; the machines came, sometimes whole truck-loads of them, damaged in every way he had ever seen before, and in new ways not dreamed of in Kumme’s bicycle-shop—tyres torn to shreds by fragments of shrapnel, frames twisted out of shape by explosions, and nasty splotches of blood completing the story.