Across the Channel

Dawn had given place to day, and day was well advanced toward noon, before the stout little steamer gained her port. It was hours after the usual time for arrival; the train for Paris must long since have started, and Katy felt dejected and forlorn as, making her way out of the terrible ladies' cabin, she crept on deck for her first glimpse of France.

The sun was struggling through the fog with a watery smile, and his faint beams shone on a confusion of stone piers, higher than the vessel's deck, intersected with canal-like waterways, through whose intricate windings the steamer was slowly threading her course to the landing place. Looking up, Katy could see crowds of people assembled to watch the boat come in - workmen, peasants, women, children, soldiers, custom-house officers, moving to and fro - and all this crowd were talking all at once and all were talking French.

I don't know why this should have startled her as it did. She knew, of course, that people of different countries were liable to be found speaking their own languages, but somehow the spectacle of the chattering multitude, all seeming so perfectly at ease with their preterites and subjunctives and never once having to refer to Ollendorf or a dictionary, filled her with a sense of dismayed surprise.

`Good gracious!' she said to herself, `even the babies understand it!' She racked her brains to recall what she had once known of French, but very little seemed to have survived the horrors of the night!

`Oh, dear! what is the word for trunk key?' she asked herself. `They will all begin to ask questions, and I shall not have a word to say, and Mrs Ashe will be even worse off, I know.' She saw the red-trousered custom-house officers pounce upon the passengers as they landed one by one, and she felt her heart sink within her.

But after all, when the time came, it did not prove so very bad. Katy's pleas looks and courteous manner stood her in good stead. She did not trust herself to say much, but the officials seemed to understand without saying. They bowed and gestured, whisked the keys in and out, and in a surprisingly short time all was pronounced right - the baggage had `passed', and it and its owners were free to proceed to the railway station, which fortunately was close at hand.

Inquiry revealed the fact that no train for Paris left till four in the afternoon.

`I am rather glad,' declared poor Mrs Ashe, `for I feel too used up to move. I will lie here on this sofa, and, Katy dear, please see if there is an eating place, and get some breakfast for yourself and Amy, and send me a cup of tea.'

`I don't like to leave you alone,' Katy was beginning, but at that moment a nice old woman, who seemed to be in charge of the waiting room, appeared, and with a flood of French which none of them could follow, but which was evidently sympathetic in its nature, flew at Mrs Ashe and began to make her comfortable. From a cupboard in the wall she produced a pillow, from another cupboard a blanket; in a trice she had one under Mrs Ashe's head and the other wrapped round her feet.

`Pauvre madame,' she said, `si pâle! Si souffrante! Il faut avoir quelque chose à boire et à manger tout de suite.'

She trotted across the room and into the restaurant which opened out of it, while Mrs Ashe smiled at Katy and said, `You see, you can leave me quite safely; I am to be taken care of.' And Katy and Amy passed through the same door into the buffet, and sat down at a little table.

It was a particularly pleasant-looking place to breakfast in. There were many windows with bright polished panes and very clean short muslin curtains, and on the window sills stood rows of thrifty potted plants in full bloom - marigolds, balsams, nasturtiums, and many coloured geraniums. Two birds in cages were singing loudly; the floor was waxed to a glass-like polish; nothing could have been whiter than the marble of the tables except the napkins laid over them. And such a good breakfast as was presently brought to

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