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Journal of Katherine Mansfield

[The Journal continues.]

[The Journal continues.]

The curious thing is that I could not concentrate on the end of the journey. I simply felt so happy that I leaned out of the window with my arms along the brass rail and my feet crossed and basked in the sunlight and the wonderful country unfolding. At Châteaudun where we had to change I went to the Buffet to drink. A big pale green room with a large stove jutting out a buffet with coloured bottles. Two women, their arms folded, leaned against the counter. A little boy, very pale, swung from table to table, taking the orders. It was full of soldiers sitting back in their chairs and swinging their legs and eating. The men shouted through the windows.

The little boy favoured me with a glass of horrible black coffee. He served the soldiers with a kind of dreary contempt. In the porch an old man carried a pail of brown spotted fish—large page 26 fish, like the fish one sees in glass cases swimming through forests of beautiful pressed seaweed. The soldiers laughed and slapped each other. They tramped about in their heavy boots. The women looked after them, and the old man stood humbly waiting for someone to attend to him, his cap in his hands, as if he knew that the life he represented in his torn jacket, with his basket of fish—his peaceful occupation—did not exist any more and had no right to thrust itself in here.

The last moments of the journey I was very frightened. We arrived at Gray, and one by one, like women going in to see a doctor, we slipped through a door into a hot room completely fitted with two tables and two colonels, like colonels in comic opera, big shiny grey-whiskered men with a touch of burnt-red in their cheeks, both smoking, one a cigarette with a long curly ash hanging from it. He had a ring on his fingers. Sumptuous and omnipotent he looked. I shut my teeth. I kept my fingers from trembling as I handed the passport and the ticket.

“It won't do, it won't do at all,” said my colonel, and looked at me for what seemed an age but in silence. His eyes were like two grey stones. He took my passport to the other colonel, who dismissed the objection, stamped it, and let me go. I nearly knelt on the floor.

By the station he stood, terribly pale. He saluted and smiled and said, “Turn to the right and follow me as though you were not following.” Then fast we went towards the Suspension Bridge. He had a postman's bag on his back, and a paper page 27 parcel. The street was very muddy. From the toll house by the bridge a scraggy woman, her hands wrapped in a shawl, peered out at us. Against the toll house leaned a faded cab. “Montez! vite, vite!” said he. He threw my suit-case, his letter bag and the parcel on to the floor. The driver sprang into activity, lashed the bony horse, and we tore away with both doors flapping and banging. They would not keep shut, and he, who is not supposed to ride in cabs, had to try to hide. Soldiers passed all the time. At the barracks he stopped a moment and a crowd of faces blocked the window. “Prends ça, mon vieux,” he said, handing over the paper parcel.

Off we flew again. By the river. Down a long strange white street with houses on either side, very fairy in the late sunlight. He said “I know you will like the house. It's quite white, and so is the room, and the people are, too.”

At last we arrived. The woman of the house, with a serious baby in her arms, came to the door.

“It is all right?”

“Yes, all right. Bonjour, Madame.”

It was like an elopement.

[Katherine Mansfield returned to England at the end of February and left for Paris once more in May.]

Sunday, May 16. Paris. I dreamed all night of Rupert Brooke. And to-day as I left the house he was standing at the door, with a rucksack on his back and his hat shading his face. So after I had posted J.'s letter I did not go home. I went page 28 a long, very idle sort of amble along the quais. It was exquisitely hot: white clouds lay upon the sky like sheets spread out to dry. On the big sandheaps down by the river children had hollowed out tunnels and caverns. They sat in them, stolid and content, their hair glistening in the sun. Now and then a man lay stretched on his face, his head in his arms. The river was full of big silver stars; the trees shook, faintly glinting with light. I found delightful places—little squares with white square houses. Quite hollow they looked, with the windows gaping open. Narrow streets arched over with chestnut boughs, or perhaps quite deserted, with a clock tower showing over the roofs. The sun put a spell on everything.

I crossed and recrossed the river and leaned over the bridges and kept thinking we were coming to a park when we weren't. You cannot think what a pleasure my invisible, imaginary companion gave me. If he had been alive it would never have possibly occurred; but—it's a game I like to play—to walk and talk with the dead who smile and are silent, and free, quite finally free. When I lived alone, I would often come home, put my key in the door, and find someone there waiting for me. “Hullo! Have you been here long?”

I suppose that sounds dreadful rubbish.