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What Katy Did Next(chapter6)

2006-08-22 19:17

  CHAPTER 6

  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 pale! 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 them - delicious coffee in bowl-like cups, crisp rolls and rusks, an omelette with a delicate flavour of fine herbs, stewed chicken, little pats of freshly churned butter without salt, shaped like shells and tasting like solidified cream, and a pot of some sort of nice preserve. Amy made great delightful eyes at Katy, and remarking, `I think France is heaps nicer than that old England,' began to eat with a will; and Katy herself felt that if this railroad meal was a specimen of what they had to expect in the future, they had indeed come to a land of plenty.

  Fortified with the satisfactory breakfast, she felt equal to a walk, and after they had made sure that Mrs Ashe had all she needed, she and Amy (and Mabel) set off by themselves to see the sights of Dieppe. I don't know that travellers generally have considered Dieppe an interesting place, but Katy found it so. There was a really old church and some quaint buildings of the style of two centuries back, and even the more modern streets had a novel look to her unaccustomed eyes. At first they only ventured a timid turn or two, marking each corner, and going back now and then to reassure themselves by a look at the station; but after a while, growing bolder, Katy ventured to ask a question or two in French, and was surprised and charmed to find herself understood. After that she grew adventurous, and, no longer fearful of being lost, led Amy straight down a long street lined with shops, almost all of which were for the sale of various articles in ivory.

  Ivory wares are one of the chief industries of Dieppe. There were cases full, windows full, and counters full, of the most exquisite combs and brushes, some with elaborate monograms in silver and colours, and others plain; there were boxes and caskets of every size and shape, ornaments, fans, parasol handles, looking glasses, frames for pictures large and small, and napkin rings.

  Katy was particularly smitten with a paper knife in the form of an angel, with long, slender wings raised over its head and meeting to form a point. Its price was twenty francs, and she was strongly tempted to buy it for Clover or Rose Red. But she said to herself sensibly: `This is the first shop I have been into and the first thing I have really wanted to buy, and very likely as we go on I shall see things I like better and want more, so it would be foolish to do it. No, I won't.' And she resolutely turned her back on their ivory angel, and walked away.

  The next turn brought them to a gay-looking little market place, where old women in white caps were sitting on the ground beside baskets and panniers full of apples, pears, and various queer and curly vegetables, none of which Katy recognized as familiar; fish of all shapes and colours were flapping in shallow tubs of sea water; there were piles of stockings, muffetees and comforters in vivid blue and red worsted, and coarse pottery glazed in bright patterns. The faces of the women were brown and wrinkled; there were no pretty ones among them, but their black eyes were full of life and quickness, and their fingers one and all clicked with knitting needles, as their tongues flew equally fast in the chatter and the chaffer, which went on without stop or stay, though customers did not seem to be many and sales were few.

  Returning to the station they found that Mrs Ashe had been asleep during their absence, and seemed so much better that it was with greatly amended spirits that they took their places in the late afternoon train which was to set them down at Rouen. Katy said they were like the Wise Men of the East, `following a star', in their choice of a hotel; for, having no better advice, they had decided upon one of those thus distinguished in Baedeker's Guide Book.

  The star did not betray their confidence, for the H?tel de la Cloche, to which it led them, proved to be quaint and old, and very pleasant of aspect.

  Sorry several pages are missing here - We're fixing it

  北极星书库 6th April 2000

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