The Marne/Chapter 1
Ever since the age of six Troy Belknap of New York had embarked for Europe every June on the fastest steamer of one or another of the most expensive lines.
With his family he had descended at the dock from a large noiseless motor, had kissed his father good-bye, turned back to shake hands with the chauffeur (a particular friend), and trotted up the gang-plank behind his mother's maid, while one welcoming steward captured Mrs. Belknap's bag, and another led away her miniature French bull-dog—also a particular friend of Troy's.
From that hour all had been delight. For six golden days Troy had ranged the decks, splashed in the blue salt water brimming his huge porcelain tub, lunched and dined with the grown-ups in the Ritz restaurant, and swaggered about in front of the children who had never crossed before, and didn't know the stewards, or the purser, or the captain's cat, or on which deck you might exercise your dog, or how to induce the officer on the watch to let you scramble up for a minute to the bridge. Then, when these joys began to pall, he had lost himself in others deeper and dearer. Another of his cronies, the library steward, had unlocked the book-case doors for him, and, buried for hours in the depths of a huge library armchair (there weren't any to compare with it on land), he had ranged through the length and breadth of several literatures.
These six days of bliss would have been too soon over if they had not been the mere prelude to intenser sensations. On the seventh morning—generally at Cherbourg—Troy Belknap followed his mother, and his mother's maid, and the French bull, up the gang-plank and into another large noiseless motor, with another chauffeur (French, this one) to whom he was also deeply attached, and who sat grinning and cap-touching at the wheel. And then—in a few minutes, so swiftly and smilingly was the way of Mrs. Belknap smoothed—the noiseless motor was off, and they were rushing eastward through the orchards of Normandy.
The little boy's happiness would have been complete if there had been more time to give to the beautiful things that flew past them: thatched villages with square-towered churches in hollows of the deep green country, or grey shining towns above rivers on which cathedrals seemed to be moored like ships; miles and miles of field and hedge and park falling away from high terraced houses, and little embroidered stone manors reflected in reed-grown moats under ancient trees.
Unfortunately Mrs. Belknap always had pressing engagements in Paris. She had made appointments before and with all her dressmakers, and, as Troy was well aware, it was impossible, at the height of the season, to break such engagements without losing one's turn, and having to wait weeks and weeks to get a lot of nasty rags that one had seen, by that time, on the back of every other woman in the place.
Luckily, however, even Mrs. Belknap had to eat; and during the halts in the shining towns, where a succulent luncheon was served in a garden or a flowery courtyard, Troy had time (as he grew bigger) to slip away alone, and climb to the height where the cathedral stood, or at least to loiter and gaze in the narrow crooked streets, between gabled cross-beamed houses, each more picture-bookishly quaint than its neighbours.
In Paris, in their brightly-lit and beflowered hotel drawing-room, he was welcomed by Madame Lebuc, an old French lady smelling of crape, who gave him lessons and took him and the bull-dog for walks, and who, as he grew older, was supplemented, and then replaced, by an ugly vehement young tutor, of half-English descent, whose companionship opened fresh fields and pastures to Troy's dawning imagination.
Then in July—always at the same date—Mr. Belknap was deposited at the door by the noiseless motor, which had been down to Havre to fetch him; and a few days later they all got into it, and while Madame Lebuc (pressing a packet of chocolates into her pupil's hand) waved a damp farewell from the doorway, the Pegasus motor flew up the Champs Élysées, devoured the leafy alleys of the Bois, and soared away to new horizons.
Most often they were mountain horizons, for the tour invariably ended in the Swiss Alps. But there always seemed to be new ways (looked out by Mr. Belknap on the map) of reaching their destination; ways lovelier, more winding, more wonderful, that took in vast sweeping visions of France from the Seine to the Rhone. And when Troy grew older the vehement young tutor went with them, and once they all stopped and lunched at his father's house, on the edge of a gabled village in the Argonne, with a view stretching away for miles toward the Vosges and Alsace. Mr. and Mrs. Belknap were very kind people, and it would never have occurred to them to refuse M. Gantier's invitation to lunch with his family; but they had no idea of the emotions stirred in their son's eager bosom by what seemed to them merely a rather inconvenient deviation from their course. Troy himself was hardly aware of these emotions at the time, though his hungry interest in life always made him welcome the least deflection from the expected. He had simply thought what kind jolly people the Gantiers were, and what fun it was to be inside one of the quaint stone houses, with small window-panes looking on old box-gardens, that he was always being whisked past in the motor. But later he was to re-live that day in all its homely details.