Le mot juste

It happened twenty-two years ago, but such a singular instance of cosmic wit cannot but be etched on the memory. Dieu et mon droit, reads the British coat of arms. Yes, but it's in French, reply the French. Attention.

We were in the late afternoon of our sixth and last day from New York to Le Havre. Naturally the ship had her starboard eye on France, but most of the passengers had been drawn to the port side, where England had attractions more immediate: land. Suddenly the buzz of excitement grew louder as Land's End grew more distinct, and soon almost every passenger (ourselves included) had come to the port side to catch a first glimpse of England and dredge up all the cliches about English weather. For there, coming out, as it were, from Land's End, was a distinctly inhospitable mixture of black clouds, sharp winds, and rain, to which was immediately added a very choppy sea.

During all this port-side commotion, a single French couple, whom we had come to know during the voyage as intense partisans of France, stood peering intently over the starboard side. England did not exist, nor the leaden clouds. Presently , the Frenchman appeared at my elbow and, touching my arm, said:

''Monsieur - s'il vous plait - not here!'' and responding to his urgent plea, we hurried to ''his'' side of the deck.

''Voila!'' he exclaimed, pointing proudly to the heavens.

For there in the midst of the mingled rain and clouds and straggling sunshine of England was a perfectly formed rainbow, arching downward toward France.

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