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Title: A Village in Picardy
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A VILLAGE IN PICARDY

[Illustration: A WELL-KNOWN TUNE]



                              A VILLAGE IN
                                 PICARDY

                                   BY
                               RUTH GAINES
                  AUTHOR OF “THE VILLAGE SHIELD,” ETC.

                         WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
                          WILLIAM ALLAN NEILSON
                      _President of Smith College_

                             [Illustration]

                                NEW YORK
                         E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
                            681 FIFTH AVENUE

                            COPYRIGHT, 1918,
                        BY E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

                          _All Rights Reserved_

                 Printed in the United States of America



PREFACE.


The history and the work of the Smith College Relief Unit in the Somme
is known wherever reconstruction work in France is spoken of. This brief
account does not purport to give anything but a small cross-section, the
picture of but one of the villages in our care. It is told in the first
person to make the telling easier. As I have said, of all our villages,
Canizy was the most beloved. All the Unit had a share in it.

The picture is given as it was seen day by day. What was true in this
section, may not be true in another. Here the German retreat was so
rapid that the devastation, though appalling, was not complete; whole
avenues of trees were left standing in places, and only two churches were
dynamited, by contrast with the two hundred and twenty-five destroyed
throughout the _région dévastée_. It was perhaps in more calculated ways
that the Prussians here vented their spite; in the burning of family
pictures, the wrecking of machinery, the cutting of the trees about the
Calvaries, and the taking away of the bells from the church towers. They
left behind them here, as everywhere, ruin and silence; a silence of
industry, of agriculture, of all the normal ways of life; a silence which
has given the plain of Picardy the name of “The Land of Death.”

                                                             RUTH GAINES.



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                              PAGE

       I UN VILLAGE TOUT OUBLIÉ             3

      II LE CHÂTEAU DE BON-SÉJOUR          16

     III M. LE MAIRE                       35

      IV O CRUX, AVE!                      48

       V MME. GABRIELLE                    61

      VI VOILÀ LA MISÈRE                   74

     VII NOUS SOMMES DIX                   88

    VIII UNE DISTRIBUTION DE DONS         100

      IX EN PERMISSION                    113

       X A LA FERME DU CALVAIRE           129

      XI LES PETITS SOLDATS               139

     XII M. L’AUMÔNIER                    151

    XIII HEUREUX NOËL                     162

     XIV FIDELISSIMA, PICARDIE            176



ILLUSTRATIONS[1]


    A Well-Known Tune                                        _Frontispiece_

    Map of the German Retreat[2]                                         2

    “They are over there”                                               12

    “What, another little Brother!”                                     17

    “Only that much Bread!”                                             44

    “Is that wounded Man a Boche?”                                      51

    “He is big already”                                                 58

    “I didn’t do that!”                                                 63

    “Once, before the War, the _Pralines_ were two for a Sou”           80

    “A Cut of a Sword-scabbard!”                                       114

    “If I were grown up!”                                              124

    “Our House used to be there!”                                      132

    “And do the little Boche children hug their Father?”               143

    “Company, halt!”                                                   148

    “If it hadn’t been for the Officer....”                            157

    “He has not come. He has been mobilized....”                       165

    “Well, if we don’t see Santa Claus, we may see a Zeppelin”         171

    “And if it freezes to-night?”                                      174

    “Oh yes, Papa is strong!”                                          182

    Plan of the Village                                                188



INTRODUCTORY NOTE


No one, it may safely be said, can see this war as a whole. The nations
taking part in it girdle the world, and no people is unaffected by it.
Real knowledge can be gained of only comparatively small sections of the
conflict, and we are grateful to those who, knowing a small section,
give us a faithful account of their own observation and experience, and
refrain from speculation and generalisation.

Among the infinitude of tragedies few have appealed more poignantly to
our imaginations than those involved in the devastation of Picardy; and
among the attempts at salvage few details have attracted the sympathetic
attention of America more powerfully than the efforts of the Smith
College Relief Unit. Their heroic persistence in the work of evacuation
under the very guns of the great offensive of March, 1918, made the
members of the Unit suddenly conspicuous; but the more picturesque feats
of that terrible emergency had been preceded by a long winter of quiet
work. The material results were largely wiped out; the spiritual results
will remain. It is the method of that work as carried on in a single
village that is described in this little book. When we have read it we
know what kind of people these were who clung to the remnants of their
homes in the midst of desolation. Their character and temper are depicted
with kindly candour; they were very human and very much worth saving.
When the time comes for reconstruction on a large scale, such an account
as this will be of value in enabling us to realise the nature of the task
and in teaching us how to set about it.

Smith College is proud of what these graduates have done and are doing;
and this note is written to assure the Unit rather than the outside world
that those who have to stay at home see and understand.

                                                   WILLIAM ALLAN NEILSON.

_Smith College, Northampton, Mass._



A VILLAGE IN PICARDY

[Illustration: THE GERMAN RETREAT]



CHAPTER I

UN VILLAGE TOUT OUBLIÉ


As a relief visitor, in a Unit authorized by the French Government _au
secours dans la région dévastée_, I have lived recently in the Department
of the Somme. There I had in my care a village with a personality which
I venture to think is typical of Picardy. As such, I would present it to
you.

It was on a winter’s morning, by snow and lantern light, that I traversed
for the last time a road grown familiar to me through months of use,
the road which led from our encampment, known as that of the “Dames
Américaines” at Grécourt, past the railroad station of Hombleux to
the hamlet of Canizy. It leads elsewhere, of course, this road; to
the military highway for instance, which has already seen in the last
three years three momentous troop movements: the advance and retreat
of the French, the advance and retreat of the Germans, and, again, the
victorious sweep of the French and British armies which reclaimed,
just a year ago, the valleys of the Somme. It leads to the front, that
fluctuating line, some twelve miles distant, in the shelter of which we
have lived and worked for the ruined countryside. It is an important
route, on some occasions choked with artillery, on others with blue
columned infantry swinging down its vista arched with elms. Officers’
cars flash by there, and deafening _camions_. But for me, until this the
morning of my departure, it has led to Canizy.

There is no longer a station at Hombleux, because the Germans destroyed
it. One therefore paces the platform and stamps one’s feet with the
cold. Down the track, from the direction of Canizy, the headlight of
the engine will presently emerge. All about, the plain lies white and
level; the break in the hedge where a footpath crosses the tracks to the
village is almost visible. In fancy, I take it, past a fire-gutted farm
house and eastward on a long curve across fields where the snow hides
an untilled growth of weeds. The highway which parallels the railroad,
recedes in a perspective of marching trees, till, topping a little
rise, a wooden scaffold stands clear against the sky. It was formerly a
German observation post. To the left, equally gaunt, rises the Calvary
which marks the entrance to the village. And beyond, cupped in a gentle
declivity, lie the ruins of Canizy, framed in snow. So I saw it last; so
all the way to Amiens, and from Amiens to Paris, as the train bore me
away, I saw it; so in its misery and its beauty, I would picture it to
you.

You will not find my hamlet on any map of the _région dévastée_ with
which I am familiar; it is not listed among the destroyed villages of
the Department, although it was looted, dynamited and defaced, even
to the cutting of the oak trees about its Calvary. You would have to
search minutely in history for any mention of it among the King’s
towns of Picardy which became famous in guarding his frontier of the
Somme. Comparatively modern and quite insignificant, it lies beside a
tree-bordered, dyked canal, one of many which tapped the rich plain and
bore the produce of farm and garden to the market centres, of Péronne,
Ham and St. Quentin. To this canal sloped its fields of chicory, leeks,
pumpkins, potatoes, turnips, carrots and other garden truck. Crooked
lanes, brick-walled or faced with trim brick cottages, led from it back
through the village to higher ground. There, before the war, the _grands
cultivateurs_, such as M. le Maire, and M. Lanne, who rents the old
Château, would have ploughed and sown their winter wheat.

In those days, Canizy had a railroad also, and I have heard how for
three sous one could travel by it to Nesle. It took only eight minutes
then,—but now! By it as well, one went more quickly than by canal to St.
Quentin or Péronne with perhaps a hundred huge baskets of vegetables
on market day. But the Germans tore up the bed of the railroad and
destroyed the locks of the canal. They blew up, too, the bridge on the
main highway which used to pass the Calvary at the foot of the village
street. Cut off, reached only by a circuitous and deep-rutted road which
is impassable at certain hours every day owing to _mitrailleuse_ practice
across it, Canizy lapsed into oblivion. As its mayor said on our first
visit, “Look you, it has been quite forgotten,—_c’est un village tout
oublié_.”

In 1914, Canizy had 445 inhabitants. Of these, there were perhaps half
a dozen substantially well off, such as M. le Maire, possessing ten
hectares of wheat land, a herd of seven cows, four horses, thirty rabbits
and fifty hens. Besides, M. le Maire, or his wife, was proprietor of one
of the three village _épiceries_. Joined with him in respectful mention
by the townspeople are the lessee of the Château, and various owners
of property not only in Canizy but in the surrounding country. Of these
gentry, not one apparently had been made prisoner by the Germans. They
were to be found on their other estates, at Compiègne, at Ham, or in
Paris. Even the real mayor was an absentee, so that the acting mayor,
lame, red-faced and heady-eyed, was the only representative of landed
interests left in the little town. He had had, however, a dozen or more
neighbours scarcely less comfortably provided with worldly goods than
himself: M. Picard, for instance, who owned extensive market gardens
and employed six workers in the fields. He it was who did not suffer
even during the German occupation, for was he not placed in charge of
the _ravitaillement_? And though his friends the Germans took him away
with them, a prisoner, did not his wife and children live well on his
buried money, eh? _O, Mme. Picard, elle était riche._ There were the
Tourets, two brothers, who held connecting high-walled gardens in the
centre of the village, and their next door neighbour, the comely widow,
Mme. Gabrielle. Directly opposite ranged the Cordier farm, comprising an
orchard of 360 trees, ten cows, two bulls, one ox, eighty-seven pigs,
three horses, one hundred and fifty chickens, and one hundred and fifty
rabbits. Smaller cottages there were, some rented, but most of them
owned, where the families raised just enough for their own necessities,
or worked for their more prosperous townsfolk. There were the village
cobbler, the two store keepers who competed with the mayor, a sprinkling
of factory hands who walked along the dyke a mile and a half to work in
the brush factory at Offoy, and last on the street, but not least in
social importance, the domestics of the Château. There were, too, the
poor whom one has always; but in Canizy, so far as I could learn, they
consisted of but two shiftless families.

The civic life of the village centred about its public school and its
teacher, and, of course, its curé and its church. The monotony of toil
was relieved by market days and fête days and first communions and
neighbourhood gatherings. Of these last I have seen a few pictures,
groups of wrinkled grandparents and sturdy sons and grandchildren stiffly
posed in Sunday best, yet happy in spite of it. Behind them pleached
pear trees or grape vines make an appliqué against a patterned brick
wall. But there are not many of the pictures even left, for you will
understand, the Germans systematically searched them out and burned them
in great piles. The one that I remember best, a poor mother had torn out
of its frame the night of her flight. “I could not think well,” she said.
“The Boches had wrenched my Coralie away—so lovely a child that every
one on the streets of Ham turned to look at her curls as she walked—but
I did save this. See, there she is,—how pretty and good, and that is
my eldest, a soldier. He is dead. And that, with the accordion, is my
seventeen-year-old Raoul, like his sister, a _prisonnier civil_. What do
the Boches do, think you,” she continued, “with such? One hears nothing,
nothing. Never a letter, never a message. Even when Mme. Lefèvre and Mme.
Ponchon returned, they brought no word. The prisoners, evidently they are
separated. One is told that they work and starve,—that is all.”

A community so homogeneous in its interests, was bound to link itself
intimately by marriage as well. The intricacies of the family trees of
Canizy were a source of constant mental effort, as one discovered that
Mme. Gense was really Mme. Butin, that is, she had at least married M.
Butin, and that Germaine Tabary was so called because she was living with
her maternal grandparents, whereas her father’s name again was Gense, and
her mother was known by the sounding title of Mme. Gense-Tabary. “But
why these distinctions?” one continually demanded upon unravelling the
puzzles for purposes of record. “Because, otherwise, one would become
confused,” was the reply.

[Illustration: —_Ils sont là!!!_

[They are over there!!!]]

Such, peaceful, prosperous, yet stirred by family bickerings enough to
spice its days, was Canizy before the war.

Canizy to-day numbers just one hundred souls, fifty being children and
fifty adults. It was in March, 1917, that the village was blotted out.
Two years and a half of German occupation preceded that event. In every
house German soldiers had been billeted; one sees now on the door posts
the number of officers and men allotted, or the last warning, perhaps, in
regard to concealed fire-arms. For two years and a half the inhabitants
had been prisoners, for the same length of time there had been no school
and no mass. Yet the villagers do not speak unkindly of their conquerors.
They fared better than many, for they fell to the lot of the Bavarians,
who are reputed to be more humane than the Prussians. Besides, Picardy is
inured to invasions, which for centuries have swept across her plains.
By them, fortitude has been inbred.

But one day last spring, the Bavarians filed away northward. Prussians
succeeded them. Quickly came the order for the villagers to evacuate
their homes. At the same time, the able-bodied, men and women, youths and
maidens, were seized and held. Weeping mothers, tottering grandfathers,
and helpless children,—the remnant,—were driven forth with what scant
possessions they could snatch, to the town of Voyennes, four kilometres
away. There, huddled with the like refugees of other villages, they
remained ten days. From it they could see the ascending smoke, black
by day and red by night, and hear the detonations which marked the
destruction of their homes. They returned to the blackened ruins,—as,
in the words of a historian of the Thirty Years’ War, their ancestors
had done. “Les paysans,” he says, “qui avaient survécu à tant de
désastres étaient accourus dans leurs villages aussitôt que les ennemis
s’éloignèrent de ce champ de carnage. Mais, sans ressources d’aucune
sorte, sans habitations, sans chevaux, sans bestiaux, sans instruments
de culture, sans grains pour la semence, que pouvaient-ils faire?
Mourir——”[3]

But our villagers, though equally pillaged in the year 1917, were not
doomed to death. The Germans had retreated before the advancing French
and British armies, and the ruins of Canizy ere long were held by
Scottish troops.



CHAPTER II

LE CHÂTEAU DE BON-SÉJOUR


In Canizy, after the Germans were through with it, not one of its
forty-seven houses stood intact. Most were roofless shells, or fallen
heaps of brick. An occasional ell, a barn, a rabbit hutch, or a chicken
house,—such were the shelters into which the returning villagers crept.
Nor was there furniture. Pillage had preceded destruction and loaded
wagons had borne away the plunder of household linen, feather mattresses,
clothes presses, chairs or anything practicable, into Germany. Scattered
through the ruins to this day lie iron bedsteads twisted by fire, the
metal stands of the housewives’ sewing machines, broken farm tools and
fire-cracked stoves. One day, beside a half-demolished wall, I came upon
a group of little girls playing house. They had marked off their rooms
with broken bricks, set up for a stove a rusty brazier, and stocked their
imaginary cupboards with fragments of gay china. A grey, drizzling day
it was, and their toy _ménage_ had no roof. But was it more cheerless
than the hovels they called their homes, where their mothers, like them,
had gathered in the wreckage left by the Germans,—a stove here, a kettle
there, and a “Boche” bed of unplaned planks, perhaps, with an improvised
mattress of grass? I paused to regard the play house. “What is this
room,” I inquired. “_La cuisine_,” was the quick reply. “And this?” “_La
salle à manger._” “But this next?” “_Une salle à manger_,” came the
chorus. “Then all the rest are _salles à manger_?” “_Assurément_,” with
merry laughter. “O, I see. Are you then so hungry at your house?” And I
turned away with an uncomfortable conviction that they were.

[Illustration: —_Encore un autre petit frère?_

—_Oui, un petit belge._

[What, another little brother?

Yes, a little Belgian.]]

One after another, if you listen, the Village mothers will tell of their
return; with what hope against hope they looked for some trace of
vanished husbands, sons and daughters; with what despair they realised
the utter ruin. “My cat,” said one, “was the only living thing I found.
She was waiting for me on the doorstep.” But those were fortunate who
found even the door sills remaining to their homes. Those who were
shelterless took possession of some semi-habitable corner of their
neighbour’s outbuildings, or even of cellars, and furnished them with
what they could find. As I went about among them, in an effort to supply
immediate needs, I was continually told: “That cupboard, you understand,
is not mine. I am taking care of it for Mme. Huillard, who is with
the Boches. When she returns, I must give it up.” “This bed,”—a very
comfortable one, by the way—“belongs to M. de Curé, whom the Germans made
prisoner.” “Those blankets an English soldier gave me.” “This stove”—in
answer to a query as to whether a new one would not be appreciated—“well,
to be sure, it has no legs, but one props it with bricks, _et ça marche,
tout de même_!” The boast of the Prussians in regard to their handiwork
was true: “Tout le pays n’est qu’un immense et triste désert, sans arbre,
ni buisson, ni maison. Nos pionniers ont scié ou haché les arbres qui,
pendant des journées entières, se sont abattus jusqu’à ce que le sol fût
rasé. Les puits sont comblés, les villages anéantis. Des cartouches de
dynamite éclatent partout. L’atmosphère est obscurcie de poussière et de
fumée.”[4]

By the time of the arrival of our Unit, six months after the Great
Retreat, our villagers had recovered from the shock of their sorrow. They
had managed to save enough bedding and clothing for actual warmth; they
had planted and worked their gardens; they were used to the simplest
terms of life. This courage rather than the too-evident squalor, was what
impressed one on a first visit to Canizy. Dumb endurance drew one’s heart
as no protestations could have done. It made me long to make my home
among my villagers, so that I might the more quickly meet their needs.

But this could not be, because every habitable cranny was crowded to
capacity. Hence it was that I lodged with the rest of the Unit, four
miles away, at the _Château de Bon-Séjour_. Again, you will not find my
château so called upon the map. It is merely a name that represents to me
six months of hardship, of comradeship and of some small achievement that
made the whole worth while.

At the Château, then, but not in it, lived the Unit. For the Château,
a German Headquarters, and a most comfortable one, in its day, had
been wrecked in the best German style. There were seventeen of us,
American college women, to whom the Government had entrusted the task
of reconstructing thirty-six of the 25,000 square miles of devastated
France. Two were doctors, three nurses, four chauffeurs, and the rest
social workers. Among them were a cobbler, a carpenter, a farmer, a
domestic science expert; and of other manual labor there was nothing
to which they did not turn their hands. It was in the golden days of
early September that my companions reached the Château allotted them in
that indefinite area known as the War Zone, and became from that moment
a part of the Third Army of France. But I, for reasons best known to
the passport bureau of that army, did not arrive until October. The
seventy-mile run from Paris was made in our own truck, driven by two of
our chauffeurs. As we cleared the dusty suburbs and took the highway
northward, war seemed very far away. To be sure, we often passed grey
_camions_ rumbling to or from the front, or saw fleeting automobiles
containing officer’s whiz by. But the country, the fields of stacked
grain or of freshly seeded wheat; the apple orchards,—sometimes miles
of trees along the roadside festooned with red fruit,—poplared vistas
of smoke-blue hill and valley, with church spires and red roofs in the
distance,—all these spoke of peace. Even the air lay in a motionless
amber haze, spiced with apples and wood smoke and ferns touched by
frost. But suddenly war was upon us. As we topped a sharp rise we came
upon an empty dugout, about which stood a shell-shattered grove. Lopped
orchards followed, zig-zag trenches, a bombarded village set in fields
bearing no crop but barbed-wire entanglements and tall weeds turned
brown. The country became flatter as we hurried along, intent on reaching
the Château before dark. At intervals we made detours around crumpled
bridges. Occasionally a sentry halted us, to be shown our permits known
as _feuilles bleues_. By this time the sun was setting and caught and
turned to gold a squadron of aeroplanes. Like great dragon-flies they
coursed and wheeled and presently alighted, to run along the fields
to their canvas-domed hangars. In the after-glow, we could still see
occasional peasants or soldiers working late at ploughing with oxen or
tractors. But otherwise, mile on mile, the brown plain, dotted here and
there with scraggly thickets, lay deserted.

It was dusk when we turned off the main road between the half dozen
dynamited farm-houses that once formed a tiny village, past the little
church, and into the gate of the Château. To the rear of this ruined
mass, set in a row as soldiers would set them, were the three _baraques_,
or temporary shacks, which the Army had made ready for us. Very cheerful
they looked that night with the lamplight streaming from open doors and
windows, and the smell of savoury stew upon the air.

But morning revealed what darkness had hidden: the destruction which
this estate shared with the entire countryside. Of the noble spruces
and poplars, which had formed the two main avenues leading the one to
the church and the other to the highway, only a ragged line remained;
the rest lay as they had been felled, in tangles of crossed trunks. The
Château itself, an imposing building as one viewed it through the frame
of a scrolled wrought-iron gate, proved to be a rectangle of roofless
walls. The water-tower, draped in flaming ampelopsis, no longer held the
reservoir which had supplied in former days the mansion, the greenhouses,
the servants’ quarters and the stables. The greenhouses themselves, the
_jardin d’hiver_, and the _orangerie_, where were grown hot-house fruits,
retained scarcely one unbroken pane of glass. Dynamite had been employed
freely; but—an instance of German economy—the main roof of the greenhouse
had been demolished by the well-calculated fall of a heavy spruce. In
this same greenhouse were the remains of a white tiled tank, and a
heating plant which had involved the construction of three new buildings.
“_Voilà_,” said Marcel, the sixteen-year-old son of the gardener, as he
pointed it out, “the officers’ bath.”

Marcel and his mother (whom, we think, the Germans left behind because
of her too shrewd tongue) still take unbounded pride in the place. Even
before repairs were made on her own cottage, Marie routed Marcel out of
a morning to weed the flower beds and to fence off what, by courtesy,
she calls the lawn. By this last manœuvre she renders difficult both the
entrance and exit of our cars. She also refuses to open for us the wicket
for foot passengers, probably because in the days of Mme. la Baronne’s
hospitality there were none. Here entertaining was done on a patrician
scale. A French officer who stopped in passing, told us how he was in
the habit of coming each year to hunt in season. There was a gallery of
famous pictures. In short, the Château of his friend, Mme. la Baronne,
was the show place of the countryside. “To think,” said he, as he pointed
to a sign still standing beside the gate, “to think that dogs were
forbidden,—and yet the Germans came here!” Marie, having been left by
her mistress in charge of the property, carries the responsibility with
seriousness. A letter arrives: Mme. la Baronne desires that the vegetable
garden be always locked, and that no trees be cut. It is she, doubtless,
who directs that the lawn be preserved. “Poor Madame,” sighs Marie, “she
little knows. Pray heaven she may never return to see what the Boches
have done!”

With Marie’s and Marcel’s help, one can reconstruct from the ruins the
gracious comfort of the old estate, the hospitable kitchen, the chambers
warm in winter and tree-shaded in summer, the wide balustrades where
the guests sat in long summer gloamings, courting the breeze. It was
Marcel who pointed out the view one gains from the steps of the Château,
straight through gaping doors and windows, to the sundial from which
radiated the alleys of the grove: bronze oaks and beeches, golden plane
trees, spruces and tasselled pines.

How is the beauty of that day departed! Half of the grove lies now a
waste of scrubby second growth and fallen timber, for here the Germans
employed Russian prisoners as lumbermen. No longer the huntsmen and their
ladies pace the alleys. Now, on almost any day you may see old women
dragging branches from the woods to the _basse-cour_, to be cut up for
fuel. Twenty-six of them, no men, and only two children, the wretched
villagers had found in the Baronne’s stables their only shelter after the
razing of their homes.

Yet we entered the winter far less warmly housed than they. Our two-room
_baraques_ were supplemented in time by six portable houses which we had
brought from America; two we used as dormitories and the other four as a
dispensary, a store, a kitchen, and a dining room. Our furnishings were
of the simplest; camp beds, a stove for each building, a table, camp
stools, and shelves. Our wood—when we had any—was chopped by a vigorous
old lady who walked a mile and a half from the nearest village to do it.
Our laundry was done upon a stove a foot square in a small building known
as the Morgue: such having been its use during the German occupation.
Marie made our cuisine on her range in a hut which she had built into
the ruins of her cottage. Zélie carried food and dishes in baskets to
and fro from kitchen to dining room, a quarter of a mile apart. The one
luxury of our existence was hot water, prepared by Marcel in a huge
cauldron, and brought in covered metal pitchers to our doors.

Only once did Marcel fail us, and that was because the rightful owner of
the cauldron left the _basse-cour_ for her newly erected _baraque_. She
requested our kind permission to transport thither her property. “There
is another cauldron at Buverchy, which I think you could rent in place of
mine,” she suggested. “It belonged to my cousin, Mme. Bouvet, and is now
in Mme. Josse’s yard. No one is using it.” Marcel was dispatched to make
inquiries, and later, with horse and wagon, to fetch the cauldron home.
But meantime there had dawned a morning when we were not wakened by the
clump-clump of Marcel’s sabots, and the setting down of the water jug
with a thud upon the frozen ground.

For wood, we depended largely on the chivalry of nearby encampments of
troops, French, English, Canadian or American, to whom our need became
apparent. For food, we were supplied by the Army with our quota of
bread and a soldier, M. Jean, to fetch it. Vegetables and some fruit
we obtained from our villages, of which we had sixteen in our charge.
Often these were presents, thrust upon us through gratitude; nor could
we pay for them. Meat was plentiful in all the towns of the Zone, where
the Army was charged with supplying the civilian population with food.
Anyone, going on any errand, marketed; and the dispensary jitney, which
might have started in the morning with doctors, nurses, kits, and relief
supplies, often returned at night overflowing with cabbages, potatoes,
pounds of roast, bags of coal, and _bidons_ of oil.

Our relief supplies came through more regular channels, largely from
Paris, where one member of the Unit devoted all her time to buying.
These were either shipped to the nearest railroad station, or sent by
the French Army, free of charge, in a thundering _camion_. We never
knew when to expect this last, nor what it would contain. Sunday seemed
a favourite day for its arrival. On one occasion, there were three pigs,
loose and hungry, and no pen to put them in; seventy-five crated chickens
followed, with the request that the number be verified, and the crates
returned. Such were the colonel’s orders. But, seeing that the Unit
carpenter had to construct a chicken yard, this command was modified by a
judicious distribution of cigarettes. Mixed cargoes of Red Cross boxes,
stoves, bundles of wool from the Bon Marché which had burst _en route_,
and sundries, were even harder to deal with.

We had no store room. The _cave_ of the Château, seeping with tons of
débris which in places bent with its weight the steel ceiling, and open
along one whole side to the elements,—this contained our dairy, our
lumber, our fuel, our vegetables, our groceries, and our relief supplies.
It abounded in rats, cats, and bats. But such as it was, it was the
centre of our activities. By night often weirdly lighted with candles,
by day never empty, laughter rather than complaints floated from its dim
interior. Here we held our first store; here the children who had trudged
over from Canizy, Hombleux or Esmery-Hallon waited in line for their
milk; here were assembled and tied up the thousands of packages for our
_fêtes de Noël_. As winter advanced, we prepared for a day in the _cave_
by encasing our feet in peasants’ socks and sabots, and our hands in
worsted mittens. The soldiers in the trenches had nothing on us.

Whether at home or on the road, our days were long and arduous, and
seldom what we had planned. Even Sunday became part of the working
week, for then we attempted to entertain our official supervisors and
co-laborers, and all chance acquaintances. M. le Commandant of the Third
Army has dined with us; the ladies of the American Fund for French
Wounded, under whom we held our section, have come to call; the Friends
walk over from Esmery-Hallon where they are building _baraques_ for the
commune; a lonesome Ambulance boy who has tramped ten miles and must
retrace his steps before dark, drops in; a squad of Canadian Foresters
rides through the gate; reporters, accompanied by a French officer,
harry us with questions. But most frequent, and most welcome of all our
visitors, are our countrymen, the—th New York Engineers. They came from
home, those men, to be the first of our army under fire. But during the
early days of the autumn, their talk was not of their work, but of ours.
They brought us slat walks, called duck walks, to keep us out of the mud,
and wood, and benches, and stoves. They came with mandolins and guitars
and violins to give an entertainment to our villagers, and stayed for a
buffet dinner and dance. They sent their trucks to take us in turn to a
party at their encampment. But all that was before the Cambrai drive.
As we, in our _baraques_, listened night and day to that bombardment,
we little knew the heroic part taken in it by our Engineers. Surprised,
unarmed, with pick and shovel they stood and fought; and later, hastily
equipped with rifles, helped save the day for England on the bitterly
contested front. But you have doubtless read of them in the papers, for
they were the first of our soldiers to die in battle and to be mentioned
in the orders of the day.



CHAPTER III

M. LE MAIRE


By rights, Canizy belongs with three other hamlets, to the commune of
Hombleux. The mayor of Hombleux is therefore in reality also the mayor
of Canizy. But each of the hamlets has an acting mayor besides. And,
to complicate this matter of mayors still further, the real mayor of
the commune has left his post to reside in his mansion in the Boulevard
Haussmann in Paris. Inquiring into the reason of his non-residence, I
was told that he was broken in health, and belonged to a political party
which, at the moment, was no longer in power. Hence the so-called mayors,
with whom rests the welfare of our villages.

Before the war, the present mayor of Hombleux was one of the _grands
cultivateurs_. With Mme. la Baronne, Mme. Desmarchez and M. Gomart,
he owned most of the rich acres encircling the town. Hombleux itself
contained then about 1200 inhabitants, and was an industrial as well
as an agricultural centre, having a distillery and two refineries for
sugar-beets. Of the factories, practically nothing now remains, and of
the inhabitants, 250 have survived the German deportations. Zélie, the
kitchen maid, has told me of these last. “The first deportation,” she
said, “was one of five hundred. The officers came to the doors at seven
o’clock with the names, and told us to be ready to start at dawn. O
Mademoiselle, the night! All the neighbours ran to and fro; all night
we washed and sewed and ironed, and in the morning, each with a sack
of fresh linen, my father, my sister, M. le Curé,—the flower of our
village,—were marched away. And after, what weeping!” Zélie put down her
broom to wring her hands, as if still dry-eyed from too much suffering.
“The next time,” she continued, “the Boches gave us no warning. They
came at midnight, and dragged us from our beds.” “Did you then go?” I
inquired. “But yes,” she replied, and her eyes flashed. “They tried to
make us work; there were five of us, friends, from our village. But work
for the enemies of France? We would not! They put us in prison; they fed
us almost nothing, but we would not work. One day they summoned us. ‘Go,’
they said, ‘go where you like, beasts of the Somme!’ Hungry, foot-sore,
travelling mostly by night from the frontier, we came home. It was
midnight when we reached Hombleux. In my own house, my mother had barred
the door. I tapped on the window to wake her. At first, she would not
believe that it was I. Even now, she looks at me with a question in her
eyes as if asking continually, ‘Zélie, is it thou?’”

Our mayors have no such heroic past! They not only saved their own skins,
but reside to this day with their wives and daughters; comely daughters
of an age for the German draft. Of one it is more than whispered that he
is a spy. Many carrier pigeons he had in his dovecote, and whether there
were any connection or not, _he knew of the impending German invasion_,
and left his comfortable house and growing crops, to spend the summer of
1914 in Normandy. Nor did he return till the summer of 1917. Meantime,
his little hamlet had held a town meeting of its refugees, and elected
a lady as mayor. In fact, M. Renet, on his return, found himself the
only man in the village. He found also—a suspicious circumstance in
the eyes of his neighbours—his house the only one undestroyed. I have
talked with him there, looking out of his casement windows into a walled
garden, where the fruit trees are uncut, and the walks are still bordered
with close-trimmed box. He assumes an injured air, recounting his
unpopularity. It is unfortunate, but since M. the Deputy has again asked
him to act as mayor, _que voulez-vous_? He is compelled.

His superior, the mayor of the entire commune, did not fare so well. On
our first visit, we found him inhabiting a loft in his partially ruined
barn. But despite his chubby person, this mayor is a man of action.
Week after week, Hombleux receives shifting regiments of troops back
from the trenches _en repos_. These are detailed for construction work.
Carpenters set up the _baraques_, which the Government furnishes to
homeless families; masons and bricklayers are slowly raising the walls
of the village bakery. The mayor has taken his share of the materials
and workmen, and is now housed in a two-room lean-to, with a new slate
roof, and lace-curtained windows. Here, beside an open fire, he transacts
business.

He it is to whom returning refugees come to report and register; through
him claims of damage (based on pre-war valuation of property) are filed,
which the Government has promised to honor after the war. To him,
requests for _baraques_ are made, and sent by him to the _Sous-Préfet_
of the Department, to be forwarded in turn to the Minister of the
Interior, with whom such matters rest. The mayor calculates the amount
of _allocation_ or pension to which each family in the devastated area
is entitled, varying according as they are _réfugiés_ or _rapatriés_,
according to the number of bread-winners imprisoned or serving with the
colors, according to the number of children, or, in some cases, to the
decorations won by their soldiers, for decorations carry pensions.[5]
This entire matter of income is adjusted finally for our district by the
_Préfet_ at Péronne. Besides housing and pensioning, the Government
has undertaken to supply a certain amount of cereals, coffee, sago and
the like. These the mayor distributes. Furniture as well is provided
by the Government: bedsteads, mattresses (not forgetting bolsters),
stoves, cupboards, chairs, tables and _batteries de cuisine_. Before our
coming to take charge of the district, the mayor signed the furniture
requisitions which were understood by the fortunate recipients to
represent a part of their “_indemnité de guerre_.” He also had the even
more delicate task of distributing relief supplies left in bulk by the
Red Cross or other agencies on their hurried passage through the ruined
villages. Naturally, the supply fell short of the demand; and it was with
unconcealed pleasure that the Mayor at the instance of the _Sous-Préfet_
turned over these two thankless tasks to us. Yet we found him—or rather
his wife and daughter—always ready to advise and coöperate. On demand,
they furnished immaculately penned lists of all inhabitants, whether
grouped by sex and by age, by family, or by the main division of adults
and juveniles. They know the number of families in each hamlet, the
number of persons in each family, the name and the age of each. Much more
they know, of gossip, and of human nature, and laughed, I fear a trifle
derisively, at our manifest difficulties.

All these activities, centring in the Mayor, belong to the civil
administration of the Department. The Ministry of Agriculture has
its share in reconstruction also, but is more independent of local
officials, having an office of its own in the commune. To it belong the
ploughing and seeding, the replacing of orchards, and to a certain extent
of livestock. But on all these matters, as to whose fields shall be
ploughed, or who shall plant two apple trees or own a goat, the verdict
of the Mayor is sought. He himself, you may be sure, is dependent on no
such circuitous methods. Together with two other _grands cultivateurs_,
he has bought an American tractor, a harrow, and a mowing machine. These
can even be hired for the same price as the government-owned tractors,
which is forty francs an hectare. Over all reconstruction, considered as
a part of the civil administration, preside the _Sous-Préfet_ and the
_Préfet_ of the Somme.

On the other hand, food supplies in general, such as bread, are
controlled by the army. In fact, every detail of life in the War Zone is
their care if they choose to assume it. Troop movements delay shipments;
therefore there may be no bread. Cavalry needs fodder; the sergeant at
Hombleux goes out to forage with rick and trio of white horses and buys
it at a fixed price. Mme. N—— is ill; the army doctor visits her, and if
she seems to him a menace to the health of the soldiers, he removes her
to a hospital. In view of the military importance attached to the Zone,
the confidence of the French Government in giving over a section of it to
the care of a group of American women, wholly unacquainted with the task
before them, seems truly touching.

[Illustration: —_Rien que ça de pain! Vous mangez bien chez vous!_

—_Ben ... on n’est pas des boches!_

[Only that much bread! You eat well at your house!

Well ... we are not Boches!]]

In fact, it seemed appalling, as I learned from day to day the problems
for which I was myself responsible in Canizy. Not the least of these was
its mayor. Unlike his _confrère_ at B——, M. Thuillard had not fled his
property until forced to do so with the rest of the villagers immediately
prior to the Retreat of 1917. During the occupation, he kept his store as
usual. And even though his horses and cattle, his fat rabbits and plump
chickens, were requisitioned by the Germans, they say that he was paid
for them. To see him, however, housed in a miserable hut, with a dirt
floor so uneven that the very chairs looked tipsy; to hear the complaints
of his querulous wife, and the references of his daughter to their former
comfort, was calculated to enlist one’s sympathy. Mme. Thuillard was ill,
and he was lame, and the daughter’s husband was a prisoner, and they had
lost heavily, because they had the most to lose. All this they told me
over the saucerless cups of black coffee which they offered me “out of a
good heart.”

But when I considered the Mayor’s duty to his village, my own heart
hardened. Here is the entry I find in my notebook on my first survey of
Canizy. “Canizy, dependence of Hombleux, Thuillard, Oscar, in charge.
Curé of Voyennes has charge of the children; 4 k. away. No church, no
school, no bread, no water fit to drink.” There was something, of course,
in the Mayor’s own contention that the village had been forgotten; and
one could understand why the Curé came only to burials when one saw
him,—so ill he looked. But in M. Thuillard’s barn were two stout horses,
and two carts stood before his door. On his own business, he could
travel. “Why, then,” I inquired, “has he not fetched the bread supply
from Hombleux to which the village is entitled?” “Because he has nothing
to gain,” and the good wife I interrogated shrugged her shoulders and
laughed. “Look you,” she continued, “M. Thuillard is rich; 26 kilos of
money he buried, and it is not in sous.” This rumour, which gave the
one-legged Mayor something of the air of a land pirate, I heard on all
sides. Even the school teacher of Hombleux repeated it; and her husband,
an officer, nodded his head to emphasize his “_Oui, c’est vrai_.”

Of one of our mayors, however, I would like to record nothing but praise.
Widow of a soldier, left with two little girls, and absolutely no other
possession in the world, she ruled our home village at the Château with
justice and dignity. She never complained. When at last the _baraque_ on
the ruins of her farm was completed, all except the fitting of the glass
in the windows, she insisted on moving in so that we could make use of
the space she vacated in our _basse-cour_. I met her one bitter evening
shortly afterward, as I was returning from Canizy. “Is it not cold in the
_baraque_, Madame?” I asked. “Oh, yes,” she replied, “but what would you?
It is so good to be at home!”



CHAPTER IV

O CRUX, AVE


As the aeroplanes fly, Canizy is perhaps three miles from the Château,
or reckoned in time, half an hour by motor and an hour on foot. But by
either route, one turns into the village at the stark Calvary I have
already mentioned, with its half obliterated inscription: _Ave, O Crux_.

At our first visit, despite our novelty, Canizy regarded us with
indifference. We seemed to them doubtless one more of those strange
manifestations of the war which had stranded them among their ruins.
Incurious, apathetic, they passed us with sidelong glances, and went
their ways. But this did not last long. The “Dames Américaines” did such
extraordinary things! They gathered and bought up rags; they played with
the children; they walked fearlessly, even at night, across the fields
to tend a sick baby; they slept—so the village children who had seen
their encampment reported—on _lits-soldats_. The village waked to a new
interest, and it came about that one expected to be waited for by the
gaunt old cross.

Before my arrival, the routeing of our three cars had already been
decided. Three times a week the Dispensary was held at Canizy, and once
a week, on Monday, our largest truck, turned into a peddler’s cart with
shining tinware, sabots, soap, fascinators, stockings and other articles
of clothing, made there its first stop. On the seat back of the driver
and the storekeeper, or if there were not room for a seat, on top of the
hampers, went also the children’s department, consisting of two members.
While the mothers, grandmothers and elder sisters gathered at the honk
of the horn about the truck, the children, equally eager, followed the
teachers to an open field for games. Or, did it rain, I have seen them
of all ages from fourteen years to fourteen months, huddled in a shed,
listening open-mouthed to the same tales our children love, which begin,
in French as in English, with “Once upon a time.”

But when, after a three-days’ inspection of our outlying domain, I
asked our Director for the village of Canizy, I was given charge of
all branches of our work there. This meant not interference but close
coöperation with the other members of the Unit already occupied with
its problems. Of all our villages, Canizy was the most beloved, not,
perhaps, because its need was greatest, but because its isolation was
most complete. No one could do enough for it. Were a sewing-machine to
be repaired, the head of our automobile department, a mechanical genius,
spent hours making it “marcher.” The doctors, with their own hands, took
time to scrub the children’s heads. They came to me with every need that
they found on their rounds, with the neighbourhood gossip, and with
kindly advice. The teachers gave me the names of children requiring
shoes; and, as the work developed, asked in turn for recommendations
in regard to opening a children’s library. To the farm department, I
made requests that we buy largely of fodder and vegetables, until we had
literally hundreds of kilos of pumpkins, turnips and carrots bedded for
us in the cellars, on call. To this department went also requisitions
that Mme. Cordier be supplied with a pig, or M. Noulin with five hens,
or Mme. Gense with a goat. Or, were there shipments of furniture to be
delivered, one called again on the automobile department, which even
through the drifts and cold of winter, kept at least one of its engines
thawed and running every day.

[Illustration: —_C’est un boche ce blessé là?_

—_Non, M’sieu le Major, c’est le cheval du capitaine._

[Is that wounded man a Boche?

No, Major, he’s the captain’s horse.]]

It will be seen that our scheme of material relief followed closely that
laid down by the Government. Our method was simple: where the Government
supplies were on hand, or adequate, we used them; whatever was lacking,
even up to kitchen ranges costing three hundred francs, we attempted to
supply. In this we had not only our own resources to draw on, but to
a limited extent, those of the American Fund for French Wounded, and
to a much larger extent, those of the Red Cross. In a huge truck came
the goods from the Red Cross, driven by a would-be aviator who, when
asked his name, replied bashfully, “Call me Dave.” “Dave” was frequently
accompanied by another youth of like ambition, named Bill. And I will say
that they handled their truck as if it were already a flying-machine.
The first consignment of hundreds of sheets and blankets, the truck and
the driver, all were overturned in our moat. It took a day to get them
out. The next mishap was a head-on collision with our front gate. But
the last, which I learned of just before I left, will best illustrate
their imaginative turn of mind. Bill, the intrepid, having attempted to
traverse a ploughed field, left his machine there mired to the body, and
spent the night with us. He seemed a trifle apprehensive as to how his
“boss” would take this exploit. Willing workers, however, were Dave and
Bill. Unannounced, they came exploding up the driveway under orders to
work for us all day. And many a time have we risked our necks with them,
perched on the high front seat, careering along at what seemed like sixty
miles an hour.

But for my part, my usual mode of travel was on foot, and my orbit
bounded by the Château, Hombleux and Canizy. In any case, even though I
went over by motor, I was dropped at my village and walked back across
the fields. As I grew better acquainted with the villagers, I came and
went at will, spending almost all the daylight hours—few enough in
winter—with them. Every one has heard of the mud in the trenches. The
clayey soil of our district, admirably adapted to the making of bricks,
lends itself equally well to the making of mud. Continually churned
by _camions_ and marching troops, it becomes on the highways of the
consistency of a purée, through which, high-booted and short-skirted,
one wades. It is therefore a relief to turn off by the footpath beyond
Hombleux, though it plunges for the first quarter of a mile through a
bog. Of a sunny day, birds sing in the hollow, wee _pinsons_ perched
on ragged hedges answering one another with fairy flutes. Farther on,
yellow-breasted finches dart over patches of mustard as yellow, and
sing as they fly. Raucous crows, whose gray-barred wings make them far
more decorative than ours, and the even more strikingly marked magpies,
darken in great flocks the newly ploughed and seeded wheatfields which in
increasing areas border the path. A sudden movement sends them whirring
like a black and white cloud against the sky. Often above them courses a
flier of another sort, a scout aeroplane probably, holding its way from
the aviation fields in our rear, to the front. It rasps the heavens like
a taut bow; by listening to the beat of its engines one can determine
whether it be French or Boche. For Boche planes come over us frequently,
on bombing raids; and sometimes one does not have to look or listen long
to know that an air battle is taking place overhead. The sharp reports;
the white puffs of our guns, the black plumes of the enemy’s; the glint
of the sunlight on careening sails high up in the blue,—it all passes
like a panorama, of which we do not know the end. Other sounds also are
familiar to us on our plain, when from the Chemin des Dames, or St.
Quentin, or Cambrai, the great guns boom. Like surges they shake and
reverberate; and when, as often happens, the sea-fog rolls in from the
Channel, one can well fancy them the breakers of a mighty storm. So they
are, out there, on our front, where the living dyke of the _poilus_ holds
back the German flood.

The highway and the railway, these are the two most coveted goals of
the German bombs. For over them go up the trains of ammunition and of
soldiers and supplies. Both we cross on the way to Canizy. The railroad,
running between well defined hedges, would seem almost as conspicuous
an object as the tree-sentinelled road. But, so far, both have escaped
harm. Trains whistle and puff as usual up and down from Amiens to Ham.
Often I halt at the crossing, to wave to soldiers, who fill the cars;
sometimes I pass through companies of red-turbaned, brown Moroccans,
who are brought here by the Government to rebuild bridges and keep the
roadbed in repair. Over the track the footpath carries one, on over brown
stubble, to the Calvary and Canizy.

As I have said, at the Cross one is awaited. Sometimes it is only one
little figure in black apron and blue soldier’s cap that stands beside
it to give the signal; sometimes from the wall on the other side of
the road, a half dozen girls start up, like a covey of quail. The boys
usually ran away, but the girls advanced to surround one, and dance hand
in hand down the street. But always before the Calvary there was a pause.
Brown hands, none too clean, were raised to forehead and breast with the
quick sign of the cross. One caught a whispered invocation. “But you do
not do it,” five-year-old Flore protested to me one day, with troubled
eyes. “Why do you not salute the Calvary?” “Teach me,” I replied; and in
chorus I learned the words which on the lips of the war-orphaned children
are infinitely pathetic: “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the
Holy Ghost.”

[Illustration: —_Il est déjà grand!..._

—_Ben ... il a l’âge de la guerre._

[He is big already!

Well ... he is as old as the war.]]

It is not alone at Canizy that one finds the Cross, though by its
aloofness above the plain this one became impressive. By every roadside
stands a Calvary, sometimes embowered in trees, but more often stark
and naked, with the wantonly felled trunks about its base bearing
mute Witness to a desecration which respected the form, but not the
spirit, of the Christ. At Hombleux, three such crucifixes marked the
intersections of the village lanes, flanked by stenciled guide-posts: _A
Nesle_, _A Athies_, or _A Roye_. They cluster in the cemeteries, above
well-remembered graves; Where even the dead no longer rest inviolate,
since the Germans, to their unspeakable shame, have blasted open many a
tomb. Day by day, the obsession grows on one that these uplifted symbols
of suffering, stripped and mocked and defiled by the invader, typify the
crucifixion of Picardy.



CHAPTER V

MME. GABRIELLE


Every village, everywhere, has its stronger characters, to whom the
community looks up, perhaps unconsciously. Canizy, having been deprived
of its normal leaders in the Curé, a prisoner, and the teacher,
transferred to the school at Hombleux, looked up in this way to Mme.
Lefèvre and Mme. Gabrielle. The former was the especial friend of our
medical department. In fact, she rented one of her two rooms for our
use as a dispensary, and her flagged kitchen was always open to her
neighbours and to us. Here I measured out milk to half the village, or
distributed the loaves of bread which we ourselves purveyed from the
crabbed Garde Champêtre at Hombleux. Or, had I neither the time nor the
patience, Mme. Lefèvre herself made the distribution, and gave me a
list of the recipients, and always the correct amount of neatly stacked
coppers in change. A shrewd face had Mme. Lefèvre, wrinkled by humour
as well as by sorrow. She had been taken away by the Boches in their
retreat, but later, for some reason unknown, was allowed to return. Her
three daughters, however, and her husband, all were in the hands of the
enemy. She lived alone, therefore, and busied herself in her late-planted
garden, and in her neighbours’ affairs.

[Illustration: —_C’est pas moi!... c’est lui._

[I didn’t do it ... _he_ did!]]

Most of them, it seemed, were related to her in one way or another, all
the Genses being of her kin. Of these there were Mme. Gense-Tabary,
already mentioned, and her swarming family of eight, bright and pretty
as pictures, and dirty as little pigs. She, lodged near the bank of
the canal, really had no excuse for this chronic condition, and was
encouraged to scrub by object lessons, clean clothing, and gifts even
of long bars of _savon marseilles_. I remember her yet, two or three
children tagging at her skirts, knocking at the door of my _baraque_ of
a Sunday morning, to tell me that she must have more soap. All the way
from Canizy she had walked to get it; and she did not go back without.
Mme. Gense-Tabary’s eldest daughter, known as Germaine Tabary, was the
sorrow of the village, even more than its daughters who had gone into
captivity; for she had become an earlier victim of the invaders, and with
her unborn baby was left behind. Mme. Marie Gense, another unfortunate,
was a niece by marriage of Mme. Lefèvre’s. Her husband was a soldier.
She had lived in a little cottage whose blue and white tiled floor I
often had occasion to admire, next the church. But being left with two
growing boys, and no resources, what was she to do? What she did was to
add to her family a Paul, and one bitter winter night which our doctors
and nurses well remember, a Paulette. “What would you?” she expostulated.
“I had no bread for the children; in this way they were fed.” That two
more months were added, and that her lean-to of ten feet by twelve could
not accommodate them, were facts which did not seem to concern her. And
of all good children, her two boys, Désiré and Robert, were certainly
the best. But Aunt Lefèvre looked upon her niece’s conduct as a scandal.
She was forbidden the kitchen, and it was even known that the quarrel
had come to the point of knives. With the children, that was different.
“Yes,” said Mme. Lefèvre on the arrival of the new baby, “Désiré may
sleep in the Dispensary if you so wish. It is your room; you pay for
it.” That Désiré did, though I had a bed put up for him, I misdoubt. But
Robert, happy-go-lucky Robert, with his head cocked on one side and a
smile rippling his brown eyes, even Aunt Lefèvre could not help loving
him. There was no question of his sleeping out, however, he being nurse
to the babies and to his mother as well. Another wayward connection of
Mme. Lefèvre’s was a sister of Mme. Marie Gense’s, known as Mme. Payelle.
She had three children as cunning as you could wish to see, clean—as
were Marie’s—and sunny-tempered. Their parentage also was a mystery.
But this blot did not rest by rights on the village escutcheon. Mme.
Payelle had been installed there by one of her admirers, a soldier _en
permission_; she really did not belong to Canizy.

To keep her social position in the midst of these misfortunes was a
tribute to Mme. Lefèvre’s worth. She was always doing kindnesses, and
speaking to us on her neighbours’ behalf. Beneath her shed stood one of
the four _chaudières_, or washing cauldrons, which survived the general
destruction. These, varying in capacity from 50 to 250 litres, are an
indispensable utensil of housekeeping in Picardy. In them, week by week,
the soiled clothes are boiled. Not even the lack of a pump—and there was
only one left in the village—was so much deplored as the loss of the
cauldrons. In view of these two handicaps and the dearth of soap, the
squalor of the village on our arrival seems excusable. Mme. Lefèvre, at
least, did her share toward remedying it. Without charge, her _chaudière_
was in constant use, and her shed became a neighbourhood rendezvous.

It will be seen that all the Genses were by no means a bad lot, Mme.
Lefèvre being one herself. Of an older generation, and I know not of
what degree of kinship to her, is Mme. Hélène Gense, grandmother to Mme.
Gabrielle, that energetic, substantial young Widow, not Mme. Thuillard
nor yet Veuve Thuillard, but Mme. Gabrielle to all Canizy. In pre-war
times, she owned, through her parents and not by marriage, the most
central homestead in the village. There remain now only the arched gate
into the courtyard, the brick rabbit hutches, a heap of débris, and a
tottering wall. She and ten-year-old Adrien lodge, therefore, in the
first house on the left as you come past the Calvary, with Grand’mère
Gense. This ell, flanked though it is by the ruin of the main building,
is the most cheerful spot in the village. The narrow yard before the
door is swept; a row of geraniums blossoms beneath the windows. Above
all, there _are_ windows, two of them, and curtains at each. Outside the
door, if you are fortunate in the hour of your call, will stand two pairs
of worn sabots. Or perhaps the door may be open, framing Grand’mère,
bent almost at right angles, Mme. Gabrielle, and Bobbinot. Bobbinot is
a dog, iron-grey, smooth-coated, with a white band on his breast and a
white vest. He has no pedigree, his mistress assures me, but his brown
eyes and his square, intelligent head bear out her statement that he is
“_très loyal_.” All three welcome me; a chair is proffered near the fire.
Grand’mère sinks carefully into her low seat, Mme. Gabrielle sets on a
saucepan of coffee, and we sit down to chat.

It is a pleasure to look about as we talk. On the mantel, to give a note
of colour, are laid a row of tiny yellow pumpkins; the floor is red, and
through the window peer red geraniums. In a cupboard beyond the stove is
a modest array of pans and dishes. Two panes of glass, like portholes,
pierce the wall to the rear. Beneath stands a sideboard, and a little to
one side, a round table. Not until the coffee was heated did I notice
that cups were set for four.

“But have you another guest?” I inquired, as Mme. Gabrielle poured first
some syrup from a bottle, and then the steaming drink. “But no, only
Adrien. _Adrien, come!_” She raised her voice. Then for the first time
I saw the boy, head propped on elbows, poring over a book. The mother
regarded him indulgently. “It is a pity for the children that we have
no school. Adrien is apt; when the Germans were here, he understood
everything, everything. And when the Scotch came, he learned, too. I
myself try to learn English.” She brought forth from the sideboard an
English-French phrase book. “This I found in a house after the English
soldiers went away. It would be easy, but there is the pronunciation.” “I
will teach you,” I said, and we took up the words one by one, Grand’mère
laughing the while, pleasant laughter, like a cracked, old bell. But
the boy kept on reading and hummed a tune. “The children,” broke in the
mother, “they sing; it is well.” But presently the boy shuts his book
with a sigh and draws a chair to the table. “Did you like it, the story?”
I inquire. “Yes, it tells of America.” On the table, clear now save for
Adrien’s belated cup, is revealed an oilcloth map in lieu of a linen
cover. “Where, then, is America?” His finger traces the colored squares.
“Here is France, here England, here Italy, here Russia,—but America, it
is so far one cannot see it.” “But yes,” rejoins his mother, “so far that
never in my life did I expect to see an American. Once in my childhood I
remember looking at a picture of M. Pierpont’s bank in New York—a great
bank. But now I have seen Germans, Russians, English, Moroccans,—and you.
The war teaches many things.”

“You have seen Russians?”

“Very many; the Germans worked our fields with Russian prisoners. A
strange people! You and I converse; we come from different countries,
but we have ideas in common. The Russians were like dumb beasts; they had
no _esprit de corps_.”

“It is the fault of their government,” I venture.

“Yes,” she replied, “France and America are republics. It is not that our
government is perfect. There are many beautiful things in France, but
there is much injustice also, much.”

I knew of what Mme. Gabrielle was thinking, then; of the wheatlands of
Canizy, where not one furrow had been turned for the next year’s harvest,
while the _grands cultivateurs_ and the petty politicians looked out for
themselves; and of the school building, long promised and still delayed.

But Mme. Gabrielle looked beyond the confines of her small village
and its grievances. Love for _la belle plaine_ and _la belle France_,
unreasoning, passionate, pulsed in her. Hatred of the Germans was its
corollary. “Mademoiselle, during the occupation, we were prisoners,” she
said. “We had to have passes to go one fourth of a kilometre from our
village. My mother was sick at Voyennes,—and I could not go to see her.”
It came out that Bobbinot had been her constant companion. “But I should
think,” I said, “that the Germans would have taken him away.” “They dared
not; he would have bitten them!” was the spirited response.

At Mme. Gabrielle’s table, with the map upon it, I was destined to sit
often, sometimes for luncheon and sometimes for dinner, while we took
counsel over village affairs. For Mme. Gabrielle, together with Mme.
Lefèvre, and the former school teacher, became an informal advisory
committee to me. Through punctiliously served courses of soup, stew,
salad, wine, cheese and coffee, Mme. Gabrielle offered her information,
or, when asked, her opinion. It was she who reassured me on the point of
selling rather than of giving the smaller articles we distributed. “I
understand completely; it is better for us. The American Red Cross did
the same when the Germans were here. They sold the food, but very cheap.
Without their help, we should have starved. We are grateful to America,
which saved our lives.” It was she who advised in regard to a baby whom
its half-witted mother had placed in a crèche: “For the mother,” she
said, “it would doubtless be better that the child returned. But for the
child—and I am a mother myself who speak—let it remain.” On the good
sense and the good heart of Mme. Gabrielle one came to rely. Even as far
as Hombleux she was known and respected. “O yes,” the women there told
me, “Mme. Gabrielle, we know her. She is _une femme très forte_.”



CHAPTER VI

VOILÀ LA MISÈRE


Directly opposite Mme. Gabrielle lives Mme. Odille Delorme. One lifts the
latch of a heavy wooden gate to enter her courtyard. On left and right
are the remains of barn and stable, from the rafters of which depend
bundles of _haricots_ hung to dry. A half dozen chickens scurry from
under foot, and at the commotion Mme. Delorme steps out. “I have come
to make a little visit,” I begin. “Enter then, and see misery,” is her
reply. It is a startling reply from this woman, strong, intelligent, and
direct. The room of which she throws open the door is tiny; the floor is
of earth; there is no window, only a hole covered with oiled linen, which
lets in a ray of light but never any sun. A stove, a table, two stools,
a shelf or two and a few dishes hung on nails are her furnishings. In
her arms she holds her sixteen-months’ baby; a little girl of three comes
running in from an adjoining alcove, and is followed presently by her
seven-year-old sister, Charmette. The three children look like plants
blanched in a cellar. As gently as possible, I proceed with necessary
questions: for in social parlance, I am making a preliminary survey of
the family needs. “Your husband?” I inquire. She turns to her little
girl, “Marie, tell the lady, then, where is Papa.” And Marie, smiling up
into her mother’s face, repeats her lesson proudly, “_Avec—les—Boches_.”
“_Avec les Boches_,” reiterates the mother, and catches the child to her
in a passionate embrace. There is a pause before I can continue. “Have
you beds and covers?” “See for yourself, Mademoiselle,” and she leads the
way through her _ménage_; three passage-ways opening the one into the
other, like the compartments of a train. The first contains a child’s bed
of white enamel, and beneath an aperture like that in the outer room,
a crib. Both are canopied and ruffled in spotless white. “Yes,” Mme.
Delorme says in answer to my unspoken surprise, “I bought these beds.
The ruffles are made of sheets, one can but do one’s best. As you see,
it is only a chicken-house after all.” Beyond, quite without light, is a
space occupied by her own bed, a springless frame of planks. From nails
in the walls clothes of all sizes and descriptions hang. In fact, one
wonders at the amount of clothing saved by the panic-stricken peasants in
their flight. They not only took away with them heavy sacks made out of
sheets, but buried what they had time to. Of course, some of their hiding
places were rifled; but most of the villagers have a real embarrassment
of riches in their old clothes. Their first request is usually for a
wardrobe, so that the mice will not nest in them.

But Mme. Delorme asked for nothing. She rested her case in the simple
statement, “Voilà la misère.” At a later date, when I returned with a
camera, she repeated, “What would you? Take a picture of our misery?”
“Yes, Madame, to carry with me to America, that they may see it there and
fight the harder for knowing what the Boches have done.” “_Eh, bien!_”
she replied, and the picture was taken. Framed in the deep gateway, from
which the clusters of dried beans depend like a stage curtain, her baby
in her arms, her two little girls clinging beside her, and neighbourly
Adrien, broom in hand, sweeping the light snow from the path,—I see her
yet amid the ruins, brave, broken-hearted Odille Delorme.

Before the war, Mme. Delorme had not the social position of her
neighbour, Mme. Gabrielle. She lived on her smaller property, and
attended to her truck garden and her poultry yard and her children, while
her husband served the Government as bargeman on the canal. Yet the
two were close friends. Mme. Gabrielle having bought a cow, shared the
milk with Mme. Delorme. Mme. Gabrielle told me that Mme. Delorme needed
blankets. “She would never admit it,” she explained. “We are not used to
accepting gifts, you see.” Or were it necessary for Mme. Delorme to go to
Ham perhaps for her _allocation_, Mme. Gabrielle transferred the baby and
Marie to her kitchen until their mother’s return.

From this extreme end of the village, by the Calvary, the street
continues across the railroad track. Here, on almost any day, children
may be seen digging miniature coal mines. They do it not in play, but in
earnest. The ties which the Germans left have long since been used as
fuel, but in the roadbed the villager still finds a scant supply of coal.
Beyond the track, the first habitable building is a barn. Its interior
consists of one room, earthen-floored where two makeshift beds allow it
to be seen. In one corner stands a small stove. No light enters except
from the open door. Here lodge the old mother, the married daughter, two
children, a girl of seventeen and a boy of eleven, and their orphaned
cousin, four-year-old Noël. Lydie, capable, red-cheeked, crisp-haired,
welcomes us and pulls forward a bench. “Be seated, please.” Her voice has
a ring of youth, her mouth a ready smile. One wonders how it can be, yet
it is so. The grandmother complains querulously from the untidy bed where
she is lying to keep warm. Lydie tells us with perfect equanimity that
she herself has no bed. Where does she sleep? On the bench. Beds would be
welcome, yes, and sheets and blankets. The grandmother adds a request for
warm slippers; her feet are so often cold. A pane of glass for the door
I set down also in the list in my notebook, and as assets—the furniture
being negligible—300 kilos of cabbages, 100 kilos of potatoes, leeks and
chicory in smaller quantities.

[Illustration: —_Avant ... quand c’était pas la guerre ... on en avait
deux pour un sou, des pralinés!_ ...

[Once, before the war, the pralines were two for a sou.]]

My next call I have been urged to make by our doctors. Here in a
ramshackle ell, facing a court deep in mire, live the poorest family
in the village, comprising Mme. Laure Tabary, her six children, and a
black and bearded goat. The goat inhabits a rabbit hutch from which
her tether allows her the freedom of the narrow brick path. From the
sidelong gleam in her eyes, one always expects an attack in the flank or
rear. But Madame, her mistress, regards her as a pet; perhaps because she
cannot regard her in any other favourable light,—since _la petite_ gives
no milk. Once past the goat, the door is quickly gained. Two rooms has
Mme. Tabary, and a loft and a shed. She needs them! From forlorn Olga to
forlorn Andréa, the girls of the family descend in graduated wrappings
of rags. “O, Mme. Tabary,” exclaimed the school teacher, with whom I
discussed the all too evident need of soap, and of clothing, “she is a
very worthy woman, but she is always poor.” Always poor, always ailing,
yet always humorous, were the Laure Tabarys. Did the unfortunate woman
try to boil her washing, the stove must needs break, and the cauldron
full of scalding water descend upon Madeleine. No sooner were her wounds
dressed than Andréa developed a fever. It would be interesting to know
how many litres of gasoline were consumed by us in the carrying of Mme.
Tabary’s children to and from hospitals located ten and twenty miles
away. One would have thought the distracted mother might welcome these
deportations. But, naturally enough, she distrusted them, and having
faithfully promised to give up the baby to our care on a certain day,
left instead for Ham. Of how she was won over,—that is a tale which
belongs to the annals of the medical department rather than to me. But I
have heard rumours of hair ribbons and dolls and candy and fairy stories
and I know not what of similar remedies which Hippocrates and Galen never
mentioned. Judge, then, whether our doctors were bugbears or no among the
children of our villages!

But the ell housed another family besides the Tabarys. Across the hall
lodged the Moroys; M. Edouard, an old man of eighty-four, his niece and
nephew and his granddaughter, Mlle. Suzanne. All lived in the one room.
It was a room with only three corners as well, because in the fourth the
floor rose in an arch which indicated the cellar-way. In this room were
three beds, a table, a stove, three chairs and a broken sewing machine.
Yet I never saw the room in disorder, nor heard any requests from the
family beyond that of a little sugar for Grandpère, and, if possible,
another bed, so that Charles might have a place to sleep. Meantime,
Charles slept upon the floor. In this room were two windows. The one to
the south interested me by chance, because the panes looked so clear. I
stepped over and put out my hand. It went straight through the framework;
there was no glass. “But you must be cold!” I exclaimed, knowing well the
common fear of _courants d’air_. Besides, it was late October, and the
nights were already frosty. “Yes, a little,” Mlle. Suzanne admitted in a
matter of fact way. “Yes,” agreed her aunt, in a more positive tone. “And
besides, Mademoiselle, our stove is too small, as you see. In fact, it
is not ours, but belongs to Mme. Tabary. But she has so large a family,
we made an exchange. Perhaps when you distribute stoves——” I promise to
remember, wondering the while if we in like circumstances would share our
last crusts with like generosity. For the window, so scarce was glass,
oiled linen was the best that could be done, a pity considering that it
excluded the sun with the cold.

Mlle. Suzanne, with the exception of Germaine Tabary and Lydie Cerf,
is the only young woman in Canizy. She had been taken captive by the
Germans, but was allowed to return. Her family, however, met an unknown
fate; father and brother, they were _avec les Boches_. A curious
circumstance in this connection was that Suzanne, having been an
independent worker, received no pension for her loss. She, too, seemed a
Good Samaritan to her neighbours—lame Mme. Juliette depends on Suzanne
to bring her her pitcher of milk; Mme. Musqua, sick and irresponsible,
has only to send over her children to Mlle. Suzanne to be cared for,—what
matter two more or less in the crowded room? I added my quota to her
labours by asking her to take charge of washing rags, and started her in
with those of her next-door neighbour, Mme. Tabary. For the purpose, I
have given her a cylindrical boiler, standing three feet high. This, when
not in use, is placed over by the cellar-way. On washing days, it is set
on an open fire in the court, where Grandpère feeds it with laboriously
chopped twigs. Meantime, back of the house, patches of colour and of
flapping white begin to adorn the wire fence. Suzanne also sews, by hand
and, now that its frame is mended by I know not how many screws in the
warped wood, by machine. We give out the sewing, and she earns by it
perhaps three francs a week.

Beyond the Moroys, lives Mme. Thuillard, Charles, as the neighbours call
her to distinguish her from the Thuillards, O. I have seldom found this
energetic lady at home, but I often see her, and sometimes hear her,
as she passes with firm step down the street to work in her garden.
When not playing, her ten-year-old granddaughter Orélie follows in her
wake. This leaves in the unlighted recesses of the barn, her husband,
M. Charles. He seems an apologetic and conciliatory soul, with whom I
discuss domestic needs, such as a window, a lamp, and sheets for the
beds. He will tell his wife what I say and report to-morrow when he
comes for the milk. It is in his entrance-way, so to speak, that I first
noticed a pile of willow-withed market baskets. “O, yes,” he said, “I
had hundreds of such, but the Boches took them.” “Are they then made
hereabouts?” “Before the war; but now no one is left who understands the
trade.” The next day I am likely to get a report, and a sharp one, from
Madame, his wife. “Sheets,” she queries, “what sort of sheets? Are they
linen sheets? Blankets. Are they wool? Are they white? Look you, before
the war, I had five dozen linen sheets and plenty of blankets and down
quilts of the finest quality. Keep your gifts about which you make so
much talk! I will have none of them, none of them at all!”

I have sometimes wondered if Madame were related to the contrary-minded
but equally independent wife of the _garde champêtre_ who distributes—or
not—at her pleasure, the communal supply of bread. “I hear,” she began
one day, as I waited for change for a hundred franc note—change which
came in gold, by the way, as well as in silver—“I hear that you are to
make a distribution of gifts. Do not forget me! I will receive anything,
but you understand, not for payment; only as a present. Behold,” this
with a playful slap on the shoulder, “any one will tell you that I have a
tongue. _O, là, là, là!_”



CHAPTER VII

NOUS SOMMES DIX


It was at Christmas time that we came most to realise the broken family
circles in all our villages. There was not one household which did not
have some hostage _avec les Boches_. Of the pitiful remnant, the old
men—there were no young ones—were to me the most appealing. I shall never
forget the fête in the hill village of Douilly, well up to the front, a
village completely destroyed, whose inhabitants were living in cellars.
On the brow of the hill, facing the sunset, stood the white stone
church. It had been used by the Germans as a barracks, and had not been
reconsecrated, so that we were given permission to hold our party there.
Cold, bare, yet beautiful with the sunlight falling in rainbow colours on
the groined arches, was the old church. At the bases of the pillars, we
deposited our sacks of presents; most of them for the children, but one
each for the women and the men. The latter were in my charge. Only three
came hobbling up from the outskirts of the crowd. “But is this all?”
I asked, as they chose the size of package which seemed to each most
desirable. “Are there no other men in the village?” The old men consulted
together. “There is Grandpère Cordon,” suggested one, “and Jean, who has
rheumatism,” “and blind Pierre——” “_Nous sommes dix_,” came the answer,
finally. “Shall we take the presents to the rest?”

“_Nous sommes dix!_” It was the answer which might have been made in
Canizy. According to the number of inhabitants, it might represent the
proportion of the male population left anywhere in the _région dévastée_.
Not one was able-bodied. In Canizy there were, for example, the lame
mayor of whom I have spoken; his four contemporaries, verging on sixty,
one a heavy drinker, another one-armed, a third in need of an operation,
a fourth suffering from heart disease. Even the latter had been taken
away, but as he said, when the German doctor put down his ear to listen,
he threw up his hands, and gave the officers a good piece of his mind for
having imported a useless consumer of food. So he was encouraged to make
his way back.

Of an older generation are two of the servitors of the Château, the
one the feeble gardener, the other the bedridden husband of the
laundress, who has not worked for many years. There is M. Tabary also,
the grandfather of Germaine, who has his own peculiar sorrow in his
granddaughter’s visible disgrace. A Boche baby will never outlive its
stigma while the memory of the Great War remains. M. Tabary is sick and
frail. It was he who, persuaded at last to come to the Dispensary, paused
in going out to doff his old cap with a courtly bow and to address the
doctors with a “_Merci, mes demoiselles, merci; je suis content_.”

It was a fortunate circumstance, however,—for I cannot think it
intentional on the part of the Germans—that all of these old men, more
or less in need of care, had either wives or other feminine relatives to
give it to them. Not so circumstanced was M. Augustin. Smooth-shaven save
for a white fringe of beard, his fresh-coloured but anxious face appeared
one day at the Château. Thither he had gone to deliver a load of hay.
But the particular lady who had contracted to buy it being unexpectedly
absent, M. Augustin was disturbed. His language gave one an impression
of vigour which was borne out by subsequent acquaintance. On the saint’s
day of the village, he shared honours with young Lydie in being the life
of the party, by contributing a song and a quaint peasants’ dance. He
was to be met with frequently along the roads, with blue-visored cap,
brown corduroys and stout cane. As his neighbours said: “_M. Augustin,
il voyage toujours partout_.” Still, he took time to do chores, like
chopping wood for Mme. Juliette, to hoe in his garden, and to keep his
house. The latter was, strictly speaking, a shed. It had two windows,
however, through which, in the absence of the owner, I made inventory. A
broken stove was propped against a home-made chimney; a plank table stood
beneath the window; a chair, and a rough chest completed the furniture.
On the table, instead of a lamp, was a bottle containing a candle; beside
it were a bowl and a frying pan.

Chiefly from the neighbours, I learned that M. Augustin was a widower,
that he had been the village cobbler, and that he preferred to live
alone. Now, we had shoe-making tools among our stores, so one day I
asked him if he would not like some. “No, Mademoiselle, I thank you,”
he replied. “My eyes are no longer clear; I cannot see well.” I was
more successful with other suggestions, however. A little nest of
dishes pleased him greatly; a new stove was installed, and a bed, and
what was perhaps even more greatly appreciated, a lamp. The evidence of
his appreciation took the form of whitewash on walls and ceiling; the
cobwebs vanished from the windows; and a shelf appeared for the dishes
behind the stove. It may be that M. Augustin will now be more content
with his own fireside, and less drawn to visit the wineshops of Ham and
Nesle.

I never saw M. Augustin at mass, where the village transformed itself on
occasion from weekday caps and kerchiefs and sabots to its conventional
and unbecoming best. Therefore I must needs infer that his face was
shaven daily, and his suit always clean, for his own satisfaction. The
moral stamina shown by this is noteworthy, and characteristic of the
peasantry of our district. We ourselves in our living conditions found
cleanliness next to godliness in this respect at least, in that it was
hard to attain. But _cui bono_ seemed never to have disturbed the habits
of M. Augustin.

Another sprightly old gentleman was M. Touret. His quarters were more
spacious than those of his neighbour, for he lived in a barn. Overhead,
hay piled from eaves to roof-tree helped to keep out the cold, and there
was one window. As he himself said when asked if he wanted anything:
“What would you? I am warm; I have a chair, a stove and a bed. If
the young people were here—perhaps. But we who are old, we shall not
live long, we have enough.” M. Touret, however, did not live alone.
The mother of his son’s wife had taken pity on him after the Germans
deported his two sons and their families, and had invited him to share
her barn. There were three housed there altogether, for with them lived
her son. M. Touret was oftenest found on a bench between the window and
the stove, poring through his spectacles over the daily paper. Mme.
Clara was usually busy with some savoury cooking, and M. Albert on the
occasion of my first visit held the centre of the floor with saw-horse
and axe. A chair was offered at once, and we all sat down to talk. M.
Touret, however, kept glancing at his paper, or regarded us over the rims
of his spectacles. Presently he broke in: “As for you, I do not know
what you may be, but as for me, I am a Christian.” In the midst of a
conversation about fodder and furniture, the effect was arresting, until
one realised from his point of view the strangeness of our position.
What, he must have queried, are these young American women doing here? We
were certainly different from the French ladies of family who nursed the
soldiers, or took over whole communities to house and feed. French women
would never have walked as we did, muddy-shoed and knapsacked, alone over
the fields. They might have been more understanding, at least their ways
would have been more conventional and better understood.

In fact, on another occasion M. Touret asked me why I had come to France.
“Monsieur, my father was a soldier; I cannot fight, but in this war I,
too, want to help.” “Your father was a soldier? Ah yes, that would be
in the Civil War, in ’64—I remember it well. And what rank did he hold?
Was he a general?” “But no, Monsieur; only a common soldier.” “A common
soldier?” He thought a moment. “But not like ours, because in America you
are not a military nation, and depend on volunteers.” My face must have
expressed astonishment. “Look you, Mademoiselle; before the war it was my
habit to read. I read every year as many as two hundred volumes. I had a
large library in a cabinet. The Germans burned my books.” He rose, picked
up something from a bench behind the stove and handed it to me. It proved
to be a charred and mildewed copy of a history; the history of England
in the time of Henry the Eighth. Mutilated as it was, the pages showed a
beautiful clear type and exquisite engravings. It was a good example of
the printing of Abbeville, famous for its engravers and binders since the
days of its first printing press in 1484.

“Would you not like some books, then?” I ventured.

“What sort of books? Not magazines.” He looked contemptuously at one that
I had in my hand. “Me, I like stories. See what I bought yesterday.” He
brought from a chest of drawers a gaudy paper volume entitled “La Morte
d’Amour.”

Knowing that our library contained no such light literature, I continued,
“Would you perhaps like Dumas?”

“Dumas? ‘The Three Musketeers’?” His wrinkled face lighted. “I know them.
Another book I liked the Germans loaned me when they were here. It was by
an Englishman—B-u-l-w-e-a-r—‘The Last Days of Pompeii’—a very interesting
book.”

“Tell me,” he went on a little later, “some one has said that you have no
twilight in North America. Is it true?”

It seeming in his mind to be a reflection upon our country, I tried my
best to dissipate this impression by citing the great size of the United
States, and its varying climatic conditions. But I could not truthfully
say that we had the lingering orange sunsets and afterglows of pink and
mauve and applegreen which I knew were in his mind, and with which I too
became familiar on the plain of Picardy.

The last time I saw M. Touret was on a white and wintry morning when I
had risen even earlier than the Villagers or M. the chaplain, to attend
the Village mass. In a golden-brown corduroy which might have been
the twin of M. Augustin’s, I spied M. Touret on the path ahead of me,
homeward bound after the service. I ran to catch up.

“Good morning, Monsieur, and how are you?”

“_O, doucement, doucement_,” he answered. “And you?”

“The books, did you like them?” I inquired, for his Christmas present had
consisted of three.

“O, well enough; but one was not true. It was called ‘Contes de la Lune.’
I did not read it. Another (this in reference to Tourguenieff) was by
a Russian; and you know well, in France we do not love Russia, now. A
Russian indeed! The third,—well Jules Verne is always interesting. _Ça
ira._”

Somewhat discouraged, I recalled what Mme. Clara had told me once in
an effort to soften the old man’s brusqueness. “He is old; he is full
of crotchets, you understand.” But Madame herself appeared to me to be
quite as old, though I had the wit not to compliment her politeness
thus maladroitly. Perhaps it was because of this honesty, entirely
unaffected, that of all the households in my village, I enjoyed most
hers and M. Touret’s. There one found a freeborn fellowship, which,
like the mellow twilight, belongs to Picardy. It is a _timbre_ resonant
in the older generation; that generation which endured the invasion of
1870, as well as the invasion of 1914. It is a survival of many wars, of
many hardships, a spirit akin to that fortitude which has made our own
country,—a common language that we, who came from the ends of the earth,
could understand.



CHAPTER VIII

UNE DISTRIBUTION DE DONS


At length, the survey of Canizy was completed: its crooked streets traced
on a map, its houses numbered, and the pre-war and the post-war status
of each of its families noted thereon. But long before these facts had
been collected, the articles found to be most necessary had been bought
for the homes. It only remained to wait their arrival. Even the number
of sheets and blankets in each household was listed, and against them,
the number to be given out. The honesty and unselfishness of most of the
villagers in setting down their needs, was a constant joy. There was
Mme. Regina, for instance, who had five pairs of stout linen sheets and
four soldiers’ blankets on two Boche beds. I proposed a new bed for the
baby, and covers to go with it. Mme. Regina acquiesced at first, but
later drew me aside: “I can get along,” she said, “I know you have not
enough to go around,—and when one is so poorly lodged anyway, it does not
matter. When I get my _baraque_, then I will come to you.”

There was good sense in Mme. Regina’s decision. The housing rested not
with us, but with the Government, through the mayor of the commune. Long
delay ensued in Canizy, when ten families had applied, and only three
_baraques_ had been set up. Of these, two were for the domestics of M.
Lanne. Mme. Picard and the Mayor himself were among the waiting; nor
could one decide which was the more miserably off. Even Mme. Picard’s
vegetables were comfortably bedded compared with her children, in her
dark and windy barn, and as for M. le Maire, a water-spout built within
his hut carried the rain from his bed. But at last one day, loads of
_baraques_ began to arrive, and red-fezzed Moroccans, to erect them.
There were five shacks in all, and four, it transpired, were for Mme.
Picard and M. Thuillard. I could understand that Mme. Picard had need of
her two apartments, but the Mayor,—well, he wished to reopen his store.
And his wife, all smiles at their prospective installation, offered me
myself a guest room so that I could live in my village at last. But this
offer was tendered before the distribution of gifts.

It was Dave, or strictly speaking, the Red Cross, which made possible
an early allotment of blankets and sheets in Canizy. Though they had
been overturned in the mud, even Mme. la Maire did not complain of their
condition. “It matters nothing; they can be washed,” she said. On the
day we had chosen, word was passed to each family that a distribution
would be made at Mme. Lefèvre’s at four that afternoon. There was no
need of a _garde champêtre_ such as they had in Esmery-Hallon to cry
the news. The children flew with it; the mothers halted at the corners
to talk about it; and at four o’clock, when the jitney drove in with
its wonderful cargo, a line like a bread-line had formed in front of
the door. Mme. Lefèvre herself came out to help us; the older boys lent
a hand, and within five minutes, piles of single blankets and double
blankets, and single sheets and double sheets, were ready to be given
out. Then a window was opened and the names were called. “Mme. Carlier:
6 blankets; 3 single sheets; 3 double sheets.” “Mme. Lecart: 3 double
sheets, 2 blankets.” So ran the list. One after another the mothers
stepped forward, received their quota and went away. There were order,
good nature, and no unkind comment. Even afterwards, there seemed to be
little dissatisfaction. The distribution had been made, as every one
knew, on the basis of actual need, and the result was accepted as just.
If Mme. Lefèvre had only one blanket, that was because she had plenty
of linen sheets, much better than the cotton ones we gave, a woollen
blanket, and a warm red eiderdown quilt. Only the mayor’s wife and that
very human lady, Mme. Charles Thuillard, of whom I have before spoken,
raised protesting voices,—but such was their bent.

Our first distribution having gone so well, and we being still received
as friends, we proceeded to the second, which consisted of cast-iron
beds and stoves. The single beds we had been fortunate enough to buy
ourselves; but the double beds and the stoves came from M. le Sous-Préfet
and were signed for by the recipients as a part of their _indemnité de
guerre_. Heavy loads these articles made, and Dave and his truck were
requisitioned for the day. We first had to secure the double beds, which
were stored, together with other civilian supplies, at the Moroccan camp
at Nesle. To Nesle, then, we tore, coasting the long hills, and chugging
up the inclines as if the Germans themselves were in pursuit. Arrived
at the camp, we found that we had not made the proper entry, and must
reverse, disentangle ourselves from the railroad embankment, plough
through mud to the axles, and back up to the warehouse at the other end
of the yard. All this Dave did. Bedsteads, mattresses and bolsters were
then piled aboard. Dave and one of my comrades precariously balanced
on the front seat, and I high on the load, expecting a landslide every
minute, we steamed away for Canizy. A house to house visitation with a
truck down its narrow and uneven streets was also an adventure, and we
were thankful enough when the day ended with only minor injuries, and
every family that needed them supplied with beds. Stoves were simpler,
for the reason that they were smaller. Wardrobes, buffets, chairs and
tables would have followed, could we have secured them. But these, even
when I left, had not yet been crossed off the village lists.

Failing to obtain furniture, we distributed clothing, for by this time
the winter was well upon us. Individual families had been taken care
of before as the need arose. In order not to pauperize, or hurt the
genuine self-respect of the people, I tried a plan known by them as
“an arrangement,” whereby I took vegetables, or rags, in exchange. This
system of barter was also one of coöperation with our travelling store,
which supplied the wants of families able—and glad—to buy. The coming of
the store made a red-letter day, like a market-day, in the village. Even
the soldiers gathered around, commenting humorously on the bargains, and
urging the ladies to buy. They asked on their own part for mufflers or
sabots or cigarettes. Once a small tradesman, transformed by his uniform
in appearance but not in nature, wondered audibly how long we thought
we could remain in business and lose in each purchase from a third to a
half of its value. Our storekeeper laughed. “_Toujours_, M. Soldat,” she
answered, and forthwith beguiled a hesitant grandmother into buying an
entire bar of laundry soap at four francs instead of twelve.

But our “arrangements” did not lack humour or interest. There was Mme.
Laure, for example, who was purposely absent when we brought the new
clothing for her family, and undressed and bathed it and filled the
boiler in turn with what we had taken off; and Mme. Gense-Tabary who
conspired with her husband to get vegetables in Ham and resell to us at a
higher price in payment for her dozens of new garments, and Mme. Payell
who, hearing a rumour that We were about to outfit her babies, bought
extra buttons to have them ready to sew on. There was also conscientious
Mme. Regina, with her box of clean rags all ready for the new suit We
gave fifteen-year-old Raymond.

The purpose of the rag industry was twofold: to clear the cluttered
interiors, and with the rags themselves to make rag rugs. After Mlle.
Suzanne’s washing, the clean pieces went to a class of three young
girls, who met once a week, divided the stock, and sewed and braided the
strands. To them went also the snippings of the hundreds of garments we
cut and let out through the district to be sewed. A pretty picture my
girls made of a Tuesday afternoon around the big table in Mme. Noulin’s
store; Elmire fair and delicate as a lily, Albertine black-haired and
black-eyed, and quick, graceful, thirteen-year-old Cécile. Fingers and
tongues were busy. Mme. Noulin herself bustled in and out, and finally
served us with the inevitable coffee. This ceremony concluded the lesson.
But the yards of braiding grew week by week,—though not without some
small heart-burning and rivalry. “Cécile,” Elmire complained, “takes all
the longer pieces and gives me only the scraps. Perhaps Mademoiselle
would speak to her.” But it was the Government which unintentionally
interfered most with my rags. I had bespoken the mayor’s hut for our
headquarters as soon as he was ready to move out. Only a few feet from
the best well, where we planned to install our new pump and our Village
_chaudière_, it was to be a centre of neighbourhood industry. But the
mayor still waits on opportunity and the rags still wait in sacks.

As winter advanced, it became obvious, even at mass, that Canizy went
cold. The children’s noses and mittenless hands were red. True, there
was Mme. Gabrielle, who came in furs and smart black hats; and several
other ladies sufficiently warm if rather rusty and old-fashioned. But
one noted among the children an absolute lack of the capes which are
the characteristic dress of French school children. Throats wrapped in
mufflers, hands thrust into pockets or skirts,—this was their method
of keeping warm. The older boys especially looked pinched in trousers
which had become too short, and tightly buttoned, threadbare coats. One
day, when a biting wind and a powdery snow impressed their discomfort
upon me, I made a raid on our store-room, with the entire permission of
my colleague in charge. Woollen shirts, stockings, caps, overcoats and
suits, whatever article of warmth I could find, I gathered up. The roads
were too drifted for the truck, or for walking, but I had asked for the
horse and wagon. Carlos, our soldier, helped me pack my plunder, and
conveyed me on my way. But a difficult way it proved to be, and it was
not until nearly twilight that we drew up at Mme. Lefèvre’s door, too
late to distribute that night. I left the warm clothing in her care,
asking her at the same time to make me a list of those to whom she
thought it ought to go, and promising to return the following day. But
Mme. Lefèvre’s enthusiasm exceeded her instructions. When I came, she
met me with a triumphant smile. “I knew, Mademoiselle, that it would
please you were the clothes on the backs of the poor children. Voilà, I
have given the clothing according to the list.” A cramped and illiterate
list it was she handed me, devoid of capitals, but it accounted for
every article, even to a boy’s coat given to Lydie Cerf. “Lydie?” I
queried mentally, yet not for the world would I have questioned or
criticised good Mme. Lefèvre. Lydie herself I did question. “But, yes,
Mademoiselle,” she replied, “I am keeping the coat for Papa. He is with
the Boches. It will be ready for him when he returns.”

When they return! It was a phrase on every lip. “If the children were
here, it would be different.” “No, I do not wish to touch my indemnity.
I and my wife, we are saving it for the boys when they come home.”
“Mademoiselle, I need another bed.” “But you have two.” “Yes, but there
is my mother, who may return any day.” So ran the undercurrent of longing
in every family, mutilated as were the apple trees girdled in the
orchards, uprooted, like them, and left for dead.

For my next distribution, which was to be a more important one, I went
to Mme. Gabrielle. “Madame,” said I, “it is true, is it not, that the
parents of most of the children have enough money to buy capes?” “Yes,”
she admitted. “But it is not true that they will not do so?” “Yes; there
are so many things to buy when one has lost so much. We fear to spend
the money.” “Very well. Will you make me out a list for all the world?”
The list was made; a list so orderly that it could be used as a shopping
guide. Coats for the women and capes for the children were bought,
including a coat for Lydie Cerf. They were brought down by our own truck,
which had made a special trip to Amiens in the bitterest weather, and
deposited with Mme. Gabrielle. “Madame,” I said again as we brought the
heaped armfuls in, “will you not make this distribution yourself?” “But
it is very difficult,” she remonstrated, “and all the world will say
that I am partial.” “I will tell all the world that the distribution is
mine,” I urged. “You can see yourself that we are very busy,—and you know
the size for each child.” Reluctant though she was, Mme. Gabrielle’s
kind heart could not refuse. On a Sunday not long after, a strange yet
strangely familiar audience sat in the little church, the women in coats
all of one pattern, “but of different colours, the children in smart
blue hooded capes. No one looked self-conscious, or thanked us. The
distribution, like the snow, had fallen on the just and on the unjust; it
was a providence for which one thanked God.



CHAPTER IX

EN PERMISSION


At noon time, on dispensary days, I sometimes lunched with the doctors in
Mme. Lefèvre’s kitchen. It was a heterogeneous spot, with two beds (one
being stored for a niece), two cats, and a few neighbours always sitting
near the fire. Usually the neighbours were waiting for _la factrice_. A
tap at the window, and Madame ran to open it, and received a handful of
letters which the postmistress brought each day by bicycle from Nesle.
Were it cold, she herself, a capable, pleasant-faced woman, came in
to join the group for a moment, threw back her long cape, and warmed
her numb hands. Meantime spectacles were brought out and the envelopes
scanned. It was not alone of the return of the refugees that the village
lived in hope. They might come unannounced, but the soldiers, _en
permission_,—that was different. Any day Albert or Henri might write that
he was coming home!

[Illustration: _C’est un coup de fourreau de sabre._

[A cut of a sword-scabbard.]]

And when they came! It was in Mme. Lefèvre’s kitchen again that I had
the pleasure of seeing the greeting given to a soldier in faded blue. A
bronzed and bearded man he was, the father of a family. But the family
alas! the wife and the children, were _avec les Boches_. M. Huillard
seemed to have returned therefore, unheralded. As he opened the door, the
neighbours rose with exclamations; the men grasping his hands, the women
presenting one cheek and then the other for a kiss. Questions followed:
Where had he been stationed? At Verdun, and, more lately, at St. Quentin.
“At St. Quentin? Have you seen Narcisse, then?” Mme. Carpentier inquired
eagerly. “Yes, your husband was well. I have a letter.” And M. Huillard
fumbled in his pockets and brought out a thumbed envelope with the
cramped address: Mme. Regina Carpentier, Canizy, Somme.

An account of the recent bombardment is curtailed by M. Huillard’s own
desire for information. This is his first visit to the village since his
leave-taking during the tragic mobilisation of 1914. He has known, of
course, of the German occupation; he has heard the terrible news of the
deportation of wife and children. He has seen other devastated villages.
But to-day, for the first time, he looks upon the ruins of his own home.
I saw him standing alone that afternoon before the sagging door, which
bore the staring military number 25, and beside it, chalked inscriptions
in German and in English jostling each other: _Gott mit uns._ _Hot ᛭
buns._ Within, thistles grew about the hearth. M. Huillard uttered no
sound, and shed no tears, but his face, as he turned away, was set in a
white hatred, and his right hand rose to heaven in an unspoken vow.

No soldier on his ten days’ leave remained idle. Mme. Cordier’s handsome
son, looking even more handsome in the uniform of an Alpine _chasseur_,
was no exception. In fact, when I first saw him, the uniform, including
his decoration, was covered by a mason’s white blouse. Up on a ladder, he
was white-washing the walls of the stable in which his family then lived.
A huge brick manger in a dark corner was startingly brought out by his
brush. It served as a kitchen table, and was laughingly referred to as
one of the conveniences of the _ménage_. In another home, I found one day
a soldier-brother knocking up a cupboard out of rough planks. Cheerful
was the sound of his vigorous hammer strokes, and cheerful the sight of
a young and merry face among the ruins. It mattered not whether he had a
bed to sleep in—one of the most difficult requests we had to refuse was
that of a bed to a soldier—the younger _poilu en permission_ was always
gay. If his mother worked, he helped her; and day after day through the
Christmas holidays one of these boys walked to the Château each morning
to help Mme. Topin chop our wood. I happened in upon her on the eve of
his departure. Her tiny cabin was full of an odour most appetising after
my long day’s walk. Over a glowing fire, she was turning waffles, “to put
in his knapsack,” she explained. But he had one the less for my having
called; and over it his mother sprinkled half of the last teacupful of
sugar she possessed.

Mme. Topin had another son also serving with the colours, who came home
quite often to see his wife, because he was making a slow recovery from
gas-injured lungs. She, during his absence, taught in the village school,
while her old mother kept house and took care of three-year-old Guy. M.
Topin it was who showed me around his ruined yard one day, pointing out
the place of the five-room cottage, and telling me the colours of the
roses whose blackened stalks still remained against the walls. “This was
white and very fragrant; that yellow. I planted it on Guy’s birthday.
Here we had a bed of mignonette. Take care, Guy—pardon, Mademoiselle.”
And he stooped to wrench away from the child’s fingers a long cartridge
picked up in the débris. “A German bullet,” he explained, handing it to
me. “There are hundreds of them about.”

As I have said, the soldier _en permission_ expected to work. Yet I know
of one who was assigned to more of a-task than he relished. Him, hapless
being, I first encountered down by the old Château at Canizy, hunting
rabbits for a stew. But as I remembered the dimensions of his mother’s
_baraque_, it seemed to me that self-interest might prompt him to leave
his hunting to assist me for a time. Besides his grandmother, his mother,
a brother and a sister, there was an aunt who had arrived to lodge with
the family,—a _réfugiée_ from near Péronne. Utterly destitute and unhappy
was the aunt. The fact that her husband and her daughter were still in
the slavery from which she had escaped, would be enough to sadden any
one, but she whispered to me that her sister did not make her welcome.
At the time, we were much in need of a domestic at our camp. “Would you
like to come and work for us, perhaps,” I suggested. “We have no lodging,
but I will find you a shelter in Hombleux from which you can walk over
with Madame our cook.” Rash promise, to which I added a complete outfit
of furniture and two francs a day. The offer was accepted.

From pillar to post, I then went to Hombleux. A regiment _en repos_ had
been quartered there since I had made arrangements with the baker’s wife
for a room in her tidy loft. Regiments succeeded one another rapidly,
and during their sojourns there was literally no lodging to be had. I
was finally directed to a corner in the outbuilding of a former convent
school which was considered habitable. My soldier I pressed into service
to assist its quondam tenant, who had moved out because it was so cold,
in removing the vegetables, wood and furniture she still had stored
there. He looked on while a resourceful young girl pasted oiled paper on
the iron window frame; he went to the woods and chopped and hauled a tree
for fuel; he brought over at the same time a plank with which to mend the
door. This took a day, which I, meantime, spent in Ham. There I bought
a bed, mattress and bedding, a stove, a pipe, an elbow for the same, a
chair, a table, a metal wash basin and a pitcher, a saucepan, a little
set of dishes, a lamp, a brush and a broom. It is surprising how many
things are necessary for even a primitive existence. Two days more were
consumed in setting these few articles in place, and all the neighbours
helped.

The snow had come, meantime, and the soldier returned to rabbit hunting.
As he remarked on pointing out the little roads beaten by them through
the weeds, “They look much better _en casserole_.” It remained for our
own soldier at the château to bring our domestic to her new home. One
frosty morning, Tambour and the cart awaited me after breakfast, and I
set forth. Old Tambour appeared none too steady on the trot to which I
urged him. “_Ça glisse_,” explained Carlos, and we relapsed into a walk.
In fact, all the way to Canizy we walked, the shrewd wind biting nose
and ears and coursing under the blankets on the high seat. Carlos got
out, winding the lines about the whipstock. The horse floundered through
drifts, and he, adjusting his cap to the veering gusts, trudged at his
head. At length, we debouched upon the direct road to the village. But,
barring our way was a machine-gun squad. Already the red signals had been
posted and the route was _défendu_. Even as we halted, came volleys like
staccato hail. On other occasions, with honking horn, we have run this
gauntlet, the sentries halting the fire for us to pass. But to-day, I
judged it safer to turn down into a hollow, and skirt the action. Thus
delayed, it was near noon when we turned into the gate of the Château at
Canizy.

We were expected, however; coffee was hot upon the stove, and the soldier
_en permission_ served it, stirring the cups in rotation with the one
family spoon. Madame, our new domestic, was ready also, with quite a
store of bedding and clothing done up in a sack. Two kisses apiece,
a last admonition, a promise to come to see her on Sunday, and she
climbed up over the wheel. To her, I imagine, the journey to Hombleux
seemed, like a voyage to a foreign country. Nor was she welcomed, as I
afterwards learned, by her new neighbours in the commune. It seems, one
should have gone to the mayor first for permission to install her; and
certainly one should have paid more money to that inconvenienced lady,
the former tenant. As Madame said, “She talks most unkindly.” To add to
the newcomer’s hardships, the winter wind ripped the oiled linen from the
window, and her nephew, the soldier, never returned to mend the door.
“_Bien mal logée_,” having to walk a mile and a half through the snow at
dawn and after dark, it is not to be wondered at that she made a final
choice of her sister’s sharp tongue and warm fire, and left our employ.

[Illustration: —_Si j’étais grand...._

[If I were grown up!]]

Akin to the soldier _en permission_ is the soldier _en repos_. Of the
latter class was our Carlos, who was given us by M. le Sous-Préfet,
together with a horse and two carts. He was to report during his stay
to no one but Mlle. la Directrice, nor would the authorities take any
direct cognisance of him save in case of her complaint. A southerner was
Carlos, a dapper man from the Basque provinces. There he had a wife and
two children whom he had not seen for three years. But he expected a
_permission_ shortly, he said; and that may have reconciled him to the
uncongenial hewing of wood and drawing of water to which he was detailed.
Day long he drove, or chopped trees, or cleaned the stable, as advised.
His only diversion appeared to be our milk maid,—a harmless enough one,
I presume; for she told us proudly and often how she received a letter
from her soldier-husband every day. Nevertheless, there was visible
sadness when one morning Carlos announced that he had been transferred.
And was he then going home? No, his _permission_ had been taken away; he
was returning to the front. He and Tambour were to join the artillery.
Poor old Tambour, faithful, plodding; one knew not for which to feel more
compassion, the horse or the master, as one pictured them dragging into
position the grey seventy-fives! “Good-bye, then,” I said, “I am sorry.”
“O, what would you,” he replied. “So it goes. But you, you are leaving
also. Some one has told me, for America—_La bonne chance, Mademoiselle_.”

Unlike Carlos only in that they came by regiments, were the shifting
troops taken at intervals from the trenches for a brief rest in our more
habitable villages. One saw them, a weary line of blue, marching down
the roads, flanked by stretcher bearers, and followed by a provision
train. Once settled, they stood about the corners of the streets or in
the gaping doorways; a disconsolate enough addition to the ruins. Or at
the camp kitchens, drawn up to one side, they grouped themselves around
huge cauldrons of soup. Sometimes a more ambitious company set to work
to clean up the village and built an outdoor bathing tank which was much
in use. On one occasion, a dashing troop of blue devils gave military
concerts each evening. An incongruous sight was the band, drawn sprucely
up in a desolate courtyard, and a strangely stirring sound, the music
floating through the empty streets, of _Ce que c’est qu’ un drapeau_.
Often soldiers and even officers came over to see us at the Château and
to ask for cigarettes or shoes. If one had time to listen, they talked
for hours on the war. They were never boastful, these soldiers; they
had a just estimate of the German strength of organisation; they had no
illusions as to their own personal fate. Each one expected to die at
his post. Patient, sturdy, intelligent, they gave one confidence that,
however heavy the dawn bombardments, our lines would hold. And if our
lines, then all the lines manned by them with such spiritual as well as
physical courage. The morale of the _poilu_, unflinching, will yet win
the war.



CHAPTER X

A LA FERME DU CALVAIRE


Midway between Hombleux and Canizy, at the crossing of the highway, stood
on one side a Calvary, and on the other a demolished farm house. The
lane here emerged from a hollow, so that both objects rose distinctly
against the sky. About the Calvary, the poplars were shattered by
shell-fire; back of the farm sloped an orchard, whose every tree had
been lopped. Across the road and into the fields ran a zig-zag trench,
where could be found even yet blue coats and rusted helmets; the line of
defence evidently for the highway, against the German advance. A square
declivity, formerly a clay pit, perhaps an hectare in area, bordered road
and trench. Its banks were green with grass, and in the bottom land was
a little orchard. At one side, half-hidden, was a hut.

A solitary farm is rare in these rural communities, where the houses as
a rule cluster in villages. I was undecided at first as to whether the
Farm of the Calvary belonged to Hombleux or Canizy. But in the yard were
two obvious reasons for calling and inquiring. Higher than the hut rose
a heaped hay stack; at its base the apples from the orchard had been
gathered in a mound of red and white. I ran down the path, too steep for
walking, and knocked at the door. It was opened by a gaunt, dark man
of perhaps forty-five. At a table sat his wife paring apples; and in a
corner, quite unabashed, his daughter, pretty Colombe, finished lacing
her bodice before she stepped forward to greet me. So small a room, in
any of our villages, I had never been in. A double bed took up all the
space except for a border of about two feet. The roof was so low that the
man seemed to have acquired a perpetual stoop.

“_Entrez! entrez!_” was the hospitable entreaty; but not seeing how this
might be possible, I remained on the threshold.

“I come from the Château,” I began.

“But yes, you are one of the _Dames Américaines_, eh! We have often seen
you cross the fields. Colombe, here, goes to the sewing class with you.”
Colombe smiled a recognition.

“I should have called before, perhaps; but I was not aware that a family
lived in so small a place, until I saw the smoke from the chimney to-day.”

“Yes, it is small,” admitted the wife.

“A Boche hut, eh!” agreed her husband. “Yonder, across the road is my
farm. Not one stone left; all destroyed. I have asked for a _baraque_.”

I measured the interior with my eyes. “You would not have room for
another bed——”

“If it folded, yes, and we would thank you. Colombe, she sleeps now on
the ground.”

[Illustration: —_C’était là, notre maison._

[Our house used to be there!]]

The bed being promised, I inquired as to fodder. Could I see if it were
suitable to feed our cows? Assuredly; and the brown sides of the stack
were rudely pulled apart that I might see and smell the sweet hay within.
How much would it weigh and how much would it cost? A bargain was finally
concluded for eight hundred francs.

This was the first of many visits to the hut beside the road. Going or
coming, sharp eyes spied me, and friendly voices called me in. Once it
was for a bumper of sparkling cider.

“I make it myself, from the apples. But I have to take them to Mme.
Marié’s in Hombleux because my press the Germans broke. Ah, the Germans!”
he continued. “It is only a month and a half since I returned, eh!”

“Were you then taken to Germany?”

“To Belgium; and I worked, always. And hungry, always hungry; one has
nothing, eh! to eat.”

On another occasion I was offered apples; not the small, sour ones from
which cider was made, but luscious golden globes that adorned the narrow
beams of the hut like a frieze.

“See,” said Monsieur. “I will put them in this sack, so that you can
carry them the more easily.”

But I, thinking of the long miles yet ahead of me, ventured to suggest
that I call on my return.

“Very well, only, look you, I shall not be here. But wait, I will hide
them. Behold, in the _chaudière_,” and suiting the action to the word he
lifted the cover of the cauldron and placed them within. “No one will
think to look for them there. Au revoir, until you return.”

But a rain set in that afternoon; a slant mist which made Corot-like
effects of brown autumn copses and shut one in from the sometimes too
lonely sweep of the plain. At the same time, it beat persistently on my
face, and made heavier at every step my woollen uniform. I did not stop
therefore for my apples, and wondered for a few days what had been their
fate. But not for long.

One morning at breakfast I was told that I had a caller. Now callers
about this time of a morning had become frequent, ever since Monsieur
le Maire of the commune told his villagers that they must apply to us
rather than to him for beds and stoves and cupboards. I visualised the
waiting crones of Hombleux whom in America we should have thrust into an
Old Ladies’ Home. Not so the French Government, which respected their
sentiment and built for each on her own plot her own _baraque_. Knowing
well that we had no cupboards, and no prospect of getting any, I rose
with a sigh. But my face brightened at the sight of M. Guilleux.

Over his back hung a sack, nor was it empty.

“You did not come for your apples,” he began. “I hope that you wish them,
however.” He unslung the sack, opened it, and disclosed the golden fruit.

I thanked him. “But the sack, you wish it back?”

“Yes, for look you; it is a little souvenir.” And at that he showed
me certain crosses and darts and letterings in German script which
indicated by number and description the prisoner, Guillaume Guilleux of
the commune of Hombleux and the farm _du Calvaire_. “I took this with me,
eh! I would not part with it.”

“Not to me, Monsieur? To me also it would be a souvenir, to take to
America.”

“O no, Mademoiselle, never,” and his hands clutched it involuntarily.
“The souvenir and the memory, they are mine. Both my grandchildren shall
remember also in the years to come.”

But the sack was not the only souvenir contained in the little hut. I
spied one day three tiny teacups depending from nails upon the wall. They
were even smaller than coffee cups, and delicately flowered.

“Oh, how pretty,” I exclaimed. “May I look?”

Mme. Guilleux took them down with fumbling fingers and a suddenly altered
face. For the first time, I noticed the sharp indrawn wrinkles about
mouth and eyes which tell of suffering.

“They belonged to Solange, Colombe’s sister,” and not able to continue,
she hid her face in her apron. “They were her tea-set,” she went on in
broken sentences. “Her father and I bought them for her on her thirteenth
birthday, and she always kept them. _Mon Dieu_, how lovely she was!
Curls, and long lashes, and skin like apple blossoms, and eyes blue like
those flowers! She was my oldest, and good as she was pretty. But on the
night when the Germans came, they tore her from my arms. Why do I live?”
she broke into sobs. “Solange, Solange!”

She wiped her eyes at length, and regarded the little cups. “When we
returned, I searched the ruins. I was fortunate, for I found these. They
were all that I did find. Everything else had been destroyed. Nor did I
save anything, for look you, after the soldiers seized Solange, I ran
hither and thither distracted, and knew not what to save.”

She rose, took the cups from my hands, and rehung them on the wall.

How do they live, I wondered, as I passed out and over the fields? How
do these mothers keep their reason, who have seen their daughters taken
into a captivity upon which shuts down a silence deep as death? One
understands the comment of Mme. Charles Thuillard, who in spite of her
sharp tongue has a most human heart. She was showing me the picture of
her daughter one day; an enlargement such as all the world makes of its
dead. “Thank God,” she said, “she was happy; she died before the war.”



CHAPTER XI

LES PETITS SOLDATS


    Ou t’en vas-tu, soldat de France,
    Tout equipé, prêt au combat,
    Ou t’en vas-tu, petit soldat?
    _C’est comme il plaît à la Patrie,_
    _Je n’ai qu’ à suivre les tambours._
    _Gloire au drapeau,_
    _Gloire au drapeau._
    _J’aimerais bien revoir la France,_
    _Mais bravement mourir est beau._

So, in chorus, sang the children of my village, day after day, as they
marched and circled about us up and down the streets. A catching tune; a
laughing eye; did they realise that only twelve miles away on the firing
line their soldiers were dying for the glory of the flag? No, it was not
possible for them, fugitives though they themselves had been, to live the
horrors of war. As Mme. Gabrielle said: “The children laugh; they do not
know that our world is destroyed, and it is well.”

Yet it would be hard to find a more manly group of boys in any land than
those of Canizy. They were soldiers, even in their dress; blue caps,
and blue or khaki blouses and trousers which their mothers had cut and
made from the cast-off coats of passing troops, English or French as
the case might be. Stockings also were of a military colour; for as
Mme. Marie Gense explained: “One can find stockings in the trenches
sometimes,—dirty, of course, and ragged; but they can be washed and
raveled, and the yarn is excellent.” So it came about that little Robert
had one pair of stockings with blue tops and khaki feet, because, you
understand, there was not enough wool of one colour to complete them.
Above his wooden sabots, the straight splicing was plainly visible, if he
were ever _en repos_. But my memory of Robert is of tireless feet that
twinkled almost as merrily as his eyes. It was no hardship for him to
walk the eight miles back and forth to the Château of a morning for his
quart can of milk. Mud, rain, snow, it was all one to him. By the hand,
he often brought a younger cousin, Albert, aged six. Chubby-faced and
sturdy of leg was Albert, clad in a diminutive khaki suit, and a brown
visored cap which failed to blight his red cheeks. Robert, being brave
and unconscious, whistled the merry call he had been taught, “Bob White,
Bob White!” and smiled at all the world. But Albert, being shy, buried
his small nose between cap and muffler, hung his head, and if pressed too
far by unsought civilities, presented his back.

It would be small wonder if all the children of Canizy had been shy. With
their elders they were virtual prisoners during the German occupation.
They had no incentive to gather in groups, no church and no school.
Rather, they were taught to slip in and out in silence lest they attract
sinister attention. One of our little soldiers to the end of his life
will carry a mark of German brutality in a hand maimed by a too well
aimed grenade. Even since the Retreat, their life has consisted of
skulking more or less among the ruins. Raiding aeroplanes, by night or
day, drop bombs in their vicinity; for Canizy lies near to Ham, the
munition centre of the St. Quentin front. They hear the bombardments;
and the rumours fly that the Boches are advancing. Will the lines hold?
Their mothers keep eyes and ears open to the eastward. One refuses to buy
a stove, because she thinks it is too risky an investment; her husband
is sure the Germans will return, and a stove, it cannot be carried away.
“What will you do then, if the Germans come?” I ask. “_Fly_,” is the
universal reply. “_We know the Boches; better to die than remain._”

[Illustration: —_Et les momes Boches ils embrassent leur père?_ ...

[And do the little Boche children hug their father?]]

Even in the fields, a child cannot play. One day I was taken by a
bevy of laughing little girls to see an _obus_ which had fallen in
the graveyard near the entrance to the church. It had lain there some
months unexploded, hidden by grass and weeds. But the preparations for
All Saints’ Day, as punctiliously made last autumn as in times of
peace, revealed it. The girls danced about it like sprites, touching it
spitefully with their toes. “Take care,” I cried. “Come away.” Merry
laughter greeted my alarm. “There are many of them,” said dare-devil
Thérèse; “they do no harm.” Nevertheless, knowing that a farmer had been
killed while ploughing, not far away, by just such a shell, I sent word
to the military authorities who removed this particular _obus_, before
the next Sunday’s mass. The Government recognises the danger, and prints
large placards of warning, which are hung up in the schoolrooms.

The schools themselves are depressing enough, for against no class of
buildings did the Germans vent more hatred. Throughout the devastated
area, they were completely destroyed. _Ecole des Filles_, or _Ecole des
Garçons_ may still be seen in white capitals adorning a gaping arch or a
jagged wall. But the schools, such as they are, are held in half-ruined
dwellings, or in _baraques_. One such dilapidated interior bore, beside
the warning against spent shells, the following “Fable for the day,”
written in the teacher’s slant hand upon the blackboard: “At our last
breath, we shall have nothing. Since we have neither father nor mother,
we are now orphans. Nevertheless, we must do right. We must do right
because it is right.”

In Canizy, as I have said, there was no school. The walls even of the
former school building were razed to the ground. But the children were
supposed to attend the school of another commune, that of Offoy, a mile
and a half distant along the canal. This seemingly simple provision for
education was made impossible by the fact that regiments continuously
_en repos_ at Offoy used the sandy buttes formed by the Somme at this
point for _mitrailleuse_ practice. One saw them every afternoon at half
past two, bringing out their gruesome targets, in the shape of a human
head and shoulders, and sentineling the crossroads with notices and red
flags. Then woe to the urchin lingering perhaps in Offoy on some belated
errand. Like the rabbits he must stay under cover until the fusillades
should cease. Yet the children of the village were not wholly neglected.
It was their former teacher, now resident in Hombleux, who taught them
the stirring _Petit Soldat_. And from Offoy came M. l’Aumônier, of whom
you shall hear later, to teach them the catechism and to receive them
into the church. “They are very _gentils_, the children of Canizy,”
he assured me one day. “They are not like the children of the other
villages. They have brave parents; they are well brought up.”

Well brought up, yes, in all the usages of docility and endurance.
Shifting of troops, obedience to military masters, slavery and pillage,
such are the facts which these children have learned for three years. But
grafted as the lesson has been upon a spirit gentle by nature, the result
is terrible in its sombreness. Robert Gense, uncannily helpful; Raymond
Carpentier, threadbare and bowed at fourteen,—a look like that of a
faithful, whipped dog in his eyes,—Elmire Carlier, whose lovely mouth is
carved in patience, the Tabarys, ragged and elfin—these are the children
of Picardy. But where is the spontaneity of childhood? Where may one find
it in the track of war?

[Illustration: _Garde à vous!_

—_Compagnie!... halte!_

[Company ... halt!]]

On our own playground, perhaps, sometimes. Yet the children had to
be encouraged to play. They might remember the words of the _rondes_
which have lately become familiar to American children also through the
illustrations of Boutet de Monville, but they no longer curtseyed as
the beautiful gentlemen and the beautiful ladies should _sur le pont
d’Avignon_. They no longer had books to read. A prayer book, a hymnal,
sometimes the family records; these were all the literature saved in
their mothers’ sacks of flight. But the play teacher draws our waifs of
the war as if with a magic flute; even M. Lanne’s cows come trooping
with the children, because the boy who herds them cannot come without.
The babies come, with older sister nurses; and on the outskirts may be
seen bent grandfather or grandmother, forgetting sorrow for the moment,
in watching the romping groups. And even after the store automobile,
stripped of its merchandise, honks persistently its desire to be off,
the joy of that brief hour is perpetuated in the books that the teacher
leaves behind. Who so proud then as the boy or girl singled out to be the
owner of a book for a whole week? _Contes des Fées_, _petites histoires_,
the _rondes_ themselves; they are treasures comparable to fairy gold.
Yet reading never seems to interfere with duty; Raymond, or Désiré, or
Adrien, you are likely to meet them as usual _en route_ to Voyennes for
apples, or returning from Ham with loaves of bread hanging, like life
preservers, about their necks; they pasture the few cows; they feed the
rabbits; they bring wood and dig coal,—they are the men of Canizy.

Such grow to be the soldiers of whom France is proud; those older
children, the _poilus_, whom all the world has come to know. Long ago
Julius Cæsar knew them also, and Hirtius Pansa wrote of them: “They make
war with honour, without deceit and without artifice.” Brought up to
adore _la Patrie_, singing of death, as of glory, the little soldier of
France marches to-day as did the child in the Children’s Crusade. Across
three thousand miles I hear his refrain:

    _Point de chagrin,_
    _Point de chagrin,_
    _Il a sa gourde, il a sa pipe,_
    _C’est un gaillard toujours en train._



CHAPTER XII

M. L’AUMÔNIER


In Canizy, one found always something new. It might be an _obus_, or
a soldier _en permission_, or a family _réfugiée_, or a _baraque_. I
learned to expect the unexpected. Having carefully negotiated with M.
Lanne for certain timbers and chicken wiring which formed the basis for
a roof of which I had need, I was prepared to see that they had vanished
overnight, and to express neither surprise nor indignation when I was
told that they were transformed into the foundation for Mme. Picard’s
_baraques_. Having left glass, diamond cutter, putty, brads, and a list
of those who needed the panes, I was not discouraged when week after week
went by without M. Augustin’s cutting them. The fact that M. Noulin had
brought the materials over in his cart, and held them on his premises,
was doubtless reason enough why M. Augustin stayed his hand. At all
events, it seemed wiser to leave the solution of this problem to the
village; and the last I knew, it hinged on the return of a soldier _en
permission_, a glazier by trade. He, all the world assured me, would
actually out the glass!

The Noulins themselves were among my earliest surprises. How they came
I know not, but one day I found the trio, father, mother and daughter,
tidying up the premises they had rented from M. Huillard. The outermost
room, from the walls of which still depended half-charred pictures, gaped
to the sky. But this was used as a store-room for neatly stacked wood
and fodder; within, the main room served as both kitchen and _épicerie_;
off it opened two bedrooms, and in the rear was a yard. The rooms were
completely furnished and the yard stocked with hens and about thirty
rabbits. In the stable stood a pony and a high-wheeled cart. All these
goods had M. Noulin bought and brought back from Compiègne, whither he
had fled at the outbreak of the war.

It was in the _épicerie_, which we provisioned, that I came to look for
most of the news of Canizy. Here, about the table, might sit drinking the
Moroccans who were repairing the canal. Here Mme. Moulin thrust into my
hand an account of our own Unit in her fashion journal of the month; an
account glowing with undeserved praise of America and concluding with the
words: “Heureux pays, où sur les mairies des villages on pourrait écrire:
‘Aide-toi, l’Amérique t’aidera.’ Plus heureuses Américaines, qui peuvent
et qui savent donner!”

Here she showed me a postal marked _Deutschland_, and bearing on its back
the picture of a jovial-looking man in civilian dress. “It is my son,”
explained Mme. Noulin. “He is a _prisonnier militaire_, and sends me this
to show me how well he is. He writes, too, that he has plenty to eat, of
sugar, of chocolate, and is always warm,—there is so much of coal! Think
you it is true?”

On the table was lying a package, done up with many directions, all
pointing to Germany. “What is this?” I asked. “That is for him; but the
_factrice_ could not take it to-day; such are her orders. No packages
will be transported by Germany this week, or next, or who knows for how
long? It is on account of a troop movement, she says.”

“But why then do you send, if he has no need?”

“There, what did I tell you?” broke in her husband. “Oh, these women;
they have no minds! It is the enemy who sends the letters, that we may
feel more bitterly the cold, the hunger, the misery, that we endure!”

It was at Mme. Noulin’s, in fine, that I first met M. l’Aumônier.

A snowy, windy morning it was, and the glare and the smart in my eyes
blinded me so that I did not at first note anything unusual about the
blue-clad soldier sitting by the fire. Declining Madame’s invitation
to share the open bottle of wine on the table, I was proceeding with my
errand when she’ interrupted, “Mademoiselle, I want you to know that this
is M. l’Aumônier from Offoy, who takes an interest, like you, in Canizy.”

The chaplain arose at the informal introduction. A deprecatory smile
became well his sensitive yet Roman features, and a quick flush
heightened his colour. “But no,” he said, his enunciation betraying him a
gentleman in spite of the plain uniform, “it is I who have been hearing
of your goodness and that of your co-benefactresses, Mademoiselle.”

“Mademoiselle,” protested Mme. Noulin, “you should know that Monsieur
walks from Offoy every morning before eight o’clock to conduct a class in
the catechism in the church.”

“That matters nothing; it is my pleasure, I would say, duty. But you—you
who have come from America to help my poor France, you who walk so much
farther. I, I have legs trained for walking by long marches, by a
soldier’s life——”

But I knew something of the duties of a military chaplain. Had I not seen
the bare, dark infirmary where he comforted his invalided companions? Had
I not visited the _baraque_ called the Soldiers’ Library which was more
or less in his charge; that cheerless hut with the books locked out of
sight in one corner, and the directions for rifle practice confronting
one on the wall? Could not one divine the battle charges when M.
l’Aumônier went forward in the ranks with his comrades, or stopped only
to give them the sacrament as they fell? Did I not know the calls made
upon him by the civilians also, now that he was _en repos_? A soldier’s
life, indeed, has inured the military chaplains of the French army to
hardships by contrast greater perhaps than any endured by the other
soldiers of France.

[Illustration: _Sans l’officier, les soldats nous auraient peut-être rien
fait?_

[If it hadn’t been for the officer, I don’t think the soldiers would have
done anything to us.]]

I strove to stop him, to express to him something of my deep appreciation
of this added burden he had taken on his shoulders in the spiritual care
of the children of Canizy.

But he waved away all implied sacrifice. “It is a pleasure,” he repeated,
“and the children are so good.”

Thereafter, M. l’Aumônier became my most disinterested ally in our
village. Did a mass seem desirable, the time was set late enough for me
to reach it from the Château. What mattered it that thereby Monsieur did
not breakfast till noon? When Mme. Gabrielle was still undecided over
her distribution, he consented to lend his presence to the function, and
thereby insured its success. He even undertook the responsibility of such
a mundane matter as the cutting of the glass. Day after day, I met him
in one family circle or another, making pastoral calls. Very different
were those happy weeks to the villagers from the months preceding, when
spiritual consolation came only with death. He seemed to find entrance
into the hearts of the people, and they responded to his care as flowers
to the sun.

Wherever M. l’Aumônier went, went also a clean, blond soldier boy of
twenty, who was studying to be a priest like his friend. He spoke
English, which he had learned as a shipping clerk in an exporting house
at Havre. “Our Colonel,” he explained, “is very much interested in the
civilians, particularly in the children. He even sent one of his captains
to Paris to buy warm clothing for every one of them in Offoy. He is a
very rich man and very kind. He has detailed me to help M. l’Aumônier all
that I can.”

We were walking along the canal as we spoke, and the wind blew straight
from the north. M. l’Aumônier said something in a low voice, and the boy
whipped off his scarf. “Yes, _please_, you are cold; you must take it,”
and perforce the scarf was wound about my neck.

“How long are you to be here?” I asked, dreading to see this regiment
pass back to the front.

“Me, I do not know. I have been wounded, you know; twice with the
bayonet, and ten days ago I was gassed. The lungs pain me yet,—I cannot
do much work.”

“You,” broke in his superior, “you, Mademoiselle, will go before we
do—for you have told me that you leave soon for America. At least, you
will have seen something, and can tell them there of the misery which
France suffers.”

“But one sees so little,—the trenches, the battles, the hardships of the
soldiers, I know nothing of these.”

“The trenches? There is little to see; is it not so, comrade? But this,”
he swept his arm to indicate the circle of destruction all about us,
“this you know. Tell them of the agony and of the fortitude of Picardy.”

We had come to the parting of our ways. Turning west, I was confronted
by a winter sunset; bare branches, crimson streamers, cold lakes of
turquoise; and bleak against this background, the ruins of Canizy. M.
l’Aumônier was right; of this one who has seen it cannot help to speak;
of the terrible devastation, of the silent courage of those who live in
it and fight, unheralded, their fight for France.



CHAPTER XIII

HEUREUX NOËL


Christmas weather, sunlight, moonlight and snow; our grove a white
stencil; our _baraques_ with their red shutters by day and their lighted
windows by night, like painted Christmas cards; our defaced and ruined
villages new-clothed with beauty,—such was our Christmas week. But
the snow, so beautiful to the eye, accentuated the bitter cold of our
ill-lodged and under-nourished neighbours, and the moon pointed out to
hostile aeroplanes desired points of attack. It was on account of the
dangerous moonlight that the Bishop of Amiens forbade midnight masses in
the churches. We, and our villagers, were the more disappointed because
even during the German occupation these masses had been sung. We heard
of loaded Christmas trees, and of parties where cakes and chocolate
were served by German officers. “Not for all the world, you understand,”
Colombe, our informant, explained, “just for themselves.” Yet all the
world had had some share in the German Christmas, and we felt eager to
make up a little for the added hardships caused since that time by German
cruelty, for all the ruined homesteads which are but the outward sign of
families scattered, missing and dead.

Yet at first, so prevalent was the feeling of sadness, we thought it
might not be desirable to have a fête. Did the villagers want one? Had
the Christmas tree too many German associations? We made inquiry of M.
le Sous-Préfet, and of the Commandant of the Third Army. From the latter
came the following reply:

                                                 27.11.17. Guiscard

    Dear Miss ——,

    I am glad to tell you that you got a stupid gossiping about the
    Christmas tree.

    There is nothing at all in this country against the charming
    practice to delight the children with a spruce of which some
    toys are hanging all round among as many candles as possible.

    Therefore you are free to be nice for the poor people once more
    and God bless you for your splendid charity.

    With my kindest regards for you, for your chief, and your
    sisters,

                        Yours respectfully,

                                                                ——

So it came about that in each of the villages there was a spruce, with
toys and candles and goodies, and carols and Christmas cheer. In Canizy,
thanks to good fortune and to M. l’Aumônier, the fête was especially
pretty. I had not yet met the chaplain or planned my Christmas, when, on
a late December afternoon, I happened to pass the little chapel, on my
way to Visit a group of families lodged within the grounds of the old
Château. Several times before I had been inside, once for a mass on All
Saints’ Day, and more than once to look at the faded painting behind the
altar, and at the quaintly quilted banners of the saints along the wall.
These, strange to say, had been left in place by the German invaders;
save for a soiled altar cloth and two or three broken windows, the
church, indeed, appeared as if it might still be in constant use.

[Illustration: —_Il n’est pas venu?... Il est mobilisé!_

— ... _Et il a pas eu de permission._

[He has not come? He has been mobilised....

And he has not had any leave.]]

To-day, in spite of the early gathering dusk, and the long walk home, an
impulse beckoned me in,—a very definite impulse, however, for I had in
mind to decipher a moulded coat of arms upon the walls, and to search the
sacristy. In other village churches, alas! dismantled, were to be found
carved chests of drawers, black letter Bibles, brasses, and glorious
books of chants. Perhaps my little chapel might contain treasures also.
Past Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Anthony of Padua, past the Sacred Heart,
and that humble saint of gardens, St. Fiacre, to whom had nevertheless
been given the place of honour on the Virgin’s right, and up through the
chancel I went. The door of the sacristy creaked at my sacrilege.

The alcove on which it opened was hung with cobwebs. The floor was
littered; drawers gaping awry disclosed a medley of candle ends, tinsel
flowers, vases and books. But on shelves across the end, my eye caught
glowing colours of vestments, green and gold and purple, lying in the
same folds, apparently, in which M. le Curé had left them when he went
forth into captivity three years ago. In a corner cabinet were sundry
images, broken for the most part, and among them that of a wax doll,
broken-armed and blackened with age, but encased in a bell of glass.
In an opposite corner, behind a scaffolding, I found another treasure;
a tiny thatched hut upon a standard, evidently designed to be borne in
processions. Ivy, turned crisp and brown, entwined its four pillars, and
chestnut leaves, silvered with dust, made an appliqué upon the thatch.
The God of Gardens, the Festival of the First Fruits, perhaps,—had I not
come here upon a Roman survival in old Picardy? But, suddenly, I saw with
other eyes; here were the cross and the Christ-child; I had stumbled on
the Christmas _crèche_.

Time pressed; I noted again the faded blazons which flanked the saints on
either wall—a closed crown, a shield embossed with seven _fleurs-de-lis_,
and upheld by two leopards—shut the outer door, and took my way to the
Château. One can see that the Château of Canizy is ancient, by its two
stone turrets and its Gothic arch. At least, it is so ancient that no one
in the village remembers the family whose royal escutcheon adorns its
chapel walls. It is but lately a ruin, however, at the wanton hands of
the Germans. In a stable in the farmyard, I found the family I had come
to visit, formerly domestics of the estate.

The old, bent grandmother, vacant-eyed and silent, sat in a corner
nearest the fire. The mother, whom I never saw without her black cap,
shook hands and dusted off a chair. The daughter, lovely as a beam of
sunshine in that dark interior, offered me wine.

“But no,” I protested, “it is late,” and having paid for the knitting of
a pair of stockings, which was my errand, I continued, “Tell me, please.
I have just come from the sacristy. There is a little house there.”

“The _crèche_!”

“There is also a doll.”

“Yes, the little Jesus!”

“Have you then all you need for the _crèche_, and would you like a mass
for Noël?”

At that even the grandmother’s eyes lighted.

“A mass! We have not had one for three years!”

Who, then, would clean the church, who trim the _crèche_, who tell me
what to get for it? The answers came as rapidly as the questions. Elmire
had always had charge of the _crèche_; she would return with me at once
to see what was lacking.

Together we made our way back and inventoried (1) the _crèche_ itself;
(2) a white lace-bordered square, (3) the little Jesus, and (4) some
tinsel, or angel’s hair.

“There is lacking,” Elmire thought quickly, “a Saint Joseph, a Blessed
Virgin, six tapers, cotton wool, and perhaps a star.”

Twice on my homeward journey I was stopped by Elmire’s younger brother,
running after me with breathless messages: “Elmire says, would you please
get a shepherd,” and, “Elmire asks for three little sheep.”

Where one was to get these was as much a mystery as the priest for the
mass. But I promised that all should be done.

The figures for the _crèche_ were actually found in Amiens. To them was
added a new little Jesus in a cradle; and the whole was brought by hand
to Elmire. The delight of the entire family in unwrapping the various
bundles was equalled only by my own in watching them. Afterwards, in the
stable, the _crèche_ was trimmed. Artificial flowers, blue and pink and
tinsel, bloomed under Elmire’s deft fingers; the pillars were fluted with
coloured paper, the roof plaited with holly leaves. A lamp was necessary
in the dark place, and its light fell on the eager faces of the family,
grouped about that fairy hut. “In a stable,” I thought as I looked at
them, “in a stable, the Christ is born again.”

[Illustration: —_Si on voit pas l’Noël, on verra peut-être un Zeppelin._

[Well, if we don’t see Santa Claus, we may see a Zeppelin, anyhow!]]

But it was M. l’Aumônier who voiced my thought at mass on Christmas Day.
He had made a children’s service of this, centred about the _crèche_.
After the _cantiques_, led by the soldier-boy, after the triumphal
_Adeste, Fideles_, the children knelt in a circle about the cradle of the
Christ.

“My children,” began the chaplain, “this year, you yourselves live in
huts, in barns, and in stables; so in a stable lives the little Jesus, as
you see. You know what it is to be cold, beneath the snow upon the roof;
so does the little Jesus. You have been hungry; so is he.

“My children, it behooves you, therefore, to make for the little Jesus
a cradle in your hearts; cleanse them, each of you, and ask the little
Jesus in.

“What next should you do, my children? Should you not pray first of all
for yourselves, that you may be kept from sin? Next, forget not to pray
for the soldiers of _la Patrie_, who only a few miles away, guard you
from your enemies. Next, think on your fathers, your older brothers and
sisters, who are with the Germans in captivity. Beseech mercy for them,
my children, that the good God may return them to your homes. Next, be
especially thoughtful of your mothers and obedient to them, who stand to
you in the place of both your parents. And last, but also of importance,
my children, remember in your prayers your benefactresses, these ladies
who have given you this year the Christmas _crèche_.”

[Illustration: —_Et si i gèle cette nuit?_ ...

—_Ben mon vieux on pourra s’asseoir._

[And if it freezes to-night?

Why, old chap, we can sit down.]]

M. l’Aumônier said more, but I could not hear it. I was aware that he
himself set the children an example by praying for us, heretics though
we were. It was only when we came out into the open sunlight, and walked
up the street to Mme. Lefèvre’s to strip the tree, that laughter became
possible, and that one could see the accustomed smile in his eyes. Yet
even at the fête, we could not escape from thanks. The presents, selected
to be sure with care, but so inadequate compared with the needs, were
hardly distributed when a hush fell on the packed room. A boy stepped
forward, and began to read from a piece of paper in his hand. A girl
followed. Their elders listened with the greatest satisfaction, nodding
their heads and smiling at our amazement. And this is what they said,—a
measure not of what we did, but of the spirit of stricken Canizy:

    Le cœur des dames Américaines s’est emu, à la pensée des
    misères qu’avait entraînées derrière soi, la terrible guerre,
    et vous êtes venues parmi nous les mains pleines de bienfaits
    et vos cœurs débordant de dévouement.

    Il nous est bien doux de vous dire merci, en cette circonstance
    créée encore par votre charité. Notre merci passera, permettez
    nous Mesdames et chères Bienfaitrices, par la crèche du petit
    enfant Jésus!

    Puisse-t-il vous rendre en consolation, ce que vous lui donnez
    en bienfaits! Au début de l’année nouvelle, nos vœux sont pour
    vous et pour ceux qui vous sont chers! Que Dieu comble de
    gloire, et de prospérité votre noble Amérique! Qu’il féconde sa
    générosité inlassable, que Dieu vous accorde une bonne santé,
    nos chères Bienfaitrices, et qu’il vous dise toute l’affection
    de cette commune, profondément reconnaissante.



CHAPTER XIV

FIDELISSIMA, PICARDIE


Since the commencement of this short volume, the German flood has rolled
again across the Somme. Péronne, Nesle, Ham, Noyon, those towns mentioned
so often and so gloriously in the annals of France, have fallen once more
into the hands of the enemy. With them go the villages where my Unit
laboured. Canizy, it is no more. The green-bladed wheatfields have become
fields of unspeakable carnage; the poor ruins again smoke to heaven, and
down the shattered highways course endlessly the grey columns of that
Emperor whose empire is pillage and death.

What, then, remains to us of our labours? At least a memory in the lives
of the peasants, and a present help in this their time of stress. Our
villagers were rescued, and taken by special trains to safety. The Unit
accomplished this work of succour. Their trucks were driven under shell
fire through the villages to collect the inhabitants; sometimes they
were the last over the bridges; they left our headquarters only when the
Uhlans were within charging distance; they have fed and clothed thousands
of refugees and soldiers. Mentioned with them in the newspaper accounts
of their service is our Red Cross truck driver, Dave. The fate that has
overtaken our peasants, what is it but a repetition of the immemorial
blows that have welded and tempered their ancestral spirit? As one of
their historians has limned them: “Les Picards sont francs et unis....
Ils vivent de peu.... Il arrive rarement que l’activité et le désir de
s’avancer les déterminent à sortir de leur pays.... Ils sont sincères,
fidèles, libres, brusques, attachés à leurs opinions, fermes dans leurs
résolutions.”[6] It was to this spirit that an ancient king of France
paid honour, when he granted his kinsman, who held this province, a coat
of arms bearing the royal lilies, and the motto: _Fidelissima, Picardie_.

A thousand such Picards we have known, women for the most part; enduring
a bitter winter, a daily hazard, that they might live on their own land
and till their own fields once more. There was Mme. Pottier, sitting in
her wrecked bakery, where the empty bread baskets were arranged like
plaques against the walls. Her husband and her three daughters were
prisoners. Her youngest son had died a soldier. She showed me with
trembling hands the letter she had received from his Colonel, commending
his clean life and his brave death. Her only remaining child was a
_religieuse_,—a Red Cross nurse. I found Mme. Pottier one day reading the
“Lives of the Saints.” “I like to read,” she said, “all books that are
good. I love well the good God.” But she worked also, and knitted many a
pair of stockings for us. First, however, the wool must be weighed. “It
is just,” she reiterated after each protest on my part. “My conscience
will be easy so.” And up a ladder she mounted to the loft, where stood
scales designed to weigh sacks of flour. No weights being small enough,
she took a few coppers from her pocket. “Voilà!” she said, throwing
them into the balance. “Remember, the skeins weigh six sous; when the
stockings are done, you shall see, they will be the same.”

There was Mme. Gouge, beautiful and tragic, who came and cooked for us,
in order to send her son to school in Amiens; and even more pathetic, her
brother-in-law, formerly the owner of the prettiest house in the village,
who often accompanied her and served our meals. He was the village
barber as well, and on a Saturday was busy all day in his shed, heating
water, shaving M. le Maire and other of his neighbours, and presenting
each, on the completion of the task, with a view of shaven cheeks, or
clipped hair, in the broken bit of mirror which hung beside the door.
Orderliness seemed to be M. Gouge’s ruling passion; the arbours in the
two corners of his garden, the round flower-bed in the centre, the grassy
square, the gravel walks,—all were as well kept as if the shattered house
were still tenanted, and Madame, his wife, were looking out as she used
to do upon the garden she loved.

Among the Picard soldiers, there was Caporal Levet, the boy-friend of M.
l’Aumônier, who made so light of his wounds. “It is nothing,” he repeated
again and again after sharp fits of coughing brought on by exposure to
the biting wind as he accompanied us during our week of fêtes. “This is
nothing; I am resting now. Soon I shall go back. My Colonel, he told me
only to-day that I must go down to the Midi to train Moroccans. That is
to the bayonet. Me, I do not like the bayonet,—the charges. One goes with
the blacks, you know. I have been wounded twice. But,” a shrug of the
shoulders, “my Colonel says that I am the youngest,—and I should go.”
Some one asked at one of the parties that he lead the Marseillaise. He
protested for the first time. “We French,” he said, “we are droll; we
do not like to sing always of dying for the glory of _la Patrie_.” But
they die, nevertheless; and one is left only to wonder when his time will
come, on what dark night, in the lull of the bombardment, when the blacks
leap out of the trenches and lead the desperate charge.

In Hombleux, in the church, beside the altar, hangs the Village roll of
honour, bearing the names of six sons of Picardy fallen in its defence.

    Roullard Pottier
    Albert Gourbière
    Robert Gautier
    Pierre Commont
    August Deslatte
    Amidé Bens

[Illustration: _Oui, mais, il est fort papa, plus fort que dix boches._

[O yes, papa is strong, stronger than ten Boches.]]

Unknown heroes these, peasant names, roughly printed. Yet Hombleux, in
the midst of its desolation, of its sorrow for those other sons and
daughters forced into ignoble slavery, remembers its soldier dead. It
remembers in prayer that France for which all have suffered. Near the
illuminated scroll, upon its black background, stands a statue of Joan of
Arc, and beneath it is placed this prayer:

    O bienheureuse Jeanne d’Arc! que notre France a besoin, à
    l’heure présente, d’âmes vaillantes, animées de cette espérance
    que rien ne déconcerte, ni les difficultés, ni les insuccés, ni
    les triomphes passagers et apparents de ses ennemis; des âmes
    qui, comme vous, mettent toute leur confiance en Dieu seul; des
    âmes enfin que les efforts généreux n’effraient pas, et qui,
    ainsi que vous soldats, se rallient à votre étendard portant
    ces mots gravés: “Jésus! Maria! Vive labeur!” O Jeanne! ranimez
    tous les courages, faites germer de nobles héroïsmes et sauvez
    encore une fois la France qui vous appelle à son secours!

_Fidelissima, Picardie!_ It was in Amiens, in the Library there, that
I first saw the emblazoned coat of arms of the province, and those of
her famous cities, Péronne, Nesle, St. Quentin, Amiens, Noyon, Ham with
its castle, and Corbie, with its crows. I had come by slow train from
Paris, and waited perforce for the still slower train which was to drop
me that night at Hombleux, the nearest railroad station to our Château.
Snow was upon the ground; the sunlight sharp and cold. It cleft the airy
spire of the Cathedral out of the blue sky like a diamond-powdered sword.
It frosted the delicate azure of the rose window, and high up among the
clustered pillars, threw prismic whorls that floated like flowers upon
a rippled stream of light. In the Library, it fell upon tooled leather
bindings, upon the gorgeous blazons, upon pages illuminated, like the
white walls of the Cathedral, with ethereal fruits and flowers. But
the day was all too brief. As my train puffed and rumbled away from
the city, dusk enveloped the plain till the evening star—or was it an
_avion_?—burned forth. Passengers entered or descended, the last being
a batch of Tommies bound for the Cambrai front. They were a noisy,
good-natured lot, who slammed their rifles into the racks, trod upon one
another’s toes, and wished heartily that “this bloomin’ war was done.”
At Chaulnes they got out; an American engineer followed, and I was left
alone. In total darkness the train proceeded, the engine as we swung
around the curves looking like a dragon, belching fire. Presently, out of
the vast level, rose the moon; and with it came those detonations which
we, even in our sheltered camp, had learned to associate with its beauty.
The Boches were bombing Ham.

Like my day in Amiens is my remembrance of Picardy; the dun plain, the
windy sky, the play of light and shadow over both. The blazons given her
by history glow anew in the heroisms of to-day. They form a glorious
volume, illuminated with flowers as gorgeous as those traced by the monks
of Corbie upon the pages of their Books of Chants, bound, as were they,
with massive iron bands,—the iron bands of war.



APPENDIX

BEFORE THE WAR

[Illustration: _CANIZY_

_Survey made November, 1917._

Plan of the Village.]


1914

    1. MME. MARIE GENSE—Had a few rabbits; good house.

    2. M. NOULIN—Was a storekeeper; had rabbits and hens.

    3. M. POITEAUX (soldat).[7]

    4. M. LEON TABARY (living near Amiens).

    5. M. HUILLARD (soldat).

    6. M. COTTRET (prisonnier civil).

    7. MME. AUGÉ—Had hens and rabbits; small garden.

    8. M. HUILLARD (see 5.)

    9. M. GAMBARD (at Compiègne).

    10. M. THUILLARD, G. (at Bacquencourt).

    11. MME. CORDIER—Had 10 cows, 2 bulls, 1 ox, 87 pigs, 3 horses,
    150 chickens, 150 rabbits, market garden, orchard.

    12. MME. CARPENTIER, J.—Had 3 cows, 2 horses, 30 hens, 50
    rabbits, market garden.

    13. MME. PICARD—Had 2 cows, 1 horse, hens, rabbits, market
    garden.

    14. M. THUILLARD, O.—Had 7 cows, 4 horses, 50 hens, 30 rabbits,
    10 hectares of land for garden.

    15. MME. BROHON (at Voyennes).

    16. MME. MOROY, R. (at Esmery-Hallon).

    17. MME. CARPENTIER, R.—Had 2 horses, 21 rabbits, 30 hens,
    garden.

    18. MME. LEFÈVRE—Had 2 cows, 2 horses, 50 rabbits, 30 hens,
    market garden.

    19. M. MOROY—Had 1 cow, 1 horse, 1 pig, 30 rabbits, 100 hens.

    20. M. CHARLET (at Amiens).

    21. MME. MOROY (dead).

    22. MME. TABARY, G.—Had only a few rabbits; husband hostler at
    23.

    23. MME. THUILLARD, G.—Had 2 cows, 3 horses, hens, rabbits,
    market garden.

    24. M. TOURET (prisonnier civil).

    25. M. LANNE (at Ham).

    26. M. HENET (prisonnier civil).

    27. MME. BUTIN—Had a few hens and rabbits; small garden.

    28. M. TOURET (prisonnier civil).

    29. MME. ROQUET (dead).

    30. MME. CORREON—Had rabbits and hens; small garden.

    31. MME. DESMARCHEZ (at Esmery-Hallon).

    32. MME. DELORME (at Amiens).

    33. M. HUYART (at Voyennes).

    34. M. REUET (in Paris).

    35. M. REUET (in Paris).

    36. MME. VILLETTE (at Voyennes).

    37. MME. CERF (prisonnière civile).

    38. MME. MOROY (dead).

    39. M. THUILLARD, C.—Had 2 cows, 2 horses, 25 chickens, 200
    rabbits, large market garden.

    40. MME. MOROY (dead).

    41. MME. MOROY (dead).

    42. MME. MOROY (dead).

    43. MME. CARPENTIER, R. (see 17).

    44. MME. BUTIN (see 27).

    45. M. THUILLIER, A.—Had 10 rabbits, 12 hens; was a cobbler.

    46. MME. MOROY, CLAIRE—Had 1 horse, 1 cow, rabbits, hens.

    47. MME. DELORME, O.—Had 100 rabbits, 40 hens, small garden.

In 1914 Canizy had 445 inhabitants.


November, 1917

    1. Lives at 37 in a lean-to; small garden.

    2. Lives at 5 in a partially ruined house; has an _épicerie_,
    in which we have stocked him, 1 pony, 30 young rabbits, 4 hens.

    7. Lives at 7 in a barn; has 10 hens, small garden.

    8. House occupied by Tabary, M.; has nothing.

    10. Mme. Payelle lives here in a barn; does not belong in
    village; has nothing.

    11. Lives at 11 in a barn; has bought cow, horse, 24 rabbits, 9
    hens.

    12. Lives at 12 in a _baraque_; has a small garden.

    13. Lives at 16 in a barn; has large market garden and employs
    one worker (Mme. Correon).

    14. Lives at 18 in a shed; has 2 horses, 10 hens, 10 rabbits,
    large garden.

    15. Mme. Musqua lives here; formerly factory worker, never
    owned land, has nothing.

    17. Lives at 17 in a shed; has 3 hens, 2 rabbits, small garden.

    18. Lives at 18 in a partially ruined house; has 3 hens, large
    garden. In her stable she houses Mme. Barbier, a worker in the
    fields.

    19. Lives at 42 in one room; has a garden.

    23. Lives at 44 in an ell; has a cow, 8 hens, large garden.

    24. (Father of prisoner) lives here, with 46.

    30. Lives at 34 in a cottage; works for 13, has nothing.

    32. M. Lecart lives here in a cottage; formerly coachman at
    Château; has nothing.

    39. Lives at 39 in a barn; has a large garden.

    42. Mme. Tabary, L., lives here in partially ruined house,
    never owned land; has a goat.

    43. Mme. Cerf, who used to rent 46, lives in a barn; has a few
    hens and a garden.

    44. Lives at 44, with her daughter (see 23).

    45. Lives at 16 in a shed; has a garden.

    46. Lives at 24 in a barn; has a garden.

    47. Lives at 47 in a chicken house; has 4 hens, 1 rabbit.

At the Château live three families, formerly employed on the estate. They
have gardens.

In all, there are 100 persons in Canizy.



FOOTNOTES


[1] From Poulbot’s _Des Gosses et des Bonhommes_.

[2] From the Almanach Hachette.

[3] Deux Années d’Invasion Espagnole en Picardie, 1635-1636. Alcius
Ledieu.

[4] Almanach Hachette, 1918, quoted from the _Berliner Tageblatt_.

[5] Incomes as regulated in August, 1917.

_Allocation militaire_:

    Soldier, 25 c. per day.
    Family, 1 fr. 25 c. for mother.
            1 fr. 25 c. for child 16 or over.
                  75 c. for child up to 16.

_Allocation de réfugié or chômage_:

    Adults, 1 fr. 25 c. per day.
    Children, 50 c. per day.

_War Pensions_:

    Widows of soldiers, 580 fr. per year.
    Children, each, 600 fr. per year.

_Réformées_:

    If wounded, a réformé receives a pension.

_Médaille militaire_:

    This carries a pension.


[6] Introduction à la histoire générale de la Province de Picardie. Dom
Grenier.

[7] Where no information is given as to property, no member of the family
remains in the village. It should be understood that every family had
some member, or members, with the colours, or _avec les Boches_, or both.



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