From Harper's Monthly Magazine, volume number CXXXVI, No.814. Circa 1917.
IF you happen to know intimately the life of an American small town of about a thousand inhabitants, wouldn't you like to walk with me through a small French town of that size? I think I know just what to point out to you, not only because I have been living there myself, but because I have seen group after group of American Ambulance boys come into and go out of Crouy and noted the features of the life there at which they looked longest.
Perhaps the first thing which brought our boys to a halt, and a long, long look around them. was the age of the place. Apparently it has-the statement is hardly exaggerated-always been there. As a matter of historical fact it has been there for more than a thousand years. On hearing that. the American boys always gasped. They were used to the conception of the great age of "historical" spots, by which they meant cities in which great events have occurred -Paris, Rome, Stratford - on - Avon, Granada. But that an inconsiderable settlement of a thousand inhabitants, where nothing in particular ever happened beyond the birth, life, and death of its people, should have kept its identity through a thousand years gave them, so they said, " a queer feeling." As they stood in the quiet gray street, looking up and down, and taking in the significance of the fact, one could almost visibly see their minds turning away from the text-book idea of the Past as an unreal, sparsely settled period with violent historical characters in doublet and ruff or chain-mail thrusting swords into one another or signing treaties which condemned all succeeding college students to an additional feat of memory; you could almost see their brilliant, shadowless, New World youth deepened and sobered by a momentary perception of the Past as a very long and startlingly real phenomenon, full, scaringly full of real people, entirely like ourselves, going about the business of getting born, being married, and dying with as little conscious regard as we for historical movements and tendencies. They were never done marveling that the sun should have fallen across Crouy streets at the same angle before Columbus discovered America as to-day; that at the time of the French Revolution, just as now, the big boys and sturdy men of Crouy should have left the same fields which now lie golden in the sun and have gone out to repel the invader; that people looked up from drawing water at the same fountain which now sparkles under the sycamore-trees and saw Catharine de Medici pass on her way north as now they see the gray American Ambulance rattle by.... "And I bet it was over these same cussed hard-heads!" cried the boy from Ohio, trying vainly to ease his car over the knobby paving-stones.
"No, oh no, " answered the town notary, reasonably. "The streets of Crouy were paved m comparatively recent times, not earlier than sixteen-twenty."
"Oh, the Pilgrim Fathers!" cried the boy from Connecticut.
"And nothing ever happened here all that time?" queried the boy from California, incredulously.
"Nothing, " said the notary, "except a great deal of human life."
"Gee! What a lot o' that!" murmured the thoughtful boy from Virginia, his eyes widening imaginatively.
After the fact that it had been there so long, they were astonished by the fact that it was there at all existing, as far as they could see, with no visible means of support beyond a casual sawmill or two. "How do all these people earn their living?" they always asked, putting-the question in the same breath with the other inevitable one, "Where do the people live who care for all this splendid farming country? We see them working in the fields, these superb wheat fields, or harvesting the oats, but you can drive your car for mile after mile and never see a human habitation. We thought Europe was a thickly populated place!"
Of course you know the obvious answer. The people who till the fields all live in the villages. If you inhabit such a settlement you hear every morning, very, very early, the slow, heavy tread of the big farm-horses and the rumble of the huge two-wheeled carts going out to work: and one of the picturesque sights of the sunset hour is the procession of the powerful Percherons, their drivers sitting sideways on their broad backs, plodding into the village, both horses and farmers with an inimitable air of leisurely philosophy; of having done a good day's work and letting it go at that; of attempting no last nervous whack at the accumulated pile of things to be done which always lies before every one; with an unembittered acceptance of the facts that there are but twenty-four hours in every day and that it is good to spend part of them eating savory hot soup with one's family. According to temperament, this appearance. only possible, apparently, when you have lived a thousand years in the same place, enormously reposes or enormously exasperates the American observer.
You do not see the cows going out to pasture, or coming back at night through the village streets, because those farmers who have a dairy live on the outskirts of the town, with their big square courtyards adjacent to the fields. The biggest farmhouse of this sort in Crouy is lodged in the remnants of the medieval castle of the old seigneurs (symbol of modern France!), where at night the cows ramble in peaceably through the old gate where once the portcullis hung, and stand chewing their cud about the great courtyard whence marauding knights in armor once clattered out to rob. :
Of course this arrangement whereby country folk all live in villages turns inside out and upside down most of those conditions which seem to us inevitable accompaniments of country life; for instance, the isolation and loneliness of the women and children. There is no isolation possible here, when, to shake hands with the woman of the next farm, you have only to lean out of your front window and have her lean out of hers, when your children go to get water frown the fountain along with all the other children of the region, when you are less than five minutes' walk from church and the grocery-store, when your children can wait till the school-bell is ringing before snatching up their books to go to school.
You do not have to wait for your mail till some one can go to town or till the R. F. D. man brings it around six hours after it has arrived in town. The village mail-carrier brings it to you directly it arrives, just as though you lived in a city. You do not have to wait for your community news till it filters slowly to your remote door by the inaccurate medium of the irresponsible grocery boy. The moment anything of common interest happens the town crier walks up your street. At the sound of his announcing drum or bell you drop your work, stick your head out of your door, and hear at once, hot off the griddle, as soon as any one, that there will be an auction of cows at the Brissons' on Saturday next, that poor sick old Madame Mangier has at last passed away, or that school reopens a week from Monday and all children must he ready to go. And if one of the children breaks his arm, or if a horse has the colic. or your chimney gets on fire, you do not suffer the anguished isolation of American country life. The whole town swarms in to help you, in a twinkling of an eye. In fact, for my personal taste, I must confess that the whole town seemed only too ready to swarming, on any friendly pretext at all. But then. I have back of me many generations of solitary-minded farmer-ancestors, living sternly and grimly to themselves and not a thousand years of really sociable community life.
"But if they are country people who live in these dry-looking villages, "asked our American Ambulance boys, "what makes them huddle up so close together and run the houses into one long wall of buildings that look like tenement houses ? Why don't they have nice front yards like ours, with grass and flowers and people sitting on the front porch, enjoying life? You can go through village after village here and never see a thing but those ugly stony streets and long, high, stone walls, and bare, stone houses, and never a soul but maybe an old woman with a gunny sack on her back, or a couple of kids lugging water in a pail. "
The best answer to that was to open the door into our own bare, stone house, which, like all the others on the street, presented to the public eye an unalluring, long, gray-white, none-too-clean plastered wall, broken by square windows designed for utility only. The big door opening showed a stone-paved corridor leading straight to what seemed at first glance an earthly Paradise of green; an old, old garden with superb nut-trees, great flowering bushes, a bit of grass, golden graveled paths, and high old gray walls with grape-vines and fruit-trees carefully trained against them.
Our American visitor stared about him with dazzled eyes. "What a heavenly place! But who ever would have guessed such a garden was in Crouy!"
"Oh, but this is not one of the really good gardens of the town!" we assured him. "This is a poor old neglected one compared with those all around us."
"But where art they?" asked our American, incredulously, his vision cut off by the ten-foot wall.
At this we invited him up-stairs to a lofty window at the back of the house, leaning from which he had a totally new view of the town whose and gray streets he had traversed so many times. Back of every one of these gray-white, monotonously aligned plastered houses stretched a garden, often a very large one, always a jewel. gleaming, burnished, and ordered, with high old trees near the house, and flowers and vines; and, back of this pleasure spot, a great fertile stretch of well-kept vegetables and fruit. He stared long, our American, reconstructing his ideas with racial rapidity. On withdrawing his head his first comment was. usually:
"But for the Lord's sake, how ever do they get the money to pay for building all those miles of huge stone walls? It must cost every family a fortune."
Upon learning that those walls had stood exactly there in those very lines for hundreds of years, requiring only to be periodically kept in repair, he sank into another momentary reconstructive meditation.
Then came the inevitable American challenge, the brave new note from the New World which I always rejoiced to hear:
"But what's the point of shutting yourself up that way from your neighbors and making such a secret of your lovely garden that nobody gets any good of it but yourself? Why not open up and let everybody who goes by take pleasure in your flowers and your lawn and see the kids playing and hear them laughing ?"
Of course I always went duly through the orthodox historical and social explanations. I pointed out that it was only in comparatively late times-only since that very recent event, the French Revolution, or the beginning of our life as a nation-that isolated houses in the fields would have been safe; that up to that time people were obliged to huddle together inside the walls of a town at night as a safeguard against having their throats cut; that an age-old habit of apprehension and precaution leaves ineradicable marks on life; and that it still seems entirely natural for French people to conceal their gardens behind ten-foot stone walls with broken bottles on top, although for generations the community life has been as peaceful as that of an drowsy New England village. But, having given this academic explanation, I went on to hazard a guess that age-old habits of fear leave behind them more than material marks like stone walls and broken bottles. They shape and form human minds into tastes and preferences and prejudices, the uncourageous origin of which the owners of the minds are far from divining
"You know, " I said to our boy from home, "they can't understand our open villages with no fences or walls, with everybody's flowers open to everybody's view, with our pretty girls showing their fresh summer dresses and bright. sweet faces to the chance passers-by as well as to the selected few who have the countersign to enter. They can't understand it, and they don't try to, for they don't like it. They don't like our isolated houses. They, and all Europeans, like apparently the feeling of having neighbors near so that they can enjoy shutting them out. They say they like the feeling of 'being all to themselves'; they have a passion for 'privacy' which often seems to mean keeping desirable things away from other people; they can't see how we endure the 'staring eyes of strangers.' "
At this point I was usually interrupted by the boy from home who cried out, hotly:
"Well, I hope we won't ever get so afraid of people we haven't been introduced to! I guess we can stand not being so darned private as all that! I don't see that you need take any less satisfaction in a rose-bush because it's given pleasure to a lot of work people going by in the morning '"
On which proposition we always cordially shook hands.
"And yet, do y' know, " added the boy from home, a little wistfully, looking down into the green, secluded peace of the walled - in garden -"yet, there must be something kind o' nice about the quiet of it, being able to do as you please without everybody looking at you. It sort of makes our front yards seem like a public park instead of a home, doesn't it?"
"Yes, " I said, sadly, "it does, a little."
Oh, Europe, Europe ! seductive old Europe, ever up to the old game of corrupting the fresh candor of invading barbarians!
"But, anyhow, " ended the boy from home, bravely, "I don't care. t think our way is lots the nicest . . . for everybody!"
Dear boy from home!
Then we went down-stairs and visited our modest establishment, typical in a small way of all those about us, and, although made up of the same essential features as those of a small American town home, differing in a thousand ways.
"Why, there are apples on this hedge, real apples!" said the American. "Who ever heard of apples on a little low hedge plant?
"Those aren't hedge plants, " we told him. "Those are real apple trees, trained to grow low. cut back year after year, pruned, watched, nipped, fertilized, shaped into something quite different from what they meant to be. They produce a tenth, a twentieth part of what would grow if the tree were left to itself, but what Golden apples of Hesperides they are! The pears are like that, too. Here is a pear-tree older than I, and not so tall. which bears perhaps a dozen pears, but what pears! And you see, too, when the trees are kept small, you can have ever so many more in the same space. They don't shade your vegetables, either. See those beans growing up right to the base of the trees."
The chicken-yard was comforting to our visitors because it was like any chicken-yard; if anything, not so well kept or so well organized as an America none. But beyond them is a row of twelve well-constructed brick rabbit-hutches with carefully made lattice gates and cement floors, before which visitors always stopped to gaze at the endlessly twitching pink noses and vacuous faces of the little beasts. I hastened to explain that they were not a tall for the children to play with, but that they form a serious part of the activities of every country family in the region, supplying for many people the only meat they ever eat beyond the very occasional fowl in the pot for a fete day.
The rabbit-hutches being near the kitchen, we usually went next into that red-and-white-tiled room, with the tiny coal-range (concession to the twentieth century) with the immense open hearth (heritage of the past) and the portable charcoal-stove, primitive, universal implement.
"But you call t bake your bread in such a little play-stove as that, "commented the American.
And with that we were launched into a new phase of Crouy life, the close-knit communal organization of a French settlement. Since all these country people live side by side, they discovered long ago that there is no need to duplicate, over and over, in each house, labors which are better done in centralized activity. Instead of four hundred cook stoves being heated to the baking point, with a vast waste of fuel and effort, one big fire in the village boulangerie bakes the bread for all the community. These French countrywomen no more bake their own bread than they make their own shoes. In fact, if they tried to they could not produce anything half so appetizing and nourishing as the crusty well-baked loaves turned out by that expert specialist, the village bakeress; and they buy those loaves for less than it would cost to produce them in each kitchen.
In addition to the boulangerie where you buy your bread there is in Crouy(and in all other French towns of that size) another shop kept by a specially good cook among the housewives, where you can always buy certain cooked foods which are hard to prepare at home in small quantities. Ham, for instance. In American towns too small to have a delicatessen-shop how many of us quail before the hours of continuous heat needed to boil a ham, and the still more formidable enterprise of getting it all eaten up afterward without a too dreary monotony ! I have known American villages where people said the real reason for church suppers was that they might taste boiled ham once in a while. In Crouy, backward, primitive drainageless community that it is, they cater to the prime necessity of variety in diet with a competence like that with which the problem of good bread is solved all ever France. Every Wednesday morning you know that Madame Beaugard has a ham freshly boiled. You may buy one slice, just enough to garnish a cold salad, or ten slices to serve in a hot sauce for dinner. On Saturdays she has a big roast of beef, hot and smoking out of her oven at a quarter of twelve, and a family or two may thus enjoy this luxury without paying the usual Anglo-Saxon penalty of eating cold or hashed beet for many days thereafter. On another day she has beans, the dry beans which are such a bother to prepare in small quantities and such an admirable and savory food. She is the village fruit-seller, and when you go to buy your fruit in her little shop, which is nothing more or less than her front parlor transformed, you are sure to find something else appetizing and tempting. Note that this regular service not only adds greatly to the variety and tastefulness of the diet of the village, but enables Madame Beaugard to earn her living more amply.
In another big operation of housekeeping the simplest French country community puts its resources together instead of scattering them. On washdays there is no arduous lifting and emptying out of water, no penetrating odor of soap-suds throughout all the house, no waste of fuel under hundreds of individual wash-boilers, no solitary drudging over the washtubs. The French country housekeeper who does her own washing brings around to the street door her faithful steed, the wheelbarrow, and loads it ups first the big galvanized boiler full of soiled clothes, then a wooden box open at one side, filled with clean straw, then the soap a fiat, short-handled wooden paddle. and a stiff scrubbing-brush. Leaving the children not yet at school in the charge of a neighbor-for whom she will perform the same service another day of the week-her head done up in a kerchief, her skirts kilted high to let her step free, she sets off down the road for the lavoir. I use the French word because the institution does not exist in English.
This is usually a low, stone building, with an open place in the roof, either covered with glass or open to the air. In the center is a big pool of water, constantly renewed, which gushes in clean and eddies out soapy, carrying with it the impurities of the village linen. Here our housewife finds an assortment of her friends and neighbors, and here she kneels in the open air, in her straw-filled box, and soaps, and beats, and rinses, and scrubs at the spots with her scrubbing-brush (they never use a rubbing-board), and at the same time hears all the talk of the town, gets whatever news from the outer world is going the rounds, jokes and scolds, sympathizes and laughs, sorrows with and quarrels with her neighbors: gets, in short, the same refreshing and entire change from the inevitable monotony of the home routine which an American housewife of a more prosperous class gets in her club meeting, and which the American housewife of the same class gets, alas! almost never.
And, yes, the clothes are clean ! I know it runs counter to all our fixed ideas and what we are taught in domestic-science classes. I don't pretend to explain it, but the fact remains that clothes soaped and beaten and rinsed in cold water, boiled in a boiler over the open fire and dried on the grass, are of the most dazzling whiteness. It is just another wholesome reminder that there are all kinds of ways to kill a cat, and that our own, natural and inevitable as it seems to us, may not even be the most orthodox manner of accomplishing that demise.
Another such reminder is the fashion in which they manage baths in Crouy. There are not (you can hear, can't you, the supercilious Anglo-Saxon tourist saying, "of course there are not") any bathrooms in the houses, nor in the one little inn. And yet the people take plenty of baths, and in big porcelain bathtubs, too, bigger and deeper and fuller of hot water than those we have in our houses.
Among the many curious little industries of the place is the établissement des bains. As you go down the main street of a morning you stop in and fill up a little printed card stating that you wish a hot (or cold) plain (or perfumed or sulphur or starch or what not) bath, at such and such an hour. The little old woman in charge notes your hour, and stokes up her stove according to the schedule of the day. When you arrive you are shown into an immaculately clean tiled bathroom, with an enormous tub, lined with a clean sheet (it has been definitely decided by doctors that this precaution obviates any possibility of contagion) and filled with clear, sparkling hot water. You can rent your towels for two cents apiece, and buy a bit of soap for three cents, or you may bring them from home, if you prefer. Of course, being unused to this particular way of killing the cat, you feel rather foolish and queer to be taking a bath in a community bathtub instead of in your own. But the bath is a fine one; with a cold rub-down at the end there is no danger of taking cold; and as you dress, glowing and refreshed, you cannot put out of your mind some suck colloquy as this:
"Yes, of course I prefer a bathtub in my own house. Everybody would. But suppose I haven't money enough to have one? At home, in a town like this, you can only get a bath, or give it to your children you have capital enough to buy, install , and keep up a bathroom of your own. Here you can have an even better one, any time you can spare fifteen cents in cash. Which method produces the bigger area of clean skin in a given community?"
You usually end your colloquy by quoting to yourself; laughingly, the grandly American-minded remark of the boy from Illinois, whose reaction to the various eye-openers about him was thus formulated:
"Do you know, the thing we want to do at home is to keep all the good ways of doing things we've got already and then add all the French ones, too."
We laughed over the youthful self-confidence of that ambition, but, as the boy from Illinois would say, "Honestly, .do you know, there is something in it!"
In one of the few large, handsome houses in Crouy there is something else I wish we might import into America. Very simply, with no brass band of a formal organization, secretaries, or reports, the younger girls of the town are brought together to learn how to sew and cook and keep their household accounts. The splendid park which looks so lordly with its noble trees is only the playground for the little girls in gingham aprons in the intervals of their study; and the fine, high-ceilinged, spacious old salon is employed as the work-room where all the children from the poorer houses round about sit in the sunshine setting beautiful fine stitches and chattering like magpies.
A large room at the side has been fitted up-oh, so long before domestic science " struck " America !-as a kitchen, and here the little girls daily prepare their own luncheons, after having, turn by turn, done the marketing and made up their small accounts under the supervision of an expert teacher.
The gracious, gray-haired owner of the beautiful home has always been so busy with her school and workroom that she almost never runs into Paris, although she is no more than a couple of hours away.
"I've only been there five or six times in my life, " she says, shaking her head in mocking contrition and turning superb old rings around on her soft, wrinkled hands. She adds, with a pretty, whimsical smile: "To tell the truth, it bores me awfully when I do go. I have so much to see to here that I'm uneasy to be away."
You are to remember that this has been going on for at least two generations. The quiet-eyed châtelaine of the manor mentions, in passing, that she is but continuing the work of her aunt who lived there before her, and who for fifty years gave all her life and property for her neighbors' children in quite the same way. When you leave you try to murmur something about what two such lives must have meant to the community, but this entirely unmodern, unradical, unread provincial Frenchwoman cuts you short by saying in a matter-of-fact tone, with the most transparent simplicity of manner:
"Oh, but of course property is only a trust after all, isn't it?"
Will some one please tell me what are the appropriate sentiments for good socialists to feel about such people?
There is another ouvroir (sewing room) in Crouy of another sort, where the older girls, instead of being forced to go away from home as in most villages in America, to work in factories or shops, may earn an excellent living doing expert embroidery or fine sewing. They are well paid, and the enterprise is successful commercially because the long-headed philanthropist at the head of the organization manages to sell direct to consumers-as will always be done as a matter of course in the twenty-first century-instead of passing the product through the acquisitive hands of many middlemen. But there is so much to report in detail about this wholly admirable and modern undertaking that I must make another story of it. It is really curious how often, in this little, backward, drainageless French village, an American is brought to a halt, a long, scrutinizing inspection, and much profitable meditation.
So far you have seen Crouy as it was before the war. and as it is now in the brief intervals between the departure of a regiment going back to the front and the arrival of another with the trench mud still on its boots. You have seen the long, gray, stony street filled morning and evening with horses and laborers going out to work or returning, and in the mean time dozing somnolent in the sun, with only a cat or dog to cross it, an old woman going out for the grass, or a long, gray American ambulance banging along over the paving, the square-jawed, clean-shaven boy from the States zigzagging desperately with the vain idea that the other side of the street cannot be as rough as the one he is on. You have seen the big open square, sleeping under the airy shadow of the great- sycamores, only the occasional chatter of children drawing water at the fountain breaking the silence. You have seen the beautiful old church, echoing and empty save for an old, poor man, his ax or his spade beside him, as he kneels for a moment to pray for his grandsons at the front; or for a woman in black, rigid and silent before a shrine, at whose white face you dare not glance as you pass. You have seen the plain, bare walls of the old houses, turning an almost blank face to the street, with closely shuttered or thickly curtained windows.
But one morning, very early, before you are dressed, you hear suddenly, close at hand, that clear, ringing challenge of the bugle which bids all human hearts to rise and triumph, and the vehement whirring rhythm of the drums, like a violent new pulse beating in your own body. The house begins to shake as though with thunder, not the far-off roar of the great cannon on the horizon which you hear even day, but a definite vibration of the earth under your feet. You rush to your street window throw open the shutters, and, leaning from the sill, see that all Crouy is leaning with you and looking up the street.
There, at the turn, where the road leaves the yellow wheat fields to enter the village, the flag is coming, the torn, ragged, dingy, sacred tricolor. Back of it the trumpets, gleaming in the sun, proclaim its honor. They are here, the poilus, advancing with their quick, swinging step, so bravely light for all cruel heavy sacks on their backs and the rifles on their shoulders. Their four-ranked file fills our street from side to sides as their trumpets fill our ears, as the fatigue and courage of their faces fill our hearts. They are here, the splendid, splendid soldiers who are the French poilus. Everybody's brother, cousin, husband, friend, son, is there.
All Crouy leans from its windows to welcome them back from death-one more respite. They glance up at the windows as they pass; the younger ones smile at the girls' faces; the older ones, fathers certainly look wistfully at the children's bright heads. There are certain ones who look at nothing, staring straight ahead at immaterial sights which will not leave their eyes.
One detachment has passed; the rumbling has increased till your windows shake as though in an earthquake. The camions and guns are going by, an endless defile of monster trucks, ending with the rolling kitchen, lumbering forward, smoking from all its pipes and cauldrons, with the regimental cook springing up to inspect the progress of his savory ragout.
After the formless tumult of the wheels, the stony street resounds again to the age-old rhythm of marching men: Another detachment....
You dress quickly, seize the big box of cigarettes kept ready for this time, and, taking the children by the hand, go out to help welcome the new-comers as they settle down for their three weeks' rest.
I have told you that Crouy has a thousand inhabitants. There are twelve hundred men in a regiment. Perhaps you can imagine that when the troops are there men seem to ooze from every pore of the town. There are no great barracks erected for them, you understand. Somehow Crouy people make themselves small, move over to the edge, and make the necessary room. There are seventy soldiers sleeping on straw in the big hall which was before the war used for a concert-room or for amateur theatricals; two hundred are housed in what is left of the old salles de garde of the ruined castle, old guard-rooms which after five hundred years see themselves again filled with French fighting-men; every barn-loft is filled with them; every empty shed has a thick layer of straw on the ground and twenty to thirty men encamped; every empty stable has been carefully cleaned and prepared for them; every empty room harbors one or more officers; every attic has ten or fifteen men. One unused shop is transformed into the regimental infirmary, and hangs out the Red Cross flag; another sees the quartermaster and his secretaries installed at desks improvised from pine boards; a sentry stands before the Town Hall where the colonel has his headquarters, and another guards the fine old house which has the honor of sheltering the regimental flag.
The street, our quiet, sleepy street, is like an artery pulsing with rapid vibrations; despatch-riders dash up and dowry camions rumble by; a staff-car full of officers looking seriously at maps halts for a moment and passes on; from out the courtyard where a regimental kitchen is installed a file of soldiers issue, walking on eggs as they carry their heat stew across the street to the lodging where they eat it. Our green-vegetable woman, that supreme flower of a race of consummate gardeners, arrives at the house, breathless and smiling, with only an onion and a handful of potatoes in her usually well-garnished donkey-cart.
"Que voulez-vous, madame?' she apologizes, sure of your sympathy. "The instant I leave the garden they set upon me. You can't refuse your own soldiers, can you ? With my Jacques at the front ?"
Everywhere. everywhere where there is a scrap of cover from the sky, are huddled horses. mules, guns, wagons, and camions. Every spreading chestnut tree harbors, not a blacksmith, but a dozen army mules tied close to the trunk. Near the station the ground under the close-set double line of trees in the long mall is covered to its last inch with munition-wagons and camions, and to reach the post-office on the other side of the little shady square you must pick your way back of lines of guns, set end to end, without an inch to spare. The aviators, whose machines wheel ceaselessly over the town, can see no change in its aspect, unless, perhaps, the streets and courtyards send up to the sky a gray-blue reflection like its own color.
Three times a week, in the late afternoon, just before sunset, the regimental band gives a concert in our big open square under the sycamores, where, in the softer passages of the music, the sound of splashing water mingles with the flutes. All Crouy puts on its Sunday best and comes out to join itself to the horizon-blue throngs, and the colonel with his staff stands under the greatest of the sycamores, listening soberly to the music and receiving paternally the salutes of the men who saunter near him.
Once during their stay there is a prise-d'armes, on the square, when the men who have especially distinguished themselves are decorated with the Croix de Guerre. All Crouy goes so see that, too-all Crouy means now, you must remember, old men, women, little children, and babies-and stands respectfully, with tear-wet eyes, watching the white-haired colonel go down the line, pinning on each man's breast the sign of honor, taking his hand in a comrade's clasp and giving him on both cheeks a brother's kiss.
And once there is a mass said for the regimental dead in the old, old church. All Crouy goes there too, all Crouy lost in the crowd of soldiers who kneel in close ranks on the worn stones, the sonorous chant at whose deep voices fills the church to the last vaulting of the arches which echoed to the voices of those other Crusaders, praying there for their dead, six hundred years ago. The acolytes at the altar are soldiers in their shabby honorable uniforms; the priest is a soldier; the choir is filled with them singing the responses; in an interval of the service up rise two of them near the organ, violin in hand, and the French church rings with the angel's voice of old Johann Sebastian Bach.
At the end, suddenly, the regimental music is there, wood-wind, trumpets, and all. The service comes to a close in one great surging chant, upborne on the throbbing waves of the organ notes. The church rings to the pealing brass, thrilling violins, the men's deep voices....
Ah, when will it resound to the song of thanksgiving at the end?