Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

Home fires in France, by Dorothy Canfield online

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THE BENT TWIG. $1.50 net.
HILLSBORO PEOPLE with occasional Vermont
verses by SARAH N. CLEGHORN. $1.50 net.
THE REAL MOTIVE. $1.50 net.


$1.35 net.


Publishers New York



Author of "The Bent Twig," "The Squirrel-Cage,"
"Hillsboro People," etc.












: i-


This book is fiction written in France out of a life
long familiarity with the French and two years in
tense experience in war work in France. It is a true
setting-forth of personalities and experiences, French
and American, under the influence of war. It tells
what the war has done to the French people at home.
In a recent letter, the author said, " What I write is
about such very well-known conditions to us that it
is hard to remember it may be fresh to you, but it
is so far short of the actual conditions that it seems
pretty pale, after all."



Notes from a French Village in the War Zone . i

The Permissionaire ......... 27

Vignettes from Life at the Rear 60

A Fair Exchange 84

The Refugee in

A Little Kansas Leaven 132

Eyes for the Blind 173

The First Time After 194

Hats 204

A Honeymoon . . . Vive TAmerique! . . . 227

La Pharmacienne 259



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 his
torical 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 inconsider
able 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 feel
ing." 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 broadswords into one an-

2 -V. : :/: :; : \HQ:ME; FJ.RES IN FRANCE

other or signing treaties which condemned all succeeding
college students to a new 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 discov
ered 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 Catherine de Medici pass on her way north as
now they see the gray American Ambulance rattle
by. ..." And I bet it w r as 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 in comparatively re
cent times, not earlier than 1620."

" Oh, the Pilgrim Fathers! " cried the boy from Con

"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 sup
port beyond a casual sawmill or two. " How do all
these people earn their living?" they always asked, put
ting the question in the same breath with the other in
evitable 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 cettlement 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 driv
ers 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 unem-


bittered 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 thou
sand years in the same place, enormously reposes or enor
mously exasperates the American observer.

You do not see the cows going out to pasture, or com
ing 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 courtyards 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 accompani
ments of country life; for instance, the isolation and
loneliness of the women and children. There is no iso
lation 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 from 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

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 niters 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 Mantier has at last passed away, or that
school reopens a week from Monday and all children
must be 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 per
sonal taste, I must confess that the whole town seemed
only too ready to swarm in, 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, stony 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 grapevines 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 neg
lected one compared with those all around us."


" But where are they ? " asked our American incredu
lously, his vision cut off by the ten-foot wall.

At this we invited him upstairs to a lofty window at
the back of the house, leaning from which he had a
totally new view of the town whose arid 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 Amer
ican, reconstructing his ideas with racial rapidity.
On withdrawing his head his first comment was, usu

" 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 begin
ning 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 gar
dens behind ten-foot stone walls with broken bottles on
top, although for generations the community life has
been as peaceful as that of any 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 un-
courageous 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 passerby 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,
like all Europeans, apparently like the feeling of having
neighbors near so that they can enjoy shutting them out.
They say they like the feeling of being all to them
selves ; 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 it,
not being so darned private as all that ! I don t see that
you need take any less satisfaction in a rosebush 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, d you know," added the boy from home, a
little wistfully, looking down into the green, secluded
peace of the walled-in garden, " there must be some
thing 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 thine old game of corrupting the fresh candor of
invading barbarians!


" But, anyhow," ended the boy from home bravely,
" I don t care. I think our way is lots the nicest . . .,
for everybody!"

Dear boy from home!

Then we went downstairs and visited our modest es
tablishment, 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 be
cause it was like any chicken-yard; if anything, not so
well kept or so well organized as an American one. 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 at all for the children to play with, but that
they form a serious part of the activities of every coun
try 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. They take the place, as
far as I could see, of the American farm family s hog,
and are to my mind a great improvement on him. Their
flesh is much better food than the hog s, and since the
animal is so small and so prolific, he provides a steady
succession all the year round of fresh meat, palatable and
savory, not smoked and salted into indigestibility like
most of our country pork. In addition, he costs prac
tically nothing to raise. This is, under the usual condi
tions of the French countryside, almost literally true.
They are given those scraps from the kitchen and garden
which hens will not touch, the potato and vegetable par
ings, the carrot-tops, the pea-vines after they have
stopped bearing, the outer leaves of the cabbages,
and, above all, herbage of all sorts which otherwise would
be lost. Every afternoon, the old women of the town,
armed with gunny sacks and sickles, go out for an hour
or so of fresh air and exercise. The phrase is that they
va d I herbe (go for the grass). It is often a lively ex
pedition, with the children skipping and shouting beside
,their grandmother, or one of the bigger boys pushing


the wheelbarrow, cherished and indispensable accessory
of French country life. They take what with us would be
a " walk in the country," and as they pass they levy toll
on every sod beside the road, or in a corner of a wall;
on the fresh green leaves and twigs of neglected thickets;
on brambles and weeds rabbits adore weeds! on un
derbrush and vines. Since seeing these patient, ruddy,
vigorous, white-capped old women at their work I have
made another guess at the cause of the miraculously neat
and ordered aspect of French landscapes. It is an effect
not wholly due to the esthetic sense of the nation. To
ward twilight, the procession of old women and chil
dren, red-cheeked and hungry, turns back to the village,
with wheelbarrows loaded and sacks bursting with food
which otherwise would have served no human purpose.
No need to give the rabbit, as we do the hog, expensive
golden corn, fit for our own food, and which takes the
heart out of the soil which produces it. The rabbit lives,
and lives well, on the unconsidered and unmissed crumbs
from Mother Nature s table.

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 imple

" But you can t bake your bread in such a 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 com
munity. These French country women 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 produc i 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 cer
tain cooked foods \vhich 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 peo
ple said the real reason for church suppers was that they
might taste boiled ham once in a while. In Crouy, back
ward, 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 over France. Every Wednesday morn
ing 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 smok
ing 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 beef
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 wher? you go to buy your
fruit in her little shop, which is r othing 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 Ma
dame 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 wash days there is no
arduous lifting and emptying out of water, no penetrat
ing odor of soapsuds throughout all the house, no waste
of fuel under hundreds of individual wash-boilers, no
solitary drudging over the washtubs. The French coun
try housekeeper who does her own washing brings around
to the street door her faithful steed, the wheelbarrow,


and loads it up; 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 flat, 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 neigh
bors, 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 worl3
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

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Online LibraryDorothy Canfield FisherHome fires in France, by Dorothy Canfield → online text (page 1 of 19)