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And so the wharves and quays of Finistère, which formerly resounded with the deep voices of the men, still give forth their shriller note, the highpitched cries of women. Trousers have all but disappeared. The fishing throngs are now skirt-clad. Now aprons, apron
Fisherwoman of Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy
strings, and tresses blow in the wind. Women's arms swing baskets of sardines and crevettes to their heads, and women's legs, with feet thrust into sabots, stagger off beneath their loads. The winches rattle, the sails are hoisted, and in the dark before the dawn the fleets of boats as ever make mysteriously out to sea, and return at glow of afternoon as ever laden with their harvests from the deep.
Look casually upon these fisherfolk and you will perhaps judge the skirt to be the greatest change the war has brought among them; but look again. Is it not now the faces of the women that most compel attention, most vividly reveal the revolution in their lives? Gone from all their countenances is the care-free look of early days. A seriousness, a sternness, dwells upon them all, and though at times they laugh, perhaps, and chatter, there is no gaiety among them. Steadily they ply at baskets, sails, and nets, and as they answer
when you speak to them, there is a faraway expression in their eyes. Their thoughts are not of you, but always of their work, their purpose, to do that which they have been called upon to do, and through their faithfulness to duty each moment to bring nearer that blessed, longed-for day when, with permanent peace assured and reconstruction well accomplished, their returning husbands, sons, and brothers will be welcomed to their arms.
DIM and white along her Swiss and Spanish borders loom the mountains of France. Their snow-clad peaks, their glaciers, from heights above the clouds look down remotely on the plains. They stand aloof from the tempests of the lowlands, soar majestically against the sky. Wrapped in mystery, seen now through rifts in vapor, lost now in haze, they speak of other worlds, of worlds untorn by passion. "What is war to us?" they seem to question. "What the strife of men?"
"Why war, indeed?" the peasants' hearts made answer when upon that fateful day of August had come their country's call to arms. Throwing down their rakes and scythes, the mountain men had donned their uniforms, poured down the valleys to the lowlands, joined the army's mighty surge that, rising like a tidal bore in answer to the nation's call, swept on to quell the enemy. "Why war, indeed?" the mountain men kept asking when upon the plains, turning for a final vision of their peaks, they beheld their virgin crests calm and. white against the sky. "What is this war about?" their hearts cried out. "Why must men fly at one another's throats? Why may we not live in peace upon the high plateaus we love so well?"
So France's mountains were denuded of their men, and women undertook their tasks. The little figures of the herdsmen herdsmen with their bâtons, flying capes, are no longer seen mounting the steep ways of upper pastures, following the cows along the dizzy paths that cling upon the faces of the hills. The sound of shepherd's song no longer echoes from plateaus. Shorter, skirted figures now struggle up the zigzags, guard the flocks as with tinkling bells they browse
upon the turf. Far above the valleys, among the topmost pastures, above the fir-line close beside the snows, where throughout the summers graze the mountain herds, here now are found the women. Their dark-clad figures move sharply silhouetted against the glittering peaks. No sound is here. Far removed from noises of the valleys, from tumult of the towns, these vast and upper regions of the mountains wait silently beneath the dome of heaven. Perhaps a gurgle from a melting snow-bed may come, a note from deep-toned cowbell, an eagle's whir; but these intensify the stillness.
Women of the mountains, war's cloud is lifted from the heart of France; but yet a little while and to your hamlets in the valleys, to your cottages that nestle at the foot of giant crags, loved ones will return. Ahead lies not another winter such as those through which you have just passed. Soon heroes will be standing at your side, will be taking up again the work which five long years ago they entrusted to your hands. No more will dreary months drag on. No
more through bitter cold will you exist alone within your barns. Those months to you seemed endless, to you cut off by snow from all the world. You were prisoners in your huts. Outside howled the winds, Snows mounted to your roofs. From windows, through the drifts, you cut alleys to get light; while always, as you toiled with spindle, shovel, even while questioning children clung about your knees and spluttering fires filled the dim interiors of your cottages with smoke, were you weighted down with apprehension, torn by hopes and fears and longings, waiting feverishly for news from husbands at the front.
As in Brittany, as in the Alps and the Pyrenees, so throughout all France today women do the work of men. cities this may not at once be evident, for cities appear as ever crowded with trousered folk. Troops throng the streets; the railroad stations of the major towns are jammed with military. Indeed, at stations one might think the work of women was now over. The platforms are no longer filled with waiting nurses, those never-wearying Red Cross nurses who throughout the war were to be found in every town in France, in every station, at all hours of the days and nights, ready for the trains of wounded, eager with their bandages, their stimulants, their pitchers of cold grenadin.
It is, however, when your train has left the towns and is steaming across country that the scarcity of men becomes apparent. At the rural villages the station folk are always women. Ouvriers have vanished. Baggage and freight are handled by young girls. The chef-de-gare is nowhere to be seen; in his place officiates an important-looking person in skirt and visored cap. On local locomotives soot-stained women in blue jeans shovel coal, and at stops come down to oil the drivers. Upon the passing country scarce a man is visible. One looks in vain for the blue-bloused tillers of the soil, the peasants with their darkblue bérets who before the war dotted thick the landscape. Their absence tells vividly the tale of conflict, how pitiless, how inexorable, has been the trenches'
call upon the fields. A few old men driving carts,-carts drawn by horses so advanced in years as to have escaped the Government's requisitioning hand, -boys yet too young for service, returned wounded soldiers working with one arm, maybe a foreigner or two, a
In Arles, Provence
Spaniard, Hindu, or a Chinese coolie that is all. Those upon whom France still depends for cultivation of the soil are women. One sees women bending to the rake, swinging the scythe, tugging at the harrow. Here and there they drive the plow, struggling with handles, reins, and horse, and ox. deed, where horse and ox as well as men are few, women may themselves be seen in harness, bent double as they pull slowly and rigorously, overturning all too reluctant furrows.
In Normandy, where once the sturdy peasant men harvested the orchards and to the railroads drove their overflowing loads behind their stalwart horses, now horses and men have all but vanished. Beneath their hampers women stagger to the trains.
Mont-Saint-Michel rises wonderously as ever from the sands, but about her feet no longer wade the fishermen. Fishwives, with skirts rolled up, displaying lean, bare legs, with nets and baskets, now brave the water, risking quicksands and sudden tides.
Along Biscayan coasts, where surf and tide, uncaring for the petty strifes of men, ever cast on the rocks their harvests of the deep-sea kelp, men have
disappeared. With blowing skirts and bending backs women gather in the weed, spread it out to dry, rake it into piles, and set fire to them in order to obtain the iodine in the ashes the iodine needed for the armies and all too difficult to get in these days. Smoke pours off, hangs in haze along the shores. With cries the gulls sweep overhead. The air is filled with brine and smell of ocean. Here by the wild beaches and the rocks, were it not for the absence of the trousered folk, war, tragedy, and trenches, devastation, neutral zones, and armistice, treaties, armies of occupation, might be a dream.
It is in southern France perhaps that one most keenly realizes the loneliness of women. In Provence, that land of vineyards, olives, wealth of sunshine, laughter, fullness of life, men have melted quite away. The gay throngs of swarthy-skinned young figures, loosely clad, many with the square-cut, bushy, blue-black beards wholly Provençal in type, are no longer to be seen. In Arles, in Tarascon, in all Provence's quaint and medieval-looking towns, the streets lie silent, nigh devastated. Women only, some solitary, some in groups of twos and threes, make to and fro along the narrow, tortuous ways. At night all is still. Maybe a single-skirted figure goes about lighting a street lamp here and there. The clatter of her sabots echoes startlingly. The lamps throw inky shadows, unbroken by a passer-by.
Leave Arles, drive along the sunlit, dusty roads that wind among the miles of olive-groves or by the endless reaches of the vineyards, and you will behold only women. You will see them, with their overflowing hampers, gathering the grapes, their arms stained crimson to the elbows, or on ladders climbing amidst the olive-boughs. Lacking now are the joyous voices of bygone days. Earnestly they work away. Harvests must be taken in, life go on, but a stillness hangs about the gatherers, speaking all too eloquently of the yearnings of their hearts. And their coifscoifs of the Arlésiennes-is it that they seem no longer to flutter gaily as in days before the war?