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pastures, fields, you guarded flocks, or when throughout the nights you sat alone beside the candle, tirelessly knitting, spinning.
IN those days before the war-days of happiness, tranquillity, when all the world was bright, and France dreamed not of that black cloud of horror and destruction soon to envelop her fair fields and people-Brittany glowed with life. The cobbled streets resounded with the clatter of sabots, children romped noisily,-no dwindling of the population here,-women, in their headdresses, filled the market-places, men, with velvet ribbons to their hats, dotted thick the fields. Along the coast the towns hummed with fishermen. Daily the boats sailed out into the channel; daily they returned laden with their catch. Long before the first pale light of dawn the men would gather at the wharves, and there would rise a tumult of gruff voices, shouts, creaks of windlasses and pulley-blocks. Among forests of dim masts, sails would be hoisted, strange-shaped, ghostly black; yellow gleams from lanterns came, splash of oars, ripplings of water; then, with voices receding, the fishing-boats moved off into the night. In afternoons the boats returned. One by one they crept up softly to the quays. The wharves, which through the daylight hours of the mornings had lain silent and deserted, now again grew rife with sound. Tongues wagged. Boats gave up their catch. Sunlight glistened on wet scales and fins. Now, with tug on ropes and rhythmic cadences from shanty-men, the ends of dark-brown nets were lifted to the mastheads. Other nets, in need of mending, were spread upon the quays, and sturdy fisher-folk, drawing the meshes tight with their bare toes, with curiously formed needles and thick twine fell to upon repairs.
Then came the war. Brittany's sturdy race of men was called to face the enemy. Her bronzed sons were torn from the sea, and boats and sails and nets and catch of fish-the sardine catch, upon which the land leans chiefly for its food and income-were left in the hands of women. Of men only the
A Bigoudenne, near Pont-l'Abbé, Brittany
old and the boys remained. To her women Brittany turned for maintenance of life.
Brittany perhaps more than any other province of France distant from the battle-front has felt the throes of war. In common with all France she had her anguish of departing troops; with all France she suffered as her wounded, mutilated sons returned: but also through her channel ports, through Brest, there poured the armies of America, those armies of her mighty sister nation that surging on the railroads across the country's face kept Brittany in turmoil. Yet amidst the thronging of troops, upheaval, agonies of grief, steadfastly the Breton women toiled with nets, with oars, that loved ones had lain down. Theirs was the task to see that the catch was not diminished-the catch which now more than ever in the history of their land was needed by men.
As it was throughout these years of conflict, so it is to-day. For though battles no more rage, and Teuton hordes no longer ravage the fields of eastern France, still for undetermined months to come must armies guard the Rhine, patrol the neutral zones, devote all energy to the Herculean task of reconstructing wastes of devastation. Not yet may the sons of France return to hearth and home.
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. In 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'