We Had Until the Harvest

June 23, 1939
NOTHING has changed. The taxi stops as usual before Number 1, rue Foch, and we scramble out. My brother-in-law pays the driver. My sister and I turn to enter the house. Nothing has changed. Here are the high iron gates, their old-fashioned finials overhung by the chestnuts and acacias. Here is the long side wall of the house with the outside stair attached at the farther end, and the shutters and dovetailings of faded green. Here is the little carriage house, no carriages in it now, let to a little old townswoman we call Madame Marguerite. At the main door the taximan deposits my bags with their steamship labels. I am at home again.
It might be last summer, I say to myself as we ascend to the entrance hall. Nothing has changed. In spite of two mobilizations and the fear which has been imposed on this region, nothing has changed. Then I see, tacked on the wall in front of me, a cardboard notice: République Française, Préfecture de la Moselle, mesures de protection contre les effets des bombardements et des attaques aériennes. This was not here last summer. These are the measures for safety issued last September during the crisis. My sister wrote then how the gendarmes had been to the door with instructions that the great refuge cellars under the house must remain open, day and night, for use by the townspeople in case of air raids. I glance at my sister. She nods, smiling a little.
‘Don’t be disturbed by that,’ she says. ‘We have until the harvest.’
‘Until the harvest?’
‘Yes, when Hitler failed to do anything about Danzig last April it began to be said everywhere that he would wait until after the harvest. Cheer up, darling — we have two months!’
Two months — the duration of my visit. Two months! So very short a time, it seems to me. Yet from the way my sister speaks I realize that to Europeans it has meant a very decent respite, these months when they can be certain nothing will happen, these months while the grain is growing.
‘You can’t understand that in America, can you?’ my sister asks. ‘You don’t know how lucky you are!’
No, I agree silently, I suppose we do not know how lucky we are. Yet what an ironic sort of ’luck’ to one who loves England and France as I do.
‘Come,’ says my sister, and opens the door into my own room, with its familiar dark-red walls and its wainscoting and woodwork painted a palish mauve. (My sister is not responsible for the color schemes in her house, which is rented for her family by Sarre-et-Moselle, the great coal-mining company where my brother-in-law, a Frenchman by birth, is ingénieur civil des mines.) I toss my hat and gloves on to the bed, and go over to the window which overlooks the side garden, with its chestnuts and acacias. Beyond the gates a street cleaner is at work; children are playing near the café of the Trois Rois, on the corner. I listen to their voices, and to the diligent scrape and pat, scrape and pat, of the old man’s brush as he coaxes the refuse together. It is all exactly as it should be. This moment might be the continuation of the summer before.
After tea we go into the upper gardens, through the office and the kitchen, past the little back courtyard with its dilapidated balconies still daubed with a suggestion of blue paint.
We go through the little door out to the garden, with its green overhang of elderberry and lilac and honeysuckle. How sweet it all smells: the sunshine, the earth, those white wheels of elderberry bloom, the currants red and lustrous on their standards. We go to sit in the grasses, facing that hodgepodge of kitchen and courtyard and hay-barn roofs: sway-backed, sagging, the tiles round like halves of flowerpots overlapping one another, blackened by weather, yet looking quite red still in the sun. Birds are twittering up there among the chimneys.
How peaceful it is! Odd how one still invokes that word, peace. For any enterprising newspaper reporter would describe this garden as ‘under a war cloud.’ I squint up at the blue summer sky. Not a cloud anywhere, most assuredly not the sort a cartoonist would draw, heavily outlined in black with an explosion of exclamation marks after the central word: WAR! Nothing of that here. Here there is nothing but sunshine, and little frictions of wind among the ivies and grasses beside me.
Then I remember that here, in this very tangle of growth, one of the cellar chimneys is concealed. If I were to poke among the brambles and put aside the ivy leaves I could find it: an open bricked descent into those depths below. Last summer we made a tour of the cellars, Louis, my brother-in-law, going first with a flashlight. We had to creep along through that blackness, chill with underground air, feeling our way by means of a hand laid on a solid stone wall, or a foot cautiously placed ahead for the next step.
These cellars extend under the town for several kilometres, and there are various entrances, one at the foot of the Bleiberg, the hill which rises behind the lane at the back of our gardens. Last summer the cellars seemed an adventure, a jolly, frightening mystery to be explored. Now they have a grimmer significance. Where is the peace I was so certain about only a moment ago? The sun still shines on those mossy bits of roof. The little wind comes rustling through the ivies. This time I shiver. My sister looks at me inquiringly.
‘You’re not cold, are you, darling?’ she asks.

June 24. — Last night I heard the hay wagons coming in. Under my open window in the darkness they sounded loud as artillery, and I thought at first that they were artillery, for I remembered from last summer how we used to hear troops in the night, marching toward Metz or the frontier. But last night it was not soldiers. It was the hay wagons coming in from the fields. I know, because I got up to look, and dimly in the darkness I could make out the shapes of the lumbering great loads, topheavy and untidily rounded, the loose hay dragging on the cobbles like the swish of heavy skirts.
It set me thinking — load after load of green hay coming in like that at midnight. I remembered what my sister had said about the harvest. I remembered how yesterday in the train we had journeyed for hours among the hayfields. Kilometre by kilometre we passed them, journeying through Lorraine, where the fields were like green stripes on the plain, and where already much of the hay was cut and lying raked-up in little mounds. We saw farm horses standing motionless, and peasants in blue dresses, with white handkerchiefs tied over their heads, forking up the hay.
Even then I had begun to think. We had just been reading in our Paris newspaper how the Reich has called out girls and students to help with the harvest, how there is talk of a greater harvest than usual, unless the rains interfere. Always the harvest — the harvest. Yet this is only the hay. The barley and the wheat are still to come. Again I think of that clause: ‘unless the rains interfere.’ Last summer we had almost continuous rains.

June 27. — This morning I go with my sister on her shopping rounds. I like these little shops in St. Avold. The commerçants are very friendly, very much interested in les américaines. So far as I know, we are the only Americans who ever have been in the town. I want to see the fat old man in his képi, who sits beside his barrels of fish in one of those beautiful stone doorways near the Place; the old candlemaker, with his innocent blue eyes, who makes his long white church tapers by hand; the girl assistant in the Banque Populaire, who goes constantly on errands, riding her bicycle. What has happened to these people during this year? How have all these cries of ‘Wolf! Wolf!’ affected them ?
Posted up on the wall are advertisements for beer and cigarettes and the Loterie Française of the month. And there is one conspicuous command: Souscrivez aux bons d’armement. But, I remind myself, there was one of those here last summer.
We go first to the Crémerie Centrale for eggs. The owner, a grave-faced, pretty woman, was born in Berlin. Her shop is very clean and smells of the dairy, with the cheeses of the region set up on the shelves in their round wooden boxes, the Camembert and the Münster, and under great glass bells the Port Salut and the pale Gruyère, and the Roquefort in silver paper.
At the boulangerie, too, the woman is a German — Kloster is her name. She has almost no French, but that does not affect her sympathies. Last September, my sister tells me, she stood behind her counter, her eyes swollen from weeping, as she pushed the bread at her customers, gathering up their francs and dropping them into the cash drawer as though they were of no importance.
The little girl at the épicerie, Madame Schmidt, is going to have a baby. She and her young husband live over the shop. Her child is due in the early autumn. What docs that mean? What will be happening here in the early autumn? She does not look worried, but she adds up our bill very carefully, and she docs not slip a bonbon into our bags as she used to do last year.
As we pass the fountain once more, I ask my sister about these Lorrainers. What are their political sympathies?
‘French,’ she unhesitatingly assures me.
‘But can you be altogether sure — so many German names? ‘
‘Yes,’ she answers, ‘I think so. Remember, two generations ago they were all French. It was only between 1870 and 1914 that the Germans came in here.’
‘True,’ I admit. ‘But since the war France has been so lenient. The government has not insisted that French be the only language spoken. It has not been a case of La Dernière Classe. Why, even after twenty-five years all signs and notices here are printed in both languages, and you tell me that every Sunday the church holds one Mass in German. And we hear German spoken on all sides, even by children born long after 1914.’
‘Yes,’ my sister agrees, ‘all that is true. But I still believe the sympathy here is French — perhaps because of this very leniency.’
Yet, who really can say? There has been no clamoring to return to the Reich, even though in that corner café, on Sunday nights, we hear drunken workmen roaring out songs about the Fatherland. But as yet Hitler has not turned his eyes toward Alsace and Lorraine, has not been interested yet in stirring up the minorities here. Indeed, he protests that he does not want this region, that he has magnanimously relinquished all claim to it, even though these were Germany’s lands!

June 30. — It is announced over the TSF that Hitler intends to visit Danzig in about three weeks. This is very sudden, very disturbing. Have we trusted too much in the harvest?
I am wondering if I should send my trunk to the steamship company for storage, since, if a crisis does come, we might have to leave in a hurry. It is difficult to know what to do.
I begin to realize what last September meant. My sister does not like to speak of it, but I remember her letters. She had been out that Saturday morning to buy her next day’s roast. On her way back she had seen the large white posters, with the crossed tricolor at the top, which placarded the Mairie, calling up the classes. At Sarre-et-Moselle, Louis had been notified, and had returned from Merlebach at once, arriving home at almost the same moment as my sister, with her roast of beef in her bag. (Louis returned the roast to the boucherie, and was given credit for the next time meat might be wanted!) Then they had perhaps an hour in which to pack the suitcases they were permitted to take, to lock up the house as it stood, with all their possessions in it. Louis found time to bore holes in the tin breadbox so that my sister could carry her cat, Frou-Frou, south with her to Veauche, to my brotherin-law’s people. At Metz, Louis had to go to his post in the Maginot Line.
The confusion of the crowds at the Metz station was frightful, women fighting their way into the railway carriages, screaming and uncontrolled. Soldiers were everywhere; troop trains were filling up. Louis took charge of one thirdclass carriage, establishing what order he could, finding a place for my sister, handing in children and luggage, restraining the hysterical crush. In Paris it was even worse. No porters were to be had, no taxicabs. At the Gare de Lyon she caught her train south, sitting up all night in an overfull compartment, FrouFrou mewing inconsolably.
We can laugh at it now. But on September 24, 1938, there was no inkling of Munich. And last September my sister had been married only four months.

July 9. — The crisis, if it can be called a crisis, seems to have blown over. After the scare of headlines and wireless reports the news is that Hitler has postponed his visit to Danzig until the end of August, at least — perhaps longer. This seems significant. One cannot help feeling that the firm stand taken by France and England in the spring is responsible for this. If only they will continue to stand firm, there may never be actual war. Yet — who knows?

July 11. — Today we go to tea at the château, at Hombourg-Haut, with Madame M—, who is the daughter of the Sous Directeur of Sarre-et-Moselle. We take a bavette for her new little son. The château is old and delightful, with its eighteenth-century façade, its graveled courtyard and perron, and the great park behind. Over the brioches and the confiture we chat of many things. We speak of this current crisis, of September — both the September behind us and the one to come.
‘These Septembers!’ cries Madame M—, with a laugh and a shrug.
Her baby, like many of those being born this summer, is a September crisis baby.
More and more I am impressed by that attitude here, by the sangfroid, the calmness, the determination to go on as though nothing were the least unusual. The excitable French, we have been opt to call them. But that is not true — not any longer.
Madame M—has sent none of her possessions away yet to safety.
But last week, in Merlebach, at the home of the Ingénieur en Chef, it was a different story. There Madame de V— apologized for her teapot and her cups. The best things had been sent south to her sister, she said. But Merlebach is a stone’s throw from the frontier, in some sections scarcely that. After tea that day we walked out to the field where the markers stand, the ‘ F ‘ carved on one side, the ‘D’ on the other. Along the wood, directly facing us, we could see the tangles of barbed wire, and opposite, by some of the Sarre-et-Moselle buildings, machine guns were being installed, even as we watched. The roads are blocked at frequent intervals by barriers like those at railroad crossings, always with soldiers on guard. This is true not only in a village like Rosbruck-Nassweiler, where the frontier runs through the middle of the street (the Germans erected a high iron fence along it last summer), but at other points nearer Merlebach and St. Avold.
A few nights ago when we were returning from a dinner party we were stopped by officials, but when the Sarre-etMoselle car was recognized our papers were not demanded. It is wise now to carry one’s passport always. Everywhere the French are tightening up. But it is necessary, in this region which lies between the two lines. For here we are living on the wrong side of the Maginot Line, and the French themselves, if necessary, will blow up this strip of country with its valuable coal mines.
People here, I find, do not talk a great deal about politics. That is part of the attitude which they have adopted toward this ‘war of nerves.’ When we are out in company my sister and brother-in-law are questioned about their recent holiday on the Rhine, or I am asked — though more out of politeness, I think, than for any other reason — how America feels about all this. Great respect is shown for President Roosevelt; the French speak of him as a friend. But they find it difficult to understand Congress and its present stubbornness over this matter of the Neutrality Act, particularly since they feel that the American people as a whole are in sympathy with the democracies and what they are facing. Can I explain this?
I try, but it is hard to convey to them that it is personal rancor against the President which is largely responsible for the action of Congress — or rather, for the lack of action. France is at present so unified under M. Daladier that Frenchmen find any such party dissension a little strange — possibly a little out of date. What they are apt to forget, of course, unless they are reminded, is that the United States is more than thirty-five hundred miles away from Hitler. That is quite different from living fifteen minutes from the frontier, as we do in St. Avoid.

July 14. — Le quatorze juillet! Vive le quatorze juillet! Last night St. Avold celebrated with a retraite aux flambeaux and a dozen bals in the various cafés. When we heard the first of the band music, we dashed out to join the crowd already gathered by the fountain in front of the Mairie. There the town pompiers, in helmets shined until they were almost white, sat in a circle working away at their brass instruments with all their breath. The saint on the fountain had a hoop of lights about him, bright as brilliants, and there were more lights around the flag-hung balconies of the Mairie. Children carried paper lanterns, bobbing about on sticks.
Oh, it was very gay! The music, of course, was dreadful. But what of that? Everyone enjoyed it, and there was great applause for the firemen and cries of ‘Bis! Bis!’ whenever they crashed to a climax and were silent for a few minutes, wiping their mouths.
Presently we strolled on toward the Place de la Victoire, in the centre of town, and the fireworks began.
Then the pompiers came marching, and we followed them up the street to the nearest caserne, where the cavalry was assembling for the retraite aux flambeaux. It was like an appearance of knighthood as they began to gallop past with a great clatter of hoofs, all those officers riding with trumpets attached to red baldrics, the flames streaming backwards from the flares they carried, while rockets described bright arcs overhead.
We do not go to Metz this morning, as we did last year, to see the great military review, but we listen to the broadcast. It comes over the air quite well: the rumble of tanks and cannon, the whistle of the train going along that high bank by the field, even the orders for releasing the carrier pigeons.
We tune into Paris as well, for this year in Paris the celebration is the greatest that France has ever known, on this one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the taking of the Bastille. There are immense parades down the Champs-ÉIysées to the Arc de Triomphe, colonial regiments marching, British bombers flying overhead with the French. Our announcer suggests that if, in 1914, such a military demonstration had been made by France, with Britain joining, then there might have been no World War. Well, that is one man’s opinion. But if it is true that such a mustering of forces can impress Hitler and hold another war at bay, by all means let us have these displays of men and machine guns.

July 15. — The world has settled into the summer doldrums — so says the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune. The summer doldrums — a good phrase. For what can we do these days but. wait? Hitler, so we are told, has gone into retreat at Berchtesgaden, in that steel and glass ‘Eagle’s Nest’ of his, on the top of the Kehlstein. He, too, has to wait. Even dictators cannot dictate to the wheat. There has been talk (from Germany) about hurrying the harvest. But the harvest cannot be hurried.
Everyone we know is away. Madame C—and her two boys are in England; Madame M—has gone to Brittany.
In the upper gardens nothing seems to grow except the salads. We begin to think our gardener has played a trick on us and has planted nothing else. Doggedly every night we eat them, those crisp green leaves turned skillfully in the bowl by Louis until they glisten with oil.
Frou-Frou has more energy than any of us. She exerts herself at least once each day to catch a fly.
We have settled into the summer doldrums. Nothing happens. Time seems stationary, like the great five-fingered shadows of the chestnut leaves here on this old marble sill.
But in the fields the grain is growing. We can no more halt the grain than we can hurry it.

July 20.—The rains are beginning. At last, after days of intermittent cloudiness, of showers and sprinkles and small downpours, the rains are beginning. ‘Unless the rains interfere’ — is there still hope of that?
I put on my brother-in-law’s old black rubber coat that reaches to my shoes. I am going out to the gardens.
In the kitchen courtyard it is raining smartly on the paving stones, streaming from the tiles, dripping in sheets of silver drops from the faded blue rails of the balconies.
I climb the old wooden stair to the hay barn. Here there is a comfortable clatter on the roof that echoes down the whole shadowy length of the place. This, at last, seems to be a rain that can be depended upon, a rain that will not stop suddenly to be dried away by the sun. I slide back the rusty bolt in its stone groove and go out the garden door. Long and straight and vertical the rain is falling. Past the cabbages and the haricots I make my way, pushing between gooseberry bushes that drench me even more.
If it is raining like this in the garden, I say to myself, it is raining throughout the region. It is raining on both sides of the frontier, for the entire sky is low and gray. Perhaps this is the rain we have been waiting for, I say to myself. Perhaps this is the rain that will hold up the harvest.
Standing here by the gooseberry bushes, I can see the long, connected lines of the rain settling down for days on this countryside, disintegrating the gray landscape, shutting it in, isolating this region in mist and bad weather, beating down the barley, soaking the wheat, bowing the oats with their delicate stems that droop a little under the weight of their small, dry danglets. Already, I say to myself, we have the symbol of that Downing Street umbrella, that chamberlain which the French have adopted with so much enthusiasm. Possibly the rain and the umbrella together may still get Europe out of her difficulties! Yet, what if they do not? What if they fail?
Suddenly as I stand here fingering a green-striped gooseberry, so wet with rain, all my flippancy leaves me. Now I see only this country that I love so much, the fields, the stone farms, the villages clustered together with their red roofs, Longeville and Bionville, Coincy and Landremont and Fouligny, Hombourg-Haut and Hombourg-Bas. They are all alike, these Lorraine villages, no matter what their names: a handful of old cottages joining crookedly down a single cobbled street, with stone-enclosed manure heaps in every dooryard, and farm wagons standing empty with their ladders up. Black hens scuttle underfoot, children in pinafores play by the fountain where the farm horses are brought to drink in the evening with their harness off. Old men and women with faces as beautiful as though they were carved out of wood sit on the benches outside every door; the younger men crowd the bistro, with its little bar stacked high with mugs and glasses.
Nothing must happen to these villages, not a second, not a third time. They have suffered enough here.
The rains are beginning. But can we hope for anything from the rains?

July 30. — No, in spite of the rains the barley is ripe. The barley is being harvested. Today we walk on the Bleiberg, and when we are tired we sit in a barley field, with our backs against the strawcolored stacks. How fragrant they are, like hay. There are larks about, out of sight but not out of hearing. Long and jointed, the varnished straws droop from the sheaves; the pale, flat, stiff-bristled heads look disproportionate in size as I gaze past them to the other stooks beyond.
It is Sunday afternoon and very quiet. From this height we can look down on a great section of the country, on woods, dark as pictures, on red-roofed villages, and far away we can see the smoke from the mines, from Carling and l’Hôpital and Creuzwald, and, still beyond, the purple-blue hills of Germany, like a haze in this late summer afternoon. How still everything is, how peaceful: nothing but those tireless little larks up there in the sun. Peace — how the word persists in my mind.
But the barley has been harvested. The barley is standing in its stooks. Only the wheat is left. And after the wheat, what then?

August 1.—More troops are going past the house these days. This only means increased manœuvres along the frontier. There is nothing to worry about — not yet. These men are not in khaki. They are wearing the old horizon blue, and their uniforms are dirty and draggled enough, faded, gone almost yellow where the flaps of the long coats are buttoned back. The men have their flat helmets strapped under their chins; their hobnailed shoes are noisy on the street.
These soldiers are only boys, unshaven, weary, shambling along four abreast until some sharp command makes them straighten their shoulders.
Gun carriages follow, and smaller carts drawn by mules with some lazy poilu stretched out on a block of hay. Great khaki-hooded wagons lumber along. Then come the kitchens, smoking away, coals burning under the stove lids, bundles of faggots stacked beneath, kettles swinging. There are provision carts with sacks of potatoes and onions and flour.
Often in the dawn now I am wakened by this marching, by the noise of innumerable feet on the cobblestones, by the rumble and jangle of guns and camions. Between the slats of my shutters, when I get out of bed to look, I can see the ranks going past, the almost ghostly divisions, heads bent forward almost as though they were running, from the weight of what is on their backs. Motorcycles bring up the rear, and bicycles, and a few stragglers on foot. The sound of the marching dies away in the direction of Metz.
There is nothing to fear — yet.

August 5.—The word ‘Danzig’ is coming to the fore again. Since early July it has almost disappeared from the vocabulary of our wireless announcer. But now when we listen at seven o’clock in the evening, still seated at the dinner table, to the news from Radio Luxembourg, we begin to hear this ominous word once more. ‘Danzig’ — is there no escaping it?
On August 27, the newspapers say, Hitler will make his next speech.

August 10. — Today we drive to Nancy, in order to do some shopping. It is a fine afternoon, a little truce to all our rainy weather. But the rain has not held up the harvest. Rain or no rain, the barley has been got in, loaded on to the broad farm wagons, piled into freight cars on railroad sidings. Now the wheat, too, is ready.
Everywhere, on all sides, as our car speeds along this road between the double lines of plane trees with their bands of whitewash, no matter where we look the country is dotted over with the brown wheat stacks, thousands of small brown cones scattered over the face of this entire, wide, far-reaching plain. In geometric formations they extend before us, these endless rows of the harvest. The country might be a gigantic chessboard and these the brown pawns, stood in position, a pattern that confuses the eyes, shifting and repeating incessantly. Unlimited the harvest looks, unending; toward both horizons the golden-brown landscape stretches away, dotted over in every direction with the stacks of the wheat.
The road to Nancy is full of history. We pass Château-Salins. We pass the village of Moncel, directly on the old frontier. Only remnants of its demolished walls stand now among the rows of new plaster houses. Moncel has been completely rebuilt since 1918. In the meadows, trenches can still be seen, not yet brought under by the grass, though it has been more than twenty years. Such pleasant meadows these are, full of wild flowers and black-and-white cows. Somehow it is impossible to see shells exploding here, ripping up these pastures, sending these inoffensive clods erupting skyward. Yet here are the old crater holes, conclusive evidence.
I close my eyes to the harvest. After all, I remind myself, that is only hearsay. No one can be certain that the harvest is the deadline.

August 18. — Tomorrow we leave for Boulogne-sur-Mer. On Sunday I sail for New York.
This morning my sister and I get up early, for the market. I want to go to the market once more. I want to see those rows of old butter-and-egg women sitting back to back on that long bench in the middle of the Place, their baskets held tightly in their black laps. I want to see the piles of fruits and vegetables, the cauliflowers and carrots and mushrooms, the plums and nectarines. I want to see the stalls of patisserie products, and crockery, and wearables. I want to see the quantities of young pigs in their straw-filled boxes that clutter half the open square. The whole thing is like a little comedy played against the unreal backdrop of these old houses, with their red roofs and their rows of shutters, with the trees of the Felsberg rising beyond. When shall I see it again? Next summer?
In the shops I have last-minute errands to do, commissions for friends at home, little purchases for myself. I am glad of an excuse to go the rounds again: to the Banque Populaire, to Au Nègre for the milk chocolate I like best, to the boulangerie, to the épicerie where I can say good-bye to Madame Schmidt.
As we turn home I feel extremely sad. In case of trouble, what will happen to all those people? They are only poor shopkeepers; they have nothing but their stock of merchandise. If they lose that they lose everything. I have grown fond of them during my visits here. I want them safe.
All summer my sister has said very little about the situation. I have seen her lips tighten over some piece of news from the T S F. But for the most part she has adopted the French attitude of calmness, of gayety, of belittling everything but the moment.
But this morning she comes to sit on my bed while I am packing my bags.
‘How I wish Louis and I were going back to America with you!’ she says. ‘What must it be like to be really safe — to have a house you never have to flee from! Oh, it isn’t fair—it isn’t fair!’ she cries suddenly. ‘What right has one man to do this to the world?’
I do not blame her for her outburst. What right has one man, indeed? It is a terrible world for the young who should be happy, with their entire lives ahead. It is worse for them, perhaps, than for the middle-aged and the old. The young have a right to dreams, and plans, and hopes. They have a right to a future.
My sister loves France with all her heart, but I know that at this moment she is thinking of a little home in a safe American town.
Tonight I go out to the gardens for the last time. In the darkening hay barn the sun is very red on the tips of the brush pile. For a moment I stand here contemplating that radiance. Then I undo the little door and come out into the path. Everywhere there is the scent of the lavender phlox. As I appear, birds go flying off in a dozen directions, but they return very shortly to perch again on the old tiles of the roof. The garden is very still; there is a gravity of twilight in all parts of it, now that the sun has gone from behind the twisted apple boughs.
As I sit here, my hands clasped about my knees, watching all this, loving it all, evening begins to close the garden in, darkening its boundaries, obscuring its shapes — a very gradual process, but let five minutes pass, ten minutes, and I know beyond doubt that it is so. The dusk cannot be stayed. Slowly it darkens around me, more light going every instant. Trees blur together, and bushes; only the immediate dahlias are distinct, and the lettuces that keep a kind of green glimmer in their frills. There are no birds now. But a bat comes out, a dark flying thing that wavers past me and disappears into the deeper dusk.
The smell of the phlox is not so strong now. But the damp chill is bringing out other scents, the crude, not unpleasant odors of earth and plants and grasses. In the Place the bells are striking eight-fifteen. Full twilight comes on early these nights, at the end of summer. My feet are cold, and I am stiff, sitting so long like this on the border of the flower bed. I go in.
When I enter the studio I am surprised to find my sister in the midst of packing her most prized possessions. Several times we have discussed the advisability of doing this, but I did not know that she had finally made up her mind to it.
Yet I do not need to ask why. I know. Tonight the news was more disheartening than ever. We have had Förster’s bitter speech on August 11. We have had Count Ciano’s visit to Hitler on August 13. Since these events it is constantly reiterated by the Germans that they mean to have Danzig at any price. Danzig — the ‘Free City’! How ironic it is.
Newspapers strew the floor, and FrouFrou is having a fine, noisy game among them. My sister bites her lip to keep back the tears. This is the third time she has packed up her treasures and sent them off to Veauche. In the entrance hall Louis is at work on a wooden packing case. His hammer has a desolate sound echoing through these rooms, rapidly becoming dismantled as my sister removes candlesticks from the shelf, or a row of books from some end table. Louis’s wicker trunk stands open in the middle of the room, ready to hold vases, and bedding, and prints, and my sister’s fur coat, and her choicest Italian table linen.
No one speaks. What is there to be said?
In case of war, soldiers would no doubt be quartered in this house. It is centrally located and has quantities of rooms, all of them large. Yet it is impossible to send all personal possessions away. It costs too much. The furniture would have to remain. Perhaps Madame Marguerite could be prevailed upon to give houseroom to some of the more valuable pieces: the old Alsatian chairs, the sixteenth-century Florentine chest. But if war comes no house in this region will be safe. St. Avold is directly between the Maginot and Siegfried Lines.
The fire dies down to a few red ashes. Frou-Frou grows tired of her assault on the newspapers and goes to sleep, her paws tangled in excelsior. My sister works on quietly, without comment. Louis finishes his box. He drags it into the studio and we all are busy for a time, packing it full of books. Only the trunks are left, to be filled with clothes and other immediate necessities.
There is no definite crisis yet. But my brother-in-law is taking his uniform and his pistol (he is a full lieutenant, in reserve, for the Maginot Line). There might not be time to return here, though they plan to be back in St. Avoid before August 27. That seems to be the one date we can pin to for possible action: August 27. What is Hitler going to say then? What is he going to demand? Or will he try to take Danzig first, by some coup, and make his speech afterward, as is becoming his custom?
By eleven-thirty the boxes are ready. Louis nails them up. We stop our work.
We go into the kitchen to brew some tilleul. The hot tea is soothing to the nerves. We need to sleep.
As we sit at the kitchen table, weary and dispirited, Louis tells us that today, at Merlebach, he learned from one of his fellow engineers that in Germany the harvest is all gathered. At Folschviller, at the shaft there, miners come over every day from Germany to work, under the same agreement by which Sarre-etMoselle is permitted to mine coal under German territory, until 1941. These miners have been kept at home the last few days, drafted for the harvest. Everyone has been drafted, it seems: women, children, workmen, officials, it has made no difference. By government decree the harvest had to be in by the middle of August. News like this, of course, does not get into the papers. But the miners themselves have told it. They have had to explain their absence from work.
‘So in Germany the harvest is in,’ I remark.
Louis nods.
In our Lorraine fields the stacks are still standing, the binders still at work.
‘Then the harvest, according to the Germans, is over?’
Again Louis nods.
We gather up our cups, rinse them under the tap, and put them away.
We have had until the harvest.