It was useless for me to laugh, and to explain that an order was an order, and that Couilly was Couilly, whether it was at my gate or down the hill.
Pere’s anger was funnier than my joke. He saw nothing comic in the situation. To him it was absurd. Monsieur le General, commandant de la cinquieme armee ought to know that I was all right. If he didn’t know it, it was high time someone told him.
In his gentle old voice he made quite a harangue.
All Frenchmen can make harangues.
It was difficult for me to convince him that I was not in the slightest degree annoyed; that I thought it was amusing; that there was nothing personally directed against me in the order; that I was only one of many foreigners inside the zone des armees; that the only way to catch the dangerous ones was to forbid us all to circulate.
I might have spared myself the breath it took to argue with him. If I ever thought I could change the conviction of a French peasant, I don’t think so since I have lived among them. I spent several days last summer trying to convince Pere that the sun did not go round the earth. I drew charts of the heavens,—you should have seen them— and explained the solar system. He listened attentively—one has to listen when the patronne talks, you know—and I thought he understood. When it was all over—it took me three days—he said to me:
“Bien. All the same, look at the sun. This morning it was behind Maria’s house over there. I saw it. At noon it was right over my orchard. I saw it there. At five o’clock it will be behind the hill at Esbly. You tell me it does not move! Why, I see it move every day. Alors—it moves.”
I gave it up. All my lovely exposition of us rolling through space had missed. So there is no hope of my convincing him that this new regulation regarding foreigners is not designed expressly to annoy me.
I often wonder exactly what all this war means to him. He reads his newspaper religiously. He seems to understand. He talks very well about it. But he is detached in a way. He hates it. It has aged him terribly. But just what it means to him I can’t know.
Christmas Day, 1915
Well, here I am, alone, on my second war Christmas! All my efforts to get a permis de sortir failed.
Ten days after I wrote you last, there was a rumor that all foreigners were to be expelled from the zone of military operations. My friends in Paris began to urge me to close up the house and go into town, where I could at least be comfortable.
I simply cannot. I am accustomed now to living alone. I am not fit to live among active people. If I leave my house, which needs constant care, it will get into a terrible condition, and, once out of it, there is no knowing what difficulty I might have to get back. The future is all so uncertain. Besides, I really want to see the thing out right here.