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there was to be a large social function at the aviation center, and Lieutenant Singleton had been sent to Issoudun for the purpose of purchasing some decorations for the occasion. I met him in the center of the town square, where the American army troops were accustomed to assemble. It was market day and innumerable groups of French peasants, mostly old women were scattered about the place displaying their produce. The housewives from the town and many mess-sergeants from the nearby camps were busily engaged buying supplies of deliciously fresh berries, melons, cheese made of goat's milk, and vegetables. These simpleminded peasant people had sharp wits when it came to driving a bargain. They had one price for the native customers and quite another and higher for the foreigners whom they imagined to be immensely wealthy and prodigal with their money.
We started across the square with the intention of entering a bazaar where Singleton intended to make his purchases, when we suddenly came face to face with a unique wedding procession. An officious town constable was clearing the way through the busy crowd. A priest dressed in a black cassock and accompanied by two boys who acted as attendants headed the procession. He was followed by the parents of the nuptial pair. The bride and groom, youthful and adoring, were in an old open phæton drawn by a bony horse, the driver being an aged hackman dressed in faded livery, and superbly conscious of his important part in the function. Behind the bridal couple walked twenty or more relatives and friends, men, women, and children. The wedding party was headed in the direction of the cathedral. I was interested in the study of French manners and customs, the lieutenant was absorbed in the idea of a wedding, both were prompted by an element of curiosity, so, together with a fellow minister who joined us, we fell in behind the procession, and along with a street waif and a big yellow dog, entered the cathedral and joined the family group, now gathered to witness the ceremony.
To the right, as we entered the ancient structure, was an alcove containing an altar. Here the youthful lovers knelt. She was the child of a neighboring farmer, and rather more slender of build than most peasant girls. Her complexion was ruddy and she had large, wistful eyes that seemed to be looking at some invisible object beyond the altar. One might easily have imagined that here was another Joan of Arc in whose awakened soul was stirring a future France. The groom, we learned from relatives, was a loyal lad who had helped hurl back the Hun at Verdun. Permanently disabled from wounds, he had been discharged from the army. A piece of shrapnel had mangled the left side of his face, leaving an almost repulsive countenance. His right arm appeared limp. Perhaps he might be able to earn the living, possibly there would come a day when he would be dependent on others. So, upon both sides, there was an element of the
heroic and the patriotic deeply imbedded in the simple romance. The priest seemed rather indifferently to hurry through the ceremony. The half articulate Latin sentences doubtless meant little to the kneeling pair, but all were conscious that the ancient cathedral, with its abiding crucifix and its stone pavement, worn to deep unevenness by pilgrim feet, clothed the occasion with the sanctity of a pure and holy Christ. The immortal guest at the wedding in Cana was there also, even though we could not see Him.
Hurriedly we left the cathedral, and, seizing the impulse of the moment, jumped a passing army truck bound for the camp. In discussing the event, it seemed to us that we had caught a glimpse of the real France, mauled and battered and depleted in man power by four years of war, beginning, through her sturdy peasantry, the work of social reconstruction on the basis of the inviolability of the marriage relationship. We further discussed the apparent fact that while man would always hold himself ready to fight for home and native land, and if need be for world ideals, yet he was really born to love and that in the heart of all our soldiers was an unplumbed depth of infinite tenderness and nobility of sentiment which even war could not brutalize. We had just about reached this conclusion when my companion suddenly shouted to the driver, and leaping from the rear end of the truck started back toward the town, leaving this
refrain pulsating through the evening air-"I forgot those blankety-blank decorations !"
Bumping about on the floor of an army truck is apt to jumble one's thoughts. Why do men swear, I asked myself, as the truck driver, a fine reliable fellow, swore vehemently? Perhaps it is just a habit, and yet, men will immediately refrain from vulgar language in the presence of pure and cultured women. I recall one clever young sergeant who confided to me that he was terribly afraid he would come down to breakfast, when he returned to America, and say to his mother, "Mother, dear, this is a hell of a good cup of coffee!"
There were men in the army who were profane, but not many. There were those who were vulgar and foulmouthed, but they were few and inwardly detested by their fellows. Many swore because they thought it smart; these men usually were held in contempt for their amateur efforts. With most men, swearing was an army epidemic due to the anemic condition of our English adjectives, which were not lurid enough to meet the demands of war. With the return of peace, culture and refinement will again reassert themselves, for all men have consciences and they know that these things are wrong.
Into the same general field of discussion the bouncing truck bumped drinking, gambling and sexual intercourse. I tried to think my way around these crimson stains on the world's manhood to a safe place on the other side. During my fourteen months in the army I came into close contact with
more than a million soldiers. Some drank, but few were ever drunk. Many indulged in gambling, especially after pay day, but there were not many professional gamblers, and these were always despised by the men. It would be difficult to estimate those who sought out bad women, but they were few in comparison with the total number, and always and everywhere there was the same self-condemning conscience. I often spoke to the men in the detention camps, and I never talked with one man who tried to condone his sin. They were as a rule heartily ashamed and many of them completely crushed in spirit, as though a great light had faded out of their lives. I have the faith to believe that the heart of the great American army returned home clean and upright.
It would be impossible to conceive of men being placed under a more severe trial by temptation. So also was there afforded a splendid opportunity to study the forces which hold men up to their native ideals. These may be stated briefly as follows. There were the repressive measures taken by the army authorities, rigorously enforced. Expression through work, wholesome recreation and entertainment, high thinking, good companions and medical lectures giving proper information comprise a second group of forces holding men true.
Public opinion was a potent factor, for it was the unanimous opinion that there was no more unpatriotic thing that a man could do than to render himself unfit for service through the gratification of sexual