The Lookout Post was a large elm on the near bank of the Loire. Half overhanging the water, a clutch of thick roots hanging down deep from the dry soil of the bank, it was easy to climb even for me, and from the higher branches I could see all of Les Laveuses. Cassis and Paul had built a primitive tree house there-a platform and some branches bent over to make a roof-but I was the one who spent the most time in the completed shelter. Reinette was reluctant to climb to the top, though the way had been made easier by means of a knotted rope, and Cassis rarely went there any more, so I often had the place to myself. I went there to think and to watch the road, where sometimes I could see the Germans in their jeeps-or more often, motorcycles-passing by.
Of course, there was little to interest the Germans in Les Laveuses. There were no barracks, no school, no public buildings for them to occupy. They settled in Angers instead, with only a few patrols around the neighboring villages, and all I saw of them-except for the vehicles on the road-were the groups of soldiers sent every week to requisition produce from the Hourias farm. Our own was less frequented: we had no cows, only a few pigs and goats. Our main source of income was fruit, and the season had barely begun. A couple of soldiers came, halfheartedly, once a month, but the best of our supplies were well hidden, and Mother always sent me out into the orchard when the soldiers came. Even so I was curious about the gray uniforms, sometimes sitting in the Lookout Post and shooting imaginary rockets at the jeeps as they sped by. I was not truly hostile-none of the children were. We were merely curious, repeating the insults our parents taught us-filthy Boche, Nazi swine-out of an instinct for mimicry. I had no idea of what was happening in Occupied France; little enough notion of where Berlin even was.
Once they had come to requisition a violin from Denis Gaudin, Jeannette’s grandfather. Jeannette told me about it just a week before she died. It was getting dark and the blackout shutters were already in place, when she heard a knocking at the door. She opened it and saw a German officer. In polite though laborious French he addressed her grandfather.
“Monsieur, I…understand…you have…a violin. I…need it.”
A few of the officers, it seemed, had decided to form a military band. I suppose even Germans needed some way of passing the time.
Old Denis Gaudin looked at him. “A violin, mein Herr, is like a woman,” he replied pleasantly. “Not to be lent out.” And very gently he closed the door. There was a silence as the officer digested this. Jeannette looked up at her grandfather with wide eyes. Then, outside, the sound of the German officer laughing and repeating:
“Wie eine Frau! Wie eine Frau!”
The German officer never came back, and Denis kept his violin until much later, almost until the end of the war.