BELGIUM, after centuries of intermittent misery and recuperation as the cockpit of Europe, had with a hundred years of the peaceful fruition of the intelligence, courage, thrift, and industry of its people, emerged as the beehive of the Continent. Its population of 8,000,000 upon an area of little less than Maryland was supported by the importation of raw materials, and by their manufacture and their exchange over-seas for two-thirds of the vital necessities of its daily life.
When in the summer of 1914 the people were again drawn into the European maelstrom, 600,000 of them became fugitives abroad, and the remainder were reduced to the state of a city which, captured by a hostile army, is in turn besieged from without. Thus, its boundaries were a wall of bayonets and a blockading fleet.
Under modern economic conditions, no importing nation carries more than a few weeks' reserve stock of food, depending as it does upon the daily arrivals of commerce; and the cessation of this inflow, together with the destruction and requisition of their meager stocks, threatened the Belgians with an even greater catastrophe---the loss of their very life.
With the stoppage of the industrial clock, their workpeople were idle, and destitution marched day and night into their slender savings, until to-day three and a half million people must be helped in charity.
The Belgians are a self-reliant people who had sought no favors of the world, and their first instinct and continuing endeavor has been to help themselves. Not only were all those who had resources insistent that they should either pay now or in the future for their food, but far beyond this, they have insisted upon caring for their own destitute to the fullest extent of those remaining resources---the charity of the poor toward the poor. They have themselves set up no cry for benevolence, but the American Relief Commission has insisted upon pleading to the world to help in a burden so far beyond their ability.
This Commission was created in order that by agreement with the belligerents on both sides, a door might be opened in the wall of steel, through which those who had resources could re-create the flow of supplies to themselves; that through the same channel, the world might come to the rescue of the destitute, and beyond this that it could guarantee the guardianship of these supplies to the sole use of the people.
Furthermore, due to the initial moral, social and economic disorganization of the country and the necessary restriction on movement and assembly, it was impossible for the Belgian people to project within themselves, without an assisting hand, the organization for the distribution of food supplies and the care of the impoverished. Therefore the Relief Organization has grown to a great economic engine that with its collateral agencies monopolizes the import food supply of a whole people, controlling directly and indirectly the largest part of the native products so as to eliminate all waste and to secure justice in distribution; and, above all, it is charged with the care of the destitute.
To visualize truly the mental and moral currents in the Belgian people during these two and a half years one must have lived with them and felt their misery. Overriding all physical suffering and all trial is the great cloud of mental depression, of repression and reserve in every act and word, a terror that is so real that it was little wonder to us when in the course of an investigation in one of the large cities we found the nursing period of mothers has been diminished by one-fourth. Every street corner and every crossroad is marked by a bayonet, and every night resounds with the march of armed men, the mark of national subjection. Belgium is a little country and the sound of the guns along a hundred miles of front strikes the senses hourly, and the hopes of the people rise and fall with the rise and fall in tones which follow the atmospheric changes and the daily rise and fall of battle. Not only do hope of deliverance and anxiety for one's loved ones fighting on the front vibrate with every change in volume of sound, but with every rumor which shivers through the population. At first the morale of a whole people was crusht: one saw it in every face, deadened and drawn by the whole gamut of emotions that had exhausted their souls, but slowly, and largely by the growth of the Relief Organization and the demand that it has made upon their exertion and their devotion, this morale has recovered to a fine flowering of national spirit and stoical resolution. The Relief Commission stands as an encouragement and protection to the endeavors of the Belgian people themselves and a shield to their despair. By degrees an army of 55,000 volunteer workers on Relief had grown up among the Belgian and French people, of a perfection and a patriotism without parallel in the existence of any country.
To find the finance of a nation's relief requiring eighteen million dollars monthly from economic cycles of exchange, from subsidies of different governments, from the world's public charity; to purchase 300,000,000 pounds of concentrated foodstuffs per month of a character appropriate to individual and class; to secure and operate a fleet of seventy cargo ships, to arrange their regular passages through blockades and war zones; to manage the reshipment by canal and rail and distribution to 140 terminals throughout Belgium and Northern France; to control the milling of wheat and the making of bread; to distribute with rigid efficiency and justice not only bread but milk, soup, potatoes, fats, rice, beans, corn, soap and other commodities; to create the machinery of public feeding in cantines and soup kitchens; to supply great clothing establishments; to give the necessary assurances that the occupying army receives no benefit from the food supply; to maintain checks and balances assuring efficiency and integrity---all these things are a man's job. To this service the men of Belgium and Northern France have given the most stedfast courage and high intelligence.
Beyond all this, however, is the equally great and equally important problem---the discrimination of the destitute from those who can pay, the determination of their individual needs---a service efficient, just and tender in its care of the helpless.
To create a network of hundreds of cantines for expectant mothers, growing babies, for orphans and debilitated children; to provide the machinery for supplemental meals for the adolescent in the schools; to organize workrooms and to provide stations for the distribution of clothing to the poor; to see that all these reliefs cover the field, so that none fall by the wayside; to investigate and counsel each and every case that no waste or failure result; to search out and provide appropriate assistance to those who would rather die than confess poverty; to direct these stations, not from committee meetings after afternoon tea, but by actual executive labor from early morning till late at night-to go far beyond mere direction by giving themselves to the actual manual labor of serving the lowly and helpless; to do it with cheerfulness, sympathy and tenderness, not to hundreds but literally to millions, this is woman's work.
This service has been given, not by tens, but by thousands, and it is a service that in turn has summoned a devotion, kindliness and tenderness in the Belgian and French women that has welded all classes with a spiritual bond unknown in any people before. It has implanted in the national heart and the national character a quality which is in some measure a compensation for the calamities through which these people are passing. The soul of Belgium received a grievous wound, but the women of Belgium are staunching the flow---sustaining and leading this stricken nation to greater strength and greater life.
We of the Relief have been proud of the privilege to place the tools in the hands of these women, and have watched their skilful use and their improvement in method with hourly admiration. We have believed it to be so great an inspiration that we have daily wished it could be pictured by a sympathizing hand, and we confess to insisting that Mrs. Kellogg should spend some months with her husband during his administration of our Brussels office. She has done more than record in simple terms passing impressions of the varied facts of the great work of these women, for she spent months in loving sympathy with them.
We offer her little book as our, and Mrs. Kellogg's, tribute in admiration of them and the inspiration which they have contributed to this. whole organization.
This devotion and this service have now gone on for nearly 900 long days. Under unceasing difficulties the tools have been kept in the hands of these women, and they have accomplished their task. All of this time there have stood behind them our warehouses with from thirty to sixty days' supplies in advance, and tragedy has thus been that distance remote. Our share and the share of these women has therefore been a task of prevention, not a task of remedy. Our task and theirs has been to maintain the laughter of the children, not to dry their tears. The pathos of the long lines of expectant, chattering mites, each with a ticket of authority pinned to its chest or held in a grimy fist, never depresses the mind of childhood. Nor does fear ever enter their little heads lest the slender chain of finance, ships and direction which supports these warehouses should fail, for has the cantine ever failed in all these two and a half years? That the day shall not come when some Belgian woman amid her tears must stand before its gate to repeat: "Mes petites, il n'y en a plus," is simply a problem of labor and money. In this America has a duty, and the women of America a privilege.
THE story of Belgium will never be told. That is the word that passes oftenest between us. No one will ever by word of mouth or in writing give it to others in its entirety, or even tell what he himself has seen and felt. The longer he stays the more he realizes the futility of any such attempt, the more he becomes dumb. It requires a brush and color beyond our grasp; it must be the picture of the soul of a nation in travail, of the lifting of the strong to save the weak. We may, however, choose certain angles of vision from which we see, thrown into high relief, special aspects of an inexpressible experience.
One of these particular developments is the unswerving devotion of the women of Belgium to all those hurt or broken by the tragedy within and without her gates. How fortunate are these women, born to royal leadership, to have found in their Queen the leader typifying the highest ideal of their service, and the actual comrade in sorrow, working shoulder to shoulder with them in the hospitals and kitchens. The battle-lines may separate her wounded and suffering from theirs, but they know always that she is there, doing as they are doing, and more than they are doing.
Never were sovereigns more loved , more adored than Albert and Elizabeth . All through these two years people have been borne up by the vision of the day of their return. "But how shall we be able to stand it?" they say. "We shall go mad with joy!" "We shall not be able to speak for weeping and shouting!" "We shall march from the four corners of the country on foot in a mighty pilgrimage to Brussels, the King shall know what we think of him as man and leader!"
When they speak of the Queen all words are inadequate; they place her first as woman, as mother, as tender nurse. They are proud, and with reason, of her intelligence and sound judgment. Under her father, a distinguished oculist, she received a most rigorous education; she is equipped in brain as well as in heart for her incalculable responsibilities. I was told the other day that she dislikes exceedingly having her photograph as "nurse" circulate, feeling that people may think she wishes to be known for her good works. But whether she wishes it or not, she is known and will be known throughout history for her good works---for her clear, clean vision of right, her swift courage, and her utter devotion to each and all of her people. Albert and Elizabeth, A and E, these letters are written on the heart of Belgium.
If in the United States we have been too far away to realize in detail what the work of the Queen has been, we have had on our own shores the unforgettable example of her dear friend, Marie de Page, to prove to us the heroism of the women of Belgium.
Before she came, we knew of her. After the first two months of the war she had left her mother and father and youngest boy in Brussels---realizing that she was cutting herself off from all news of them---to follow her husband, who had himself followed his King to Le Havre. She worked her way across the frontier to Flushing, and finally to La Panne. The whole career of Doctor de Page had been founded on her devoted cooperation, and one has imagined the joy of that reunion in the great base hospital at La Panne, where he was in charge. Her eldest son was already in the trenches, the second, seventeen years old, was waiting his turn.
She worked as a nurse at her husband's side, day and night, until she could no longer bear to see the increasing needs of the wounded without being able to relieve them, and she determined to seek aid in America. This journey, even in peace time, is a much more formidable undertaking for an European than for an American woman, but Marie de Page started alone, encouraged always by her good friend, the Queen. And how swiftly, how enduringly, she won our hearts, as from New York to San Francisco she told so simply and poignantly her country's story!
She was a Belgian woman; so, even in her great trouble, she could not neglect her personal appearance, and after the fatiguing journey across the Continent, she looked fresh and charming as we met her in San Francisco. The first day at luncheon we were plying her with questions, until finally she laughed and said, "If you don't mind, I had better spread the map on the table---then you will see more quickly all the answers!" We moved our plates while she took the precious plan from her bag, and smoothed it across her end of the table. Then with her pencil she marked off with a heavy line the little part that is still free Belgium: she drew a star in front of La Panne Hospital and we were orientated! From point to point her pencil traveled as we put our eager questions. We marveled at the directness with which she brought her country and her people before us. We knew that her own son was in the trenches, but she made it impossible for us to think of herself.
Then, tho there was much more to be done in America, she left. She must return to La Panne; her husband needed her. She had just received word that her seventeen-year-old son was to join his brother in the trenches; she hurried to New York. She did not wish to book on a non-neutral line, but further word showed her that her only chance to see her boy lay in taking the fastest possible ship. Fortunately the biggest, safest one was just about to leave, so she carried on board the money and supplies she was taking back to her people.
We settled down to doing what we could to carry forward her work. Then, on May 7, 1915, flashed the incredible, the terrible news---the greatest passenger liner afloat had been torpedoed! The Lusitania, had sunk in twenty-two minutes, 1,198 lives had been lost. We went about dazed.
One by one the recovered bodies were identified, and among them was that of Marie de Page.
We have found some little consolation in endowing beds in her memory in the hospital for, which she gave her life. She is buried in the sand dunes not far from it; whenever Doctor de Page looks from his window, he looks on her grave.
As the only American woman member of the Commission for Relief I was permitted to enter Belgium in July, 1916.
I already knew that this country held 3,000,000 destitute; that over one and one-quarter million depended for existence entirely on the daily "soupes"; that between the soup-lines and the rich (who in every country, in every catastrophe, can most easily save themselves) there were those who, after having all their lives earned a comfortable living, now found their sources of income vanished, and literally faced starvation. For this large body, drawn from the industrial, commercial and professional classes, from the nobility itself, the suffering was most acute, most difficult to discover and relieve.
I knew that at the beginning of the war the great organizing genius of Herbert Hoover had seized the apparently unsolvable problem of the Relief of Belgium, and with an incredible swiftness had forced the cooperation of the world in the saving of this people who had not counted the cost of defending their honor. That because of this, every day in the month, ships, desperately difficult to secure, were pushing across the oceans with their cargoes of wheat and rice and bacon, to be rushed from Rotterdam through the canals to the C. R. B. warehouses throughout Belgium. It meant the finding of millions of money---$250,000,000 to date---begging of individuals, praying to governments, the pressing of all the world to service.
I realized, too, that the Belgian men, under the active leadership of Messieurs Solvay, Francqui, de Wouters and Janssen, with a joint administration of Americans and Belgians, were organized into the Comité National, whose activities covered every square foot of the country, determining the exact situation, the exact need of each section, and who were responsible for the meeting of the situation locally and as a whole.
But I knew from the lips of the Chairman of the C. R. B. himself, that despite all the work of the splendid men of these organizations, the martyrdom of Belgium was being prevented by its women. I was to learn in what glorious manner, in what hitherto undreamed of degree, this was true---that the women of Belgium, true to the womanhood and motherhood of all ages, were binding the wounds and healing the soul of their country!
I SHALL never think of Belgium without seeing endless processions of silent men and black-shawled women, pitchers in hand, waiting, waiting for the day's pint of soup. One and one-quarter million make a long procession. If you have imagined it in the sunshine, think of it in the rain!
One may shut himself up in his house and forget the war for a few hours, but he dare not venture outside. If he does he will quickly stumble against a part of this line, or on hundreds of little children guarding their precious cards as they wait to be passed in to one of the "Enfants Débiles" dining-rooms, or on a very long line of women in front of a communal store where "identity cards" permit the purchase every week of limited rations of American bacon or rice and a few other foods at fixt prices (prices set by American efficiency below those of America itself); or on a group of black-shawled mothers waiting for the dinner that enables them to nurse the babies in their arms.
The destitute must have a "supplement" to their daily ration of carbohydrates and fat which will give them protein----says the C. R. B., and thus we gave "Soupes";---but these dry statements of engineers now become dieticians convey to no one the human story of these dumb, waiting lines.
We can have little conception of what it means for just one city, the Agglomeration of Brussels, for instance, to keep 200,000 out of its 1,000,000 people on the "Soupes," not for a month or two, but for over two years! Nor does this include the soup made by the "Little Bees," an organization which cares especially for children, for the thousands in their cantines; or the soup served to the 8,500 children in sixty communal schools of central Brussels at four o'clock each afternoon, which is prepared in a special kitchen. These quantities are all over and above the regular soup served to 200,000 ---and do not think of soup as an American knows it, think more of a kind of stew; for it is thick, and, in the words of the C. R. B, "full of calories."
To make it for central Brussels the slaughter-house has been converted into a mighty kitchen, in charge of a famous pre-war maître d'hôtel. Ninety-five cooks and assistants from the best restaurants of the capital have been transferred from the making of pâtés and soufflés to the, daily preparation of 25,000 quarts of soup! And they use the ingenuity born of long experience, to secure an appetizing variety while strictly following the orders of directing physicians. They had been doing this over 700 days when I visited the kitchen, but there was still a fresh eagerness to produce something savory and different. And one must remember that the changes can come only from shifting the emphasis from our dried American peas to beans, from carrots to cabbages, from macaroni to rice. The quantity of meat remains about the same, 1,200 pounds a day, which, tho the committee kills its own cattle, costs almost fifty cents a pound. There must be, too, 10,000 pounds of potatoes. The great fear has been that this quantity might be cut, and unfortunately, in November, 1916, that fear was realized to the extent of a 2,000 pound drop---and then remedied by the C R. B. with more beans, more rice, more peas!
Personal inspection of this marvelous kitchen is the only thing that could give an idea of its extraordinary cleanliness. The building offers great space, plenty of air and light and unlimited supply of water. The potato rooms, where each potato is put through two peeling processes, are in one quarter. Near them are the green vegetable rooms with their stone troughs, where everything is washed four or five times. The problem of purchasing the vegetables is so great that a special committee has been formed at Malines to buy for Brussels on the spot. One of the saving things for Belgium has been that she produces quantities of these delicious greens. In the smaller towns a committeeman usually goes each morning to market the day's supply. For instance, the lawyer who occupies himself with the vegetables for the Charleroi soup, makes his own selection at four o'clock each morning, and is extravagantly proud of the quality of his carrots and lettuces! The most important section, naturally, is that which cares for the meat and unsmoked bacon or "lard" the C. R. B. brings in. The more fat in the soup, the happier the recipient! With the little meat that can still be had in the butcher shop, selling at over one dollar a pound, one can imagine what it means to find a few pieces in the pint of soup! Then there is the great kitchen proper, with the one hundred and forty gas-heated caldrons, and the dozens of cooks hurrying from one to another. There seem to be running rivers of water everywhere, a perpetual washing of food and receptacles and premises.
The first shift of cooks arrives at two-thirty in the morning to start the gas under the one hundred and forty great kettles, for an early truck-load of cans must be off at 8 o'clock. That shift leaves at noon; the second works from 8 till 5, on an average wage of four francs a day and soupe!
There are ten of the large trucks and 500 of the fifty-quart cans in constant use. As soon as the 8 o'clock lot come back, they are quickly cleaned, refilled, and hurried off on their second journey. Mostly they are hurried off through rain, for there are many more rainy than sunny days in Belgium.
One passes a long line of patient, wet, miserable-looking men and women with their empty pitchers, then meets with a thrill the red truck bringing the steaming cans. The bakers have probably already delivered the 25,000 loaves of bread, for a half loaf goes with each pint of soup.
By following one of these steaming trucks I discovered "Soupe 18," with its line of silent hundreds stretching along the wet street.
I was half an hour early, so there was time to talk with the local committee managers who were preparing the big hall for the women who would arrive in a few minutes to fill the pitchers with soup, and the string bags with bread. These communal soupes are generally directed by men, tho women do the actual serving. The enthusiastic secretary, who had been a tailor before the war, said regretfully that he had been obliged to be absent three days in the two years.
At the left, near the entrance, I was shown the office with all the records, and with the shelves of precious pots of jam and tiny packages of coffee and rice which are given out two or three times a month---in an attempt to make a little break in the monotony of the continual soup. No one can picture the heartbreaking eagerness in the faces of these thousands as they line up for this special distribution---these meager spoonfuls of jam, or handfuls of chopped meat.
We reviewed the army of cans stationed toward the rear, and the great bread-racks of either side. The committee of women arrived; we tasted the soup and found it good. I was asked to sit at the table with two men directors, where I might watch them stamp and approve the ration-cards as the hungry passed in.
One may hate war, but never as it should be hated until he has visited the communal soupes and the homes represented by the lines. The work must be so carefully systematized that there is only time for a word or two as they pass the table. But that word is enough to reveal the tragedy! There are sometimes the undeserving, but it is not often that any of the thousands who file by are not in pitiful straits. That morning the saddest were the very old---for them the men had always a kindly "How is it, mother? How goes it, father?"
The "Merci, Monsieur, merci beaucoup," of one sweet-faced old woman was so evidently the expression of genuine feeling, that I asked about her. She had three sons, who had supported her well---all three were in the trenches. Another still older, said, "Thank you very much," in familiar English. She, too, had been caught in the net, and there was no work. A little Spanish woman had lost her husband soon after the war began, and the director who investigated the case was convinced that he had died of hunger. An old French soldier on a crutch, but not too feeble to bow low as he said "Merci," was an unforgettable figure.
Some of the very old and very weak are given supplementary tickets which entitle them to small portions of white bread, more adapted to their needs than the stern war bread of the C. R. B.; and every two days mothers are allowed additional bread for their children. One curly-haired little girl was following her mother and grandmother, and slipt out of the line to offer a tiny hand. Then came a tall, distinguished-looking man, about whom the directors knew little except that he was absolutely without funds. They put kindly questions to the poor hunchback, who had just returned to the line from the hospital, and congratulated the pretty girl of fifteen, who had won all the term's prizes in the communal school. There were those who had never succeeded; then there were those who two years before had been comfortable-railway employees, artists, men and women, young and old, in endless procession, a large proportion in carpet slippers, or other substitutes for leather shoes. Many were weak and ill-looking; all wore the stamp of war. Every day they must come for the pint of soup and the bread that meant life
200,000 in Brussels alone; in Belgium one and a half million! These are the lowest in the scale of misery---those who it must have a supplement of protein," for meat never passes their lips but in soup. The questions were always swift, admitting no delay in the reply, and knowing the hearts of the questioners, I wondered a little at this. Till in a flash I saw: if the directors wished to know more they would go to the homes represented---but the line must not be held back! Every ten minutes' halt means that those outside in the rain must stand ten minutes longer. On this particular day the committee put through a line representing 2,500 pints of soup and portions of bread in fifty minutes, an almost incredible efficiency, especially when you remember that every card is examined and stamped as well as every pitiful pitcher and string bag filled.
That day a woman who had not before served on the soupes offered her services to the seasoned workers. They were grateful, but smilingly advised her to go home, fill her bath tub with water, and ladle it out---to repeat this the following day and the following, until finally she might return, ready to endure the work, and above all, not to retard the "Line" five unnecessary minutes! Two and a half years have not dulled the tenderness of these women toward the wretched ones they serve.
Belgium is small. Until now I had been able to go and return in the same day. But on this particular evening I found myself too far south to get back. I was in a thickly forested, sparsely settled district, but I knew that farther on there was a great chateau belonging to the family of A., with numerous spare rooms.
Tho I had been in Belgium only a short time I had already learned how unmeasured is the friendship offered us, but I also knew that Belgian etiquette and convention were extremely rigorous, and I hesitated.
It was thoroughly dark, when, after crossing a final stretch of beechwood, I rang the bell and sent in my card, with a brief line.
After what seemed an endless time I saw the servant coming back through the great hall, followed by three women, who, I felt instinctively, had not come in welcome.
But there was no turning about possible now---some one was already speaking to me. Her very first words showed she could not in the least have understood. And I swiftly realized this was not surprizing since I had been there so short a time, and there had not before been a woman delegate. I explained that my sole excuse for sending in my stranger's card at that time of night was my membership in the C.. R. B.---and. I uncovered my pin.
It was as if I had revealed a magic symbol---the door swung wide! They took my hands and drew me inside, overwhelming me with apologies, with entreaties to stop with them, to stay for a week, or longer. They would send for my husband---as Director he must be sorely in need of a few days' rest---we should both rest. Their district in the forest had many relief centers, they would see that I got to them all. A room was all ready for me on the floor above---if I did not like it I should have another. I must have some hot tilleul at once!
In the drawing-room I was presented to the other thirteen or fourteen members of the family, and in pages I could not recount their beautiful efforts, individually and together, to make me forget I had had to wait for one moment on their threshold.
Still later, two American men arrived.
They were known, and expected at any hour of the day or night their duties might bring them that way. One of them was ill, and not his own mother and sister could have. been more solicitous in their care of him than were these kind women.
Do Americans wonder that it hurts us, when we return, to have people praise us for what we have given Belgium? In our hearts we are remembering what Belgium has given us.
DINANT made me think of Pompeii. It had been one of the pleasure spots of Belgium; gay, smiling, it stretched along the tranquil Meuse, at the base of granite bluffs and beech-covered hill-slopes. There were factories, it is true, at either end of the town; but they had not marred it. Every year thousands of visitors, chiefly English and Germans, had stopt there to forget life's grimness. Dinant could make one forget: she was joyous, lovable, laughing. Before the tragedy of her ruins, one felt exactly as if a happy child had been crusht or mutilated.
I came to Dinant in September, 1916, by the way of one of the two cemeteries where her 600, shot in August, 1914, are buried. This burial-ground is on a sunny hill-slope overlooking rolling wheat fields, and the martyred lie in long rows at the upper corner. A few have been interred in their family plots, but mostly they are gathered in this separate place.
Up and down I followed the narrow paths; the crowded plain white crosses with their laconic inscriptions spoke as no historian ever will. "Father, Husband, and Son"; "Brother and Nephew"; "Husband and Sons, one seventeen, and another nineteen"; "Brother and Father"; "Husband and Brother"; "Brother, Sons and Father"; "Father and Son"---the dirge of the desolation of wives and sisters and mothers! War that had left them the flame-scarred skeletons of their homes, had left them the corpses of their loved ones as well!
Dinant was not entirely destroyed, but a great part of it was. A few days after the burning, people began to crawl back. They came from hiding-places in the hills, from near-by villages, from up and down the river, to take up life where they had left it. Human beings are most extraordinarily adaptable: people were asked where they were living; no one could answer exactly, but all knew that they were living somewhere, somehow---in the sheltered corner of a ruined room, perhaps in a cave, or beside a chimney! The relief committee hurried in food and clothing, hastily constructed a few temporary cottages; a few persons began to rebuild their original homes, and life went on.
I was walking through a particularly devastated section, nothing but skeleton façades and ragged walls in sight, when suddenly from the midst of the devastation I heard the merry laughter of children. I pushed ahead to look around the other side of a wall, and there was a most incredible picture. In front of a low temporary building tucked in among the ruins, was a series of railed-in pens for children to play in. And there they were romping, riotously---fifty-two golden-haired, lovely babies, all under four! Along the front of the enclosure was a series of tall poles carrying gaily painted cocks and cats and lions. That is the Belgian touch; no relief center is too discouraging to be at once transformed into something cheering, even beautiful. The babies had on bright pink-and-white checked aprons. I let myself in, and they dashed for me, pulling my coat, hiding in the folds of my skirt, deciding at once that I was a good horse.
Then happened a horrible thing. One of the tiniest, with blue eyes and golden curls, ran over to me laughing and calling, "Madame, mon père est mort!" "Madame, my father is dead, my father is dead, he was shot!" I covered my ears with my hands, then snatched her up and silenced her. There were others ready. to call the same thing, but the nurses stopt them.
The little ones went on with their romping while I passed inside to see the equipment for caring for them. In a good-sized, airy room were long rows of white cradles, one for each child, with his or her name and age written on a white card at the top. After their play and their dinner they were put to sleep in these fresh cradles.
They were brought by their mothers or friends before seven in the morning, to be taken care of until seven at night. They were bathed, their clothing was changed to a sort of simple uniform, and then they were turned loose outside to play, or to be amused in various ways by ,the faithful nurses. They were weighed regularly, examined by a physician, and daily given the nourishing food provided by the relief committee. In fact, they had the splendid care common to the 1,900 crèches or children's shelters in Belgium. But this crèche was alone in its strange, tragic setting.
In the midst of utter ruin are swung the white cradles. In front of them, under the guardianship of gay cocks and lions, golden-haired babies are laughing and romping. Further on more ruins, desolation, silence!
MADAME has charge of a Cantine for Enfants Débiles (children below normal health) in one of the crowded quarters of Brussels. These cantines are dining-rooms where little ones come from the schools at eleven each morning for a nourishing meal. They form the chief department of the work of the "Little Bees," a society which is taking care of practically all the children, babies and older ones, in this city, who are in one way or another victims of the war. And in July, 1916, they numbered about 25,000.
The cantines have been opened in every section of the city, in a vacant shop, a cellar, a private home, a garage, a convent---in any available, usable place. But no matter how inconvenient the building, skilful women transform it at once into something clean and cheery. In the whole of Belgium I have never seen a run-down or dirty relief center. In some the kitchen is simply a screened-off corner of the dining-room, in others it is a separate and excellently equipped quarter. I visited one crowded cantine where every day the women had to carry up and down a narrow ladder stairway all the plates and food for over 470 children. But they have so long ago ceased to think in terms of "tiredness,"' that they are troubled by the question suggesting it. And these are the women who have been for over nine hundred days now---shoulder to shoulder with the men---ladling out one and one-quarter million pints of soup, and cooking for, and scrubbing for, and yearning over, hundreds of thousands of more helpless women and children, while caring always for their own families at home. If after a long walk to the cantine (they have neither motors nor bicycles) madame finds there are not enough carrots for the, stew, she can not telephone---she must go to fetch whatever ingredient she wants! Each cantine has its own pantry or shop with its precious stores of rice, beans, sugar, macaroni, bacon and other foodstuffs of the C. R. B., and in addition the fresh vegetables, potatoes, eggs and meat it solicits or buys with the money gathered from door to door, the gift of the suffering to the suffering.
The weekly menus are a triumph of ingenuity; they prove what variety can be had in apparent uniformity! They are all based on scientific analysis of food values, and follow strictly physicians' instructions. One day there are more grammes of potatoes, another more grammes of macaroni in the stew; one noon there is rice for dessert, the next phosphatine and now a hygienic biscuit---a thick, wholesome one---as big as our American cracker.
It was raining as I entered the large, modern tenement building which Madame had been fortunate enough to secure. I found on one side a group of mothers waiting for food to take home to their babies, and on the other the little office through which every child had to pass to have his ticket stamped before he could go I upstairs to his dinner. This examining and stamping of cards by the thousand, day after day, is in itself a most arduous piece of work, but women accomplish it cheerfully.
On the second floor, between two large connecting rooms, I found Madame, in white, superintending the day's preparation of the tables for 1,662. That was the size of her family! Fourteen young women, with bees embroidered in the Belgian colors on their white caps, were flying to and fro from the kitchen to the long counters in the hallway piled with plates, then to the shelves against the walls of the dining-room, where they deposited their hundreds of slices of bread and saucers for dessert. Some were hurrying the soup plates and the 1,662 white bowls along the tables, while others poured milk or went on with the bread-cutting. Several women were perspiring in the kitchens and vegetable rooms. The potato-peeling machine, the last proud acquisition which was saving them untold labor, had turned out the day's kilos of potatoes, which were already cooked with meat, carrots and green vegetables into a thick, savory stew. The big fifty-quart cans were being filled to be carried to the dining-room; the rice dessert was getting its final stirring. Madame was darting about, watching every detail, assisting in every department.
It was raining outside, but all was white, and clean, and inviting within. Suddenly there was a rush of feet in the courtyard below. I looked out the window: in the rain 1,662 children, between three and fourteen years, mothers often leading the smaller ones---not an umbrella or rubber among them---were lining up with their cards, eager to be passed by the sergeant. These kind-hearted, long-suffering sergeants kept this wavering line in place, as the children noisily climbed the long stairway---calling, pushing. One little girl stept out to put fresh flowers before the bust of the Queen. Boys and girls under six crowded into the first of the large, airy rooms, older girls into the second, while the bigger boys climbed to the floor above. With much chattering and shuffling of sabots they slid along the low benches to their places at the long, narrow tables. The women hurried between the wiggling rows, ladling out the hot, thick soup. The air was filled with cries of "Beaucoup, Mademoiselle, beaucoup!" A few even said "Only a little, Mademoiselle." Everybody said something. One tiny, golden-haired thing pleaded: "You know I like the little pieces of meat best." In no time they discovered that I was new, and tried slyly to induce me to give them extra slices of bread, or bowls of milk.
In this multitude each was clamoring for individual attention, and for the most part getting it. Very little ones were being helped to feed themselves; second portions of soup were often given if asked for. Madame seemed to be everywhere at once, lifting one after another in her arms to get a better look at eyes or glands. Her husband, a physician of international reputation, was in the little clinic at the end of the hall, weighing and examining those whose turn it was to go to him that day. Later he came out and passed up and down the rows to get an impression of the general condition of this extraordinary family. When for a moment husband and wife stood together in the middle of the vast room, they seemed with infinite solicitude to be gathering all the 1,662 in their arms---their own boy is at the front. And all the time the 1,662 were rapidly devouring their bread and soup.
Then began the cries of "Dessert, Mademoiselle, dessert!" Tired arms carried the 1,662 soup plates to the kitchen, ladled out 1,662 portions of rice, and set them before eager rows. Such a final scraping of spoons, such fascinating play of voice and gesture---then the last crumb eaten, they crowded up to offer sticky hands with "Merci, Mademoiselle" and "Au revoir." The clatter of sabots and laughter died away through the courtyard, and the hundreds started back to school.
The strong American physician, who had helped ladle the soup, tried to swing his arm back into position. I looked at the women who had been doing this practically every day for seven hundred days. Madame was apparently not thinking of resting---only of the next day's ration.
I discovered later that at four o'clock that afternoon she had charge of a cantine for four hundred mothers and their new babies, and that after that she visited the family of a little boy who was absent, according to the children, because his shirt was being washed.
All attempts to express admiration of this beautiful devotion are interrupted by the cry, "Oh, but it is you---it is America that is doing the astonishing thing---we must give ourselves, but you need not. Your gift to us is the finest expression of sympathy the world has known."
Before Madame ... was made director of the cantine for 1,662, she had charge of one in a still poorer quarter of the city. I went to look for it on Assumption Day, the day of the Ascent of the Blessed Virgin. I knew the street, and as usual, the waiting line of children in front told the number. Scrubbed cheeks, occasional ribbon bows and cheap embroidery flounces showed the attempt of even these very poor mothers to celebrate their fête day. Throughout the city, those fortunate enough to be called Mary were being presented with flowers, which since the war have been sold at extremely low prices, for the flowers still grow for Belgium, who supplied the markets of Europe before she was besieged.
From early morning we had seen old and young carrying great sheaves of phlox and roses, or pots of hortensia, to some favorite Mary. But these little ones had no flowers, yet they were gay, as Belgian children invariably are---always ready with the swiftest smiles and outstretched hands, or, with a pretty song if one asks for it. Little tots of three know any number of the interminable chansons familiar in France and Belgium. They chattered and laughed, caught my hand as I went down the stairs---for this dining-quarter is below the sidewalk, in rooms that are known as "caves." I was prepared for something dark and cheerless, instead I found the whitewashed walls gay with nursery pictures and Belgian and American flags. The long tables were covered with bright red-and-white checked oilcloth. The small windows opening just above the sidewalk allowed sufficient light and air to keep everything fresh. The kitchen was immaculate---shelves for shining vessels, others for the sacks of sugar, boxes of macaroni. On a table stood the inevitable scales---Thursday is weighing day, when one of the best physicians of Brussels examines the children, recording the weights that form the basis for judgment as to the success of the ration.
The 430 bowls of milk were already on the tables. Madame ... was hurrying about among her helpers---twelve faithful Belgian women. They had all been there since eight o'clock, for this was a viande day (there are three a week) and when there is meat that must be cut into little pieces for between four and five hundred children, it means an early start. Two women were still stirring (with long wooden spoons) the great tub full of savory macaroni and carrots---a test in itself for muscle and endurance. The meat was in separate kettles. The bread had been cut into over 400 portions. The phosphatine dessert (of which the children can not get enough) was already served at a side table. The "Little Bees" originated this phosphatine dessert, which is a mixture of rice, wheat and maize flour, phosphate of lime and cocoa. They have a factory for making it, and up to August, 1916, had turned out 638,000 kilos.
A gentleman in black frock suit and large hat came in to look about, and then went back to the lengthening line. Madame explained that he was the principal of the communal school of the quarter, and that he came every day to keep the children in order. I learned, too, that on every single day of the vacation, which had begun and was to continue until the middle of September, he and one of his teachers went to the school to distribute to all the school-children the little roll of white bread that they are allowed at eight-thirty each morning. Many of these have but little at home. This roll helps them out until the cantine meal at eleven thirty, which can be had only on a physician's authorization. From now on a larger meal is to be given in the schools---a joy not only to the pupils but to their teachers, who everywhere are devoting themselves to this work of saving their children. Several of the younger women helping Madame had been working wearily all the year in the professional schools, but as soon as their vacations arrived, begged to be allowed to give their time to the cantines. They were all most attractive in their white aprons and caps---most serious in their attention to the individual wants of that hungry family.
A few minutes later the principal appeared again---all was ready now. Then the little ones began to march in. They came by way of an anteroom, where they had their hands washed, if they needed washing---and most of them did---and quite proudly held them up as they passed by us. They were of all sizes between three and fourteen. One pale little fellow was led in by his grandmother who was admitted (tho no mothers or grandmothers are supposed to come inside), because he wailed the minute she left him. It was easy to see why mothers could pot be allowed, tho one was glad the rule could be broken, and that this sad, white-faced grandmother could feed her own charge. It was terrible, too, to realize what that plate of savory stew would have meant to her, and to see that she touched no morsel of it. Even if there had been an extra portion, the women could not have given it to her: the following day the street would have been filled with others, for whom there could not possibly be extra portions.
If a child is too ill to come for its dinner, a member of the family can carry it home. Practically all the cantines have a visiting nurse who investigates such cases, and keeps the number much lower than it would otherwise be.
When I asked Madame how she was able to give so much time (from about 8 A.M. till 1 or 2 P.M. every day of the year), she smiled and shrugged her shoulders: "But that is the least one can do, the very least! One never thinks of the work, it is of the children---and we know they love us---we see them being kept alive! Some of them are getting stronger---these weaklings. What more can we wish?"
THE second time, I visited Madame's cantine with the wife of the American Minister, and I found what it meant to be the wife of the United States Minister in Belgium! From the corner above to the entrance of the court the street was lined with people. At the gateway we were met by a committee headed by the wife of the Bourgmestre of Brussels. Within the court were the hundreds of children---with many more mothers this time---all waiting expectantly, all specially scrubbed, tho no amount of scrubbing could conceal their sad lack of shoes. There were smiles and greetings and little hands stretched out all along the line as we passed.
Inside there was no more than the usual cleanliness---for the cantines are scrupulously kept. Madame and her assistants had tiny American flags pinned to their. white uniforms. In the corridors the American and Belgian flags hung together. A special permission had been obtained to take a photograph of their guest at the window.
The tables were laid, the lines began moving. As the little girls filed in, one of them came forward, and with a pretty courtesy offered Mrs. Whitlock a large bouquet of red roses. The boys followed, and their representative, struggling with shyness, recited a poem as he gave his flowers. All the children were very much imprest with this simple ceremony, and under the two flags, as the quavering little voice gave thanks to "those who were bringing them their daily bread," there were no grown-ups without tears in their eyes.
American flags of one kind or another hang in all the cantines, along with pictures of President Wilson, mottos expressing thanks to America, C. R. B. flour-sacks elaborately embroidered--on all sides are attempts to express gratitude and affection.
That morning, as the Legation car turned a corner, a little old Flemish lady in a white frilled cap stept forward and clapped her hands as the American flag floated by. Men lift their hats to it, children salute it. In the shop windows one often sees it draping the pictures of the King and Queen!
This is not a tribute to the American flag alone, but also to the personality of the man who has so splendidly represented this flag and to the men who carried the American soul and its works into Belgium through the C. R. B. Belgium will never forget its immediate debt to Brand Whitlock and to these hundreds of Americans whose personal service to this country in its darkest hour is already a matter of history. Just as Mrs. Whitlock was leaving, Madame fortunately discovered a shabby little girl who still squeezed a bedraggled bunch of white roses---and made her happy by bringing her forward to present it.
These children, as I have said, are all in need of special nourishment, they are those who have fallen by the wayside in the march, brought down by the stern repression of the food supply. One of the most striking effects of the war has been the rapid increase in tuberculosis. Many of the thousands in the cantines are the victims of "glands" or some other dread form of this disease.
However, in some respects the children of the very poor are better off than they have ever been. For the first time they are receiving nourishing food at regular hours. And this ration, along with the training in hygiene and medical attention, is having its good effect.
One hundred and twenty-five physicians are contributing their services to the "Little Bees" in Brussels alone, where, during the first six months of 1916, infant mortality had decreased 19 per cent. It would be difficult to estimate the time given by physicians throughout the whole country, but probably half of the 4,700 are contributing practically all their time, and almost all are doing something. It is a common sight in the late afternoon to see a physician who has had a full, hard day, rushing to a cantine to examine hundreds of children. Outside the zone of military preparation, 200,000 sub-normal children of from three to seventeen years, and over 53,000 babies under three months, are on their "relief" lists, besides a large number of adults.
Outside Brussels, the cantines are conducted in much the same way as those of the "Little Bees." Committees of women everywhere are devoting themselves to the children.
WAY over in the northeast, in Hasselt, a town of 17,000 inhabitants, there is an especially interesting cantine---only one of thousands in Belgium, mind you! A year ago, when a California professor was leaving San Francisco to become a C. R. B. representative, he was offered a farewell dinner---and in the hall his hostess placed a basket, with obvious intent! The money was not for the general fund, but to be spent by him personally for some child in need.
He was assigned to Hasselt, for the Province of Limbourg, and there he very soon decided that a splendid young Belgian woman who had been giving her whole time to nursing wounded soldiers would be the person to know which of their children was most in need of his little fund. When he proposed turning it over to her, she quite broke down at the opportunity it offered. She and her mother were living in a rather large house, but on a limited income. She would find the sick child and care for it in her own home. A few days later the professor called to see her "child"---and he found twelve! She had not been able to stop---most of them were children whose fathers were at the front. They were suffering from rickets, arrested development, paralysis, malnutrition. She was bathing them, feeding them, and following the instructions of a physician, whom she had already interested. Her fund was two hundred and fifty dollars, but in her hands it seemed inexhaustible. She added children, one after another. Then, finally, the Relief Committee came to the support of her splendid and necessary work with its usual monthly subsidy, with which the women buy the supplies most needed from the relief shops. She is now installed in the middle of the town---with a kitchen and dining-room downstairs, and a little clinic and bathroom upstairs. The forty-six centimes (less than ten cents) a day which she received per child, enabled her to furnish an excellent meal for each.
But she soon found that her children could not be built up on one meal, and she stretched her small subsidy to cover a breakfast at eight and a dinner at four to 100 children. She balances the ration, makes the daily milk tests, looks after every detail personally. Upstairs in the prized tub devoted helpers bathe the children who need washing, care for their heads, and for all the various ailments of a family of 100 subnormal children. Because of the glycerine it contains, soap has been put on the "non-entry" list, which makes it so expensive that the very poor are entirely without it. The price has increased 300 per cent. since the war. Incidentally, one of the reasons for the high price of butter is that it can be sold for making soap, at an extraordinary figure.
This particular tub is a tribute to the ingenuity of the present American representative---also a professor, but from farther East. Before the terrific problem of giving children enough bread and potatoes to keep them alive, bathrooms sometimes appear an unnecessary luxury. The relief committee could not furnish Mademoiselle a bathroom! But to those working with the sick and dirty children it seemed all-essential. Hasselt is not a rich town, everybody's resources had been drained---how should the money be found? Finally the C. R. B. delegate had an inspiration---there was a big swimming-tank in Hasselt. To the people, the American representative, tho loved, is always a more or less surprizing person. If it could be announced that by paying a small sum they could see the strange American swim, everybody who had the small sum would come---he would swim for the bathroom! It was announced, and they came, and that swimming fête will go down in the annals of the town! The cantine got its bathroom, and there was enough left over to buy a very necessary baby-scales.
Mademoiselle took us to the houses where we saw the misery of mothers left with seven, nine, eleven children, in one or two little rooms. There was no wage-earner---he was at the front; or there was no work. One woman was crying as we went in. She explained that her son, "a bad one," had just been trying to take his father's boots. She pulled out from behind the basket where the twins were sleeping under the day's washing, a battered pair of coarse, high boots. There were holes in the hob-nailed soles, there was practically no heel left. The heavy tops still testified to an original stout leather, but never could one see a more miserable, run-down-at-the-heel, leaky, and useless pair of boots. Yet to that woman they represented a fortune---there is practically no leather left in the country, and if there were, how could her man, when he came back, have the money to buy another pair, and how could he work in the fields without his boots? There were eight children---eight had died.
And she wept bitterly because of the son who had tried to take his father's boots, as she hid them behind the twin's basket. I had heard of the sword as the symbol of the honor and power of the house; in bitter reality it is the father's one pair of boots!
I SOON came to have the curious feeling about the silent stone fronts of the houses that if, I could but look through them I should see women sorting garments, women making patterns for lace, women ladling soup, painting toys, washing babies. Up and down the stairs of these inconvenient buildings they are running all day long, back and forth, day after day, seeking through a heroic cheerfulness, a courageous smile, to hold back tears.
And chiefly I was overwhelmed by the enormous quantities of food they are handling. The whole city seems turned into a kitchen---and there follows the inevitable question: "Where does it all come from?" The women who are doing the work connect directly with the local Belgian organizations, by the great system of decentralization, which is the keynote of the C. R. B. just these three magic letters spell the answer to the inevitable question.
At the C. R. B. bureau I had seen the charts lining the corridors. They seemed alive, changing every day, marking the ships on the ocean, the number of tons of rice, wheat, maize or sugar expected; and how these tons count up! In the two years that have passed, 1,000,000 tons each year, meaning practically one ship every weekday in the month; 90,000 tons at one time on the Atlantic! Other charts show the transit of goods already unloaded at Rotterdam. Over 200 lighters are in constant movement on their way down the canals to the various C. R. B. warehouses, which means about 50,000 tons afloat all the time. I had seen, too, the reports of the enormous quantities of clothing brought in 4,000,000 dollars worth, almost all of it the free gift of the United States.
In the director's room were other maps showing the territory in charge of each American. Back of every cantine and its power to work stands this American, the living guaranty to England that the Germans are not getting the food, the guaranty to Germany of an equal neutrality, and to the Belgians themselves the guaranty that the gifts of the world to her, and those of herself to her own people, would be brought in as wheat through the steel ring that had cut her off. One had only to think of the C. R. B. door in the steel ring as closed, to realize the position of this neutral commission. The total result of their daily and hourly coordination of all this organization inside Belgium, their solitude for each class of the population, their dull and dry calculations of protein, fat and carbohydrates, bills of lading, cars, canal boats, mills and what not, is the replenishing of the life stream of a nation's blood.
Thus, the food dispensed by the women is part of the constantly entering mass, and between its purchase, or its receipt as gift by the C. R. B., and its appearance as soup for adults, or pudding for children, is the whole intricate structure of the relief organization. The audible music of this creation is the clatter of hundreds of typewriters, the tooting of tugs and shrieks of locomotives, but the undertones are the harmonies of devotion.
Everybody who can pay for his food must do so---it is sold at a fair profit, and it is this profit, gained from those who still have money, that goes over to the women in charge of the cantines for the purchase of supplies for the destitute.
They often supplement this subsidy through a house-to-house appeal to the people. For instance, in Brussels, the "Little Bees" are untiring in their canvass. Basket on arm, continually they solicit an egg, a bunch of carrots, a bit of meat, or a money gift. They have been able to count on about 5,000 eggs and about 2,500 francs a week, besides various other things. Naturally, the people in the poorer sections can contribute but small amounts, but it is here that one finds the most touching examples of generosity---the old story of those who have suffered and understood. One woman who earns just a franc a day and on it has to support herself and her family, carefully wraps her weekly two-centime piece (two-fifths of a cent) and has it ready when one of the "Little Bees" calls for it.
Monsieur . . ., a committee leader in the Hainaut, once said to me, "Madame, one of the big things Belgium will win in this war is a true appreciation of the character and capacity (quite aside from their idealism) of American young men.
"I'll confess," he continued, "that when that initial group of young Americans came rushing in with those first heaven-sent cargoes of wheat, we were not strongly reassured. We knew that for the moment we were saved, but it was difficult to see how these youths, however zealous and clear-eyed, were going to meet the disaster as we knew it.
"We organized, as you know, our local committees, and headed them by our Belgians of widest experience; our lawyers of fifty or sixty, our bankers, our leaders of industry. We could set all the machinery, but nothing would work unless the Americans would stand with us. The instructions read: 'The American and your Belgian chairmen will jointly manage the relief.'
"And who came to stand with us? Who came to stand with me, for instance? You see," and he pointed to splendid broad-shouldered C. ahead of us, "that lad---not a day over twenty-eight---just about the age of my boys in the trenches, and who, heaven knows, is now almost as dear to us as they!
"But in the beginning I couldn't see it; I simply couldn't believe C. was going to be able to handle his end of our terrific problem. But day by day I watched this lad quietly getting a sense of the situation, then plunging into it, getting under it, developing an instinct for diplomacy along with his natural genius for directness and practicality that bewildered me. It has amazed us all.
"We soon learned that we need not fear to trust ourselves to that type of character, to its adaptability and capacity, no matter how young it seemed."
Of course there have been older Americans who have brought to their Belgian co-workers equal years as well as experience, but one of the pictures I like best to remember is this of Monsieur . .., a Belgian of fifty-five or sixty, in counsel with his eager American délégué of twenty-eight. To the partnership, friendship, confidence, the Belgian added something paternal, and the American responded with a devotion one feels is lifelong.
Between the visits to mills and docks, and the grinding over accounts, orders of canal boats and warehouses, there are hours for other things. I remember one restful one spent at this same Monsieur's table---he is an excellent Latin scholar and a wise philosopher---when he and his young American friend for a time forgot the wheat and fat in their delight to get back to Virgil and Horace.
Young D., a Yale graduate, furnished another example of these qualities Monsieur stressed. If he had been a Westerner, his particular achievement would have been less surprizing, but he came from the East.
He reached Belgium at the time of a milk crisis. We were attempting, and, in fact, had practically arranged, the plan to establish C. R. B. herds adjacent to towns, to insure a positive supply for tiny babies. The local committees went at it, but one after another came in with discouraging reports. Even their own people were often preventing success by fearing and sometimes by flatly refusing to turn their precious cows into a community herd. Then one day D., who, so far as I know, had never in his career been within speaking distance of a cow, put on something that looked like a sombrero and swung out across his province. We had hardly had time to speculate about what he might accomplish, before he returned to announce that he had rounded up a magnificent herd, and that his district was ready to guarantee so much pure milk from that time on!
"What had he done, where we had failed?" asked Monsieur. "He had called a meeting of farmers in each commune, and said: 'We, the Americans, want from this commune five or ten cows for the babies of your cities. We give ourselves to. Belgium, you give your cows to us. We will give them back when the war is over---if they are alive!' And he got them!" They would have given this cheerful beggar anything---these stolid old Flemish peasants.
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