Brussels, August 8, 1914.---To-day our new organisation is working like clockwork. In Cruger's formerly calm chancery there are five typewriters pounding away, and at the committee rooms there are swarms of people working to take care of odds and ends. Monsieur de Leval has a table at one side of my room, and the committee relieves us of the people who want information and those who want to talk.
Sunday, August 9th.---I got this far when the roof fell in last night. During the afternoon yesterday I got out to attend to a few odds and ends of errands---and, as always happens when I go out, things began to happen. I came back to find the Minister and de Leval wrestling with a big one.
A curious telegram had come from The Hague, quoting the text of a message which the German Government desired us to present to the Belgian Government. Here it is in translation, a truly German message:
The fortress of Liège has been taken by assault after a brave defense. The German Government most deeply regret that bloody encounters should have resulted from the attitude of the Belgian Government toward Germany. Germany is not coming as an enemy into Belgium; it is only through the force of circumstances that she has had, owing to the military measures of France, to take the grave decision of entering Belgium and occupying Liège as a base for her further military operations. Now that the Belgian army has upheld the honour of its arms by its heroic resistance to a very superior force, the German Government beg the King of the Belgians and the Belgian Government to spare Belgium further horrors of war. The German Government are ready for any compact with Belgium which can be reconciled with their conflicts with France. Germany once more gives her solemn assurance that it is not her intention to appropriate Belgian territory to herself and that such an intention is far from her thoughts. Germany is still ready to evacuate Belgium as soon as the state of war will allow her to do so.
Of course we were loath to present anything of the sort, but the thing had to be handled carefully. After some pow-wowing I went over to the Foreign Office with the message and saw Baron van der Elst. I told him seriously that we had received a very remarkable telegram which purported to contain a message from the German Government; that it bore no marks of authenticity, and that we were not sure as to its source; but that we felt that we should be lacking in frankness if we did not show him what we had received. He seized the message and read it through, his amazement and anger growing with each line. When he had finished, he gasped for a minute or two and then led me into the next room to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, M. Davignon., to whom he translated the telegram aloud. When they had finished discussing the message and I had a pretty clear idea as to the Belgian attitude toward the proposal---not that I had had any real doubt---I asked him: "If the American Minister had delivered this message what would have been its reception?" Without an instant's hesitation, M. Davignon replied: "We should have resented his action and should have declined to receive the communication."
That was all I wanted to know and I was ready to go back to the Legation.
I took Baron van der Elst home in the car and had the pleasure of seeing him explain who he was to several Gardes Civiques, who held up the car from time to time. He was very good-natured about it, and only resented the interruptions to what he was trying to say. His son is in the army and he has no news of him. As he got out of the car he remarked that if it were not so horrible, the mere interest of events would be enough to make these days wonderful.
When I got back to the Legation and reported the result of my visit, we went to work and framed a telegram to Washington, giving the text of the German message, explaining that we had nothing to prove its authenticity and adding that we had reason to believe that the Belgian Government would not accept it. The same message was sent to The Hague. This pleasant exercise with the code kept us going until four in the morning. Eugène, the wonder chauffeur, had no orders, but curled up on the front seat of his car and waited to take me home. He was also on hand when I got up a couple of hours later, to take me back to the Legation. Chauffeurs like that are worth having.
When I came in this morning the place was packed with Germans. Some cheerful idiot had inserted a notice in the papers that all Germans were to be run out of the country, and that they should immediately apply to the American Legation. As the flood poured in, Leval got on the telephone to the Sûreté Publique and found out the true facts. Then we posted a notice in the hall. But that was not enough. As is always the case with humans, they all knew better than to pay any attention to what the notice said and each one of the hundred or more callers had some reason to insist on talking it over with somebody. When they once got hold of one of us, it was next to impossible to get away without listening to the whole story of their lives. All they had to do was to go down to the German Consulate-General, where we had people waiting to tell them all there was to know. It was hard to make them realise that by taking up all our time in this way, they were preventing us from doing things that were really necessary to serve them in more important matters. I said as much to several of them, who were unusually long-winded, but every last one replied that HIS case was different and that he must be heard out at length.
Our refugee train left this morning and took eight hundred more of the poor people. Where they all turn up from, I don't know, but each day brings us a fresh and unexpected batch. Many of the cases are very sad, but if we stop to give sympathy in every deserving case, we should never get anything practical done for them.
To-day's budget of news is that the French have got to Mulhouse and have inflicted a decisive defeat upon the Germans. According to reports, the Alsatians went mad when the French troops crossed the frontier for the first time in forty-four years. They tore up and burned the frontier posts and generally gave way to transports of joy. I would have given a lot to see the crowds in Paris.
A letter came yesterday from Omer, the legation footman, who is at Tirlemont, with the artillery. He said he had not yet been hit, although he had heard the bullets uncomfortably near. He wound up by saying that he had beaucoup de courage---and I believe him.
It seems that some of the German troops did not know what they were attacking and thought they were in France. When brought here as prisoners, some of them expressed surprise to find that Paris was so small. They seem to have thought that they were in France and the goal not far away.
The King to-day received through other channels the message from the Emperor of Germany in regard to peace, which we declined to transmit. I have not seen its text, but hear it is practically identical with the message sent us, asking the King to name his conditions for the evacuation of Liège and the abandonment of his allies, so that Germany may be entirely free of Belgian opposition in her further operations against France. I have heard among Belgians only the most indignant comments on the proposal and look forward with interest to seeing the answer of the King, which should appear to-morrow.(1)
The town is most warlike in appearance. There is hardly a house in the town that does not display a large Belgian flag. It looks as though it were bedecked for a fiesta. Here and there are French and British flags, but practically no others.. Every motor in town flies a flag or flags at the bow. We fly our own, but none the less, the sentries, who are stationed at all the corners dividing the chief quarters of the town and before all the Ministries and other public buildings, stop us and demand the papers of the chauffeur and each passenger in the car. We have passports and all sorts of other papers, but that was not enough, and we finally had to be furnished by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs with a special laisser-passer. This afternoon I slipped out for a breath of air and was held up and told that even that was no good until I had had it viséd by the military authorities. It is said that these strict measures are the result of the discovery of a tremendous spy system here. According to the stories which are told, but of which we have little confirmation, spies are being picked up all the time in the strangest disguises.
The gossip and "inside news" that is imparted to us is screamingly funny---some of it.
Yesterday, according to one of these yarns, four nuns arriving at the Gare du Midi were followed for some time and finally arrested. When searched, they proved to be young German officers who had adopted that dress in order to conceal carrier pigeons which they were about to deliver in Brussels. Wireless outfits are said to have been discovered in several houses belonging to Germans. I cannot remember all the yarns that are going about, but even if a part of them are true, it should make interesting work for those who are looking for the spies. The regular arrests of proven spies have been numerous enough to turn every Belgian into an amateur spy-catcher. Yesterday afternoon Burgomaster Max was chased for several blocks because somebody raised a cry of "Espion" based on nothing more than his blond beard and chubby face. I am just as glad not to be fat and blond these days.
Yesterday afternoon a Garde Civique came in with the announcement that the chancellor and clerks of the German Legation, who were locked up there, were in dire distress; that a baby had been born the day before to the wife of the concierge, and that all sorts of troubles had come upon them. Leval, who had announced that his heart was infinitely hardened against all Germans, was almost overcome by the news of a suffering baby and ran like a lamp-lighter to get around there and help out. When we arrived, however, we found them all beaming and happy. The baby had been born some days before and the mother was up and about before the Legation had been closed. Their meals are sent in from a neighbouring restaurant, and they are perfectly contented to bide their time as they are. They had orders from Berlin not to leave the Legation, so it made little difference to them whether they were blockaded by the Belgian authorities or not. I shall drop in every day or two and see whether there is anything I can do to lighten their gloom. Of course their telephone was cut off and they are not allowed to receive mail or papers, so they are consumed with curiosity about developments. It was, of course, necessary to refuse to answer their questions about what was going on and to make assurance doubly sure, I had the Garde Civique stand by me while I talked with them.
As things shape up now it looks as though we were the only life-sized country that could keep neutral for long, and as a consequence all the representatives of the countries in conflict are keeping us pretty well posted in the belief that they may have to turn their interests over to us. We shall probably soon have to add Austrian interests to the German burdens we now have. If there is a German advance, some of the Allied ministers will no doubt turn their legations over to us. The consequence is that we may see more of the inside of things than anybody else. Now, at least, we are everybody's friends. This is undoubtedly the most interesting post in Europe for the time being, and I would not be anywhere else for the wealth of the Indies.
Brussels, Aug. 10, 1914.---The Belgian Government has finally got out a proclamation, urging German subjects to leave the country, but stating that in the event of a general order of expulsion, certain classes of people will be allowed to remain, such as, very old persons, the sick, governesses, nurses, etc., and even others for whom Belgians of undoubted reputation are willing to vouch. There are quantities of Germans who have lived here all their lives, who are really more Belgian than German, have no interest in the present conflict and are threatened with financial ruin if they leave their interests here, and it is pretty hard on them if they are to be obliged to get out, but they are only a few of the many, many thousands who are suffering indirectly from the effects of the war. It is not any easier for the manufacturers in the neighbourhood of Liège, who will see the work of many years wiped out by the present hostilities. Some inspired idiot inserted in the papers yesterday the news that the Legation was attending to the repatriation of German subjects and the consequence is that our hallways have been jammed with Germans all day, making uncouth noises and trying to argue with us as to whether or not we are in charge of German interests. The mere fact that we deny it is not enough for them! I suppose that the hallways will continue to sound like a celebration of Kaisersgeburtstag until we have sent off the last of them.
This morning a large, badly frightened darkey came in looking for a passport. He awaited his turn very quietly, and grew visibly more and more apprehensive at the long series of questions asked of the people ahead of him. When he moved up to the desk, the first question was:
"Where do you want to go?"
"Jes as fur as the stature of Libbuty."
"Are you an American citizen?"
"Me? Lawd bless yuh! No, I ain't nuthin' but a plain ole Baltimoh coon."
Then they gave him the usual blank to fill out. One of the questions on it was:
"Why do you desire to return to the United States?"
Without any hesitation he wrote:
"I am very much interested in my home at the present time."
Everybody here is intensely curious as to what has become of the British army; the most generally accepted story is that troops have been landed at Calais, Dunkirk and Ostend, but although this is generally believed, there seems to be absolutely no official confirmation of it. Everyone seems to take it for granted that the British will turn up in good form when the right time comes, and that when they do turn up, it will have a good effect. If they can get to the scene of hostilities without everybody knowing about it, it increases by just so much their chances of success and anyone that knows anything at all is keeping mum and hoping that no British soldier will stumble over a chair and make a noise and give away the line of march.
Our letters from London indicate intense satisfaction with the appointment of Kitchener and confidence that he will get a maximum of service out of the forces at his command.
We have been looking from one moment to another for news of a big naval engagement, but suppose the British Navy is somewhere waiting for a chance to strike.
Colonel Fairholme, the British Military Attaché, has made a number of trips to the front and reports that the morale of the Belgian troops is excellent, that the organisation is moving like clockwork, and, as he expresses it, that "every man has his tail up."
This evening I went over to the British Legation to see the Colonel, and learn whatever news he had that he could give me. There was a great scurrying of servants and the porter was not to be found in the chancery. The door to Grant-Watson's room was ajar, so I tapped, and, on being bade in a gruff voice to "Come in," walked into the presence of a British officer in field uniform, writing at Webber's desk. He was dusty and unshaven, and had evidently come in from a long ride. I promptly backed out with apologies and was hustled out of the place by Kidston, who. came running out from the Minister's office. I asked him if the rest of the army was hidden about the chancery, and his only reply was to tell me to run along and find the navy, which they themselves had not been able to locate. They evidently have all they need to know about the whereabouts of the army, but have succeeded in keeping it dark.
C. M. came over to the Legation this afternoon to get some books for her mother. We fixed her up and put her in her car, when she announced that on the way over she had been arrested and taken to the police station as a German. People are pointing out spies on the street, and anybody that is blond and rosy-cheeked stands a fine show of being arrested every time he goes out. She had impressed this car with a suspected number and paid for it by being made into a jail bird.
My day's work began with a visit to the German Legation. The Government asked me to secure and return the number for the automobile of von Stumm, the German Counselor. I had his machine put in the Legation the day after he left, although he had offered it to me. I presented myself at the door of the Legation with the note from the Foreign Office, asking for the number, but was refused admittance by the Gardes Civiques. They were very nice, but stated that they had the strictest orders not to let anybody come in or out, and that they had not discretionary powers. At a visit at the Foreign Office later in the day, I told of my experience and asked that I be furnished by the military authorities with a laisser-passer which would enable me to enter the Legation whenever I so desire. This afternoon I received a formidable document from the Military Governor which gives me free passage---so far as I can make out---to enter the Legation in any way save by telephone or telegraph.
I shall go around to-morrow and rub it in on the Gardes Civiques.
The question of passes has been changed and made more strict each day, and has got to be a sort of joke. I first used my card, that was declared insufficient almost from the first. Then I tried my permis de circulation, which was issued to allow me to get into the railway stations without paying. That was good for a day or so. Then I tried my passport (as a bearer of despatches), and that got me through once or twice. Then the Minister for Foreign Affairs gave me his personal card with a laisser-passer in his own hand, but that was soon turned down on the ground that the military authorities are in control and the civil authorities cannot grant passes. Finally the Government has got out a special form of laisser-passer for the diplomats, and it may prove to be good---although it is not signed by the military authorities. I have taken the precaution of keeping all the aforementioned documents and some others on my person, and am curious to see how soon I shall have to have some other. The Garde Civique is no longer content with holding up the car every few blocks and examining the pièce d'identité of the chauffeur; they must now be satisfied as to the bona fides of each passenger. Doing some errands around town this afternoon I was held up and looked over eleven times. I now pull out all the documents I own and hand out the bunch each time I am stopped. The Garde then, in most cases, treats the matter rather humorously, and the next time I pass lets me go on without going through the whole performance again. In front of the German Legation, however, which we nearly always pass on our way to or from town, we are invariably held up and looked into seriously. I know most of the people on the different shifts by this time and wish them well each time they look at the well-remembered papers. I shall keep the credentials and any others that may eventually be added to them, and perhaps some day I shall be able to paper a room with them.
In the course of the morning there were several matters of interest which made it necessary for me to go to the Foreign Office. All their messengers are now gone, and in their place there is a squad of Boy Scouts on duty. I had a long conference with van der Elst, the Director-General of the Ministry. In the course of our pow-wow it was necessary to send out communications to various people and despatch instructions in regard to several small matters. Each time van der Elst would ring, for what he calls a "scoots," and hand him the message with specific instructions as to just how it should be handled. The boys were right on their toes, and take great pride in the responsibility that is given them. Some of them have bicycles and do the messenger work through the town. Those who have not, run errands in the different buildings and attend to small odd jobs.
The Red Cross is very much in evidence. I went around to the headquarters after my call at the Foreign Office, to make a little contribution of my own and to leave others for members of our official family. The headquarters is at the house of Count Jean de Mérode, the Grand Marshal of the Court. The entrance hall was filled with little tables where women sat receiving contributions of money and supplies. I had to wait some time before I could get near enough to one of the dozen or more tables, to hand in my contributions. This is the headquarters, but there are any number of branch offices, and they are said to be equally busy. The society has been quite overcome by the way people have come forward with gifts, and they have been almost unable to get enough people together to handle them as they come in. The big cafés down-town nearly all have signs out, announcing that on a certain day or days they will give their entire receipts to the Red Cross or to one of the several funds gotten up to take care of those suffering directly or indirectly from the war. Many of the small shops have signs out of the same sort, announcing that the entire receipts for all articles sold on a certain day will be handed to one of the funds. They must have gathered an enormous amount of money, and I don't doubt they will need it. The wounded are being brought in in great numbers and many buildings are quite filled with them. In nearly every street there is a Red Cross flag or two, to indicate a temporary hospital in a private house or a hotel or shop, and people are stationed in the street to make motors turn aside or slow down. There are almost no motors on the street except those on official business or Red Cross work; and, because of the small amount of traffic, these few go like young cyclones, keeping their sirens going all the time. The chauffeurs love it and swell around as much as they are allowed to do. I pray with ours now and then. but even when I go out to the barber, he seems to believe that he is on his way to a fire and cuts loose for all he is worth.
Quantities of German prisoners continue to be brought here for safe keeping, and many of them are taken on down to Bruges. Among those removed there for unusually safe keeping yesterday was a nephew of the Emperor.
Judging from the stories printed in the London Times which arrived to-night, the German Government aroused great enthusiasm by playing up the capture of Liège. The Germans evidently were led to believe they had gained a great victory; whereas the forts, which are the only object of the campaign, are still intact. The city itself is undefended, and there is no great military reason why the Belgians should not allow it to be taken. The German troops that had invested the town have not taken over the administration. but appear to be confining themselves to requisitioning provisions and supplies, of which they are in need. The Berlin papers made a great hurrah about the capture of the citadel, which is a purely ornamental old fort without military importance. From what they tell me, I judge that you could back an American army mule up against it and have him kick it down without the expense of bombarding it. It sounds well in the despatches, however.
Eight French aeroplanes sailed over the city this afternoon, probably coming from Namur. One of the machines landed on the aviation field at the edge of the city, and the aviator was nearly torn to shreds by admirers who wanted to shake him by the hand and convince him that he was really welcome to Brussels. It is said that some of these fellows are going to lie in wait for the Zeppelins which have been sailing over Brussels by night to terrify the population. We hear that one of the Belgian army aviators did attack a Zeppelin and put it out of business, bringing to earth and killing all the crew. He himself went to certain death in the attempt.
The afternoon papers say that in Paris the name of the Rue de Berlin has been changed to Rue de Liège. Here the Rue d'Allemagne has been changed to Rue de Liège and the Rue de Prusse to Rue du General Leman, the defender of Liège. The time abounds in beaux gestes and they certainly have their effect on the situation.
Kitchener says that the war may last for some time. At first it seemed to be taken for granted that it could not last long, as the financial strain would be too great and the damage done so enormous that one side or the other would have to yield to avoid national bankruptcy.
Brussels, August 11, 1914.---Our halls have been filled with Germans and Americans., the latter in smaller numbers and the former in larger crowds than ever. They are gradually being got out of the country, however, and those who are going to remain are being induced to go to the right authorities, so that their troubles will soon be settled to a large extent, and they will not be coming here so much. We are getting off hundreds of telegrams about the whereabouts and welfare of Americans and others here and in other parts of Europe; this work alone is enough to keep a good-sized staff working, and we have them hard at it.
This afternoon I went over to the British Legation and saw Colonel Fairholme, the military attaché, for a few minutes. He was just back from a trip out into the wilds with a party of British officers and was so clearly rushed that I had not the heart to detain him, although I was bursting with curiosity about the news he evidently had concealed about him. He appreciates the lenient way I have treated him, and goes out of his way to let me have anything that he can.
While I was out we saw a German monoplane which sailed over the city not very high up. The newspapers have published a clear description of the various aeroplanes that are engaged in the present war, so that nobody will be foolish enough to fire at those of the allies when they come our way. This one was clearly German, and the Garde Civique and others were firing at it with their rifles, but without any success. Our Legation guard, which consists of about twenty-five men, banged away in a perfect fusillade, but the airman was far too high for them to have much chance of hitting him.
Yesterday afternoon when the German biplanes passed over the city, a Belgian officer gave chase in a monoplane, but could not catch them. Contests of this sort are more exciting to the crowd than any fancy aviation stunts that are done at exhibitions, and the whole town turns out whenever an aeroplane is sighted.
This morning I presented myself at the German Legation with the imposing laisser-passer furnished me by the Military Governor of Brabant, but the guard on duty at the door had not received orders to let me in and turned me down politely but definitely. I took the matter up with the Foreign Office and said that I wanted it settled, so that I would not have any more fruitless trips over there. At five an officer from the État-Major of the Garde Civique came for me in a motor and took me over to the Legation, to give orders in my presence that whenever I appeared I was to be allowed to pass without argument. As I got into the motor I noticed that the soldier who was driving the car looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, but paid no attention to him. When I took a second look I saw that it was G. B., with whom I had played golf several times. I am constantly being greeted by people in uniform whom I had known at one time or another. It is hard to recognise them in uniform.
So far as operations in Belgium are concerned, we may not have anything big for some days to come; but, in the meantime, work of preparation is being pushed rapidly and supplies and reinforcements are being rushed to the front. Half the shops in town are closed, and all the people are working either in the field or taking care of the wounded or prisoners. There are said to be some eight thousand German prisoners in Belgium, and it is some work to take care of them all.
Brussels, August 12, 1914.---A few minutes' gap, so I seize my pen to scratch off a line.
Last night when I left here I rode up the Rue Bélliard on my way home. I was stopped in front of the German Legation by the guard which was placed across the street. They examined the chauffeur's papers carefully and then looked over mine. They compared the tintype on my laisser-passer with the classic lineaments of the original, and after looking wise, told me to move on. When we got up to the Boulevard there was great cheering, and we came out on a thin file of French cavalry, which was on its way through town from the Gare du. Midi. The crowd was mad with enthusiasm and the soldiers, although plainly very tired, pulled their strength together every now and then to cry, " Vive la Belgique!" There were crowds on the Boulevards, waiting for news from là-bas. A few French officers were going about in cabs, and each time that one appeared the crowd went mad. The officers were smiling and saluting, and every now and then one stood up in his place and cheered for Belgium. In twenty minutes or so, I saw that we could get through, so started for home and bed.
When we got to the Porte de Namur, we heard frenzied cheering down by the Porte Louise. The chauffeur is a regular old war horse who does not want to miss a trick. He cast a questioning glance over his shoulder; and, catching my nod, put on full speed down the Boulevard until we came to a solid crowd banked along the line of march of more French cavalry. The people in the crowd had bought out the nearby shops of cigars and cigarettes and chocolate and small flasks of brandy, and as each man rode by, he was loaded up with as much as he could carry. The defile had been going on for over an hour, but the enthusiasm was still boundless. All the cafés around the Porte Louise sent out waiters and waitresses with trays of beer to meet the troops as they came into the Avenue Louise. Each man would snatch a glass of beer, swallow it as he rode along and hand it back to others who were waiting with empty trays a hundred yards or so down the line of march. The men were evidently very tired, and it was an effort for them to show any appreciation of their reception, but they made the effort and croaked out, "Vive la Belgiquel!" The French and British troops can have anything they want in this country. They will be lucky, though, if they escape without acute indigestion.
Yesterday afternoon, as I was coming out of the chancery of the British Legation, a little cockney messenger in uniform came snorting into the court on a motor-cycle. As he got off he began describing his experiences, and wound up his story of triumphant progress---"And when I got to the Boulevards I ran down a blighter on a bicycle and the crowd gave me an ovation!"
More troubles to-day about the German Legation. The État-Major gave orders that nobody but I should be allowed to enter. The laymen who have the onerous duty of protecting the Legation held a council of war, and decided that this precluded them from allowing food to go in; so when the waitress from the Grand Veneur with the lunch of the crowd inside came along, she was turned back and told I should have to go with her. I went around to the Legation and fixed it up with the guard. A few minutes ago the waitress came back with word that more bread and butter was wanted, but that the guard had changed and that she was again barred out. Monsieur de Leval and I went around again and fortunately found some one from the État-Major who was there for inspection. He promised to get proper orders issued and now we hope that we shall not be obliged to take in every bite under convoy.
There are ominous reports to-day of a tremendous German advance in this direction, and it is generally believed that there will be a big engagement soon near Haelen, which is on the way from Liège to Tirlemont. Communications are cut, so I don't quite see where all the news comes from.
After dinner.---News sounds better to-night. Although there is nothing very definite, the impression is that the Belgians have come out victorious to-day in an engagement near Tirlemont. I hope to get some news later in the evening.
During a lull in the proceedings this afternoon, I got in Blount's car and went out to Brooks, to see his horses and arrange to have him send them in for our use every afternoon. He came over here a few months ago to spend the rest of his life in peace and quiet. It looks as though he wouldn't get much of either.
The Avenue de Tervueren, a broad boulevard with a parkway down the centre, is the most direct way into town from the scene of the fighting, and there has been a general belief that the Germans might rush a force into town in motors that way. In order to be ready for anything of the sort, a barricade has been made of heavy tram cars placed at right angles across the road, so that they do not absolutely stop traffic, but compel motors to slow down and pick their way, thus:
It is close work getting through, and can only be done at a snail's pace.
The latest news we have is that the nearest large German force is just 38 miles away from Brussels.
Brussels, August 13, 1914.---Last night, after dining late, I went out to find my friend, Colonel Fairholme, and see if he had any news. He had just finished his day's work and wanted some air. Fortunately I had the car along and so took him out for a spin to the end of the Avenue Louise. We walked back, followed by the car, and had a nightcap at the Porte de Namur.
The Colonel has been going to Louvain every day, to visit the General Staff and report to the King as the military representative of an ally. The first time he arrived in a motor with Gen. de Selliers de Moranville, the Chief of Staff. As they drew into the square in front of the headquarters, they saw that everything was in confusion and a crowd was gathered to watch arrivals and departures. When their car stopped, a large thug, mistaking him for a German officer, reached in and dealt him a smashing blow on the mouth with his fist, calling him a "sal alboche" by way of good measure. He had to go in and report to the King, streaming with blood---a pleasant beginning. He is just getting back to a point where he can eat with ease and comfort. Life will be easier for some of the attachés when people get used to khaki uniforms and learn that some do not cover Germans.
The day the General Staff left for the front, the Colonel went to see them off. He was called by one of the high officers who wanted to talk to him, and was persuaded to get on the train and ride as far as the Gare du Luxembourg, sending his car through town to meet him there. Word came that the King wanted to see the Chief of Staff, so he asked the Colonel to take him to the Palace. When the crowd saw a British officer in uniform and decorations come out of the station accompanied by the Chief of Staff and two aides, they decided that it was the Commander-in-Chief of the British army who was arriving and gave him a wonderful ovation. Even the papers published it as authentic. He was tremendously fussed at the idea of sailing under false colors, but the rest of us have got some amusement out of it.
Stories are coming in here about the doings of the German troops. According to reports they came into Hasselt and took the money in the town treasury and the local bank---some two and a half millions altogether. The story, whether true or not, has caused a great deal of ill feeling here. There is another story that the commanding officer of one of the forts around Liège was summoned to parley with a white flag. When he climbed on top of his turret, he was shot through both legs and only saved by his men pulling him to cover. Of course there are always a great many stories of this sort scattered broadcast at the beginning of every war, but in this instance they seem to be generally believed and are doing the Germans no good at all.
Mlle. D-----, one of our stenographers, has a brother in the French army. She has not heard a word from him since the war began, and had no idea where he was. Yesterday a small detachment of French cavalry came along the street. She ran out, called to one of them that her brother was in the -----, and asked where it was. They told her it had not yet been in action and she has been walking on air ever since. But she could not telegraph the good news to her family, for fear of betraying military movements.
Roger de Leval, the 8-year-old son of our friend, practically broke off diplomatic relations with his father and mother because he was not allowed to be a Boy Scout. His father was at the Legation, his mother at the Red Cross, and he had to stay at home with his governess. He felt so badly about it that we had Monsieur de Leval register him as a B. S., and have him assigned to special duty at the Legation. He attends in full uniform and carries messages and papers from my room to the other offices and vice versa. When we go out he rides on the box with the chauffeur and salutes all the officers we pass. They are used to it now and return the salutes very gravely. The youngster now feels that he is really doing something, but is outraged because we go along. He wants to undertake some of the big missions alone.
Princesse Charles de Ligne was in this morning. Her son, Prince Henri, head of that branch of the house, has enlisted as a private in the aviation corps. There seemed to be no way for him to have a commission at once, so he put his star of the Legion of Honor on his private's uniform and was off to the front yesterday. That's the spirit.
Comtesse d'A----- was at their home in the Grand Duchy when war broke out. No news had been received from her, and her husband was worried sick. We got a message through via The Hague and got word back this morning that she was safe and well. I went up to tell him the good news. He was presiding over some sort of committee meeting, and the maid said I could not see him. I insisted that she should announce me and after some argument she did. As the door opened, the buzz subsided and she announced: "Monsieur le Secrétaire de la Légation d'Amérique." There was a terrible cry of fear and the old Count came running out white as a sheet. Before he had come in sight I called out, "Les nouvelles sont bonnes!" The old chap collapsed on my shoulder and cried like a baby, saying over and over: "J'étais si inquiet: J'étais si inquiet!" He soon pulled himself together and showed me out to the car with the honours of war. We send and receive hundreds of telegrams of inquiry and shoot them through in a perfectly routine way. It is only now and then that we come to a realising sense of the human side of it all.
This afternoon I went over and made inquiry as to the well-being of those who are cooped up in the German Legation. They are getting along perfectly well, but are consumed with curiosity as to the progress of the war. The Government has not allowed them to have any letters or newspapers, and they are completely in the dark as to what is going on. I felt like a brute to refuse them, but could not very well do anything against the wishes of the Government. They were decent enough not to embarrass me by insisting, which made it harder to refuse. The son of Hofrath Grabowsky, the Chancellor of the Legation, is Secretary of the German Consulate at Antwerp. He came down here to say good-bye to his father the day war was declared, and lingered so long that he was cooped up with the others. He is liable for military service in Germany, and having left his post at Antwerp at such a time, he must face a court martial whenever he does get home. There are five or six people there, including the wife of the old Hofrath, who are firmly convinced that they will all be murdered in their beds. It is my daily job to comfort them and assure them that nobody now here is giving any thought to them.
Last night I dined with Colonel Fairholme and Kidston, the First Secretary of the Legation. We went to the usually crowded terrace of the Palace Hotel, where we had no difficulty in getting a table in the best part of the balcony. The few other diners were nearly all colleagues or officers. Military motors and motorcycles came and went, and orderlies dashed up on horseback and delivered messages; it looked like war.
The proprietor of the hotel, who has given one hundred thousand francs to the Red Cross, rolled up in his motor from a trip to the front and got out with an armful of Prussian helmets and caps, which he had collected. A crowd gathered round the motor and displayed as much pleasure as though he had brought in a whole German Army corps. The novelty of these souvenirs has not yet worn off.
Women with big tin boxes came by every few minutes to collect for the Red Cross or some other fund. Finally the Colonel protested, and asked if there was no way of buying immunity. That was quickly arranged by giving up five francs, in return for which we were given tags of immunity. Dozens of collectors came by during the evening, but our ostentatiously displayed tags saved us.
We ate at our leisure---out of doors---the first unhurried and unharried meal I have had for days, and then got back to the Legation.
This afternoon the Minister and I went over to see Sir Francis Villiers, the British Minister, and spent half an hour with him. He is evidently all ready to make a quick get-away whenever it looks as though the Germans would come to Brussels. A number of the other diplomats are also prepared to depart. Those who are accredited at The Hague will probably go there, and the others will go to Antwerp. We are too busy here to enjoy the luxury of spending a month undergoing a siege, so no matter what happens, we shall probably not go along. The Minister and I shall take turns from time to time, going up to pay our respects.
Having some things to talk over, the Minister and I went for a drive after our visit, and it was well we did, for when we got back, we found the hall filled with callers. As the tourists and the Germans leave, the war correspondents begin to come in, and in a few days we shall probably have the place full of them. I heard to-day that there were 200 of them in London, and that most of them want to come on here.
Maxwell, the British correspondent, told me this afternoon that he looked for a big engagement at Diest to-morrow or the day after. He has been down through the fighting zone ever since the trouble began, and probably knows more about pending operations than any other civilian.
While I was writing, Z----- came in, suffering from a bad case of panic. He announced as he burst into my office that the Germans were within 20 kilometers of Brussels and were going to occupy the city this evening. He was fairly trembling, but got indignant because I denied it, having just talked with Colonel Fairholme and with Maxwell, both of whom had no more than come back from the front. The fact that it had been published in the Soir was enough for him, and although the news had made him nervous, he hated to have his perfectly good sensation spoiled.
The authorities, so as to be prepared for any eventuality, have this evening published a communiqué to impress upon the population the necessity for abstaining from any participation in the hostilities in case of an occupation. It advises everybody to stay indoors and avoid any words or actions that might give an excuse for measures against non-combatants.
August 15th.---Last night I dined with the Colonel, Grant-Watson, and Kidston at the Palace. I was looking forward to a lot of interesting talk, as the Colonel had just come from the front. Just as we were settling down to our conversational Marathon, up walked -----, the ------ Chargé and bade himself to dine with us. He is strongly pro-German in his sympathies, and, of course, that put a complete damper on conversation. We talked about everything on earth save the one thing we were interested in, and sat tight in the hope that he would move on. Not only did he stay, but after a time the ---- First Secretary came and joined us, and we gave up in despair. The only result of the evening was that I gathered the impression that there is a good deal of apprehension on the part of the allies as to the result of the next big battle, which may occur any day now. The Germans are undoubtedly pretty near now, perhaps a good deal nearer than we know. Just before dinner the War Office announced that there would be no further official communiqués as to the operations. That looks as though they were battening down the hatches for the next big engagement.
Yesterday's papers announced France's declaration of war against Austria. This morning comes the news that Montenegro has also declared her intention of wiping Austria off the map. Our daily query now is "Who has declared war to-day?"
Every minute we are not hammering away at our work, we sit around and talk of the latest developments. These things make such an impression that I can quite understand old veterans boring everybody to death with reminiscences. I see some forty years from now that people will be saying: "I don't want to let old man Gibson get hold of me and tell me all about the war of 1914"
This morning I received a telegram from Richard Harding Davis, who wants to join the Belgian forces. We are trying to arrange it this morning, and I expect to see him any day now.
We are going to have a lot of newspaper men in our midst. I met two more of them last night. None of them who have so far appeared speak any language but English, but they are all quite confident that they can get all the news. I look next for Palmer and Jimmy Hare and the rest of the crowd.
Maxwell, the Telegraph correspondent, yesterday showed me a photograph of a French bulldog that has been doing good service at Liège. His master, who is an officer in one of the forts, fastens messages in his collar and shoves him out onto the glacis. The puppy makes a blue streak for home and, as he is always sent at night, has managed so far to avoid the Germans. His mistress brings him back to the edge of town and starts him back for the fort.
The Belgian troops have so far had to dam the flood of Germans with little or no help from the allies. The Kaiser expected, so far as we can make out, to sweep through Belgium with little opposition and be fighting in France in three days! The Belgians have knocked his schedule out by twelve days already, and there is no telling how much longer they may hold out. "My military advisers" tell me that in view of the great necessity for a quick campaign in France, so as to get the army back in time to head off the Russian flood when it begins to pour over the northern frontier, the loss of this much time is equivalent to the loss of the first great battle. The moral effect is also tremendous.
The Minister to-day had a card from Omer which began: "J'ai l'honneur de faire savoir à Votre Excellence que je suis encore toujours vivant!" Encore toujours sounds as though he were pretty emphatically alive. We were all relieved to hear from him.
Villalobar, the Spanish Minister, came in after dinner---just to visit. His household is greatly upset. His cook and three footmen have gone to the war. He apologised for not inviting us to dine during these depressing days, but said he could not, as his cook was a Lucretia di Borgia. He is confident that the war is going to knock Brussels life into a cocked hat this winter. So many of the families will be in mourning, and so much poverty will come as a result of the war. Life goes on so normally now, save for the little annoyances of living under martial law, that it is hard to realise that such great changes are imminent.
Brussels, August 16, 1914.---This morning I walked out of my office and bumped into Frederick Palmer. I had no idea he was so near. Two weeks ago he was in Vera Cruz, but made a bee-line for Brussels at the first news of impending war. In the breathing spaces during the morning I got in a little visiting with him. He stayed to lunch at the Legation and so did I. In the afternoon I took him to the Foreign Office and the War Office and the Gendarmerie, and got him outfitted with passes, so that he can make a try to get towards the front. As a measure of precaution I added another laisser-passer to my collection, with a beautiful photograph on it. The collection grows every day.
I went to the Palace to dine with Palmer and Blount.
We had hardly got seated when in walked Richard Harding Davis and Gerald Morgan, and joined us. I had not expected Davis here so soon, but here he is. He was immaculate in dinner jacket and white linen, for war does not interfere with his dressing.
While we were dining, a lot of motors came by filled with British officers. There was a big crowd in the square,. and they went crazy with enthusiasm, cheering until the windows rattled.
Brussels, August 18, 1914.---At ten in the morning I started with Frederick Palmer and Blount in the latter's car, to see whether we could get a little way out of town and get a glimpse of what, was going on. We were provided with laisser-passers and passports and all sorts of credentials, but as a strict prohibition against sightseers has been enforced for some days, we rather doubted whether we should be able to get farther than the edge of town. Before we got back we had gone more than a hundred kilometers through the heart of things and saw a great deal more than anybody should be allowed to see. We got back to town about eight o'clock, thoroughly tired and with eyes filled with dust and cinders.
Part way out the avenue we were hailed by a soldier, who asked us for a lift as far as Tervueren. He climbed into the car beside me and rode out. The Forêt de Soignes was mournful. Quatre Bras, where the cafés are usually filled with a good-sized crowd of bourgeois, was deserted and empty. The shutters were up and the proprietors evidently gone. The Minister's house, near by, was closed. The gate was locked and the gardener's dog was the only living thing in sight. We passed our Golf Club a little farther on toward Tervueren. The old château is closed, the garden is growing rank, and the rose-bushes that were kept so scrupulously plucked and trim, were heavy with dead roses. The grass was high on the lawns; weeds were springing up on the fine tennis courts. The gardeners and other servants have all been called to the colours. Most of the members are also at the front, shoulder to shoulder with the servants. A few caddies were sitting mournfully on the grass and greeted us solemnly and without enthusiasm. These deserted places are in some ways more dreadful than the real horrors at the front. At least there is life and activity at the front.
Before we got out of town the guards began stopping us, and we were held up every few minutes until we got back to town at night. Sometimes the posts were a kilometer or even two kilometers apart. Sometimes we were held up every fifty yards. Sometimes the posts were regulars, sometimes Gardes Civiques; often hastily assembled civilians, mostly too old or too young for more active service. They had no uniforms, but only rifles, caps, and brassards to distinguish them as men in authority. In some places the men formed a solid rank across the road. In others they sat by the roadside and came out only when we hove in sight. Our laisser-passers were carefully examined each time we were stopped, even by many of the guards who did not understand a word of French, and strangely enough, our papers were made out in only the one language. They could, at least, understand our photographs and took the rest for granted.
When we got to the first outpost at Tervueren, the guard waved our papers aside and demanded the password. Then our soldier passenger leaned across in front of Blount and whispered " Belgique." That got us through everything until midday, when the word changed.
From Tervueren on we began to realise that there was really a war in progress. All was preparation. We passed long trains of motor trucks carrying provisions to the front. Supply depots were planted along the way. Officers dashed by in motors. Small detachments of cavalry, infantry and artillery pounded along the road toward Louvain. A little way out we passed a company of scouts on bicycles. They are doing good work, and have kept wonderfully fresh. In this part of the country everybody looked tense and anxious and hurried. Nearer the front they were more calm.
Most of the groups we passed mistook our flag for a British standard and cheered with a good will. Once in a while somebody who recognised the flag would give it a cheer on its own account, and we got a smile everywhere.
All the farm houses along the road were either already abandoned or prepared for instant flight. In some places the reaping had already begun, only to be abandoned. In others the crop stood ripe, waiting for the reapers that may never come. The sight of these poor peasants fleeing like hunted beasts and their empty houses or their rotting crops were the worst part of the day. It is a shame that those responsible for all this misery cannot be made to pay the penalty---and they never can, no matter what is done to them.
Louvain is the headquarters of the King and his État-Major. The King is Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces operating in Belgium, and is apparently proving to be very much of a soldier. The town is completely occupied and troops line the streets, stopping all motors and inspecting papers, then telling you which way you can go. We were the only civilians on the road all day, except the Red Cross people. The big square was completely barred off from general traffic and was surrounded with grenadiers. We got through the town and stopped at the only café we could find open, where we had a bottle of mineral water and talked over what we should do next.
In Louvain there is an American theological seminary. We had had some correspondence with Monseigneur de Becker, its Rector, as to what he should do to protect the institution. At our suggestion he had established a Red Cross Hospital and had hoisted a big American flag, but still he was not altogether easy in his mind. I called on him and did my level best to reassure him, on the ground that the Germans were certainly not making war on seminaries or priests, and that if the Germans reached Louvain, all he had to do was to stay peacefully at home and wait for quiet to be restored. Most of his students were gone and some of the faculty had followed them, so his chief concern was for the library and other treasures. My arguments did not seem to have very much weight, but I left with a promise to look in again at the first opportunity and to respond to, any call the Rector might make.
From the seminary we drove out the Tirlemont road, to see if we could get to that little town and see some of the fighting that was known to be going on. At the edge of the town we came to a barricade of carts, road-rollers and cobble stones, where we were courteously but firmly turned back. Everybody was anxious to make it as nice as possible for us, and one of the bright boys was brought forward to tell us in English, so as to be more convincing. He smiled deprecatingly, and said: 'Verreh bad. Verreh sorreh. Oui mus' mak our office, not? " So we turned and went back to town. They had told us that nobody could go beyond the barricade without an order from the Commandant de Place at Louvain. On the way back we decided that we could at least try, so we hunted through the town until we found the headquarters of the Commandant. A fierce-looking sergeant was sitting at a table near the door, hearing requests for visés on laisser-passers. Everybody was begging for a visé on one pretext or another, and most of them were being turned down. I decided to try a play of confidence, so took our three cards and walked up to his table, as though there could be no possible doubt of his doing what I wanted. I threw our three laisser-passers down in front of him, and said in a business-like tone: "Trois visés pour Tirlemont, S. V. P." My man looked up in mild surprise, viséed the three papers without a word and handed them back in less time than it takes to tell it. We sailed back to the barricade in high feather, astonished the guard with our visé, and plowed along the road, weaving in and out among ammunition wagons, artillery caissons, infantry, cavalry, bicyclists---all in a dense cloud of dust. Troops were everywhere in small numbers. Machine guns, covered with shrubbery, were thick on the road and in the woods. There was a decidedly hectic movement toward the front, and it was being carried out at high speed without confusion or disorder. It was a sight to remember. All along the road we were cheered both as Americans and in the belief that we were British. Whenever we were stopped at a barricade to have our papers examined, the soldiers crowded around the car and asked for news from other parts of the field, and everybody was wild for newspapers. Unfortunately we had only a couple that had been left in the car by accident in the morning. If we had only thought a little, we could have taken out a cartful of papers and given pleasure to hundreds.
The barricades were more numerous as we drew nearer the town. About two miles out we were stopped dead. Fighting was going on, just ahead, between us and the town, and the order had been given out that nobody should pass. That applied to military and civilians alike, so we could not complain, and came back to Louvain, rejoicing that we had been able to get so far.
We hunted up our little café and ate our sandwiches at a table on the sidewalk, letting the house profit to the extent of three glasses of beer. We were hardly seated when a hush fell on the people sitting near. The proprietor was summoned and a whispered conversation ensued between him and a bewhiskered old man three tables away. Then Mr., Proprietor sauntered over our way with the exaggerated carelessness of a stage detective. He stood near us for a minute or two, apparently very much interested in nothing at all. Then he went back, reported to "Whiskers" and the buzz of conversation began again as though nothing had happened. After a bit the proprietor came over again, welcomed us to the city, asked us a lot of questions about ourselves, and finally confided to us that we had been pointed out as Germans and that he had listened to us carefully and discovered that we were nothing of the sort. "J'ai très bonne oreille pour les langues," he said. Of course we were greatly surprised to learn that we had been under observation. Think of German spies within 200 yards of the headquarters of the General Staff! (And yet they have caught them that near.) Every active citizen now considers himself a policeman on special duty to catch spies, and lots of people suffer from it. I was just as glad the proprietor had not denounced us as spies, as the populace has a quite understandable distaste for them. I was glad the bright cafe proprietor could distinguish our lingo from German.
After lunch we went down to the headquarters of the General Staff, to see if we needed any more visés. We did not, but we got a sight of the headquarters with officers in all sorts of uniforms coming and going. The square was full of staff autos. The beautiful carved Hôtel de Ville is the headquarters. As we walked by, a British Major-General came down the steps, returned everybody's salutes and rolled away---a fine gaunt old type with white hair and moustache---the sort you read about in story books.
After lunch we found that there was no use in trying to get to Tirlemont, so gave that up, and inquired about the road to Diest. Everybody who was in any sort of position to know told us we could not get more than a few kilometers along the road, and that as Uhlans were prowling in that neighbourhood, we might be potted at from the woods or even carried off. On the strength of that we decided to try that road, feeling fairly confident that the worst that could happen to us would be to be turned back .
As we drew out along the road, the traffic got steadily heavier. Motors of all sorts---beautifully finished limousines filled with boxes of ammunition or sacks of food , carriages piled high with raw meat and cases of biscuit. Even dog-carts in large numbers, with the good Belgian dogs straining away at the traces with a good will, and barking with. excitement. They seemed to have the fever and enthusiasm of the men and every one was pulling with all his strength. In some places we saw men pushing heavily-laden wheelbarrows, with one or two dogs pulling in front.
From Louvain on most of the barricades were mined. We could see clearly as we passed where the mines were planted. The battery jars were under the shelter of the barricade and the wire disappeared into some neighbouring wood or field. Earthworks were planted in the fields all along the lines, good, effective. well-concealed intrenchments that would give lots of trouble to an attacking force. There was one place where an important intrenchment was placed in a field of hay. The breastworks were carefully covered with hay and the men had it tied around their hats in such a way as to conceal them almost completely. This war is evidently going to be fought with some attention to detail, and with resourcefulness.
Diest itself we reached at about half past three, after having been nearly turned back six or seven times.
We were the only civilians that had turned up all day, and although our papers seemed to be all right and we could give a good account of ourselves, our mere presence was considered so remarkable that a good many of the outposts were inclined to turn us back. By virtue of our good arguments and our equally good looks, however, we did manage to get through to the town itself.
Diest is an old town which figures a good deal in the combats of the middle ages. It has a fine old church, quite large, a good Hôtel de Ville, and clean, Dutch-looking streets, with canals here and there. The whole town is surrounded with high earthworks, which constituted the fortifications, which were part of the line of forts erected by the allies after Waterloo, as a line of defence against French aggression. These forts were so numerous that Belgium in her younger days had not sufflcient men to garrison them. A number of them were abandoned, finally leaving Antwerp, Liège and Namur to bear the burden. Brialmont, who built the great ring forts at Liège, wanted to build modern fortifications at Diest, but could not get those holding the purse-strings to see things his way.
Diest was attacked by Germans about three days ago. They wanted to take the old fortifications so as to control the road and use the place as a base of operations. It could hardly be called a big battle, but was more probably in the nature of a reconnaissance in force with four or five regiments of cavalry. This part of Belgium is the only place on the whole field of operations where cavalry can be used and they are certainly using it with a liberal hand, probably in attempt to feel out the country and locate the main body of opposing troops. They have got into a lot of trouble so far, and I am sure they have not yet located the main bodies of the allied armies.
The shops were all closed and most of the people were sitting on the sidewalk waiting for something to turn up. Some of them had evidently been to America, and we had an ovation all the way in. The Grande Place was filled with motors and motor trucks, this evidently being a supply depot. We had some of the local mineral water and talked with the people who gathered round for a look at the Angliches.
They were all ready for anything that might come, particularly Prussians. In the old days the Uhlans spread terror wherever they appeared, to burn and shoot and plunder. Now they seem to arouse only rage and a determination to fight to the last breath. There was a little popping to the north and a general scurry to find out what was up. We jumped in the car and made good time through the crowded, crooked little streets to the fortifications. We were too late, however, to see the real row. Some Uhlans had strayed right up to the edge of town and had been surprised by a few men on the earthworks. There were no fatalities, but two wounded Germans were brought into town in a motor. They were picked up without loss of time and transported to the nearest Red Cross hospital.
Cursing our luck we started off to Haelen for a look at the battlefields. Prussian cavalry made an attack there the same day they attacked Diest, and their losses were pretty bad.
At one of the barricades we found people with Prussian lances, caps, haversacks, etc., which they were perfectly willing to sell. Palmer was equally keen to buy, and he looked over the junk offered, while some two hundred soldiers gathered around to help and criticise. I urged Palmer to refrain, in the hope of finding some things ourselves on the battlefield. He scoffed at the idea, however. He is, of course, an old veteran among the war correspondents, and knew what he was about. He said he had let slip any number of opportunities to get good things, in the hope of finding something himself, but there was nothing doing when he got to the field. We bowed to his superior knowledge and experience, and let him hand over an English sovereign for a long Prussian lance. I decided to do my buying on the way home if I could find nothing myself.
The forward movement of troops seemed to be headed toward Diest, for our road was much more free from traffic. We got into Haelen in short order and spent a most interesting half hour, talking to the officer in command of the village. As we came through the village we saw the effect of rifle fire and the work of machine guns on the walls of the houses. Some of them had been hit in the upper story with shrapnel and were pretty badly battered up. The village must have been quite unpleasant as a place of residence while the row was on. The commanding officer, a major, seemed glad to find some one to talk to, and we stretched our legs for half an hour or so in front of his headquarters and let him tell us all about what had happened. He was tense with rage against the Germans, whom he accused of all sorts of barbarous practices, and whom he announced the allies must sweep from the earth.
He told us that only a few hours before a couple of Uhlans had appeared in a field a few hundred yards from where we were standing, had fired on two peasant women working there, and then galloped off. Everywhere we went we heard stories of peaceful peasants being fired on. It seems hard to believe, but the stories are terribly persistent. There may be some sniping by the non-combatant population, but the authorities are doing everything they can to prevent it, by requiring them to give up their arms and pointing out the danger of reprisals.
Before we moved on, our officer presented me with a Prussian lance he had picked up on the battlefield near Haelen. We got careful directions from him for finding the battlefield and set off for Loxbergen, where the fight had taken place the day before. The run was about four kilometers through little farms, where the houses had been set on fire by shrapnel and were still burning. The poor peasants were wandering around in the ruins, trying to save odds and ends from the wreck, but there was practically nothing left. Of course they had had to flee for their lives when the houses were shelled, and pretty much everything was burned before they could safely venture back to their homes.
We had no difficulty in locating the field of battle when we reached it. The ground was strewn with lances and arms of all sorts, haversacks, saddle bags, trumpets, helmets and other things that had been left on the ground after the battle. There were a few villagers prowling around, picking things up, but there were enough for everybody, so we got out and gathered about fifteen Prussian lances, some helmets and other odds and ends that would serve as souvenirs for our friends in Brussels. As everybody took us for English, they were inclined to be very friendly, and we were given several choice trophies to bring back. While we were on the field, a German aeroplane came soaring down close to us and startled us with the sharp crackling of its motor. It took a good look at us and then went its way. A little farther along, some Belgian troops fired at the aeroplane, but evidently went wide of their mark, for it went unconcernedly homeward. We wandered through the ruins of some old farms and sized up pretty well what must have happened. The Germans had evidently come up from the south and occupied some of the farmhouses along the road. The Belgians had come down from the north and opened fire on the houses with rapid-fire guns, for the walls were riddled with small holes and chipped with rifle fire. Then shrapnel had been brought into play, to set the houses on fire and bring the German troops out into the open. Then they had charged the Belgians across an open field and apparently with disastrous results. Part of the ground was in hay which had already been harvested and piled in stacks, the rest was in sugar beets. The Prussians had charged across the field and had come upon a sunken road into which they fell helter-skelter without having time to draw rein. We could see where the horses had fallen, how they had scrambled to their feet and tried with might and main to paw their way up on the other side. The whole bank was pawed down, and the marks of hoofs were everywhere. The road was filled with lances and saddles, etc. All through the field were new-made graves. There was, of course, no time for careful burial. A shallow trench was dug every little way---a trench about thirty feet long and ten feet wide. Into this were dumped indiscriminately Germans and Belgians and horses, and the earth hastily thrown over them---just enough to cover them before the summer sun got in its work. There were evidences of haste; in one place we saw the arm of a German sergeant projecting from the ground. It is said that over three thousand men were killed in this engagement, but from the number of graves we saw I am convinced that this was a good deal overstated. At any rate it was terrible enough; and when we think that this was a relatively unimportant engagement, we can form some idea of what is going to happen when the big encounter comes, as it will in the course of a few days more. It is clear that the Germans were driven off with considerable losses, and that the Belgians still hold undisputed control of the neighbourhood. There were a few scattered Uhlans reconnoitering near by, but they were not in sufficient numbers to dare to attack.
After gathering our trophies we were ready to start for home; and it was well we should, for it was getting rather late in the afternoon and we had a long trip ahead of us with many delays.
Soon after leaving Haelen, on our way back we met a corps of bicycle carabiniers who were rolling along toward Haelen at top speed. The officer in command held us up and asked us for news of the country we had covered. He seemed surprised that we had not seen any German forces, for he said the alarm had been sent in from Haelen and that there were strong forces of Belgians on the way to occupy the town and be ready for the attack. When he had left us, we ran into one detachment after another of infantry and lancers coming up to occupy the little village.
When we got to the barricade at the entrance to Diest, the soldiers of the guard poured out and began taking our trophies out of the car. We protested vigorously, but not one of them could talk anything but Walloon---and French was of no use. Finally, a corporal was resurrected from somewhere and came forth with a few words of French concealed about his person. We used our best arguments with him, and he finally agreed to let a soldier accompany us to the town hall and see what would be done with us there. The little chunky Walloon who had held us up at the barrier climbed in with great joy, and away we sped. The little chap was about the size and shape of an egg with whopping boots, and armed to the teeth. He had never been in a car before, and was as delighted as a child. By carefully piecing words together through their resemblance to German, we managed to have quite a conversation; and by the time we got to the Grande Place we were comrades in arms. I fed him on cigars and chocolate, and he was ready to plead our cause. As we came through the streets of the town, people began to spot what was in the car and cheers were raised all along the line. When we got to the Hôtel de Ville, the troops had to come out to keep back the curious crowd, while we went in to inquire of the officer in command as to whether we could keep our souvenirs. He was a Major, a very courteous and patient man, who explained that he had the strictest orders not to let anything of the sort be carried away to Brussels. We bowed gracefully to the inevitable, and placed our relics on a huge pile in front of the Hôtel de Ville. Evidently many others had met the same fate, for the pile contained enough trophies to equip a regiment. The Major and an old fighting priest came out and commiserated with us on our hard luck, but their commiseration was not strong enough to cause them to depart from their instructions.
The Major told us that they had in the Hôtel de Ville the regimental standard of the Death's Head Hussars. They are keeping it there, although it would probably be a great deal safer in Brussels. Unfortunately the room was locked, and the officer who had the key had gone, so we could not look upon it with our own eyes.
Heading out of town, a young infantryman held us up and asked for a lift. He turned out to be the son of the President of the Court of Appeals at Charleroi. He was a delicate looking chap with lots of nerve, but little strength. His heavy infantry boots looked doubly heavy on him, and he was evidently in a bad way from fatigue. He had to rejoin his regiment which was twelve miles along the road from Diest, so we were able to give him quite a boost. He asked me to get word to his father that he wanted to be given a place as chauffeur or aviator, and in any other place that would not require so much foot work. There must be a lot of this sort. We finally landed him in the bosom of his company and waved him a goodbye.
By this time it was twilight, and the precautions of the guards were redoubled. A short way out from Louvain, a little Walloon stepped out from behind a tree about a hundred yards in front of us and barred the way excitedly. We were going pretty fast and had to put on emergency brakes, and skid up to him with a great smell of sizzling rubber. He informed us that papers were no good any more; that we must know the password, or go back to Louvain for the night. This he communicated to us in his best Walloon, which we finally understood. Blount started to tell him that we did not know, as the word had been changed since we left; but in one of my rare bursts of resourcefulness I thought to try a ruse, so leaned forward very confidently and gave him the password for the morning----"Belgique." With a triumphant look, he shook his head and countered: "No, Haelen!" He had shown the travellers from the outside world that he knew more than they did, and he was without any misgivings as to what he had done, and let us proceed without further loss of time. We got all the way back to Tervueren with this password, which was all that saved us from spending the night in Louvain and getting back nobody knows when. Nearly opposite the Golf Club we were stopped with the tidings that the word was no longer good, but that if we had satisfactory papers we could get into town. For some reason the password had evidently been changed since we left Louvain, so we got through with rare luck all along the line.
We rolled up to the Legation a few minutes before eight o'clock, and found that there was a great deal of anxiety about us. Cheerful people had been spreading the news all day that if we fell into the hands of the Germans they would hold us as hostages, as they did the Bishop and Mayor of Liège. They probably would if they had caught us, but they did not catch us.
Palmer was pleased at the amount we saw. It was by rare good luck that we got through the lines and we were probably the last who will get so far. To-day all laisser-passers have been canceled, and nobody can set foot out of town to the east. It gave us a pretty good idea before we got through as to how the troops must be disposed. I came within an ace of putting off our trip for a day or two. If I had, it would have cut me out of seeing anything.
As usual, when I go out, the lid had blown off the Legation and the place was in a turmoil. During the afternoon the Government had decided to move to Antwerp and take refuge in the enceinte. The Queen, the royal children and some of the members of the Government left at eight o'clock, and this morning more of them left. Most of the Diplomatic Corps have gone, and will have so much time to think of their troubles that they will be more uncomfortable than we are. The Spanish Minister will stay on and give us moral support.
1. The Belgian reply, which was sent on August 12th through the Netherlands Minister for Foreign Affairs, is as follows:
The proposal made to us by the German Government repeats the proposal which was formulated in the ultimatum of August 2nd. Faithful to her international obligations, Belgium can only reiterate her reply to that ultimatum, the more so as since August 3rd, her neutrality has been violated, a distressing war has been waged on her territory, and the guarantors of her neutrality have responded loyally and without delay to her appeal.
August 19, 1914
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