One little man, with the longest and sleekest and silkiest black whiskers I have seen in many a day, recognized us as Americans and drew near to tell us his troubles in a confidential whisper. By his bleached indoor complexion and his manners anyone would have known him for a pastry cook or a hairdresser. A hairdresser he was; and in a better day than this, not far remote, had conducted a fashionable establishment on a fashionable boulevard.
“Ah, I am in one very sad state,” he said in his twisted English. “I start for Ostend to take winter garments for my two small daughters, which are there at school, and they arrest me—these Germans—and keep me two days in a cowshed, and then bring me back here and put me here in this so-terrible-a-place for two weeks; and all for nothing at all.”
“Didn’t you have a pass to go through the lines?” I asked. “Perhaps that was it.”
“I have already a pass,” he said; “but when they search me they find in my pockets letters which I am taking to people in Ostend. I do not know what is in those letters. People ask me to take them to friends of theirs in Ostend and I consent, not knowing it is against the rule. They read these letters—the Germans—and say I am carrying news to their enemies; and they become very enrage at me and lock me up. Never again will I take letters for anybody anywhere.
“Oh, sirs, if you could but see the food we eat here! For dinner we have a stew—oh, such a stew!—and for breakfast only bread and coffee who is not coffee!” And with both hands he combed his whiskers in a despair that was comic and yet pitiful.
He was standing there, still combing, as we came away.
Louvain the Forsaken
It was Sunday when I saw Louvain in the ashes of her desolation. We were just back then from the German trenches before Antwerp; and the hollow sounds of the big guns which were fired there at spaced intervals came to our ears as we rode over the road leading out from Brussels, like the boomings of great bells. The last time I had gone that way the country was full of refugees fleeing from burning villages on beyond. Now it was bare, except for a few baggage trains lumbering along under escort of shaggy gray troopers. Perhaps I should say they were gray-and-yellow troopers, for the plastered mud and powdered dust of three months of active campaigning had made them of true dirt color.
Oh, yes; I forgot one other thing: We overtook a string of wagons fitted up as carryalls and bearing family parties of the burghers to Louvain to spend a day among the wreckage. There is no accounting for tastes. If I had been a Belgian the last thing I should want my wife and my baby to see would be the ancient university town, the national cradle of the Church, in its present state. Nevertheless there were many excursionists in Louvain that day.