“The last time I saw that statue of Liege,” I remarked, peering into the darkness as we rode into the city, “the Legion of Honour conferred by France on Liege for its brave defence was hung on its breast. I suppose it is gone now.”
“I guess yes,” said Harvard, 1914.
We went to the hotel at Brussels which I had left the day before the city’s fall. English railway signs on the walls of the corridor had not been disturbed. More ancient relic still seemed a bulletin board with its announcement of seven passages a day to England, traversing the Channel in “fifty-five minutes via Calais” and “three hours via Ostend,” with the space blank where the state of the weather for the despair or the delight of intending voyagers had been chalked up in happier days. The same men were in attendance at the office as before; but they seemed older and their politeness that of cheerless automatons. For five months they had been serving German officers as guests with hate in their hearts and, in turn, trying to protect their property.
A story is told of how that hotel had filled with officers after the arrival of the Germanic flood and how one day, when it was learned that the proprietor was a Frenchman, guards were suddenly placed at the doors and the hall was filled with luggage as every officer, acting with characteristic official solidarity, vacated his room and bestowed his presence elsewhere. Then the proprietor was informed that his guests would return if he would agree to employ German help and buy his supplies from Germany. He refused, for practical as well as for sentimental reasons. If he had consented, think what the Belgians would have done to him after the Germans were gone! However, officers were gradually returning, for this was the best hotel in town, and even conquerors are human and German conquerors have particularly human stomachs.
Christmas in Belgium with the bayonet and the wolf at the door taught me to value Christmas at home for more than its gifts and the cheer of the fireside. It taught me what it meant to belong to a free people and how precious is that old English saying that a man’s house is his castle, which was the inception of so much in our lives which we accept as a commonplace. If such a commonplace can be made secure only by fighting, then it is best to fight. At any time a foreign soldier might enter the house of a Belgian and take him away for trial before a military court.
Breakfast in the same restaurant as before the city’s fall! Again the big grapes which are a luxury of the rich man’s table or an extravagance for a sick friend with us! The hothouses still grew them. What else was there for he hothouses to do, though the export of their products was impossible? A shortage of the long, white-leafed chicory that we call endive in New York restaurants? There were piles of it in the Brussels market and on the hucksters’ carts; nothing so cheap!