Two little creatures, lost in the pitiable throng, held each other tightly by the hand, two little boys obviously brothers, the elder, who may have been five years old, protecting the younger, of about three. No one claimed them, no one knew them. How had they been able to understand, finding themselves alone, that they, too, must get into this train to escape death? Their clothes were decent, and their little stockings were thick and warm; clearly they belonged to humble but careful parents; they were, doubtless, the sons of one of those sublime Belgian soldiers who had fallen heroically on the battlefield, and whose last thought had perhaps been one of supreme tenderness for them. They were not even crying, so overcome were they by fatigue and sleepiness; they could scarcely stand. They could not answer when they were questioned, but they seemed intent, above all, upon keeping a tight hold of each other. Finally the elder, clasping the little one’s hand closely, as if fearing to lose him, seemed to awake to a sense of his duty as protector, and, half asleep already, found strength to say, in a suppliant tone, to the Red Cross lady bending over him: “Madame, are they going to put us to bed soon?” For the moment this was all they were capable of wishing, all that they hoped for from human pity—to be put to bed.
They were put to bed at once, together, of course, still holding each other tightly by the hand; and, nestling one against the other, they fell at the same moment into the tranquil unconsciousness of childish slumber.
Once, long ago, in the China Sea, during the war, two little frightened birds, smaller even than our wrens, arrived, I know not how, on board our ironclad, in our Admiral’s cabin, and all day long, though no one attempted to disturb them, they fluttered from side to side, perching on cornices and plants.
At nightfall, when I had forgotten them, the Admiral sent for me. It was to show me, now without emotion, the two little visitors who had gone to roost in his room, perched upon a slender silken cord above his bed. They nestled closely together, two little balls of feathers, touching and almost merged one in the other, and slept without the slightest fear, sure of our pity. And those little Belgians sleeping side by side made me think of the two little birds lost in the China Sea. There was the same confidence and the same innocent slumber—but a greater tenderness was about to watch over them.
Not Conquest, but a New Economical System of Europe
By Gustaf Sioesteen