In Belgium by Anonymous
After rolling and tossing for twenty-four hours upon the German Ocean,
the sight of land should be hailed with a spirit of thankfulness. But
of all inhospitable shores, those of the Belgian coast, in the month
of November, must carry the palm. The waters, gray and rough, dash
upon a sandy beach for miles and miles, showing no signs of life, if
we except an occasional wind-mill in action. Row after row of poplar
trees form a partial back-ground. Somewhat stripped of their leaves,
they have the appearance of so many gray pillars holding up the sky.
As the low-built towns with their red houses rise to view, and the
dikes present themselves, if this be the first introduction into
Continental Europe, the foreignness stands out in bold relief. But
as you ascend the river the villages are more interesting and
indications of life more frequent. Long before reaching the pier at
Antwerp, its towers salute the travellers, and the gratitude becomes
apparent on each and every visage.
Our little windows in the above-mentioned city overlooked its
prettiest park, in the centre of which stands the statue of Rubens.
At the right, yet full in view, stands the Cathedral of Notre
Dame, famous for its ninety-nine bells (why not one more?) and the
masterpieces of the great artist of Antwerp.
Of these paintings, the "Assumption," which has within a comparatively
short time been restored, is truly beautiful, the countenances
of the several figures wearing a pure expression, which is not a
characteristic of the Rubens face in general. The fame of the others
is perhaps yet greater than that of the "Assumption," and everywhere
in our own country are engravings and photographs of the same, on
exhibition or in private collections. Before these the lover of art
lingers to study, and studying continues to linger. For me, alas!
these chef d'oeuvres, "The Ascent to the Cross" and the "The
Descent from the Cross," have no attractions.
The music of the bells at sunset repays one, not only for the tumble
of the German Sea, but for the voyage across the Atlantic, especially
in the autumn, when the twilights are so short that the Mall is
lightest as the sun goes down. This music singularly contrasts
with the noise made by the footfall of the peasants. This numerous
class, hurrying home at dusk, take the park as their shorter course.
The click-clack of the hundreds of wooden shoes of all sizes and
intensities, rapidly "getting by," is something that can never be
imagined. As these articles of apparel are seldom of a snug fit in the
region of the heel, there is a peculiar introduction to each grand
step. The quantity and quality of this noise are astonishing; the
novelty, a charm.
There is one sound, however, which is sensibly wanting among the
lower class of Belgians. It may never have been in the experience of
others, but it could not be entirely my own imagination—I missed
the human voice in the groups of peasantry. The uneducated of other
countries have at least a common "mongrel tongue" to some extent, but
the individual vocabulary of this class is certainly very limited,
which is a check to prolonged conversation. This feature was to me
a cause satisfactory for the stillness of the streets, thronged as
they sometimes are, and may be the reason that the foot-fall is so
impressive, with its wooden encumbrances.
Next to the shoe, the attraction was the harnessed dogs and the young
girls drawing burdens.
When a woman was seen wheeling a cart or trundling a barrow, it was
just to conclude that she was in the interest of her own gain, and we
could pass on. When the dogs, the old and despised of their kind, were
leisurely carrying their wagon of vegetables, provided the driver was
kind, it was rather a foreign sight than a painful one. Often these
dogs lie down in the harness—the latter not being very elaborate—and
do not seem unwilling to rise to the occasion. When it happened, as
often it did, during our short sojourn in Belgium, that we saw girls,
the young and bright and strong, bearing these burdens, frequently
sharing the harness with the aforesaid animals, the American heart
rebelled. If they were rough, hoydenish girls, romping all day long,
filling their carts with sand for the fun and having a boy-companion
as a play-driver, we should even then think, do they
never go to
But they were not of this class! They were the quiet and obedient,
generally tidy in appearance, calmly accepting their lot in life
through ignorance. I never saw a boy thus disgraced; not that I feel
less glad for "him," but the more sad for "her."
When walking one day, having lost my way, I met one of these teams.
There were connected with it two young girls, about fifteen years of
age—one harnessed and drawing the load, the other having the charge
of the cargo, which, from its too great abundance, required constant
diligence. I inquired of them the direction to the hotel.
Without altering a muscle, they continued their gaze (we had begun
the stare from afar). So listless was it that they seemed like pet
animals, who look at one confidingly, except in the case of the latter
there will be "wink of recognition." No attempt was made to reply.
After I turned, they kept their eyes upon the space which I had
occupied, as if I had merely been an obstruction to their sunshine. A
person, not far from them, answered my inquiries, adding, with a nod
towards the "little workers," "they only talk mongrel."
This woman, short and chubby, forcibly reminded me of somebody or
something in the past. After a brief reflection, behold the solution:
Before toys had become so elaborate in our own country, there
occasionally found their way from Holland images of pewter,
representing the dairy-maids of that part of Europe. They were far
different from the pewter-pieces of the present day, being thicker and
less destructible. The one that came into my possession, the delight
of my heart, wore the short, full dress and sun-bonnet, with arms
akimbo. The one, ah me! that would have been my choice was purchased
by a class-mate, she having at that time, and I presume at this time,
twice my amount of funds. The price of this precious bit was two cents.
The latter figure, unlike mine, had the pail poised upon the head.
It was probably a true likeness of the renowned maid that counted
the chickens in advance, thereby showing the people of her country
to have been "born calculators." I think the little body that showed
me the way to my lodgings descended in a direct line from this old
mathematical stock, and was a little proud of her origin. Her language
was a mixture of Dutch, French, and, for all I know, several dead
languages, but—and I have her own authority for it—not a mongrel
tongue. Out of gratitude to one who led me to my home, I should speak
well of this woman, as of the proverbial bridge, so am quite willing
to accept her statement and allow her a "pure dialect."