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 school?

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."