'Marsch, Marsch, Marsch!'
'So Geh'n Wir Weiter'
by Irwin S. Cobb, American Journalist
from his book 'Paths of Glory' 1915

On the German Front in Belgium in 1914

a German supply train on the move


Have you ever seen three hundred thousand men and one hundred thousand horses moving in one compact, marvelous unit of organization, discipline and system? If you have not seen it you cannot imagine what it is like. If you have seen it you cannot tell what it is like. In one case the conceptive faculty fails you; in the other the descriptive. I, who have seen this sight, am not foolish enough to undertake to put it down with pencil on paper. I think I know something of the limitations of the written English language. What I do mean to try to do in this chapter is to record some of my impressions as I watched it.

In beginning this job I find myself casting about for comparisons to set up against the vision of a full German army of seven army corps on the march. I think of the tales I have read and the stories I have heard of other great armies: Alaric's war bands and Attila's; the First Crusade; Hannibal's cohorts, and Alexander's host, and Caesar's legions; the Goths and the Vandals; the million of Xerxes — if it was a million — and Napoleon starting for Moscow.

It is of no use. This Germanic horde, which I saw pouring down across Belgium, bound for France, does not in retrospect seem to me a man-made, man-managed thing. It seems more like a great, orderly function of Nature; as ordained and cosmic as the tides of the sea or the sweep of a mighty wind. It is hard to believe that it was ever fashioned of thousands of separate atoms, so perfectly is it welded into a whole. It is harder still to accept it as a mutable and a mortal organism, subject to the shifts of chance and mischance.

And then, on top of this, when one stops to remember that this army of three hundred thousand men and a hundred thousand horses was merely one single cog of the German military machine; that if all the German war strength were assembled together you might add this army to the greater army and hardly know it was there — why, then, the brain refuses to wrestle with a computation so gigantic. The imagination just naturally bogs down and quits.

I have already set forth in some detail how it came to pass that we went forth from Brussels in a taxicab looking for the war; and how in the outskirts of Louvain we found it, and very shortly thereafter also found that we were cut off from our return and incidentally had lost not only our chauffeur and our taxi-cab but our overcoats as well. There being nothing else to do we made ourselves comfortable along side the Belgian Lion Cafe in the southern edge of Louvain, and for hours we watched the advance guard sliding down the road through a fog of white dust.


a motorized supply-column


Each time a break came in the weaving gray lines we fancied this surely was all. All? What we saw there was a puny dribbling stream compared with the torrent that was coming. The crest of that living tidal wave was still two days and many miles to the rearward. We had seen the head and a little of the neck. The swollen body of the myriad-legged gray centipede was as yet far behind.

As we sat in chairs tilted against the wall and watched, we witnessed an interesting little side play. At the first coming of the German skirmishers the people of this quarter of the town had seemed stupefied with amazement and astonishment. Most of them, it subsequently developed, had believed right up to the last minute that the forts of Liege still held out and that the Germans had not yet passed the gateways of their country, many kilometers to the eastward. When the scouts of the enemy appeared in their streets they fell for the moment into a stunned state. A little later the appearance of a troop of Uhlans had revived their resentment. We had heard that quick hiss and snarl of hatred which sprang from them as the lancers trotted into view on their superb mounts out of the mouth of a neighboring lane, and had seen how instantaneously the dull, malignant gleam of gun metal, as a sergeant pulled his pistol on them, had brought the silence of frightened respect again.

It now appeared that realization of the number of the invaders was breeding in the Belgians a placating spirit. If a soldier fell out of line at the door of a house to ask for water, all within that house strove to bring the water to him. If an officer, returning from a small sortie into other streets, checked up to ask the way to rejoin his command, a dozen eager arms waved in chorus to point out the proper direction, and a babble of solicitous voices arose from the group about his halted horse.

Young Belgian girls began smiling at soldiers swinging by and the soldiers grinned back and waved their arms. You might almost have thought the troops were Allies passing through a friendly community. This phase of the plastic Flemish temperament made us marvel. When I was told, a fortnight afterward, how these same people rose in the night to strike at these their enemies, and how, so doing, they brought about the ruination of their city and the summary executions of some hundreds of themselves, I marveled all the more.

Presently, as we sat there, we heard — above the rumbling of cannon wheels, the nimble clunking of hurrying hoofs and the heavy thudding of booted feet, falling and rising all in unison — a new note from overhead, a combination of whir and flutter and whine. We looked aloft. Directly above the troops, flying as straight for Brussels as a homing bee for the hive, went a military monoplane, serving as courier and spy for the crawling columns below it. Directly, having gone far ahead, it came speeding back, along a lower air lane and performed a series of circling and darting gyrations, which doubtlessly had a signal-code meaning for the troops. Twice or three times it swung directly above our heads, and at the height at which it now evoluted we could plainly distinguish the downward curve of its wing-planes and the peculiar droop of the rudder — both things that marked it for an army model. We could also make out the black cross painted on its belly as a further distinguishing mark.

To me a monoplane always suggests a bird when it does not suggest an insect or a winged reptile; and this monoplane particularly suggested the bird type. The simile which occurred to me was that of the bird which guards the African rhinoceros; after that it was doubly easy to conceive of this army as a rhinoceros, having all the brute strength and brute force which are a part of that creature, and its well-armored sides and massive legs and deadly horned head; and finally its peculiar fancy for charging straight at its objective target, trampling down all obstacles in the way.

The Germans also fancy their monoplane as a bird; but they call it Taube — a dove. To think of calling this sinister adjunct of warfare a dove, which among modern peoples has always symbolized peace, seemed a most terrible bit of sarcasm. As an exquisite essence of irony I saw but one thing during our week-end in Louvain to match it, and that was a big van requisitioned from a Cologne florist's shop to use in a baggage train. It bore on its sides advertisements of potted plants and floral pieces — and it was loaded to its top with spare ammunition.

Yet, on second thought, I do not believe the Prussians call their war monoplane a dove by way of satire. The Prussians are a serious-minded race and never more serious than when they make war, as all the world now knows.

Three monoplanes buzzed over us, making sawmill sounds, during the next hour or two. Thereafter, whenever we saw German troops on the march through a country new to them we looked aloft for the thing with the droopy wings and the black cross on its yellow abdomen. Sooner or later it appeared, coming always out of nowhere and vanishing always into space. We were never disappointed. It is only the man who expects the German army to forget something needful or necessary who is disappointed.

It was late in the afternoon when we bade farewell to the three-hundred-pound proprietress of the Belgian Lion and sought to reach the center of the town through byways not yet blocked off by the marching regiments. When we were perhaps halfway to our destination we met a town bellman and a town crier, the latter being in the uniform of a Garde Civique. The bellringer would ply his clapper until he drew a crowd, and then the Garde Civique would halt in an open space at the junction of two or more streets and read a proclamation from the burgomaster calling on all the inhabitants to preserve their tranquillity and refrain from overt acts against the Germans, under promise of safety if they obeyed and threat of death at the hands of the Germans if they disregarded the warning.


marching through a Belgian village


This word-of-mouth method of spreading an order applied only to the outlying sections. In the more thickly settled districts, where presumably the populace could read and write, proclamations posted on wall and window took its place. During the three days we stayed in Louvain one proclamation succeeded another with almost the frequency of special extras of evening newspapers when a big news story breaks in an American city: The citizens were to surrender all firearms in their possession; it would be immediately fatal to him if a man were caught with a lethal weapon on his person or in his house. Tradespeople might charge this or that price for the necessities of life, and no more. All persons, except physicians and nurses in the discharge of their professional duties, and gendarmes — the latter being now disarmed and entirely subservient to the military authorities — must be off the streets and public squares at a given time — to wit, nine p. m. Cafés must close at the same hour. Any soldier who refused to pay for any private purchase should be immediately reported at headquarters for punishment. Upper front windows of all houses on certain specified streets must be closed and locked after nightfall, remaining so until daylight of the following morning; this notice being followed and overlapped very shortly by one more amplifying, which prescribed that not only must front windows be made fast, but all must have lights behind them and the street doors must be left unlocked.

The portent of this was simple enough: If any man sought to fire on the soldiers below he must first unfasten a window and expose himself in the light; and after he fired admittance would be made easy for those who came searching for him to kill him.

At first these placards were signed by the burgomaster, with the military commandant's indorsement, and sometimes by both those functionaries; but on the second day there appeared one signed by the commandant only; and this one, for special emphasis, was bounded by wide borders printed in bright red. It stated, with cruel brevity, that the burgomaster, the senator for the district and the leading magistrate had been taken into custody as hostages for the good conduct of their constituents; and that if a civilian made any attack against the Germans he would forfeit his own life and endanger the lives of the three prisoners. Thus, inch by inch, the conquerors, sensing a growing spirit of revolt among the conquered — a spirit as yet nowise visible on the surface — took typically German steps to hold the rebellious people of Louvain in hobbles. It was when we reached the Y-shaped square in the middle of things, with the splendid old Gothic town hall rising on one side of it and the famous Church of Saint Pierre at the bottom of the gore, that we first beheld at close hand the army of the War Lord. Alongside the Belgian Lion we had thought it best to keep our distance from the troops as they passed obliquely across our line of vision. Here we might press as closely as we pleased to the column. The magnificent precision with which the whole machinery moved was astounding — I started to say appalling. Three streets converging into the place were glutted with men, extending from curb to curb; and for an outlet there was but one somewhat wider street, which twisted its course under the gray walls of the church. Yet somehow the various lines melted together and went thumping off out of sight like streams running down a funnel and out at the spout.


German infantry taking a rest


Never, so far as we could tell, was there any congestion, any hitch, any suggestion of confusion. Frequently there would come from a sideway a group of officers on horseback, or a whole string of commandeered touring cars bearing monocled, haughty staff officers in the tonneaus, with guards riding beside the chauffeurs and small slick trunks strapped on behind. A whistle would sound shrilly then; and magically a gap would appear in the formation. Into this gap the horsemen or the imperious automobiles would slip, and away the column would go again without having been disturbed or impeded noticeably. No stage manager ever handled his supers better; and here, be it remembered, there were uncountable thousands of supers, and for a stage the twisting, medieval convolutions of a strange city. Now for a space of minutes it would be infantry that passed, at the swinging lunge of German foot soldiers on a forced march. Now it would be cavalry, with accouterments jingling and horses scrouging in the close-packed ranks; else a battery of the viperish looking little rapid-fire guns, or a battery of heavier cannon, with cloth fittings over their ugly snouts, like muzzled dogs whose bark is bad and whose bite is worse.

Then, always in due order, would succeed the field telegraph corps; the field post-office corps; the Red Cross corps; the brass band of, say, forty pieces; and all the rest of it, to the extent of a thousand and one circus parades rolled together. There were boats for making pontoon bridges, mounted side by side on wagons, with the dried mud of the River Meuse still on their flat bottoms; there were baggage trains miles in length, wherein the supply of regular army wagons was eked out with nondescript vehicles — even family carriages and delivery vans gathered up hastily, as the signs on their sides betrayed, from the tradespeople of a dozen Northern German cities and towns, and now bearing chalk marks on them to show in what division they belonged. And inevitably at the tail of each regiment came its cook wagons, with fires kindled and food cooking for supper in the big portable ranges, so that when these passed the air would be charged with that pungent reek of burning wood which makes an American think of a fire engine on its way to answer an alarm.

Once, as a cook perched on a step at the back of his wagon bent forward to stir the stew with a spoon almost big enough for a spade, I saw under his hiked-up coat-tails that at the back of his gray trousers there were four suspender buttons in a row instead of two. The purpose of this was plain: when his suspenders chafed him he might, by shifting the straps to different buttons, shift the strain on his shoulders. All German soldiers' trousers have this extra garnishment of buttons aft.

Somebody thought of that. Somebody thought of everything.

We in America are accustomed to think of the Germans as an obese race, swinging big paunches in front of them; but in that army the only fat men we saw were officers, and not so many of them. On occasion, some colonel, beefy as a brisket and with rolls of fat on the back of his close-shaved neck, would be seen bouncing by, balancing his tired stomach on his saddle pommel; but, without exception, the men in the ranks were trained down and fine drawn. They bent forward under the weight of their knapsacks and blanket rolls; and their middles were bulky with cartridge belts, and bulging pockets covered their flanks.

Inside the shapeless uniforms, however, their limbs swung with athletic freedom, and even at the fag-end of a hard day's marching, with perhaps several hours of marching yet ahead of them, they carried their heavy guns as though those guns were toys. Their fair sunburned faces were lined with sweat marks and masked under dust, and doubtless some were desperately weary; but I did not see a straggler. To date I presume I have seen upward of a million of these German soldiers on the march, and I have yet to see a straggler.

For the most part the rank and file were stamped by their faces and their limbs as being of peasant blood or of the petty artisan type; but here and there, along with the butcher and the baker and the candlestick maker, passed one of a slenderer build, usually spectacled and wearing, even in this employment, the unmistakable look of the cultured, scholarly man.

And every other man, regardless of his breed, held a cheap cigar between his front teeth; but the wagon drivers and many of the cavalrymen smoked pipes — the long- stemmed, china-bowled pipe, which the German loves. The column moved beneath a smoke-wreath of its own making.

The thing, however, which struck one most forcibly was the absolute completeness, the perfect uniformity, of the whole scheme. Any man's equipment was identically like any other man's equipment. Every drinking cup dangled behind its owner's spine-tip at precisely the same angle; every strap and every buckle matched. These Germans had been run through a mold and they had all come out soldiers. And, barring a few general officers, they were all young men — men yet on the sunny side of thirty. Later we were to see plenty of older men — reserves and Landwehr — but this was the pick of the western line that passed through Louvain, the chosen product of the active wing of the service.

Out of the narrow streets the marchers issued; and as they reached the broader space before the town hall each company would raise a song, beating with its heavy boots on the paving stones to mark the time. Presently we detected a mutter of resentment rising from the troops; and seeking the cause of this we discerned that some of them had caught sight of a big Belgian flag which whipped in the breeze from the top of the Church of Saint Pierre. However, the flag stayed where it had been put during the three days we remained in Louvain. Seemingly the German commander did not greatly care whose flag flew on the church tower overhead so long as he held dominion of the earth below and the dwellers thereof.

Well, we watched the gray ear-wig wriggling away to the westward until we were surfeited, and then we set about finding a place where we might rest our dizzy heads. We could not get near the principal hotels. These already were filled with high officers and ringed about with sentries; but half a mile away, on the plaza fronting the main railroad station, we finally secured accommodations — such as they were — at a small fourth-rate hotel.

It called itself by a gorgeous title — it was the House of the Thousand Columns, which was as true a saying as though it had been named the House of the One Column; for it had neither one column nor a thousand, but only a small, dingy beer bar below and some ten dismal living rooms above. Established here, we set about getting in touch with the German higher-ups, since we were likely to be mistaken for Englishmen, which would be embarrassing certainly, and might even be painful. At the hotel next door — for all the buildings flanking this square were hotels of a sort — we found a group of officers.

One of them, a tall, handsome, magnetic chap, with a big, deep laugh and a most beautiful command of our own tongue, turned out to be a captain on the general staff. It seemed to him the greatest joke in the world that four American correspondents should come looking for war in a taxicab, and should find it too. He beat himself on his flanks in the excess of his joy, and called up half a dozen friends to hear the amazing tale; and they enjoyed it too.

He said he felt sure his adjutant would appreciate the joke; and, as incidentally his adjutant was the person in all the world we wanted most just then to see, we went with him to headquarters, which was a mile away in the local Palais de Justice — or, as we should say in America, the courthouse. By now it was good and dark; and as no street lamps burned we walked through a street that was like a tunnel for blackness.


resting for a meal


The roadway was full of infantry still pressing forward to a camping place somewhere beyond the town. We could just make out the shadowy shapes of the men, but their feet made a noise like thunderclaps, and they sang a German marching song with a splendid lilt and swing to it.

"Just listen!" said the captain proudly. "They are always like that — they march all day and half the night, and never do they grow weary. They are in fine spirits — our men. And we can hardly hold them back. They will go forward — always forward!

"In this war we have no such command as Retreat! That word we have blotted out. Either we shall go forward or we shall die! We do not expect to fall back, ever. The men know this; and if our generals would but let them they would run to Paris instead of walking there."

I think it was not altogether through vainglory he spoke. He was not a bombastic sort. I think he voiced the intent of the army to which he belonged.

At the Palais de Justice the adjutant was not to be seen; so our guide volunteered to write a note of introduction for us. Standing in a doorway of the building, where a light burned, he opened a small flat leather pack that swung from his belt, along with the excellent map of Belgium inclosed in a leather frame which every German officer carried. We marveled that the pack contained pencils, pens, inkpot, seals, officially stamped envelopes and note paper, and blank forms of various devices. Verily these Germans had remembered all things and forgotten nothing. I said that to myself mentally at the moment; nor have I had reason since to withdraw or qualify the remark.

The next morning I saw the adjutant, whose name was Renner and whose title was that of major; but first I, as spokesman, underwent a search for hidden weapons at the hands of a secret service man. Major Renner was most courteous; also he was amused to hear the details of our taxicabbing expedition into his lines. But of the desire which lay nearest our hearts — -to get back to Brussels in time haply to witness its occupation by the Germans — he would not hear.

"For your own sakes," thus he explained it, "I dare not let you gentlemen go. Terrible things have happened. Last night a colonel of infantry was murdered while he was asleep; and I have just heard that fifteen of our soldiers had their throats cut, also as they slept. From houses our troops have been fired on, and between here and Brussels there has been much of this guerrilla warfare on us. To those who do such things and to those who protect them we show no mercy. We shoot them on the spot and burn their houses to the ground.

"I can well understand that the Belgians resent our coming into their country. "We ourselves regret it; but it was a military necessity. We could do nothing else. If the Belgians put on uniforms and enroll as soldiers and fight us openly, we shall capture them if we can; we shall kill them if we must; but in all cases we shall treat them as honorable enemies, fighting under the rules of civilized warfare.

"But this shooting from ambush by civilians; this murdering of our people in the night — that we cannot endure. We have made a rule that if shots are fired by a civilian from a house then we shall burn that house; and we shall kill that man and all the other men in that house whom we suspect of harboring him or aiding him.

"We make no attempt to disguise our methods of reprisal. We are willing for the world to know it; and it is not because I wish to cover up or hide any of our actions from your eyes, and from the eyes of the American people, that I am refusing you passes for your return to Brussels to-day. But, you see, our men have been terribly excited by these crimes of the Belgian populace, and in their excitement they might make serious mistakes.

"Our troops are under splendid discipline, as you may have seen already for yourselves. And I assure you the Germans are not a bloodthirsty or a drunken or a barbarous people; but in every army there are fools and, what is worse, in every army there are brutes. You are strangers; and if you passed along the road to-day some of our more ignorant men, seeing that you were not natives and suspecting your motives, might harm you. There might be some stupid, angry common soldier, some over-zealous under officer — you understand me, do you not, gentlemen?

"So you will please remain here quietly, having nothing to do with any of our men who may seek to talk with you. That last is important; for I may tell you that our secret-service people have already reported your presence, and they naturally are anxious to make a showing.

"At the end of one day — perhaps two — we shall be able, I think, to give you safe conduct back to Brussels. And then I hope you will be able to speak a good word to the American public for our army."

After this fashion of speaking I heard now from the lips of Major Renner what I subsequently heard fifty times from other army men, and likewise from high German civilians, of the common German attitude toward Belgium. Often these others have used almost the same words he used. Invariably they have sought to convey the same meaning.

For those three days we stayed on unwillingly in Louvain we were not once out of sight of German soldiers, nor by day or night out of sound of their threshing feet and their rumbling wheels. We never looked; this way or that but we saw their gray masses blocking up the distances. We never entered shop or house but we found Germans already there. We never sought to turn off the main-traveled streets into a byway but our path was barred by a guard seeking to know our business. And always, as we noted, for this duty those in command had chosen soldiers who knew a smattering of French, in order that the sentries might be able to speak with the citizens. If we passed along a sidewalk the chances were that it would be lined thick with soldiers lying against the walls resting, or sitting on the curbs, with their shoes off, easing their feet. If we looked into the sky our prospects for seeing a monoplane flying about were most excellent. If we entered a square it was bound to be jammed with horses and packed baggage trains and supply wagons. The atmosphere was laden with the ropy scents of the boiling stews and with the heavier smells of the soldiers' unwashed bodies and their sweating horses.

Finally, to their credit be it said, we personally did not see one German, whether officer or private, who mistreated any citizen, or was offensively rude to any citizen, or who refused to pay a fair reckoning for what he bought, or who was conspicuously drunk. The postcard venders of Louvain must have grown fat with wealth; for, next to bottled beer and butter and cheap cigars, every common soldier craved postcards above all other commodities.

We grew tired after a while of seeing Germans; it seemed to us that every vista always had been choked with unshaved, blond, blocky, short-haired men in rawhide boots and ill-fitting gray tunics; and that every vista always would be. It took a new kind of gun, or an automobile with a steel prow for charging through barbed-wire entanglements, or a group of bedraggled Belgian prisoners slouching by under convoy, to make us give the spectacle more than a passing glance.

There was something hypnotic, something tremendously wearisome to the mind in those thick lines flowing sluggishly along in streams like molten lead; in the hedges of gun barrels all slanting at the same angle; in the same types of faces repeated and repeated countlessly; in the legs which scissored by in such faultless unison and at each clip of each pair of living shears cut off just so much of the road — never any more and never any less, but always just exactly so much.


a motor lorry used to transport wounded soldiers


Our jaded and satiated fancies had been fed on soldiers and all the cumbersome pageantry of war until they refused to be quickened by what, half a week before, would have set every nerve tingling. Almost the only thing that stands out distinct in my memory from the confused recollections of the last morning spent in Louvain is a huge sight-seeing car — of the sort known at home as a rubberneck wagon — which lumbered by us with Red Cross men perched like roosting gray birds on all its seats. We estimated we saw two hundred thousand men in motion through the ancient town. We learned afterward we had under-figured the total by at least a third.

During these days the life of Louvain went on, so far as our alien eyes could judge, pretty much as it probably did in the peace times preceding. At night, obeying an order, the people stayed within their doors; in the daylight hours they pursued their customary business, not greatly incommoded apparently by the presence of the conqueror. If there was simmering hate in the hearts of the men and women of Louvain it did not betray itself in their sobered faces. I saw a soldier, somewhat fuddled, seize a serving maid about the waist and kiss her; he received a slap in the face and fell back in bad order, while his mates cheered the spunky girl. A minute later she emerged from the house to which she had retreated, seemingly ready to swap slaps for kisses some more.

However, from time to time sinister suggestions did obtrude themselves on us. For example, on the second morning of our enforced stay at the House of the Thousand Columns we watched a double file of soldiers going through a street toward the Palais de Justice. Two roughly clad natives walked between the lines of bared bayonets. One was an old man who walked proudly with his head erect. He was like a man going to a feast. The other was bent almost double, and his hands were tied behind his back.

A few minutes afterward a barred yellow van, under escort, came through the square fronting the railroad station and disappeared behind a mass of low buildings. From that direction we presently heard shots. Soon the van came back, unescorted this time; and behind it came Belgians with Red Cross arm badges, bearing on their shoulders two litters on which were still figures covered with blankets, so that only the stockinged feet showed.

Twice thereafter this play was repeated, with slight variations, and each time we Americans, looking on from our front windows, drew our own conclusions. Also, from the same vantage point we saw an automobile pass bearing a couple of German officers and a little, scared-looking man in a frock coat and a high hat, whose black mustache stood out like a charcoal mark against the very white background of his face. This little man, we learned, was the burgomaster, and this day he was being held a prisoner and responsible for the good conduct of some fifty-odd thousand of his fellow citizens. That night our host, a gross, silent man in carpet slippers, told us the burgomaster was ill in bed at home.

"He suffers," explained our landlord in French, "from a crisis of the nerves." The French language is an expressive language.

Then, coming a pace nearer, our landlord added a question in a cautious whisper.

"Messieurs," he asked, "do you think it can be true, as my neighbors tell me, that the United States President has ordered the Germans to get out of our country?"

We shook our heads, and he went silently away in his carpet slippers; and his broad Flemish face gave no hint of what corrosive thoughts he may have had in his heart.

It was Wednesday morning when we entered Louvain. It was Saturday morning when we left it. This last undertaking was preceded by difficulties. As a preliminary to it we visited in turn all the stables in Louvain where ordinarily horses and wheeled vehicles could be had for hire.

Perhaps there were no horses left in the stalls — thanks to either Belgian foragers or to German — or, if there were horses, no driver would risk his hide on the open road among the German pack trains and rear guards. At length we did find a tall, red-haired Walloon who said he would go anywhere on earth, and provide a team for the going, if we paid the price he asked. We paid it in advance, in case anything should happen on the way, and he took us in a venerable open carriage behind two crow-bait skeletons that had once, in a happier day when hay was cheaper, been horses.

We drove slowly, taking the middle of the wide Brussels road. On our right, traveling in the same direction, crawled an unending line of German baggage wagons and pontoon trucks. On our left, going the opposite way, was another line, also unending, made up of refugee villagers, returning afoot to the towns beyond Louvain from which they had fled four days earlier. They were footsore and they limped; they were of all ages and most miserable-looking. And, one and all, they were as tongueless as so many ghosts. Thus we traveled; and at the end of the first hour came to the tiny town of Leefdael.

At Leefdael there must have been fighting, for some of the houses were gutted by shells. At least two had been burned; and a big tin sign at a railroad crossing had become a tin colander where flying lead had sieved it. In a beet patch beside one of the houses was a mound of fresh earth the length of a long man, with a cross of sticks at the head of it. A Belgian soldier's cap was perched on the upright and a scrap of paper was made fast to the cross arm; and two peasants stood there apparently reading what was written on the paper. Later such sights as these were to become almost the commonest incidents of our countryside campaignings; but now we looked with all our eyes.

Except that the roadside ditches were littered with beer bottles and scraps of paper, and the road itself rutted by cannon wheels, we saw little enough after leaving Leefdael to suggest that an army had come this way until we were in the outskirts of Brussels. In a tree-edged, grass-plotted boulevard at the edge of the Bois, toward Tervueren, cavalry had halted. The turf was scarred with hoofprints and strewed with hay; and there was a row of small trenches in which the Germans had built their fires to do their cooking. The sod, which had been removed to make these trenches, was piled in neat little terraces, ready to be put back; and care plainly had been taken by the troopers to avoid damaging the bark on the trunks of the ash and elm trees.

There it was — the German system of warfare! These Germans might carry on their war after the most scientifically deadly plan the world has ever known; they might deal out their peculiarly fatal brand of drumhead justice to all civilians who crossed their paths bearing arms; they might burn and waste for punishment; they might lay on a captured city and a whipped province a tribute of foodstuffs and an indemnity of money heavier than any civilized race has ever demanded of the cowed and conquered — might do all these things and more besides — but their common troopers saved the sods of the greensward for replanting and spared the boles of the young shade trees! Next day we again left Brussels, the submissive, and made a much longer excursion under German auspices. And, at length, after much travail, we landed in the German frontier city of Aix- la-Chapelle, where I wrote these lines. There it was, two days after our arrival, that we heard of the fate of Louvain and of that pale little man, the burgomaster, who had survived his crisis of the nerves to die of a German bullet.

We wondered what became of the proprietor of the House of the Thousand Columns; and of the young Dutch tutor in the Berlitz School of Languages, who had served us as a guide and interpreter; and of the pretty, gentle little Flemish woman who brought us our meals in her clean, small restaurant round the corner from the Hotel de Ville; and of the kindly, red-bearded priest at the Church of Saint Jacques, who gave us ripe pears and old wine.

I reckon we shall always wonder what became of them, and that we shall never know. I hoped mightily that the American wing of the big Catholic seminary had been spared. It had a stone figure of an American Indian — looking something like Sitting Bull, we thought — over its doors; and that was the only typically American thing we saw in all Louvain.

When next I saw Louvain the University was gone and the stone Indian was gone too.


a view of Louvain

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