A Belgian Interlude

I WAS reminded again to-day how constant work must be the only thing that makes living possible to many women. We were at lunch, when suddenly the roar of the German guns cut across our laughter. We rushed into the street, where a gesticulating crowd had already located the five Allied aeroplanes high above us. Little white clouds dotted the sky all about them— puffs of white smoke that marked the bursting shrapnel. Though the guns seemed to be firing just behind our house, we believed we were quite out of danger. However, Marie ran to us quite white and with her hands over her ears. ‘O madame!’ she cried, ‘the shrapnel is bursting all about the kitchen.’ She had experienced it. She had told me once that her sister had died of fright three days after the war began, and I realized now that she probably had.

Our picturesque Léon slipped over to assure me that this was not a real attack, but just a visit to give us hope on the second anniversary of the beginning of the war, to tell us the Allies were thinking of us and that we should soon be delivered. Without doubt they would drop a message of some sort.

I thought of our American Minister and his proximity to the Luxembourg railroad station. He had several times expressed concern over that proximity. I remembered, too, the words of a certain man who lives opposite the railroad station at Mons. Bombs had just been dropped on this station, — one had fallen in front of his house, — and when I asked if he and his wife would not consider moving, he replied, ‘Madame, our two sons are in the trenches; should we not be ashamed to think of this as danger?’

All the while the aeroplanes were circling and the guns were booming. Then suddenly one of the aviators made a sensational drop to within a hundred metres of the Molenbeek station, threw his bombs, and, before the guns could right themselves, regained his altitude, and all five were off, marvelously escaping the puffs of white before and below and behind them.

This was thrilling, till suddenly there flashed over me the sickening realization of what it really meant. The man behind the gun was doing his utmost to kill the man in the machine. It was horrible — horrible to us. But to Belgian wives and mothers, what must it have been? As they looked up they cried, ‘Is that my boy — my husband, who has come back to his home this way? After two years, is he there? My God, can they reach him?’

The only answer was the roar of the guns, the bursting shrapnel — and they covered their eyes.