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- The Valley of Vision - 3/31 -
in the wind. When it filled she must move away. We waded on, and at last I grasped the gunwale of the boat. I lifted the child in and helped my wife to climb over the side. They clung to me. The little vessel began to move gently away.
"Get in," cried the old man sharply; "get in quick."
But I felt that I could not, I dared not. I let go of the boat. I cried "Good-by," and turned to wade ashore.
I was compelled to go back to the doomed city. I must know what would come of the parting of Man from God!
The tide was running out more swiftly. The water swirled around my knees. I awoke.
But the dream remained with me, just as I have told it to you.
Along the straight, glistening road, through a dim arcade of drooping trees, a tunnel of faded green and gold, dripping with the misty rain of a late October afternoon, a human tide was flowing, not swiftly, but slowly, with the patient, pathetic slowness of weary feet, and numb brains, and heavy hearts.
Yet they were in haste, all of these old men and women, fathers and mothers, and little children; they were flying as fast as they could; either away from something that they feared, or toward something that they desired.
That was the strange thing--the tide on the road flowed in two directions.
Some fled away from ruined homes to escape the perils of war. Some fled back to ruined homes to escape the desolation of exile. But all were fugitives, anxious to be gone, striving along the road one way or the other, and making no more speed than a creeping snail's pace of unutterable fatigue. I saw many separate things in the tide, and remembered them without noting.
A boy straining to push a wheelbarrow with his pale mother in it, and his two little sisters trudging at his side. A peasant with his two girls driving their lean, dejected cows back to some unknown pasture. A bony horse tugging at a wagon heaped high with bedding and household gear, on top of which sat the wrinkled grandmother with the tiniest baby in her arms, while the rest of the family stumbled alongside--and the cat was curled up on the softest coverlet in the wagon. Two panting dogs, with red tongues hanging out, and splayed feet clawing the road, tugging a heavy-laden cart while the master pushed behind and the woman pulled in the shafts. Strange, antique vehicles crammed with passengers. Couples and groups and sometimes larger companies of foot-travellers. Now and then a solitary man or woman, old and shabby, bundle on back, eyes on the road, plodding through the mud and the mist, under the high archway of yellowing leaves.
[Illustration: All were fugitives, anxious to be gone, ... and making no more speed than a creeping snail's pace of unutterable fatigue.]
All these distinct pictures I saw, yet it was all one vision--a vision of humanity with its dumb companions in flight--infinitely slow, painful, pitiful flight!
I saw no tears, I heard no cries of complaint. But beneath the numb and patient haste on all those dazed faces I saw a question.
_"What have we done? Why has this thing come upon us and our children?"_
Somewhere I heard a trumpet blown. The brazen spikes on the helmets of a little troop of German soldiers flashed for an instant, far down the sloppy road. Through the humid dusk came the dull, distant booming of the unseen guns of conquest in Flanders.
That was the only answer.
A CITY OF REFUGE
In the dark autumn of 1914 the City sprang up almost in a night, as if by enchantment.
It was white magic that called it into being--the deep, quiet, strong impulse of compassion and protection that moved the motherly heart of Holland when she saw the hundreds of thousands of Belgian fugitives pouring out of their bleeding, ravaged land, and running, stumbling, creeping on hands and knees, blindly, instinctively turning to her for safety and help.
"Come to me," she said, like a good woman who holds out her arms and spreads her knees to make a lap for tired and frightened children, "come to me. I will take care of you. You shall be safe with me."
All doors were open. The little brick farmhouses and cottages with their gayly painted window-shutters; the long rows of city houses with their steep gables; the prim and placid country mansions set among their high trees and formal flower-gardens--all kinds of dwellings, from the poorest to the richest, welcomed these guests of sorrow and distress. Many a humble family drained its savings-bank reservoir to keep the stream of its hospitality flowing. Unused factories were turned into barracks. Deserted summer hotels were filled up. Even empty greenhouses were adapted to the need of human horticulture. All Holland was enrolled, formally or informally, in a big _Comite voor Belgische Slachtoffers._
But soon it was evident that the impromptu methods of generosity could not meet the demands of the case. Private resources were exhausted. Poor people could no longer feed and clothe their poorer guests. Families were unhappily divided. In the huge flock of exiles driven out by the cruel German Terror there were goats as well as sheep, and some of them bewildered and shocked the orderly Dutch homes where they were sheltered, by their nocturnal habits and negligible morals. Something had to be done to bring order and system into the chaos of brotherly love. Otherwise the neat Dutch mind which is so close to the Dutch heart could not rest in its bed. This vast trouble which the evil of German militarism had thrust upon a helpless folk must be helped out by a wise touch of military organization, which is a good thing even for the most peaceful people.
So it was that the City of Refuge (and others like it) grew up swiftly in the wilderness.
It stands in the heathland that slopes and rolls from the wooded hills of Gelderland to the southern shore of the Zuider Zee--a sandy country overgrown with scrub-oaks and pines and heather--yet very healthy and well drained, and not unfertile under cultivation. You may see that in the little neighbor-village, where the trees arch over the streets, and the kitchen-gardens prosper, and the shrubs and flowers bloom abundantly.
The small houses and hotels of this tiny summer resort are of brick. It has an old, well-established look; a place of relaxation with restraint, not of ungirdled frivolity. The plain Dutch people love their holidays, but they take them serenely and by rule: long walks and bicycle-rides, placid and nourishing picnics in the woods or by the sea, afternoon tea-parties in sheltered arbors. One of their favorite names for a country-place is _Wel Teweden,_ "perfectly contented."
The commandant of the City of Refuge lives in one of the little brick houses of the village. He is a portly, rosy old bachelor, with a curly brown beard and a military bearing; a man of fine education and wide experience, seasoned in colonial diplomacy. The ruling idea in his mind is discipline, authority. His official speech is abrupt and final, the manner of a martinet covering a heart full of kindness and generous impulses.
"Come," he says, after a good breakfast, "I want you to see my camp. It is not as fine and fancy as the later ones. But we built it in a hurry and we had it ready on time."
A short ride over a sandy road brings you to the city gate--an opening in the wire enclosure of perhaps two or three square miles among the dwarf pines and oaks. The guard-house is kept by a squad of Dutch soldiers. But it is in no sense a prison-camp, for people are coming and going freely all the time, and the only rules within are those of decency and good order.
"Capacity, ten thousand," says the commandant, sweeping his hand around the open circle, "quite a city, _niet waar?_ I will show you the various arrangements."
All the buildings are of wood, a mushroom city, but constructed with intelligence to meet the needs of the sudden, helpless population. You visit the big kitchen with its ever-simmering kettles; the dining-halls with their long tables and benches; the schoolhouses full of lively, irrepressible children; the wash-house where always talkative and jocose laundresses are scrubbing and wringing the clothes; the sewing-rooms where hundreds of women and girls are busy with garments and gossip; the chapel where religious services are held by the devoted pastors; the recreation-room which is the social centre of the city; the clothing storerooms where you find several American girls working for love.
Then you go through the long family barracks where each family has a separate cubicle, more or less neat and comfortable, sometimes prettily decorated, according to the family taste and habit; the barracks for the single men; the barracks for the single women; the two hospitals, one general, the other for infectious diseases;
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