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- The Valley of Vision - 6/31 -

birds singing and the wind rustling among the leaves. How I saw and heard I cannot tell you, for there was no remembrance of a body in my dream. Then suddenly my soul--I suppose it was that--stood before God and He was asking me: 'How did you come hither?' I answered, 'By Christ's way, by the way of a tree.' And He said it was well, and that my work in heaven should be the care of the trees growing by the river of life, and that sometimes I could go back to visit my trees on earth, if I wished. That made me very glad, for I knew that so I should see you and our children under the beeches. And while I was wondering whether you would ever know that I was there, the dream dissolved, and I saw the morning light on the tree-tops. What do you think of my dream? Childish, wasn't it?"

She thought a little before she answered.

"It was natural enough, though vague. Of course we could not be buried at the foot of the beech-tree unless Cardinal Mercier would permit a plot of ground to be consecrated there. But come, it is time to go in to breakfast."

She seemed to dismiss the matter from her mind. Yet, as women so often do, she kept all these sayings and pondered them in her heart.

The promise of spring passed into the sultry heat of summer. The storm-cloud of the twentieth century blackened over Europe. The wise men of Berlin made mad by pride, devoted the world not to the Prince of Peace but to the lords of war. In the first week of August the fury of the German invasion broke on Belgium. No one had dared to dream the terrors of that tempest. It was like a return of the Dark Ages. Every home trembled. The pillars of the tranquil house of Azan were shaken.

The daughter was away at school in England, and that was an unmixed blessing. The son was a lieutenant in the Belgian army; and that was right and glorious, but it was also a dreadful anxiety. The father and mother were divided in mind, Whether to stay or take flight with their friends. At last the father decided the hard question.

"It is our duty to stay. We cannot fight for our country, but we can suffer with her. Our daughter is in safety; our son's danger we cannot and would not prevent. How could we really live away from here, our home, our trees? I went to consult the cardinal. He stays, and he advises us to do so. He says that will be the best way to show our devotion. As Christians we must endure the evil that we cannot prevent; but as Belgians our hearts will never consent to it."

That was their attitude as the tide of blood and tears drew nearer to them, surrounded them, swept beyond them, engulfed the whole land. The brutal massacres at Andenne and Dinant were so near that the news arrived before the spilt blood was dry. The exceeding great and bitter cry of anguish came to them from a score of neighboring villages, from a hundred lonely farmhouses. The old botanist withered and faded daily; his wife grew pale and gray. Yet they walked their _via crucis_ together, and kept their chosen course.

They fed the hungry and clothed the naked, helped the fugitives and consoled the broken-hearted. They counselled their poor neighbors to good order, and dissuaded the ignorant from the folly and peril of violence. Toward the invading soldiery their conduct was beyond reproach. With no false professions of friendship, they fulfilled the hard services which were required of them. Their servants had been helped away at the beginning of the trouble--all except the old forester and his wife, who refused to leave. With their aid the house was kept open and many of the conquerors lodged there and in the outbuildings. So good were the quarters that a departing Saxon chalked on the gate-post the dubious inscription: _"Gute Leute-nicht auspliin-dern."_ Thus the captives at the Chateau d'Azan had a good name even among their enemies. The baron received a military pass which enabled him to move quite freely about the district on his errands of necessity and mercy, and the chateau became a favorite billet for high-born officers.

In the second year of the war an evil chance brought two uninvited guests of very high standing indeed--that is to say in the social ring of Potsdam. Their names are well known. Let us call them Prince Barenberg and Count Ludra. The first was a major, the second a captain. Their value as warriors in the field had not proved equal to their prominence as noblemen, so they were given duty in the rear.

They were vicious coxcombs of the first order. Their uniforms incased them tightly. Like wasps they bent only at the waist. Their flat-topped caps were worn with an aggressive slant, their swords jingled menacingly, their hay-colored mustaches spoke arrogance in every upturned hair. When they bowed it was a mockery; when they smiled it was a sneer. For the comfortable quarters of the Chateau d'Azan they had a gross appreciation, for the enforced hospitality of its owners an insolent condescension. They took it as their due, and resented the silent protest underneath it.

"Excellent wine, Herr Baron," said the prince, who, like his comrade, drank profusely of the best in the cellar. "Your Rudesheimer Berg '94 is _kolossal._ Very friendly of you to save it for us. We Germans know good wine. What?"

"You have that reputation," answered the baron.

"And say," added the count, "let us have a couple of bottles more, dear landlord. You can put it in the bill."

"I shall do so," said the baron gravely. "It shall be put in the bill with other things."

"But why," drawled the prince, "does _la Baronne_ never favor us with her company? Still very attractive--musical probably--here is a piano--want good German music--console homesickness."

"Madame is indisposed," answered the baron quietly, "but you may be sure she regrets your absence from home."

The officers looked at each other with half-tipsy, half-angry eyes. They suspected a jest at their expense, but could not quite catch it.

"Impudence," muttered the count, who was the sharper of the two when sober.

"No," said the prince, "it is only stupidity. These Walloons have no wit."

"Come," he added, turning to the baron, "we sing you a good song of fatherland--show how _gemuthlich_ we Germans are. You Belgians have no word for that. What?"

He sat down to the piano and pounded out _"Deutschland ueber Alles,"_ singing the air in a raucous voice, while Ludra added a rumbling bass.

"What do you think of that? All Germans can sing. _Gemuthlich._ What?"

"You are right," said the baron, with downcast eyes. "We Belgians have no word for that. It is inexpressible--except in German. I bid you good night."

For nearly a fortnight this condition of affairs continued. The baron endured it as best he could, obeying scrupulously the military regulations which necessity laid upon him, and taking his revenge only in long thoughts and words of polite sarcasm which he knew would not be understood. The baroness worked hard at the housekeeping, often cooking and cleaning with her own hands, and rejoicing secretly with her husband over the rare news that came from their daughter in England, from their boy at the front in West Flanders. Sometimes, when the coast was clear, husband and wife walked together under the beech-trees and talked in low tones of the time when the ravenous beast should no more go up on the land.

The two noble officers performed their routine duties, found such amusement as they could in neighboring villages and towns, drank deep at night, and taxed their ingenuity to invent small ways of annoying their hosts, for whom they felt the contemptuous dislike of the injurer for the injured. They were careful, however, to keep their malice within certain bounds, for they knew that the baron was in favor with the commandant of the district.

One morning the baron and his wife, looking from their window in a wing of the house, saw with surprise and horror a score or more of German soldiers assembled beside the beech-avenue, with axes and saws, preparing to begin work.

"What are they going to do there?" cried he in dismay, and hurried down to the dining-room, where the officers sat at breakfast, giving orders to an attentive corporal.

"A thousand pardons, Highness," interrupted the baron; "forgive my haste. But surely you are not going to cut down my avenue of beeches?"

"Why not?" said the prince, swinging around in his chair. "They are good wood."

"But, sir," stammered the baron, trembling with excitement, "those trees--they are an ancient heritage of the house--planted by my grandfather a century ago--an old possession--spare them for their age."

"You exaggerate," sneered the prince. "They are not old. I have on my hunting estate in Thuringia oaks five hundred years old. These trees of yours are mere upstarts. Why shouldn't they be cut? What?"

"But they are very dear to us," pleaded the baron earnestly. "We all love them, my wife and children and I. To us they are sacred. It would be harsh to take them from us."

"Baron," said the prince, with suave malice, "you miss the point. We Germans are never harsh. But we are practical. My soldiers need exercise. The camps need wood. Do you see? What?"

"Certainly," answered the poor baron, humbling himself in his devotion to his trees. "Your Highness makes the point perfectly clear--the need of exercise and wood. But there is plenty of good timber in the forest and the park--much easier to cut. Cannot your men get their wood and their exercise there, and spare my dearest trees?"

Ludra laughed unpleasantly.

The Valley of Vision - 6/31

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