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Title: Peeps At Many Lands: Belgium
Author: Omond, George W. T. (George William Thomson), 1846-1929
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Peeps At Many Lands: Belgium" ***

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           [Illustration: A PEASANT WOMAN OF THE ARDENNES.]


                         PEEPS AT MANY LANDS

                               BELGIUM



                                  BY
                          GEORGE W. T. OMOND


                           ILLUSTRATED  BY
                          AMÉDÉE FORESTIER



                                LONDON
                        ADAM AND CHARLES BLACK
                                 1909

       *       *       *       *       *



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

     I. THE SANDS OPPOSITE ENGLAND
    II. INLAND: THE FLEMISH PLAIN
   III. TRAVELLING IN BELGIUM
    IV. SOME OF THE TOWNS: THE ARDENNES
     V. BELGIAN CHILDREN: THE "PREMIÈRE COMMUNION"
    VI. CHRISTMAS IN BELGIUM
   VII. NEW YEAR'S DAY
  VIII. PAGEANTS AND PROCESSIONS
    IX. THE STORY OF ST. EVERMAIRE: A COUNTRY PAGEANT
     X. THE CARNIVAL
    XI. CHILDREN'S WINTER FESTIVALS
   XII. THE ARCHERS: GAMES PLAYED IN BELGIUM
  XIII. WHAT THE BELGIANS SPEAK
   XIV. A SHORT HISTORY
    XV. THE BELGIAN ARMY: THE CONGO

       *       *       *       *       *



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

BY AMÉDÉE FORESTIER


A PEASANT WOMAN OF THE ARDENNES                 _frontispiece_
THE DUNES
A SHRIMPER ON HORSEBACK, COXYDE
THE VEGETABLE MARKET, BRUGES
ANTWERP
THE HÔTEL DE VILLE, BRUSSELS
AT THE KERMESSE
A CHÂTEAU IN THE LESSE VALLEY
A FARMSTEADING
PLAYING "JEU DE BOULE" AT A FLEMISH INN
VILLAGE AND CANAL, ADINKERQUE
WATERLOO: THE FARM OF LA BELLE ALLIANCE AND THE
    MOUND SURMOUNTED BY THE BELGIAN LION
A MILK-SELLER IN BRUGES                         _on the cover_

_Sketch-Map of Belgium._

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: SKETCH-MAP OF BELGIUM.]

[Illustration: THE DUNES.]

       *       *       *       *       *



BELGIUM

CHAPTER I

THE SANDS OPPOSITE ENGLAND


If you leave the mouth of the Thames, or the white chalk cliffs at
Dover, and sail over the water just where the English Channel meets
the North Sea, you will in about three or four hours see before you a
long expanse of yellow sand, and rising behind it a low ridge of
sandhills, which look in the distance like a range of baby mountains.
These sandhills are called "dunes." Here and there at intervals you
will see a number of little towns, each town standing by itself on the
shore, and separated from its neighbour by a row of dunes and a
stretch of sand.

This is your first view of the little country called Belgium, which is
bounded on the east by Holland, and on the west by France. It is, from
end to end, about half the size of Ireland.

There are no cliffs or rocks, no shingle or stones covered with
seaweed. There are no trees. It is all bare sand, with moss and rushes
on the higher ground above the beach. In winter the wind rages with
terrific violence along the coast. The sand is blown in all
directions, and the waves dash fiercely on the shore. It is cold and
stormy, with mist and dark clouds, and sometimes violent showers of
hail. But in summer all is changed. Often, week after week, the waves
roll gently in, and break in ripples on the beach. The sky is blue,
and the sands are warm. It is the best place in the world for digging
and building castles. There are very few shells to gather; but there
are no dangerous rocks or slippery places, and children can wade about
and play in perfect safety. So many families--Belgians, English,
Germans, and a few French--spend the summer holidays there.

Hundreds of years ago the storms of winter used to drive the waves
ashore with such violence that the land was flooded, and whole
villages were sometimes swept away. So the people made ramparts of
earth to keep back the water, till by degrees many parts of the
Belgian shore were thus protected. They still continue to build
defences against the sea; but instead of earth they now use brick and
stone. It looks as if in a few years the whole coast will be lined by
these sea-fronts, which are called _digues de mer_.

A _digue_, no matter how thick, which rests on the sand alone will not
last. A thick bed of green branches is first laid down as a
foundation. This is strengthened by posts driven through it into the
sand. Heavy timbers, resting on bundles of branches lashed together,
are wedged into the foundations, and slope inwards and upwards to
within a few feet of the height to which it is intended to carry the
_digue_. On the top another solid bed of branches is laid down, and
the whole is first covered with concrete, and then with bricks or
tiles, while the top of the _digue_, at the edge of the seaward slope,
is composed of heavy blocks of stone cemented together and bound by
iron rivets.

The finest and longest _digue_ is that which extends from Ostend for
about nine miles. It is a good place for bicycle rides. No motor-cars
are allowed on it.

Each of the little towns which you see dotted along the coast has a
_digue_ of its own, on which there is a row of villas and hotels
facing the sea. Among the dunes behind the _digue_ there are more
villas. These are generally very picturesque, with verandas, red-tiled
roofs, and brightly painted woodwork.

All day long in summer the _digue_ of each town is crowded by people
walking about in the sunshine, or sitting watching the bathers and the
children playing on the sands. It is a very gay sight. There are
prizes for those who build the best castles, and it is curious to see
hundreds of little Belgian, English, French, and German flags flying
on these small forts, and to hear the children shouting to each other
in so many different languages. It makes one think of the Tower of
Babel.

From six in the morning till six in the evening bathing-machines go to
and from the water, and often there seem to be as many people in the
sea as on the shore. There is a boat anchored a little way out, in
which two men in red shirts, with ropes and lifebelts, sit watching to
see that no one goes too far out, for the tide is often very strong.
Sometimes these men, who are called _sauveteurs_, stand on the sand,
and if they think anyone is swimming too far they blow a trumpet to
call the swimmer back.

In the evening, when it is dark and the lamps are lighted, there is
dancing on the _digue_ to the music of a barrel-organ. The Belgians
are very fond of this dancing, and often the English and other
visitors join in it too.

All summer this holiday life goes on, with bathing, lawn-tennis, and
in some places golf, till at last the time comes for going home. The
hotels and villas close their doors. The windows are boarded up. The
bathing-machines are pulled away from the beach, and put in some
sheltered place among the dunes. The _digue_ is left in solitude, to
be covered with driven sand, and splashed with foam from the waves
which beat against it, till the season of summer gaiety comes round
again next year.



CHAPTER II

INLAND: THE FLEMISH PLAIN


Let us now leave the shore, and go inland.

If you climb to the top of some dune, you will see before you a wide
plain stretching out as far as the eye can reach. This part of Belgium
is called Flanders. It is all flat, with canals, and long, straight
roads, paved with stones, running across it. There are rows of tall
poplar-trees or willows, which are bent slightly towards the east, for
the wind blows oftenest from the west, small patches of woodland,
gardens, and many sluggish streams. The fields, which have no fences
or hedges round them, are large and well tilled, some bearing fine
crops of wheat, rye, or potatoes and turnips, while others are rich
pasture-lands for sheep and cattle. The whole of this Flemish Plain,
as it is called, is dotted with farm-houses and cottages. There are a
great many villages, and in the distance rise the roof-tops and the
towers and spires of famous old towns.

Some of the villages are worth visiting. There is one called Coxyde,
which lies low among the sandhills, not far from the sea. The people
of this village live by fishing, but in a very curious way, for they
do it on horseback. They mount little horses, and ride out into the
sea with baskets, and nets fastened to long poles. It is funny to see
them riding about in the water, and catching fish and shrimps in this
strange fashion.

There is another village, also only a short distance inland, where
there is a church in which a number of toy ships are hung up. These
are offerings made to an image of the Virgin Mary which stands there.
If a crew of Flemish fishermen have escaped from some dangerous storm,
they walk in silence to this church, and give thanks to the image,
which is called Our Lady of Lombaerdzyde.

The farm-labourers in Flanders live very simply. Their food is chiefly
black bread, potatoes, and salted pork or fish. There are lots of boys
and girls who eat nothing all the year round but black bread and
potatoes, and who look on pork or fish as quite a treat. Sometimes
they spread lard on their slices of bread, and there are many who have
never tasted butter in their lives. Yet they appear to be very strong
and happy. They drink black coffee, or beer if their parents can
afford it. The food of the older people is much the same.

Most of the people in the country districts of Flanders--men, women,
boys, and girls--work in the fields. In summer they rise at four or
five in the morning, and after eating a slice of bread go out into the
fields. At half-past eleven or twelve they dine on bread and potatoes,
with perhaps a slice of pork, and take a rest. Then they work again
till about four in the afternoon, when they rest again, and after that
they work on till it is dark. In the short days of winter they toil
from sunrise till sunset. By this means they earn enough to live on. A
boy or girl may get from 5d. to 7d. a day, a woman a little more,
while a married man generally receives 1s. 8d. or 2s. Some farmers pay
an unmarried labourer 10d. and his food.

This seems a dull and hard life, but the Flemings do not find it so.
Like all Belgians, they are fond of amusement, and there is a great
deal of dancing and singing, especially on holidays. Sunday is the
chief holiday. They all go to church in the morning, and the rest of
the day is given up to play. Unfortunately many of the older people
drink too much. There are far too many public-houses. Any person who
likes can open one on payment of a small sum of money to the
Government. The result is that in many quite small villages, where
very few people live, there are ten or twelve public-houses, where a
large glass of beer is sold for less than a penny, and a glass of
coarse spirits for about the same price. Most of the drinking is done
on Sunday, and on Monday morning it is often difficult to get men to
work. There are many, especially in the towns, who never work on
Mondays. This is quite understood in Belgium, and people who know the
country are pleased, and rather surprised, if an artisan who has
promised to come and do something on a Monday morning keeps his word.
Of course there are many sober work-people, and it is a rare thing to
see a tipsy woman, much rarer than in England; but there is a great
deal of drunkenness in Belgium.

There is one thing to which all the boys and girls look forward, and
that is what is called the _Kermesse_. This is a kind of fair, which
takes place at every village in summer, and lasts for two or three
days. They talk about it for weeks before, and for weeks after. They
save up every penny they can lay their hands on, and when the time
comes they leave their work or the school as soon as possible in the
afternoon, put on their best clothes, and enjoy themselves.

The village street is full of stalls covered with cheap toys,
sweetmeats, and all sorts of tempting little articles, and you may be
sure the pennies melt away very quickly. Flags of black, red, and yellow
stripes--the Belgian national colours--fly on the houses. A band of
music plays. Travelling showmen are there with merry-go-rounds, and the
children are never tired of riding round and round on the gaily painted
wooden horses. Then there is dancing in the public-houses, in which all
the villagers, except the very old people, take part. Boys and girls hop
round, and if there are not enough boys the girls take each other for
partners, while the grown-up lads and young women dance together.

[Illustration: A SHRIMPER ON HORSEBACK, COXYDE.]

The rooms in these public-houses are pretty large, but they get
dreadfully hot and stuffy. The constant laughing and talking, the
music, and the scraping of feet on the sanded floor make an awful
din. Then there are sometimes disputes, and the Flemings have a nasty
habit of using knives when they are angry, so the dancing, which often
goes on till two or three in the morning, is the least pleasant thing
about these gatherings.

This is a very old Belgian custom, but of late years the _Kermesses_
in the big towns have changed in character, and are just ordinary
fairs, with menageries and things of that sort, which you can find in
England or anywhere else. If you want to see a real Kermesse you must
go to some village in Flanders, and there you will find it very
amusing.



CHAPTER III

TRAVELLING IN BELGIUM


Travelling in Belgium is cheap and easy. The best way to see the
out-of-the-way parts of the country would be to journey about in a
barge on the canals. There are a great many canals. You could go all
the way from France to the other side of Belgium in a barge, threading
your way through fields, and meadow-lands, and villages, and stopping
every now and then at some of the big towns. If you read that charming
book "Vanity Fair," you will see that Mr. Thackeray, who wrote it,
says that once an Englishman, who went to Belgium for a week, found
the eating and drinking on these boats so good that he went backwards
and forwards on the canal between Bruges and Ghent perpetually till
the railways were invented, when he drowned himself on the last trip
of the boat!

But if that ever happened it was long ago. Nowadays, when travellers
are in such a hurry, the canals are only used for carrying coals,
timber, and other goods. They are largely used for that purpose. The
Belgians are very wise about their canals; they keep them in good
order, and send as many things as possible by water. It is not so
quick, but it is much less expensive, and a great deal safer, than
sending them by railway.

It is interesting to stand on the bank of a canal and watch a row of
barges moving slowly past. Sometimes a little steam-tug puffs along,
pulling three or four barges after it. Some are pulled by horses, and
often men or women labour along the towing-path dragging these heavily
laden vessels by a rope fastened to a short mast set up in the bows.

This is hard work, but the barge-folk seem to think nothing of it.
Whole families are born, live, and die on their barges. You often see
the wife or daughter of the bargeman steering, while the children are
playing on the top of the hatches, and the husband is doing some work
among the cargo, or just sitting smoking his pipe. These floating
homes are long and broad, painted in bright colours, with a
deck-cabin, the windows of which are often hung with pretty curtains.
The children run about, and seem never to tumble overboard. If they
did they would be easily pulled out, for the barges are very low in
the water.

As the country is so flat, bicycling is easy, and alongside most of
the roads there is a path made for this purpose, which is kept up by a
tax everyone who has a bicycle must pay. Always remember that if you
meet another person you keep to the right, and not, as in England, to
the left. The same rule applies to driving in a carriage or riding a
horse.

The Belgians have an excellent system of light district railways,
which run in all directions, some worked by steam and some by
electricity. These are very useful, for the trains stop at every
village, however small, and the country people can easily go to market
or to visit each other. Outside each carriage there is a platform, on
which you can stand and see the country. The fares are low, and you
can go a long way for a few pence. The carriages are open from end to
end, and if you travel in one of them you will generally see a crowd
of peasants in blue blouses, old women in long black cloaks and white
caps, priests, and soldiers (who only pay half-price), the men all
smoking, and the women talking about what they have bought, or what
they are going to buy. They are always talking about that, and,
indeed, seem never to speak about anything else. A few hours' journey
in one of these district railways, which are called the
_Chemins-de-fer-Vicinaux_, is a far better way of getting a peep at
the Belgian people than rushing along in an express train from one big
town to another.

The first railway on the Continent of Europe was in Belgium. It was
opened seventy-four years ago--in May, 1835--and ran from Brussels,
the capital of Belgium, to Malines, a town which you will see on the
map. There are now, of course, a great many railways, which belong to
the State and not, as in England, to private companies.

Season tickets are much used on Belgian railways. For instance, anyone
wishing to travel for five days on end has only to pay £1 4s. 7d. for
a first-class ticket, 16s. 5d. for a second-class, or 9s. 5d. for a
third-class. For these small sums you can go all over Belgium on the
State railways, stopping as often as you please, at any hour of the
day or night, for five days. All you have to do is to take a small
photograph of yourself to the station an hour before you intend to
start, and tell the railway clerk at the booking-office by which class
you wish to travel, and when you go back to the station you will find
your ticket ready, with your photograph pasted on it, so that the
guards may know that you are the person to whom it belongs. You then
pay for it, and leave 4s. more, which are given back at whatever
station your trip may end. There are also tickets for longer periods
than five days. You can send a letter instead of going to the station.
You can write from England, and find your ticket waiting for you at
Ostend or Antwerp, or any other place in Belgium from which you may
intend to start on your journey. This is very convenient, for it saves
the trouble of buying a fresh ticket each day. Besides, it is a great
deal cheaper. These tickets are called _abonnements_.

There are also _abonnements_ for children going to school, and for
workmen. It is quite common in Belgium to be in a railway carriage
where, when the guard comes round, all the passengers pull out season
tickets.

There is one thing about travelling by railway in Belgium which
English people don't always know, and that is the rule about opening
and shutting windows. The Belgians are not so fond of fresh air as we
are. They sleep with their bedroom windows shut, which makes them
soft, and apt to catch cold. So they are always afraid of draughts,
especially in a railway train. The first thing a Belgian does, as soon
as he enters a carriage, is to shut the windows, and the rule is that
if by any chance there were, say, five people who wanted a window
open, and only one who wanted it shut, that one can refuse to let the
others have it open. If you are sitting near a window, and open it,
you may be sure that someone, who is perhaps sitting at the other end
of the carriage, will step across and shut it. They never ask leave,
or, indeed, say a word; they just shut it.

One day, two or three years ago, there was a great crowd in a district
train. It was July, and very hot. All the windows of one first-class
carriage were, as usual, shut, and it was so stifling that some of us
stood outside on the platform so as to get some fresh air. A feeble
old lady chanced to be sitting next one of the windows, and wished to
open it. All the other passengers refused to allow her. She told them
she felt as if she would faint from the heat. Not one of the Belgian
ladies and gentlemen, who were all well-dressed people, cared about
that. They just shrugged their shoulders. At last the old lady, who
had been turning very pale, fainted away. Then they were afraid, and
the guard was sent for. He insisted on letting in some air, and
attended to the lady, who presently revived. The other passengers at
once had the window shut again, and the lady had to be taken into
another carriage, on which everyone began to laugh, as if it was a
good joke.

Some Englishmen are always having rows about this window question; but
the best plan is to say nothing, and remember that every country has
its own customs, which strangers ought to observe.



CHAPTER IV

SOME OF THE TOWNS: THE ARDENNES


England, as you know, is not a very big country. But Belgium is very
much smaller. It is such a little bit of a place, a mere corner of
Europe, that in a few hours the train can take you from one end of it
to the other. I suppose that from Ostend to Liége is one of the
longest journeys you could make, and that takes less than four hours.
So it is very easy to go from one town to another.

Suppose we land at Ostend, which, as you will see on the map, lies in
the middle of the Belgian coast. It is the largest of the seaside
towns, and one of the oldest. In ancient times it was fortified, and
during the wars between the Spaniards and the Dutch the Spaniards
defended it for three whole years. It must have been very strong in
those days. But now it is quite changed, and has no walls, but just a
long _digue_, and a great many hotels, lodging-houses, and big shops.
Crowds of people go there in summer. There are horse-races, concerts,
dancing, and a great deal of gambling. One part of the beach in front
of the _digue_ is crowded with bathing-machines, and it is said that
during one day in August a few years ago no fewer than 7,000 people
bathed.

[Illustration: THE VEGETABLE MARKET, BRUGES.]

Ostend, however, is not a nice place to stay in. In summer it is
noisy, and full of people who care for nothing but eating, drinking,
dressing up, and gambling. In winter it is an ugly, dull, stupid town,
in which there is nothing to do, and nothing to see except
fishing-boats and the steamers which carry travellers to and from
Dover. So we shall not say anything more about it, but take the train,
and in twenty minutes find ourselves in a really interesting place.

This is Bruges. They call it _Bruges la Morte_--that is to say,
"Bruges, the Dead City." Once upon a time, long, long ago, this town
was great, and rich, and prosperous. It was surrounded by strong
walls, and within it were many gilded palaces, the homes of merchant
princes whose wealth was the talk of all the world. Their houses were
full of precious stones, tapestries, silk, fine linen, and cloth of
gold. Their warehouses were stored with costly bales. They lent money
to Kings and Princes, and lived themselves in almost royal luxury. A
broad channel led from the sea to Bruges, and ships entered daily
laden with goods from every country in Europe, as well as from India
and all parts of the world. In those days the cloth made by the
Flemish weavers was famous, and the greatest market for wool was at
Bruges.

So Bruges grew richer and richer, and much money was spent in
beautifying the town, in which there are said to have been 200,000
industrious people. Churches rose, and other noble buildings. There
were endless tournaments and festivals. Painters flourished there.
Bruges was spoken of as the Venice of the North.

But all this came to an end. The channel which joined this great city
to the sea dried up. There were wars and rebellions which drove the
foreign merchants away. They went to Antwerp. Bruges fell, and has
remained fallen ever since.

It is now a quiet, sad place, so poor that the streets are badly
lighted, seldom cleaned, and have a desolate, neglected appearance.
The few families of the upper class who live there belong to what is
called the _petite noblesse_; there is almost no trade or commerce;
and many of the lower orders live on charity.

But this dead city is very romantic, with all its memories of olden
times. Nobody should go to Belgium without visiting Bruges, once so
famous and now so fallen, not only because it is picturesque, with its
old buildings and quaint views such as artists love to paint, but also
because it is so quiet that you can watch the customs of a Belgian
town without being disturbed by a crowd--the market-folk with their
wares spread out on the stones of the street, the small carts drawn by
dogs, the women sitting at their doors busy with lace-making, the
pavements occupied by tables at which people sit drinking coffee or
beer, the workmen clanking along in their wooden shoes, and
numberless little things which are different from what you see at
home.

Every town in Belgium has its "belfry," a tower rising over some
venerable building, from which, in the days of almost constant
warfare, a beacon used to blaze, or a bell ring out, to call the
citizens to arms. The belfry of Bruges is, I think, the finest of them
all. If you have ever been to Bruges you can never forget it. It rises
high above the market-place. All day long, year after year, the chimes
ring every quarter of an hour; and all night too, unceasingly, through
winter storm and summer moonlight, the belfry pours forth its
perpetual lament over the dead city.

Not far from Bruges, only forty minutes by railway, is another ancient
town called Ghent; but instead of being dead like Bruges, it is alive
and busy. In the days of old the people of Ghent were the most
independent and brave in Belgium. In the belfry there was a famous
bell called "Roland," and if any of their rulers attempted to tax them
against their will, this Roland was rung, and wagged his iron tongue
so well that the townsmen armed themselves at once, and the
tax-gatherers were driven away. It was no easy task to rule them, as
all who tried it found to their cost. They grew very rich, chiefly
because of their trade in wool with England. But evil days came, and
for more than 200 years this mighty city remained in a most forlorn
state.

In the nineteenth century, however, when there was settled peace in
Belgium after the Battle of Waterloo, the people of Ghent set to work
in earnest once more, and made up for lost time so well that now their
town is full of flourishing factories, and has a harbour from which a
deep canal leads to the River Scheldt, and is used by many ships. Most
beautiful flowers are cultivated in nursery gardens and hothouses, and
are sent all over the world in such quantities that Ghent has been
called "The City of Flowers."

From busy Ghent, where the belfry in which Roland used to hang and the
walls and towers of many an ancient building look down upon the
crowded streets, you may go to the still busier town of Antwerp, which
stands on the River Scheldt.

Like Bruges and Ghent, and, indeed, every town in Belgium, Antwerp is
very old. It is said that long ago there was a giant who lived on the
banks of the Scheldt, and compelled the captain of every ship which
came up the river to give him money. If the money was refused, the
giant cut off one of the captain's hands, and threw it into the river.
In Dutch the word _werpen_ means "to throw," and thus the place where
the giant lived was called _Hand-werpen_, which became, in course of
time, _Antwerp_. Perhaps you may not believe this story, but in one of
the squares at Antwerp there is the statue of a man called Brabo, who
is said to have killed the giant.

Close to this statue is the cathedral, which is one of the grandest in
Europe, and where there are some famous paintings by the great artist
Rubens, who lived at Antwerp for many years.

Another very interesting thing to see at Antwerp is the
Plantin-Moretus house. It was the home, more than 300 years ago, of a
printer called Plantin, who made a great fortune, and whose
descendants took the name of Moretus, and carried on the business for
a long time. You will see there the types and printing-presses of the
sixteenth century, and also the very furniture of the sitting-rooms
and bedrooms, just as they were in those bygone days. One of the rooms
was the nursery of the Plantin children. The men who show you over the
house are dressed as servants were in Plantin's time. By going there
you will get a far better idea of the family life of those times than
by reading any number of story-books or looking at any number of
pictures.

Antwerp has, like the other Belgian towns, had its ups and downs, but
now it is one of the greatest harbours in the whole world. So many
ships go there that there is hardly room for all of them. It may seem
an extraordinary thing that a country like Belgium, so small that two
or three English counties would cover it, should have such an
important harbour crowded with the shipping of all nations. But
Antwerp is connected by railways and canals with the busiest parts of
Europe, and the Scheldt is a noble river, by which merchantmen can
find their way to every region of the world.

A hundred years ago Antwerp was in the hands of the French, who had
seized Belgium; and when Napoleon was beaten he clung to Antwerp as
long as he could. Just before he fell, there was a conference at a
place called Chatillon, when they tried to make peace, but could not;
and afterwards, when he was at St. Helena, Napoleon declared that the
war continued chiefly because he would not give up Antwerp. "Antwerp,"
he said, "was to me a province in itself. If they would have left it
to me, peace would have been concluded." He wanted to keep a fleet in
the Scheldt, so as to threaten England. If you look at a map of
Europe, you will see how near the Scheldt is to Kent and Essex. The
Belgians cannot do us any harm, but it would be a dangerous thing for
England if some strong and unfriendly nation had possession of
Antwerp.

But we must leave Antwerp, and hurry on to Brussels, which is the
capital of Belgium.

It is just an hour by railway, and as the train rushes on you will see
on your right a town from the middle of which rises a massive square
tower. The town is Malines (or Mechlin), and the tower is that of the
Cathedral of St. Rombold. Malines was once, like Bruges, a most
important city, and so many pilgrims went there that the cost of
building the cathedral was paid out of their offerings. It is now the
seat of the Archbishop of Belgium; but its former glory has long since
departed, and it is even more quiet and desolate than Bruges.

It is said that once upon a time, when the moon was shining brightly
through the open stonework of the tower, the people thought there was
a fire, and tried to put it out with water! Ever since then the
townsmen of Malines have been laughed at, and called "moon-quenchers"
by the other Belgians.

When you are in the train between Malines and Brussels, you may
recollect that you are travelling on the first railway-line that was
made on the Continent. Well, when the engineer had finished his work,
the very day before the first train was to run, he looked at some
plans he had of railways in England, and exclaimed: "By Jove! I've
forgotten a tunnel!" And so, without more ado, he sent for some
workmen, and had an archway made over a cutting! Then he thought his
railway was complete!

Brussels is by far the nicest town in Belgium. It is a charming place
to live in, clean, bright, and gay. The walls which once surrounded it
were taken down many years ago, and replaced by beautiful roadways
called _boulevards_, with a broad carriage-drive in the middle, and on
each side a place for riding on, shaded by rows of trees. There is a
park, not very large, but with many trees and shady walks, and a round
pond, in the centre of which a fountain plays. At one end of this park
is the King's Palace, and at the other end the Houses of Parliament.
In the new parts of the town the streets are wide, and there are
spacious squares, with large and handsome houses. There are no end of
carriages and motor-cars driving about, people riding on horseback,
and all the bustle of a great city of pleasure.

The people of Brussels are very fond of jokes and fun. They always
seem to be in good humour with each other and with themselves. The
part of Belgium in which Brussels lies is called Brabant. In olden
times it was spoken of as "gay Brabant," and so, indeed, it might be
nowadays. Dull, pompous people are not liked there. You must be lively
and amusing, like the town itself, of which the people are so proud
that they call it the Little Paris.

Close to Brussels, on the south and west, there is a great forest--the
Forest of Soignies. The part of this forest nearest the town is called
the _Bois de la Cambre_, which is a favourite place for walking and
riding in. You reach it by a fine _boulevard_ called the Avenue
Louise. In the middle of this _Bois de la Cambre_ there is a lake with
an island, on which stands a little coffee-house, the Châlet Robinson;
so called, perhaps, after Robinson Crusoe, who lived on an island.
Belgian families often go there to spend the summer afternoons. There
are lots of pigeons on the island, so tame that they run about on the
grass, and eat out of the children's hands, while the fathers and
mothers sit drinking coffee at tables under the trees.

[Illustration: ANTWERP.]

In Belgium the fathers and mothers of the _petite bourgeoisie_, or
lower-middle class, seem always to go about on holidays with their
children. They dine at half-past twelve, and after dinner off they go,
the parents arm-in-arm, and the children strolling before them, and
spend the rest of the day together. It is quite a sight on a summer
evening to see them coming home in crowds down the Avenue Louise, the
father often carrying the youngest on his shoulders, and the mother
with a child hanging on to each arm.

The Avenue Louise is in the modern part of the town. Brussels,
however, is not all modern. Most of the Belgian towns are quite flat,
but to reach the old Brussels you must go down some very steep, narrow
streets, one of which, called the _Montague de la Cour_, where the
best shops are, leads to the Grande Place, a picturesque square
surrounded by quaint houses with fantastic gables. These were the
houses of the Guilds, or Merchant Companies, in the old days. One of
them is shaped like the stern of a ship. Most of them are ornamented
with gilded mouldings. They are beautiful buildings, and the finest is
the Hotel de Ville, the front of which is a mass of statuettes. Its
high, steep roof is pierced by innumerable little windows, and above
it there is a lofty and graceful spire, which towers up and up, with a
gilded figure of the Archangel Michael at the top.

A flower-market is held in the Grande Place, and in summer, when the
sun is shining brightly, it is a very pretty sight. But the best time
to see the Grande Place of Brussels is at night, when all is silent,
and the tall houses look solemnly down on the scene of many great
events which took place there long ago.

I cannot tell you one-half of all there is to see in Brussels--the
beautiful churches, the picture-galleries and museums, the splendid
old library, and the gardens. The largest building is a modern one,
the _Palais de Justice_, where the law courts sit. It cost nearly
£2,000,000 to build, and is much bigger than anything in London. It
stands on an eminence overlooking the lower part of the town, and is
so huge that it may almost be said to make the capital of this tiny
kingdom look top-heavy.

There are many other towns in Belgium besides those we have been
looking at: Louvain, with its ancient University; Liége and Charleroi,
with their steel and iron works; Courtrai, celebrated for the
manufacture of linen; Tournai, where carpets are made; Mons, with its
coal-mines; and more besides, which all lie within the narrow limits
of this small country. Most of them have played a great part in
history. Belgium is, above all things, a country of famous towns.

When you wander about among the towns of Flanders and Brabant you
might think that the whole of Belgium was one level plain. But if you
leave Brussels and journey to the south, the aspect of the country
changes. Beyond the Forest of Soignies the tame, flat fields, the
formal rows of trees, and the long, straight roads begin to disappear,
the landscape becomes more picturesque, and soon you reach a river
called the Meuse, which flows along through a romantic valley, full
of quiet villages, gardens, woods, and hayfields, and enclosed by
steep slopes clothed with trees and thickets, and broken here and
there by dells, ravines, and bold, outstanding pinnacles of rock,
beyond which, for mile after mile, an undulating tableland is covered
by thick forests, where deer, wild boars, and other game abound. This
district is called the Ardennes.

In the Valley of the Meuse there are three old and famous
towns--Liége, Namur, and Dinant--each nestling at the side of the
river, at the foot of a hill with a castle perched upon it.

Other rivers flow into the Meuse. There is the Sambre, which runs from
the west, and joins the Meuse at Namur; the Lesse, which rushes in
from the south through a narrow gorge; and the Semois, a stream the
sides of which are so steep that there is not even a pathway along
them in some places, and travellers must pass from side to side in
boats when following its course.

This is the prettiest part of Belgium, and in summer many people, who
do not care for going to the seaside, spend the holidays at the towns
and villages which are dotted about in the valleys and among the hills
and woods.



CHAPTER V

BELGIAN CHILDREN: THE "PREMIÈRE COMMUNION"


The Belgians may be divided, roughly speaking, into five classes of
people. There are those of the highest rank, who are called the
_grande_, or _vraie, noblesse_. Of these there are not many, but they
belong to old families, some of which have been famous in the history
of their country. They have often fine country-houses, and the towns
in which you will find them most often are Brussels and Ghent. Then
come those of a much lower class, the _petite noblesse_, of whom there
are very many. They seldom mix in society with the _grande noblesse_,
and their friends are generally members of the _haute_, or _bonne,
bourgeoisie_. The _bonne bourgeoisie_ are like our middle class, and
there is no difference between them and the _petite noblesse_ as to
the way in which they live. Below these are the _petite bourgeoisie_,
who are mostly shopkeepers, clerks, and people in various employments.
Last of all are the artisans and working-class people.

It is about the children of the _bonne bourgeoisie_ that I am going to
speak, for they are a very numerous class, and their customs are in
many respects the same as those of most Belgians.

When a child is born, the parents should send to all their friends a
box of _dragees_--that is, sugared almonds or sugar-plums. If the
child is a boy, the box is tied with pink ribbons; and if it is a
girl, with blue. Cards announcing the birth of a child are often sent
nowadays, but the real old Belgian fashion is to send the _dragees_,
and it is a great pity that people are giving it up so much.

The next thing is to find a name for the child, and that is done by
the godmother, who either chooses some family name or calls the child
after its patron saint--that is to say, the saint on whose day it was
born--for in Belgium, as in all Catholic countries, each day is
dedicated to some saint. The commonest name, however, for girls is
Marie, a name given in honour of the Virgin Mary, to whom many baby
girls are devoted from their birth. The mothers of these little girls
vow never to dress them in anything but blue and white till they are
seven years old. When the baby is baptized, the godfather gives a pair
of gloves to the mother and the godmother. Curiously enough, most
Belgian parents would rather have a baby girl than a boy, because a
boy costs more to educate, and also because boys, when they grow up,
have to draw lots for service in the army, and almost every father who
can afford it buys his son off, and that costs money.

There is no nursery life such as we have in England--at least, in very
few Belgian families. Here again money is grudged. People who will
pay high wages for a good cook hire young girls of fourteen or fifteen
to look after their children, and these _bonnes_, as they are called,
are paid very little, and are often careless and stupid. The result is
that the children are constantly with their parents, and, to keep them
quiet, are dreadfully spoilt and petted. It very often happens that,
when a Belgian lady has a friend calling on her, young children, who
ought to be in a nursery, are playing in the drawing-room. Their
mother has no control over them, and if she ventures to tell them to
keep quiet, or to run away, they don't obey her, and then she gives
in, and lets them have their own way.

Another thing which follows from this want of nursery training is that
if, as sometimes happens, there are disputes between the parents, the
children are mixed up in them. You will hear a Belgian mother say to
her young daughter: "Imagine what your father has done!" Or if the
husband is angry with his wife, he will turn to his boy, and exclaim:
"That is just like a woman!" Of course, this is very bad for the
children, who hear a great deal which they would know nothing about if
they were not always with their parents.

From being so much with older people these children get strange ideas.
I know a lady who said to a small Belgian girl, who was an only child:
"Would you like a little brother or sister to play with?" "Oh! no,
no," replied the child, "because when my father and mother die, I
shall have all their money." Whereupon the mother exclaimed: "There!
the dear child; how well she knows the world already!"

The children of the _petite bourgeoisie_ are the most unruly. One sees
them often at the various holiday places, at the seaside or in the
Ardennes, where they dine, however young, along with their parents at
the _tables d'hôte_, or public dining-tables, of the hotels. They eat
untidily, spill their soup, throw bread at each other, upset their
tumblers of beer or wine (for they are allowed to have whatever their
parents are drinking), talk at the top of their voices, and really
make such a row that the older people can't hear each other speaking.
The moment they have had as much food as they want, they jump up, push
their chairs noisily aside, and begin to chase each other round the
room. Their parents never think of stopping them, and care nothing
about the annoyance such unmannerly behaviour causes. It is curious
how few Belgians, old or young, rich or poor, consider the feelings or
convenience of others. They are intensely selfish, and this is
doubtless caused by the way in which they are brought up.

As you know, parents in England are forced by law to send their
children to school, or have them taught privately. There is no such
law in Belgium, and parents, if they like, may leave their children
without any education. The number, however, of those who do not go to
school is gradually decreasing, and most children get lessons of some
sort or another.

No religious instruction is given in Belgian schools, except in
convent schools, or in those where the teachers are entirely under the
Church. But almost all children have to learn the Catechism at home.
They need not understand it, but they must be able to repeat the
words. This is to prepare them for their _Première Communion_, or
first Communion, to which they go when they are eleven or twelve years
old. It takes place two Sundays before Easter Day.

The custom is for all members of the family to wear new clothes on the
day of a _Première Communion_, but the child's dress is the important
thing. In Belgian towns, for some time before, the windows of the
shops in which articles of dress are sold are full of gloves,
stockings, ties, and other things marked "_Première Communion_." A
boy's dress is not much trouble. He wears black trousers, a black
jacket, and white gloves and tie. But great thought is given to seeing
that a girl looks well in her white dress, and other nice new things.
She thinks and talks of nothing but her clothes for ever so long
before, and especially of her "corsets," which she then puts on for
the first time. Her mother takes her to the shop to try them on, and
is at much pains to make her waist as slender as possible. "Can't you
pull them a little tighter?" she will say to the shopwoman. The girl
has tight new shoes to make her feet look as small as possible; the
_coiffeur_ dresses her hair; and she is very proud of her appearance
when, squeezed into proper shape and decked out in her new clothes,
she sets off to church.

[Illustration: THE HÔTEL DE VILLE, BRUSSELS.]

The children are confirmed on the Monday, the day after their first
Communion, and are then taken to visit the friends of the family to be
shown off, and to receive presents. The windows of the confectioners'
shops are full of little white sugar images of boys and girls saying
their prayers, and even the poorest people manage to have a feast of
some sort on this occasion. They often beg money for the purpose. It
is, of course, difficult for parents who are poor to buy new clothes.
But any little gifts of money which a child may receive are taken and
hoarded up to be spent on its first Communion.

All Belgian children, even those whose parents are not Catholics, go,
with scarcely an exception, to first Communion, and are confirmed, for
there may be relatives with money to leave, and they must not be
displeased.

The _Première Communion_ is the chief event in the life of a Belgian
child.



CHAPTER VI

CHRISTMAS IN BELGIUM


Christmas is not kept in Belgium in the same way as in England,
Germany, and other countries. There are special services in church,
but no Christmas-trees, Christmas presents, or family dinner-parties.

This was not always so, and some traces still remain in different
parts of the old customs which used to be observed in Belgium. The
ancient Belgians had a festival at mid-winter, and when they were
converted to Christianity they continued to use a good many of their
old rites at that season of the year, and the few very old Christmas
customs which survive really began when Belgium was a pagan or heathen
land.

Some of these customs are rather curious. In the Valley of the Meuse
the pagans used to feast on the flesh of wild boars at their
mid-winter banquets, and now the people of Namur have roast pork for
dinner on Christmas Day. The _petite bourgeoisie_ of Brussels often
eat chestnuts on that day--an old usage handed down from the days when
the Germans ate acorns--and think they can find out what is going to
happen in the future by burning them. For instance, a young man and
woman who are engaged to be married throw two nuts into the fire. If
they burn peacefully, the marriage will be happy; if they crack and
jump away from each other, it will be unhappy. If a candle or lamp
goes out suddenly on Christmas Eve, it is believed that someone in the
room will die soon. Another sign of death is if you throw salt on the
floor and it melts. In some places candles are burnt all night to
scare away evil spirits. Another custom is to go into orchards, and
strike with an axe trees which have not been fruitful. This, it is
thought, will make them bear next year.

There are many other superstitions like these which can be traced back
to heathen times, but are now mixed up with the rites of Christian
worship. One strange superstition, which a few old peasants still
have, is that when the clock strikes twelve on Christmas Eve all the
water in the house may turn into wine. This comes down, no doubt, from
early Christian times.

In some Belgian towns the children of the poor go round on Christmas
Eve, from house to house, singing, and asking for bread, fruit, or
nuts. One of their favourite songs begins:

    "Blyden nacht,
    O blyden nacht! Messias is geboren!"

That is Flemish, their language, and it means: "Happy night, oh, happy
night! The Messiah is born." Another song begins: "Een Kindeken is
ons geboren," which is the same as "Unto us a Child is born."

Good children, who have said their prayers every night, expect to find
under their pillows on Christmas morning a cake, or rather a bun,
which is called an _engelskoek_, or angel's cake, which the Archangel
Gabriel is supposed to have brought during the night to reward them.
Naughty children find nothing. In some places the children are told
that it is the _petit Jesus_ (the little child Jesus), who puts the
bun under their pillows.

In many churches, but by no means in all, there is a midnight service,
at which there is a manger surrounded by wax candles, with an image of
the Holy Child in it. But this late service was so often made an
excuse for going to public-houses, and drinking too much, that the
hour has been changed, in most places, to five in the morning. The
custom of having shrines, with a manger and candles, known as
"Bethlehems," is, however, common, even in private houses.

On Christmas Day in Flanders people wish each other "A Merry
Christmas," just as they do in England; and many parents of the upper
classes send their children, in charge of a servant, to visit their
relatives, from whom they may receive some small gifts.

But Christmas Day is not the same, in the way of presents and
merry-making, as it is in England.



CHAPTER VII

NEW YEAR'S DAY


New Year's Day is a great day in Belgium.

December 31, the last day of the old year, is dedicated to St.
Sylvester, and there is a custom, at least in Antwerp, that the child
who gets out of bed last is called a "Sylvester," and must give the
best of its toys to its brothers and sisters. If one of the older
girls in a family does not finish any sewing or fancy-work she may
have on hand by the end of the day, she is afraid of being haunted by
evil spirits. Some people say that a young woman who does not finish
her work before sunset has no chance of being married for a year. So
they all get their various tasks done, and the last night of the year
is spent in amusement. The whole family, children and all, sit up till
midnight, singing, reciting, or playing games till the clock strikes
twelve, when they all kiss each other, and give wishes for "A Happy
New Year."

In the big towns, however, many of the _petite bourgeoisie_ do not
"bring in the New Year" at home, and the restaurants and cafés are
crowded till twelve o'clock, when healths are drunk, and there is
cheering and singing, which are continued in the streets when the
people are going home; and there is a great deal of noise for a long
time after all the cafés are closed.

It used to be the fashion to fire guns at midnight on New Year's Eve,
but that is not common now except in one part of Belgium, called
Limburg, where any girl who has a lover expects him to fire off shots
in front of her window. The more shots he fires the more she thinks he
loves her, and to reward him she ought to hide a bottle of gin in some
corner outside the house, from which he can drink her health.
Mischievous young men, however, sometimes find the bottle, and drink
the gin before the lover comes, and so the girl often waits till she
hears the shots, and then lowers the bottle by a string from the
window. This funny custom, like many others, is now going out of
fashion.

On New Year's Day all Belgians call on their friends to wish them "A
Happy New Year," when they are offered wine, sweetmeats, and things of
that sort. This paying of visits on New Year's Day goes on to such an
extent in Belgian towns that people who have many friends spend almost
the whole day in walking or driving about from one house to another.
As everyone is doing the same thing, of course a great many people are
not at home when their friends come, and so the hall-table of nearly
every house is covered with calling-cards before evening. The servants
have almost nothing to do all day but answer the door-bell, which is
constantly ringing.

In some towns, Antwerp among others, it is supposed to be quite
allowable for grown-up people, ladies and gentlemen, to kiss anyone
they know on New Year's Day. A Belgian lady once told me that it
brought good luck to kiss an officer of the army; but, of course,
there are limits to this, as there are to kissing under the mistletoe
in England.

In the country parts of South Belgium it is the custom to try to be
the first to call out "Good New Year" when you meet a friend. If you
say it first you have something given you. The children try to
surprise their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and all the
friends of the family in this way. They get up early, and hide
themselves, so as to be able to jump out suddenly, and say "_Een Zalig
Nieuwjahr_," which means "A Good New Year." All day long they go on
doing it, and are never tired of telling each other about the tricks
they have thought of to _verassen_, as it is called, the older people,
who must give them gingerbread or sugar-plums as the penalty for being
surprised in this way.

On New Year's Day in Belgium it is not only your friends who stop you
in the street or call at your house. Every man, woman, boy, or girl
who has done any work for you, and often those who have done nothing,
expect to get something. They are very greedy. Railway-porters who
have once brought a box to your house, ring your bell and beg.
Telegraph-boys, scavengers paid by the town, bell-ringers, policemen,
shop-boys, everyone comes bowing and scraping, and men who in England
would be ashamed to take a "tip" will touch their hats, and hold out
their hands for a few pence. They don't wait to be offered money; they
ask for it, like common street-beggars asking alms.

January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, is known in Flanders as _Groot
Nieuwjahr_ ("Great New Year"), and is kept to some extent by the
working-people in the same way as the first day of the year. Mondays
are always idle days with working-men in Belgium, and the first Monday
after Epiphany is the idlest of them all. It is called _Verloren
Maandag_, or, in French, _Lundi Perdu_, which means "Lost Monday,"
because no one does any work. The day is spent going about asking for
money, and at night there is a great deal of drinking. On one of these
Mondays not long ago some drunken troopers of a cavalry regiment
stabbed the keeper of a village public-house near Bruges, broke his
furniture to pieces, and kept the villagers in a state of terror for
some hours.

One very bad thing about the lower-class Belgians is that when they
drink, and begin to quarrel, they use knives, and wound or kill those
who have offended them. By a curious superstition it is thought
unlucky to work on Lost Monday, so the people get drunk, and more
crimes of violence are committed on that day than at any other time of
the year.



CHAPTER VIII

PAGEANTS AND PROCESSIONS


The Belgians are very fond of pageants and processions. In each town
there are several, and in all villages at least one, every year. It
has been so for hundreds of years, and these spectacles must have been
magnificent in the Middle Ages, when the narrow streets were full of
knights in glittering armour riding on their strong Flemish war-horses
decked with embroidered saddle-cloths, bishops and priests in gorgeous
vestments, standard-bearers, trumpeters, heralds in their robes of
office, images of saints borne high above the crowd, mingled with
jesters and the enormous giants with grotesque faces which were
carried along on these occasions. The tall houses with their
projecting wooden gables were gay with flags. The windows and
balconies were hung with rich tapestry, and from them the wives and
daughters of nobles and wealthy merchants looked down upon the scene
below. A Queen of France once rode in a procession through the streets
of Bruges, and was moved to jealousy by the sight of so many ladies
decked in jewels as rich as her own. "I thought," she said, "that I
alone was Queen, but here I have hundreds of rivals."

[Illustration: AT THE KERMESSE.]

One of the most splendid of these pageants was in the summer of the
year 1468, when an English Princess, Margaret of York, married a
Prince called Charles the Bold, who was Duke of Burgundy. On that
occasion there was a famous tournament in the market-place of Bruges,
in which many valiant knights took part. It was called the "Tournament
of the Golden Tree." Two years ago, in the summer of 1907, there was a
pageant at Bruges, when the marriage festivities of Charles the Bold
and Margaret of York were represented. A young Belgian lady took the
part of the English Princess, and a Belgian gentleman appeared as
Charles the Bold. There were knights in armour, ladies of the Court of
Burgundy, heralds, men-at-arms, and pages, all dressed in the
picturesque costumes of the Middle Ages. There was tilting in the
lists, when lances were broken, and, in short, everything was done
very nearly as it was 440 years ago. This spectacle, which was
produced on three days, was attended by thousands of people, who came
from all parts of Belgium to see it. It was a very good example of how
well the Belgians can manage a pageant, and how popular these shows
are with the people.

A very celebrated pageant takes place every year at Bruges, the
"Procession of the Holy Blood," which devout Catholics from every
country in Europe attend. There is a small chapel in that town, where
they keep, in a crystal tube, what is said to be some of the blood of
our Lord. It has been there for more than 700 years. The tube is
preserved in a beautiful case adorned with precious stones, which is
carried through the town on the first Monday after May 2. The houses
are decorated with flags, and candles burn in almost every window.
Through the streets, between crowds of people standing on the
pavements or looking down from the windows--while the church bells
ring, and wreaths of incense fill the air, bands of music, squadrons
of cavalry, crucifixes, shrines, images, the banners of the parishes,
heralds in their varied dresses, bareheaded pilgrims from England,
France, and other countries, maidens in white, bearing palms or crowns
of thorn or garlands--priests and chanting choristers, move slowly
along, and, when the relic of the Holy Blood passes, all the people
sink to the ground. Bruges, usually so empty, is always crowded on
that day.

Seven or eight years ago at Lierre, a town near Antwerp, I saw three
processions in one month, each of which showed the Belgian fondness
for such things. One was the procession of St. Gommarius, the patron
saint of the town, when a golden shrine, said to contain his bones,
was carried through the streets, just as the relic of the Holy Blood
is carried through Bruges. There were a great many little children in
that procession, dressed as angels and saints--in white, pale green,
blue, crimson, and other colours. Some had wreaths of flowers on
their heads, and some carried lighted tapers. They all seemed proud of
taking part in the procession. The smallest, who were tiny mites, with
their mothers walking with them to take care of them, were very tired
at the end, for they had to walk slowly for hours on the hard stones,
stopping often before sacred images, when the priests burned incense,
and all the people went down on their knees. This, like that at
Bruges, is a religious procession, and there are many others of the
same kind all over Belgium.

Another procession was in honour of an old couple, who had been
married for fifty years. They were poor people, and the parish was
celebrating their "golden wedding." There was a service in the
Cathedral of St. Gommarius, and when that was finished the old man and
his wife were put in a carriage and four. They were neatly dressed,
and each had a large bouquet of yellow flowers. At the head of each
horse walked a young man, leading it by a long yellow ribbon. In front
of the carriage a band of musicians played, and behind it came a
number of peasants, all in their best clothes. They wore white cotton
gloves and yellow wedding-favours. The man and his wife, who were
evidently feeble as well as very old, seemed rather bored, but all the
people in the procession were in high spirits, for they were on their
way to a good dinner paid for by the parish.

A few nights after that there was a tremendous noise of music in the
market-place, and another procession was formed, which marched off
round the town, and at last stopped before the door of a house. Here
they remained for a long time. There was a great deal of cheering, and
the band played tune after tune, finishing up with the Belgian
National Anthem. And what do you think it was all about? A boy whose
parents lived in the house had gained a prize at school. That was all;
but it was an excuse for a procession, music, and drinking healths.

Not long ago a young man won a prize at a great School of Music in
Brussels called the _Conservatoire_, and so his native town must needs
have a procession. There were two bands, a number of flags, and
several carriages, in one of which the young fellow sat, bowing from
side to side as he was driven through the streets to a café, at which
what they call the _vin d'honneur_, or cup of honour, was served.

In the same town two years ago the football team of a regiment
quartered there won a cup, and there was a long procession of soldiers
and townsmen in honour of the event. The cup was carried in triumph on
a platform adorned with wreaths, and the crowd shouted as if the
soldiers were returning victorious from war.

The Belgians have always been the same in their love of such displays.
Long ago their country was oppressed by the Spaniards, who killed and
tortured many of them without mercy. But that made no difference, and
their sorrows were soon forgotten if their conquerors provided some
pageant to amuse them. A circus procession of buffoons, with
dromedaries, elephants, sham giants, and pasteboard whales and
dragons, seems to have consoled them for all their misery.



CHAPTER IX

THE STORY OF ST. EVERMAIRE: A COUNTRY PAGEANT


Once upon a time there was a good man called St. Evermaire, who went
on a pilgrimage to a part of Belgium called the Hesbaye, which is near
the River Meuse. As he and his companions were journeying along, they
came, when it was growing dark one evening, to a great wood. Being
afraid of losing their way, they went to a village to ask for shelter.
This village belonged to a fierce robber, called Hacco, and it was at
his door that the pilgrims knocked. The door was opened by Hacco's
wife, who received them kindly, but told them that her husband was a
robber, and that, though he was away from home, it would not be safe
for them to remain there long. So very early next morning, as soon as
it was light, they went into the wood, and lay down to sleep beside a
fountain among the trees.

They had scarcely gone when Hacco, who had been out all night looking
for people to rob, came home. When he heard about the strangers who
had just left, he flew into a terrible rage, and went to look for
them. He soon found them fast asleep in the wood, and killed them.
Then he tore off their clothes, and left their bodies lying on the
ground.

After a little time some huntsmen found the dead pilgrims, and dug a
grave for them. But these people, noticing that the face of one dead
man shone brightly, and feeling sure that he must be some very holy
person, buried him in a grave by himself. This was St. Evermaire.

The wood was many years later cut down, and a village called Russon
was built near the place where Hacco murdered the pilgrims. The first
priest of this village discovered the grave of St. Evermaire, whose
bones were placed in a tomb in the church of Russon; but they were
afterwards laid to rest in a chapel which was built on purpose to
receive them. This chapel stands in a grove of beech-trees, on a
meadow surrounded by a hedge, in one corner of which there is a
fountain whose water is said to be a cure for ague. It is supposed to
be on the very spot where the pilgrims were killed. Over the altar in
the chapel is a painting of the murder. There are also statues of the
Virgin Mary and of St. Evermaire, and a gilded case, which contains
the bones of the saint.

[Illustration: A CHÂTEAU IN THE LESSE VALLEY.]

On May Day there is a procession from Russon to this chapel. First two
vergers come out of the village church, dressed in "tights," and
covered from their ankles to their necks with ivy-leaves. They wear
pointed caps on their heads, and brandish huge clubs, with which
they threaten the country people, who roar with laughter at the faces
they make. Seven men are dressed up to represent St. Evermaire and his
companions. The saint himself wears a tunic of coarse brown cloth,
girt about with a leather belt, from which hang a string of beads and
a pilgrim's bottle, a short cloak of ox-hide, and a round hat; but the
other pilgrims have just black coats and breeches, with white
stockings. They are followed by about fifty men on horseback, dressed
up as Hacco and his band of robbers.

This strange-looking procession goes to the chapel, where there is
service, the vergers in their ivy-leaves assisting at the altar; and
the moment the Benediction has been said, the whole congregation
rushes out to the meadow. The pilgrims stand in a circle near the
fountain, where they sing a quaint old country hymn.

In the meantime Hacco and his band gallop about outside the meadow;
but when the pilgrims have done singing, they enter it, and ride round
and round several times. Then the pilgrims go near the chapel, and a
short conversation is sung between them and Hacco, they imploring
mercy, and he abusing them for trespassing on his lands. At last Hacco
becomes impatient, draws his sword, and advances upon the pilgrims,
declaring in a voice of thunder that he is about to kill them.

At this point the spectators are expected to weep; but all of a
sudden the youngest pilgrim takes to his heels, and scampers away as
fast as ever he can. Hacco and the robbers run after him, scrambling
about among bushes and trees, as if they were playing at
hide-and-seek. The spectators laugh and clap their hands, and the
village children scream with delight. Hacco fires a pistol at the
runaway, but misses, on which everybody cheers. Then he fires again,
and the pilgrim tumbles down, and is killed with an arrow by one of
the robbers, who picks him up, throws him across the back of a horse
and brings him back to the meadow.

During this chase the other pilgrims have thrown themselves, as if in
despair, on the grass, where presently Hacco and his followers proceed
to kill them. But by this time all the actors are tired and thirsty;
so St. Evermaire and his friends rise up, and the whole company of
robbers and pilgrims walk off, and swill beer together for the rest of
the day. So ends the rustic pageant of Russon.



CHAPTER X

THE CARNIVAL


The week before Lent begins is called in Flanders _Duivelsweek_, which
means "The Devil's Week"; and on the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday
before Ash Wednesday there is the Carnival, so called from the Latin
words _carni vale_ (which mean, as every school-boy knows, "farewell
to the flesh"), because during Lent good Catholics should abjure "the
world, the flesh, and the devil," and refrain from eating meat. In
Ghent the Monday of that week is called _Zotten-Maanday_, or Fools'
Monday, and all over Belgium the next day (Shrove Tuesday in England)
is called _Mardi Gras_--that is, Fat Tuesday--the day on which people
can eat and drink as much as they like before beginning to fast.

During the Carnival people go about the streets in fancy dress,
sometimes with their faces hidden by masks. Often they are dressed as
clowns, and make a great noise, blowing horns, dancing, singing, and
making fools of themselves in every possible way. In the shops bags of
confetti are sold--little bits of coloured paper, like what you see in
England too--which you may throw at other people, whether you know
them or not. The children have often great fun, covering each other
with these bits of paper, which stick in the hair and are very
difficult to shake off. In some of the streets at Brussels the
pavements are carpeted all the time of the Carnival with thousands of
these small pink, yellow, and white fragments, which the people have
been throwing about. Then there are false noses, wigs, and other
disguises, so that you may pass people you know quite well without an
idea who they are. A person may speak to you; you fancy you know the
voice, but a beard, and perhaps a long blue nose, hide the face, and
you are in doubt. A handful of confetti is thrown in your face, and in
a moment the figure is gone and lost in the crowd.

A few years ago there was a Carnival procession in most of the towns,
and then all the huge wickerwork giants were carried about. They all
have names. The Brussels giant is Ommegan. In another town there is,
or was, one called Goliath. There is a very old giant called Lange
Man, or Long Man. He is probably still to be seen at Hasselt, in the
South of Belgium, which was his native place. A good many years ago he
was carried through the streets on a car drawn by four horses, and all
the poor people got soup, which he was supposed to give them in memory
of a famine from which the town had suffered at one time. A good deal
of money is collected for the poor during the Carnival by people who
go about with boxes, into which everyone is expected to put
something.

There are not so many Carnival processions as there used to be, and
within the last two or three years they have been entirely given up in
some places. But the Carnival goes on, with more or less gaiety,
everywhere. There are few towns where masked balls do not take place,
and these usually last all night, so that some of the dancers never go
to bed. During the Carnival most of the public-houses remain open all
night, and there is dancing in them, and a great deal of noise.

The fourth Sunday in Lent is called Mi-Carême, or, in Flemish,
_Half-Vasten_, when the fun of the Carnival is renewed; and on that
day a person like Santa Claus, whom you know in England, makes his
appearance. He is called _De Greef van Half-Fasten_--that is, the
Count of Mi-Carême--and comes to give presents to all good children.
But he is so like Santa Claus that we shall leave him alone in the
meantime, for I shall presently be telling you what Santa Claus does
in Belgium.

There is, however, another Count who does not visit England--the Count
of Nut Land, who rides along with a sack of nuts, which he throws
about for anyone to pick up. Strange to say, cracking these nuts is
supposed to be a cure for toothache! Is not that a funny idea?



CHAPTER XI

CHILDREN'S WINTER FESTIVALS


Very young children in Belgium look forward to the evening before
November 11, which is the Day of St. Martin, because they have heard
that something very exciting is going to happen.

Their parents make them stand in a corner, with their faces to the
wall. They must not look round, for if they do nothing will happen.
But if they are not inquisitive, ask no questions, and stand quite
still, a shower of nuts and apples suddenly falls on the floor behind
them. They are told that these have been thrown down from heaven by
St. Martin, and they at once turn round and scramble for them.

There is another thing which is sometimes done on St. Martin's Eve.
The father, or some big boy, comes into the younger children's
bedroom, dressed up as the saint, with a beard and robes, and asks how
the children have been behaving. If he is told they have been good, he
gives them apples or sweetmeats; but if he hears they have been
naughty, he pulls out a whip, throws it down, and leaves the room.

At Malines, and perhaps elsewhere, the children of poor people have a
little procession of their own on St. Martin's Day, when they dress up
and go about singing from house to house. One of them, who is dressed
as St. Martin, carries a large basket, into which the people at whose
doors they ring put apples or money. At another town, called Furnes,
there is also a procession of children, who carry paper lanterns, with
lighted candles in them, and march singing through the streets. The
same thing is done in the country round Bruges, where the children
visit the farm-houses at night, singing and asking for apples and
nuts.

There are cakes, called _gauffres_, which are often eaten on St.
Martin's Day, and are therefore sometimes called St. Martin's cakes.
That favourite saint is so much spoken of in connection with eating
good things that in the Valley of the Meuse they call him _le bon
vivant_, which means the person who lives well.

Just as in England bonfires are lighted on Guy Fawkes' Day, November
5, so in Belgium they light them on the evening of St. Martin's Day.
Indeed, they are known as St. Martin's fires, and the children call
lighting a bonfire "warming the good St. Martin."

About a month after St. Martin's comes the Day of St.
Nicholas--December 6. During the night before this saint is supposed
to ride through the sky, over the fields and above the housetops,
mounted on a donkey or a white horse, with a great basket stuffed
full of toys, fruit, sweetmeats, and other nice things. Down the
chimney of every house where there are children sleeping he drops some
of these things, if the children have been good, or a whip if they
have been naughty.

So on the Eve of St. Nicholas Belgian children, before they go to bed,
fill their shoes, or sometimes a basket, with hay or carrots, and
place them near the chimney of their sleeping-room, so that when St.
Nicholas comes to the house he may find something for his donkey or
horse to eat, and in return leave presents for them.

Having made these preparations, the children ought to sing or repeat
verses addressed to the saint. Here is one of them--the one they sing
at Lierre:

    "Sinte Niklaes,
    Nobele Sinte Niklaes!
    Werpiet in myn Schoentjen
    Een Appeltjen of een limoentjen!"

This means in English: "Noble Saint Nicholas, please throw into my
little shoe just a small apple or lemon."

There is another of these rhymes which is not so polite, in which the
saint is told that if he gives something, the child will serve him for
life, but if he doesn't, the child will not serve him at all!

[Illustration: A FARMSTEADING.]

Next morning the children wake early, and jump out of bed to see what
has happened during the night. They expect to find, if St. Nicholas is
pleased with them, that the hay and carrots have disappeared, and
that their shoes are full of presents; but that if they have not been
good enough, the shoes will just be as they were the night before, and
a birch-rod stuck into the hay. But, as you may suppose, it always
turns out that St. Nicholas is pleased. The presents are there, and
amongst them there is sure to be a gingerbread figure of the saint,
which they may eat or not, as they please; so they are happy for the
rest of the day.

St. Nicholas, you see, is much the same as Santa Claus, for whom
stockings are hung up in England.

About a fortnight after this comes December 21, dedicated to St.
Thomas, when Belgian children can play tricks on their parents in a
curious way. The game is to get your father or mother to leave the
house, and then lock the door and refuse to let them in till they have
promised to give you something. A child will say: "Mother, somebody
wants to speak to you in the garden." The mother goes out. Of course
there is nobody there; and when she comes back the child calls out:
"St. Thomas's Day! What will you give me to let you in?" So the mother
promises something, which is usually chocolate, with a piece of
_cramique_--a kind of bread with currants in it--and not till then is
the door opened. This, of course, is great fun for the children, who
always hope that their parents have forgotten what day it is, and so
will be easily tricked.

A week later is the Festival of SS. Innocents, or _Allerkinderendag_
(the day of all the children), as it is called in Flemish, which is
observed in memory of the slaughter of the children by Herod. On this
day Belgian children are supposed to change places with their parents,
wear their best clothes, and rule the household.

They can put on their parents' clothes, and go about the house making
as much noise as they like, teasing the servants and giving them
orders. The youngest girl has the privilege of telling the cook what
she is to prepare for dinner; and all the children may go out and walk
about dressed up as old people. This is not often seen now, though
poor children sometimes put on their parents' things, and beg from
door to door, calling themselves "the little fathers and mothers."

These winter festivals, when the children have so much liberty and get
so many presents, take the place in Belgium of the Christmas-trees and
parties you have in England.



CHAPTER XII

THE ARCHERS: GAMES PLAYED IN BELGIUM


Let us imagine we are taking a walk along some country road in
Flanders on a summer afternoon. There is a cinder-track for cyclists
on one side, and the lines of a district railway on the other. The
road between them is causeway, very hard, dusty, and hot to walk on.
But we can step on to the railway, and walk between the rails, or take
to the cycle-track. If a train comes up behind, the engine-driver will
whistle to give us warning, but we must keep a sharp lookout for
cyclists, who seldom ring their bells, but rush swiftly and silently
past, and perhaps shout something rude to us for being on their track.
There are no fences or hedges, but a straggling row of tall
poplar-trees on each side of the road, and beyond them square fields
of rye or pasturage divided by ditches of stagnant water.

It will not be long before we come to a village, a row of white
cottages with roofs of red tiles, and outside window-shutters painted
green. In front of each cottage there is a pathway of rough stones,
and a gutter full of dirty water. There are about fifty of these
cottages, of which half a dozen or so have signboards with _Herberg_,
which means public-house, over their doors. The railway passes close
in front of them. A little way back from the road there is a church,
with a clock-tower, and a snug-looking house, standing in a garden,
where the parish priest lives.

Just outside the village we notice a meadow, in which there is a
wooden shed open at one side, with benches in it, and reminding us of
the little pavilions we often see on village cricket-grounds in
England. The part of the meadow just in front of this shed is covered
with cinders or gravel, in the middle of which rises a very high pole,
tapering towards the top, and looking like a gigantic fishing-rod
stuck in the ground. It is crossed, a long way up, by slender spars,
like the yards of a ship, only they are no thicker than a
walking-stick. On these spars, and along the pole itself near the top,
a number of little wooden pegs, with tufts of yellow worsted attached
to them, are fixed. One bigger than the rest is perched on the very
summit of the pole, which bends over slightly to one side. They look
like toy canaries, but are called "pigeons," and they are put there as
marks to be shot at with bows and arrows.

Presently a number of men come from the village, each with a long-bow
and some arrows. It is a holiday, and the local Society of Archers is
going to spend the afternoon shooting for prizes. One of them takes
his stand close to the foot of the pole, fits an arrow on his
bowstring, aims steadily, and shoots straight up. It needs a good deal
of strength, as the bow is stiff to bend. The arrow flies whistling
among the "birds," touches one or two without bringing them down,
rises high above the top of the pole, turns in the air, and comes down
again to the ground with a thud. It is the duty of two or three boys
to pick up the arrows, and bring them back to the shooters. The arrows
are blunt, but to protect their heads these boys wear hats with thick
flat crowns and very broad brims, which make them look like big
mushrooms with legs as they run about to fetch the arrows.

When a bird is hit fair and square it comes down, and the shot is
cheered. Sometimes shot after shot is fired, and nothing falls,
especially if there is a wind. But the interest never flags, and the
shooting goes on for hours. There is a great deal of talking and
laughing, much beer is drunk in the pavilion, and the fun only ends
when the light fails.

This is the great national sport of Belgium. There is scarcely a town
or village which has not a Society of Archers, called generally after
St. Sebastian, the patron saint of archers. Many of them were founded
600 years ago, at the time when the famous archers of England were
showing how well they could hold their own with the bow against
knights clad in heavy armour. In 1303 a society called the
Confraternity of the Archers of St. Sebastian was founded at Ypres, a
town in Flanders, to celebrate a great battle, the Battle of the
Golden Spurs, in which the Flemings had been victorious over the
French the year before, and this society still exists. The chief
Society of Archers in Brabant in the old days was at Louvain, and it
was founded just three years before that Battle of Cressy of which you
have so often heard, when, as the old chronicler Froissart says, the
English arrows flew so thick that it seemed to snow.

Thus the history of this national sport goes back to the time when
arrows were used in battle, and men had to practise constantly with
their bows in order to be able to defend their country or attack their
enemies. But when the use of firearms became universal, and archers
were no longer employed in warfare, the societies still continued to
exist, and their meetings gradually became what they now are--social
gatherings for the practice of archery as a form of sport.

At Bruges there is a company of archers called the Society of St.
Sebastian, whose club-house was built with money given by Charles II.
of England, who lived in that town for some time when he was an exile;
and it may interest you to know that Queen Victoria, when on a visit
to Bruges, became a member of this society, and afterwards sent two
silver cups as prizes to be shot for.

Another form of this sport is shooting with crossbows at a target. St.
George is the patron generally of those who use the crossbow. The
Society of St. George at Bruges has a curious festival, which is
observed in February. It is called the _Hammekensfeest_, or festival
of the ham. The shooting takes place in a hall, where a supper-table
is laid with various dishes of ham, salads, fish, and other eatables.
The target is divided into spaces marked with the names of the dishes.
If anyone hits a space marked, for example, ham, he may go and help
himself to ham; but if someone else, shooting after him, hits the same
place, he must then give up his seat. In the bull's-eye of the target
there is the figure of an ape, and if anyone hits that he can eat of
any dish he pleases. You may suppose what an amusing supper-party this
is, when all the guests are shooting and eating by turns, and no one
knows whether he may not have to rise suddenly and give up his place
to somebody else.

There are many other customs and festivals connected with the archer
societies, which are very flourishing in Belgium, chiefly among the
_petite bourgeoisie_.

There are athletic clubs in Belgium, and rowing is a favourite sport,
especially at Ghent. Two years on end the Ghent Rowing Club won the
Grand Challenge Shield at Henley, beating all the English crews which
rowed against them.

As in all countries, the children have many games. One, which they
call _balle dans la maison_ (ball in the house), is much the same as
rounders, and there is another game called _camp ruiné_, which girls
play at school. There are two sides. A ball is thrown up, and each
side tries to prevent the other catching it. Each player who is
prevented has to join the opposite side or camp, and so on till one
camp is "ruined" by losing all its occupants.

There is a very popular game among Belgian working-men called the _jeu
de balle_. There are five players on each side, who stand on two large
courts marked on the ground. The ball is served by hitting it with the
hand (as at fives) by a player on one side over the line which divides
the courts, and is returned in the same way by a player on the other
side. The ball must not touch the ground, and is taken full pitch. A
point is lost by the side which sends a ball outside the lines of the
court into which it ought to have been served or returned. The points
count fifteen, thirty, forty, and five for the last, which wins the
game.

This is the chief game played by working-men in Belgium. In some
places it seems to be quite unknown, but in others it is very popular.
But there are so many rules that it is impossible fully to understand
it without seeing it played, or to explain it without a diagram
showing the positions of the players, who have all different names,
like men fielding at cricket. The _jeu de boule_, which you may hear
mentioned in Belgium, is quite different from the _jeu de balle_, and
is much the same as skittles.

[Illustration: PLAYING "JEU DE BOULE," AT A FLEMISH INN.]

Of the more important games football is the most popular in Belgium.
Great crowds assemble to watch the matches, which are always played
under "Association" rules. Rugby football would be impossible for
Belgians, because they would never keep their tempers when caught
and thrown down. There would be constant rows, and no match would ever
be finished. As it is, there is a great deal of quarrelling, and when
one town plays another the visitors, if they win, are hooted, and
sometimes attacked, when they are leaving the ground. Lately, after a
football match in Flanders, knives were drawn, and some of the players
had to escape in a motor-car.

Cricket has lately been tried, but it has not as yet spread much, and
is not likely to become very popular, as it requires too much patience
and steadiness for Belgian young men and boys. Lawn-tennis and hockey,
however, are quite the fashion, especially lawn-tennis, which many
Belgians, ladies as well as men, play extremely well. Important tennis
tournaments are held every summer at Ostend and other places on the
coast.

In recent years several golf-courses have been made in Belgium. There
is one at a place called Le Coq, near Ostend, where Leopold II., the
present King of the Belgians, founded a club. It is very pretty, and
there is a fine club-house; but good English players do not like it,
because the course is too artificial, with flower-beds and ornamental
shrubs, whereas a golf-course ought to be as natural as possible. Golf
is played also at Brussels, Antwerp, Nieuport, and Ghent.

Another place for golf is Knocke, a seaside village near Bruges, where
the game was introduced by a few Englishmen some years ago. The
golf-course at this place is laid out among the dunes, and is
entirely natural, with "bunkers" of fine sand. A great many players go
there from England and Scotland, as well as from various parts of
Belgium, and the Flemish "caddies," who cheerfully carry the clubs for
5d. a round, speak English quite well, and know all about the "Royal
and Ancient Game."



CHAPTER XIII

WHAT THE BELGIANS SPEAK


Three different languages are spoken in Belgium. These are Flemish,
Walloon, and French. Flemish is spoken in Flanders, in the provinces
of Antwerp and Limbourg, and in a part of Brabant. Walloon is the
language of Liége and the Valley of the Meuse, Luxembourg, and the
western districts. French is spoken all over the country. Some
Belgians speak nothing but Flemish, some nothing but Walloon, and some
nothing but French. A great many speak both Flemish and French, and
there are some who speak all three languages.

Though Flemish is the language of the majority of Belgians, most of
the books, newspapers, and magazines are published in French, which is
the "official" language--that is to say, it is the language of the
Court and the Government--and all well-educated Belgians can speak,
read, and write it. In Brussels almost everyone speaks French.

Though many Belgians know French thoroughly, they speak it with an
accent of their own, which is unlike anything you hear in France, just
as English people speak French or German with an English accent. So
Belgium is not a good place to go to if you want to learn French. The
worst French is spoken in East Flanders and the best in Ypres.

There is a great likeness between Flemish and Dutch, which were
originally one language, and a book printed in Flemish is almost
exactly the same as a Dutch book. But there are many different ways of
pronouncing Flemish. The accent of Ghent is so different from that of
Bruges that the people of these towns do not always understand each
other, and in neither do they speak with the accent which is used in
Antwerp. Thus, in little Belgium there are not only three different
languages, but various ways of speaking Flemish, the original language
of the country. So French is not only the official language, but the
most useful for travellers to know.

Though French is the official language, there are laws which have been
made to allow the use of Flemish in the law courts, and Belgian
officers must be able to command the soldiers in Flemish. In the
_Moniteur_ (a paper like the _London Gazette_) Royal Proclamations,
and things of that sort, are published in both Flemish and French.
Railway-tickets are printed in both languages. So are the names of the
streets in some towns. In the Belgian Parliament, though the members
generally make their speeches in French, they may use Flemish if they
like, and they sometimes do.

Walloon may be described as a very old form of French, but though the
Walloons are the most active and industrious of all the Belgians,
their language is not much known, and you will never hear it spoken
except in the Valley of the Meuse, and in the country parts of
South-West Belgium.

The three Belgian words for Christmas are _Kerstdag_ in Flemish,
_Noël_ in French, and _Nouée_ in Walloon.



CHAPTER XIV

A SHORT HISTORY


I must write just one chapter on Belgian history.

Dates are tiresome things, though they are useful pegs, so to speak,
on which to hang the facts of history, and help us to recollect the
order in which they happened. However, we shall not bother with many
dates. I shall make the whole story as plain and simple as possible;
and, besides, you can skip it all if you find it too stupid and dull.

The first thing to understand about the tiny corner of Europe which is
now called Belgium is that very long ago it was divided into a great
many small States, each of which was ruled over by some Duke, or
Count, or Baron, or some noble with another title, who made peace or
war with his neighbours, just as the Kings of Europe do nowadays.
There were the Dukes of Brabant, and the Counts of Flanders and of
Namur, the Lords of Malines, and the Bishop-Princes of Liége, and many
more. You will see where their States lay if you look at the map.

The most famous was Flanders, for the great Flemish cities, such as
Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres, became strong and rich by reason of their
trade and manufactures.

In the towns the merchants and tradesmen were banded together in
societies called guilds. There were guilds of weavers, and butchers,
and other trades; and they defended themselves so well against the
nobles, who often tried to attack their liberties, that the towns
became strongholds of freedom.

But, unfortunately, they were always quarrelling. Each town wanted to
be richer than its neighbour. Each town cared only for itself, so they
often fought. Ghent wanted to ruin Ypres, and the men of Ghent helped
an English army to attack Ypres. At other times the guildsmen of
Bruges fought against those of Ghent. Thus for many years this part of
Europe was divided into petty States, and the towns, in spite of their
wealth and freedom, were always rebelling against their Princes, or
fighting with each other. And all this time, close at hand and
watchful, there was a mighty State, called "The Burgundies," whose
dominions were ever stretching farther and farther.

At last a day came when a certain Count of Flanders died, leaving no
heir male, and a Duke of Burgundy, called Philip the Hardy, married a
Flemish Princess, and obtained possession of Flanders. Gradually after
that the Dukes of Burgundy became rulers of all the country which we
now call Belgium, except the Principality of Liége, which remained
independent under its Bishop-Princes till recent times.

The last Duke of Burgundy was Charles the Bold, a brave warrior, but
very fierce and cruel. He was killed in a battle, and his daughter,
Mary of Burgundy, married an Austrian Archduke called Maximilian; and
then Flanders, Brabant, and the other places we have spoken of, passed
under the Austrian Royal Family, which is called the House of
Hapsburg.

Maximilian and Mary had a son, called Philip the Handsome, who married
Joanna the Mad, daughter of King Ferdinand of Spain. The son of this
marriage was Charles V., who was neither mad nor handsome, but one of
the most famous men in history. He not only ruled over the
Netherlands, as Belgium and Holland were called, but also over Spain,
and all the immense Spanish Empire, and was, moreover, Emperor of
Germany.

After reigning for forty years, Charles V. gave up his royal honours
to his son Philip; and then began a terrible time for the Netherlands.

Philip hated the liberty which the people of the Netherlands loved.
They had, especially in the towns, been accustomed to make laws for
themselves, which their old Dukes and Counts, and also the Hapsburgs,
had always sworn to maintain. But Philip resolved to put an end to all
this freedom, and to be their absolute master.

[Illustration: VILLAGE & CANAL, ADINKERQUE.]

He also hated the Protestants, of whom there were many in the
Netherlands, and resolved to destroy them. For this purpose he
introduced a kind of court, called the Inquisition, which inquired
into the religious faith of everyone, and sent people to be tortured
and burned to death if they were not Catholics.

The people became furious against Philip, and rebelled in defence of
their liberty, and against the Inquisition. For a long time the
contest, which is called the "Revolt of the Netherlands," went on.
Philip was enormously rich, and had a great army and a strong fleet.
The Spanish soldiers, whom he let loose upon the people, were cruel,
as well as highly trained. Men, women, and children were tortured,
robbed, burnt to death, killed in battle, and murdered in cold blood
by thousands. Few things, if any, more terrible have been known in the
history of the world.

The chief Protestant leader was that Prince of Orange called William
the Silent, of whom you must often have heard. After the contest had
continued for some years, instead of being dismayed, he was more
resolute than ever, and persuaded the Southern or Belgian part of the
Netherlands, and the Northern or Dutch part, to promise that they
would help each other, and fight against the Spaniards till they were
free.

But in a very short time the Southern and the Northern Netherlands
drifted apart. The Dutch stood firm, and were saved in the long, weary
struggle. They shook off the yoke of Spain, and gained their liberty.
The Belgians halted between two opinions, and were lost. Most of them
were Catholics, which made it easier for them to submit to Philip. But
the most industrious of the population fled, and the trade and
manufactures which had made their country prosperous went to Holland.
After that, a great historian says, "the Flemish and Brabantine cities
were mere dens of thieves and beggars."

The Spaniards ruled over Belgium, which was now called the "Spanish
Netherlands," till a daughter of Philip's, Isabella by name, married
an Austrian Archduke called Albert. They received Belgium as a
wedding-gift. The bride's father, the tyrant Philip, died about that
time, and Albert and Isabella went to Brussels, where the people, in
spite of the miserable state of their country, had a fine time of it
with banquets, processions, and fireworks.

But two more changes were at hand. When Albert died Belgium went back
to Spain; and once again, after long wars, during one of which
Brussels was nearly all destroyed by fire, it was handed over to
Austria. This was in the year 1714; and after that it was called the
"Austrian Netherlands."

Thus, you see, the Belgians were constantly being passed from one set
of masters to another, like a race of slaves. They had not stuck to
the brave Dutch, and fought on till they were free, and so never could
tell who were to be their next rulers.

This could not be good for the character of any people. However, they
were, on the whole, happy under the House of Hapsburg till an Emperor
called Joseph II. came to the Austrian throne. He was a good man, and
wise in many ways, but he made the mistake of trying to bring in new
laws and customs which the people did not like. Belgium had been sunk,
ever since the time of Philip II., in poverty and ignorance. All the
people wished for was to be let alone, to amuse themselves, and to
have peace. But Joseph II. wanted to raise them up, and, most of all,
to spread knowledge and education among them.

The Austrian Netherlands--that is, Belgium--were more Catholic than
ever, and all the Bishops and priests were up in arms against the
reforms proposed by Joseph; and there was a revolution, which had not
finished when he died. It came to an end, however, soon after his
death, when the Catholics got all they wanted, though the Austrians
remained in power. But the country had become restless. Its
restlessness was increased by the French Revolution, which was now in
full progress; and all was ripe for another change of rulers, which
soon came.

The French Republicans, who beheaded their own King and his Queen (who
was, by-the-by, a sister of Joseph II.), invaded Belgium, driving out
the Austrians, and made it a part of France.

One thing the French did was very popular with the Belgians. It was
this: there was a treaty, called the Treaty of Münster, made as long
before as the year 1648, which declared that the Dutch were to have
control of the Scheldt, and ever since then that splendid river, on
which Antwerp stands, had been closed, so that the trade of Antwerp,
the great Belgian seaport, had been entirely ruined. The French now
declared the Scheldt a free river, to be used by all nations. This was
tidings of great joy to the Belgians; but England would not allow the
Treaty of Münster to be torn up in this way, and a war began between
England and France, which lasted till the fall of Napoleon in 1814.

During all that war Belgium was ruled by the French. When Napoleon
gave up his throne, and was sent to the Island of Elba, the Great
Powers met to settle Europe, which he had turned upside down. One of
the things they had to decide was what should be done with the
Austrian Netherlands, and the plan they arranged seemed a very good
one.

Austria did not want Belgium, and the plan was to make that country,
the Principality of Liége, and Holland, into one state, and call it
the "Kingdom of the Netherlands." It was to be ruled over by one of
the Orange family, a descendant of William the Silent.

And there was something more. The William of Orange who was to be King
of the Netherlands had a son, and the English arranged that this son
should marry our Princess Charlotte, who was heir to the throne of
England; and so all the coasts of the Netherlands opposite England,
with Antwerp and the Scheldt, were to be in the hands of a friendly
nation allied by marriage to the English Royal Family. The proposed
marriage was publicly announced in March, 1814, but it never took
place. The Princess Charlotte married a German, called Prince Leopold
of Saxe-Coburg, and the young Prince of Orange married a Russian Grand
Duchess.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands, however, was set up; and at the Battle
of Waterloo, which was fought in June, 1815, after Napoleon escaped
from Elba, a force of Netherlanders, some of them Dutch and some of
them Belgians, fought under the Duke of Wellington, when he gained the
great victory which brought peace to Europe.

And now it was supposed that the Belgians would settle quietly down,
and form one people with the Dutch, who spoke a language so like their
own Flemish, and who came of the same race. But not a bit of it. The
Dutch were mostly Protestants, and almost all the Belgians were
Catholics. There were disputes about questions of religion from the
very first. Disagreements followed on one subject after another; and,
to make a long story short, in fifteen years there was a revolution in
the Belgian provinces of the new kingdom.

The Belgians proclaimed their wish to make a kingdom of their own, and
once more the Great Powers met to consider what was to be done with
them this time. The meeting was in London, where five very shrewd and
wily gentlemen, from England, France, Russia, Austria, and Prussia,
sat and talked to each other for week after week about what they
should do with this broken kingdom, which was, as it were, thrown on
their hands. They were far too polite to quarrel openly; but Russia,
Prussia, and Austria would have liked to force the Belgians to keep to
what had been arranged in 1814, while England and France were on the
side of the Belgians. On one thing, and one thing only, they all
agreed, and that was not to have another European war.

In the long run England and France managed to persuade the others that
the best thing was to let the Belgians have their own way, and choose
a King for themselves. They first set their affections on a son of
Louis Philippe, the King of France, and asked him to be their King.
But England would not hear of this, so his father told him to refuse.
Then the Belgians were advised to choose that Prince Leopold of
Saxe-Coburg who had married Princess Charlotte. She was now dead, and
he had been living in England ever since. They took this advice, and
in 1831 he accepted the offer they made him, and was crowned at
Brussels as Leopold I., King of the Belgians.

Thereafter he married a daughter of Louis Philippe, and reigned till
the year 1865, when he died, and was succeeded by his son, Leopold
II., who is the present King. This is how the southern provinces of
the Netherlands were made into the little, independent kingdom of
Belgium.

Since then the trade and commerce of Belgium have grown. Antwerp has
become a huge seaport; Brussels flourishes. The industries of Ghent
are prosperous. Throughout the Walloon country, from the busy forges
of Liége to the coal-mines round Mons, there is a hard-working and, on
the whole, successful people. Even fallen Bruges has lately been
struggling to rise again.

But, unfortunately, there is another side to the picture. You have
often heard it said that "as the twig is bent, the tree grows." It is
the same with mankind. The character and manners of grown-up people
depend on how they have been trained when young. If a child is
bullied, and passed from one master to another, ill-treated and
frightened, it is apt to grow up timid and untruthful. The same thing
may be seen in nations. To this day the lower classes in Belgium bear
traces of the long period of subjection, and the race has not
recovered from the time when the Spaniards turned so many famous towns
into dens of thieves and beggars. They are very often cunning, timid
though boastful, and full of the small tricks and servile ways which
are natural in a people which once had all manliness and courage
crushed out of it.

Another unlucky thing for the Belgians is that they quarrel dreadfully
among themselves about public questions. In all countries there are
quarrels of this sort, but in Belgium these disputes poison the whole
life of the country. They are divided into Catholics and Liberals, and
the best interests of the State are lost sight of in the squabbling
which goes on between these two parties. By the laws of Belgium all
religions are equal. There is no Established Church. The Parliament
each year finds money for the Catholic clergy, for the English
Protestant chaplains, and for those of any other faith, if there are
enough of them to form a congregation of a certain size. But this has
not brought peace. In England, as you know, only some foolish people
allow their political disputes to interfere with their private
friendships, or with their amusements. But in Belgium the Catholics
and the Liberals never forget their differences. It is like the time
when the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. There are Catholic
football clubs and Liberal football clubs; the public-houses are
either Catholic or Liberal; and even children are taught at school to
have feelings of this sort. One day a small girl was asked out to tea
with some English children. When the hour came, her mother found her
crying, and asked her what was the matter. "I'm afraid," she sobbed,
"to go and play with these little heretics!"

[Illustration: WATERLOO: THE FARM OF LA BELLE ALLIANCE AND THE MOUND
SURMOUNTED BY THE BELGIAN LION.]

The great quarrel is about education. The Liberals want to make a law
that all children must go to school, but the Catholics will not agree
to this. The priests have so much influence, and work so hard at
the elections, that, except in Brussels, Liége, and a few more places,
the people are frightened to vote against them. So there has always
been a Catholic Government in power for the last twenty-five years.

The Great Powers, when they allowed the Belgians to have their own way
and choose a King for themselves, took Belgium under their protection,
and made it a "neutral state"--that is to say, a country which may not
be attacked or entered by the armies of other nations which are
fighting each other, and which is not permitted to make war on other
countries. This was a great blessing for the Belgians, because their
country is so small and weak, and so many battles used to be fought in
it that it was called "the cock-pit of Europe." But whether the people
of a neutral state are ever likely to be brave and self-sacrificing is
another thing.



CHAPTER XV

THE BELGIAN ARMY: THE CONGO


Though Belgium is a neutral state, living under the protection of the
Great Powers of Europe, the Belgians are afraid that some day, if
these Powers quarrel with each other and begin to fight, armies may
march into their country and turn it once more into a battle-field; or
perhaps one of the Powers may wish to take a part of Belgium, or some
Belgian town, such as Antwerp, and rule over it. So this little
kingdom must have an army to defend itself till some powerful nation
comes to help it.

The Belgian force actually under arms consists of only about 40,000
soldiers, but it can be raised to 200,000, if there is a danger of
war, by calling out the "reserves," or men who have been trained, but
are no longer with their regiments. In order to keep up this force of
40,000 it is necessary to find about 13,000 new men each year. But the
Belgians do not like to be soldiers, and it is very difficult to
persuade them to join the army. Last year only 1,000 would do so,
which seems very few for a country in which there are 7,000,000
people. It has been the same for years. So there is a law called the
Conscription, by which the necessary numbers are forced to serve.

This is how they manage the conscription: in February of each year all
the boys who become nineteen in that year must go and draw lots to
decide which of them are to enter the army.

The drawing generally takes place in the _Hotel de Ville_ of the chief
town in the part of the country to which the boys belong. On the
appointed day all the families in which there are sons liable to serve
flock into the town, and a great crowd gathers outside the building.
The lads who are to draw lots go in, and find some officials waiting
for them. Each boy has to put his hand into the ballot-box and draw
out a paper on which there is a number. Suppose there are 150 boys,
and 50 are wanted for the army, then those who draw the 50 lowest
numbers are those who have to serve. Each boy draws out his paper, and
gives it to an official, who calls out the number. If it is a number
above 50, he is free, and runs out shouting with joy; but if it is one
of the lower numbers, he goes out sadly to tell his family that he has
drawn a "bad" number.

While the drawing goes on, the fathers and mothers, brothers and
sisters, and their friends, wait outside in the greatest anxiety.
There are cheers and joyful greetings when a boy with a "good" number
comes out, and groans of pity for those who have been unlucky. And
when the drawing is done, and everyone knows his fate, they all go off
to the public-houses. Those who have drawn lucky numbers get drunk
from joy, while those who have to serve in the army try to forget
their sorrow in drinking. Very often their families and friends do the
same, and so it comes to pass that every February there are horrible
scenes--men and women, boys and girls, reeling about the streets,
shouting, singing, quarrelling, and behaving in the most disgraceful
way. It is quite different from Germany, where every boy knows he must
be trained to defend his country, and where almost everyone is proud
of being a soldier.

If, however, the father of a boy who has drawn an unlucky number is
rich enough to pay for another to take his place, he may do so. This
system is called the _Remplacement_, and almost every father buys his
son off if he can afford it. Many Belgians think this system unfair,
and the officers of the army do not like it. Perhaps, before very
long, there may be a change, and a new law made by which all boys will
have to serve for a certain time. The Catholics have always been in
favour of the _Remplacement_, while the Liberals have been against it.
But it is said that the King wishes to abolish it, and try some new
plan. So very likely the Catholics will give in, and there will be no
more drawing of lots and buying off, but a system of universal
service, which will be a very good thing for Belgium.

Though the trade of Belgium is very large indeed for the size of the
country, the Belgians have no navy, and not many merchant-ships. But
they have lately plunged into an adventure which may force them to
have merchant-ships and men-of-war to defend them; for this small
country has taken possession of a huge part of Central Africa, ever so
many times bigger than Belgium itself.

About twenty-five years ago Leopold II., the present King of the
Belgians, was made ruler over this part of Africa, which is called the
Congo State, because of a magnificent river, the Congo, which flows
through it. It was the Great Powers of Europe who made him ruler, and
they made him promise that he would abolish slavery, allow all nations
to trade freely there, and do all he could to civilize the natives.
But after some time ugly stories began to reach Europe about what was
being done by King Leopold's servants in that distant part of the
world. The Congo is a country full of rich products, and it was said
that the King was breaking his promises: that he was making heaps of
money by forcing the natives to work as slaves, that all their lands
were taken from them, that people were cruelly tortured, that whole
villages were destroyed, that the soldiers hired by King Leopold were
cannibals, and that he would not allow free trading.

There is no doubt whatever that the King was making a great deal of
money, and that many shameful and wicked things were done in the
Congo. The King never went there himself, but both he and his friends,
who were also making money, said that the English (for it was the
English who found most fault with him) were jealous, and that
everything was going well. Nevertheless bad news kept arriving from
the Congo, and many of the Belgians themselves became as angry as the
English, and said something must be done to stop what was going on. At
last the Belgian Parliament resolved that the only way to save the
Congo was to make it a Belgian colony, and try if they could not
govern it better than King Leopold.

So in the year 1908, after long debates and much curious bargaining
between the King and his people, the Congo State became a Belgian
colony. It remains to be seen whether they can govern it wisely, for
as yet they have no experience in such matters. Few Belgians like to
speak about the Congo. They shake their heads, and say it will cost a
great deal of money, and bring danger to their country.

The scene when a ship sails from Antwerp for the Congo is unlike
anything you will see at home. When a ship leaves an English port for
India or the Colonies, the travellers go on board without any fuss,
with perhaps a few private friends to see them off. But when a liner
starts for the Congo, there is much excitement. A crowd assembles;
flags fly; a band plays the Belgian National Anthem; hawkers go about
selling photographs of _le départ pour le Congo_; and a steam-tug,
decorated with flags, and with a band of music playing, accompanies
the liner some distance down the Scheldt. The Belgians, you see, are
so fond of hoisting flags and hearing bands of music on every possible
occasion that they can't help doing it even when there is really
nothing to get excited about.

And now, having taken this peep at Belgium, we shall leave these
adventurers sailing away to their Congo, and, hoping they will find
wisdom to steer wisely (in more ways than one) and so avoid shipwreck,
wish them _bon voyage_.

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RED CAP ADVENTURES

Being the Second Series of Red Cap Tales Stolen from the Treasure-Chest
of the Wizard of the North

16 full-page Illustrations by ALLAN STEWART and others

       *       *       *       *       *

By S. R. CROCKETT

RED CAP TALES

Stolen from the Treasure-Chest of the Wizard of the North

16 full-page Illustrations in Colour by SIMON HARMON VEDDER

       *       *       *       *       *

Translated and Abridged by DOMINICK DALY

THE ADVENTURES OF DON QUIXOTE

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by STEPHEN BAGHOT DE LA BERE

       *       *       *       *       *

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS

16 full-page Illustrations in Colour by STEPHEN BAGHOT DE LA BERE

       *       *       *       *       *

By ASCOTT R. HOPE

THE ADVENTURES OF PUNCH

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by STEPHEN BAGHOT DE LA BERE

       *       *       *       *       *

By DUDLEY KIDD

THE BULL OF THE KRAAL

A Tale of Black Children

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by A. M. GOODALL

       *       *       *       *       *

By P. G. WODEHOUSE

WILLIAM TELL TOLD AGAIN

16 full-page Illustrations in Colour by PHILIP DADD

       *       *       *       *       *

By JOHN BUNYAN

THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS

8 full-page Illustrations in Colour by GERTRUDE DEMAIN HAMMOND, R.I.

       *       *       *       *       *

By G. E. MITTON

THE CHILDREN'S BOOK OF STARS

Preface by Sir DAVID GILL, K.C.B.

16 full-page Illustrations (11 in Colour) and 8 smaller figures in the text

       *       *       *       *       *

By G. E. MITTON

THE CHILDREN'S BOOK OF LONDON

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by JOHN WILLIAMSON

       *       *       *       *       *

By ELIZABETH W. GRIERSON

THE CHILDREN'S BOOK OF CELTIC STORIES

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by ALLAN STEWART

       *       *       *       *       *

PRICE 6/= EACH

ALL WITH FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOUR

_Large square crown 8vo., cloth_

       *       *       *       *       *

By ELIZABETH W. GRIERSON

THE CHILDREN'S BOOK OF EDINBURGH

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by ALLAN STEWART

       *       *       *       *       *

Edited by G. E. MITTON

SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by HARRY ROUNTREE

       *       *       *       *       *

By ELIZABETH W. GRIERSON

CHILDREN'S TALES FROM SCOTTISH BALLADS

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by ALLAN STEWART

       *       *       *       *       *

By HARRIET BEECHER STOWE

UNCLE TOM'S CABIN

8 full-page Illustrations in Colour and many others in the text

       *       *       *       *       *

ANIMAL AUTOBIOGRAPHIES

Edited by G. E. MITTON

Each volume deals entirely with the life story of some one animal, and
is not merely a collection of animal stories. It is necessary to
emphasize this, as the idea of the series has sometimes been
misunderstood. Children who have outgrown fairy-tales undoubtedly
prefer this form of story to any other, and a more wholesome way of
stimulating their interest in the living things around them could
hardly be found.

Though the books are designed for children of all ages, many adults
have been attracted by their freshness, and have found in them much
that they did not know before.

The autobiographical form was chosen after careful consideration in
preference to the newer method of regarding an animal through the eyes
of a human being, because it is the first aim of the series to depict
the world as animals see it, and it is not possible to do this
realistically unless the animal himself tells the story.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE LIFE STORY OF A DOG

By G. E. MITTON

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by JOHN WILLIAMSON

       *       *       *       *       *

THE LIFE STORY OF A FOX

By J. C. TREGARTHEN

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by COUNTESS HELENA GLEICHEN

       *       *       *       *       *

THE LIFE STORY OF A FOWL

By J. W. HURST

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by ALLAN STEWART and MAUDE SCRIVENER

       *       *       *       *       *

THE LIFE STORY OF A BLACK BEAR

By H. PERRY ROBINSON

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by J. VAN OORT

       *       *       *       *       *

THE LIFE STORY OF A RAT

By G. M. A. HEWETT

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by STEPHEN BAGHOT DE LA BERE

       *       *       *       *       *

THE LIFE STORY OF A CAT

By VIOLET HUNT

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by ADOLPH BIRKENRUTH

       *       *       *       *       *

THE LIFE STORY OF A SQUIRREL

By T. C. BRIDGES

12 full-page Illustrations in Colour by ALLAN STEWART

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PUBLISHED BY A. AND C. BLACK, SOHO SQUARE, LONDON, W.

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