One of the most superb sunsets it has ever been my lot to witness, the crimson sky being cleft diagonally by a spear of pale green. The line of the nearer hills was broken by a tall church spire, and in the river itself all was reflected and idealised.
In the forenoon a body of us were marched downstream to an enormous sugar refinery where we obtained baths, hot and good.
The sugar refinery seemed well appointed. The beet is cleaned and shredded by machinery and, after the goodness is taken out, the refuse, like squeezed and chopped up macaroni, is taken off to the farms to make ensilage. A peculiar sickly smell hangs around. The heat making me very thirsty, I had some beer at the nearest cafe, and begorrah, it tasted the same as the “schmell” of the sugar-beet. Proving, bedad, that they make the beer out of it.
A boy with whom I chatted told me that although he spoke some French, his natural language was Walloon – also that the Meuse was very high and practically in flood.
Dead weary – Mauvais temps, Monsieur! as an old Belgian called to me en route. We formed a dripping cavalcade. After traversing rolling country, we began to strike into entirely different terrain; more hilly, more rugged. The villages too, seemed different, and the inhabitants dissimilar to those further back. So we plodded, our clothes and equipment running wet; curiously gazed upon by the dripping villagers.
The last mile was the most interesting. From fairly high country, we swept down a steep grade into the valley of the Meuse which here rushes, a broad torrent, through a narrow gorge, flanked on the one side by rocky promontories and cliffs, and on the other by a strip of flat. Towns and villages are visible both up and down stream, making exceedingly picturesque peeps even now when winter darkens all.
Liege is not far from here: our nearest town being Huy, and this village Bas-Oha, or some such name. In summer this would have been an enjoyable jaunt.
In another barn up a long iron ladder. Reached Beuzet at midnight after nearly missing the train at Brussels.
Don’t know the name of the place we’re in, and don’t want to.
This morning the spirits of those of us who won in a lottery, for passes to Bruxelles were high. We arrived in the famous city at about 3 p.m., with only an hour of daylight in which to view all its wonders. A hasty glance around and superb cathedral revealed glories of sculpture, carving, and stained glass that could easily absorb a summer’s day. A walk around the towering Town Hall and other beautiful buildings, were the only glimpses of the City I could get. The rest of the time spent wandering about watching the life of the people who apparently never dream of spending an evening at home, but frequent the cafes, picture theatres, dancing halls, and the like.
Tea over; barn candle lit; air full of foolish, ill-flavoured talk. I sometimes grow quite desperate with the fear that either it will not end, or that, when it does, I shall have become deprived of the power of rational conversation.
Over rolling, even hilly country, through many villages; one with a winding stream, old stone mill with foaming sluice, and a tall brick church – charming.
The only place name I am sure of is Verlaine-sur-Sambre.
Got a great hearing in some of the villages: bunting and loyal notices everywhere in evidence. In one of them groups of children cheered us lustily as we passed, and sang songs of welcome.
Here in Belgium, as in all countries I have seen, modern architecture in dwelling houses is almost always grim and inartistic as compared with the old, which seem to have grown out of the earth itself, walls blending into the ground and roofs into the walls: chimneys appearing at unexpected yet appropriate corners; additions, deletions, projections, dilapidations and all, appear right and natural and proportionate, just as the most fantastic of tree-shapes – so long as nature has not been meddled with – will never look wrong.
Finished up by obtaining mashed spuds, brown bread and lard, and coffee, from a family at supper. The children obliged us by singing rather discordantly the Brabanconne,* and the old man, sitting hatted before the stove, concluded the performance by trolling a long, spirited “Soldier’s Song.” They flatly refused money. The dame told me that before the war she was fat, and she is now thin and drawn – when asked if it was the result of hunger, she replied, “non; peur”. [“no; fear”]
* La Brabanconne – the national anthem of Belgium.