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Madame Willems intends to stop,-a village where live her uncle and cousins. Before starting to walk over we get a simple dinner at a restaurant near the station, and among other things have purple cabbage, boiled or stewed, with vinegar and sugar, and perhaps some fat. I do not like it. As we walk over to the village, we find two little chapels, or shrines, standing at different spots along the way.
One of our first visits is to the public school of this village, the schools now being in vacation. Our arrival is doubtless an event worthy of notice, for five boys in sabots rush into the school-house yard, and soon after comes a girl, also in wooden shoes, carrying a heavy baby. Villages in Belgium are probably more interested in strangers than our own small towns. In that great village which we lately visited, containing eight thousand inhabitants, I understand some one to say that a large part of the people never visited Antwerp, which is only about six miles distant. This seems incredible, but Mrs. Willems says that some of them have not.
CHAPTER XXV I.
IN the window of the town-house, in one of the villages, I see important advice,—a handbill with pictures of the Colorado potato-beetle, and also a box with models of the different forms or stages of the insect; but I do not learn that it has ever been seen here; perhaps it will not visit so high a latitude.
I see that in one of the villages which we are now visiting the houses are numbered. Most of the dwellings here are set with their gable-ends to the street, without windows towards it, or the house faces upon a court-yard which is
walled from the street. They say that in old times houses were set with their backs to the street. Brewers are great men in these Belgian villages. Out of eighty houses in one village which we visit, twelve are estaminets or drinking-places. I have before mentioned that I saw at a farmhouse a letter from a priest, a Catholic missionary at Chicago. The expression was somewhat amusing; but I here learn that great numbers have emigrated from Belgium, and gone to the neighborhood of Chicago, to Green Bay (not in close nearness to that city).
We were just going to visit the public school, where the boys rushed into the yard, shod in wood. To this school the boys and girls go together, the population of the commune being four hundred; but in a neighboring commune which has nine hundred, and one hundred and eighty scholars, the sexes are divided. The wall of the school we now visit is nearly surrounded by little colored pictures from the Bible,-the deluge, the death of Absalom, and others. A most conspicuous place is given to the bust of the present king; there is also a fine picture of his Holiness Pius IX., a small engraving of Rubens' Descent from the Cross, and other pictures. The floor of the school-room is very neatly finished with cement, and a black-board occupies the whole length of one side of the room. The teacher has a map of the province, one of Belgium, and one of Europe, and these are all that the school possesses. I have already mentioned that thirty-five per cent. of the people above forty years of age do not know how to read and write; but from seven to fourteen, I am told that all children have this amount of learning. The teacher tells me that the public can visit the school when it is not in session; but I tell him that we can visit ours when they are in session, both the parents and the public, to encourage
the children. I might have added, however, that ours are not overrun with visitors.
We also make a call upon one of Mrs. Willems' cousins, who has risen to the dignity of an étage, or a second story to her house. They are maiden ladies, her cousins; there were four sisters, none of whom married, and the brother was a curé. The sisters have a nice collection of cows and calves, and they made last week twenty-four pounds of butter (Mrs. W. says that ordinarily a fresh cow gives one pound of butter a day). In the garden I see an immense stalk of mullein growing as if it belonged there. They call it bouillon blanc, which means literally white soup. They gather the flowers to make tea, and Mrs. Willems says that it is a kind of tisane, or diet drink, very beneficial to the stomach and intestines. And here I may add that at Antwerp one of the young ladies was making tea from linden leaves and flowers, as she felt indisposed.
In the garden of which I was just speaking there was a plum-tree with very good fruit. We went under the tree, and the person accompanying us picked up a plum for me, and one or two for Mrs. Willems. I should have been quite willing to have more, and did not know why she did not shake the tree; but I have since thought that the fruit may have been sold in the manner before spoken of. We have many calls to make, and do not tarry long at the house of this cousin. We go to see Mrs. Willems' uncle, who is eighty-eight years old. His daughter kindly prepares us a lunch of bread and butter and coffee, and a son shows us his ten bee-hives. He is not troubled with the bee-moth; he knows nothing about it. He joins us and accompanies us to the next village, which is Mrs. Willems' native place. On our way we call upon a curé, one of Mrs. W.'s acquaintances, and this is my first and last visit
to a Catholic ecclesiastic in Europe. We are politely received, and there is something agreeable in calling upon a gentleman of refined manners, whose daily employments do not prevent him from having a well-kept hand. He seats us at a table in a pleasant sitting-room; altogether we are four, and he produces a bottle of wine,-French wine, he says, twenty years in the bottle. He tells us that he wished to make use of this wine in the sacrament; they are forbidden to use any but pure wine in the sacrament, and he had this analyzed, and it was pure. He tells us that the older the wine is the milder; that it loses its alcohol. Hanging upon the wall is a small picture of a noble lady, Madame de F, who was a countess by birth, but her husband was a chevalier. I understand that they had a country-seat here, and lived at Brussels in the winter, and had about five thousand acres. But she is
no longer living.
Mrs. Willems speaks to Mr. E., the curé, about one of his uncles, also a curé, who was very gay. He is now eighty-five. "Gay!" says Mr. E. "Mon Dieu! how gay he is!" He tells us that when the noble just mentioned was going to have his picture taken by a German, the painter wanted to know whether he had any one to talk with him to enliven his countenance. "There is Mr. Curé," answered the chevalier. Mrs. Willems begins to tell the story about old Marianne, who "prayed the chaplets" for the man; but the curé will not accede to this account. She tells him what great taxes she has to pay. "Make yourself a curé, madame," he answers. It seems that upon his windows, his doors, his stove, and so on, he paid a tax of sixty-six francs, and the liberal party has excused him from paying, except for his woman-servant, which tax is eight francs yearly. The same law releases him from voting!
I afterwards hear that the curé's house is considered to belong to the municipality; he pays no rent for it. A liberal gentleman in Antwerp adds that, unfortunately, the same law will deprive a number of schoolmasters of the right to vote.
We also visit the school in Mrs. Willems' native district, two villages being joined in one commune. The walls of this school-room we find to be surrounded in part by small pictures from the different natural kingdoms,-animals, birds, and so on,-in the place of the little Scripture scenes that were in the former. Here also is no large map of the world. In speaking of the salaries of teachers, he whom we are now visiting tells me that the least which the commune gives is two hundred francs, and the least which the province and general government also give is one thousand; so the minimum of the teacher's salary is twelve hundred francs, besides his dwelling and almost always a garden. The maximum in large cities may amount to four thousand francs, besides lodging, fire, and light. He tells me that there are teachers in Belgium who have one hundred and fifty scholars, boys and girls, and no assistant. In one of the schools I visit something is said about obligatory education; but I reply that we do not speak much of that; adding in effect that we try to make our schools good, and allow the public to visit them, including the parents of the children, and endeavor to interest them in their progress.
When we get to Madame Willems' village, many are the calls that she must make! We spend the night at the house of one of her friends, Madame H., who is a widow, and whose son farms. His wife, a pretty-looking young woman, is going to Brussels on the 22d, to take the queen's