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Belgian Fairy Tales

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
The name which the Belgians give to their country is Belgique. The English form Belgium is that from the Latin of ancient days. The country is inhabited by two races. Draw a line across the map of Belgium and you divide the kingdom into two regions, inhabited by Flemings and Walloons. Let the line pass from east and west through Brussels. North of this, as a rule, there are farms, gardens and sea coast. Here the people speak old Dutch, or Flemish, and most of them are fishermen, farmers, seaport men and traders. South of this line are mines, factories, furnaces, or flax fields and their talk is French. They are called Walloons, which is only another way of pronouncing Gaul-loons. When Cæsar met and fought with their ancestors, whom he called the Belgii, he declared them “the bravest of all.” We Americans ought to know who the Walloons are; for, in 1624, some of these people—even before the Dutch mothers and fathers, boys and girls came—settled New York and New Jersey. It was they who introduced on our soil the marguerite, or white-and-yellow daisy, and they were the first farmers in the Middle States. Moreover, when New Netherland received a civil government, it was named Nova Belgica, or New Belgium. The finest part of Walloon Belgium is the hill country of the Ardennes. Here lived, in 1912, a boy named Emile, seventeen years old. His home was in one of those stone houses, which are common in the highlands of southern Belgium. All around him grew pine and birch trees, which made his part of the country look so different from the lowlands around Antwerp, where the tall, stiff poplars and the low branched willows abound. The one tree points its boughs up to the sky and the other down to the ground. Emile’s father was a farmer, but the land of the hill country was not rich, because it was too full of rocks and stones. The soil was quite different from that down on the flax meadows, towards France, and the flower gardens and truck farms of Flanders. Emile’s father could make more money by raising horses, for the pasture was rich and splendid horses they were, so big and strong. The buyers, from the horse markets over in Germany, came every year into the Ardennes forest country, for they liked nothing better than to get these horses for the Kaiser’s artillery regiments. For, although the animals of this breed were not as big and heavy as the Flemish cart horses, they were not so slow and clumsy. In fact, there were few places in Europe, where the horses excelled, in their power to gallop while harnessed to heavy loads. They had what jockies call good “wind” and “bottom,” that is, staying power, stamina, grit, or what we call, in boys and men, “pep.” Emile, with his father, learned to take good care of the mares and kept them in fine condition with brush and curry comb, until their coats were glossy. One day, an unusually fine colt was born, just before Christmas of 1909.