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A City of Refuge
by [?]

In the dark autumn of 1914 the City sprang up almost in a night, as if by enchantment.

It was white magic that called it into being–the deep, quiet, strong impulse of compassion and protection that moved the motherly heart of Holland when she saw the hundreds of thousands of Belgian fugitives pouring out of their bleeding, ravaged land, and running, stumbling, creeping on hands and knees, blindly, instinctively turning to her for safety and help.

“Come to me,” she said, like a good woman who holds out her arms and spreads her knees to make a lap for tired and frightened children, “come to me. I will take care of you. You shall be safe with me.”

All doors were open. The little brick farmhouses and cottages with their gayly painted window-shutters; the long rows of city houses with their steep gables; the prim and placid country mansions set among their high trees and formal flower-gardens–all kinds of dwellings, from the poorest to the richest, welcomed these guests of sorrow and distress. Many a humble family drained its savings-bank reservoir to keep the stream of its hospitality flowing. Unused factories were turned into barracks. Deserted summer hotels were filled up. Even empty greenhouses were adapted to the need of human horticulture. All Holland was enrolled, formally or informally, in a big Comite voor Belgische Slachtoffers.

But soon it was evident that the impromptu methods of generosity could not meet the demands of the case. Private resources were exhausted. Poor people could no longer feed and clothe their poorer guests. Families were unhappily divided. In the huge flock of exiles driven out by the cruel German Terror there were goats as well as sheep, and some of them bewildered and shocked the orderly Dutch homes where they were sheltered, by their nocturnal habits and negligible morals. Something had to be done to bring order and system into the chaos of brotherly love. Otherwise the neat Dutch mind which is so close to the Dutch heart could not rest in its bed. This vast trouble which the evil of German militarism had thrust upon a helpless folk must be helped out by a wise touch of military organization, which is a good thing even for the most peaceful people.

So it was that the City of Refuge (and others like it) grew up swiftly in the wilderness.

It stands in the heathland that slopes and rolls from the wooded hills of Gelderland to the southern shore of the Zuider Zee–a sandy country overgrown with scrub-oaks and pines and heather–yet very healthy and well drained, and not unfertile under cultivation. You may see that in the little neighbor-village, where the trees arch over the streets, and the kitchen-gardens prosper, and the shrubs and flowers bloom abundantly.

The small houses and hotels of this tiny summer resort are of brick. It has an old, well-established look; a place of relaxation with restraint, not of ungirdled frivolity. The plain Dutch people love their holidays, but they take them serenely and by rule: long walks and bicycle-rides, placid and nourishing picnics in the woods or by the sea, afternoon tea-parties in sheltered arbors. One of their favorite names for a country-place is Wel Teweden, “perfectly contented.”

The commandant of the City of Refuge lives in one of the little brick houses of the village. He is a portly, rosy old bachelor, with a curly brown beard and a military bearing; a man of fine education and wide experience, seasoned in colonial diplomacy. The ruling idea in his mind is discipline, authority. His official speech is abrupt and final, the manner of a martinet covering a heart full of kindness and generous impulses.

“Come,” he says, after a good breakfast, “I want you to see my camp. It is not as fine and fancy as the later ones. But we built it in a hurry and we had it ready on time.”

A short ride over a sandy road brings you to the city gate–an opening in the wire enclosure of perhaps two or three square miles among the dwarf pines and oaks. The guard-house is kept by a squad of Dutch soldiers. But it is in no sense a prison-camp, for people are coming and going freely all the time, and the only rules within are those of decency and good order.